The Uproar Over ‘Transracialism’

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, United States on 2017-05-18 19:53Z by Steven

The Uproar Over ‘Transracialism’

The New York Times
2017-05-18

Rogers Brubaker, Professor of Sociology
University of California, Los Angeles


Rachel Dolezal in 2015. The controversy over her choice to identify as black has lingered.
Credit Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review, via Associated Press

Rogers Brubaker is a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author, most recently, of “Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities.”

The world of academic philosophy is ordinarily a rather esoteric one. But Rebecca Tuvel’s article “In Defense of Transracialism,” published in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia this spring, has generated a broad public discussion.

Dr. Tuvel was prompted to write her article by the controversy that erupted when Rachel Dolezal, the former local N.A.A.C.P. official who had long presented herself as black, was revealed to have grown up white. The Dolezal story broke just 10 days after Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair debut, and the two discussions merged. If Ms. Jenner could identify as a woman, could Ms. Dolezal identify as black? If transgender was a legitimate social identity, might transracial be as well? Dr. Tuvel’s article subjected these public debates to philosophical scrutiny.

The idea of transracialism had been rejected out of hand by the cultural left. Some worried — as many cultural conservatives indeed hoped — that this seemingly absurd idea might undermine the legitimacy of transgender claims. Others argued that if self-identification were to replace ancestry or phenotype as the touchstone of racial identity, this would encourage “racial fraud” and cultural appropriation. Because race has always been first and foremost an externally imposed classification, it is understandable that the idea of people declaring themselves transracial struck many as offensively dismissive of the social realities of race…

Read the entire article here.

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Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-05-15 00:05Z by Steven

Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

University of North Carolina Press
May 2017
230 pages
6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, notes, bibl., index
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3283-4
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3282-7
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3284-1

Alisha Gaines, Assistant Professor of English
Florida State University

In 1948, journalist Ray Sprigle traded his whiteness to live as a black man for four weeks. A little over a decade later, John Howard Griffin famously “became” black as well, traveling the American South in search of a certain kind of racial understanding. Contemporary history is littered with the surprisingly complex stories of white people passing as black, and here Alisha Gaines constructs a unique genealogy of “empathetic racial impersonation”–white liberals walking in the fantasy of black skin under the alibi of cross-racial empathy. At the end of their experiments in “blackness,” Gaines argues, these debatably well-meaning white impersonators arrived at little more than false consciousness.

Complicating the histories of black-to-white passing and blackface minstrelsy, Gaines uses an interdisciplinary approach rooted in literary studies, race theory, and cultural studies to reveal these sometimes maddening, and often absurd, experiments of racial impersonation. By examining this history of modern racial impersonation, Gaines shows that there was, and still is, a faulty cultural logic that places enormous faith in the idea that empathy is all that white Americans need to make a significant difference in how to racially navigate our society.

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SAS Researchers Probe Racial Passing, Identity Based on Two Novels

Posted in Africa, Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-05-11 01:18Z by Steven

SAS Researchers Probe Racial Passing, Identity Based on Two Novels

American University of Nigeria
2017-05-01

Nelly Ating

The modern-day issues of “racial passing” and “identity,” dominated the April 20 SAS research seminar presented by Dr. Agatha Ukata and Dr. Brian Reed of the English & Literature department.

The duo’s research probes the phenomenon in “Being and Not Being:  How Society Negotiates Humanity.”  This is a study based on Nella Larsen, and Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and on Isidore Okpewho’s Call Me by My Rightful Name.

This work will be presented at the African Literature Association conference at Yale University in June.

Leading the discussion, Dr Ukata said that despite disparity in the years of publication of the novels, it is astonishing to see the recurrence of “racial passing” in this era…

Read the entire article here.

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The Manner of Blackness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-05-06 02:06Z by Steven

The Manner of Blackness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Volume 100, Number 2, 2017
pages 112-142

Michael A. Istvan Jr., Lecturer in Philosophy
Texas State University

Commentators have suggested that Nella Larsen’s Passing rejects the view that there is some sort of black essence. This article challenges this reading. Since Irene is the most vocal advocate of an essence in respect to which all blacks are homogenous, much of the evidence for thinking that Passing is skeptical about such an essence amounts to evidence for not trusting Irene’s judgment in general, and for not trusting her judgment on this matter in particular. My arguments, then, will often involve explaining why Passing is not leading the reader to mistrust Irene’s judgment on this matter. Now, what exactly is meant by a black essence is, explicitly in this book, mysterious. Nevertheless, this article intends to shed some light on how Passing understands the nature of this something, this je ne sais quoi, peculiar to blacks. My tentative interpretation is that this something is an intangible and indefinite manner of being that is neither a conscious choice nor an inborn fact of biology, but rather a given of culture. This article takes this, in effect, blackness manner to be, so Passing seems to indicate, a function of one’s belief that one is black in a milieu of pervasive anti-black prejudice. Passing thus has something to offer those today who struggle to adjudicate between a pull towards essentialism and a pull towards constructionism. What Passing emphasizes in this discussion is the possibility that, in addition to biological and societal influences, one’s mind state is a crucial ingredient to one’s racial identity.

