By Stephan Talty
The notion that American culture is a hybridization of various cultures, with layers of assimilation--cultural, structural, marital--at its core is not far-fetched. Neither is the idea that the relationship of black and white, rife with both aversion and admiration, is the foundation of this amalgamation. Treading this familiar territory, journalist Stephen Talty has written a book that examines the mixing-both cultural and biological that comprises American culture.
Traversing centuries, from the 17th up until today, Talty, who is white, allegorizes the relationship of black and white through historical accounts of slavery, abolition, social intermingling, the black elite, and the Harlem Renaissance. Popular culture is also explored. There's jazz, light-skinned actresses Lena Home and Dorothy Dandridge, black pop, the pimp ethos and advent of cool, and of course, there's hip-hop. Storytelling is Talty's gift here--by his own admission, the book is a work of "literary journalism." Overall, the writing is clear and moving, but in revisiting the white fascination with the "other," in terms of borrowing and adapting culture, we learn nothing new. Nevertheless, Talty does venture down seldom traveled roads to include how blacks adapted elements of white culture.
Full of observations, but short on critical analysis, Mulatto America doesn't quite offer any new understandings of race or its place within the fabric of American culture. …