Chapter 33. Blackness/Whiteness

  1. Paul Lauter president
  1. James Smethurst

Published Online: 16 MAR 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9781444320626.ch33

A Companion to American Literature and Culture

A Companion to American Literature and Culture

How to Cite

Smethurst, J. (2010) Blackness/Whiteness, in A Companion to American Literature and Culture (ed P. Lauter), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444320626.ch33

Editor Information

  1. Trinity College (Hartford), UK

Author Information

  1. University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 16 MAR 2010
  2. Published Print: 26 MAR 2010

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780631208921

Online ISBN: 9781444320626



  • blackness/whiteness;
  • race as a “construction,” an “invention,” or a sort of performance;
  • African-American slavery, defining what freedom was for white Europeans and North Americans - black cultural illiteracy separating Europeans and white North Americans from colored peoples of the world;
  • Douglass's autobiographies, first two, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) and My Bondage and My Freedom (1855);
  • Ellison, simple but radical argument that the category of “white” is not possible without the category of black;
  • Ellison's novel, proposing a vision of American national genesis, not simply of Afro-America;
  • in The Great Gatsby, Nick and Gatsby crossing the Queensboro Bridge into New York City - greeted by a sign of disorder and modern urban life in America;
  • sort of subservient individualism promoting envy or contempt for one's peers, self-hatred, violence against oneself and community - displacement of the rage against being judged ugly;
  • origins of US racial hierarchy in a labor system - people as property, black writers investigating relationship between economics and race formation


This chapter contains sections titled:

  • References and Further Reading