AMERICAN SKIN by Leon Wynter


Pop Culture, Big Business, and the End of White America
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Nativists and know-nothings beware: northern European culture is on the decline in America, replaced by a friendly beige.

In the early days of the republic, writes sometime Wall Street Journal columnist Wynter, anyone who was assimilable culturally and ethnically into the nation’s Anglo-Protestant majority was considered, more or less automatically, “white,” with all the privileges appertaining thereunto; 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 to a number of cultural forces—not least of them mass music, mass advertising, mass marketing, and mass consumption, through which white culture has been thoroughly integrated to the point that stockbrokers greet each other with cries of “Whassup” and farm kids in North Dakota communicate in rap. Embattled whites who quest for a Leave It to Beaver homeland and who are now abandoning, say, Los Angeles for the woods of Idaho will find that they can run but not hide, Wynter observes; “the Old Majority, if it’s running from the combined presence of blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and others who are not counted as non-Hispanic whites, really has no place to go, except perhaps to a shrinking number of countries in Europe.” Provocative though it may be, Wynters’s grand thesis is less interesting than the data and anecdotes he assembles to support it, as is so often the case in books of pop sociology; of particular interest are his remarks on the inherently commercial nature of hip-hop culture and the cultural assumptions of the “Echo Boomers,” the young people of today, who are now more numerous than the Baby Boomers and who are driving the present culture; for this generation, Wynter writes, race as such has no meaning, and instead “identity is rooted in cultures that can be freely traded in the marketplace, not imposed by race or ethnicity at birth.”

American skin, then, is eminently sheddable. Trendspotters will find Wynter’s study fascinating.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-609-60489-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2002


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