Stylin': African American Expressive Culture from its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit.Stylin': African American African American Multiculture A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. See Race. Expressive Culture from its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit. By Shane White and Graham White Graham White (born February 14, 1951) was an Australian middle-long distance freestyle swimmer of the 1960s and 1970s, who won a silver medal in the 4x200 m freestyle relay at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Cornell University, mainly at Ithaca, N.Y.; with land-grant, state, and private support; coeducational; chartered 1865, opened 1868. It was named for Ezra Cornell, who donated $500,000 and a tract of land. With the help of state senator Andrew D. Press, 1998. xv plus 301 pp.).
Stylin': African American Expressive Culture from its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit is a remarkable book. Shane White and Graham White, though not related, are both Australians, did their graduate work at the University of Sydney The University of Sydney, established in Sydney in 1850, is the oldest university in Australia. It is a member of Australia's "Group of Eight" Australian universities that are highly ranked in terms of their research performance. , and teach and write about African-American history at that institution. Researching and writing a book about black culture from halfway around the globe is a daunting daunt
tr.v. daunt·ed, daunt·ing, daunts
To abate the courage of; discourage. See Synonyms at dismay.
[Middle English daunten, from Old French danter, from Latin challenge in itself. As they note in their preface, the scholars White have also had to contend with raised eyebrows from Americans (historians included) who cannot fathom how foreigners "could have anything to say to Americans about their history." (p. ix) That these are white foreigners writing about African-American history is perhaps all the more unfathomable to some. As it turns out, however, White and White have a great deal to say to Americans about their past. What makes Stylin' a remarkable book is not so much the "outsider" status of the authors or the difficulties they undoubtedly encountered in completing it. Rather, it is their breakthrough scholarship on the social and cultural significance of African-American public style that deserves our attention.
Stylin' is broad in scope. White and White have taken on the ambitious task of determining "that which is distinctive about the body language of African Americans and about the ways in which they have constructed their appearance."(p. 3) Beginning with the eighteenth century, and moving through to the l940s, White and White examine the unique and creative realms of African-American dress, hairstyles, and expressive movement. Rather than attempting a comprehensive treatment of such a huge topic, the authors examine their subject in eight thematic chapters. This "series of linked essays"(p. 2) offers new perspectives on much-studied areas of African-American history, including slavery, emancipation, the Jim Crow Jim Crow
Negro stereotype popularized by 19th-century minstrel shows. [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 138]
See : Bigotry South, and the development of urban communities in the North. The authors use familiar sources in innovative ways. They mine runaway slave advertisements, WPA WPA: see Work Projects Administration.
in full Works Progress Administration later (1939–43) Work Projects Administration
U.S. work program for the unemployed. interviews with ex-slaves, antebellum travel narratives, and white and black newspapers for clues about how black people looked, how they moved, and how they interacted with each other in public. White and White use evidence from black perspectives wherever they can, but they also do a good job of reading between the lines Between the lines can refer to:
One who is excessively concerned with being or appearing to be proper, modest, or righteous.
[French, short for prude femme, virtuous woman : Old French prude , and Tera Hunter),  White and White demonstrate that our understanding of race in American history is incomplete without considering how African-Americans have chosen to portray themselves.
Stylin' makes a good case for the social importance of black style. Many historians have argued that it was the unique and autonomous culture African Americans created for themselves that allowed them to survive and resist racial oppression. White and White offer new and vivid examples of this. They assert that slaves laid claim to their own bodies through the clothes they chose or altered, the hairstyles they wore, and the dance steps they devised. They look at African-American festivals, parades, and the "Sunday stroll," observing that in such displays black people were asserting their right to occupy or even control public spaces usually dominated by whites. They point out that African-American beauty pageants in the 1920s implicitly insisted, against the grain of white-produced mass culture, that black women were beautiful. Lest we see such activities as frivolous and trivial compared with more overt forms of resistance, White and White convincingly assert that choices in clothing, hair, and leisure acti vities had political implications that African Americans were well aware of. A black man who chose to dress "too well" in a small Southern town or black fraternal organizations who tried to "take over" public streets in a parade risked violent reprisals REPRISALS, war. The forcibly taking a thing by one nation which belonged to another, in return or satisfaction for a injury committed by the latter on the former. Vatt. B., 2, ch. 18, s. 342; 1 Bl. Com. ch. 7.
