Coloring Whiteness

Acts of Critique in Black Performance
Faedra Chatard Carpenter
Reading representations of whiteness by contemporary African American performers and artists


Coloring Whiteness pays homage to the ways that African American artists and performers have interrogated tropes and mythologies of whiteness to reveal racial inequalities, focusing on comedy sketches, street theater, visual art, video, TV journalism, and voice-over work since 1964. By investigating enactments of whiteness—from the use of white makeup and suggestive masks, to literary motifs and cultural narratives regarding “white” characteristics and qualities—Faedra Chatard Carpenter explores how artists have challenged commonly held notions of racial identity. Through its layered study of expressive culture, her book considers how artistic and performance strategies are used to “color” whiteness and complicate blackness in our contemporary moment.

Utilizing theories of performance and critical race studies, Coloring Whiteness is also propelled by Carpenter’s dramaturgical sensibilities. Her analysis of primary performance texts is informed not only by traditional print and visual materials, but also by her interviews with African American theater artists, visual artists, and cultural critics. The book is an invaluable contribution to the fields of theater and performance studies, African American studies, cultural studies, critical race studies, and American studies.

“Carpenter offers an engaging exploration of how contemporary artists—Adrienne Kennedy, Douglas Turner Ward, Dave Chappelle, and Michael Jackson among others—interrogate the limits and boundaries of race by embracing whiteness, white alter egos, and, indeed, whiteface. Coloring Whiteness is a refreshingly insightful book that significantly contributes to critical race studies, performance studies, and theatre history.”
—Harvey Young, Northwestern University

Photo: Jefferson Pinder, Afro-Cosmonaut/Alien (White Noise) #7, 2008. Courtesy of the artist.

Faedra Chatard Carpenter is a freelance dramaturg and Assistant Professor in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies at the University of Maryland.

Praise / Awards

  • "Faedra Chatard Carpenter’s illuminating book is a timely call for a discursive specificity to describe the nation’s ongoing racial traumas in the twenty-first century." 
    --Theatre Journal
  • "[Coloring Whiteness is an] exceptionally clear and nuanced analysis of a range of cultural productions, including drama, sketch comedy, music videos, and visual art."
    --Modern Drama
  • "The book’s vast scope provides crucial scaffolding for further studies into each of the several performative functions of whiteface Carpenter identifies...Carpenter’s contribution provides, as do the performances she analyzes, an opening for further conversation beyond the binaries it necessarily works through and with."
    --The Drama Review
  • ¨...vitally contributes to conversations in a number of fields—theatre, performance, literary, critical race, and cultural studies, among others—that will no doubt find the book an invaluable resource for thinking through questions of race and performance in the twenty-first century.¨
    --Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism
  • "Carpenter’s analyses of whiteface performances are extraordinarily attentive to the various political desires at play in these practices. Coloring Whiteness, in the end, ponders hard on questions about the uneven politics of racial identity as well as about the performativity of such familiar biopolitical categories as race, gender, or class."
    --Journal of Contemporary Drama in English
  • "Makes an excellent contribution to the field of theater and performance research as it intersects with a range of related fields investigating the performance and reception of racial identities in stagecraft and daily life."
    --Journal of American History
  • Honorable Mention: American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) 2015 Errol Hill Award
  • Honorable Mention, John W. Frick Book Award, American Theatre and Drama Society

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 312 pages.
  • 9 color and 2 B&W illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12065-9

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • Whiteface, Whiteness, Transracial Performance, African American Theatre, African American Performance, Dramaturgy, Nontraditional Casting, Sound Studies, Adrienne Kennedy, Douglas Turner Ward, Lydia Diamond, Michael Jackson, Daniel Tisdale, Dave Chappelle, Jefferson Pinder