Racial Innocence (Hardcover)

Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (America and the Long 19th Century #16)

By Robin Bernstein

New York University Press, 9780814787076, 318pp.

Publication Date: December 1, 2011

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (12/1/2011)

List Price: 89.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


2013 Book Award Winner from the International Research Society in Children's Literature

2012 Outstanding Book Award Winner from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education

2012 Winner of the Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize presented by the New England American Studies Association

2012 Runner-Up, John Hope Franklin Publication Prize presented by the American Studies Association

2012 Honorable Mention, Distinguished Book Award presented by the Society for the Study of American Women Writers

Part of the American Literatures Initiative Series

Beginning in the mid nineteenth century in America, childhood became synonymous with innocence--a reversal of the previously-dominant Calvinist belief that children were depraved, sinful creatures. As the idea of childhood innocence took hold, it became racialized: popular culture constructed white children as innocent and vulnerable while excluding black youth from these qualities. Actors, writers, and visual artists then began pairing white children with African American adults and children, thus transferring the quality of innocence to a variety of racial-political projects--a dynamic that Robin Bernstein calls "racial innocence." This phenomenon informed racial formation from the mid nineteenth century through the early twentieth.

Racial Innocence takes up a rich archive including books, toys, theatrical props, and domestic knickknacks which Bernstein analyzes as "scriptive things" that invite or prompt historically-located practices while allowing for resistance and social improvisation. Integrating performance studies with literary and visual analysis, Bernstein offers singular readings of theatrical productions from blackface minstrelsy to Uncle Tom's Cabin to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; literary works by Joel Chandler Harris, Harriet Wilson, and Frances Hodgson Burnett; material culture including Topsy pincushions, Uncle Tom and Little Eva handkerchiefs, and Raggedy Ann dolls; and visual texts ranging from fine portraiture to advertisements for lard substitute. Throughout, Bernstein shows how "innocence" gradually became the exclusive province of white children--until the Civil Rights Movement succeeded not only in legally desegregating public spaces, but in culturally desegregating the concept of childhood itself.

Check out the author's blog for the book here.

About the Author

Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Robin Bernstein is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. Her previous books include Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater.