Skinship: Dialectical Passing Plots in Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery on 2016-05-24 00:32Z by Steven

Skinship: Dialectical Passing Plots in Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative

American Literary Realism
Volume 46, Number 2, Winter 2014
pages 116-136

Martha J. Cutter, Professor of English and Africana Studies
University of Connecticut

Racial definitions were in crisis within the U.S. during the mid-nineteenth century, with the country moving closer and closer to a Civil War in which the legal basis for enslavement and other forms of discrimination might be abolished. Therefore, historians and legal scholars such as Daniel Sharfstein and Joel Williamson have argued that the time period of 1830-1860, rather than that of the early twentieth-century, should be regarded as the era of the rise of the “one-drop” rule; laws regarding racial purity were passed amid the emergence of the plantation economy in the 1830s to provide a reliable source of labor and prevent what Sharfstein has termed “racial migration.” As Sharfstein has argued, “The one-drop rule’s transformation from ideological current to legal bright line and presumed social reality is in essence a story of freedom. [During] the thirty years preceding the Civil War . . . [t]he prospect of freedom for people of African descent hastened the one-drop rule’s rise as whites attempted to preserve social hierarchies and property relations in the absence of slavery.” Legal and scientific discourse from these decades further attempted to stabilize ideas of racial purity, even in the face of evidence that racial migration was an on-going fact of the U.S’s very existence.

How did racial passing texts from this time period respond to this attempt to stabilize the meaning of blackness and whiteness? Some texts endorse the attempt to stabilize race by portraying passing characters whose migration from blackness to whiteness or vice versa is figured as an invalidation of a “true” or “authentic” racial identity. For example, in Mary Langdon’s abolitionist passing novel Ida May (1854), a white child is stained brown and sold into slavery; but no one ever actually believes that the eponymous [End Page 116] heroine is anything but white, so the passing plot in fact supports racial difference and the idea that there is a “true” white race that somehow can be separated physically from the black race.

Other racial passing texts from this time period are more multivalent, in that they invoke the idea that race is physical (a matter of “one drop” of blood), only to transgress this idea through the manipulation of racialized identities based in performance, legal structures, and circumstances. Frank Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends (1857) at times invokes blood-based ideologies of race; Emily Garie’s hair, for example, is described as being “a little more wavy than is customary in persons of entire white blood” (emphasis added). Yet the novel often undercuts this rhetoric of racial blood through scenes in which race is shown to be more performative than biological. William Wells Brown’s Clotel (1853) similarly at times invokes what Adéléke Adéèkó has called “hemocentric imageries.” Brown implies at one point, for example, that “The infusion of Anglo-Saxon with African blood has created an insurrectionary feeling among the slaves of America hitherto unknown” (emphasis added). The text as a whole, however, shows race to be based in performance, legal discourse, and power relations, rather than in anything biological. For example, Clotel’s “black” daughter Althesa is said to be “as white as most white women in a southern clime.” The “somatic indecipherability” of the “white negro,” as Guilia Fabi phrases it, here emphasize that race is a sociohistorical construct, rather than a matter of blood or physical essence.

The passing plots of Hannah Crafts’ recently rediscovered novel The Bond-woman’s Narrative, written sometime after 1853, enter squarely within these complex questions by at times endorsing the idea that there is something physical to race (a drop of blood, a curl of hair, a tint in the eye) even as the narrative as a whole proffers a more flexible theorization of racial identity based not in racial blood, but in kinship, or rather what I call skinship. In the overt plot of The Bondwoman’s Narrative, as in The Garies and Their Friends and Clotel, blackness is…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,

‘In Negroland we thought of ourselves as the Third Race’

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, United States on 2016-05-24 00:04Z by Steven

‘In Negroland we thought of ourselves as the Third Race’

The Guardian

Margo Jefferson

An extract from Negroland, Margo Jefferson’s memoir of growing up in postwar America’s emerging black elite

  • Margo Jefferson: ‘I was anxious about using the word Negro in a book title’

I was taught to avoid showing off.

I was taught to distinguish myself through presentation, not declaration, to excel through deeds and manners, not showing off.

But isn’t all memoir a form of showing off?

In my Negroland childhood, this was a perilous business.

Negroland is my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty. Children in Negroland were warned that few Negroes enjoyed privilege or plenty and that most whites would be glad to see them returned to indigence, deference, and subservience. Children there were taught that most other Negroes ought to be emulating us when too many of them (out of envy or ignorance) went on behaving in ways that encouraged racial prejudice…

…In Negroland we thought of ourselves as the Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians. Like the Third Eye, the Third Race possessed a wisdom, intuition, and enlightened knowledge the other two races lacked. Its members had education, ambition, sophistication, and standardised verbal dexterity.

