I Now Pronounce You Man and White: Racial Passing and Gender in Charles Chesnutt’s Fiction

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2022-11-27 03:04Z by Steven

I Now Pronounce You Man and White: Racial Passing and Gender in Charles Chesnutt’s Fiction

American Literary Realism
Volume 52, Issue 3, (Spring 2020)
pages 189-210
DOI: 10.5406/amerlitereal.52.3.0189

Martha J. Cutter, Professor of English
University of Connecticut

As a literary genre in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, many African American-to-white racial passing fictions are built around a stable set of narrative conventions: the passer decides to pass, moves to a new location, takes on a new name and identity, and then either dies, returns to his or her “true” race, or moves out of the United States (usually to Europe). Of course, there are exceptions to these patterns, but many fictional texts well into the first three decades of the twentieth century continue to utilize them to a large degree.2 This is not to deny, as some critics contend, that passing texts sometimes disrupt many of the binaries around which identity categories are established and maintained—such as black versus white or male versus female—as well as the visual “logic” of race itself.2 Yet many early twentieth-century passing texts conclude by containing to some degree the challenging questions that the passing figure has raised about the durability of categories of race (or gender) through specific types of narrative closure.

Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900) is unusual in that the male protagonist—John Walden/Warwick—ends up continuing to live in the United States while passing for white; therefore many questions that John’s passing presence has raised about the stability of racial identity are left open at the end of the text. Yet Rena Walden/Warwick, John’s sister, who also passes for white, is dead at the end. Does Chesnutt—who certainly saw race as a social construction,3 although perhaps not gender—ever depict women characters who can maintain a passing presence that keeps open questions about the meaning of whiteness and blackness? In fact there are several texts by Chesnutt in which women pass for white. However, their passing is often allowed, enforced, or enabled by a male (black or white) whom they might marry. In such texts both African American and white men have the ability not only to provide to women an identity as “wife” but also an identity as “white.” These female racial passers are therefore both literally and figuratively granted whiteness only through inscription as patriarchal property within the institution of marriage. Hence the title of this essay: for Chesnutt’s women, it is a male who can pronounce them not only wife, but also white.

A lawyer himself—he had passed the bar in Ohio in 1887—Chesnutt is often viewed as presenting a sophisticated critique of the law and as sometimes “theoriz[ing] imaginative ways that legal principles could be used to repair American race relations.”4 Yet is this the case in terms of gender relations—does Chesnutt’s fiction critique and repair gender inequities? Chesnutt’s fiction recognizes the intersectional nature of women’s oppression in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, when women of any race possessed limited rights under the doctrine of coverture and in the face of the denial of women’s suffrage and other political and legal civil liberties; yet his works do not imagine a “repair” of gender relations.5 Robyn Wiegman argues that “modern citizenship functions as a disproportionate system in which the universalism ascribed to certain bodies (white, male, propertied) is protected and subtended by the infinite particularity assigned to others (black, female, unpropertied).”6 Men who pass into whiteness therefore may become modern citizens with full rights and a universal and unparticularized body. But women who pass into whiteness are still women with limited rights and non-property holders in most states in the U.S. well into the late-nineteenth century, and they are always defined in terms of their bodily particularity and peculiarity. Moreover, within the system of capitalism they are configured as property to be trafficked between men, gifts to be traded back and forth, and it is only specifically through an exchange between men that they can move from a natural realm (a realm outside society) to a social order in which their status (even as objects) can be…

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Chapter 8 – “Theresa” and the Early Transatlantic Mixed-Race Heroine

Posted in Books, Chapter, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2022-10-03 18:51Z by Steven

Chapter 8 – “Theresa” and the Early Transatlantic Mixed-Race Heroine

Chapter in: African American Literature in Transition, 1800–1830
Cambridge University Press
March 2021
DOI: 10.1017/9781108632003.014
pages 202-226

Brigitte Fielder, Associate Professor of U.S. Literature
University of Wisconsin, Madison

