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Uplifting the Race

Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Amidst the violent racism prevalent at the turn of the twentieth century, African American cultural elites, struggling to articulate a positive black identity, developed a middle-class ideology of racial uplift. Insisting that they were truly representative of the race's potential, black elites espoused an ethos of self-help and service to the black masses and distinguished themselves from the black majority as agents of civilization; hence the phrase 'uplifting the race.'

A central assumption of racial uplift ideology was that African Americans' material and moral progress would diminish white racism. But Kevin Gaines argues that, in its emphasis on class distinctions and patriarchal authority, racial uplift ideology was tied to pejorative notions of racial pathology and thus was limited as a force against white prejudice.

Drawing on the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Hubert H. Harrison, and others, Gaines focuses on the intersections between race and gender in both racial uplift ideology and black nationalist thought, showing that the meaning of uplift was intensely contested even among those who shared its aims. Ultimately, elite conceptions of the ideology retreated from more democratic visions of uplift as social advancement, leaving a legacy that narrows our conceptions of rights, citizenship, and social justice.

From Publishers Weekly

Feb 19, 1996 – Around the turn of the century, between the dying hopes of Reconstruction and the ardent desires of the civil rights movement was uplift, an ideology whereby African American elites believed they could earn respect--and rights--by adopting bourgeois mores. In his first three chapters, Gaines, a scholar of history and African American studies at Princeton, outlines some of the problems and concerns of uplift ideology, and while much of it is intriguing, his biggest beef often seems to be that uplift was not ahead of its time, being neither feminist enough nor sufficiently concerned with the needs of the lower classes. In the six remaining chapters, Gaines offers illustrations through profiles of African Americans. There's Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose dialect poems appealed to whites by continuing stereotypes; W.E.B. Du Bois, whose The Philadelphia Negro tried to reconcile the ideology of self-help with the realities of racism. There are ``race men and women'' who demean the lower classes, and African American men who ignore the plight of women while suffragists ignore the plight of African Americans. In the early chapters, Gaines sexualizes too much without enough substantiation (``the mammy stereotype... provided whites with a forgiving image of maternal black womanhood that released them from a guilty awareness of black women as victims of rape by white men''). But by the end, readers will be left with a much more subtle understanding of the sad paradox of uplift, of African Americans trying to belong to a society that was defined in part by their exclusion.
Uplifting the Race
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  • $29.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Dec 01, 2012
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Seller: Ingram DV LLC
  • Print Length: 342 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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