Synopses & Reviews
is a profoundly important work that explains how and why whiteness came to be such a crucial, embattled--and distorting--component of twentieth-century American identity. In intricately textured detail and with passionately mastered analysis, Grace Elizabeth Hale shows how, when faced with the active citizenship of their ex-slaves after the Civil War, white southerners re-established their dominance through a cultural system based on violence and physical separation. And in a bold and transformative analysis of the meaning of segregation for the nation as a whole, she explains how white southerners' creation of modern "whiteness" was, beginning in the 1920s, taken up by the rest of the nation as a way of enforcing a new social hierarchy while at the same time creating the illusion of a national, egalitarian, consumerist democracy.
By showing the very recent historical "making" of contemporary American whiteness and by examining how the culture of segregation, in all its murderous contradictions, was lived, Hale makes it possible to imagine a future outside it. Her vision holds out the difficult promise of a truly democratic American identity whose possibilities are no longer limited and disfigured by race.
In this brilliant and indispensable study of the making of segregationist culture, Grace Elizabeth Hale shows how what W. E. B. Du Bois called the "color line" came to define American identity itself: whiteness became the standard, desirable image of aspiring middle-class life while blackness was consigned to the margins, to the back of the bus, and became a marker, for a white majority, of social pathology. Nowhere was the identification of blackness with inferiority more obsessively enforced than in the South, where the law cast a blind eye on lynching as public entertainment and where white children were taught that Negroes "must be kept in their place."
Drawing on a fascinating and often disturbing array of cultural artifacts and events, Making Whiteness shatters the habitual assumption that racism is an unfortunate fact of human nature, and points the way toward a truly egalitarian and integrated society.
About the Author
Grace Elizabeth Hale is an assistant professor of American history at the University of Virginia. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.