Race and Ethnicity in “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” and “The Rise of David Levinsky”: The Performative Difference

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, United States on 2012-05-24 22:53Z by Steven

Race and Ethnicity in “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” and “The Rise of David Levinsky”: The Performative Difference

Volume 29, Numbers 3/4, (Autumn-Winter, 2004), Pedagody, Canon, Context: Toward a Redefinition of Ethnic
American Literary Studies
pages 307-321

Catherine Rottenberg, Assistant Professor
Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics and the Gender Studies Program
Ben-Gurion University, Beer-Sheva, Israel

Contemporary critics have questioned the reliance on the blac-white binary as the defining paradigm of racial formation in the United States. Eric Goldstein contends that despite the black-white dichotomy’s power “it was never a sufficient framework for understanding the much more complex set of categories through which Progressive-Era Americans understood and spoke about race” (398). Susan Koshy warns us of the dangers of leaving “the intermediary racial groups” untheorized (159). Racialization has indeed been a complex and uneven process in the US, and the black-white divide is insufficient for explaining how racial categories have operated on the level of social practices. However, I argue that the very intelligibility of intermediary racial groups and ethnicity depends on the prior construction of the black-white binary. In effect, the black-white axis has operated to secure the tenuousness of race to a framework of stable boundaries, which in turn has provided the necessary grounding for the ideology of white supremacy (Wiegman 9).

In what follows I examine two seminal novels from the Progressive Era: Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky (1917) and James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912). These texts, now canonical within Jewish American and African American literary traditions respectively, were written just a few years apart. Both novels explicitly query what it means “to be American,” and they do so by exploring how “race” affects one’s chances of success in the Progressive Era US. Werner Sollors sums up the similarities between the two novels in the following way: “Both books depict the externally upward journeys of protagonists from poverty to material success, from ethnic marginality to a more ‘American’ identity, and from a small-town background to the urban environment of New York” (170).

While Sollors underscores the affinities between the two novels, I highlight the differences by juxtaposing specific scenes from each text, scenes that have certainn arrativea nd structurals imilarities. I examine the distinctive modalities of race and ethnicity as manifested in these Progressive Era texts, arguing that the texts reveal three aspects of racial discourse in the United States. First, racial discourse has largely evolved around an ideology of a binary opposition: the black-white divide. Second, racial discourse has created a very patent racial stratification; while black and white have, for the most part, served as the reference points and the defining terms, there have been “intermediary” racial groups. Third, the constructions of race and ethnicity have had very different historical trajectories in the US context. The texts, in sum, gesture toward both the historical difference between the racialized status of African Americans and the racial in-betweenness of other minority groups, as well as the way in which the black-white divide informs the construction of these in-between groups…

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The Well-Being of Children Living With Interethnic Parents: Are They at a Disadvantage?

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Social Science, Social Work, United States on 2012-05-24 18:20Z by Steven

The Well-Being of Children Living With Interethnic Parents: Are They at a Disadvantage?

Journal of Family Issues
Volume 33, Number 7 (July 2012)
pages 898-919
DOI: 10.1177/0192513X11420938

Jennifer Pearce-Morris
Department of Sociology
Pennsylvania State University

Valarie King, Professor of Sociology, Demography, and Human Development & Family Studies Director
Pennsylvania State University

An increasing number of U.S. children are living with interethnic parents, yet we know relatively little about how they are faring. Using data from the first wave (1987-1988) of the National Survey of Families and Households, this study examines differences in child well-being between children living with interethnic parents and those living with same-ethnic parents. Results provide only limited evidence that child well-being is lower among children living with interethnic parents. Compared with children in same-ethnic families, children living with interethnic parents exhibited higher levels of negative affect, and this difference could not be explained by differences in background or family characteristics, levels of parents’ relationship stressors, or parenting quality. At the same time, however, no differences were found in global well-being, positive affect, or behavior problems. Children living with interethnic parents may face some greater difficulties that warrant concern, but they do not appear to face pervasive disadvantages.

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We the Animals, A Novel

Posted in Books, Gay & Lesbian, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2012-05-24 17:08Z by Steven

We the Animals, A Novel

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
144 pages
5 x 8
Hardcover ISBN-13/ EAN:9780547576725; ISBN-10:0547576722
Paperback ISBN-13/ EAN:9780547844190; ISBN-10:0547844190
E-Book ISBN-13/ EAN:9780547577005; ISBN-10:0547577001

Justin Torres

Three brothers tear their way through childhood— smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn—he’s Puerto Rican, she’s white—and their love is a serious, dangerous thing that makes and unmakes a family many times.

Life in this family is fierce and absorbing, full of chaos and heartbreak and the euphoria of belonging completely to one another. From the intense familial unity felt by a child to the profound alienation he endures as he begins to see the world, this beautiful novel reinvents the coming-of-age story in a way that is sly and punch-in-the-stomach powerful.

