Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction

Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction

Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction

Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction

Synopsis

This first sociohistorical study of the evolution of black detectives and other African American characters in crime and detective fiction identifies stereotypical images of blacks and probes the implied values and collective fantasies found in this genre. Bailey argues that a "mythology of race" consisting of themes of sex and savagery exists in the U.S. and is perpetuated in popular culture. Additionally, fourteen crime and detective fiction writers present their views on creating black characters and a directory includes a sampling of cases featuring black characters, a list of black detectives, relevant works of fiction, film, television, and more.

Excerpt

In an article titled Stereotypical Conceptions and Criminal Processing: the Case of the Victim Offender-Relationship (1987), Terence D. Miethe notes that "stereotypes are applied in many social contexts because they allow observers to make dispositional inferences without extensive cognitive effort" (571). What this application of stereotypes has meant in the area of criminal justice is that certain conceptions have developed about what constitutes a "normal crime." Assumptions are made about the race, social class, type of victim, crime scene, and offender "typical of particular crimes" (572). For example, Victoria Swigert and Ronald Farrell note that the "normal primitive" is one of the images available of the offender in a homicide case. This "normal primitive" is often conceived as "male, black, and of low socio-economic status" (19). These "crime scripts" (Miethe 572) about the offender and his victim influence the outcome of their encounter with the criminal justice system.

Stereotypical conceptions of offenders and their victims are perpetuated in the mass media and in popular literature. With regard to popular literature, in a 1944 article The Ethics of the Mystery Novel, critic Anthony Boucher asserted that no novelist can "write about people and problems without implying some set of values, some ethical standard," especially when the novel deals "with crime and punishment (and now so often with political ideology)" (385). in Adventure, Mystery, and Romance (1976), John Cawelti asserts that although "popular culture" genres such as westerns, romances, and mysteries are "formulaic," they provide "a means of making historical and cultural inferences about the collective fantasies shared by large groups of people and of identifying differences in these fantasies from one culture or period to another" (7).

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