restricted access Synopses of Other Important Works
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Synopses of Other Important Works Culture and Mass Culture: How We Create and Maintain Racial Lines Many other commentors have written incisively on the role of culture in creating color categories and relations of class supremacy. Here is a sampling of opinion. The Black Disease Ronald Takaki, in Iron Cages (Knopf, 1979), describes how early opinion makers like Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, went about teaching that African-Americans were afflicted by a kind of disease of the body that accounted for their color (p. 30 et seq.) and by bad habits of mind as a result of slavery. Rush, a physician , warmly sympathized with Negro causes and favored emancipation. Nevertheless, he considered negritude an unfortunate affliction related to leprosy and warned that whites who were too close to Negroes could become infected. The White Lie James Baldwin is most famous for his novels, such as Another Country, and for his essays, such as those collected in The Price of the Ticket. In a short piece written toward the end of his life, "On Being 'White' ... and Other Lies" (Essence, April 1984), he advances this thesis: "No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations , and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country." Immigrant groups like Irish, Germans, Jews, and Italians paid a terrible price for becoming whiteeven if some of them paid it willingly. Each group bought into a lie-a genocidal practice that ruthlessly subordinated blacks, poisoned the wells of Native Americans, and raped the women of both races. According to Baldwin, This moral erosion has made it quite impossible for those who think of themselves as white in this country to have any moral authority at all-privately or publicly. The multitudinous bulk of them sit, stunned, before their TV sets, swallowing garbage that they know to be garbage, and ... pay a vast amount of attention to athletics.... They are either relieved or embittered by the presence of the Black boy on the team. I do not know if they remember how long and hard they fought to keep him off it. I know that they do not dare have any notion of the price Black people ... paid and pay. They do not want to know the meaning, or face the shame.... Baldwin considers that failure to face America's genocidal history-its "lie"amounts to cowardice and that it "has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the \A.(orld has ever seen. And how did they get that Copyrighted Material 286 Synopses of Other Important Works way? ... By deciding that they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a black child's life meant nothing compared with a white child's life." Hegemony Kimberle Crenshaw, professor of law and cofounder of the school of thought known as critical race theory, in a famous article ("Race, Reform, and Retrenchment ," 101 Harvard Law Review 1331 [1988]), argues that liberal strategies of race reform (litigation, sit-ins, etc.) have both advanced and impeded the cause of black justice. For Crenshaw, white people's race consciousness is central not only to the domination of blacks, but also to whites' acceptance of the legitimacy of hierarchy and to their identity with elite interest. Exposing the centrality of race consciousness is crucial to identifying and delegitimating beliefs that present hierarchy as inevitable and fair. She therefore calls for a "realignment of the Critical project [civil rights. Ed.] to incorporate race consciousness [and] beliefs about blacks in American society." This new focus will show "how these beliefs legitimize racial coercion"; at the same time, it will liberate whites from false identification with their own class oppressors. Snow-White In his essay "Language and Prejudice Toward Negroes"-reprinted in the anthology White Racism, edited by Barry Schwartz and Robert Disch (Dell, 1970; pp. 385-91)-Simon Podair offers several rich accounts of how language embraces and maintains color lines and imagery. Why is a wild, outcast member of a family a "black sheep"? Why is a competitor with little chance of winning a "dark horse"? The author invites his readers to consider phrases and words such as (p. 388): blackball-to exclude from membership black book -containing names that are out of favor or in disgrace blacken-to defame or sully blackguard-one who uses scurrilous language or treats others with foul abuse black-letter-unlucky, inauspicious blacklist...