Essays on Race and Culture
By Richard Dyer
Routledge – 1997 – 284 pages
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.
'In an environment of competitiveness, performance criteria and research ratings, Dyer's work is an invigorating (and much needed) breath of fresh air.' Screen 40, 1999
This is a superb book, and, with its detailed notes, carefully planned index, and meticulous attention to detail throughout, a truly original and groundbreaking investigation into the social and cultural politics of racial construction which have informed American and European discourse from the fifteenth century forward. - Film Quarterly
Dyer's White is timely and important, and deserves to catch the interest of a broad audience concerned with issues of identity, race and representation.' - Ed Guerrero, Ethnic and Racial Studies 23(1)