The Souls of White FolkAfrican American Writers Theorize Whiteness

The Souls of White FolkAfrican American Writers Theorize Whiteness

Veronica T. Watson

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9781617038891

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi

Abstract

The Souls of White Folks: African American Writers Theorize Whiteness is the first study to consider the substantial body of African American writing that critiques Whiteness as social construction and racial identity. Arguing against the prevailing approach to these texts (which are generally known as “white life literature”) that says African American writers retreated from issues of “race” when they wrote about Whiteness, instead this body of literature is identified as an African American intellectual and literary tradition that is named here as “the literature of white estrangement.” In chapters that theorize white double consciousness (W.E.B. DuBois and Charles Chesnutt), white womanhood and class identity (Zora Neale Hurston and Frank Yerby), and the socio-spatial subjectivity of Southern Whites during the Civil Rights era (Melba Patillo Beals), the historically situated theories and analyses of Whiteness provided by the literature of white estrangement from the late 19th through the mid-twentieth centuries are explored. The author argues that these texts are best understood as part of a multi-pronged approach by African American writers to challenge and dismantle white supremacy in the U.S. and demonstrates that they have an important place in the growing field of critical whiteness studies. The Souls of White Folk utilizes interdisciplinary approaches to excavate the justifications and meanings of whiteness at various historical moments and is attentive to the ways that African American writers wrote against those mythologies and traditions of whiteness in pursuit of racial and social equality.