Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past

By David R. Roediger | Go to book overview

13
In Conclusion
ELVIS, WIGGERS, AND CROSSING OVER
TO NONWHITENESS

Director Aimee Sands's forthcoming film attempts to bring the insights of the critical study of whiteness to a broad audience. Its title, Crossing Over, captures much, including the move from academic discourse to the popular and the possibility of breaching color lines. It conjures up the image of what Susan Gubar has studied as “racechange”—the assumption of another racial identity, whether in art or life. It echoes both meanings of the music-business term crossover. On the one hand, crossover in that industry describes a product's achieving popularity outside its original marketing niche, as when a country record hits the popular charts. On the other hand, crossover also connotes a move by musicians of one race into genres and markets associated with those of another race. Finally, and most important, crossing over repeats the language of African American spirituals, which used the term to mean the salvation and liberation to be found on the other side of the River Jordan biblically and, secularly, on the other side of the Ohio River or another boundary symbolizing freedom and escape. 1

It is tempting to confuse the crossover of CD sales, and the crossover of individual impersonators of other races, with the prospects of crossing over into freedom. Gubar's superb historical study of racechanges in U. S. culture, for example, adopts a hard-nosed stance in assessing the crossing of color lines in art, film, and music. Her language is difficult, but the meaning is clear. Despite “the anarchic potential of racechange, ” she argues, “epidermal fungibility …almost always seems historically to have resulted in the subordination, muting,

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