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On Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro” (1957): More Than Six Decades Later

Andrew Urie


This article engages in an examination of Norman Mailer’s fascinating yet problematic essay “The White Negro” (1957). Drawing from humanities and social sciences perspectives, I employ an interdisciplinary approach that historically contextualizes Mailer’s essay while also examining how it continues to speak to contemporary American racial, cultural, economic, and socio-political issues.

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1One of my favorite photos of the late Norman Mailer appears in Mary V. Dearborn’s biography Mailer (1999). Taken in 1966, the photograph features Mailer walking a tightrope stretched across the deck of his then newly purchased home in Provincetown, Massachusetts as his young daughter Jeanne looks on with evident anxiety. In the shot, Mailer is almost certainly about to slip and fall, which provides an apt visual metaphor for his courageous, outlandish, and immensely productive literary career, which was ultimately filled with more curios, misfires, and outright falls from literary esteem than it was with unqualified successes. More often than not, raging ego, distraction, substance abuse, the enticements of money, and a relentless focus on quantity over quality got the better of Mailer, though he now surely stands as one of the most consistently underrated and misunderstood literary-creative American personalities of the post-WWII era. A fan of the art of boxing, Mailer might aptly be described as the George Chuvalo of the literary-creative agonistic arena: He waded in and more often than not took a brutal beating, but he put up a good fight and whatever he attempted was done with the utmost passion that he could muster in the moment. Though it remains somewhat of a debate as to whether or not this deeply and self-consciously flawed writer ever gave readers “the great American novel,” he certainly gave us a great American attempt with The Naked and the Dead (1948). If Mailer was, in the end, something of a prodigiously talented literary fuckup, the sheer chutzpah of his life qualifies as a creative endeavor in its own right.

2Of all Mailer’s literary-creative efforts, his essay “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” (1957) is today perhaps the most widely discussed, debated, and consistently misread and misunderstood. What I attempt in this paper is not a simple revisiting of “The White Negro” and its core tenets, but rather a concentrated effort to shed light on the essay’s enduring status as a work of literary-sociological analysis that provides rash, haphazard, yet pivotal insights into the psychosocial foundations of white-black race relations within the Hip subcultures of Eisenhower-era America. As Mailer clearly implies in his essay’s subtitle, “Superficial Reflections on the Hipster,” what he is attempting is not intended as an in-depth sociological analysis of white-black American race relations, but rather a cursory meditation on this phenomenon as viewed from his own perspective as both a denizen and a voyeur of the Hip subcultures of the 1950s. In this regard, the essay’s frenetic style is reflective of his tortured consciousness during this period, which marked a high point for his hard partying and his alcohol and drug consumption. Indeed, in reading “The White Negro” with some knowledge of Mailer and his life in mind, one can imagine him surveying various hipster venues via his conflicted perspective as both partier and observer and then committing his thoughts to paper via a fevered marijuana-and-red-wine-induced intellectual haze.

3Mailer opens his essay by situating it against the backdrop of the twin horrors of Nazi Germany’s Holocaust and America’s deployment of nuclear weaponry during WWII, which he argues have together defined the psychosocial undercurrents of the post-WWII era: “Probably, we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive in these years” (42). As Mailer sees it, both forms of state-sanctioned violence have bred a new American milieu in which the majority of citizens has despairingly resigned themselves to the omnipresence of state power, whereas a transgressive minority has sought out various forms of individualized agency and resistance: “No wonder then that these have been the years of conformity and depression. A stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life, and we suffer from a collective failure of nerve. The only courage, with rare exceptions, that we have been witness to has been the isolated courage of isolated people” (43).

4For Mailer, the true hero or, perhaps more appropriately, anti-hero of this new statist, conformist era was the subcultural hipster, who evaded the radar of mainstream society by seeking out the Dionysian pleasures that could be found by channeling one’s id-like desires into, and immersing oneself within, the uncharted regions of society:

[T]he hipster, the man who knows that if our collective condition is to live with instant death by atomic war, relatively quick death by the State’s l’univers concentrationnaire, or with slow death by conformity with every creative and rebellious instinct stifled (at what damage to the mind and the heart and the liver and the nerves no research foundation for cancer will discover in a hurry), if the fate of twentieth-century man is to live with death from adolescence to premature senescence, why then the only life-giving answer is to accept the terms of death, to live with death as immediate danger, to divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self. (43)

5In what would become his all too familiar role as provocateur, Mailer proposes that the brilliance of Hipster existence resides in how it leads one to embrace the self-focused “psychopath in oneself” (43):

The unstated essence of Hip, its psychopathic brilliance, quivers with the knowledge that new kinds of victories increase one’s power for new kinds of perception; and defeats, the wrong kind of defeats, attack the body and imprison one’s energy until one is jailed in the prison air of other people’s habit, other people’s defeats, boredom, quiet desperation, and muted icy self-destroying rage. (44)

6The essence of Hip, for Mailer, is found in the margins of black American life, as it is the intergenerationally traumatized black American hipster who most lucidly recognizes the historic horrors and abuses of state-monopolized violence: “Indeed, if one is to be a man, almost any kind of unconventional action often takes disproportionate courage. So it is no accident that the source of Hip is the Negro for he has been living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries” (44).

7Living in a society that both hates blacks and conditions blacks to hate themselves, the black hipster lives with the ever-present realization that violence and death, whether due to the state-sanctioned targeting of blacks (e.g., the racist, aggressive policing that defines American life) or the state-sanctioned neglect of black communities (e.g., crime bred out of socioeconomic desperation, which has given way to “ghettoized” life), is a constantly looming threat: “Any Negro who wishes to live must live with danger from his first day, and no experience can ever be casual with him, no Negro can saunter down a street with any real certainty that violence will not visit him on his walk” (45). Accordingly, Mailer proposes that truly radical, transgressive whites are most likely to acquaint themselves with the virtues of Hip by seeking out those marginalized social milieus that are frequented by black Americans: “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers, who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts. The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro” (46).

8Clearly, there are problems that begin to register in Mailer’s argumentation from the early stages of “The White Negro” onwards. Perhaps the easiest charge of all would be to argue that there is a muted misogyny that pervades the essay given Mailer’s fixation with hypermasculinized conceptions of male identity (e.g., the female hipster, white, black, or otherwise, does not factor into his essay), though I think this would involve overlooking how Mailer wrote “The White Negro” during what was perhaps one of the most hypermasculine periods in American history. This was, after all, an era when servicemen of all races had either directly experienced WWII combat or had received combat training. Against the backdrop of this immediate post-WWII era, conceptions of hypermasculinity were upheld via a popular media culture that was pervaded with representations of rugged soldiers, cowboys, and assorted hardboiled types. Nonetheless, while the essay is admittedly dogged by a fetishization of hypermasculine transgression, Mailer does somewhat deviate from what we would today term “compulsory heteronormativity” by noting how his prized hypermasculine hipster can often be of a “bisexual” orientation (57).

