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  • Order Out of Chaos:Whiteness, White Supremacy, and Thomas Dixon, Jr.
  • Chris Ruiz-Velasco (bio)

This paper examines The Leopard's Spots by Thomas Dixon Jr. a noted proponent of white supremacist thinking who wrote and was popular during the early Twentieth Century. The paper focuses on whiteness and how Dixon seems compelled to represent it in his novel and how the visual markers and visual metaphors the he deploys throughout his work both uphold and undermine his white supremacist position.

After the American cataclysm of the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction, Americans began to understand that a shift had taken place in the nation's racial and social being. This shift did not appear without anxieties and upheaval. With the freeing of black slaves and the initial attempt to integrate them into larger society came concerns as to the efficacy of such a move. It comes as no surprise, then, that the literature of this time would reflect these concerns. Writing during this period, Thomas Dixon, Jr., emerged as one of the most strident voices on the topic of race in America, and his novel, The Leopard's Spots, sold over a million copies. While popular during his heyday, Dixon has drifted off into an obscure and fraught place in the history of American literature. Nevertheless, critics and thinkers such as Michael Rogin, Walter Benn Michaels, Sandra Gunning, Susan Gillman, [End Page 148] Cathy Boekmann. Anthony Slide, and Scott Romine have turned their critical eyes onto Dixon and focused on him as he propounds early twentieth-century white supremacist thought. While these critics have made numerous topics the objects of their inquiries: rape (Gunning), character (Boekmann), melodrama (Gillman), and imperialism (Michaels), all of them intersect most conspicuously on the subject of whiteness. Whiteness holds all these critics together despite the fact that whiteness itself remains a rather slippery concept. As Ian Haney López notes, "Whiteness is contingent, changeable, partial, inconstant, and ultimately social" (2006, xxi). Whiteness, despite its mutable characteristics, fascinates Dixon as well as his critics. My interest in whiteness, in Dixon's work, rests in the visual, the visual markers and visual metaphors that Dixon's white supremacism uses to construct whiteness. Dixon's work, when read today, looks undeniably racist and histrionic. Anthony Slide contends that "[t]here is much that is wrong, perhaps even evil, in the work of Thomas Dixon" (2004, 12). The question must, of course then, present itself: Why examine his work at all? I see danger both in dismissing Dixon's work because it is racist and in merely acknowledging its racist ideology. Through a reading of Dixon's work, we can better understand the anxieties of early twentieth-century white supremacy and the language and images used to maintain and sustain whiteness itself.1 White supremacy, in general, and Dixon, in particular, use whiteness and its attendant visual markers and visual metaphors of whiteness in an attempt to solidify a fragmented white identity. However, these same visual markers and metaphors undercut as well as stabilize white identity. The resulting instability both manifests in and creates the contradictions and ruptures that fill Thomas Dixon's The Leopard's Spots because race itself is not a fixed entity. Despite Dixon's purposeful delineation between white and black (and despite his continual and repetitive depictions of the goodness of whiteness and the badness of blackness), the novel can neither contain nor alleviate the anxiety over racial impurity. In a compelling reading of Dixon's texts, Scott Romine points out, "Dixon offers whiteness not as essence, but as action; not as purity, but as purification; not as fact, but as affect; not as noun, but as imperative verb—more precisely, he stages and restages a compelling drama between the latter dynamic terms, and the former, static ones" (2006, 126). As Romine argues, Dixon does offer whiteness as action, as purification, as affect, and as imperative verb. However, whiteness as essence, as purity, as fact, and as noun has not been completely displaced in the text. Romine himself acknowledges as much when he writes of the staging and restaging of these terms as a drama. Romine's use of the metaphor...


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pp. 148-165
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