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White: Essays on Race and Culture

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White people are not literally or symbolically white; nor are they uniquely virtuous and pure. Racial imagery and racial representation are central to the organisation of the contemporary world but, while there are many studies of images of black and Asian people, whiteness is an invisible racial position. At the level of racial representation, whites are not of a certain race. They are just the human race, a 'colour' against which other ethnicities are always examined.
In White , Richard Dyer looks beyond the apparent unremarkability of whiteness and argues for the importance of analysing images of white people. Dyer traces the representation of whiteness by whites in Western visual culture, focusing on the mass media of photography, advertising, fine art, cinema and television.
Dyer examines the representation of whiteness and the white body in the contexts of Christianity, 'race' and colonialism. In a series of absorbing case studies, he discusses the representations of whiteness in muscle-man action cinema, from Italian 'peplum' movies to the Tarzan and Rambo series; shows the construction of whiteness in photography and cinema in the lighting of white and black faces, and analyses the representation of white women in end-of-empire fictions such as The Jewel in the Crown , and traces the disturbing association of whiteness with death, in vampire narratives and dystopian films such as Blade Runner and the Aliens trilogy.

288 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1997

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Richard Dyer

67 books25 followers

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5 stars
138 (38%)
4 stars
162 (45%)
3 stars
38 (10%)
2 stars
12 (3%)
1 star
4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
Profile Image for Simone.
1,443 reviews45 followers
May 10, 2012

This book is a game changer. It's so amazing. The scope and breadth of his argument is staggering. If you aren't familiar with the book he breaks it down like this in the introduction:

"But this then is why it is important to come to see whiteness. For those in power in the West, as long as whiteness is felt to be the human condition, then it alone both defines normality and fully inhabits it. As I suggested in my opening paragraphs, the equation of being white with being human secures a position of power. White people have power and believe that they think, feel and act like and for all people; white people, unable to see their particularity, cannot take account of other people's; white people create the dominant images of the world and don't quite see that they thus construct the world in their own image; white people set standards of humanity by which they are bound to succeed and others bound to fail. most of this is not done deliberately and maliciously; there are enormous variations of power amongst white people, to do with class, gender and other factors; goodwill is not unheard of in white people's engagement with others. White power none the less reproduces itself regardless of intention, power differences and goodwill, and overwhelmingly because it is not seen as whiteness, but as normal. White people need to learn to see themselves as white, to see their particularity. In other words, whiteness needs to be made strange."

Anyway, this is a book of cultural theory, and he doesn't shy away from the big words and ideas at times, then again I also found it immensely readable. If you are interested in the media, or representations of race, and you haven't read this book (I hadn't - I knew it existed and I knew the argument, but I hadn't sat down and read it) I urge you to read through it.
Profile Image for Eliane Mitchell.
36 reviews30 followers
January 22, 2019
Really fascinating book that I (admittedly) read for class. As James Baldwin said “there is now white community” — this book, by contrast, develops a theory to explain what whiteness is and how it has managed to disguise itself as “ordinary.” Watching the several movies that the author discusses in depth would probably be helpful (however I did not do this, simply skimming these parts).
Profile Image for Hannah Treasure.
2 reviews5 followers
November 12, 2013
Dyer attempts to separate race from class, gender, and sexuality in a way that just isn't possible. Even in his own experiences, Dyer seems to identify with racial minorities as a sort of outsider perspective parallel to his own sexuality; yet with his personal struggles it seems like throughout the essay he still yearns to be something other than white as almost an interesting addition to himself--presenting a clearly problematic view that disregards cultural narratives and history. His misconstrued admiration becomes particularly offensive when he discusses eroticism in the context of his "intrigue" toward non-white races, making remarks that remind me of comments made toward careers of African-American athletes Venus and Serena Williams where often their bodies are talked about in a pornographic or animalistic way which degrades and ignores their successes by being unable to look past their bodies and skin. It seems that Dyer looks in this section at whose ethnicity can enhance his own experience, which was just something so disturbing and left me distracted for the remainder of his writing. Ultimately Dyer does however, remind us why it's essential we continue to discuss race and why we cannot live under a false pretense of being in a post-racial society. As much as I did not like Dyer himself, he is able to articulate that silence of stories only lets society further reprimand power from its people.
Profile Image for Rachael.
181 reviews119 followers
November 30, 2007
Hey everybody who was in Engl 662 or 666 or whatever it was? Remember when the bookstore turned these books upside down? Yeah. That was funny. We all felt really odd buying them.

