AALR Mixed Race Initiative

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora on 2013-03-31 22:38Z by Steven

AALR Mixed Race Initiative

Akemi Johnson

Akemi Johnson

Historian Lily Anne Yumi Welty and I just finished writing our collaborative piece for The Asian American Literary Review’s special issue on mixed race, coming out this fall. Lily and I shared a summer of research (and karaoke, kaiten sushi, officers’ clubs, and sweltering traffic jams) in Okinawa, although she comes at the topic from a historical, academic angle. Working on this joint piece, we realized how differently we’re used to writing–she’s all about the outline and thesis and being explicit, while I tend to make sense of things as I go, planting dots for readers to connect. We’ll see how our mashup turns out…

Read the entire article here.

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Barry McGee

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, United States, Videos on 2013-03-31 22:19Z by Steven

Barry McGee

art21: Art in the Twenty-First Century
Public Broadcasting Service
Season 1 (2001), Place

About Barry McGee

A lauded and much-respected cult figure in a bi-coastal subculture that comprises skaters, graffiti artists, and West Coast surfers, Barry McGee was born in 1966 in California, where he continues to live and work. In 1991, he received a BFA in painting and printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute. His drawings, paintings, and mixed-media installations take their inspiration from contemporary urban culture, incorporating elements such as empty liquor bottles and spray-paint cans, tagged signs, wrenches, and scrap wood or metal. McGee is also a graffiti artist, working on the streets of America’s cities since the 1980s, where he is known by the tag name “Twist.” He views graffiti as a vital method of communication, one that keeps him in touch with a larger, more diverse audience than can be reached through the traditional spaces of a gallery or museum. His trademark icon, a male caricature with sagging eyes and a bemused expression, recalls the homeless people and transients who call the streets their home. McGee says, “Compelling art, to me, is a name carved into a tree.” His work has been shown at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and on streets and trains all over the United States. He and his daughter, Asha, live in San Francisco.

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Kodiak Kreol: Communities of Empire in Early Russian America

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Religion on 2013-03-31 22:12Z by Steven

Kodiak Kreol: Communities of Empire in Early Russian America

Cornell University Press
248 pages
7 Illustrations
6.1 x 9.3 in
ISBN-10: 0801446422; ISBN-13: 978-0-8014-4642-9

Gwenn A. Miller, Assistant Professor of History
College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts

From the 1780s to the 1820s, Kodiak Island, the first capital of Imperial Russia’s only overseas colony, was inhabited by indigenous Alutiiq people and colonized by Russians. Together, they established an ethnically mixed “kreol” community. Against the backdrop of the fur trade, the missionary work of the Russian Orthodox Church, and competition among Pacific colonial powers, Gwenn A. Miller brings to light the social, political, and economic patterns of life in the settlement, making clear that Russia’s modest colonial effort off the Alaskan coast fully depended on the assistance of Alutiiq people.

In this context, Miller argues, the relationships that developed between Alutiiq women and Russian men were critical keys to the initial success of Russia’s North Pacific venture. Although Russia’s Alaskan enterprise began some two centuries after other European powers—Spain, England, Holland, and France—started to colonize North America, many aspects of the contacts between Russians and Alutiiq people mirror earlier colonial episodes: adaptation to alien environments, the “discovery” and exploitation of natural resources, complicated relations between indigenous peoples and colonizing Europeans, attempts by an imperial state to moderate those relations, and a web of Christianizing practices. Russia’s Pacific colony, however, was founded on the cusp of modernity at the intersection of earlier New World forms of colonization and the bureaucratic age of high empire. Miller’s attention to the coexisting intimacy and violence of human connections on Kodiak offers new insights into the nature of colonialism in a little-known American outpost of European imperial power.


