Whitewashing the South: White Memories of Segregation and Civil Rights (Perspectives on a Multiracial America)

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9781442232792: Whitewashing the South: White Memories of Segregation and Civil Rights (Perspectives on a Multiracial America)

Whitewashing the South is a powerful exploration of how ordinary white southerners recall living through extraordinary racial times—the Jim Crow era, civil rights movement, and the post-civil rights era—highlighting tensions between memory and reality.

Author Kristen Lavelle draws on interviews with the oldest living generation of white southerners to uncover uncomfortable memories of our racial past. The vivid interview excerpts show how these lifelong southerners reflect on race in the segregated South, the civil rights era, and more recent decades. The book illustrates a number of complexities—how these white southerners both acknowledged and downplayed Jim Crow racial oppression, how they both appreciated desegregation and criticized the civil rights movement, and how they both favorably assessed racial progress while resenting reminders of its unflattering past. Chapters take readers on a real-world look inside The Help and an exploration of the way the Greensboro sit-ins and school desegregation have been remembered, and forgotten.

Digging into difficult memories and emotions, Whitewashing the South challenges our understandings of the realities of racial inequality.

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About the Author:

Kristen Lavelle is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She has published in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies and is a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism and International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.

Review:

Attempting to clarify the persistence of black-white racism in the South by examining white attitudes, sociologist Lavelle uses a commonsense approach: she interviewed 44 Greensboro, NC, white elders (33 women, 11 men) to document their memories of growing up in the Jim Crow, civil rights, and post–civil rights eras. Lavelle records her interviewees’ stories, denials, justifications, and glosses while assessing their words within a sociological theoretical framework. This is ostensibly an academic and objective inquiry, but one wonders how objective the study can be when the author premises that the narrators' families comprised part of a white southern culture whose ingrained racism maintained 'race ... [as] the key boundary that structured the Jim Crow South....' Creating a book readers will either hate or love, with few finding a middle ground, Lavelle examines white perception and comprehension of black lives both in the private/domestic and public spheres, which illustrates her genuine effort to conduct viable research. Ultimately, any evaluation of the book must rest on the degree to which her 2007—2009 study provides an enriched understanding of the Jim Crow South through an accurate representation and subsequent analysis of typical white attitudes. Sure to launch discussion. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. (CHOICE)

An illuminating, nuanced, and powerful portrayal of how Southern whites have managed to ignore the degree to which racism has shaped their history, instead seeing the 1940s and 50s as decades of peace and harmony. (William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History, Duke University)

Lavelle expertly analyzes how older white Southerners construct a “non-racial” narrative of their experiences during the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement. We see that history is reconstructed, not only by historians, but in the memories of those who lived through it. Whitewashing the South is an important contribution to our understanding of whiteness and race in the United States. (Ashley "Woody" Doane, University of Hartford)

In this groundbreaking study, Kristen Lavelle adds to recent research on whiteness by exploring how older Southern whites make sense of the segregated world of their childhood. The study enhances our understandings of current whiteness by capturing the memories of a group whose perspective is often taken for granted but rarely analyzed systematically. Lavelle graciously and respectfully exposes the denial and memory distortions that allow her respondents to construct both an individual and a group "white moral identity." She shows how, in many ways, the denial evident in these life stories is "normal." By taking this approach, Lavelle invites the reader to consider how given a similar social context, we would all struggle to find ways to believe in the goodness of ourselves and our communities. While the book is a significant contribution due to its empirical findings alone, it is equally rife with theoretical insights of value to the broader study of race and ethnicity. (Karyn McKinney, Penn State University, Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies, Penn State Altoona)

“Time to shed the ‘progressive mystique’ and confront racism in Seattle,” Sharon H Chang, Mar 2, 2015, The Seattle Globalist: ------When I started reading Whitewashing the South: White Memories of Segregation and Civil Rights, I really didn’t think it had much to do with Seattle.
Sociologist Kristen M. Lavelle interviewed older white southerners who had lived through segregation and civil rights in Greensboro, North Carolina—often cited as the birthplace of the sit-in movement which launched the entire civil rights movement.
But then I got to this: “During the segregation era, North Carolina had the reputation of being the most racially progressive southern state.”
“The city of Greensboro,” Lavelle continues, “in particular had long prided itself for being a unique space of racial enlightenment...” Lavelle aptly refers to the city’s attempt at billing itself as racially advanced when it clearly was not, and cites its “progressive mystique.”
And my eyes widened as my jaw dropped a million miles to the floor. Racially enlightened? Progressive mystique? That sounded awfully familiar.
This is the same way Seattle loves to think of itself today. . . .
------
There is an important takeaway here: history tends to repeat itself and Seattle is at risk. We need to be very careful about using loaded language like “racially progressive” when the problem of racism is nowhere close to being solved here or anywhere else.
Lavelle points out there are striking similarities between the elder white southerners she interviewed and colorblind views today that assume everyone has the same opportunities and rationalizes (or altogether refuses to see) persistent inequities.
The point for us Seattleites is that the progressivism and colorblindness we ascribe to has been used before, and to very ill effect. Such beliefs lull us into complacency and even render us complicit.
Racism is not a problem that “other” people need to deal with. It’s our problem too; something we all need to acknowledge, address and undo.
Wake up Seattle and shake off your “progressive mystique.” We still have a lot of work to do. (The Seattle Globalist)

Whitewashing the South is an exploration of how white southerners recall the civil rights era, overlooking many of the realities of the day to present a sunnier version of the past. Filled with dynamic interview excerpts, author Kristen Lavelle uncovers uncomfortable memories of our racial past while treating her interview subjects with sensitivity.

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Book Description ROWMAN LITTLEFIELD, United States, 2014. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Whitewashing the South is a powerful exploration of how ordinary white southerners recall living through extraordinary racial times-the Jim Crow era, civil rights movement, and the post-civil rights era-highlighting tensions between memory and reality. Author Kristen Lavelle draws on interviews with the oldest living generation of white southerners to uncover uncomfortable memories of our racial past. The vivid interview excerpts show how these lifelong southerners reflect on race in the segregated South, the civil rights era, and more recent decades. The book illustrates a number of complexities-how these white southerners both acknowledged and downplayed Jim Crow racial oppression, how they both appreciated desegregation and criticized the civil rights movement, and how they both favorably assessed racial progress while resenting reminders of its unflattering past. Chapters take readers on a real-world look inside The Help and an exploration of the way the Greensboro sit-ins and school desegregation have been remembered, and forgotten. Digging into difficult memories and emotions, Whitewashing the South challenges our understandings of the realities of racial inequality. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9781442232792

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