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June 29, 2012


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Bill Turnier

"A Soldier's Story" is a great movie (1984) that deals with a tragic event in which this concern is taken to the point of murder.

Alfred Brophy

Brando--couple of things come to mind here. First, African American newspapers in the north during the Great Migration served a similar function: they often talked about how to fit in to northern society. In terms of secondary literature, James Grossman's Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration deals with this some, as I recall. It's been years and years since I read it, but I think so.

Second, Martha Jones' All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900 also speaks to the question of how African Americans entered political and constitutional debate and how their public image facilitated this. It's interested in issues at an oblique angle to your interests, I think -- but very important.

Third, the way you phrase this about meeting the expectations of white society reminds me (obviously) of Booker T. Washington. He had a very different prescription of how to behave from the people you're reading, but the key to Washington's plan was behavior acceptable to white people.

Fourth, I think you'd be interested in Sarah N. Roth's work on white women's depictions of African Americans from the 1830s through the Civil War. She looks at the same kinds of issues as you, but from the perspective of white women. Roth's interested in how white women over time portray African American (particularly men) and finds a shift from depictions of enslaved men as savages to enslaved men (and during the war African American soldiers) as refined Christians. There's a lot of nuance there I'm missing; your two studies are complementary in many ways.

Jan S. Rosin

During slavery there were similar concerns between house slaves and field slaves. The first group learned the social conventions while the second did not. There was lots of snobbery within slaves over this division.

Also among immigrant groups like the Irish there was a push to become acceptable. This was often driven by the wives who had worked as house servants in WASP homes and learned the social conventions while their husbands worked with their hands in manual labor jobs. These women, the lace curtain Irish, passed their knowledge on to the kids. African women who worked in white homes served a similar role after the demise of slavery up until the civil rights movement.

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