White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue & and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation
American culture loves blackness. From music and fashion to activism and language, black culture constantly achieves worldwide influence. Yet, when it comes to who is allowed to thrive from black hipness, the pioneers are usually left behind as black aesthetics are converted into mainstream success–and white profit.
Weaving together narrative, scholarship, and critique, Lauren Michele Jackson reveals why cultural appropriation–something that’s become embedded in our daily lives–deserves serious attention. It is a blueprint for taking wealth and power, and ultimately exacerbates economic, political, social inequity that persists in America. She unravels the racial contradictions lurking behind American culture as we know it–from shapeshifting celebrities and memes gone viral to brazen poets, loveable potheads, and faulty political leaders.
An audacious debut, White Negroes brilliantly summons a re-interrogation of Norman Mailer’s infamous 1957 essay of a similar name. It also introduces a bold new voice in Jackson. Piercing, curious, and bursting with pop cultural touchstones, White Negroes is a dispatch in awe of black creativity everywhere and an urgent call for our thoughtful consumption.
Read excerpts in Bitch, Eater, In These Times, LitHub, The Paris Review, Public Books, Slate, and Wired. Read and hear interviews at NPR’s Weekend Edition, New York magazine’s Intelligencer, Chicago Tribune, The Nation, and Vox.
“What I love most about Lauren Jackson’s incisive and richly detailed work in White Negroes is how it does not imagine any cultural phenomenon as something that does not have a history attached to it. And through the work of charting that history, a new cultural understanding arises. This is a vital text—one that offers new ways of seeing, hearing, and consuming.”—Hanif Abdurraqib, author of They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us
“Like ‘intersectionality’ and ‘diversity’ and ‘neoliberalism’ and perhaps even ‘capitalism,’ the word ‘appropriation’ has taken on so many interpretations and interpolations as to court ontological disaster: what does it even mean? Lauren Michele Jackson wrestles with the idea, the concept, the history, the bodies, and the selves that are implicated in cultural appropriation. Jackson does not absolve anyone, but she does point toward some of the most complex corners of culture. In those corners she asks us to consider not freedom and choice but power. That emphasis on who can commodify appropriation is different from pedestrian debates about who can do appropriation. White Negroes is a mature meditation for debates that have, at times, wallowed in their own intellectual infancy. The collection is witty, wry, and welcome. In the vein of Imani Perry and Zoé Samudzi, this book is an excellent addition to critical thinking about culture and contemporary racial orders.”—Tressie McMillan Cottom, author of Thick and Lower Ed
“We’ve needed this book for years, and yet somehow it’s right on time. Miraculously, Lauren Michele Jackson is able to write about cultural appropriation in a way that doesn’t make you want to drink a glass of sand. She brings incredible nuance and a sharp critical voice to a discussion that has sorely lacked both—yet somehow emerges with a text that is as accessible as it is theoretically relevant. Jackson avoids platitudes and easy answers, has a keen eye for history and popular culture, and, moreover, she is funny.”—Eve L. Ewing, author of Electric Arches and Ghosts in the Schoolyard