Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture

By Susan Gubar | Go to book overview

7 THE EDIBLE COMPLEX
A Postscript

I conceive there is more barbarism in eating a man alive than in eating him dead . . .

-- Montaigne

The Negro is America's metaphor.

-- Richard Wright

Of every hue and caste am I. . . . I resist any thing better than my own diversity.

-- Walt Whitman

In the relation of the self (the same) to the Other, the Other is distant, he is the stranger; but if I reverse this relation, the Other relates to me as if I were the Other and thus causes me to take leave of my identity. . . . When thus I am wrested from myself, there remains a passivity bereft of self (sheer alterity, the other without unity).

-- Maurice Blanchot.

Born white and Jewish, the chameleon-hero of Woody Allen's Zelig ( 1983) subsequently becomes not only black and Native American but also Irish, Italian, Mexican, and Chinese; judged a "triple threat" by the Ku Klux Klan, he embodies the "hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings" to which an intrepid Salman Rushdie dedicated his Satanic Verses ( 1988). 1 When Steve Martin starts a comic film by recalling "I was born a poor black child," when Karl Lagerfeld photographs the model Naomi Campbell as a black Scarlett for a fashion collection presented with a Gone with the Wind twist, even flippant contemporary approaches to racechange appear to tap its subversive potential, disrupting the racist complacency many earlier deployments bolstered. The performance artist Adrian Piper, who meditates in her essays on whether the idea of race might soon become obsolete, put together the exhibit and the volume Colored People (in 1987 and 1991 respectively) by coloring and categorizing sixteen people's pho

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