  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Comparative Timeline
  • Maps
  • Introduction
  • 1. An Economy of Confiscation
  • 2. Beach Crossings on Kodiak Island
  • 3. Colonial Formations
  • 4. Between Two Worlds
  • 5. Students of Empire
  • 6. A Kreol Generation
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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the mixed-race woman of African and European descent has long functioned as a recognizable signifier for illicit sexuality and racial ambiguity in Western literary traditions.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-03-31 21:24Z by Steven

Incidentally, the mixed-race woman of African and European descent has long functioned as a recognizable signifier for illicit sexuality and racial ambiguity in Western literary traditions. In both Europe and the Americas, the origins of the “mulatta” as cultural icon are linked to the erotic/exotic fantasies of a white (male) imagination. In early modern travel narratives dealing with the African coast and the Caribbean, European men often made careful observations about mixed race women. And the mulatta character appears with enough frequency in British novels to betray an ongoing British fascination with that figure. By critiquing her own stereotypical role as an eroticized/exoticized mixed-race woman, Onwurah also challenges the problematic iconography of the mulatta figure. Since the very process of identification is fraught, that is, “lodged in contingency,” the self-identification or self-representation of the mixed-race subject becomes a useful starting point for understanding and theorizing (white-black) mixedness. The Body Beautiful, a rare example of a film with a mixed-race woman behind and in front of the camera, literally speaks to these exigencies where representations of interraciality are concerned.

Diana Adesola Mafe, “Misplaced Bodies: Probing Racial and Gender Signifiers in Ngozi Onwurah’s The Body Beautiful,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (Volume 29, Number 1, 2009): 38-39. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/fro.0.0004

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The Body Beautiful: A film by Ngozi Onwurah

Posted in Arts, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Videos, Women on 2013-03-31 21:02Z by Steven

The Body Beautiful: A film by Ngozi Onwurah

Women Make Movies
England, 1991
23 minutes
Color, VHS/16mm/DVD
Order No. W99229

Melbourne Film Festival, Best Documentary

This bold, stunning exploration of a white mother who undergoes a radical mastectomy and her Black daughter who embarks on a modeling career reveals the profound effects of body image and the strain of racial and sexual identity on their charged, intensely loving bond. At the heart of Onwurah’s brave excursion into her mother’s scorned sexuality is a provocative interweaving of memory and fantasy. The filmmaker plumbs the depths of maternal strength and daughterly devotion in an unforgettable tribute starring her real-life mother, Madge Onwurah.

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The Graffitist Who Moved Indoors

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, United States on 2013-03-31 20:13Z by Steven

The Graffitist Who Moved Indoors

The New York Times

Carol Kino

SAN FRANCISCO — “This is one of my favorite things to do,” Barry McGee said as he drove along the Bayshore Freeway on a glowering winter day, pointing out random patches of new graffiti. He was supposed to be talking about his traveling midcareer retrospective, which opens Saturday at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Instead, he was revisiting some of the places where he’d spent time in the late 1980s and early ’90s, as he rose to prominence as the graffiti artist known as Twist.

“That was the key, to have every rooftop in San Francisco,” Mr. McGee reminisced as he took an off-ramp down toward the industrial reaches of the Mission District, one of many places where he and his crew once tagged the road, safety barriers and every visible roof below. “It seems completely ridiculous now,” he said, laughing, “but then it was the most important thing.”

Since those days, the whole South of Market area, once known for its seediness, has been redeveloped, gentrified. Mr. McGee had to drive past several blocks of trendy loft buildings before finding a slice of ruined waterfront that resembled the streets he once roamed. He finally stopped at a crumbling warehouse by the bay…

…But perhaps the person with the biggest expectations is Mr. McGee himself.

He grew up in South San Francisco, the child of a Chinese-American secretary and an Irish-American father who worked in auto body shops and collected junked hot rods. As a teenager, he was fascinated by the anarchic tactics of the Bay Area’s activist groups, some of which were spray-painting anti-government slogans on banks and underpasses. (Unsurprisingly, one of his favorite words is “radical.”)

