The January/February issue of the Atlantic is out (online and newstand) with the provocative cover you see above. Instantly brought to mind whiteness studies seminars in grad school, the language we use to weight ethnicity in our culture, the literature that defines our American identity replete with both celebration and condemnation of racism. The shock of the whiteness of Melville's whale. The fleeting expression of anxiety that the dominance of white culture will pass as expressed in The Great Gatsby. Toni Morrison's exploration of whiteness in American literature in Playing in the Dark and her moving and disturbing first novel, The Bluest Eye, with the young protagonist's obsession with possessing the blonde hair and blue eyes she perceives as the hallmarks of feminine beauty in American culture.
The question mark looms large on the cover of this magazine. I have only had opportunity to dip into the issue so far, but it holds the promise of many more questions about how exactly the media's favorite new catch phrase, a post-racial world, will define our sense of American identity. And of course, I always think of how that shift in sensibilities will play out in our national literature.
What literary work(s) do you favor that both define and explore racial identity and influence in the U.S.?