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The Asian Turn in Mixed Race Studies: Retrospects and Prospects

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2017-05-04 03:20Z by Steven

The Asian Turn in Mixed Race Studies: Retrospects and Prospects

Asia Pacific Perspectives
Volume 14, Number 2: Spring 2017

Emma J. Teng, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations; Associate Professor of Chinese Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In 1930, the young Han Suyin (pen name of Rosalie Chou, 1916-2012) read this passage in a book called Races of the World: “Racial mixtures are prone to mental unbalance, hysteria, alcoholism, generally of weak character and untrustworthy…” Shaken, she prayed, “Oh God… don’t let me go mad, don’t let my brain go, I want to study.”1

Probably the most famous Eurasian author of the 20th century, one who served as a major interpreter of China to the West during the tumultuous Cold War era, Han was haunted by these words and driven throughout her life by a determination to prove them untrue, fighting the pronounced stigma and the obstacles faced by mixed-heritage individuals during her era. As she highlighted in this famous scene from her autobiographical A Mortal Flower (1965), such stigma was not only a product of social prejudice, but also heavily reinforced by scientific and pseudoscientific discourses of the time.

From our vantage point today, it is a good moment to take stock of how far we have come (or failed to come) over the century that separates us from Han’s birth. How have popular perceptions of “mixed-race” peoples changed in Asia and across the globe? How have academic discourses evolved? And perhaps most importantly, how have “mixed” individuals themselves advocated for their equal rights and recognition? The articles in this pathbreaking issue of Asia Pacific Perspectives address these vital questions and others, focusing their analyses on historical and contemporary manifestations of “mixedness” across East Asia…

Read the entire article here.

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Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2017-05-03 02:24Z by Steven

Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos

Oxford University Press
2017-05-01
280 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0190633691

Juliet Hooker, Associate Professor of Government and African and African Diaspora Studies
University of Texas, Austin

  • The first book to simultaneously analyze U.S. African-American and Latin American political thinkers and their ideas about race.
  • Transforms understandings of prominent U.S. African-American and Latin American intellectuals through a hemispheric analysis.
  • Challenges political theory’s preoccupation with East/West comparisons by foregrounding the Americas.
  • Brings African-American and Latin American political thought into conversation and shows how each discipline was developed through transnational intellectual exchanges.
  • Maps a genealogy of racial thought in the Americas.

In 1845 two thinkers from the American hemisphere – the Argentinean statesman Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, and the fugitive ex-slave, abolitionist leader, and orator from the United States, Frederick Douglass – both published their first works. Each would become the most famous and enduring texts in what were both prolific careers, and they ensured Sarmiento and Douglass’ position as leading figures in the canon of Latin American and U.S. African-American political thought, respectively. But despite the fact that both deal directly with key political and philosophical questions in the Americas, Douglass and Sarmiento, like African-American and Latin American thought more generally, are never read alongside each other. This may be because their ideas about race differed dramatically. Sarmiento advocated the Europeanization of Latin America and espoused a virulent form of anti-indigenous racism, while Douglass opposed slavery and defended the full humanity of black persons. Still, as Juliet Hooker contends, looking at the two together allows one to chart a hemispheric intellectual geography of race that challenges political theory’s preoccupation with and assumptions about East/West comparisons, and questions the use of comparison as a tool in the production of theory and philosophy.

By juxtaposing four prominent nineteenth and twentieth-century thinkers – Frederick Douglass, Domingo F. Sarmiento, W. E. B. Du Bois, and José Vasconcelos – her book will be the first to bring African-American and Latin American political thought into conversation. Hooker stresses that Latin American and U.S. ideas about race were not developed in isolation, but grew out of transnational intellectual exchanges across the Americas. In so doing, she shows that nineteenth and twentieth-century U.S. and Latin American thinkers each looked to political models in the ‘other’ America to advance racial projects in their own countries. Reading these four intellectuals as hemispheric thinkers, Hooker foregrounds elements of their work that have been dismissed by dominant readings, and provides a crucial platform to bridge the canons of Latin American and African-American political thought.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Race Theory and Hemispheric Juxtaposition
  • Part I : Ambas Américas
    • 1. “A Black Sister to Massachusetts”: Latin America and the Fugitive Democratic Ethos of Frederick Douglass
    • 2. “Mi Patria de Pensamiento”: Sarmiento, the United States, and the Pitfalls of Comparison
  • Part II: Mestizo Futurologies
    • 3. “To See, Foresee, and Prophesy”: Du Bois’ Mulatto Fictions and Afro-Futurism
    • 4. “A Doctrine that Nourished the Hopes of the Non-White Races”: Vasconcelos, Mestizaje’s Travels, and U.S. Latino Politics
    • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Heroines of the Haitian Revolutions

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, Women on 2017-05-01 02:19Z by Steven

Heroines of the Haitian Revolutions

Public Books
2017-04-28

Laurent Dubois, Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

What is the role of an artist in the face of political repression? What is the place of culture in the midst of injustice and terror? Haitian writer Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1916–1973), author of powerful novels representing the experience of living under the Duvalier dictatorship, confronted such questions throughout her life.

One of Vieux-Chauvet’s earliest novels, Dance on the Volcano (1957), just published in a new English translation, does so by journeying back to the world of plantation slavery and of the Haitian Revolution. The novel is woven around the life of a real historical figure, Minette, a free woman of African descent who overcame the racial barriers of the time to become a star singer on the colonial stage. It focuses on Minette’s struggle to find both an artistic and a political voice, using her story as a crossroads through which to explore broader questions about art, sexuality, politics, and revolutionary change.

Because of her background, Minette’s presence onstage was always a risk, and her voice a weapon. Born in 1767, she was mentored by a white actress in Port-au-Prince, the colony’s capital. In 1780, Minette performed onstage for the first time. Vieux-Chauvet dramatizes the scene of her debut by imagining the terror the young girl must have felt as she stared out at the crowd: rows and rows of white faces looking up at her, expectantly. As the violin strikes its first chord, Minette opens her mouth but no sound comes out…

Read the entire article here.

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New Perspectives on James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Passing, United States on 2017-04-25 03:05Z by Steven

New Perspectives on James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

University of Georgia Press
2017-07-15
272 pages
Trim size: 6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-8203-5097-4
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-8203-5096-7

Edited by

Noelle Morrissette, Associate Professor of English
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) exemplified the ideal of the American public intellectual as a writer, educator, songwriter, diplomat, key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and first African American executive of the NAACP. Originally published anonymously in 1912, Johnson’s novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is considered one of the foundational works of twentieth-century African American literature, and its themes and forms have been taken up by other writers, from Ralph Ellison to Teju Cole.

Johnson’s novel provocatively engages with political and cultural strains still prevalent in American discourse today, and it remains in print over a century after its initial publication. New Perspectives contains fresh essays that analyze the book’s reverberations, the contexts within which it was created and received, the aesthetic and intellectual developments of its author, and its continuing influence on American literature and global culture.

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Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Posted in Books, Canada, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs on 2017-04-21 02:48Z by Steven

Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
October 2017
295 pages
ISBN13: 978-1-77112-240-5

Michelle La Flamme, Professor of English
University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

Canada’s history is bicultural, Indigenous, and multilingual, and these characteristics have given risen to a number of strategies used by our writers to code racially mixed characters. This book examines contemporary Canadian literature and drama in order to tease out some of those strategies and the social and cultural factors that inform them.

Racially hybrid characters in literature have served a matrix of needs. They are used as shorthand for interracial desire, signifiers of taboo love, images of impurity, symbols of degeneration, and examples of beauty and genetic perfection. Their fates have been used to suggest the futility of marrying across racial lines, or the revelation of their “one drop” signals a climactic downfall. Other narratives suggest mixed-race bodies are foundational to colonization and signify contact between colonial and Indigenous bodies.

Author Michelle LaFlamme approaches racial hybridity with a cross-generic and cross-racial approach, unusual in the field of hybridity studies, by analyzing characters with different racial mixes in autobiographies, fiction, and drama. Her analysis privileges literary texts and the voices of artists rather than sociological explanations of the mixed-race experience. The book suggests that the hyper-visualization of mixed-race bodies in mono-racial contexts creates a scopophilic interest in how those bodies look and perform race.

La Flamme’s term “soma text” draws attention to the constructed, performative aspects of this form of embodiment. The writers she examines witness that living in a racially hybrid and ambiguous body is a complex engagement that involves reading and decoding the body in sophisticated ways, involving both the multiracial body and the racialized gaze of the onlooker.

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Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith’s “Fidèle”and Intrusion

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2017-04-13 15:50Z by Steven

Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith’s “Fidèle”and Intrusion

Interminable Rambling
2017-04-13

Matthew Teutsch, Instructor
Department of English
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

Recently, I taught Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith’s The Land Baron’s Sun: The Story of LýLoc and His Seven Wives (2014) for the first time, and during this read through, I began to think about the topic of the American Dream even more along with colonization and intrusion. These themes pop up in numerous poems throughout the collection, and I have written about them before. Today, though, I want to focus on “Fidèle,” a poem that appears later in the book and talks about Pham and her family’s new life in North Louisiana.

“Fidèle” begins by outlining the religious landscape of Ruston. The town does not have any synagogues, pagodas, or temples; rather, it has “only churches whose steeples/ are wooden hands formed in prayer” (84). From the very beginning, we are told to question the Boudreaux family in the poem based on the title, ““Fidèle,” French for faithful. The Boudreauxs, with their children and dog, repeatedly ask Pham, as she works in her family’s garden, to come to church with them someday. Pham declines these invitations as her husband instructs her…

Read the entire article here.

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