If, as was said, too many of us ached, longed, strove to be be be be White White White White WHITE…

If (as was said) many of us boasted overmuch of the blood des blancs that for centuries had found blatant or surreptitious ways to flow, course, and trickle tepidly through our veins and arteries (cephalic, aortal, renal, femoral, jugular, subclavian, and superior mesenteric

If we placed too high a value on the looks, manners, and morals called the birthright of the Anglo-Saxon

White people wanted to be white just as much as we did. They worked just as hard at it. They failed just as often. They failed more often. But they could pass, so no one objected…

Read the extract here.

Tags: ,

Uncovering a Tale of Rocket Science, Race and the ’60s

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-05-22 22:33Z by Steven

Uncovering a Tale of Rocket Science, Race and the ’60s

The New York Times

Cara Buckley, Culture Reporter

Janelle Monáe, left, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures,” which is slated for release in January. Credit Hopper Stone/20th Century Fox

ATLANTA — Taraji P. Henson hates math, and Octavia Spencer has a paralyzing fear of calculus, but that didn’t stop either actress from playing two of the most important mathematicians the world hasn’t ever known.

Both women are starring in “Hidden Figures,” a forthcoming film that tells the astonishing true story of female African-American mathematicians who were invaluable to NASA’s space program in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s.

Ms. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a math savant who calculated rocket trajectories for, among other spaceflights, the Apollo trips to the moon. Ms. Spencer plays her supervisor, Dorothy Vaughan, and the R&B star Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, a trailblazing engineer who worked at the agency, too.

Slated for wide release in January, the film is based on the book of the same title, to be published this fall, by Margot Lee Shetterly. The author grew up knowing Ms. Johnson in Hampton, Va., but only recently learned about her outsize impact on America’s space race…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ethnicity does not define one’s character

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2016-05-22 22:12Z by Steven

Ethnicity does not define one’s character

The Royal Gazette
Hamilton, Bermuda

Christopher Famous

There has been debate on social media recently about good hair vs bad hair, persons of mixed ethnicities, light skin vs dark skin.

After a conversation with someone deeply concerned with these issues, I decided to dig up a column I wrote in June last year:

We see a large proportion of Bermudians who are fair or light-skinned, with straight or semi-straight hair. Why is that, you ask? Let’s look at history to understand…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

The half-Chinese children on growing up find little difficulty in obtaining work or in entering into marriage with the surrounding white population…

Posted in New Media on 2016-05-22 21:34Z by Steven

The half-Chinese children on growing up find little difficulty in obtaining work or in entering into marriage with the surrounding white population. The girls in particular are attractive and good-looking. On the other hand, the Anglo-negroid children when grown up do not easily get work 0r mix with the ordinary population.

Maurice Broody, “The Social Adjustment of Chinese Immigrants in Liverpool,” The Sociological Review, Volume 3, Issue 1 (July 1955) pages 65-75.

Tags: , , , ,

…there are whole blocks and rows of houses with ‘every tenement occupied by families the head of each of which is, the one black and the other white!’

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-05-22 21:29Z by Steven

Marriage and cohabitation have become so common in New York and Boston as scarcely to attract attention, except as the astounding fact occasionally breaks upon one, that there are whole blocks and rows of houses with ‘every tenement occupied by families the head of each of which is, the one black and the other white!’

Amalgamation, North and South,” Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 24, Number 3619 (November 3, 1862). (Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection,

Tags: ,

Spotlight: Beneath Japan’s polite veneer lies secret codes of racial hatred aimed at minorities, foreigners

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive on 2016-05-22 21:22Z by Steven

Spotlight: Beneath Japan’s polite veneer lies secret codes of racial hatred aimed at minorities, foreigners (China Internet Information Center)
State Council Information Office and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG), Beijing, China

Xinhua News Agency

Is Japan a gentle nation? For many people who have little knowledge about the island country or just take a week-long vocation here, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

But for the ethnic minorities and some foreigners who live here for a long time, their bitter tales would tell a totally different story behind the iconic Japanese smile — a real Japan with an underground social code of inherent racial discrimination.

Japan has a long history of discriminating “burakumin,”or hamlet people as they’re known here in English. This group, brandished an”underclass”of people comprise those perceived as having impure or tainted professions such as workers in abattoirs or those in the leather industry. They were seen as “untouchable” and also known as “eta,” an ancient name for burakumin, and were “worth” one seventh the regard of an ordinary person in the Feudal era, and in some cases regarded just slightly higher than animals.

