THE WHITE NEGRESS: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary

By Williams, Megan E. | American Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

THE WHITE NEGRESS: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary


Williams, Megan E., American Studies


THE WHITE NEGRESS: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary. By Lori Harrison-Kahan. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 2011.

Lori Kahan-Harrison's The White Negress-deserving winner of the American Studies Association's 2010 Gloria E. Anzaldúa Award-acts as a significant challenge to existing scholarship concerning whiteness, cross-racial performances, and black- Jewish encounters (3). Focusing her research on Jewish and black women's racial appropriations in literature and minstrelsy, Harrison-Kahan demonstrates that gender and sexuality complicate the "masculinist paradigms" that have long circumscribed scholarly explorations of blackface minstrelsy and "black-Jewish relations" (6).

In The White Negress, Harrison-Kahan analyzes the representation of a funda- mentally ambivalent female figure appearing in texts authored by Jewish and black artists during the interwar period. Her four substantive chapters act as case studies, exploring the portrayal of this recurrent character in Sophie Tucker's stage perfor- mances and autobiography Some of These Days (1945), Edna Ferber's Show Boat (1926), Fannie Hurst's Imitation of Life (1933), and Zora Neale Hurston's Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939). Harrison-Kahan names this figure "the white negress" after famed actress Sarah Bernhardt's self-description in her memoir My Double Life (1907). Associated simultaneously with Jewishness, blackness, and whiteness as well as "unconventional femininity," Bernhardt-known for her performance of the belle juive, or "beautiful Jewess"-cultivated a mysterious star persona that traded on her racial ambiguity and gender nonconformity (22). Harrison-Kahan argues that, like Bernhardt, the white negresses of Tucker, Ferber, Hurst, and Hurston's texts are racially ambiguous-Jewish, mixed-race, "racially indeterminate or ethnically unidentified"-New Women, "whose crossing of racial lines becomes intertwined with her defiance of gender and domestic norms" (2). Her central argument is that the white negress complicates the black-white racial binary.

By analyzing these artists' representations of the sexually and financially in- dependent white negress in minstrelsy and cross-racial narratives, Harrison-Kahan tests longstanding assumptions concerning the motivations behind male Jewish performers' decisions to "cork up." On the one hand, Irving Howe, in World of Our Fathers (1976), proposes that American Jewish performers donned blackface as an expression of their Jewishness, an identity conveyed partly through empathy and solidarity with African Americans and their freedom struggle. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

THE WHITE NEGRESS: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.