“Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance” by Carla Kaplan

I didn’t read this book yet. I went to an author lecture. (I also didn’t buy the book. I hope it turns up at the Library soon!)

Who was “Miss Anne”? It’s a generic term for a white woman, usually from a privileged background – the woman for whom so many black women worked. Kaplan studied everything she could find about several dozen of these women who cast their lot with Harlem at its time of great intellectual and artistic vigor. She selected six for inclusion in her book.

For her lecture, Kaplan focused on Josephine Cogswell Schuyler. JCS hid her marriage and her daughter from her wealthy Texas family for decades.

I’ll save further comments about the book until I read it. Observations from the lecture: Language changes over time. I could feel people around me cringe at the words “Negro” and “colored”.

The term “cultural appropriation” didn’t come up. I know people who would analyze the “Miss Anne” phenomenon through that lens.

Kaplan is listed (Amazon.com) as an “ethnic and gender studies” professor. Tony Judt (see blog entry September 30, 2013) considers “identity” a dangerous word and slams “identity studies”  as “introspective” (my term) to the point of negating the purpose of liberal education. I have reservations, too. Maybe only “mainstream” (white middle class) students should be allowed free run of the “identity studies” majors, minors and certificates. It’s good for us/them to learn the details of some other part of the world, and/or about people very different from themselves. Maybe everyone else should be directed to into some program other than their “own”.

Harlem was full of “identity” conundrums, the  “wannabe” Negro (generally unpopular), the honorary Negro (respected for contributions to the community) and the volunteer Negro (almost revered for living “Black” despite appearance that would permit her or him to “pass” as white).

By the way, Charlie LeDuff who wrote the book about Detroit that I reviewed on September 7, 2013, discovered his Black ancestry while writing the book. His Black friends and co-workers weren’t impressed. Census records reveal that his great grandfather “discarded” his “Negro” classification during the great migration of Black Americans to the industrial North. This had important consequences, allowing him to work in a skilled trade (carpentry). LeDuff had been told that his ancestors were French.

More to follow, when I actually read the book!


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