This chapter examines the publication of “Theresa” in Freedom’s Journal, a short story about women’s wartime heroism into the broader history of the Haitian Revolution. “Theresa” paints an image of mixed-race womanhood that was not insignificant for both this American venue and for a larger transatlantic context. Like the anonymously written British epistolary novel, The Woman of Colour, A Tale (1808), “Theresa” shows mixed-race women who are aligned with Black racial uplift rather than white assimilation. Moreover, both of these texts present images of mixed-race heroines who differ significantly from those of the “tragic mulatta” genre that would gain popularity during the antebellum period. Instead, “Theresa” frames its mixed-race heroines as models not only of racial solidarity but also of radical abolitionist action. In this, “Theresa” anticipates postbellum mixed-race heroines, through foregoing mixed-race women’s heterosexual union with Black men with their political action alongside them. The chapter offers an analysis of early nineteenth-century texts such as Laura Sansay’s Secret History; or, the Horrors of St. Domingo (1808) and Zelica the Creole (1820), which make the safety of white women the priority of their mixed-race characters.

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Striving to Sing Our Own Songs: Notes on the Left not Right in Africana Studies

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice on 2022-09-16 20:53Z by Steven

Striving to Sing Our Own Songs: Notes on the Left not Right in Africana Studies

The Discipline and African 2022 World Report
National Council for Black Studies
pages 186-192

Mark Christian, Ph.D., Professor of Africana Studies
City University of New York, New York, New York

By way of an introduction, the last year or more has witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in human insecurity across the globe. Perhaps it is the right time to put some historical context into what this means for peoples of African heritage globally—and more specifically, those located within the borders of the United States. This article will briefly consider the continued battle for Africana liberation, employing a Sankofa perspective—to go back and retrieve for present use. Moreover, there will be a critique of the so-called “Black Radical Left,” as it seems that scrutiny of such scholars rarely occurs. Indeed, many appear “untouchable” in terms of criticism from within Africana studies—yet the same cannot be stated in regard to African-centered scholars who, ironically, argue for largely similar forms of Black liberation. Therefore, while taking into account the developments of the last year for this NCBS annual report, it is necessary to consider some of the various schools of thought in the discipline and the imperative to develop a cross-fertilization of ideas in Africana studies.

In the last 18 months, I have traveled back in time to the 19th and 20th centuries in regard to my research output, completing two major studies (Christian, 2021a, 2021b). It has been palpably worthwhile because one finds that there is nothing particularly original in terms of the struggle for social justice. Of course, there have been major structural changes in the U.S. with the collapse of enslavement in 1865, followed by the ephemeral Reconstruction era, then de jure segregation, followed largely by de facto segregation. Women’s rights have also markedly improved since the 19th century, yet here we are, comfortably into the 2020s, in what could be deemed the “George Floyd era,” wherein the need for racialized justice across the spectrum of society remains ubiquitous. The seemingly insuperable reality of racism remains an ever-present social problem. Meanwhile, Africana scholars, in all their various schools of thought, continue to tackle an array of “isms” in their varied capacities throughout higher education…

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Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-09-07 22:37Z by Steven

Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen

Modern Language Association
2016-09-01
2010 pages
6 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9781603292191
Paperback ISBN: 9781603292207

Edited by:

Jacquelyn Y. McLendon, Professor Emerita of English & Africana Studies; Director Emerita of Black Studies
College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

Nella Larsen’s novels Quicksand and Passing, published at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, fell out of print and were thus little known for many years. Now widely available and taught, Quicksand and Passing challenge conventional “tragic mulatta” and “passing” narratives. In part 1, “Materials,” of Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen, the editor surveys the canon of Larsen’s writing, evaluates editions of her works, recommends secondary readings, and compiles a list of useful multimedia resources for teaching.

The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” aim to help students better understand attitudes toward women and race during the Harlem Renaissance, the novels’ relations to other artistic movements, and legal debates over racial identities in the early twentieth century. In so doing, contributors demonstrate how new and seasoned instructors alike might use Larsen’s novels to explore a wide range of topics—including Larsen’s short stories and letters, the relation between her writings and her biography, and the novels’ discussion of gender and sexuality.

Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • PART ONE: MATERIALS / Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
  • PART TWO: APPROACHES
    • Introduction / Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
    • Historical and Cultural Contexts
      • Nella Larsen’s Passing and the Literary and Legal Context of the Passing Narrative / Martha J. Cutter
      • Nella Larsen’s Modernism / Caresse John
      • Helga Crane in West Egg: Reading Quicksand and The Great Gatsby as a Case Study in Canonicity / Shealeen Meaney
      • “A Whole World of Experience and Struggle”: Teaching Literature as Cultural and Intellectual Women’s History / Lyde Sizer
      • Nightlife and Racial Learning in Quicksand / Clark Barwick
    • Fiction and the Arts
      • Sounding and Being: A Resource for Teaching Musical References and Symbolism in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand / Gayle Murchison
      • Nella Larsen and the Racial Mountain: Teaching Black Musical Aesthetics in Passing and Quicksand / Lori Harrison-Kahan
      • Nella Larsen and the Civilization of Images: Teaching Primitivism and Expressionism in Quicksand / Cristina Giorcelli
    • Identity
      • “Anything Might Happen”: Freedom and American Identity in Nella Larsen’s Passing / Beryl Satter
      • Teaching Passing as a Lesbian Text / Suzanne Raitt
      • Approaching Gender in Quicksand / Beth Widmaier Capo
      • From “My Old Man” to Race Men in Quicksand / Riché Richardson
    • In the Classroom: Methods, Courses, Settings
      • The Matter of Beginnings: Teaching the Opening Paragraphs in Quicksand and Passing / Steven B. Shively
      • Versions of Passing / John K. Young
      • The Uses of Biography / George B. Hutchinson
      • “In Some . . . Determined Way a Little Flaunting”: Teaching with Nella Larsen’s Letters / M. Giulia Fabi and Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
      • Teaching Quicksand in Denmark / Martyn Bone
      • Teaching Nella Larsen’s Passing at an Urban Community College / Zivah Perel Katz
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Survey Participants
  • Works Cited
  • Index
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Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2022-09-04 03:06Z by Steven

Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing

South Atlantic Review
Volume 87, Number 1, Spring 2022

Doreen Fowler, Professor of English
University of Kansas

Critics of Passing have often observed that the novel seems to avoid engagement with the problem of racial inequality in the United States, and Claudia Tate goes so far as to write that “race … is merely a mechanism for setting the story in motion” (598). In the apparent absence of race as the novel’s subject, scholars have identified class or lesbian attraction as the novel’s central preoccupation. (1) While same sex attraction and class are certainly concerns of the novel, I would argue that critics have overlooked the centrality of race in the novel because the subject of Passing is racial repression; that is, a complete solidarity with an oppressed, racialized people is the repressed referent, and, for that reason, race scarcely appears. As a novel about passing, Larsen’s subject is a refusal to fully identify with African Americans, but Larsen’s critique is not only directed at members of the black community who pass for white; rather, Passing explores how race is repressed in the United States among both whites and some members of what Irene refers to as “Negro society” (157). Throughout the text, darkness is blanketed by whiteness. Even the word black or Negro seems to be nearly banished from the text. As I will show, the novel explores how an association with a black identity is repressed by many characters, including Brian, Jack Bellew, Gertrude, and other members of Harlem society, but Irene Redfield, the central consciousness of the novel, through whose mind events are perceived and filtered, is the primary exponent of racial repression. Jacquelyn McLendon astutely observes that Irene Redfield “lives in constant imitation of whites” (97). (2) Building on this observation, I argue that Irene, who desires safety above all, identifies safety with whiteness and represses a full identification with the black community out of a refusal of the abjection that whites project on black people. For this reason, Irene not only imitates whites in her upper-class bourgeois life, she, like a person passing for white, works to erase signs of her black identity–but those signs of blackness return to haunt her in the form of her double, Clare. While many scholars have recognized that Irene is ambivalent about her African American identity and that Clare and Irene are doubled, my original contribution is to link the two. In my reading, Clare is Irene’s uncanny double because she figures the return of Irene’s rejected desire to fully integrate with the black race.