Written in magical language with unforgettable images, this is a stunning exploration of the viscerally charged landscape of growing up, how deeply we are formed by our earliest bonds, and how we are ultimately propelled at escape velocity toward our futures.

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When a Boy Found a Familiar Feel in a Pat of the Head of State

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-05-24 02:35Z by Steven

When a Boy Found a Familiar Feel in a Pat of the Head of State

The New York Times

Jackie Calmes

Pete Sousa/White House

WASHINGTON — For decades at the White House, photographs of the president at work and at play have hung throughout the West Wing, and each print soon gives way to a more recent shot. But one picture of President Obama remains after three years.

In the photo, Mr. Obama looks to be bowing to a sharply dressed 5-year-old black boy, who stands erect beside the Oval Office desk, his arm raised to touch the president’s hair — to see if it feels like his. The image has struck so many White House aides and visitors that by popular demand it stays put while others come and go.

As a candidate and as president, Mr. Obama has avoided discussing race except in rare instances when he seemed to have little choice — responding to the racially incendiary words of his former pastor, for example, or to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Florida. Some black leaders criticize Mr. Obama for not directly addressing young blacks or proposing policies specifically for them.

Yet the photo is tangible evidence of what polls also show: Mr. Obama remains a potent symbol for blacks, with a deep reservoir of support. As skittish as White House aides often are in discussing race, they also clearly revel in the power of their boss’s example…

…Jacob spoke first.

“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.

Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He lowered his head, level with Jacob, who hesitated.

“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.

As Jacob patted the presidential crown, Mr. Souza snapped.

“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.

“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.

…“As a photographer, you know when you have a unique moment. But I didn’t realize the extent to which this one would take on a life of its own,” Mr. Souza said. “That one became an instant favorite of the staff. I think people are struck by the fact that the president of the United States was willing to bend down and let a little boy feel his head.”…

…A copy of the photo hangs in the Philadelphia family’s living room with several others taken that day. Mr. Philadelphia, now in Afghanistan for the State Department, said: “It’s important for black children to see a black man as president. You can believe that any position is possible to achieve if you see a black person in it.”

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“Still Seeking for Something”: The Unspeakable (Loss) in “Passing” by Nella Larsen

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-05-24 01:37Z by Steven

“Still Seeking for Something”: The Unspeakable (Loss) in “Passing” by Nella Larsen

Volume 6, 2008, Special Issue: Women’s Activism for Gender Equality in Africa
16 pages

Agnieszka Mrozik

The paper analyzes Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929) through the lens of the theory of melancholy from Freud to Butler. Examining the dynamic relationship between Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, two protagonists of Larsen’s novella, I attempt to demonstrate that under the surface of clearly expressed racial tensions, focused upon the dilemma of passing, there is a more deeply hidden problem—the one of gender identity and sexual desire.

I am saturnine—bereft—disconsolate,
The Prince of Aquitaine whose tower has crumbled;
My lone star is dead—and my bespangled lute
Bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

Gérard de Nerval, El Desdichado

The Melancholic Souls

In his famous essay “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917), Sigmund Freud writes that the loss of an object normally provokes a reaction known as mourning. The mourner knows whom or what he/she lost and is aware that suffering is part of a normal process at the end of which a new life begins. Yet, Freud adds that in some people the same event produces melancholia instead of mourning. In many cases one cannot see clearly what it is that has been lost. This situtation is common in psychoanalysis, even when the patient is aware of the loss which has given rise to his/her melancholia, but only in the sense that he/she knows whom he/she has lost, but not what he/she has lost in him/her. Freud suggests therefore that melancholia is in some way related to an object lost which is withdrawn from consciousness.

The most striking characteristic of the melancholic personality is extreme diminution in self-regard: somehow the loss of an object has triggered an impoverishment of the self. As Freud puts it: “In mourning it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia it is the ego itself” (Freud, 1989: 585). In other words, while it would seem as though the loss suffered is that of an object, what the melancholic has actually experienced is a loss of self.

According to Julia Kristeva, the author of Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, the melancholic suffers not from the Object but the Thing (French Chose) lost, which is “an unnamable, supreme good, something unrepresentable, that […] no word could signify. […] The Thing is inscribed within us without memory, the buried accomplice of our unspeakable anguishes” (1989: 13-14). Kristeva identifies the Thing with the Mother, by which she understands the pre-Oedipal Mother—the one strongly bonded to the child and then prohibited in the Name of the Father. The mother is the child’s first love which has to be abandoned in order to enable him or her to become the subject, which in Lacanian terms means to enter the language…

Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), read through the lens of the theory of melancholy from Freud to Butler, confirms this observation. Analyzing the dynamic relationship between Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, two protagonists of Larsen’s novella, one may figure out that under the surface of clearly expressed racial tensions, focused upon the dilemma of passing, there is a more deeply hidden problem – the one of gender identity and sexual desire. Or, putting it in other words, in Larsen’s text, there is a great accumulation of racial, gender and sexual tensions which remain unrelieved as long as the characters obey the rules of white, patriarchal and heteronormative society that represses any exception to these rules, and especially Black lesbian desire.

