Seeing Race in Modern America

By Matthew Pratt Guterl | Go to book overview

Coda

If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, ROSE GARDEN PRESS CONFERENCE,
WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 23, 2012

The discriminating look, I have suggested, is historically minded, drawing from centuries of representations to make sense of small details, but also fairly consistent and durable. Its consistency and durability encourage a set of familiar outcomes, allowing us to “see” bodies marked as racially different in common patterns, bodies that range from those boldly illuminated as simply “black” or “white” or “yellow” or “brown” to those on which the markings are much fainter and harder to discern. To make this plain, I’ve teased apart various sightlines and laid some of them out, side by side, to clarify how they each work, what they prescribe for us, and how we use them. These examples have been illustrative of the mechanics of racial sight, emphasizing close readings, or pairings, or the hidden truth.

In real life, the workings of sightlines aren’t as neatly separated as the chapters and sections of this book. Unpredictable and interwoven, they come together and fall apart. A single detail—ripped out of its historical context—can fit a dozen different sightlines. A single event can be read in five different ways. And a single story can bring together sightlines that might seem discrete and opposed. When this happens, the simultaneous operation of sightlines can confirm racial sight even when their parallel appearance seems confusing. I want to end, here, by attending to the knotting and interplay of sightlines, to their overlapping, everyday racial refractions, and also by returning to the sordid topic of racial profiling that haunts this book.

A young African American man visiting his father decides to take a walk through the neighborhood, passing the time and giving himself a little privacy for a phone call. Because there is the hint of

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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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