A friend introduced him to graffiti and Mr. McGee, who had “always drawn,” said his creative life took off. “It was really empowering,” he said. “I really thought I was doing art on the street.”…

Read the entire article here. View the slide show here.

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Race and Ethnicity in the formation of Panamanian National Identity: Panamanian Discrimination Against Chinese and West Indians in the Thirties

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2013-03-31 19:54Z by Steven

Race and Ethnicity in the formation of Panamanian National Identity: Panamanian Discrimination Against Chinese and West Indians in the Thirties

Revista Panameña de Política
Number 4 (July-December 2007)
pages 61-92

Marixa Lasso De Paulis, Associate Professor of History
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

The article examines the conditions governing the interrelationship between Chinese and west Indians population with the Panamanians, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. In particular, the article presents the framework in which opportunities for integration and social and economic marginalization are provided, and how Panamanians actively discriminated, but so often differentiated, with respect to different groups of foreign immigrants. It remarks the relationship between merchants-economic sector in which foreigners were widely represented and the rest of the Panamanian community as well as among foreign traders between them, as belonging to one or another nationality. The political environment of Panamanian nationalist exaltation, which allows the intensification of discriminatory and even racist legal initiatives, is also examined in detail. It also illustrates forms of political participation of immigrants, and social and political alliances that generated.


In the 1970s, a Panamanian politician stated informally:

“The Jamaicans are anti-nationals, anti-Panamanians. They are the allies of the gringos against the Panamanian’s aspiration of obtaining sovereignty over the Canal Zone. They are not worried about learning to speak the national language [Spanish]. I don’t like them . . . and this is not discrimination against their black race. I can go anytime to Pacora and Chepo1 and feel very comfortable among blacks of these regions. But the ‘Chombos’ . . .”

Twenty years later, a 1995 news article repeated the same arguments:

The “arrival of big waves of West Indians initiated the racial and identity problems of Panama . . . They don’t want to be Panamanian, they are not sure if they are West Indians and probably, because of their role as the preferred children of the gringos, they tend to consider themselves North Americans.” After more than a century of presence in Panama the West Indian community is still considered a “problem for the national identity.”

In the late 1980s the traditional Chinese Panamanian community—that is the descendants of the Chinese immigrants of the first half of the twentieth century– saw horrorized how the arrival of new Chinese immigrants in the 1980s provoked the revival of the anti-Chinese arguments used by the 1941 fascist government of Arnulfo Arias. Major Panamanian newspapers published racist anti-Chinese articles such as:

“The Chinese are the lords of retail commerce . . . They do not practice hygienic habits, they are pagans, they have habits very different from ours and the worse is that they teach them to their children born in Panama, creating a new Panamanian style that results in the loss of our national identity.” “Orientals who do not know the language who are unaware of the most basic hygiene will serve you at a butcher shop while they scratch their hooves . . . in my opinion, there can be no hope until a strong arm comes and eradicates them such as happened in 1941.”

The West Indian and the Chinese communities have been present in Panama since the second half of the nineteenth century. Yet, as the aforementioned quotes show, both are still considered a menace to Panamanian identity. In this paper, therefore, I will explore the origins of the notion Panamanian identity in the way it was established by the nationalist movements of the 1930s. Even if the notion of Panamanian identity may have been present earlier, it were the nationalist debates of the thirties that fully developed and established the idea of Panamanianess in force until this day.

This notion of Panamanianess set the parameters of who could and who could not be considered Panamanian. I will focus here in three different racial and ethnic groups the Chinese and the West Indian immigrants and in the Spanish speaking Panamanian blacks. The first two excluded and the last one included. Indeed, the “inclusion” of the Panamanian blacks was used to argue that Panamanian identity was not based on racial categories but on cultural ones.

However, the notion of Panamanianess was not the only factor affecting the integration of this groups. Despite a shared exclusion, the Chinese managed to integrate better than the West Indians. A second component of this paper is to explore their economic and demographic differences that explain their dissimilar integration.