Claiming that Larsen’s female characters are “still seeking for something,” I am going to demonstrate that what they are really looking for is another woman: the object of desire and the link to the first lost object which is the Mother herself. The loss of the Mother combined with denial of desire for the same-sex object leads to melancholic self-destruction. As a result of women’s appearing in relations with men only and their supporting the traditional system of values, they are doomed to loneliness and experience the loss for which they cannot even find words. Broken maternal genealogy and locked access to language, in which the female desire might be expressed, doom women to silence and squander their chances of building an alternative world to the existing one…

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Breaking the Race Barrier

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-05-24 01:03Z by Steven

Breaking the Race Barrier

360 Magazine
Ithica College

Danielle Torres

“I’m Puerto Rican.”

That’s usually what I say when people ask a second time where I am from. The first time someone asks me that question I usually say, “I’m from New York.” Then the person rephrases the question, “What are you? What is your background?”

I come from a Puerto Rican family that is short and loud. Actually, I’m a little West Indian, too, on my mother’s side. I also say I’m Hispanic but I have been told that label falls under ethnicity. I’m a little displaced when it comes to the question of race. Growing up, my family used to chuckle about the race section on the Census. We always lingered on that section a bit longer than the others trying to decide what box or boxes we should check off.

In 2009, when I was a freshman at Ithaca College, none of my peers cared about the Census. It was just another survey and spring finals were coming up. Yet, although it was a single sheet of paper, I felt that it was another symbol of young adulthood. It was my turn to decide for myself how I was going to answer the race question. What is Person 1’s race? Mark X one or more boxes. I paused, pen hovering, weighing my options…

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Miscegenation and Acculturation in the Narragansett Country of Rhode Island, 1710-1790

Posted in Articles, Economics, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2012-05-24 00:33Z by Steven

Miscegenation and Acculturation in the Narragansett Country of Rhode Island, 1710-1790

Trotter Review
Volume 3, Issue 1 (1989)
Article 4

Rhett S. Jones, Professor of History and Africana Studies
Brown University

The histories of most New England states view blacks as a strange, foreign people enslaved in southern states, whom New Englanders rescued first by forming colonization and abolitionist societies and later by fighting a Civil War to free them. The existence of a black population in New England as early as the seventeenth century has been pretty much ignored. Indeed Anderson and Marten, of the Parting Ways Museum of Afro-American Ethnohistory, touched off a furor with their discovery that Abraham Pearse, one of the early residents of Plymouth Colony, was black.

The long neglect of New England’s black history has recently come to an end. Historical societies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have been formed to facilitate the study of black life in the colonial era as well as in later periods. A number of these organizations—notably the African Meeting House Museum, the Parting Ways Museum of Afro-American Ethnohistory, and the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society—have won national awards and acclaim. The scholarly literature now reflects this new interest in New England blacks. Carvalho’s Black Families in Hampden Country, 1650-1855, while not strictly speaking a history, provides much useful insight into black life. Randolph Domonic presented a paper reflecting his work on the Abyssinian Church of Portland, Maine, and Randolph Stakeman has two articles forthcoming on black life in New England’s largest state. Cottrol explores the history of blacks in Providence before the Civil War, while Horton examines Boston during the same period. Coughtry and Jones have each published articles on Rhode Island blacks. The present work is part of growing scholarly interest in New England’s colonial black past…

…Race, Economics, and Miscegenation…

…By the end of the Revolutionary War, the economic system that made possible the unique planter lifestyle lay in ruins.

It was against this backdrop that the three races met and mingled along the western shore of Narragansett Bay. Long before the end of the eighteenth century, miscegenation had become a problem for New England settlers, who, if they had no clear idea of the nature of Africans, had even less understanding of the nature of the growing number of mulattos. Unlike blacks, who might be of African, Caribbean, or American birth, mulattos were usually born in the New World and were, therefore, not only racially distinct from Africans and Europeans but culturally distinct as well. The New England colonies recognized them as a separate group. Massachusetts made the first distinction between blacks and mulattos in 1693, Connecticut did so in 1704, and Rhode Island and New Hampshire followed in 1714. In addition to sexual relations between blacks and whites, Native Americans and blacks also came together and produced children. Greene believes the lowly status assigned both groups in white dominated New England served to erase any distinction between them, and, as they were common victims of oppression, they naturally drew together. In any event, along the eastern seaboard there was a mixing of Native Americans, whites, and blacks during the colonial era.

