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

by Shane White & Graham White

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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. 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. 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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