May 31, 2011
AMERICA'S "NATIONALISM OF DENIAL" AND "CULTURE OF SEGREGATION
Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940 (New York: Pantheon, 1998) ("Central to the meaning of whiteness is a broad, collective American silence. The denial of white as a racial identity, the denial that whiteness has a history, allows the quiet, the blankness, to stand as the norm. This erasure enables many to fuse their absence of racial being with the nation, making whiteness their unspoken but deepest sense of what it means to be an American. And despite, and paradoxically because of, their treasured and cultivated distinctiveness, southern whites are central to this nationalism of denial." ". . . This book is about how some southerners created a common whiteness to solve the problems of the post-Civil War era and built their collectivity on not just a convention or a policy but on segregation as a culture." I have tried here, against the deepest currents of late twentieth-century life, to write of racial making, not racial meaning. Segregation--the nation's broadest twentieth-century enactment of the difference between blacks and whites--is the product of human choice and decision, of power and fear, of longing, even of love and hate. At the level of culture, I have traced the origins and contours on modern southern whiteness the ways in which segregation presented a profound cultural problem, even as, in the late 1890s, it offered a practical political and social solution. My goal has been to illuminate who white southerners imagined they were and the stories and images that enabled them to make their collectiveness powerful and persuasive and true." ". . . Why does this abstraction of the world into black and white continue to color our own imaginings? Why does the culture of segregation, despite the very real successes of the civil rights movement, still seduce and ensnare us all? An understanding of what has made whiteness a cohesive and national as well as regional category seems to me necessary in any effort to find a future beyond it, to find a twenty-first-century American collectivity outside whiteness's racial denial that will actually include us all. Our differences are emphasized everywhere--from academic scholarship to the consume marketplace. When will we try honestly with and not against history, to create a new commonality? The implication of 'making whiteness,' of course, is that whiteness can be unmade, so that other, more democratic grounds of coherence can be established and lived." Id. at. xi-xii. In late 2008, early 2009, some Americans thought that the post-racial America had finally arrived or was, at the very least, near at hand. Then they woke up to the reality that creating, then sustaining, a post-racial world requires a day-to-day commitment to actually doing difficult things each and every day. Americans collectively have never been good at anything that sustained commitment and deferred gratification. Consequentially, no one talk about the post-racial America. The lines have drawn again, more subtle, but not less deep.).