Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Neither Separate nor Equal: Women, Race, and Class in the South

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Neither Separate nor Equal: Women, Race, and Class in the South

Article excerpt

Neither Separate Nor Equal: Women, Race, and Class in the South. Edited by Barbara Ellen Smith. Women in the Political Economy. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, c. 1999. Pp. x, 286. Paper, $19.95, ISBN 1-56639-680-8; cloth, $59.50, ISBN 1-56639-679-4.)

This collection of thirteen essays about women in the contemporary South offers a heartening example of social science informed by an appreciation of history. The authors--a diverse group of scholars (sociologists, anthropologists, and others) and non-scholars (including organizers and writers)--have produced a coherent volume that should interest many historians. The editor of Neither Separate Nor Equal, Barbara Smith, argues that the South has much to teach us about the nation and the international economy. The traits that once made the region appear "backward"--racial violence, a gulf between rich and poor, minimal social programs, weak unions, widespread religious fundamentalism, and, arguably, antifeminism--now place the South "in the vanguard of national trends" (p. 1). The South's current function as a "layover on capital's flight to cheaper labor" (p. 114), for example, should make it a subject of study for scholars of so-called globalization. Smith calls for a renaissance in southern studies that will pay attention to transnational migration, international economic restructuring, and multiracial feminism. This anthology makes an admirable start toward that objective.

The authors explore race, class, gender, and sexuality as social relationships, which is to say that they understand "difference" as relational (and hierarchical). Smith dislikes the post-structuralist tendency to treat differences as identities voluntarily and individually constructed, that is, as "discursive performances" (p. 14). She also criticizes the "pop variant of multiculturalism" that conceptualizes society as a "grid of boxes (differences) into which individual members fit," and across which enlightened individuals must try to connect (p. 14). Different groups of southern women already are connected, whether they like it or not. The book's four sections address the history, economic roles, community-building activities, and changing possibilities of southern women. The first article draws on work by feminist historians and analyzes the linkages between white supremacy and male supremacy in the late-nineteenth-century South. Two essays on Native American women then challenge the bipolar racial construction of southern history. Of these, Darlene Wilson and Patricia Beaver's study of the historical erasure and contemporary reclaiming of "Melungeon" heritage by Appalachians descended from native American women and European men is particularly intriguing. …

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