Motherhood in Black and White: Race and Sex in American Liberalism, 1930–1965

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9780801484384: Motherhood in Black and White: Race and Sex in American Liberalism, 1930–1965

The apron-clad, white, stay-at-home mother. Black bus boycotters in Montgomery, Alabama. Ruth Feldstein explains that these two enduring, yet very different, images of the 1950s did not run parallel merely by ironic coincidence, but were in fact intimately connected. What she calls "gender conservatism" and "racial liberalism" intersected in central, yet overlooked, ways in mid-twentieth-century American liberalism.Motherhood in Black and White analyzes the widespread assumption within liberalism that social problems―ranging from unemployment to racial prejudice―could be traced to bad mothering. This relationship between liberalism and motherhood took shape in the 1930s, expanded in the 1940s and 1950s, and culminated in the 1960s. Even as civil rights moved into the mainstream of an increasingly visible liberal agenda, images of domineering black "matriarchs" and smothering white "moms" proliferated. Feldstein draws on a wide array of cultural and political events that demonstrate how and why mother-blaming furthered a progressive anti-racist agenda. From the New Deal into the Great Society, bad mothers, black or white, were seen as undermining American citizenship and as preventing improved race relations, while good mothers, responsible for raising physically and psychologically fit future citizens, were held up as a precondition to a strong democracy.By showing how ideas about gender roles and race relations intersected in films, welfare policies, and civil rights activism, as well as in the assumptions of classic works of social science, Motherhood in Black and White speaks to questions within women's history, African American history, political history, and cultural history. Ruth Feldstein analyzes representations of black women and white women, as well as the political implications of these representations. She brings together race and gender, culture and policy, vividly illuminating each.

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"Overall, Motherhood in Black and White is an important and useful work. Feldstein demonstrates that the methods of cultural history can expand and transforn an understanding of the past. She also proves an excellent tour guide through the terrain of postwar US culture."―Felicia Kornbluh. The Women's Review of Books, Wellesley College, Vol. XVIII, No. 5, February 2001

"Feldstein's examination of motherhood, citizenship, and race in twentieth-century American social policy brings an innovative analytical perspective to our understanding of liberal thought from the 1930 to the 1960s. . . She has provided a sophisticated and valuable backdrop on which we can view the evolution of American liberalism in the twentieth century; it remains to other scholars to shade in the grey areas between ideas and actions."―Lynne Curry, Eastern Illinois University. American Historical Review, October 2001

"This stunning reading of mid-twentieth-century culture and politics revisits the consequences of holding mothers responsible for the fate of the nation. Breaking contemporary links between conservatism and gender traditionalism, Ruth Feldstein troubles the narrative of modern liberalism. . . After Feldstein's sophisticated commentary, liberalism will never again look the same."―Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara. The Journal of American History, December 2001

"In recent years, social historians have replaced the standard image of the 1950s as a period of conservatism with one that emphasizes resistance, expressed in the civil rights movement and burgeoning discontent with domesticity. Ruth Feldstein's important book builds on this scholarship and moves it in an exciting new direction. . . Feldstein's bold reappraisal of race and gender in twentieth-century American liberalism will likely set the terms of debate for many years to come. Students of U.S. women's history, race relations, politics, and popular culture must take Feldstein's provocative insights into account."―Molly Ladd-Taylor, York University. Journal of Social History, Spring 2002

"Motherhood in Black and White is the best, most interesting, most provocative, and most original study of race and gender, culture and public policy in the middle decades of the twentieth century that I have seen. It is an extremely exciting book."―Rickie Solinger, author of Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade

"In this imaginative, wide-ranging, and provocative cultural history of American motherhood, Ruth Feldstein explores the relationships between gender conservatism and racial liberalism. In the process, she greatly enriches our understanding of the meanings of citizenship, the role of the state, and the problematic connections between race and gender."―Daniel Horowitz, author of Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism

"Parsing the politicized notions of good and bad mothering as well as the dominant discourses of racial equality, Ruth Feldstein offers a sweeping reinterpretation of American liberalism at mid-century. Motherhood in Black and White is, among other things, a deep and insightful prehistory of the Moynihan Report and its devilment. Eye-opening, portentous, smart."―Matthew Frye Jacobson, author of Whiteness of a Different Color

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