In this essay, I propose that Larsen turns to Freudian theory to analyze the psychological dimension of racial repression. As Thadious Davis observes, Larsen was “very much aware of Freud, Jung, and their works” (329), and the cornerstone of Freud’s theory is repression. According to Freud, “the essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance from the conscious” (“Repression,” SE 14:147). Repression, then, is a form of self-censorship, which occurs, Freud explains, when an instinct is driven underground because the satisfaction of that desire…

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Sovereign Joy: Afro-Mexican Kings and Queens, 1539-1640

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs, Religion on 2022-08-25 01:01Z by Steven

Sovereign Joy: Afro-Mexican Kings and Queens, 1539-1640

Cambridge University Press
June 2022
Hardback ISBN: 9781316514382
eBook ISBN: 9781009086905

Miguel A. Valerio, Assistant Professor of Spanish
Washington University, St Louis, Missouri

Sovereign Joy explores the performance of festive black kings and queens among Afro-Mexicans between 1539 and 1640. This fascinating study illustrates how the first African and Afro-creole people in colonial Mexico transformed their ancestral culture into a shared identity among Afro-Mexicans, with particular focus on how public festival participation expressed their culture and subjectivities, as well as redefined their colonial condition and social standing. By analyzing this hitherto understudied aspect of Afro-Mexican Catholic confraternities in both literary texts and visual culture, Miguel A. Valerio teases out the deeply ambivalent and contradictory meanings behind these public processions and festivities that often re-inscribed structures of race and hierarchy. Were they markers of Catholic subjecthood, and what sort of corporate structures did they create to project standing and respectability? Sovereign Joy examines many of these possibilities, and in the process highlights the central place occupied by Africans and their descendants in colonial culture. Through performance, Afro-Mexicans affirmed their being: the sovereignty of joy, and the joy of sovereignty.

Table of Contents

  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction: Sovereign Joy
  • 1. ‘With their king and queen’: Early Colonial Mexico, the Origins of Festive Black Kings and Queens, and the Birth of the Black Atlantic
  • 2. ‘Rebel Black Kings (and Queens)’?: Race, Colonial Psychosis, and Afro-Mexican Kings and Queens
  • 3. ‘Savage Kings’ and Baroque Festival Culture: Afro-Mexicans in the Celebration of the Beatification of Ignatius of Loyola
  • 4. ‘Black and Beautiful’: Afro-Mexican Women Performing Creole Identity
  • Conclusion: Where did the black court go?
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Thinking While Black: Translating the Politics and Popular Culture of a Rebel Generation

Posted in Books, Communications/Media Studies, Forthcoming Media, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, United Kingdom, United States on 2022-08-08 16:00Z by Steven

Thinking While Black: Translating the Politics and Popular Culture of a Rebel Generation

Rutgers University Press
2022-12-09
218 pages
7 b-w illustrations
6 x 9
Paperback ISBN: 9781978830875
Cloth ISBN: 9781978830882
EPUB ISBN: 9781978830899
PDF ISBN: 9781978830905

Daniel McNeil, Department of Gender Studies
Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario

Thinking While Black brings together the work and ideas of the most notorious film critic in America, one of the most influential intellectuals in the United Kingdom, and a political and cultural generation that consumed images of rebellion and revolution around the world as young Black teenagers in the late 1960s. Drawing on hidden and little known archives of resistance and resilience, it sheds new light on the politics and poetics of young people who came together, often outside of conventional politics, to rock against racism in the 1970s and early ‘80s. It re-examines debates in the 1980s and ‘90s about artists who “spread out” to mount aggressive challenges to a straight, white, middle-class world, and entertainers who “sold out” to build their global brands with performances that attacked the Black poor, rejected public displays of introspection, and expressed unambiguous misogyny and homophobia. Finally, it thinks with and through the work of writers who have been celebrated and condemned as eminent intellectuals and curmudgeonly contrarians in the twenty-first century. In doing so, it delivers the smartest and most nuanced investigation into thinkers such as Paul Gilroy and Armond White as they have evolved from “young soul rebels” to “middle-aged mavericks” and “grumpy old men,” lamented the debasement and deskilling of Black film and music in a digital age, railed against the discourteous discourse and groupthink of screenies and Internet Hordes, and sought to stimulate some deeper and fresher thinking about racism, nationalism, multiculturalism, political correctness and social media.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: Theories in Motion
  • Chapter 2: Black and British
  • Chapter 3: A Movie-Struck Kid from Detroit
  • Chapter 4: Slave-Descendants, Diaspora Subjects, and World Citizens
  • Chapter 5: Enlarging the American Cinema
  • Chapter 6: Middle-Aged, Gifted, and Black
  • Coda
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
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Why Not Pass?