9Another problem relates to how Mailer associates the term “psychopath” with violent, transgressive Hipsterdom, thereby positioning the black American male as being the most in tune with the self-focused psychopathy that he problematically upholds as being liberating throughout his essay. I have, of course, already outlined why Mailer views the black American male as a likely candidate for psychopathy given his existence in a deeply racist post-WWII America that hates him and conditions him to hate himself by virtue of his race. Although I think Mailer’s observations here are, in typical Mailer fashion, raw and earnest, they are also deeply troubling. Basically, I would argue that what Mailer is really describing in relation to Hipsterdom and its association with the black male hipster in particular is more in line with contemporary understandings of sociopathy, which emanates from specific socioenvironmental factors such as deep-rooted childhood trauma (e.g., racism and systemic social neglect and abuse) than it is with psychopathy, which is believed to stem from genetics and/or congenital factors. This is an issue that I shall subsequently explore in greater detail.

10Finally, there is the evident race problem with “The White Negro” and its alignment with cultural appropriation given that Mailer is a white man who is analyzing black Hipsterdom and essentially arguing that whites aspiring towards transgression seek out the knowledge that can be gleaned from black American subcultural life. This issue is of such ongoing debate within the literary-cultural community at large that it has even inspired the title of American scholar Lauren Michele Jackson’s 2019 book, White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue ... And Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation. Setting aside my belief that the term “cultural appropriation” has today more often than not been embraced by servile, virtue-signalling academics, graduate students, and academy-exported cultural critics who, unfortunately enough, possess a near impoverished understanding of the complex intercultural exchange dynamics that define human history, I want to acknowledge the basic legitimacy of cultural appropriation concerns with respect to “The White Negro.” There is, after all, a lengthy historical record of whites self-interestedly appropriating from black culture, as is so cleverly and self-reflexively alluded to by the white rapper Eminem in his song “Without Me” (2002), in which he raps,

I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley
To do black music so selfishly
And use it to get myself wealthy (Hey!)
There’s a concept that works
Twenty million other white rappers emerge

11As cultural critic Mark Jenkins observes in his Slate article “Eminem, Free Speech Lefty” (2001), “Norman Mailer might recognize Eminem as the latest incarnation of the white Negro. But where Mailer’s ’50s hipsters identified with the suffering and alienation of African-Americans as a way to break free of middle-class conformity, Eminem raps about his tortured life.”

12The legitimacy of such cultural appropriation concerns aside, however, it seems evident enough that what Mailer is really gesturing towards throughout his essay, albeit in awkward fashion, is that there is much that whites of his era can learn from black American subcultural existence when it comes to breaking free from the imposed hegemonic conformity of the post-WWII American state. As I see it, what Mailer is advocating for throughout his essay is not that hipster-minded whites seek to be weekend interlopers and voyeurs within black American subcultural life, but rather that they attempt to channel the spirit of radical transgression that can be found in those black subcultural milieus that exist apart from the mainstream culture that upholds the hollow ideals of a white-inflected “American Dream.” In essence, Mailer views black subcultural terrain as a vitalist arena within which whites can learn to exist not for phony white hegemonic nationalist platitudes, but rather for the psychopathic—read sociopathic—impulses of a traumatized, state-repressed “self” that can be put in touch with the sensualist ego-driven desires of the present rather than the repressive imperatives desired by a white hegemonic—read WASP—Eisenhower-era society. To be sure, one could here easily accuse Mailer of adhering to a “primitivist” conception of black American subculture that is line with white cultural appropriation and “ghetto voyeurism.” Nonetheless, I would counter that what Mailer is actually suggesting is that wisdom can potentially be found for those socially repressed whites willing to cultivate their inner sociopaths by breaking from the mass statist herd and venturing into the subcultural terrain of black American life that exists apart from the “respectable” white hegemonic post-WWII order that had come to define the lives of social-climbing whites and racial minorities alike.

  • 1 The term “magical negro” was popularized by Spike Lee in a March 2001 Cineaste interview with Gary (...)

13 To employ a riff on Spike Lee’s notion of the “magical negro,”1 one could argue that Mailer is problematically endorsing what I will playfully term a “Warlock” conception of black American Hipsterdom that is dependent upon black hipsters “teaching” their aspiring white hipster brethren their “transgressive arts.” Compelling as such a line of argumentation might be, however, I feel that Mailer is actually suggesting that those rebellious whites who are willing to break from their conformist peers of the era by somewhat riskily venturing into the uncharted realms of black American subcultures have more to learn from immersion within such subcultural lifeworlds than they do from individual blacks per se. Clearly, Mailer does not desire the sort of nightmare scenario described in Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1964), in which Malcolm recounts being patronizingly accosted by drunken white “ghetto tourists” in 1940s-era after-hours Harlem venues: “Inside every after-hours spot, the smoke would hurt your eyes.... A lot of the whites, drunk, would go staggering up to the Negroes, the waiters, the owners, or Negroes at tables, wringing their hands, even trying to hug them, [saying] ‘You’re just as good as I am—I want you to know that!’” (114-115).

14Though Mailer, as a white American Jew, is today an easy target for accusations of cultural appropriation and unconscious racism with regard to “The White Negro,” many of the points that he makes about black American subcultural life within his essay are clearly drawn from black American literature. Indeed, while Mailer’s observations on the interconnections between black male socio-marginality, psychopathy (read sociopathy), and Hipsterdom were undoubtedly influenced by his status as a New York City-based writer who frequented various subcultural Hip venues, it seems evident enough that he was also drawing inspiration from then recent black-authored American literary works when crafting his essay. In perusing “The White Negro,” an experienced reader of American literature is likely to pick up on how commensurate the essay is with the transgressive themes explored in such novels as Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945), Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), and Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) and The Outsider (1953).

15Though Ellison would criticize Mailer’s essay, terming it “[t]he same old primitivism crap in a new package” (qtd. in Devlin), this seems passing strange given that Invisible Man features a notable black hipster character in the form of the Harlem-based Rinehart, with whom the novel’s unnamed protagonist becomes briefly obsessed. A popular grifter who poses as a sort of new age preacher, Rinehart is in fact a denizen of Harlem’s underworld who functions as a numbers runner, a gambler, a serial womanizer, and a briber. Though the narrator never actually meets Rinehart, he is frequently mistaken for him, which is Ellison’s way of suggesting that Rinehart is representative of the narrator’s own id-like alter-ego desires. Attempting to map Rinehart’s perambulations throughout Harlem, the narrator comes to the conclusion that the man is a sort of sociopath incarnate who has recognized the lie that is the “American Dream” and has transmuted this traumatic recognition into a life of grifting on the margins.

