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Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights

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Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In Racial Innocence, Robin Bernstein argues that the concept of "childhood innocence" has been central to U.S. racial formation since the mid-nineteenth century. Children--white ones imbued with innocence, black ones excluded from it, and others of color erased by it--figured pivotally in sharply divergent racial agendas from slavery and abolition to antiblack violence and the early civil rights movement.

Bernstein takes up a rich archive including books, toys, theatrical props, and domestic knickknacks which she analyzes as "scriptive things" that invite or prompt historically-located practices while allowing for resistance and social improvisation. Integrating performance studies with literary and visual analysis, Bernstein offers singular readings of theatrical productions from blackface minstrelsy to Uncle Tom's Cabin to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; literary works by Joel Chandler Harris, Harriet Wilson, and Frances Hodgson Burnett; material culture including Topsy pincushions, Uncle Tom and Little Eva handkerchiefs, and Raggedy Ann dolls; and visual texts ranging from fine portraiture to advertisements for lard substitute. Throughout, Bernstein shows how "innocence" gradually became the exclusive province of white children--until the Civil Rights Movement succeeded not only in legally desegregating public spaces, but in culturally desegregating the concept of childhood itself.

Review:

Bernstein's powerful account of how the sentimental ideology of childhood innocence, and particularly its highly gendered manifestations, function to articulate racial hierarchies gives strong and detailed evidence for how paying attention to childhood serves to refocus many all too familiar, and troublesome, facets of American culture. I know of virtually no one of her generation who writes with this kind of verve, authority and pleasure. Racial Innocence will prove an important and widely read book--in part simply because it will be so much fun to read. — Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Amherst College

Review:

Nineteenth and early twentieth-century material culture comes alive in Robin Bernstein's brilliant study of the racialized and gendered ideologies that shape, inform and continue to haunt notions of American childhood into the present day. Through imaginative and masterfully innovative archival research, Bernstein shows how representations of childhood and child's play are integral to the making of whiteness and blackness and citizenship in this country. Racial Innocence is a groundbreaking book that for the first time illuminates the powerful and critical connections between constructions of girlhood, racial formations and American popular culture. — Daphne Brooks, Princeton University

Synopsis:

Beginning in the mid nineteenth century in America, childhood became synonymous with innocence--a reversal of the previously-dominant Calvinist belief that children were depraved, sinful creatures. As the idea of childhood innocence took hold, it became racialized: popular culture constructed white children as innocent and vulnerable while excluding black youth from these qualities. Actors, writers, and visual artists then began pairing white children with African American adults and children, thus transferring the quality of innocence to a variety of racial-political projects—a dynamic that Robin Bernstein calls “racial innocence.” This phenomenon informed racial formation from the mid nineteenth century through the early twentieth.
 
Racial Innocence
takes up a rich archive including books, toys, theatrical props, and domestic knickknacks which Bernstein analyzes as “scriptive things” that invite or prompt historically-located practices while allowing for resistance and social improvisation.  Integrating performance studies with literary and visual analysis, Bernstein offers singular readings of theatrical productions from blackface minstrelsy to Uncle Toms Cabin to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; literary works by Joel Chandler Harris, Harriet Wilson, and Frances Hodgson Burnett; material culture including Topsy pincushions, Uncle Tom and Little Eva handkerchiefs, and Raggedy Ann dolls; and visual texts ranging from fine portraiture to advertisements for lard substitute. Throughout, Bernstein shows how “innocence” gradually became the exclusive province of white children—until the Civil Rights Movement succeeded not only in legally desegregating public spaces, but in culturally desegregating the concept of childhood itself.

About the Author

Robin Bernstein is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. Her previous books include Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater. Visit her online at people.fas.harvard.edu/~rbernst/

Product Details

ISBN:
9780814787083
Author:
Bernstein, Robin
Publisher:
New York University Press
Subject:
African American Studies
Subject:
African American Studies-General
Subject:
General Political Science
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20111231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
318
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » African American Studies » General
History and Social Science » Anthropology » Cultural Anthropology
History and Social Science » Sociology » Slavery

Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights New Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$31.75 In Stock
Product details 318 pages NYU Press - English 9780814787083 Reviews:
"Review" by , Bernstein's powerful account of how the sentimental ideology of childhood innocence, and particularly its highly gendered manifestations, function to articulate racial hierarchies gives strong and detailed evidence for how paying attention to childhood serves to refocus many all too familiar, and troublesome, facets of American culture. I know of virtually no one of her generation who writes with this kind of verve, authority and pleasure. Racial Innocence will prove an important and widely read book--in part simply because it will be so much fun to read. — Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Amherst College
"Review" by , Nineteenth and early twentieth-century material culture comes alive in Robin Bernstein's brilliant study of the racialized and gendered ideologies that shape, inform and continue to haunt notions of American childhood into the present day. Through imaginative and masterfully innovative archival research, Bernstein shows how representations of childhood and child's play are integral to the making of whiteness and blackness and citizenship in this country. Racial Innocence is a groundbreaking book that for the first time illuminates the powerful and critical connections between constructions of girlhood, racial formations and American popular culture. — Daphne Brooks, Princeton University
"Synopsis" by , Beginning in the mid nineteenth century in America, childhood became synonymous with innocence--a reversal of the previously-dominant Calvinist belief that children were depraved, sinful creatures. As the idea of childhood innocence took hold, it became racialized: popular culture constructed white children as innocent and vulnerable while excluding black youth from these qualities. Actors, writers, and visual artists then began pairing white children with African American adults and children, thus transferring the quality of innocence to a variety of racial-political projects—a dynamic that Robin Bernstein calls “racial innocence.” This phenomenon informed racial formation from the mid nineteenth century through the early twentieth.
 
Racial Innocence
takes up a rich archive including books, toys, theatrical props, and domestic knickknacks which Bernstein analyzes as “scriptive things” that invite or prompt historically-located practices while allowing for resistance and social improvisation.  Integrating performance studies with literary and visual analysis, Bernstein offers singular readings of theatrical productions from blackface minstrelsy to Uncle Toms Cabin to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; literary works by Joel Chandler Harris, Harriet Wilson, and Frances Hodgson Burnett; material culture including Topsy pincushions, Uncle Tom and Little Eva handkerchiefs, and Raggedy Ann dolls; and visual texts ranging from fine portraiture to advertisements for lard substitute. Throughout, Bernstein shows how “innocence” gradually became the exclusive province of white children—until the Civil Rights Movement succeeded not only in legally desegregating public spaces, but in culturally desegregating the concept of childhood itself.
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