Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Stronger, Smarter, and Less Queer: "The White Negro" and Mailer's Third Man

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Stronger, Smarter, and Less Queer: "The White Negro" and Mailer's Third Man

Article excerpt

The relationship of a black boy, therefore, to a white boy is a very complex thing.

-James Baldwin, "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy"

The last few years have seen the beginning of a salutary attempt among U.S. cultural historians to complicate the organizing rubrics under which we approach the postwar period in general and the 1950s in particular. Work such as Morris Dickstein's Leopards in the Temple and the recent "'5Os Culture" edition of the minnesota review edited by Andrew Hoberek, to cite just two prominent examples, index in their different ways a developing tendency not so much to abandon keywords such as "Cold War" and "containment" that have presided over postwar studies for the last twenty years as to contextualize and complicate the ideological impulses these terms denote within the broader cultural phenomenology of the postwar period. This refraining of concerns has been geared toward developing new analytic categories for U.S. postwar geopolitical operations (diplomatic, military, and commercial) as well as for the domestic issues and anxieties whose connection to such operations rubrics as "containment" have so persuasively demonstrated. The shift holds great promise not only for reshaping our picture of U.S. international relations but for reworking our understanding of the pressing domestic issues of the postwar period.

In a provocative contribution to this reframing, Christina Klein offers "integration" as an analytic alternative to "containment" as a tool for understanding racial, sexual, and individual identity in the postwar period. Drawing on the insights of revisionist economic and diplomatic historians, Klein argues that the U.S. foreign policy imperative to integrate third world nations into a global free-market economy after World War II helped to produce "a global imaginary, a structure of feeling, and a cultural logic" that extended beyond the diplomatic sphere (Klein, 156). Both internationally and domestically, the cultural logic of integration generated images of racial identity that outlined difference principally in order to assimilate it through figures of commonality and pluralistic inclusion. According to Klein, the discourse of sentimentalism constituted a generic cornerstone of this integrationist refiguration of race relations. Understood as a complex of representational conventions, sentimentalism recast race in terms of extended kinship and the bonds of filial affection rather than the often bellicose atomic individualism that informed containment ideology. In so doing, the integrationist imaginary produced an alternative formulation of the connections between race and sexuality. According to Klein, in place of the individualistic erotic desire of the romantic couple, sentimentalism substituted the horizontal and noncoercive relations of the family to characterize race relations. This recasting of race "allows us to see the ways in which postwar culture often decentered masculinity and violence in its construction of a globalized American national identity and gave pride of place to feminized narratives of international love, friendship, domesticity, and peaceful exchange" (Klein, 156). Through sentimental discourse, the integrationist imaginary provided not only an alternative model of collective racial affiliation, but also a model of selr-in-relation and a de-emphasizing of erotic desire as an issue in race relations.

In order to gauge the interaction of these competing cultural logics, I want to examine their intersection in one of the postwar period's most incendiary treatments of race and sexuality-Norman Mailer's "The White Negro." Begun as a charged plea for integration in Southern schools, on its publication the essay was alternately applauded and assailed as a radical revision of narratives of race and sexuality. More recently, it has been identified as reactionary-a reiteration of stereotypes of black male hypersexuality and criminality and a strikingly pure endorsement of the freestanding individualism that underwrote containment ideology. …

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