Honor Bound: Race and Shame in America

Honor Bound: Race and Shame in America

by David Leverenz

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As Bill Clinton said in his second inaugural address, “The divide of race has been America’s constant curse.” In Honor Bound, David Leverenz explores the past to the present of that divide. He argues that in the United States, the rise and decline of white people’s racial shaming reflect the rise and decline of white honor. “White skin” and “black skin” are fictions of honor and shame. Americans have lived those fictions for over four hundred years.

To make his argument, Leverenz casts an unusually wide net, from ancient and modern cultures of honor to social, political, and military history to American literature and popular culture.

He highlights the convergence of whiteness and honor in the United States from the antebellum period to the present. The Civil War, the civil rights movement, and the election of Barack Obama represent racial progress; the Tea Party movement represents the latest recoil.

From exploring African American narratives to examining a 2009 episode of Hardball—in which two white commentators restore their honor by mocking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder after he called Americans “cowards” for not talking more about race—Leverenz illustrates how white honor has prompted racial shaming and humiliation. The United States became a nation-state in which light-skinned people declared themselves white. The fear masked by white honor surfaces in such classics of American literature as The Scarlet Letter and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and in the U.S. wars against the Barbary pirates from 1783 to 1815 and the Iraqi insurgents from 2003 to the present. John McCain’s Faith of My Fathers is used to frame the 2008 presidential campaign as white honor’s last national stand.

Honor Bound concludes by probing the endless attempts in 2009 and 2010 to preserve white honor through racial shaming, from the “birthers” and Tea Party protests to Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” in Congress and the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. at the front door of his own home. Leverenz is optimistic that, in the twenty-first century, racial shaming is itself becoming shameful.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813552705
Publisher: Rutgers University Press
Publication date: 03/27/2012
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

DAVID LEVERENZ is professor emeritus of English at the University of Florida. He is the author of The Language of Puritan Feeling (Rutgers University Press), Manhood and the American Renaissance, and Paternalism Incorporated.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Fear, Honor, and Racial Shaming
Hardball versus Eric Holder
Fear, Honor, and Fictions of Race
Racial Shaming
Slavery Still Matters

Chapter 2. How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?
How White Shaming Worked
Two Explanations
Fear and Honor
Shaming and Civil Rights

Chapter 3. Honor Bound
Honor-Shame Societies
Tocqueville on American Honor
When Honor Turned White
"The Souls of White Folk"
Chapter 4. Four Novels
Toward Freedom?
The Scarlet Letter
Honor and Shaming from Huck to Humbert
Challenging White Honor

Chapter 5. Two Wars
Humiliation and American Wars
The Barbary Pirates, 1783-1815
The Clash of Civilizations
The Second Iraq War, 2003 - ?

Chapter 6. The 2008 Campaign
John McCain's Lineage
The 2008 Presidential Campaign
Honor Unbound

Chapter 7. To the Tea Party -- and Beyond?
The Tea Party
"You Lie!"
The Drumbeat of Public Shaming
The Gates Arrest


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