That aside, this is a pretty good outline of "color" (in terms of gender/race issues) in text and film, although it misses a lot of important points and seems to focus more on photographs and lighting analysis than the theoretical implications. However, I think it's good as an overview text.
Profile Image for Christian Holub.
256 reviews22 followers
August 21, 2015
The definite highlight from the "Unsettling Whiteness" class I took this past spring. One of the keys to white supremacy is pretending that while categories like "black" and "Asian" have specific biological/psychological characteristics, whiteness is normalcy devoid of any intrinsic markers. This book will blow your mind with its analysis of the attributes of whiteness.
Profile Image for Amy.
917 reviews55 followers
September 11, 2016
Dyer examines the concept of "whiteness" through photography (and cameras essentially constructed to deal with lighter colored skin), film and TV (by concentrating on white hero/muscle/masculinity and white/feminine/purity/damsel or troublemaker, and the association with death).
Profile Image for Rosianna.
75 reviews
October 9, 2010
Fascinating and very visual look at the way white people have created images of whiteness across the ages. Should be required reading for all, I think.
Profile Image for Megan L.
4 reviews1 follower
January 19, 2020
In all honesty I thought that a book that was going to address "Whiteness" in the same way that academics address "non-White" cultures. To a certain extent the book did do that, but something about Dyer's introduction really prevented me from fully engaging with his text. In the preface he talks about how he feels 'allyship' with non-White people because of his queerness, then discusses how his eroticisation of the non-White bodies through his romantic relationships with non-White partners made him "realise his Whiteness" and thus inspired him to write this book. Lol. His points are valid like Whiteness being the expected norm, Whiteness being the pure form of humanity etc. and how the world has developed around Whiteness but I can't really get over the preface lol.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
47 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2017
Dyer manages to talk about hugely serious issues in his collection of essays in a conversational style which makes me wonder why these aren't conversations had more readily. "White" is a series of essays dealing with whiteness and the unawareness that white people have around issues of race. I should point out at this point that I am a white female. "White" made me realise how everything is designed for the white race, from plasters to film lighting. I can't do the book justice, but I hope more people will read this 'academic' text and start having uncomfortable conversations.
Profile Image for Stacy Ma.
30 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2022
Started off strong. The first two chapters are a must-read, but kind of limited itself to specific film analyses in the second half.

The association of race and heterosexuality is inspiring and intersectional.

“The point of looking at whiteness is to dislodge it from its centrality and authority, not to reinstate it (and much less, to make a show of reinstating it, when, like male power, it doesn’t actually need reinstating).”

“I have often wondered whether white peoples know they are white. I know that Richard Dyer does.��� (Helen Charles, 1993:99) — absolutely love this compliment lol
Profile Image for Derek.
175 reviews1 follower
August 27, 2017
A critique of Dyer in the style of Dyer:
The author's pretentious use of inaccessible vocabulary and refusal to pragmatically recognize the heteronormative local and global perception of race and race issues causes concomitant feelings of aesthetic displeasure and philosophical confusion on the part of the reader.
Now in plain language: Barely readable. Even less understandable.
Profile Image for Miriam.
90 reviews14 followers
November 28, 2018
Dyer's thought process is clear and charming. He provides very analytical pondering on defining whiteness. I especially liked his close-reading of the films Simba, Jezebel and Night of the Living Dead. Definitely read-again!
Profile Image for Beth.
Author 7 books85 followers
May 28, 2020
I read this book years ago, but it has been on my mind a lot lately. Dyer unpacks the way white people center whiteness, normalizing and celebrating it, while pushing non-white identities to the margins. His reading of the construction of "white woman" as paragon is particularly enlightening.
144 reviews4 followers
April 2, 2018
Necessary reading for white folks, particularly in terms of better understanding how truly white-centric culture, history and the arts are and remain.
Profile Image for Dan.
Author 15 books137 followers
October 30, 2021
A truly essential work of scholarship, written with dazzling precision, sharpness, insight, and wit.
Profile Image for Izetta Autumn.
418 reviews
June 25, 2007
If you are a student of cultural studies, visual culture or race in America, you MUST read this book. There are a few books that change your life, that you remember reading and everything clicks. This was it for me. The book is wonderful. Not only does Dyer write clearly and with ease about such a complicated topic, but he provides nearly indisputable examples of the ways Western culture privileges whiteness - not only the hue but also the skin color.