16Troubled yet fascinated by Rinehart, the narrator cannot help but marvel at his ingenuity and boldness in self-servingly refusing to “play by the rules” of a racist, unjust America that relegates blacks to the status of second-tier citizens:

Still, could he be all of them: Rine the runner and Rine the gambler and Rine the briber and Rine the lover and Rinehart the Reverend? Could he be both rind and heart? What is real anyway? But how could I doubt it? He was a broad man, a man of parts who got around. Rinehart the rounder. It was as true as I was true. His world was possibility and he knew it. He was years ahead of me and I was a fool. I must have been crazy and blind. The world in which we lived was without boundaries. A vast seething, hot world of fluidity, and Rine the rascal was at home. Perhaps only Rine the rascal was at home in it. It was unbelievable, but perhaps only the unbelievable could be believed. Perhaps the truth was always a lie. (498)

17Although the narrator increasingly embraces his transgressive desires throughout the course of the novel and is literally living underground by its end, he does voice the desire for social responsibility: “Perhaps that’s my greatest crime, I’ve overstayed my [underground] hibernation, since there’s a possibility that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play” (581). And yet, as he suggests, he was able to learn much about the Truth of America from his casual study of Rinehart, whose subversive existence testifies to the innumerable possibilities, however problematic, of a world that exists apart from the conventional Americanist platitudes and orthodox Marxist rhetoricizing that he had previously embraced at different points throughout his life journey: “For, like almost everyone else in our country, I started out with my share of optimism.... Until some gang succeeds in putting the world in a strait jacket, its definition is possibility. Step outside the narrow borders of what men call reality and you step into chaos—ask Rinehart, he’s a master of it—or imagination” (576).

18Similarly, we might also note how Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go and Richard Wright’s Native Son and The Outsider feature black anti-heroes whose socioeconomic trajectories see them marginalized in America’s racist society, thereby putting them in touch with the sort of sociopathic anomie that Mailer fascinatingly but, yes, problematically aligns with black hipster subculture. In this regard, “The White Negro” qualifies as a sort of literary-sociological endeavor that is clearly based as much on Mailer’s qualitative ruminations on black American Hip subculture as it is on insights that he gleaned about this lifeworld from the works of various black American writers, who themselves were likely influenced by assorted sociological accounts of race and trauma. Indeed, while Mailer’s insights are often crudely articulated and although he provides no real coherent theoretical or empirical framework for the literary sociologizing that he is so evidently engaging in, it must be acknowledged that some of his racial conjectures are in line with observations made by the French West Indian psychoanalyst and sociophilosopher Frantz Fanon in his book Black Skin, White Masks (1952).

19A study of the psychosocially traumatizing effects that French colonialist assimilation has on its black subjects, Fanon’s book explores the phenomenon of racial disempowerment and how it can manifest itself in either resignation or, ideally, the desire for anti-colonial resistance and rebelliousness. Critiquing the sort of capital-R Reason that white society hegemonically foists upon blacks in order to deny them their cultural histories while simultaneously instilling within them feelings of social marginalization and estrangement from Western society, Fanon reflects, “I had rationalized the world, and the world had rejected me in the name of color prejudice” (102). Since racism is an inherently irrational process and since there are obvious limitations in attempting to rationally explain to people the bent of their irrational beliefs, Fanon concludes that there can be wisdom and liberation in breaking away from entrenched Western rationalist paradigms: “Since there was no way we could agree on the basis of reason, I resorted to irrationality” (102).

20While Mailer lacks Fanon’s sophisticated psychoanalytic training and his penchant for sociocultural nuance, some of his insights are clearly in line with what Fanon is arguing. In this regard, one suspects Mailer was potentially influenced by Black Skin, White Masks when crafting his essay. In particular, one suspects he was influenced by the book’s sixth chapter, “The Black Man and Psychopathology,” in which Fanon discusses how an otherwise well-adjusted black subject will often experience a profound sense of psychosocial trauma upon being confronted with the sociocultural hegemony of the white world. As Fanon notes, “A normal black child, having grown up with a normal family, will become abnormal at the slightest contact with the white world” (122). Continuing, Fanon argues that the bourgeois white nuclear family, so valorized within Mailer’s Eisenhower-era society, serves as the hegemonic model for “correct” sociocultural behavior: “The white family is the guardian of a certain structure. Society is the sum of all the families. The family is an institution, precursor of a much wider institution: i.e., the social group or nation. The main lines of reference remain the same. The white family is the educating and training ground for entry into society” (127).

21 In his essay, Mailer claims to have built his deeply problematic notions of hipster psychopathy, white and black alike, upon insights gleaned from the psychologist Robert M. Lindner’s book Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath (1944), in which Lindner writes,

[T]he psychopath is a rebel without a cause, an agitator without a slogan, a revolutionary without a program: in other words, his rebelliousness is aimed to achieve goals satisfactory to himself alone; he is incapable of exertion for the sake of others.... The psychopath, like the child, cannot delay the pleasures of gratification; and this trait is one of his underlying, universal characteristics. He cannot wait upon erotic gratification which conventions demands should be preceded by the chase before the kill: he must rape. He cannot wait upon the development of prestige in society: his egoistic ambitions lead him to leap into headlines by daring performances. Like a red thread the predominance of this mechanism for immediate satisfaction runs through the history of every psychopath. It explains not only his behavior but also the violent nature of his acts. (qtd. in Mailer 49-50)

22In perhaps the most incendiary and controversial section of his essay, Mailer contends that we might see the psychopathic capacity for murder as a form of courage:

The psychopath murders—if he has the courage—out of the necessity to purge his violence, for if he cannot empty his hatred then he cannot love, his being is frozen with implacable self-hatred for his cowardice. (It can of course be suggested that it takes little courage for two strong eighteen-year-old hoodlums, let us say, to beat in the brains of a candy store owner, and indeed the act—even by the logic of the psychopath—is not likely to prove very therapeutic, for the victim is not an immediate equal. Still, courage of a sort is necessary, for one murders not only a weak fifty-year-old man but an institution as well, one violates private property, one enters into a new relation with the police and introduces a dangerous element into one’s life. The hoodlum is therefore daring the unknown, and so no matter how brutal the act it is not altogether cowardly.) (52-53)

23While this above section is classic Mailer, wading into the intellectual arena and slugging away in considerably haphazard fashion, I take his basic point, which is to argue that such acts of violence are often horrifically misplaced outlets for an otherwise courageous yet inarticulable desire for revolutionary action. Basically, Mailer is suggesting that the desire for destruction and havoc is a displaced creative urge.

