The White Image in the Black Mind: A Study of African American Literature

The White Image in the Black Mind: A Study of African American Literature

The White Image in the Black Mind: A Study of African American Literature

The White Image in the Black Mind: A Study of African American Literature

Synopsis

Davis argues that African American authors have established a tradition of recurring images of whites in their literature and that they use these images to critique white racism. The book constructs a typology of white images in the black imagination. These images include such stereotypes as the overt bigot, the hypocrite, the liberal, and the good-hearted weakling. While black authors often explicitly reveal the racism of the overt bigot, Davis shows that black writers are much more subtle in their expositions of other forms of bigotry. The volume provides extensive discussions of such writers as Charles Chesnutt, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin and surveys a number of other African American authors.

Excerpt

The aims of this book have been reflected in comments by several writers who have addressed the issue of whiteness, both before and during the current interest in "whiteness studies" and "the construction of whiteness." Peggy McIntosh, for example, a central thinker on the role of white privilege, has argued that many whites "think that racism doesn't affect them because they are not people of color; they do not see whiteness as a racial identity." One of McIntosh's key ideas is how the arrogance of assuming oneself to be part of a raceless norm needs to be challenged in order to combat racism. Hence, the starting point for combating racism would seem to be, according to this argument, an examination of how assumptions about identity are at the foundation of white privilege and bigotry. If race, as Mark Twain remarked in Pudd'nhead Wilson, is a "fiction of law and custom," it is a fiction that is lived and operationalized, and many writers have called for its unmasking. Henry A. Giroux has articulated important related points:

Central to any pedagogical approach to race and the politics of "whiteness" is the recognition that race is a set of attitudes, values, lived experiences, and affective identifications. However arbitrary and mythic, dangerous and variable, the fact is that racial categories exist and shape the lives of people differently within existing inequalities of power and wealth. . . . Rather than proposing the eradication of the concept of race itself, educators and other cultural workers need to take a detour through race in order to decide how "whiteness" might be renegotiated as a productive force in a politics of difference linked to a radical democratic project!

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