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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revue canadienne d'etudes americaines Volume 28, Number 3, 1998, pp. 31-46 The "Not-Free" and "Not-Me": Constructions 31 of Whiteness in Rosewood and Ghosts of Mississippi Jamie Barlowe In this essay, I will discuss two recent film narratives that are specifically focussed on historical racialized conflicts: Rosewood (1997) and Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), examining how these cinematic representations connect with sociohistorical and personal accounts of the events, as well as how such representations impact on the present, particularly in the films' constructions of whiteness as a ritualised category. Primarily, critical race theorists have articulated the consequences of racialized constructions and racism on marginalised groups such as African Americans, but some--for example, Toni Morrison and bell hooks-have urged further consideration of the consequences of racism on those who perpetuate it overtly, covertly, or unwittingly and of whiteness as it impacts on artistic narrativized representations. As Morrison asks, "What parts do the invention and development of whiteness play in the construction of what is loosely described as 'American'?" (1992, 9). She says further that "until very recently, and regardless of the race of the author, the readers of virtually all American fiction have been positioned as white" (xii). Taking Morrison's claim about fiction to filmmaking, 32 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d'etudes americames one could say that until very recently, and regardless of the race of the filmmaker, the viewers of virtually all American mainstream films have been positioned as white. As I have written elsewhere, racial opposition-though misrecognized by whites-has allowed for the creation of a self-narrative of the white race in the United States (see Barlowe 1999; Barlowe and Travis 1995). This selfnarrative includes the assumption that whites need not acknowledge themselves as raced or racialized, nor confront whiteness as a construct historically , culturally, and psychically based on the absent presence of blackness. Two of the consequences of self-definitions and self-narratives based only on an opposition to an Other are self-perpetuating racism and racialized conflicts , the causes of which are often also self-disguised to the white participants through what Morrison calls "hysterical blindness" and the "projection of the not-me" and hooks sees as an absence of "critical consciousness" (hooks 1989, 29), caused by a colonized imagination. She urges whites and blacks to "decolonize their minds" (hooks 1996, 73). These practices of self-defining and narrativizing, as well as their consequences , operate in and constantly reproduce an exclusionary system of social relations, symbolic positionings, and cultural products, including literary and cinematic narrative. In most filmmaking, as film theorists from E. Ann Kaplan (1993) to Richard Dyer (1993) to bell hooks (1989; 1996), have argued, the gaze is white and invisible. AnnLouise Keating confirms this when she argues more generally about the construction of whiteness that the "most commonly mentioned attribute of 'whiteness' seems to be its pervasive nonpresence, its invisibility" (1995, 904). Whiteness is, then, the unmarked case, whereas "blackness is always marked as a color," as Richard Dyer has demonstrated. By "erasing its presence, 'whiteness' operates as the unacknowledged standard or norm against which all so-called minorities are measured" (Keating 1995, 905). John Gabriel argues that whiteness "is defined implicitly in the process of defining otherness, never explicitly for itself" (1996, 132). Kobena Mercer adds another attribute of whiteness: its "violent denial of difference" (1991, 206), and goes on to say that "one of the signs of the times is that we really don't know what 'white' is" (205). Other theorists and critics add that "whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege" .JamieBarlowe I 33 (McIntosh 1997, 120). As Peggy McIntosh further argues, "white privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks. Describing white privilege " she says further, "makes one newly accountable" (96). Such theorists have been decoding "whiteness" as a racialized category in cinematic and literary narratives. They see it coded most often as orderly, rational, controlled, civilized, and fully privileged, while "blackness" has been often coded as chaotic, irrational, out of control...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 31-46
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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