24Here, I want to return to how Mailer operationalizes the term “psychopath” throughout his essay. As I have already mentioned, Mailer’s use of the term seems misplaced in relation to the sociocultural phenomenon of Hip transgression that he is exploring. Indeed, what he is describing seems more in line with sociopathy, which emanates from deep-rooted childhood trauma (e.g., racism and systemic social neglect and abuse, etc.) than it is with psychopathy, which is now believed to stem from genetics and/or congenital factors. While Mailer does not mention Fanon in his essay and although Black Skin, White Masks would not be published in English until 1967, Mailer—who studied French in high school, university, and during his attendance of the Sorbonne from 1946-1947 via the GI Bill (Lennon)—would spend time in France during the summer of 1956, when he and his then wife, Adele, were squired around the city by James Baldwin, Mailer’s contentious literary confrere, who introduced them to Paris’s trendy intellectual, cultural, and social venues (Dearborn 108-122). With this in mind, it is plausible to speculate that Mailer was acquainted with Fanon’s book when he was drafting “The White Negro” during the spring of 1957. Accordingly, he may have somewhat misconstrued and awkwardly appropriated from Black Skin, White Masks’ sixth chapter, “The Black Man and Psychopathology” (120-184), which is not about psychopaths per se but rather the black male’s relationship to psychopathology itself, meaning psychosocial trauma, illnesses, and stresses.

25As Dearborn rightly points out, much of “The White Negro” is “typical Mailer: determined to shock, not thinking things entirely through” (129). Nonetheless, Dearborn also recognizes that there are some fundamental insights lurking behind Mailer’s excesses:

The most obnoxious part of his argument is that killing a candy store owner is not ‘therapeutic’ because he is not equal to the thugs—yet Mailer acknowledges that he is using the psychopath’s logic in reasoning thus. What Mailer says about the bravery of the act—however specious it may seem at first—is not without some truth. It is hard to imagine a criminal mind that is not frightened in committing a murder; in doing so, the killer is, as Mailer says, pitching himself into another realm. In that sense the hipster does overcome cowardice in his mind. (129)

26In essence, Mailer’s essay, no matter how immensely flawed, contains fascinating insights into the potential psychosocial motivations that reside behind the seemingly senseless acts of violence that are committed by those individuals that mainstream society is simply content to dismiss as “thugs.”

27Mailer is perhaps least convincing when he turns his attention to sociosexual matters and argues that the psychopath “seeks love” not in the form of a “search for a mate,” but rather in the “search for an orgasm more apocalyptic than the one which preceded it” (53). Troublingly, he here imparts a divide between the “Square” and the black hipster “psychopath” that comes across as being racist and deeply offensive:

Depending on the telescope of the cultural critique from which the Square surveys the universe, ‘evil’ or ‘immature’ are equally strong terms of condemnation…. But the Negro, not being privileged to gratify his self-esteem with the heady satisfactions of categorical condemnation, chose to move instead in that other direction where all situations are equally valid, and in the worst of perversion, promiscuity, pimpery, drug addiction, rape, razor-slash, bottle-break, what-have-you, the Negro discovered and elaborated a morality of the bottom, an ethical differentiation between the good and the bad in every human activity from the go-getter pimp (as opposed to the lazy one) to the relatively dependable pusher or prostitute. Add to this the cunning of their language, the abstract ambiguous alternatives in which from the danger of their oppression they learned to speak (‘Well, now, man, like I’m looking for a cat to turn me on….’), and even more the profound sensitivity of the Negro jazzman who was the cultural mentor of a people, and it is not too difficult to believe that the language of Hip which evolved was an artful language, tested and shaped by an intense experience and therefore different in kind from white slang, as different as the special obscenity of the soldier which in its emphasis upon ‘ass’ as the soul and ‘shit’ as circumstance, was able to express the existential states of the enlisted man. What makes Hip a special language is that it cannot really be taught—if one shares none of the experiences of elation and exhaustion, which it is equipped to describe, then it seems very arch or vulgar or irritating. (54)

28Clearly, Mailer’s insights in the above passage are crude and forced, with his emphasis on the slang of black hipsters registering as more clichéd than authentic: “(Well now, man, I’m looking for a cat to turn me on….)” (54). And yet, one can divine a raw intuitiveness in his argument that “Squares”—read bourgeois whites—seek to voyeuristically condemn the lives of socioeconomically marginalized black Americans, who not only inhabit estranged subcultural lifeworlds but also communicate via slang that simultaneously rejects and evades the linguistic hegemony of “respectable” mainstream American society.

29Such issues aside, there is a larger question at stake with regard to “The White Negro,” which has frequently gone unexplored: Why is Mailer so drawn to notions of transgressive black Hipsterdom? From my own perspective, this emanates from Mailer’s status as a Jewish American, who, similar to black hipsters, occupied a position of social marginalization in relation to the WASP hegemony of Eisenhower-era America. Here, we must consider the similar yet differing social experiences of Jewish Americans and black Americans during this period. While the visibly black American was automatically marked for social marginalization by virtue of their skin color, the white Jewish American had the opportunity of downplaying or denying their ethnicity. In this regard, the visible black was faced with the prospect of either docilely accepting their overt social marginalization or riskily rebelling against it, whereas the Jew had opportunities for social assimilation.

30Furthermore, in an Eisenhower-era America that was coming to terms with the Holocaust and gradually accepting a collective sense of responsibility for having essentially ignored the national and international anti-Semitic currents that had given way to this atrocity, the Jewish American was becoming somewhat patronizingly upheld as a model minority citizen in need of national acceptance and “protection.” Though more privileged than their black national counterparts by virtue of their whiteness, Jewish Americans were still rendered “Other” in relation to America’s WASP hegemony. For the Jewish American male, there was undoubtedly often something somewhat emasculatory about being viewed as a victimized subject who was in need of national “sympathy” and “protection.” Accordingly, Mailer somewhat problematically valourizes the black male hipster as the epitome of virile masculinity given his Hip refusal to meekly accept a position of “respectable” second-class citizenship and his forthrightness in evincing a transgressive “fuck you” attitude in relation to mainstream America. In essence, Mailer prizes the black hipster’s courage in cultivating a subversive spirit that rejects the “Square,” hollow WASP-inflected assimilationist platitudes of the Eisenhower era.

