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Seeing Race in Modern America Hardcover – November 4, 2013
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[A] splendid treatment of racialized imagery in popular culture. . . . Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.--Choice
Illustrates how race continues to operate as subtext in the world of ideas, coloring our expectations and, more important, our personal and political decisions.--Chronicle of Higher Education
Seeing Race is primarily a modern expose of race in popular culture.--North Carolina Historical Review
An engaging read. . . . A general audience would appreciate this engaging and topical book, while U.S. Historians will appreciate Guterl's take on how race is depicted in popular culture.--Journal of Southern History
Open[s] up questions that will no doubt shape future inquiry in the field of race and visual culture studies for years to come.--American Literary History Online Review
This rigorous and insightful book provides a careful investigation on an often overlooked topic.--Publishers Weekly
The book's greatest strength: its ability to open up discussion and enliven rather than limit debate.--Journal of American History
Guterl's evidence throughout is compelling, his writing and analysis is crisp and clear, and his visual examples are powerful--if not stunning.--American Quarterly
Matthew Pratt Guterl's Seeing Race in Modern America is essential reading for understanding how Americans have historically viewed race and how that history manifests itself today. Guterl masterfully blends the past with contemporary culture to reveal how Americans are changing, as well as not changing, how we talk about and perceive--and do not talk about and claim not to perceive--the role of race in modern American society.--W. Ralph Eubanks, author of The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South
In this provocative explication of the cultural 'sightlines' that train the eye to scout and discover racial distinctions, Guterl urges us to see our own seeing anew. Varied and resourceful in its archive, impressive in its historical sweep, often brilliant in its close observations, and at once intellectually playful and morally sober, Seeing Race in Modern America will grip lifelong specialists as surely as it will readers who have never paused to consider these questions. An essential contribution.--Matthew Frye Jacobson, author of Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race
A vividly written, original exploration of the way Americans see race. Readers will never see racial portrayals the same way after reading this smart and insightful book.--Joy S. Kasson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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As one who studies the context of the Civil War and Reconstruction I was immediately drawn to chapter 3 simply titled, “Bought and Sold”. He opens this brutally honest chapter with the story of James Silk Buckingham who went to New Orleans on a tour of the slave states. While there he stopped in the Rotunda of the St. Louis Hotel to watch an auction where slaves were the hot commodity. He writes, “There were a half a dozen auctioneers, each endeavoring to drown out every voice but his own, and all straining their lungs, and distorting their countenances in a hideous manner”. Drawing his focus on the “unhappy negro family” at the center of the bazaar, Buckingham notes that, “their good qualities were enumerated in English and in French, and their persons were carefully examined by intending purchasers.” The description of this graphic scene almost makes me sick but it’s definitely something I need to understand the mindset behind, and I think more of us need situations like this in order to understand the conversation happening across the table from us.
Guterl goes on to add that, “To see blackness in the age of slaveholding was to see a commodity, to see no difference between “estates, pictures, and slaves. But it was also, as Buckingham noted, to see the slave, a subject and an object, elevated above the ordinary goods offered up by the caterwauling auctioneer.” He continues on to describe that the “negro body” was used to sell just about anything, and includes in this chapter photographs which illustrate this point. It’s hard to look at these photos which he includes due to the fact that they are representing the negro body as a selling point for anything from cleaning services to the sales of corn.
Guterl does a good job of drawing the reader into something they may not be ready for but quickly turns it around and places the next steps into the hands of the person looking at the text. He draws from even the smallest objects, say a can of coke, the racial implications or such things and urges the reader not to be quick in overlooking those implications. Through the visuals in this book of everything from movies to magazines to marketing strategies, Guterl takes the reader on a trip that isn’t soon forgotten. Every now and then a volume like this comes along and stirs the racial bee’s nest and get’s people thinking and seeing in a clearer way. I appreciate what Guterl has done here and I look forward to reading more of what he has to say on this issue.
Guterl, M. (2013). Seeing Race in Modern America (p. 248). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.