"Visual Games and the Unseeing of Race"

AMERICAN QUARTERLY

Bret Rothstein, co-author, Karen M. Inouye, co-author
Publication Date
2016
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This article discusses the material and visual culture of popular ludic racism in the later nineteenth-century United States, with particular attention to an 1896 craze for Get off the Earth, an important mechanical puzzle designed by Sam Loyd. Using letters and articles published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as a case study, the authors note a peculiar quality in the racism of the puzzle itself as well as in contemporaneous newspaper articles, advertisements, and published correspondence. Both Loyd and his audience repeatedly discussed racial and cultural difference as somehow peripheral to the puzzle’s qualities as an intellectual problem. Building on this situation, the authors discuss a contemporaneous aesthetics of racism that defined difference as a topic of excessive complexity and, thus, of little or no intellectual consequence. It did so, the authors also suggest, while instantiating ideas of racial difference by harnessing them, quite literally, to the mechanical enchantments of Loyd’s design.