31In reflecting on how Mailer’s Judaic ethno-religious heritage may have had a notable influence on his crafting of “The White Negro,” I am reminded of observations made by Jean-Paul Sartre in his book Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (1948), with which Mailer was almost certainly familiar. Discussing American assimilationist doctrine, Sartre notes,

For a Jew [in America], conscious and proud of being Jewish, asserting his claim to be a member of the Jewish community without ignoring on that account the bonds which unite him to the national community, there may not be so much difference between the anti-Semite and the democrat. The former wishes to destroy him as a man and leave nothing in him but the Jew, the pariah, the untouchable; the latter wishes to destroy him as a Jew and leave nothing in him but the man, the abstract and universal subject of the rights of man and the rights of the citizen. (57)

32As Sartre subsequently notes, the tragic paradox of the assimilationist-minded Jew’s eagerness for “acceptance” and “tolerance” is that they essentially succumb to a form of self-willed cultural genocide: “He hopes to become a ‘man’ like all other men, by taking in all the thoughts of man and acquiring a human point of view of the universe. He cultivates himself in order to destroy the Jew in himself” (97-98).

33As Mailer sees it, Eisenhower-era America’s social mainstream fears black Hip subculture, consciously or not, because it refuses to conform and thus holds the radical psychosocial potential to attract and transform increasing numbers of subversive aspirants and social dropouts, who will absorb its disruptive psychosocial energies:

Certain possibilities must be evident, however, and the most central is that the organic growth of Hip depends on whether the Negro emerges as a dominating force in American life…. With this possible emergence of the Negro, Hip may erupt as a psychically armed rebellion whose sexual impetus may rebound against the antisexual foundation of every organized power in America, and bring into the air such animosities, antipathies, and new conflicts of interest that the mean empty hypocrisies of mass conformity will no longer work. A time of violence, new hysteria, confusion, and rebellion will then be likely to replace the time of conformity. (63)

34Mailer is here arguing that black Hip subculture is feared because it resists the “bio-power” imperatives of the era (Foucault), both overt and covert, by holding out the possibilities of miscegenation and non-heteronormative sexual practices (recall how Mailer aligns some hipsters with bisexuality), thereby threatening to disrupt the social order: “So, when it comes, miscegenation will be a terror, comparable perhaps to the derangement of the American Communists when the icons to Stalin came tumbling down. The average American communist held to the myth of Stalin for reasons which had little to do with the political evidence and everything to do with their psychic necessities” (63).

35Looking ahead to the future, Mailer anticipates the countercultural conflicts that will come to define the 1960s and 1970s, for he prophetically recognizes that America’s staid, WASP-inflected “liberal consensus” society of the ’50s will prove unable to contain the explosive psycho-socio-sexual energies of those subcultural Hip venues that hold out the potential for interracial mergings and vicious interracial strife alike:

What the liberal cannot bear to admit is the hatred beneath the skin of a society so unjust that the amount of collective violence buried in the people is perhaps incapable of being contained, and therefore if one wants a better world one does well to hold one’s breath, for a worse world is bound to come first, and the dilemma may well be this: given such hatred, it must either vent itself nihilistically or become turned into the cold murderous liquidations of the totalitarian state. (64)

36With the possibility of such a future in store, Mailer gestures towards the development of a “neo-Marxian calculus” (64) that will fuse political economy with psychoanalytic perspectives aimed at understanding how economic currents and psycho-socio-sexual drives are intertwined:

For if a revolutionary time should come again, there would be a crucial difference if someone had already delineated a neo-Marxian calculus aimed at comprehending every circuit and process of society from ukase to kiss as the communications of human energy—a calculus capable of translating the economic relations of man into his psychological relations and then back again, his productive relations thereby embracing his sexual relations as well, until the crises of capitalism in the twentieth century would yet be understood as the unconscious adaptations of a society to solve its economic imbalance at the expense of a new mass psychological imbalance. (64-65)

37Though Mailer is here almost certainly building on Herbert Marcuse’s neo-Marxist meditations in his book Eros and Civilization (1955), there is surely something prophetic in his recognition of the need for the development of such neo-Marxist perspectives, which would become popularized throughout the 1960s.

38This acknowledged, what seemed revolutionary in Mailer’s premonitions of such coming neo-Marxist meditations during the late 1950s would become a recipe for advertising success via corporate co-optation strategies by the dawn of New Media and New Hollywood culture during the late 1960s. In essence, political economy and psychoanalytic perspectives would become fused, though in the form of neo-capitalism rather than neo-Marxism. By 1967, the then relatively seasoned Hollywood director Stanley Kramer (1913-2001) would helm the interracial box-office hit Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, which would tackle the subject of an interracial coupling via the film’s delineation of an impending marriage between an accomplished older black man of working-class origins (Sidney Poitier) and a younger white woman from an upper middle-class family (Katherine Houghton). By the 1970s, depictions of interracialism, albeit minus class critique, would increasingly become the New Media norm, as epitomized in the now renowned 1971 television commercial “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” which would be cleverly factored into the finale of the AMC television drama series Mad Men (2007-2015), which chronicles the American advertising world from 1960-1970.

39To his credit, Mailer recognizes the possibility for the future mainstream co-optation of Hip subcultural energies, for as he notes towards the end of the fourth section of “The White Negro,”

With this possible [social] emergence of the Negro, Hip may erupt as a psychically armed rebellion whose sexual impetus may rebound against the antisexual foundation of every organized power in America, and bring into the air such animosities, antipathies, and new conflicts of interest that the mean empty hypocrisies of mass conformity will no longer work. A time of violence, new hysteria, confusion, and rebellion will then be likely to replace the time of conformity. At that time, if the liberal should prove realistic in his belief that there is peaceful room for every tendency in American life, then Hip would end by being absorbed as colorful figure in the tapestry. (63; emphasis added)

40As academics and cultural critics Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter note in their book, The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed (2004), which is clearly indebted to cultural critic Thomas Frank’s book The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (1997), American countercultural energies propelled America’s new co-optative advertising strategies of the 1960s: “In the ’60s, the baby boomers declared their implacable opposition to ‘the system’.... What ever happened to this project? Forty years later, ‘the system’ does not appear to have changed very much. If anything, consumer capitalism has emerged from decades of countercultural rebellion much stronger than it was before” (8).

41As Lauren Michele Jackson has pointed out, by the arrival of the 1990s, Mailer’s notion of the white negro would be applicable, albeit in bastardized form, to a generation of young, primarily male white youth who would identify with the alienated inner-city male angst that would be commercially crystallized in rap and hip-hop music. Nowhere is this better defined than in the career of the white male rapper Eminem, who became the ultimate “white negro” of the late twentieth century and early 2000s. As Jackson notes,

‘So it is no accident that the source of Hip is the Negro for he has been living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries,’ writes Mailer, in a statement as true in the new millennium as it was in the postwar ’50s. And his disillusioned but energized white youth share much with today’s teenagers (and the teenage at heart). Then, they latched on to the jazzman, a ‘cultural mentor of a people’ who spoke in a special way that, like his music, communicated the experience of a person who was always, at least physically, on the run from something. I observed the same impulse growing up in a Midwest suburb an hour from the city: adolescents, white, angry, and usually (but not always) male, injured by some slight dealt them, apparently, from the womb, hating their mothers, resenting their fathers, losing themselves in Dre and Biggie, black men with thick voices, until they found their patron saint, the angry and white (and poor) Marshall ‘Eminem’ Mathers, whose equivalent today might be the mellower Post ‘White Iverson’ Malone. (77-78)

  • 2 Defining this psychosocial phenomenon of “aggrieved entitlement” in his book Angry White Men: Ameri (...)

