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Beyond Black and White: Cultural Approaches to Race and Slavery

Ariela Gross
Columbia Law Review
Vol. 101, No. 3 (Apr., 2001), pp. 640-690
DOI: 10.2307/1123740
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1123740
Page Count: 51
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Beyond Black and White: Cultural Approaches to Race and Slavery
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Abstract

This Essay surveys the new field of cultural-legal history, highlighting its promise and pitfalls for the study of race and slavery. It discusses several aspects of the new cultural approaches: the view of trials as narratives or performances; the emphasis on the agency of outsiders to the law, including people of color and white women; and a household approach to slavery and other "domestic relations." The Essay argues that these studies have begun to transform historians' understandings of old debates regarding the origins and nature of American slavery, the beginnings of Jim Crow, and the possibilities of resistance against white cultural hegemony. While there are dangers to the new cultural approaches, in particular the loss of an all-encompassing framework to understand law, race and slavery, and the limitations of a black-white model, cultural-legal history also holds great promise for rethinking the role of law in racial formation, the nature of legal change, and the relationship between law and extralegal norms.

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