Seeing Race in Modern America
Publication Year: 2013
Zooming out for the bigger picture, Guterl illuminates the long history of the practice of seeing--and believing in--race, and reveals that our troublesome faith in the details discerned by the discriminating glance is widespread and very popular. In so doing, he upends the possibility of a postracial society by revealing how deeply race is embedded in our culture, with implications that are often matters of life and death.
Published by: The University of North Carolina Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Good ideas come from everywhere. I could trace the conception of this book back to an academic idyll, to an ideal classroom exchange with a student, or to some high-minded kaffeeklatsch with a gener-ous colleague. Its emergence could be rooted in the rich soil of inter-locking interdisciplinary fields, as if it were the hybrid by-product ...
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...the perceiving, noting, or making a distinction or difference between In the early 1920s, young Langston Hughes was an avant-garde New Negro poet, a conduit for both white and black audiences to a racially authentic aesthetic emerging from Harlem’s cobblestone streets (plate 1). As young crewman on the S.S. Malone, Hughes had left New York for Europe’s postwar possibilities, but the route took him to the western edge of Africa first. He had hopeful expectations ...
PART I: Close-Ups The Devil in the Details
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I have blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. My brother however is the exact opposite. Basically what I’m asking is if someone who has blond hair and blue eyes and fair skin, if they were to tan and When an anonymous young woman posted her question on Yahoo—“What makes a Mexican look like a Mexican?”—she asked for “serious and kind answers only.” “You know,” she explained, “when you look at a person, and automatically know that ...
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There are 16 million eyes in the city,” the poster reads, “[and] we’re counting on all of them.” An array of twelve sets of eyes, each marked with racial and ethnic distinctions, stares outward at the reader. A part of the “See Something, Say Something” sloganeer-ing effort of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency in New York City, the poster was framed by stainless steel and encased in one of the official protective frames found on most of the city’s subway ...
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On the eve of the Great Depression, a trio of European eugeni-cists, 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. tory, a genetics research facility in London, they devised an “appa-ratus” to “draw life sized silhouettes.” Writing with urgency, they stressed that their findings were revelatory, that “[t]here are sev-...
THREE: Bought and Sold
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On his tour of the slave states, James Silk Buckingham went to New Orleans and stopped in the Rotunda of the St. Louis Hotel to watch a slave auction. For the sojourning British abo-litionist and temperance advocate, the dramatic bidding for human flesh at the rotunda was a version of something he’d seen across the South and the slaveholding Americas. Indeed, his description of the auction of Africans was meant to outrage the reader. “There were a ...
PART II: Group Portraits Looking for Contrast
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...attention to ethnic, racial, and cultural differences. Multiculturalism has emerged as one of America’s most important social agendas in the 21st century. In advertising and marketing, it simply makes good business sense to take the culture of the consumer into account.WILLIAM M. O’BARR, “MULTICULTURALISM IN THE MARKETPLACE,” ...
FOUR: The Domestic Ensemble
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One striking expression of racial contrast comes through the representation of transnational and multiracial adop-tive families. American visual culture is rich with images of stable, contented families, their comity and sameness a metaphor for national harmony. This imagined family has a long history. It is the primary social unit in civil society and a cornerstone of Ameri-can citizenship, but also the nation-state in miniature. As such, it is ...
FIVE: Platoon Harmonics
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Like the multiracial adoptive family, the mixed platoon draws the eye into the study of difference. A heterotopic ensemble, the pla-toon is a narrative device, always on the move, its movements always revealing the centrality of mixture to the nation’s survival or failure. It creates a common structure—the army unit—even as it At first blush, the 2011 film Captain America seems an unlikely ex-ample of the racial ensemble. Desperate to serve in World War II, ...
PART III: Multiple Exposures The Evidence of Things Not Easily Seen
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Sometimes, race can be very difficult to see. In “The Wizard,” an episode of Seinfeld, and a subtle send-up of white discomfort around racial ambiguity, Elaine Benes and her new boyfriend, Darryl, both suspect that the other person is nonwhite, and they script their relationship around this presumption, but they refuse to discuss it out loud. Elaine suspects—but cannot confirm, despite her efforts to divine the truth—that Darryl is black; and Darryl sus-...
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The hybrid body, as Jean Toomer imagined it, is a racial ensemble, or platoon, in miniature, not easily categorized as a “mulatto” or “mestizo.” With its component features easily viewable, discrete, and engaged productively, this body is an anachronism, out of sync with national time and space, but a useful one, serving as a vehicle for conversations about the new world that is, in these represen-tations, on the verge. It focuses our attention on the steely body—...
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The squint of David Carradine, playing Kwai Chang Caine, is sort of akin to yellowface. The same is true, of course, of Stallone’s patterned headband, his bow and arrows, and his long knife. Both parallel—very obliquely, given that their subjects are hybrid—the long-standing tradition of blackface minstrelsy. The oblique part of this is important because Carradine and Stallone were cast as bi-racial characters, with squints and stoic, thousand-yard stares that ...
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Unlike the boldfaced racial masquerade, racial passing—histori-cally, the dark body blending, without any remark or notice, into whiteness—offers nothing on the surface to see. Where the masquerade exposes its layers—spotlighting the gap between the false surface and the deeper real—racial passing refuses such attention, and substitutes the surface for reality, a sleight-of-hand substitution that makes it difficult to see the passing body up close. ...
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In the late 1990s, a new category of actor, performer, and model, de-scribed by fashion writer Ruth La Ferla as “ethnically ambiguous,” appeared, seemingly overnight. “Ambiguity is chic,” La Ferla noted, “especially among the under-25 members of Generation Y, the most racially diverse population in the nation’s history.” Describing a fas-cination with this “melting pot aesthetic,” she called attention to the efforts of H & M, the “cheap chic clothing chain,” which had “increas-...
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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 consis-tency 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 ...
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PLATE 1 Artist Winold Reiss’s 1925 portrait of a young Langston Hughes, National Portrait Gal-PLATE 4 Juxtapositions, either in a larger ensemble or in a simple pairing, are a common means of establishing racial difference. Here, in a Fairy Soap advertisement, white and black scrutinize each other, searching for racial details, even as we are meant to see them as a pair. Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Series: Soap, Archives Center, National Museum ...
Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013