42Though I feel that Jackson is here more right than wrong in pointing to the problematic white racial appropriative dynamics and general phenomenon of “aggrieved white entitlement”2 that has helped drive the mainstream rap/hip-hop industry, there is also something evidently selective and reductive in her argumentation. After all, it is not just whites who listen to Dre, Biggie, and Eminem, but all of America’s racial groups. Furthermore, as I have already noted, Eminem clearly has a clever, self-reflexive awareness of his own problematic “culturally appropriative” status as a white male rapper as attested to by his lyrics in “Without Me” (see pages 6-7). In this respect, I find myself in agreement with Kimberly Chabot Davis’s observations about Eminem in her book Beyond the White Negro: Empathy and Anti-Racist Reading (2014), in which she writes, “Although most critics concede that Eminem is not guilty of exploiting black culture, one could still argue that he romanticizes the image of black macho, as did Norman Mailer” (32).

43This acknowledged, there seems something horribly trite in Jackson’s snide implication that whites live in denial because they are “amazing optimists” who cannot fathom how “white optimism is a killer” (155). It was, after all, Barack Obama who helped attract legions of multiracial voters to his successful 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns via his 2006 bestselling book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. If anything, it would seem that many working-class whites, men in particular, have now succumbed to despair, which has driven them into political apathy or, worse, political anger, as demonstrated by the alarming number of working-class white men who in 2016 and 2020 voted for Donald Trump, a rabble-rouser and veritable snake oil salesman. Clearly alluding to this sociopolitical phenomenon in his book Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism (2018), political scientist Ian Bremmer writes, “No one voted for Donald Trump because he believed the United States was growing more secure and more prosperous. In a country where working-age men without jobs outnumber those with jobs by three to one and half of unemployed men take daily pain medication, a lot of people want ‘change’” (161).

44To be sure, there is a reactionary politics of nostalgia at work in this voting phenomenon, which is clearly intertwined with America’s lengthy history of racial division and white socioeconomic advantage. Nonetheless, the essential debourgeoisification of the white working-class that began from roughly the late 1970s onwards via deindustrialization and neoliberalization has resulted in many working-class whites being plunged into despair and substance abuse, most recently in the form of opioid addiction, thereby rendering them similar to their inner-city black compatriots, who became afflicted by unemployment and addiction to heroin (an opioid drug) during the 1970s. Tackling this issue in his travel television show Parts Unknown (2013-2018) via his episode on Massachusetts, which includes a segment on Mailer’s beach house town of Provincetown, the late, great celebrity chef and journalist Anthony Bourdain observes,

Today’s heroin epidemic is different than the one that raged through America in the 1970s in a few significant ways. Back then heroin was mostly seen as a poor-people problem, somebody else’s problem. The sort of thing that musicians and criminals got into, marginal people far from the white Main Streets of Mayberry, USA. What those people did to themselves, well, it was unfortunate but not our problem—until somebody broke into your house. Today it’s absolutely the reverse. The new addicts are almost entirely white[.] (Bourdain)

45As Bourdain notes in his concluding lines to the episode, “As a nation, for decades, we were perfectly happy to write off whole neighborhoods, whole cities, whole generations of young men and women. As long as it was an inner city problem, an urban problem, which is to say a black people problem, a brown people problem. Send them to prison[.]”

46Whereas gawking white hipster-wannabes once frequented black subcultural venues in search of some Hip elan, we now see privileged bourgeois bohemians frequenting meccas of white decay and decline, as has been so scathingly captured in documentaries like Detropia (2012, dirs. Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing). Insightfully discussing contemporary America’s white-black racial tensions in his opening monologue for his hosting of the November 7, 2020 episode of Saturday Night Live, comedian Dave Chappelle remarks,

Remember what Ronald Reagan used to say about black people? How we're welfare people? Drug addicts. Who does that sound like now? Stimulus checks, heroin… the rest of the country is trying to move forward, and these white niggas keeps holding us back!.... You guys aren’t ready. You’re not ready for this, you don’t know how to survive yourselves. Black people, we’re the only ones who know how to survive this. Whites, come, hurry, quick. Come get your nigga lessons. You need us. (Chappelle)

47Turning his attention to white plight, Chappelle notes, “Remember that for the first time in the history of America, the life expectancy for white people is dropping. Because of heroin, because of suicide. All these white people out there that feel that anguish, that pain, they’re mad, ‘cause they think nobody cares. Maybe they don’t. Let me tell you something: I know how that feels.”

  • 3 As sociologist John L. Campbell notes in his book American Discontent: The Rise of Donald Trump and (...)

48Though Chappelle’s delineation of this recent “white nigga” phenomenon is not exactly what Mailer envisions in his essay, it is worth discussing for some of its similarities. Plunged into conditions of socioeconomic decline and now separated or, to employ a classic Calvinist concept, “fallen” from American bourgeois grace, many of these contemporary white negroes are today immersed within their own subcultures of anger, anomie, and transgression. Whereas some have undoubtedly found themselves moving in marginalized black and interracial circles that exist apart from the white bourgeois realms that they and/or their ancestors once inhabited, others have been drawn to the reactionary politics of white hegemonic nationalism, which has encouraged them to embrace their debourgeoisified status as a reactionary badge of honor that stands in opposition to a mainstream liberal multicultural order.3 In a paradoxical, deeply troubling way, it is this latter category of white negroes who perhaps have the most in common with Mailer’s conceptualization of the stylized black hipster, for similar to this figure, these reactionary whites affect a distinct persona and style in the form of a socially transgressive “redneck” or “white trash” identity. Ironically enough, they are in a sense the purest white negroes of all, though most would surely reject this description. And yet, in distancing themselves from any identification with blacks and black culture, they refuse to confront their own—pardon the offensive phrase—socioeconomically “niggerized” status, thereby aligning themselves with a position similar to Mailer’s marginalized black Hipster, whom Mailer describes as a likely candidate for sociopathy precisely because he lives in a bourgeois liberal society that hates him and conditions him to hate himself.