Dyer deals with art, art history, and photography - even engaging the way that we think of and use light. Unlike many scholars in the whiteness field, Dyer does not reify privilege in his investigation of whiteness. In fact, from the outset Dyer says that he is illuminating the Western concept of whiteness in order to further its deconstruction - and calls other scholars out for attempting to relocate attention on whiteness studies in ways that don't ultimately work to end white supremacy.

Loved it! Read it!
Profile Image for malic.
38 reviews17 followers
September 12, 2008
more than any other, this book inspired my Div III (aka senior thesis) at Hampshire, which was titled "The Rise of the White Heroine: Feminism and Racism at the Movies."

"White" looks critically at the representation of whiteness in popular culture, historically and presently. Specifically it goes into representations in the moving image, particularly Hollywood movies, and spends a great deal of time on the development of Hollywood lighting. Dyer explains how film lights and film stock have been designed for white skinned actors, and lighting techniques have been conceived to make white women glow and white men slightly darker and more muscular than their female counterparts. Then he goes into cultural meanings of whiteness, glow, and muscles.

wow, I should really reread this book now that i am making moving images again, and lighting for film and instructing students in lighting for film.
32 reviews
December 21, 2013
This isn't a book about racism, and it isn't a book about race, really. It truly is a book about "white," what white means, and what things in our culture create, maintain and privilege the things, symbols and people that count as white.

REALLY interesting perspective. My favorite part was reading about the photography/film industry and how that history has affected the way we see light, brightness, and whiteness. Sometimes the book is painfully abstract but other times it's completely relatable. Definitely recommend it if you're looking for something truly chewy!
Profile Image for Mari Säisä.
38 reviews14 followers
February 19, 2010
Ooh I want to feel ashamed that I am white and privileged. Still new approaches to spot these falsities in the world. Swartzenegger is so wrong being superior as Conan the Barbarian. I wonder is this 13 years ago published book out dated or what additions could make. For example why in many cultures paler the better, expect in Western where tanned body means leisure.

This is just like when reading feminist books. Time to start spotting injustice!
3 reviews
January 16, 2021
The author being white himself and a male provides a much needed spotlight on the ‘naturalness’ associated with ‘white’. It is not treated as a colour but as the norm, with all other colours presented as inferior deviations from it. The book explores such tropes as phenomenon as death, life and colonialism, whether that be historic and factual or modern and fictional. One of the best books I have read in years.
Profile Image for Alyx.
46 reviews10 followers
September 7, 2008
This is media studies done right. Not only does Dyer consider race representations in film and media, but he also goes so far as to interrogate the racist aspects at work in the mechanics of film and photographic technology in capturing light and filming subjects -- he also even goes so far as to consider positive examples and solutions. One of my all-time faves.
29 reviews
January 19, 2011
I started to read this book while I was in England. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish the book because I had to come back from my study abroad too quickly and I was having too much fun! In the first couple of chapters I was totally taken. This book does an amazing job at deconstructing the construction of whiteness.
Profile Image for Clare.
47 reviews4 followers
March 24, 2015
The author writes on ways whiteness is imbued in film and television as an expression of cultural norms. Those expressions being racialized, religious, heteronormative, homophobic, and patriarchal but always centered around whiteness. Whiteness as superior, whiteness as universal, whiteness as invisible, whiteness as charitable, whiteness as godly,even whiteness as death etc.
Profile Image for Fleur.
309 reviews
May 28, 2016
I really liked the first two chapters that theorised whiteness and put it in a broader contextual analysis. The third chapter was interesting, but oh sooooo long. And he lost me with the last three chapters that were too narrow in their focus for me, limited to a specific case study that didn't particularly interest me and could have been more refined/in depth
Profile Image for Jessica.
826 reviews28 followers
August 4, 2009
I love Dyer's style, and I love how he incorporates so many different sources into his books - films, photographs, visual art, pop culture, literature, history, and more. This is another book that really earns the descriptions "challenging" and "thought-provoking."
Profile Image for Makini.
77 reviews2 followers
July 16, 2015
The first few chapters were excellent because it spoke about "whiteness" broadly, then it became very specific to film and art, which is fine for a particular audience. I knew that prior to getting the book so I'm not rating it based upon the narrow topic.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews

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