Panamanian society has constantly questioned the right of the Chinese and West Indian community to become Panamanians. In 1904, one year after the formation of the Republic, law declared them races of prohibited immigration, a status that was reinforced by successive laws and culminated in the 1941 constitution that denied citizenship to the races under the category of prohibited immigration…

…The first and most obvious change is that distinctions that were previously made in terms of race, in the thirties were made in terms of culture. The 1904 law specified as prohibited immigrants the blacks who did not speak Spanish. Latin American blacks, at least legally, were allowed to immigrate without restrictions. This reveals an attempt in the official discourse to substitute or hide racial distinctions using a cultural-ethnic language. What was officially forbidden, was not the black race, but the black-English culture. This theme is recurrent in Panamanian literature: Panamanian antagonism toward West Indians is not racial but cultural. Olmedo Alfaro, writing in his 1924’s book The West Indian Danger in Central America stated that “The West Indian is not yet a danger, but it will be one tomorrow…The friends of the Castilian language and of the Latin culture resent the deferment of the solution of this problem… The difference between the black West Indian and the colored men developed under the Indian-American (Indoamericana) civilization is evident, not only for his [inferior] status in the English colonies, but also because of the respect that the colored races have enjoyed in our societies for the nobility of their character and their assimilation of our highest moral virtues.” In 1930, when Felipe Escobar analyzed the problems of Panamanian national identity, he was worried about the consequences of the Canal Zone’s racial practices and West Indian immigration for Panamanian racial homogeneity and democracy. According to him, before Americans and West Indians came to the Isthmus, “Panamanians lived unaware of racial shades…which made the [Panamanians] a fertile field for the achievement of the sociological ideal of democracy: the white, the Indian, the black, the mestizos and mulattos cohabited in our land as a big tribe without worries and prejudices.” That “racial paradise” was ruined by American racism and the West Indian culture which “under the weight of a recent tradition of slavery, lacks the necessary psychological characteristics to acquire the self-assurance and dignity of free people.”

If one part of the process of incorporation of the Panamanian black was the substitution of racial categories for ethnic-cultural ones, would this mean that the Spanish-speaking black was incorporated into the national identity as a black, and that therefore Afro-Spanish characteristics became a part of Panamanian identity? The data seems to suggest that the answer is no. As Melva Lowe has revealed, Panamanian identity was conceived as mestizo, that is, the result of the mixture of Indian and white. The Panamanian imagined themselves to be the descendants of Vasco Núñez de Balboa—the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean— and Anayansi, his Indian lover. This imagined origin is well described in the poem of Ricardo Miró “She (Anayansi) will give him love and glory so that he can write the most beautiful page in history; and that foreign warrior will be the king of your home and will give you his language and will give you his race.”

How did the Panamanian Spanish-speaking black fit into a national identity formed around the figure of the mestizo? What seems to have happened is that when confronted with the presence of the black West Indian, the Spanish black ceased to be black and actually became “mestizo”. The national integration of the Spanish black depended on his “mestizoization.” In the 1920s, Demetrio Korsi in one of his poems suddenly transformed the colonial black neighborhood of Panama, Santa Ana, into a mestizo neighborhood. He reserved “blackness” solely for the West Indian neighborhood of Calidonia. This process of creating a strong distinction between “mestizo” blacks and “real” blacks was also mirrored in one of the characters in the Novel La Tragedia del Caribe, a mulatto called “the dark black” (el negro moreno): “ The well known mulatto was so paradoxical and peculiar that even his nickname enveloped a notable curiosity: because the rub is that one cannot be “black” and dark (moreno) at the same time.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Concepts and Terminology in Representations of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2013-03-31 18:37Z by Steven

Concepts and Terminology in Representations of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Journal of Museum Ethnography
No. 6, MEG Conference “Museum Ethnography and Communities” (October 1994)
pages 7-21

