Buy Racial Innocence at Amazon, Powell's, or NYU Press.

Visit Robin Bernstein's website at

View an interview with Robin Bernstein

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"A tremendous resource....An exemplary model for any interdisciplinary project of similarly ambitious scope"

Another review is out! This one is in the Journal of Popular Culture. The review is by Meredith Bak, who maintains a very interesting blog about optical toys. Here's the final paragraph of her review:

Racial Innocence is an invaluable contribution not only because it exposes the racial dimensions of the concept of childhood innocence, but also because of its unique methodology, which addresses a critical gap between discussing childhood as a concept and addressing children’s lived experiences. Bernstein’s careful treatment of primary materials through the lens of performance expertly illuminates the intended uses and meanings of these objects, but crucially, she attributes agency to the real children who interacted with them by suggesting how these meanings are mutable and were reshaped in practice, leaving space for resistance to the dominant scripts. While the book is certain to find application within black studies, performance studies, material culture studies, and history, it is also a tremendous resource to those working in the areas of literary and media studies. It enlivens a diverse constellation of evidence, making it an exemplary model for any interdisciplinary project of similarly ambitious scope. --Meredith Bak, Journal of Popular Culture 45.4 (August 2012): 913-915.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"illuminate[s] the racialised residues of our own childhoods in our everyday adult lives"

Another review is in! This review by Aaron C. Thomas just appeared in the journal Cultural Studies. The review summarizes the book extensively and accurately, and I especially appreciated the way in which Thomas picked up on how the book claims girls and girlhood as central to US racial formation. Here's the closing paragraph of the three-page review:

Bernstein's book will be of keen interest to those working to study either childhood or toy culture in the United States, as well as to scholars of critical race theory or postcolonial studies. The author's deep understanding of nineteenth-century childhood play and the black-and-white imagery of minstrelsy in the United States allows her to describe in a clear and meaningful way the long-term effects of racialised nineteenth-century culture on our present day. Further, because Bernstein presses on Michel de Certeau's notion of tactics, or the ways in which consumers put the objects in their lives to productive use, Racial Innocence outlines new methodologies with which to analyse the seemingly inert objects that are marketed to consumers across the globe. Perhaps even more importantly, Bernstein's theory of the scriptive thing asks us to see children as active participants in culture, and, in fact, as expert agents of the culture of childhood into which they have been interpellated. In this way, Bernstein is able not only to describe the effects of nineteenth-century racialisation on twenty-first century US culture, but also to illuminate the racialised residues of our own childhoods in our everyday adult lives.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"A historiographic tour de force... a classic."

A few weeks ago, I received the wonderful news that Racial Innocence co-won the Award for Outstanding Book from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE). I'll receive the award in a ceremony at the 2012 ATHE conference, which is the first week of August. The conference program just went online, and here's what the prize committee said about why my book received the award:

"Robin Bernstein’s Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights is a historiographic tour de force that traces a genealogy of the invention of the innocent (white) child and its racialized roots in 19th and 20th century U.S. popular culture. With special attention to objects that perform as “scriptive” things in themselves and in relation to dramatic works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin—Bernstein argues for the importance of everyday objects and print items as formative of racial ideologies that haunt us to the present day. Especially crucial is Bernstein’s focus on objects and texts especially designed for girls and women--i.e. dolls--that are often not taken seriously as cultural artifacts of great import. Her rich archive and nuanced analysis will make this a classic book for theater historians and performance theorists."

Many thanks to the awards committee--Harvey Young, Suk-Young Kim, and Patricia Ybarra--for this award and for the wonderful response to Racial Innocence. I'm deeply honored.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"horrifying historical content built into supposedly innocent items of everyday culture "

The journal Girlhood Studies has run a special issue, edited by Miriam Forman-Brunell, on dolls and girls' culture. The issue includes Elizabeth Chin's great review of my book. Here's an excerpt:

“It is a great pleasure to see a book of this sophistication that takes on children and childhood to argue their centrality in larger issues. From the outset, Bernstein makes it clear that both childhood and child material culture have been key in the discourse and practices of making race and racism in the United States. Especially important is the chapter on Raggedy Ann, which highlights that doll’s ancestral ties to the golliwog and other racist characters. After reading Bernstein’s careful and compelling account of that particular staple of many a girl’s childhood, I find it hard to imagine buying one ever again.

“This focus on the horrifying historical content built into supposedly innocent items of everyday culture is surely the book’s most important point. It is one that I imagine will hit home quite hard with undergraduates in particular; this book would be a great resource for courses on race, children and childhood, power, and U.S. culture. Bernstein is at her best when demonstrating the ways in which the everyday walks a tightrope with balancing exactly those dilemmas most of us claim to have avoided: racism, sexism, and hegemony more broadly. Perhaps more than almost any book I have seen, this one is a vehicle for showing students the paradoxical ways in which even against our will, we are drawn into dynamics of power and inequality in the most subtle and everyday ways. . . .

"It is certainly both striking and disheartening how easily the scripts identified by Bernstein can be applied to . . . present-day items of material culture. The power and relevance of her analysis is thus something we are likely to discover not just in our own everyday lives, but in those of girls for whom [present-day] dolls are ostensibly intended. As the stuff through which much of their understanding of the world around them begins to take shape, these objects of material culture are, as Bernstein richly demonstrates, powerful vehicles for complex agendas usually thought to be far outside the realm of childhood innocence.”