On a personal level, my main goal for this independent study is to do the groundwork that will allow me to write a curriculum for suburban high school students about perceptions of majority otherness. On a scholarly level, I hope to develop a framework and vocabulary that in some way transcends the Self-Other dialectic. Unlike Mia Bay and David Roediger (who have written on this subject from a historical perspective), I am not particularly concerned with empirical accuracy of black visions of whiteness. I am interested in the ways in which the representation of whites by blacks serves as both an act of resistance and self-affirmation. Drawing on Bay, I want to look at the implicit theory of race that accompanies representations of whiteness. I also want to test Roediger’s claim that representations of white people and whiteness in black writing falls into two main categories: whiteness as property and whiteness as terror. My initial reaction is that this is an oversimplification and I hope to develop accompanying categories.
The books I am reading fall into two main categories. The first category is books primarily about black people. The analysis of these books will augment the analysis of my final paper from Writing Black New York. These will (tentatively) included The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, Parable of the Sowerby Octavia E. Butler, and Native Son, by Richard Wright.
The second group of books are “white life” novels that focus whites. These will include Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston, Savage Holidayby Richard Wright, Country Place by Ann Petry, and Knock on Any Door by Willard Motley. These books present their own unique sets of questions: Does the focus on white make race more or less visible? Are these books meant to be critical of their subject or are the lack of racial difference meant to allow the author to focus on other issues? How does the fact that these works are written by black, rather than white, authors change my reading and understanding of the book?
Bay, Mia. The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas About White People, 1830-1925. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Roediger, David R. “Introduction.” Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White. Ed. David R. Roediger. New York: Schocken Books, 1998. 1-26.