Beyond Occasional Whiteness
America at the end of the 20th century witnessed a new revelation of an old apparition that demands unremitting theoretical vigilance. Euphemistically, it could be called “white surprise”—the surprise that race remains a live issue in America and racial violence recurs. It is a surprise that comes to us in unwanted irony, harsh with epiphany. In 1995 alone, for instance surprise that black people generally (though not, it must be noted and understood, “unanimously”) responded with joy to the O. J. Simpson acquittal, while white people generally (with a similar caveat) were depressed and angered. Surprise that Louis Farrakan could be a major player in the mobilization of a million black men of various religious persuasions to descend on Washington, DC in an auburn hour of activism one fall. Surprise that southern churches were burning again, leaving ash piles that were largely black. Surprise, really, because it was no surprise at all that a Ted Koppel late-spring interview with white people from Wisconsin (or was it Willamette, or Wilcox, or Walla Walla?) in a segment of Nightline entitled “America in Black and White” revealed a people decidedly “not preoccupied with race or the question of their own whiteness.” Race was something in the past, a problem still found here and there, in the outback of Idaho or in the imagination of the academy.
KeywordsWhite People Blue Collar Moral Courage Black Identity Racial Violence
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