49Rather than seeking out interracial liaisons and miscegenation and potentially rebelling against the dictates of an oppressive white status quo as Mailer had hoped his Hip negroes—black and white alike—would, these reactionary white negroes, who deny their own seemingly evident socioeconomic kinship with their black compatriots, find themselves obsessed with their perceptions of white socioeconomic victimization. What they supposedly “remember” is not even a real past, but rather a socially imagined one tainted by a dangerous reactionary nostalgia, which compels them to long for the warped notion of America as a “Lost Eden” when all was supposedly “great.” Instead of seeking out the multiracial liaisons, political and sexual alike, that might see a truly “Great America” emerge, these whites, who are mostly but not exclusively male, tragically place faith in their often affect-crafted “white redneck” and “white trash” identities, which render them de facto white negroes in the eyes of the respectable bourgeois liberal mainstream.

50Obviously, there are problems with Mailer’s conceptualizations of black American identity and its alignment with “white negrodom,” in particular his troubling fixations with his personal notions of black hypermasculinity and violence, which he would later embody in such black characters as the singer Shago Martin in his novel An American Dream (1965) and the ex-boxer Joseph Bolo Greene (a.k.a., “Mr. Black”) in his novel Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1984). And yet, there is something almost brave in Mailer’s desire to disrupt the white hegemonic liberal consensus culture of the 1950s via his call for miscegenation. As he writes,

To take the desegregation of the schools in the South as an example, it is quite likely that the reactionary sees the reality more closely than the liberal when he argues that the deeper issue is not desegregation but miscegenation. (As a radical, I am of course facing in the opposite direction from the White Citizens’ Councils—obviously I believe it is the absolute human right of the Negro to mate with the White, and matings there will undoubtedly be, for there will be Negro high school boys brave enough to chance their lives.) But for the average liberal whose mind has been dulled by the committeeish cant of the professional liberal, miscegenation is not an issue because he has been told that the Negro does not desire it. (63)

51To simply accuse Mailer of racism and to altogether dismiss his essay, roughly articulated and offensive though it may be at points, would be to ignore his sincere yet awkwardly expressed love of black American culture and blacks in general, as so wonderfully captured in his non-fiction book Of a Fire on the Moon (1970). A meditation on the Apollo 11 Moon landing, the book sees Mailer argue that while the landing itself was publicly framed as a victory for America, it was really only a symbol of success for white Americans, who had journeyed into space while leaving their black American compatriots behind, thereby confirming the racial inequality between whites and blacks in American society.

52Perhaps nowhere is Mailer’s love of blacks more evidently conveyed than in the boxing documentary When We Were Kings (1996, dir. Leon Gast), in which Mailer appears as a commentator and reflects on the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” African heavyweight match that took place between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. Recalling Ali’s victory and his subsequent interactions with Africans, Mailer describes Ali’s brilliance in communicating how American society had warped the lives of many of its black citizens by subjecting them to white sociocultural hegemony:

He stayed up all night [after the fight], from what I heard, and in the morning he spoke to African groups who had come as delegations to see him. And they more than revered him, he was… he was a God. And he spoke to them very simply that day, and beautifully, and he said Afro Americans, in America, we’re not as good as you are. Some of us are richer than you are, but you have a dignity in your poverty that we don’t have. We are spoiled in America. We have lost what you still have in Africa, and you must keep that. And he spoke very gently, and I thought, ‘My Lord, on top of everything else this man’s a political leader, and he’s going to be a great political leader.’ (When We Were Kings)

53Here Mailer indirectly sheds light on his earlier observations in “The White Negro,” for the obvious implication of his comments is that black Africans do not, in general, suffer from the same sense of anomic psychosocial distortion as do some black Americans, who are corrupted by the dominating sociocultural influence of their white compatriots.

54Retrospectively speaking, it is impossible to deny the visionary if problematic flashes of insight that permeate Mailer’s essay. As Dearborn, both an admirer and a critic of Mailer, writes in her biography of the author,

It is obvious that Mailer saw the 1960s coming, not only in terms of the ‘youth generation’ or hippies, but also in his prediction of the widespread social and cultural upheavals when black power followed on civil rights. Mailer’s equation between the hipster, the psychopath, and the black was more complex—and would cause bitter disagreement—but nonetheless compelling. Alternative culture was without question heavily influenced by black culture. (130-131)

55Even more prophetic, as I have previously noted (21-22), is Mailer’s recognition that this “[a]lternative culture” (Dearborn 131) faced potential assimilatory co-optation within the mainstream liberal “tapestry” (Mailer 63), which is, of course, exactly what began to occur in America from roughly the late 1960s onward via the dawn of New Media/New Hollywood.

56Situated in relation to the immediate present, Mailer’s pessimistic ruminations about the possibility of future social strife ring true given the enormous sociocultural conflicts of the Trump era—torn between pro-Trump reactionaries and anti-Trump revolutionaries—and the reactionary Capitol Hill riots: “One can well wonder if the last war of them all will be between the blacks and the whites, or between the women and the men, or between the beautiful and the ugly, the pillagers and the managers, or the rebels and the regulators” (64). Granted, for some, the presidential election of Democratic team Biden (President) and Harris (Vice-President) may be a hopeful sign of a more unified and racially and gender diverse America, though this would be to ignore the simmering national tensions of racial-ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic division that helped drive the reactionary currents that propelled Trump to office in 2016.

57White, privileged, and—in Mailer’s parlance—“Square,” Biden is clearly no white negro, whereas Harris, paradoxically enough, is a black woman who rose to political power by helping expand the very prison-industrial-complex that incarcerates legions of poor blacks and whites alike for low-level drug offences. Far from epitomizing Hip, Harris, white pantsuits and all, is actually closer to the Square Hillary Clinton by virtue of both her haute couture style and her lengthy political track record of backing neoliberal policies. Indeed, watching the white pantsuit-clad Harris deliver her November 7, 2020 Vice-Presidential acceptance speech on television, I found myself thinking of Jodie Foster’s superlative performance as the stylized, strategically-minded Manhattan power broker and “fixer” Madeline White, a.k.a. “Ms. White,” in director Spike Lee’s entertaining heist film, Inside Man (2006). To riff on Mailer’s notion of the white negro, one might say that Harris is the ultimate “black Caucasian” who has sought political and socioeconomic power via assimilation to white hegemonic norms.

  • 4 Lind is an interesting scholar from whom one can learn and poach a great deal. Though I am by no me (...)

