Magazine article New Internationalist

[Masks: Blackness, Race & the Imagination]

Magazine article New Internationalist

[Masks: Blackness, Race & the Imagination]

Article excerpt

Bearing in mind that the idea of difference is central to discussions of race, polarities of opinion on the subject are inevitable. But race is of course more than just one idea and its evolution over the centuries has been complex.

If one is to take on the history of racial attitudes, then, according to writer Adam Lively in Masks, a simple division of the main actors into 'goodlies and baddies... is a way of ignoring plurality and ambiguity'. Shades of grey don't seem to matter much to propagandist racism and anti-racism, but in truth many people's experience of racial issues can be ill-defined, multifaceted and contradictory.

Lively's book traces the influence of ideas of blackness and racial difference in the cultural life of Europe and the United States. Blackness for the purpose of his study is restricted to people of African origin. He focuses on literature -- from eighteenth-century pseudoscientific tracts to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and beyond, with nods to music and the visual arts.

Early evolutionists often explained race in terms of chains of beings, moving from vegetable matter through ranks of animals to the European male, who stood at the top of the pile, closest to God. …

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