Stylin': African-American Expressive Culture, from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit

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9780801482830: Stylin': African-American Expressive Culture, from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit
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For over two centuries, in the North as well as the South, both within their own community and in the public arena, African Americans have presented their bodies in culturally distinctive ways. Shane White and Graham White consider the deeper significance of the ways in which African Americans have dressed, walked, danced, arranged their hair, and communicated in silent gestures. They ask what elaborate hair styles, bright colors, bandanas, long watch chains, and zoot suits, for example, have really meant, and discuss style itself as an expression of deep-seated cultural imperatives. Their wide-ranging exploration of black style from its African origins to the 1940s reveals a culture that differed from that of the dominant racial group in ways that were often subtle and elusive.

A wealth of black-and-white illustrations show the range of African American experience in America, emanating from all parts of the country, from cities and farms, from slave plantations, and Chicago beauty contests. White and White argue that the politics of black style is, in fact, the politics of metaphor, always ambiguous because it is always indirect. To tease out these ambiguities, they examine extensive sources, including advertisements for runaway slaves, interviews recorded with surviving ex-slaves in the 1930s, autobiographies, travelers' accounts, photographs, paintings, prints, newspapers, and images drawn from popular culture, such as the stereotypes of Jim Crow and Zip Coon.

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Review:

We know of the music, literature, and athletic exploits of black Americans, but most historians of Afro-American influence on American culture never emphasize the modes of expression, vernacular, color schemes, and hairstyles that everyone picks up on. That's where Australian professors Shane and Graham White come in, with a long-overdue look at how black fashions were absorbed into U.S. and world culture from the arrival of the first slaves up to the 1940s. Using photos, illustrations, recordings, advertisements, and other sources, they catalog a number of influential black cultural phenomena, from the antebellum clothes of 18th-century South Carolina slaves to the famed "zoot suit" explosion of the 1940s. --Eugene Holley Jr.

About the Author:

Shane White is Professor is Honorary Research Associate in the Department of History, University of Sydney. He is the author of Stories of Freedom in Black New York. Graham White is Honorary Reearch Associate in the Department of History, University of Sydney. Shane White and Graham White are the coauthors of The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons, and Speech.

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9780801431791: Stylin': African-American Expressive Culture, from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit

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ISBN 10:  0801431794 ISBN 13:  9780801431791
Publisher: Cornell University Press, 1998
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