History Slam Episode 158: White Appropriations of Black Masculinities in the Civil Rights Era

By Sean Graham

The years following the Second World War saw major changes to American society, from the rise of suburbs to powerful social movements to shifting international priorities. Within that change, popular culture took on a new significance in American life as television spread across the country and radio stations increasingly shifted to music-only formats. With that expansion, there were opportunities for more Americans to be represented within the culture. At the same time, however, there were also more opportunities for the appropriation or misrepresentation of some Americans.

In her new book He Thinks He’s Down: White Appropriations of Black Masculinities in the Civil Rights Era Katharine Bausch of Carleton University examines how black men were represented within popular culture. Using case studies of the literature of Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac, fashion articles during the early years of Playboy, and Blaxploitation films, Bausch looks at how white male artists used ideas of black masculinity in their efforts to understand what it meant to be an American man.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Bausch about the book. We talk about Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac’s writing, Playboy‘s fashion pages, and blaxploitation films. We also discuss the historical roots of appropriation, the contemporary responses to these cultural outlets, and the lasting legacy within popular culture.

Sean Graham is a historian with Parks Canada, an Adjunct Professor at Carleton University, and a contributing editor at Activehistory.ca.

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