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The Souls of White Folk

African American Writers Theorize Whiteness

Veronica T. Watson

Publication Year: 2013

The Souls of White Folk: African American Writers Theorize Whiteness is the first study to consider the substantial body of African American writing that critiques whiteness as social construction and racial identity. Arguing against the prevailing approach to these texts that says African American writers retreated from issues of "race" when they wrote about whiteness, Veronica T. Watson instead identifies this body of literature as an African American intellectual and literary tradition that she names "the literature of white estrangement."

In chapters that theorize white double consciousness (W. E. B. Du Bois and Charles Chesnutt), white womanhood and class identity (Zora Neale Hurston and Frank Yerby), and the socio-spatial subjectivity of southern whites during the civil rights era (Melba Patillo Beals), Watson explores the historically situated theories and analyses of whiteness provided by the literature of white estrangement from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. She argues that these texts are best understood as part of a multipronged approach by African American writers to challenge and dismantle white supremacy in the United States and demonstrates that these texts have an important place in the growing field of critical whiteness studies.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Series: Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

A Note on Capitalization

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book is truly a collaborative product. The seeds for it were planted in a graduate class I took at Rice University in the 1990s, when Dr. Susan Lurie included in her syllabus a little-discussed, little-regarded novel by Zora Neale Hurston, Seraph on the Suwanee. I never forgot that novel, or the rich conversations my peers and I had about it that semester. ...

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Introduction: Naming: The Literature of White Estrangement

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pp. 3-14

In 1860, William J. Wilson, writing under the pseudonym Ethiop, published an article entitled “What Shall We Do with the White People?,” an irreverent essay that turns the nineteenth-century debate about the fitness of black people for citizenship on its head by raising questions about the ability of white people to engage in self-government and the body politic. ...

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Chapter One: “A FORM OF INSANITY WHICH OVERTAKES WHITE MEN”: W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles Chesnutt, and the Specter of White Double Consciousness

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pp. 15-58

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois published the now classic The Souls of Black Folk. In the Forethought, he explains that he wrote the book to explore the “problem of the Twentieth Century . . . the color-line” by “outlin[ing] the two worlds within and without the Veil” (359). ...

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Chapter Two: “SHAPING HERSELF INTO A DUTIFUL WIFE”: Demythologizing White Femininity and the White Home in Frank Yerby’s The Foxes of Harrow and Zora Neale Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee

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pp. 59-102

White woman. The phrase conjures up images of refinement, elegance, class, and beauty. White women are smart, but not overbearingly so; they are appropriately supportive of their husbands and protective of their beautiful families; they are good mothers. They are gorgeously pale and thin but not enough to suggest illness. ...

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Chapter Three: “OCCUPIED TERRITORY”: Mapping the Spatial Geographies of White Identity and Violence

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pp. 103-128

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public schools was illegal, overturning fifty-eight years of legal support for the policy of “separate but equal.”1 Three years later—and only a few years before images of attack dogs, fire hoses, bombed structures, ...

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Conclusion: “NO WHITE AND LEGAL HEIR”: The Responsibility of Whiteness in a Multiracial World

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pp. 129-142

African American intellectuals have a long, rich history of critical engagement with constructions of Whiteness. From W. E. B. Du Bois’s and Charles Chesnutt’s interest in the psychology of Whiteness to Frank Yerby’s and Zora Neale Hurston’s examinations of white women’s understanding and use of power in a racist patriarchy ... ...


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pp. 143-154

Works Cited

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pp. 155-166


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pp. 167-170

E-ISBN-13: 9781617038891
E-ISBN-10: 1621039803
Print-ISBN-13: 9781621039808

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Whites -- Race identity -- In literature.
  • Whites in literature.
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