Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation, 1890-1940

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation, 1890-1940

Article excerpt

Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation, 1890-1940. By Grace Elizabeth Hale. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998. Pp. xii, 427. Acknowledgments, illustrations, index. $30.00.)

C. Vann Woodward wrote The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955) to demonstrate that racial segregation was a modern invention that could be destroyed just as it had been artificially created. With her book Making Whiteness, Grace Elizabeth Hale undertakes a similar, though more ambitious, effort. Hale, who is an assistant professor of American History at the University of Virginia, argues in Making Whiteness that American racial identities-"blackness" and "whiteness"-are recently manufactured creations that, like segregation, may also be eradicated. Modern mass racial identities, she asserts, emerged between 1890 and 1940 with the establishment of de jure segregation. While blackness was viewed as "other" or "alien," whiteness became equated with "American culture." In order to move beyond this point and create a truly integrated society, white America must, Hale says, recognize the artificiality of their racial identity and culture, and embrace, instead, a multicultural view of the past and of themselves.

Hale commences her cultural history of the "New South" by explaining that the white middle class established segregation in response to the economic successes of some African Americans. The sight of well-dressed blacks in first-class train cars challenged the image that the South's wellto-do, and increasingly insecure, whites had of themselves and of African Americans. The remainder of the book is then devoted to demonstrating how whites throughout America used a romanticized image of the Old South, with whites playing the part of the noble, caring, and intelligent planter and blacks as the content, yet ignorant, slave, to form the basis of the "culture of segregation." These images, which helped to define the racial identities of modern America, reached their audience through established or newly emerging mediums such as the phonograph, advertising (Aunt Jemima and the Gold Dust Twins), promotional pamphlets, picture cards, literature (Joel Chandler Harris and William Faulkner), and moving pictures (Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. …

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