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Beyond the White Negro

Empathy and Anti-Racist Reading

Kimberly Chabot Davis

Publication Year: 2014

Critics often characterize white consumption of African American culture as a form of theft that echoes the fantasies of 1950s-era bohemians, or "White Negroes," who romanticized black culture as anarchic and sexually potent. In Beyond the White Negro, Kimberly Chabot Davis claims such a view fails to describe the varied politics of racial crossover in the past fifteen years.Davis analyzes how white engagement with African American novels, film narratives, and hip-hop can help form anti-racist attitudes that may catalyze social change and racial justice. Though acknowledging past failures to establish cross-racial empathy, she focuses on examples that show avenues for future progress and change. Her study of ethnographic data from book clubs and college classrooms shows how engagement with African American culture and pedagogical support can lead to the kinds of white self-examination that make empathy possible. The result is a groundbreaking text that challenges the trend of focusing on society's failures in achieving cross-racial empathy and instead explores possible avenues for change.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

I owe many thanks to the people who have supported me throughout the past decade spent working on this book. Since Beyond the White Negro focuses on the reception of African American literature and culture among white audiences, my biggest thanks go out to the twenty-one book clubs who generously welcomed me into their homes and to the many students at Bridgewater State University, Bentley College, and Harvard University who participated in...

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Introduction. Cross-Racial Empathy: Viewing the White Self through Black Eyes

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pp. 1-26

At the start of the twenty-first century, critics concerned about white appropriation of black culture reached back into their cultural lexicons to resurrect a term that Norman Mailer had popularized in 1957: “The White Negro.”1 An article about Black and White (1999), a film featuring white teenage fans of urban hip-hop music, declared “The Return of the White Negro.”2 Between 1999 and 2003, nearly every media journalist and scholar writing about the rise to fame of the white rapper Eminem felt obliged to use Mailer’s phrase to describe ...

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1. Wiggers of White Allies? White Hip-Hop Culture and Racial Sincerity

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pp. 27-78

An investigation of white attraction to African American culture should logically begin with music, since “White Negroes” have often been drawn to musical forms as if they are the essence of black creativity. The history of popular music and performance is full of white musicians and singers appropriating and profiting from styles originated by African American performers—slave spirituals, jazz, rhythm and blues, reggae, and hip-hop. A long line of ethnomusicologists...

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2. Oprah, Book Clubs, and the Promise and Limitations of Empathy

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pp. 79-110

Critical conversations about white appropriations of blackness have focused largely on the spheres of popular music and the performing arts—from jazz, blues, and hip-hop music to vaudeville, dance, fashion, and Hollywood film.1 Yet signs are everywhere that African American literature is enjoying unprecedented circulation among white readers. Beginning with bestsellers like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982), this publishing renaissance was fueled in the late 1990s ...

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3. Reading Race and Place: Boston Book Clubs and Post-Soul Fiction

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pp. 111-148

For the members of Oprah’s Book Club, discussion takes place within the disembodied and dislocated worlds of television and the Internet, but it is important to remember that books are most often read, interpreted, and talked about in the context of a reader’s particular locality—his or her “reading habitat.” In the previous chapter, I drew evidence from a variety of texts and reading sites in order to ground my hypotheses about cross-racial empathy fostered by African ...

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4. Deconstructing White Ways of Seeing: Interracial Conflict Films and College-Student Viewers

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pp. 149-200

The previous two chapters have demonstrated the power of books and engaged discussion to engender cross-racial empathy. Can visual culture do the same? Many academics and film critics believe that film has superior power as a medium to provoke viewer empathy.1 The writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch calls film (as well as fiction) an “anti-egoistic” medium, while the cognitive film theorist Alex Neill believes that the visual and musical elements of cinema induce empathy even more strongly than does literature.2 Professor Brenda Allen ...

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Conclusion. Black Cultural Encounters as a Catalyst for Divestment in White Privilege

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pp. 201-210

The protagonist of Alice Randall’s novel Pushkin and the Queen of Spades is a black woman named Windsor, a Russian literature professor and Harvard graduate who spends her life trying to resist stereotypes of blackness. Much to her dismay, her son Pushkin seems to have become a walking stereotype, a professional football player in love with a white lap dancer, a Russian émigré. Literature means little to him; he breaks his mother’s heart by using a first edition of Du...


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pp. 211-246


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pp. 247-254

About the Auther, Publisher Notes

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pp. 255-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780252096310
E-ISBN-10: 0252096312
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038433

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2014