White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue... and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

Lauren Michelle Jackson. Beacon, $25.95 (184p) ISBN 978-0-8070-1180-5
Northwestern University professor Jackson’s insightful debut essay collection takes on cultural appropriation—particularly of black innovation by white celebrities, artists, and entrepreneurs—through the lens of power dynamics, identifying it as a process by which “society’s imbalances are exacerbated and inequalities prolonged.” In the realm of pop culture, she analyzes the pursuit of “urban” sexual wildness by Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, the aesthetic but not economic investment of the Kardashians in black fashion, and Paula Deen’s fetishistic presentation of Southern food alongside explicit racism. Her exploration of the art world juxtaposes the public reaction to Rachel Dolezal, made famous by her “impulse to inhabit blackness,” with accusations against institutions such as the Whitney Biennial, which she asserts ignores black artists but treats depictions of antiblack violence as edgy and relevant. She identifies toxic white resentment of black success in the recent viral videos of white people calling the police on black people (often children) for using public pools, having lemonade stands, or barbecuing in parks. Jackson is uncompromising in her bold language, palpable in her outrage; she keeps her razor-sharp analysis in an accessible but academic register. She both calls out the damage done by appropriative and oppressive behavior and calls in white readers to take part in valuing black contributions in a way that helps black lives. (Nov.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misidentified the book's author as a college instructor.

Reviewed on : 08/15/2019
Release date: 11/12/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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