Seeing Race in Modern America

By Matthew Pratt Guterl | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Silhouettes

On the eve of the Great Depression, a trio of European eugenicists, eager to more accurately identify race and to provide the common public with easy-to-use tools, suggested that the practice of silhouetting offered some startling new data points. Working in the Anthropometric Department of the Galton Laboratory, a genetics research facility in London, they devised an “apparatus” to “draw life sized silhouettes.” Writing with urgency, they stressed that their findings were revelatory, that “[t]here are several points on the silhouette not available on the skull, or not corresponding to the definite points on the skull.”1 After giving new scientific names to each point, the authors proposed that the simple silhouette was a more reliable way to see race.

To represent whiteness, they used their apparatus to capture the profiles of fifty current English undergraduates at the laboratory and then created a composite. To represent blackness, they created a similar composite image from a series of ethnological photos taken of West African prisoners of war—French colonials captured by the Germans, and photographed randomly, regardless of “tribal differences”—and then compared them to a “living subject.” Concluding that they had captured in monochrome “a truly typical West African Negro,” they noted the myriad points of divergence on the silhouette from the standard, Caucasian type, calling attention to particularities on the chin, the neck, the forehead, and the nose. Typical of the racial science of the day, these men saw nothing wrong—morally or scientifically—with their “comparison” of POWs culled from across a wide swath of nations and tribal territories on the African continent with a parochial group of English schoolboys. They were driven, in the end, by the hope that silhouetting might prove to be a more reliable scientific practice in the field, where amateurs, unfamiliar with the guild secrets and specialized tools of skull measurements, might

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Seeing Race in Modern America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Close-UPS the Devil in the Details 15
  • Chapter One - Profiles 19
  • Chapter Two - Silhouettes 46
  • Chapter Three - Bought and Sold 60
  • Part II - Group Portraits Looking for Contrast 81
  • Chapter Four - The Domestic Ensemble 85
  • Chapter Five - Platoon Harmonics 104
  • Part III - Multiple Exposures the Evidence of Things Not Easily Seen 125
  • Chapter Six - Hybridity 129
  • Chapter Seven - Masquerade 148
  • Chapter Eight - Passing 166
  • Chapter Nine - Ambiguity 182
  • Coda 200
  • Notes 211
  • Index 221
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