Black Mirror: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism

Black Mirror: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism

by Eric Lott


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Blackness, as the entertainment and sports industries well know, is a prized commodity in American pop culture. Marketed to white consumers, black culture invites whites to view themselves in a mirror of racial difference, while at the same time offering the illusory reassurance that they remain “wholly” white. Charting a rich landscape that includes classic American literature, Hollywood films, pop music, and investigative journalism, Eric Lott reveals the hidden dynamics of this self-and-other mirroring of racial symbolic capital.

Black Mirror is a timely reflection on the ways provocative representations of racial difference serve to sustain white cultural dominance. As Lott demonstrates, the fraught symbolism of racial difference props up white hegemony, but it also tantalizingly threatens to expose the contradictions and hypocrisies upon which the edifice of white power has been built. Mark Twain’s still-controversial depiction of black characters and dialect, John Howard Griffin’s experimental cross-racial reporting, Joni Mitchell’s perverse penchant for cross-dressing as a black pimp, Bob Dylan’s knowing thefts of black folk music: these instances and more show how racial fantasy, structured through the mirroring of identification and appropriation so visible in blackface performance, still thrives in American culture, despite intervening decades of civil rights activism, multiculturalism, and the alleged post-racialism of the twenty-first century. In Black Mirror, white and black Americans view themselves through a glass darkly, but also face to face.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674967717
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 09/25/2017
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,200,083
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Eric Lott is Professor of English and American Studies at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 Black Mirror: States of Fantasy and Symbolic Surplus Value 1

2 Our Blackface America: Mr. Clemens and Jim Crow 33

3 The Mirror has Two Faces: White Ethnic Semi-Mojo 63

4 House of Mirrors: The Whiteness of Film Noir 93

5 White Like Me: Racial Trans and the Culture of Civil Rights 119

6 Tar Baby and the Great White Wonder: Joni Mitchell's Pimp Game 139

7 All The King's Men: Elvis Impersonators and White Working-Class Masculinity 157

8 Just Like Jack Frost's Blues: Masking and Melancholia in Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft" 195

Coda 209

Notes 213

Index 251

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