Abandoning the Black Hero is the first book to examine the postwar African American white-life novel—novels with white protagonists written by African Americans. These fascinating works have been understudied despite having been written by such defining figures in the tradition as Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ann Petry, and Chester Himes, as well as lesser known but formerly best-selling authors Willard Motley and Frank Yerby.
John C. Charles argues that these fictions have been overlooked because they deviate from two critical suppositions: that black literature is always about black life and that when it represents whiteness, it must attack white supremacy. The authors are, however, quite sympathetic in the treatment of their white protagonists, which Charles contends should be read not as a failure of racial pride but instead as a strategy for claiming creative freedom, expansive moral authority, and critical agency.
In an era when “Negro writers” were expected to protest, their sympathetic treatment of white suffering grants these authors a degree of racial privacy previously unavailable to them. White writers, after all, have the privilege of racial privacy because they are never pressured to write only about white life. Charles reveals that the freedom to abandon the “Negro problem” encouraged these authors to explore a range of new genres and themes, generating a strikingly diverse body of novels that significantly revise our understanding of mid-twentieth-century black writing.
Winner, John G. Cawelti Award for the Best Textbook/Primer, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, 2019
MPCA/ACA Book Award, Midwest Popular Culture Association / Midwest American Culture Association, 2020
Taking a multifaceted approach to attitudes toward race through popular culture and the American superhero, All New, All Different? explores a topic that until now has only received more discrete examination. Considering Marvel, DC, and lesser-known texts and heroes, this illuminating work charts eighty years of evolution in the portrayal of race in comics as well as in film and on television.
Beginning with World War II, the authors trace the vexed depictions in early superhero stories, considering both Asian villains and nonwhite sidekicks. While the emergence of Black Panther, Black Lightning, Luke Cage, Storm, and other heroes in the 1960s and 1970s reflected a cultural revolution, the book reveals how nonwhite superheroes nonetheless remained grounded in outdated assumptions. Multiculturalism encouraged further diversity, with 1980s superteams, the minority-run company Milestone’s new characters in the 1990s, and the arrival of Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani-American heroine, and a new Latinx Spider-Man in the 2000s. Concluding with a discussion of contemporary efforts to make both a profit and a positive impact on society, All New, All Different? enriches our understanding of the complex issues of racial representation in American popular culture.
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