The White African American Body

The White African American Body

Rutgers University Press
March 2002
240 pages
30 b&w illus.
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8135-3032-1
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8135-3031-4

Charles D. Martin

Explores the image of the white Negro in American popular culture from the late eighteenth century to the present.

Blacks with white skin. Since colonial times, showmen have exhibited the bodies of African Americans with white or gradually whitening skin in taverns, dime museums, and circus sideshows. The term “white Negro” has served to describe an individual born with albinism as well as those who have vitiligo, a disorder that robs the skin of its pigment in ever-growing patches. In The White African American Body, Charles D. Martin examines the proliferation of the image of the white Negro in American popular culture, from the late eighteenth century to the present day.

This enigmatic figure highlights the folly of the belief in immutable racial differences. If skin is a race marker, what does it mean for blacks literally to be white? What does this say not only about blacks but also about whites? Scientists have probed this mystery, philosophers have pondered its meaning, and artists have profited from the sale of images of these puzzling figures.

Lavishly illustrated with many rarely seen photographs, The White African American Body shows how the white Negro occupied, and still occupies, the precarious position between white and black, and how this figure remains resilient in American culture.

Table of Contents

  • Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: A Ballyhoo for the Exhibition
  • The White Negro in the Early Republic
  • Barnum’s Leopard Boy: The Reign of the Piebald Parliament
  • The Double Bind of the Albino: “Less Nigger and More Nigger at the Same Time”
  • A Better Skin: Scenes from the Exhibition
  • White Negroes, Leopard Boys, and the King of Pop
  • Afterword: Requiem for a Wigger
  • Notes
  • Index

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