Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White Culture: A Social History

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9780060185176: Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White Culture: A Social History

Black and white culture has been blending and colliding in America for hundreds of years. In the 1700s, black slaves discovered their masters' Bibles and found in them a seditious faith of their own. In the 1920s, young white men fell in love with New Orleans jazz and created an underground of cultural dissidents. In the 1970s, black style began its takeover of the sports world and made Dr. J and Michael Jordan the idols of millions.

In Mulatto America, a dazzling work of cultural history, the stories of these daring and deeply influential encounters are described in vibrant detail.

Beginning with new and shocking revelations about the white slaves kidnapped into "the House of Bondage," Mulatto America vividly chronicles the hidden connections that have shaped American style and character. Stephan Talty proposes that, along with the hatred that ruled the relationship between blacks and whites for so long, there has been a largely unexamined flip side: a powerful attraction that led both races to mimic what they saw and desired in each other.

The pages of this groundbreaking work, which introduces a strong new voice, are populated by the renegades who crossed the color line out of deep conviction or wild curiosity: W. E. B. Du Bois, Dorothy Dandridge, Elvis, Jay-Z, and many others.

Each chapter examines a different vanguard: The interracial lovers of the slavery era who ignored theories of racial inferiority and gave us models of devotion and daring. The black elite early in the last century who found in Shakespeare and Michelangelo not only deeply humanist masterpieces but hope that white bigotry could be overcome. And the members of today's hip-hop generation, who revel in the cultural freedom earned at so high a cost.

Drawing on original research and daring new interpretations of crucial events in American history, Talty paints a portrait of a lost America: one in which musicians, writers, and ordinary people led the nation to a deeper understanding of the strangers on the other side of town.

Without the mixing of black and white culture, America would look, sound, and feel completely different than it does today. On a cultural level, as well as racially, we are indeed a mulatto nation. This provocative and highly engaging new history shows us how this came to pass.

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About the Author:

Stephan Talty is a critic and journalist who has contributed numerous pieces on race and American culture to publications such as the New York Times Magazine, Vibe, George, Chicago Review, the Irish Times, and Playboy. Originally from Buffalo, New York, he now lives in Brooklyn.

From Publishers Weekly:

Miscegenation, both cultural and biological, brings forth new ideas and undermines narrow conceptions, argues Talty, a noted culture writer for the New York Times Magazine, Spin and Vibe. Describing his project not as traditional academic history but as "literary journalism," Talty draws on a hodgepodge of subjects that he admits cannot serve as a comprehensive survey. His chronology hops from the days when black slaves and white indentured servants mixed to the emergence of a European-minded black intellectual class at the turn of the 20th century and the use of hip-hop as one of the last strongholds of ghetto authenticity. Some of Talty's prose in the earlier chapters, which deal primarily with prevailing notions of blackness in the pre-Civil War era, lacks the forceful, imaginative analysis of later chapters, which showcase the pop-culture byproducts of race mixing. The careers of the first "Black" celebrities, such as Paul Robeson and Dorothy Dandridge, are regarded as complex instances of signification that invigorated the public at large while destroying some of their messengers. Talty's background as a critic is also reflected in his eloquent take on jazz: "It acted as an undertow pulling fans and musicians toward a realization of a complex black humanity, while only barely rippling the surface of 1920s and 1930s race relations." Few of Talty's ideas are revolutionary, but this book is an informed, occasionally inspired work that pulls its historical examples under a broad view of biracialism-as a phenomenon of memes as well as genes. It's a concept that more than sustains this smart, popularizing account.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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