Unlike the Spaniards and the Portuguese, the Englishmen who settled New England were not accustomed to race mixture and so had not developed the elaborate racial hierarchy that characterized much of the rest of the New World. Hence they were none too precise in the racial terminology they developed. While they freely borrowed the term “mulatto” from the Spaniards to refer to a person of mixed African and European ancestry, they used neither the Spanish term “mestizo” to refer to a person of mixed Native American and European ancestry, nor the term “zambo” to refer to a person of mixed Native American and African ancestry. In New England, and in some other British colonies along the Atlantic coast, the term “mestee” or “mustee” was sometimes applied to an individual whose ancestry was both Amerindian and black. The same term, however, was also sometimes applied to persons whom the Spaniards called “mestizos.” The English never fully agreed on what to call persons of mixed Indian and European background. Race mixture was common in all the New England colonies, but only Massachusetts ever legally prohibited it, passing a law in 1706 that made illegal not only marriage between blacks and whites, but sex relations between them as well.

Miscegenation was common in the Narragansett Country, scholars agreeing that the Narragansett Indians had considerable sexual contact with both whites and blacks. The Indians were as unprepared for the cultural consequences of miscegenation as were blacks and whites, so that for a number of years it was not clear whether persons of mixed ancestry were members of the tribe, Woodward concludes that in the latter part of the eighteenth century “social lines between Indians and blacks became less distinct as inter-marriages multiplied.” And Boissevain claims that one of the consequences of the Narragansett’s contact with both whites and blacks was that they lost their language by 1800. The planter elite, having constructed a multi-racial labor force in the Narragansett Country, gradually became uneasy about both blacks and the Narragansett Indians. In 1726 a South Kingstown law forbade both racial groups to hold social gatherings and assemblages out of doors.

Regardless of the law, Native Americans and blacks continued to meet in both public places and in private. James and Simonds agree that the resultant population was one of ill-defined racial status, but these men and women found a niche for themselves in the workplace of the Narragansett Country.  Thomas Waimsely (the name is variously spelled in the eighteenth century records), described as a “a mustee or at least an octoroon,” married an Indian woman and not only had a small holding of his own and a slave but did odd jobs for the planter aristocracy. Despite his mixed heritage, Waimsely apparently felt no especial sympathy for blacks and was willing to track down and return a fugitive slave. While some blacks and members of the Narragansett tribe intermarried and freely associated with one another, there was no emergent sense that Indians and blacks ought to band together against whites. The two associated with one another in the workplace and elsewhere but did not create an ideology that might have enabled them to present a unified front against their white oppressors. In this they were no different from blacks and Amerindians in other parts of the colonial Americas.

The Reverend Joseph Fish, a standing order minister from Connecticut who travelled to the Narragansett Country to preach to the Indians in the 1760s and early 1770s, reflected in his diary on the confusion of these Amerindians as the result of miscegenation. Fish employed and worked with Joseph Deake to establish a school for the Narragansett. Deake, who was for a time schoolmaster, wrote Fish in December, 1765, to say there might be as many as 151 Indian children who were eligible for the school, He continued, “Besides these there is a considerable Number of mixtures such as mulattos and mustees which the tribe Disowns.” Fish himself urged the Narragansett to make room for “Molattos” who lived with them and “to behave peaceably and friendly towards them, allowing their Children benefit of the School, if there was Room and the Master Leisure from tending Schollars of their own Tribe,” The Indians were divided over persons of mixed ancestry who were the children of the Narragansett and who lived with their parents and were loved by them yet were persons whom some tribal members sought to “disown.” Fish noted that although he rode from Connecticut to teach the Indians, blacks, whites, and mixed bloods all attened his sermons. Fish also candidly recorded observations of cross racial sexual liaisons, such as the case of a “Molatto” named George, who in 1774 was living with an Indian woman who had at one time been married to the “king” of the Narragansett.

While the planters of South County passed a law aimed at preventing blacks and Indians from conducting public meetings, apparently a law was never passed prohibiting their living together or marrying one another, nor did they prohibit whites and blacks from doing so. The Charlestown Council Record Book duly recorded, for example, that lahue, described as the son of “Negro Will” of Charlestown, and Phelby, “a malatto woman of Westerly,” had been married on November 5, 1753. Thomas Walmsley, a “mustee,” was married to Elizabeth, an Indian.

Despite the frequency with which red, white, and black intermarried or formed sexual liaisons with one another in the Narragansett Country, and despite their failure to agree upon a neatly ordered racial terminology, eighteenth century Rhode Islanders seem never to have become confused about the three original races. While there was much con fusion about the intermediate peoples who were the result of miscegenation, residents of South County retained a clear sense of the racial identity and moral character of whites, Amerindians, and blacks…

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