58Thus, while some may hold high hopes for the presidential administration of team Biden-Harris, I think that Mailer, were he still alive, would likely agree with the following sentiments of the policy expert Michael Lind, which Lind outlines in his book The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution (1995).4 Discussing a process he defines as “Brazilianization,” Lind describes an impending America marked by “a blurry, informal caste system in which most of those at the top of the social hierarchy are white, and most brown and black Americans are on the bottom—forever” (216):

[T]oday it is much easier to co-opt the black and Hispanic middle classes through tokenism and symbolic concessions… than it would be to undertake the dramatic reforms of American government and business that are necessary to integrate working-class and poor blacks and Hispanics, along with the absolute majority of the poor who are white[.] (164; emphasis added)

59Whether or not team Biden-Harris, who will acknowledgedly be plagued by assaults from the reactionary Right throughout their time in office, will be able to construct a truly just America remains to be seen, though their shared track record thus far surely contradicts their claimed commitment to racial and socioeconomic justice.

60While he lionized Muhammad Ali as one of his great heroes (“Proust Questionnaire: Norman Mailer”), Mailer figures more as George Chuvalo when we look back at “The White Negro” and consider it along with some of his other more controversial essayistic endeavors, which are assembled in the retrospective Mailer essay collection Mind of an Outlaw (2013, ed. Phillip Sipiora). Similar to Chuvalo, Mailer assumed more than his fair share of beatings and outright losses, intellectual and otherwise, throughout his life, but his resilience, perseverance, and, yes, obstinance, led him to give creative birth to some works that, true to his pugilistic spirit, continue to challenge, provoke, frustrate, and, yes, educate readers. Although “The White Negro” may fail on the level of formal sociology, it endures as a sort of creative literary-sociological attempt to understand America’s Hip subcultural currents and their association with the national black/white sociocultural divide of the Eisenhower era. As Mailer’s contentious confrere Gore Vidal once sardonically remarked of him in a review of his essay collection Advertisements for Myself (1959), “Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory” (qtd. in Dearborn 149). Such flaws acknowledged, however, “The White Negro” is more than mere white noise. Indeed, some six decades after its initial publication, the essay continues to resonate. Even from the grave, it seems, Mailer is still berating us and still teaching us.

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Bourdain, Anthony. Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown——Transcripts. 20 Feb 2015, Accessed 16 Jan 2021.

Bremmer, Ian. Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism. Penguin, 2018.

Campbell, John L. American Discontent: The Rise of Donald Trump and the Decline of the Golden Age. Oxford UP, 2018.

Chappelle, Dave. “Saturday Night Live—Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Monologue.” 7 Nov 2020. Facebook. Accessed 18 Jan 2021.

Crowdus, Gary, and Dan Georgakas. “Thinking About the Power of Images: An Interview with Spike Lee.” Cineaste, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 4-9.

Davis, Kimberly Cabot. Beyond the White Negro: Empathy and Anti-Racist Reading. U of Illinois P, 2014.

Dearborn, Mary V. Mailer: A Biography. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999.

Devlin, Paul. “Why Did Ralph Ellison Never Publish His Second Novel?” Slate. 19 June 2013, Accessed 25 Jan 2021.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 1952. Random House, 1980.

Eminem. “Eminem Without Me—(Official Music Video.)” 2002. YouTube, 16 June 2009, Accessed 12 Jan 2021.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. 1952. Translated by Richard Philcox, Grove P, 2008.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. 1976. Translated by Robert Hurley, Random House, 1990.

Haley, Alex. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1964. Ballantine Books, 1999.

Heath, Joseph, and Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed. HarperCollins, 2005.

Jackson, Lauren Michele. White Negroes: When Cornrows Were In Vogue…. And Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation. Beacon P, 2019.

Jenkins, Mark. “Eminem, Free Speech Lefty.” 20 Jan 2001. Slate, Accessed 24 Jan 2021.

Kimmel, Michael. Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. Nation Books, 2015.

Lennon, Michael, J. “The Naked and the Read.” Times Literary Supplement. 9 March 2018, Accessed 25 Jan 2021.

Lind, Michael. The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution. Free P, 1996.

Mailer, Norman. “The White Negro.” 1957. Mind of an Outlaw: Selected Essays, edited by Phillip Sipiora, Random House, 2013, pp. 41-65.

“Proust Questionnaire: Norman Mailer.” Vanity Fair, 12 Dec 2006, Accessed 24 Jan 2021.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate. 1948. Schocken Books, 1995.

When We Were Kings. Dir. Leon Gast. Amazon Prime Video, 1996.

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1 The term “magical negro” was popularized by Spike Lee in a March 2001 Cineaste interview with Gary Crowdus and Dan Georgakas, entitled “Thinking About the Power of Images: An Interview with Spike Lee.” Citing such then recent films as “The Green Mile, The Family Man, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and What Dreams May Come,” Lee objected to how they all rely on “magical, mystical negroes who show up as some sort of spirit or angel but only to benefit the white characters” (qtd. in Crowdus and Georgakas 4).

2 Defining this psychosocial phenomenon of “aggrieved entitlement” in his book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era (2013), sociologist Michael Kimmel writes, “It is that sense of entitlement thwarted—what I will call aggrieved entitlement—that I believe characterizes America’s new breed of Angry White Men” (21).

3 As sociologist John L. Campbell notes in his book American Discontent: The Rise of Donald Trump and the Decline of the Golden Age (2018), “those most likely to support his [Trump’s] campaign were [white] people with less than a high school education; reporting ancestry as simply ‘American’; living in a mobile home; [and] working in ‘old economy’ jobs like agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and trade” (Campbell 144).

4 Lind is an interesting scholar from whom one can learn and poach a great deal. Though I am by no means in agreement with all of his views, particularly the views he outlines on the Vietnam War in his book Vietnam: The Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America’s Most Disastrous Military Conflict (1999), he nonetheless has many compelling things to say about American sociopolitics.

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Electronic reference

Andrew Urie, On Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro” (1957): More Than Six Decades LaterEuropean journal of American studies [Online], 17-2 | 2022, Online since 04 July 2022, connection on 12 August 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Andrew Urie

Andrew Urie is an independent interdisciplinary scholar and writer who recently completed his PhD in Social and Political Thought at York University (Canada). His dissertation, Turning Japanese: Japanization Anxiety, Japan-Bashing, and Reactionary White American Heteropatriarchy in Reagan-Bush Era Hollywood Cinema, was nominated for York’s Best Dissertation Prize. Specializing in American Studies and British Cultural Studies, he has published in Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and PedagogyFast CapitalismAmericana: The Journal of American Popular Culture 1900 To PresentPopMattersThe Bluffs MonitorPop Culture and Theologythe quint: an interdisciplinary quarterly from the northAmerican Studies Blog; Athabasca University's Canadian Writers site; PopulaJournal of Contemporary Drama in EnglishLondon School of Economics BlogU.S. Studies OnlineProgress in Political EconomyAmerican Studies Journal; and [Inter]sections.

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