2. from local whites. In the racially charged context of American culture, ephemeral things like African-American dress, hair, and movement had concrete social meanings and consequences.
White and White maintain that as a form of cultural resistance, African-American style necessarily represented a stark alternative to white American The term white American (often used interchangeably with "Caucasian American" and within the United States simply "white") is an umbrella term that refers to people of European, Middle Eastern, and North African descent residing in the United States. aesthetics--one that was perpetually fascinating to white observers. Drawing on the familiar notion of African-American cultural hybridity, the authors see black style as "bricolage bri·co·lage
Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available: "Even the decor is a bricolage, a mix of this and that" Los Angeles Times. ", mixing African "survivals" with selected European and Euro-American influences in the context of black people's historical circumstances. When African-Americans borrowed from white forms, be they clothing, hairstyles, or music, they virtually always altered them to suit personal and group tastes. White and White see a consistent pattern, over two hundred years old, of African-Americans juxtaposing colors, textures, and rhythms in constantly new and surprising ways. Slave men might pair a cast-off cast·off
1. One that has been discarded.
2. Printing A calculation of the amount of space a manuscript will occupy when set into type.
adj. also cast-off
Discarded; rejected. dress jacket with work pants. Slave women in Charleston, prohibited from wearing fine hats, used brightly colored cloth to wrap their heads in distinguished-looking turbans. Stylish men in the l93Os and 1940s wore well-tailored suits, but in colors few whites would have chosen. African-Americans sometimes drew from white influences in their dance steps, music, hairstyles, and fashion, but, White and White argue, they often did so in exaggerated or mocking ways. Moreover, while whites frequently derided black style they at times admired, envied, and attempted to copy it. It is White and White's meticulous portrayal of African-American style as distinct from, even critical of white culture, yet at the same time constantly influencing and reacting to "mainstream" trends, which is the most compelling aspect of this book.
At times, however, it is difficult to gauge how White and White see this African-American aesthetic changing over time. While they are carefully sensitive to distinctions of class and region within African-American society, and they have clearly covered a lot of ground chronologically, they could have better fleshed out historical context. In their introduction White and White cite Langston Hughes describing (as comical) the mismatched outfits of Africans in Senegal. His reaction, the authors point out, is similar to that of whites in the antebellum United States toward slave clothing. What changed between the 1830s and the 1920s? Did the features of black style (juxtaposition of contrasting patterns and colors, unexpected combinations, improvisation) remain constant while the particular forms that style took changed over time? White and White suggest this, but at times one wishes that they had more explicitly linked continuities and changes in black style with other social and cultural developments in Afric an-American history.
Nevertheless, Stylin' is an excellent book. It is an invaluable contribution to the field of African-American cultural history. It is useful and innovative, but most importantly, it suggests new directions in which scholarship might go. Let us hope that long distances do not deter Shane White and Graham White from continuing to inform and expand Americans' knowledge of their history.
Carnegie Mellon University Carnegie Mellon University, at Pittsburgh, Pa.; est. 1967 through the merger of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (founded 1900, opened 1905) and the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research (founded 1913).
ENDNOTE See footnote.
(1.) 1. See Shane White, "'It Was a Proud Day': African Americans, Festivals, and Parades in the North, 1741-1834," Journal of American History The Journal of American History (sometimes abbreviated as JAH), is the official journal of the Organization of American Historians. It was first published in 1914 as the Mississippi Valley Historical Review 81 (June 1994): 13-51; Shane White and Graham White, "Slave Hair and African American Culture African American culture or Black culture, in the United States, includes the various cultural traditions of African American communities. It is both part of, and distinct from American culture. The U.S. in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries," Journal of Southern History 61 (February 1995): 45-76; Robin Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of , 1994); Jonathan Prude, "To Look upon the 'Lower Sort': Runaway Ads and the Appearance of Unfree Laborers in America, 1750-1800," Journal of American History 78 (June 1991): 129-130; Tera Hunter, "Dancing and Carousing ca·rouse
intr.v. ca·roused, ca·rous·ing, ca·rous·es
1. To engage in boisterous, drunken merrymaking.
2. To drink excessively.
Carousal. the Night Away," chapter eight in To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Cambridge and London, 1997).