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2022-05-20 15:21Z by Steven

Why Not Pass?

Yes!
2022-05-18

Gila K. Berryman

Illustration by Fran Murphy/YES! Media

The Vanishing Half” deals with the theme of racial “passing” in the 1950s. Passing is different today, but still presents a choice between safety and authenticity

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was one of the most popular novels of the last few years—a bestseller on multiple “best book” lists. The story begins in 1954, when identical twins Stella and Desiree, aged 16, run away from home and their Southern town of light-skinned Black folks. In a year, the twins will go their separate ways, “their lives splitting as evenly as their shared egg,” when Stella crosses over to pass as White—she disappears, marries her White employer, and doesn’t look back.

American Whiteness exacts a high price in exchange for its safety and privilege. In order to pass, Stella severs every connection to her previous life so she can hide her true identity, even from her husband. As a result, she can never completely let her guard down around White people, and she refuses to have anything to do with Black people for fear that they might recognize some vestige of her Blackness…

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The Burdened Virtue of Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-05-16 19:38Z by Steven

The Burdened Virtue of Racial Passing

The Boston Review
2022-05-13

Meena Krishnamurthy, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

A still from Rebecca Hall’s film Passing, based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. Image: Netflix

Though a means of escaping and undermining racial injustice, the practice comes with own set of costs and sacrifices.

In Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, adapted by Rebecca Hall and distributed on Netfli­x last fall, Clare Kendry—a light-skinned Black woman—decides to pass as white. Clare grows up poor in Chicago; after her alcoholic father dies, she is taken in by her racist white aunts. When she turns eighteen she marries a rich white man who assumes she is white. Clare makes a clean escape until, some years later, she runs into her childhood friend, Irene Redfield, at a whites-only hotel; Irene, it turns out, sometimes passes herself, in this case to escape the summer heat. The storyline traces their complex relationship after this reunion and ends in tragedy for Clare.

Hall’s film adaptation joins several other recent representations that dramatize the lived experience of passing. The protagonist of Brit Bennett’s best-selling novel The Vanishing Half (2020), for example, decides to start passing as white in the 1950s at age sixteen after responding to a listing in the newspaper for secretarial work in a New Orleans department store. Much to her surprise, after excelling at the typing test, Stella is offered the position; her boss assumes she is white. Initially Stella keeps up the ruse just to support her and her sister, but passing also becomes a way for her to escape the trauma of her father’s lynching and the prospect of her own…

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Intermarriage and the Friendship of Peoples: Ethnic Mixing in Soviet Central Asia

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Communications/Media Studies, Europe, Family/Parenting, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs on 2022-05-16 18:28Z by Steven

Intermarriage and the Friendship of Peoples: Ethnic Mixing in Soviet Central Asia

Cornell University Press
2022-05-15
300 pages
6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN13: 9781501762949
Hardcover ISBN10: 150176294X

Adrienne Edgar, Professor of History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Intermarriage and the Friendship of Peoples examines the racialization of identities and its impact on mixed couples and families in Soviet Central Asia. In marked contrast to its Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union celebrated mixed marriages among its diverse ethnic groups as a sign of the unbreakable friendship of peoples and the imminent emergence of a single “Soviet people.” Yet the official Soviet view of ethnic nationality became increasingly primordial and even racialized in the USSR’s final decades. In this context, Adrienne Edgar argues, mixed families and individuals found it impossible to transcend ethnicity, fully embrace their complex identities, and become simply “Soviet.”

Looking back on their lives in the Soviet Union, ethnically mixed people often reported that the “official” nationality in their identity documents did not match their subjective feelings of identity, that they were unable to speak “their own” native language, and that their ambiguous physical appearance prevented them from claiming the nationality with which they most identified. In all these ways, mixed couples and families were acutely and painfully affected by the growth of ethnic primordialism and by the tensions between the national and supranational projects in the Soviet Union.

Intermarriage and the Friendship of Peoples is based on more than eighty in-depth oral history interviews with members of mixed families in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, along with published and unpublished Soviet documents, scholarly and popular articles from the Soviet press, memoirs and films, and interviews with Soviet-era sociologists and ethnographers.

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