However, such discrimination was not eliminated with the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese Enlightenment in the 19th century, and still impacts people with burakumin ancestry…

…”There was a lot of bullying when I was at school, particularly when I was an elementary school student. They used to throw garbage in my face but I had no idea why,” Ariana Miyamoto, the first Afro-Asian to be crowned Miss Universe Japan, told Xinhua.

“There was this one time when a whole class of kids refused to get in the swimming pool with me, because my skin was a different color,” remembered Miyamoto, who was born in Nagasaki Prefecture but was accused of not being Japanese.

A spiteful remark on one social media after Miyamoto’s won the hard-fought competition read that “they should do blood tests before such events and if a contestants’ DNA is less than 100 percent ‘Japanese’ they should not be allowed to participate.” Another claimed that being “hafu,” which represents “half” in English used by Japanese people referring to people of mixed-race, meant that the “other” half was “less than human.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Obama signs measure striking ‘oriental’ and ‘negro’ from federal law

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-05-21 23:26Z by Steven

Obama signs measure striking ‘oriental’ and ‘negro’ from federal law

The Hill

Jordan Fabian, White House Correspondent

President Obama has signed legislation striking outdated racial terms such as “Oriental” and “Negro” from federal laws.

Obama signed the bill without fanfare on Friday along with six other pieces of legislation, the White House said…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: ,

Dreaming Black/Writing White: The Hagar Myth in American Cultural History

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Religion, United States, Women on 2016-05-21 23:06Z by Steven

Dreaming Black/Writing White: The Hagar Myth in American Cultural History

University Press of Kentucky
224 pages
6 x 9 photos
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8131-2143-7

Janet Gabler-Hover, Professor of English
Georgia State University

Winner of the SAMLA 2001 Book Award

Hagar, the Old Testament Egyptian heroine who bore Abraham’s son at the behest of Sarah, was traditionally regarded as an African. Yet the literature and paintings of the nineteenth century depicted Hagar as white. During this period, she became a popular subject for writers and artists, with at least thirteen novels published between 1850 and 1913 taking Hagar as their theme. Dreaming Black/Writing White examines how, for white feminists, Hagar became a liberating symbol to empower their own rebellion against patriarchal restrictions. Hagar’s understood blackness allowed her to represent a combination of sexual passion and artistic creativity that empowered women in the process of taking on male roles of economic power in American society. Because of Hagar’s ethnic complexity, she stands as an ironically positive figure at the center of several southern proslavery women’s novels such as The Deserted Wife, Hagar the Martyr, and The Modern Hagar. Through the persona of Hagar, women novelists felt free to create heroines whose suggestive blackness allowed readers to imagine themselves in rebellion against a restrictive patriarchy, but whose recoverable whiteness provided a safety hatch through which blackness could be disavowed. By exploring these complex and often contradictory depictions, Janet Gabler-Hover contends that the figure of Hagar is central to the canonized romance of nineteenth-century New England literature. The book also affirms Toni Morrison’s claim that blackness—indeed black womanness—lies at the heart of the white literary imagination in America.

Tags: , ,

Mixed-Race Mixtape Explores Identity Through Hip-Hop Theater at UCI

Posted in Articles, Arts, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2016-05-21 22:05Z by Steven

Mixed-Race Mixtape Explores Identity Through Hip-Hop Theater at UCI

OC Weekly
Fountain Valley, California

Gabriel San Roman

If Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump can tweet a picture of himself eating a taco bowl while declaring “I love Hispanics,” the national discussion around race has gotten soggier than the bottom of his bowl. Thankfully, Andrew “Fig” Figueroa is coming to UC Irvine this week to elevate the debate with Mixed-Race Mixtape, a much needed dose of hip-hop theater. Born to a Mexican dad and a white mom, Fig explores the intricacies of his own identity through song and stage.

“It’s funny because I was always aware that I had one parents who was Mexican and one that was white European, but I never dealt with the stress and confusion that I do now as an adult,” says Fig, who grew up in Irvine. “My white mother not only spoke perfect Spanish, but also had lived in Mexico for 15 years. So, we took pride in being a Mexican household.” It wasn’t until he moved out of Irvine that he realized all the issues he had that would later inform Mix-Raced Mixtape.

The one-night only production is a blend itself, incorporating hip-hop music, theater and spoken word elements together. The end result takes the audience through his experience of growing up as “ambiguously brown” as, say, Saved By the Bell’s A.C. Slater. Whether talking about encounters with police, family or school teachers, Fig’s bridging of both worlds becomes a balancing act. The feat is often wrought with subtle and not-so-subtle jabs along the fault lines of race and class…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,