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Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

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In 1948, journalist Ray Sprigle traded his whiteness to live as a black man for four weeks. A little over a decade later, John Howard Griffin famously "became" black as well, traveling the American South in search of a certain kind of racial understanding. Contemporary history is littered with the surprisingly complex stories of white people passing as black, and here Alis In 1948, journalist Ray Sprigle traded his whiteness to live as a black man for four weeks. A little over a decade later, John Howard Griffin famously "became" black as well, traveling the American South in search of a certain kind of racial understanding. Contemporary history is littered with the surprisingly complex stories of white people passing as black, and here Alisha Gaines constructs a unique genealogy of "empathetic racial impersonation--white liberals walking in the fantasy of black skin under the alibi of cross-racial empathy. At the end of their experiments in "blackness," Gaines argues, these debatably well-meaning white impersonators arrived at little more than false consciousness. Complicating the histories of black-to-white passing and blackface minstrelsy, Gaines uses an interdisciplinary approach rooted in literary studies, race theory, and cultural studies to reveal these sometimes maddening, and often absurd, experiments of racial impersonation. By examining this history of modern racial impersonation, Gaines shows that there was, and still is, a faulty cultural logic that places enormous faith in the idea that empathy is all that white Americans need to make a significant difference in how to racially navigate our society.


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In 1948, journalist Ray Sprigle traded his whiteness to live as a black man for four weeks. A little over a decade later, John Howard Griffin famously "became" black as well, traveling the American South in search of a certain kind of racial understanding. Contemporary history is littered with the surprisingly complex stories of white people passing as black, and here Alis In 1948, journalist Ray Sprigle traded his whiteness to live as a black man for four weeks. A little over a decade later, John Howard Griffin famously "became" black as well, traveling the American South in search of a certain kind of racial understanding. Contemporary history is littered with the surprisingly complex stories of white people passing as black, and here Alisha Gaines constructs a unique genealogy of "empathetic racial impersonation--white liberals walking in the fantasy of black skin under the alibi of cross-racial empathy. At the end of their experiments in "blackness," Gaines argues, these debatably well-meaning white impersonators arrived at little more than false consciousness. Complicating the histories of black-to-white passing and blackface minstrelsy, Gaines uses an interdisciplinary approach rooted in literary studies, race theory, and cultural studies to reveal these sometimes maddening, and often absurd, experiments of racial impersonation. By examining this history of modern racial impersonation, Gaines shows that there was, and still is, a faulty cultural logic that places enormous faith in the idea that empathy is all that white Americans need to make a significant difference in how to racially navigate our society.

42 review for Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

  1. 5 out of 5

    gnarlyhiker

    A thought provoking read that leaves me speechless. Highly recommend. good luck

  2. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    This book was almost really good, but lost its way right at the end. The good aspect is that it takes a refreshingly nuanced view of so-called "reverse racial passing" ("white" people who "pass" as "black"), not only acknowledging its reality, but examining its causes and effects in detail. However, the book ultimately doesn't know or can't decide what race "is," ultimately implying at multiple points that race is a biological reality (we're really repping racial realism in 2017!?). I would stil This book was almost really good, but lost its way right at the end. The good aspect is that it takes a refreshingly nuanced view of so-called "reverse racial passing" ("white" people who "pass" as "black"), not only acknowledging its reality, but examining its causes and effects in detail. However, the book ultimately doesn't know or can't decide what race "is," ultimately implying at multiple points that race is a biological reality (we're really repping racial realism in 2017!?). I would still recommend this book, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of critical race theory.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    When I first saw the title in the new books shelves, I picked it up out of shock, wondering how this kind of "performative empathy" could still be popularized today. I'm not a fan of the kind of stories where it's "I'm a guy who posed as a girl on the internet and it turns out you DO get a lot of abuse as a woman on the internet" sort or, as the title suggests, "I was black for a day... racism DOES exist!" Was excited to see it's actually an incredibly well-researched breakdown of those kind of a When I first saw the title in the new books shelves, I picked it up out of shock, wondering how this kind of "performative empathy" could still be popularized today. I'm not a fan of the kind of stories where it's "I'm a guy who posed as a girl on the internet and it turns out you DO get a lot of abuse as a woman on the internet" sort or, as the title suggests, "I was black for a day... racism DOES exist!" Was excited to see it's actually an incredibly well-researched breakdown of those kind of attempts. It's much more of an in-depth, academic read than the more popularized non-fiction I tend to enjoy these days, but well worth it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Betti

    Head-turning I loved the depth to which Ms Gaines plumbed the psyches and motivations of these white folk trying in their deeply flawed way to cross over to a world they ultimately could never understand. We as humans need to be more humble, and just listen, instead of trying to always sound off/be right.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ingrid Kohtla

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    305.80097 G142 2017

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emily Chávez

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anne Thessen

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael J. Wilson

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dalia

  11. 5 out of 5

    Izabella Adamczewska-Baranowska

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  13. 4 out of 5

    Swati Rayasam

  14. 4 out of 5

    LD

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laura Arnold Arnold

  16. 5 out of 5

    James Chai

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joe Defazio

  18. 4 out of 5

    Colin

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sabine

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nosipho

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rebel

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alicia Tapia

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tabitha

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katya

  25. 4 out of 5

    Claire

  26. 4 out of 5

    Qiana

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emma

  28. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Stabel

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dannielle

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tameca

  31. 5 out of 5

    Christine Sears

  32. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

  33. 5 out of 5

    mad mags

  34. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  35. 5 out of 5

    Dawna

  36. 4 out of 5

    Arthur

  37. 5 out of 5

    Kim Ammons (youthbookreview)

  38. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

  39. 5 out of 5

    When We Read Book Club

  40. 5 out of 5

    Lex with the Text (Alexis Sims)

  41. 5 out of 5

    Jerrika Rhone

  42. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Nelson

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