Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture

By Susan Gubar | Go to book overview

6
WHAT WILL THE MIXED CHILD DELIVER? Conceiving Color Without Race

[T]he basic error of white comments about their own oppression is the assumption that they know the nature of their enslavement. This cannot be so, because if they really knew, they would liberate themselves by joining the revolution of the black community. They would destroy themselves and be born again as beautiful black people.

-- James Cone

I almost felt the baby grow inside me, and I suddenly felt completely Black. . . . in that moment, walking down the street full of people who were miraculously unaware of the change in me, resting my hand lightly on my belly, I was as Black as anyone.

-- Jane Lazarre

In my body were many bloods, some dark blood, all blended in the fire of six or more generations. I was, then, either a new type of man or the very oldest. . . . If I achieved greatness of human stature, then just to the degree that I did I would justify all the blood in me. If I proved worthless, then I would betray all.

-- Jean Toomer

Shirley Temple Black and Bill Robinson White, a 1980 acrylic, is one of Robert Colescott's more sardonic experiments in racechange (see color insert). Picking berries on a garden path, a darkened Shirley and a lightened Bill pause to glance at each other, perhaps the moment before they will break out in a tap dance routine. As in so many of his other paintings, this picture converts characters traditionally portrayed as white into blacks, switching the races so as to ridicule, first, our assumptions about white hegemony in cultural scripts and, second, the caricaturing that infects almost all depictions of African Americans in mass-produced as well as elite art. Here the coincidence of Shirley Temple's married surname serves as Colescott's sly pretext for her racial metamorphosis. In a discussion of this painting recorded on the video Robert Colescott: The One Two Punch ( 1993),

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