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Anticommunism and Racism: Forging African American Identity in a Binary Mirror

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  1. In ?The New Mirror,? narrator uses her family's new plate-glass mirror to reflect her own blackness.
  2. Petry's narrator in ?The New Mirror? works similarly to Mine Okubo's illustrations in Citizen 13660.
  3. Elaine Tyler May's depiction of Cold War America shows disparity in yet another binary line.
  4. Written in 1945, Ann Petry's stories are a product of a conflicted world.

Cold War America was a world of binaries. In a quest for patriotism, white United States citizens defined themselves by mirroring against what they were not: they were Capitalist because they were not Communist, heterosexual not homosexual, coupled not single, Americans not Russians. Black Americans also adapted this mode of thinking, knowing perfectly well that they were black because they were not white. Additionally, African Americans viewed themselves through the lens of what W.E.B. Du Bois called a double consciousness?seeing themselves through their own eyes and the eyes of their white neighbors, thus simultaneously becoming both of these images and neither. Ann Petry's characters reckon with a country whose self-perception has been collapsed into terms of good and evil, and a government that brands blacks?especially those concerned with attaining civil rights?as Reds.

[...] The 15-year-old narrator, for example, is a ?bathroom dawdler? while her father is a ?cherry-tree dawdler;?[6] Aunt Sophronia's voice is ?low-pitched, musical?[7] while the mother's voice is harsh;[8] her father's skin is a ?deep reddish brown? while her aunt is ?lighter in color? than her mother.[9] Furthermore, in describing a variety of African American skin tones, as well as mentioning the Granite family?a black family claiming to be Mohawk Indians?Petry hints at the Cold War era shift in racial identities.[10] Despite the new of the expert,? Thomas Borstelmann notes that very idea of race as a biologically meaningful way to distinguish between peoples was fast losing its scientific authority.?[11] Racial hierarchies began to deteriorate as the color line was tested and readjusted. [...]


[...] And while the Truman administration pushed aside the issue of domestic racism in favor of an ongoing battle against the intruding forces of Communism, for African Americans the issue was at the forefront of daily life. For Charles Woodruff and the Layen family, daily activities like running a drugstore or teaching an English class were wrought with struggles of self-perception. African Americans struggled not only with the reflection in their own mirrors, but also against the reflections in opposition to the white side of the binary. [...]

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