Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man


James Weldon Johnson

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Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man: Preface Summary & Analysis

“The publishers” declare that this book offers a “vivid and startlingly new picture” of American race relations “as they actually exist”; rather than making any “special pleas,” like those in books with skewed depictions of African-Americans, this book is “a composite and proportionate presentation of the entire race.” Black Americans know all too well what whites think of them, but also that their true selves are invisible. This book “draw[s] aside” America’s interracial veil and shows how some light-skinned black people choose to pass as white and avoid the pressure of prejudice. This book shows this secret “race-drama” from a comfortable “bird’s-eye view.”
This preface is not merely an introduction to Johnson’s novel, even though it claims to act as something of a stamp of validity on the narrative. Johnson writes on behalf of “the publishers,” paradoxically claiming white authority to expose the untold story of black American life and revealing this book’s complex relationship to the truth: the world and many of the events it reveals are true, but the character who recounts them is not.
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