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Indy Study: Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White Edited by David R. Roediger

Historian David Roediger's volume is the only systematic presentation of blacks' writings on whites and whiteness. While my independent study is focusing on post-World War II fiction, Roediger's expansive collection of (mostly) non-fiction seemed like an ideal place to start my study.

The range and extent of the documents which Roediger has collected is impressive. Roediger includes pieces of writing that range from the early 19th century to today, and covers a wide range of genres including slave narratives, journalism, poetry, fiction, sociology, satire, philosophy, and legal theory. It will prove to be a tremendous resource for lesson planning.

However, it must be noted that this collection can hardly be considered definitive, as it is overwhelmingly made up of pieces that fit into the ideological framework of protest and resistance probably best defined by the work of W.E.B DuBois (which Roediger certainly falls into, though with a stronger Marxist leaning). Roediger ignores voices outside of this intellectual current. There is little to be heard from the voices of a Booker T. Washington, the conservative accommodationalist, (or even the early Martin Luther King), nor from the black nationalists ranging from Martin Delaney and Marcus Garvey to the Black Power and Black Muslim movements of the past fifty years.

Most of documents in this collection fall into three different categories:

  1. Rational defenses of black humanity and diagnostic critiques of white inhumanity
  2. Pieces which seek to establish common ties and identities between white and black workers
  3. Documentations of white terrors and terrorism (particularly slavery and lynching)
As discussed in my paper on the representation of whites in select Harlem literature, Roediger divides images of whites and whiteness into two categories; "whiteness as property" and "whiteness as terror." The first two categories of documents reflect the former, while the third obviously corresponds to the latter.

Next: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison


Papers from Fall semester

I got of bunch of the papers I wrote last semester up on my new website. I hope some of them will be of interest to people. The three that I'm most proud of:


Indy Study: Goals

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?

Works Refereced:
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.

Indy Study: Background

One of the requirements of my student teaching program was to complete a Personal Inquiry Project, which combined research with observation of my classroom. I asked the question, “How Should I Approach Sensitive Multicultural Issues in a Homogeneous Environment?” I did my student teaching at a small public school in the richest town in Rhode Island that was over 95% white. For my purposes here, the key conclusions were:

  • Students must learn to see themselves as whites and understand the accompanying privilege
  • Students cannot just study “Others” but also must do extensive self reflection and analysis in terms of their own identity, therefore developing the ability to see their selves through different mirrors.
  • This cannot happen through doing “token” classes on current issues. This must be done repeatedly and it must be a foundation for the curriculum.
Research and personnel experience suggests that the racial identity of most white suburban students is either normative and/or invisible. That is, most white students do not identify as “white” in any meaningful way. They do not, for the most part, incorporate as part of their identity their whiteness or the extensive privilege that this whiteness carries (for further explanation, see Peggy McIntosh’s invaluable essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”). Because of this, most white people do not recognize that others see them and their whiteness is different ways.

It is my hypothesis that one curricular method for rectifying this problem is to use materials in this classroom that reveal the viewpoints of non-whites towards white people. Teaching these pieces to students would be like holding up new mirrors to students who are only used to looking at themselves in a very certain way as racial beings. As the study of perceptions of whites by non-whites has received scant scholarly attention, this independent study is an attempt to investigate sources of writing that reveal some of the attitudes and perceptions of white people by black people in the United States.

Independent Study: Perceptions of Whiteness and White People in Black Literature

This semester, I will be completing an Independent Study looking at the perceptions of whiteness and white people in black literature with Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin. This project is part of my master's degree in African-American Studies at Columbia University. Over the next three months, I will be reading and writing about (primarily) fictional work written by black American authors since the 1945 which of interesting or insightful depictions of whites and whiteness. Dr. Griffin has kindly allowed my writing medium to be this blog. I will be reading one book approximately every week and posting thoughts about the work, its depictions of whites and whiteness, and some thoughts on using the work in the classroom.



I finished my first semester of grad school. It went well. Learned a ton, and I feel like I'm beginning to understand the history of this country of ours. While being a grad student certainly has its detractions (it has been hard for me to go from interacting with nearly 100 students on any given day to doing most of my work by myself at a desk or in the library), I feel like it has given me a great opportunity to really develop, grow, and mature as a student and scholar.

This semester my course load is down. I'm doing a seminar on Black Leadership in American Politics, a research seminar, and I an independent study on the representation of white people and whiteness in black literature (much more to come on this soon - it will involve this blog). Most of time will be focused on my thesis on the Civil Rights Citizenship Schools. I was in Charleston, SC two weeks ago doing archival research, which was really an incredible experience that I wish more people, particularly high school students, could have.

I miss being in the classroom, and am eager to return in the fall. I have started looking for high school social studies positions in NYC for the coming Fall, and would be glad to hear of any leads, opportunities, or suggestions.

All in all things are going well. I love living in Brooklyn, and plans for my June wedding are coming along smoothly.

I want to post some of my work from last semester. As I am currently without web hosting, does anyone have any suggestions on how to do this free or cheaply? I've been looking at ourmedia.org, but it seems a little cumbersome. I may just do some really cheap web hosting, but I'd rather not have to pay. Hopefully I'll have this figured out in the next couple days, and I'll be able to make my stuff available.