The Heart of Whiteness

Normal Sexuality and Race in America, 1880–1940

The Heart of Whiteness

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 1 photo, 1 table Published: June 2007

Author: Julian B Carter

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Sex and Sexuality

In this groundbreaking study, Julian Carter demonstrates that between 1880 and 1940, cultural discourses of whiteness and heterosexuality fused to form a new concept of the “normal” American. Gilded Age elites defined white civilization as the triumphant achievement of exceptional people hewing to a relational ethic of strict self-discipline for the common good. During the early twentieth century, that racial and relational ideal was reconceived in more inclusive terms as “normality,” something toward which everyone should strive. The appearance of inclusiveness helped make “normality” appear consistent with the self-image of a racially diverse republic; nonetheless, “normality” was gauged largely in terms of adherence to erotic and emotional conventions that gained cultural significance through their association with arguments for the legitimacy of white political and social dominance. At the same time, the affectionate, reproductive heterosexuality of “normal” married couples became increasingly central to legitimate membership in the nation.

Carter builds her intricate argument from detailed readings of an array of popular texts, focusing on how sex education for children and marital advice for adults provided significant venues for the dissemination of the new ideal of normality. She concludes that because its overt concerns were love, marriage, and babies, normality discourse facilitated white evasiveness about racial inequality. The ostensible focus of “normality” on matters of sexuality provided a superficially race-neutral conceptual structure that whites could and did use to evade engagement with the unequal relations of power that continue to shape American life today.


“[A] convincing historical study.” — Jenny Bredull, Sexualities

“[T]he book is well-balanced and presents a compelling picture of how white became normal, making readers question and challenge seemingly unquestionable concepts as deep-rooted in our minds as what ‘normal’ means.” — Gomez-Galisteo, NeoAmericanist

“[The book’s] ideas are important. It begins the process of explaining why whites do not see themselves as having a race or their actions as racist, but nonetheless claim the privileges of whiteness.” — Lisa Lindquist Dorr, Journal of American History

“Carter’s arguments are beautifully supported, and even though they are specific to the US modernist period, they provide fresh perspectives to contemporary discussions concerning who qualifies as a so-called ‘normal’ American.” — William Arce, Women's Studies

“In this smart and provocative book, Julian B. Carter argues that the concept of ‘the normal’ in America results from an interlocking though disavowed set of relationships between whiteness and heterosexuality. . . . Carter’s source materials are well chosen and consistently interesting. . . . This is a brilliant book, certain to invigorate our understanding of whiteness and heterosexuality as they presided at the birth of American normality.” — Mason Stokes, American Studies

“Provocative and wonderfully researched and argued. The Heart of Whiteness is an important addition to the literature in queer studies and whiteness studies.” — Michael Bronski, Lambda Book Report

“This complex, richly textured book reaffirms the ongoing value of carefully research, theoretically informed historical scholarship on American whiteness. . . . One hopes (perhaps against hope) that the important ideas contained in this volume will somehow find their way into the hearts and minds of the people who have the most to learn from them.” — Andrew Sargent, College Literature

The Heart of Whiteness is brilliant; it has the capacity to transform what we thought we knew about both race and sexuality in the twentieth century. Furthermore, in Julian Carter’s hands ‘normal’ takes on a meaning that is so specific, clear, and historically on-target that nobody will be able to see twentieth-century normality in the same way after reading her book.” — Gail Bederman, author of Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Julian Carter is Assistant Professor of Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction. The Search for Norma 1

1. Barbarians Are Not Nervous 42

2. The Marriage Crisis 75

3. Birds, Bees, and the Future of the Race: Making Whiteness Normal 118

Epilogue. Regarding Racial/Erotic Politics 153

Notes 161

Bibliography 195

Index 211
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3948-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3937-3
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