American Skin by Leon E. Wynter
Pop Culture, Big Business, and the End of White America

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Synopsis

Race has always been America’s first standard and central paradox. From the start, America based its politics on the principle of white supremacy, but it has always lived and dreamed of itself in color. The truth beneath the contradiction has finally emerged and led us to the threshold of a transformation of American identity as profound as slavery was defining.

We live in a country where the “King of Pop” was born black and a leading rap M.C. is white, where salsa outsells ketchup and cosmetics firms advertise blond hair dye with black models. Whiteness is in steep decline as the primary measure of Americanness. The new, true American identity rising in its place is transracial, defined by shared cultural and consumer habits, not skin color or ethnicity. And this unprecedented redefinition of what “American” sounds, looks, and feels like is not being driven by the politics of protest or liberal multiculturalism but by a more basic American instinct: the profit motive.

Smart marketers discovered that the inherent, subversive appeal of transracial American culture was the perfect boombox for breaking through the noise of a crowded marketplace: Nike and the NBA used unambiguous black style to create modern sports marketing; Pepsi validated Michael Jackson as a superstar while adding millions to its own bottom line; Hollywood turned a taboo into a lucrative cliché with black-white buddy films; Oprah Winfrey created the model for the ultimate individual corporate brand; and Budweiser created a signature series of commercials built around four ordinary black men signaling something ineffably
American with one word—“Wassup?”

In the end, this is a hopeful but clear-eyed argument that while we fall short of true equality, we are opting to carry on that struggle together within a common American cultural skin.

"There’s been a radical shift in the place of race and ethnicity in America. Near revolutionary developments in advertising, media, marketing, technology, and global trade have in the last two decades of the twentieth century nearly obliterated walls that have stood for generations between nonwhites and the image of the American dream. The mainstream, heretofore synonymous with what is considered average for whites, is now equally defined by the preferences, presence, and perspectives of people of color. The much-maligned melting pot, into which generations of European-American identities are said to have dissolved, is bubbling again, but on a higher flame; this time whiteness itself is finally being dissolved into a larger American identity.
On its surface, this book tells the story of how and why big business turned up that flame, and a brief history of race and pop culture leading up to this watershed. But at its core American Skin is about the revolution that higher heat on American identity is bringing about: the end of ‘white’ America. This book begins, and my arguments and insights ultimately rest on, one premise and guiding belief about this country: We have always been, and will ever be, of one race—human—and of one culture—American." —From the Introduction
 

About Leon E. Wynter

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Leon E. Wynter created and wrote the “Business and Race” column for the Wall Street Journal for ten years and is a regular contributor to National Public Radio. His essays on race, business, and American culture have been published in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, and New York Newsday. He lives in New Rochelle, New York.
 
Published June 15, 2002 by Crown. 304 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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others were “presumed permanent outsiders with no legitimate role in the American economic or martial potential, much less the American cultural stock.” This disenfranchising supposition defied the “true transracial nature of America,” of course, and it has lost its power in recent years thanks t...

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The downside of "transracialism" is "the steady erosion of black identity as the organizing principle for community development," but Wynter concludes that "the future is not about black people leading black people [but] about black people leading all Americans, especially black Americans" throug...

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