Manual Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White

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A literary critic, writer, and scholar, Ellison taught at a variety of colleges and spent two years overseas as a Fellow of the American Academy. In an effort to transcend the starkly defined racial categories of the s, he was sometimes criticized for choosing white society over his African American identity. Identifying as an artist first, Ellison rejected the notion that one should stand for a particular ideology, refuting both Black and white stereotypes in his collection of political, social and critical essays titled Shadow and Act.

I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

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Best known for The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the novel Roots , Haley began his writing career freelancing and struggled to make ends meet. Eating canned sardines for weeks at a time, his big break came when Playboy magazine assigned him to interview Miles Davis. Proving to be such a success, the magazine contracted Haley to do a series of interviews with prominent African Americans. The Autobiography of Malcolm X would soon become an international bestseller and Haley became a literary success.

The book was a national sensation and won the Pulitzer Prize, eventually becoming a television miniseries that would shatter television viewing records when million viewers tuned in. A primary contributor of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes was one of the first to use jazz rhythms in his works, becoming an early innovator of the literary art form jazz poetry. While many American poets during the s were writing esoteric poetry to a dwindling audience, Hughes addressed people using language, themes, attitudes and ideas that they could relate to.


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When his first novel Not Without Laughter was published in , it won the Harmon gold medal for literature. A prolific writer known for his colorful portrayals of Black life from the ss, Hughes wrote plays, short stories, poetry, several books, and contributed the lyrics to a Broadway musical. In addition to his extensive body of work, he inspired other artists and highlighted the power of art as a catalyst for change.

Seen as a voice for their own experience, writers during the Harlem Renaissance often dedicated their work to Hughes. By the time of its height in the s, Hurston was a preeminent Black female writer in the United States. Unlike the style of contemporaries Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, Hurston did not write explicitly about Black people in the context of white America.

She focused on the culture and traditions of African Americans through the poetry of their speech. Despite her earlier literary success, Hurston would suffer later in her career. Having difficulty getting published, she died poor and alone. Born in Mississippi in , Richard Wright is best known for his novels Native Son and Black Boy, that mirrored his own struggle with poverty and coming of age journey. His novel Black Boy was a personal account of growing up in the South and eventual move to Chicago where he became a writer and joined the Communist Party.


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While the book was a great success, Wright had become disillusioned with white America and the Communist Party, and moved to Paris. He spent the rest of his life living as an expatriate and he continued to write novels.

Growing up in an integrated neighborhood, Morrison was not fully aware of racial divisions until her teenage years. It was in the s when Morrison became an editor at Random House that she began to write. While she had published The Bluest Eye in and Sula in , The Song of Solomon was the book that set her on the course of literary success. The publication of Beloved in is considered to be her greatest masterpiece and won several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Toni Morrison: ‘I’m writing for black people … I don’t have to apologise’

Who would make your list? Add your thoughts in comment below. James Baldwin Though he spent most of his life living abroad to escape the racial prejudice in the United States, James Baldwin is the quintessential American writer. Image: Baldwin, , MDCarchives.

The Idea That Whites Can’t Refer to the N-Word

Amiri Baraka Born in , poet, writer and political activist Amiri Baraka used his writing as a weapon against racism and became one of the most widely published African American writers. Octavia Butler In a genre known for being traditionally white and male, Octavia Butler broke new ground in science fiction as an African American woman. Image: W.

Du Bois, , Library of Congress. Langston Hughes A primary contributor of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes was one of the first to use jazz rhythms in his works, becoming an early innovator of the literary art form jazz poetry. Richard Wright Born in Mississippi in , Richard Wright is best known for his novels Native Son and Black Boy, that mirrored his own struggle with poverty and coming of age journey.

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What Is White Privilege, Really? | Teaching Tolerance

Stay Connected! A collection of short classics on the narrow but interesting topic of just what is it with these white people anyway. The book provides a nice introduction to the work of a great number of excellent In this thought-provoking volume, David R.


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Roediger has brought together some of the most important black writers throughout history to explore the question: What does it really mean to be white in America? From folktales and slave narratives to contemporary essays, poetry, and fiction, black writers have long been among America's keenest students of white consciousness and white behavior, but until now much of this writing has been ignored.

Du Bois, bell hooks, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker to take a closer look at the many meanings of whiteness in our society. Rich in irony, artistry, passion, and common sense, these reflections on what Langston Hughes called the ways of white folks illustrate how whiteness as a racial identity derives its meaning not as a biological category but as a social construct designed to uphold racial inequality.

Powerful and compelling, Black on White provides a much-needed perspective that is sure to have a major impact on the study of race and race relations in America. Imagination