Stephen Small, Associate Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies
University of California, Berkeley


Many scholars concur on how Black people were differentiated from white people during slavery in the United Stales. In brief, the United States operated a system of “racial caste” in which “a single drop of black blood” led to a man or woman being defined as Black (Williamson 1984). Dunn tells us that “In North America black blood was like original sin and stained a man and his heirs for ever” (Dunn 1972:254), while Foner argues that “almost everywhere in the United States even the smallest amount of Negro blood was enough to make a man a Negro and therefore a member of the subordinate caste” (Foner 1970:407). Yet, in the courts of South Carolina in 1835 Judge William Harper, faced with the case of a “white” man accused of having a Black ancestor, and thus simply “passing for white” made the following ruling:

We cannot say what admixture of negro blood will make a coloured person. The condition of the individual is not to be determined solely by distinct and visible mixture of negro blood, but by reputation, by his reception into society, and his having commonly exercised the privileges of a white man … it may be well and proper, that a man of worth, honesty, industry, and respectability, should have the rank of a white man, while a vagabond of the same degree of blood should be confined to the inferior caste. It is hardly necessary to say that a slave cannot be a white man (cited in Williamson 1984:18).

On a different matter, and in the genre of Reggae, the phenomenal musical form of the 1970s and 80s, one artist comments on the need to relate the facts of Atlantic slavery:

Me have fe remind you, about the rowing of the boat and the bodies that float, as they took we ‘cross the see, and put we in slavery; about the missionary dem, dem said dem a we friend, but dem rob we of we gold and wealth untold, and [told us about] the pie in ihe sky. after we die. Me say, me have fe remind you! (Mutabaruka 1987)

These two examples illustrate the kinds of problems that underlie attempts by museum ethnographers to represent their exhibits; the former illustrates the problem of identifying language which is both an accurate and correct reflection of the historical record, while not offensive; the latter, the sensitivity and emotions of Black people as they confront the atrocities committed against them historically…

Liverpool, “miscegenation” and the notion of “half-caste

Some of these problems have a particular resonance in Liverpool, the city with the nation’s longest-standing Black community, the vast majority of whom are indigenous and of mixed African and European origins (Fryer 1984; Small 1991b). This is a context in which, unlike anywhere in the Americas, most children of mixed African and European ancestry were born of a white mother and a Black father, each belonging to a group that lacks power (6). Moreover, this community has been the victim of insidious misrepresentations, both scholarly and popular, over the course of the century (Fletcher 1930; Liverpool Black Caucus 1986:42). So when the problems outlined above are reflected in discussions of the collective Black experience in the use of terms like “mixed-race”, “mulatto”, “mixed-breed”, “mixed-blood” and “half-caste”, there is bound to be a strong response. Again such phrases tend to be used uncritically, though they were introduced with specifically negative intentions.

Though these phrases share common meaning, the term “half-caste” has been most used in Liverpool (Law & Henfrey 1981; Rich 1984; Rich 1986). The phrase was common currency in the city and some whites still use it, even though Black people have made it clear that they consider it derogatory and degrading. The most offensive public use of the phrase occurred in the 1970s and 80s when Kenneth Oxford, Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, insisted on using the term publicly when numerous Black organisations had formally insisted that it was both “racist and degrading” (Liverpool Black Caucus 1986:42). “Half-caste” is a scurrilous term introduced by Europeans to demean and degrade the children of mixed African and European origins (Jordan 1962; Rich 1984). It originated with the idea that there are pure “races” and that the white “race” is superior; people of mixed origins were portrayed as biologically, psychologically and socially inferior (Reuter 1918). When we examine the historical record and scrutinize scientific knowledge of these assertions, we find conclusions which are remarkably different. As one scholar has recently pointed out:

“Mixed-race” is meaningless as a category, since all humans are of mixed ancestry: biologically speaking, one may only say that such children are the offspring of a union between two people located at widely divergent points on a scale of somatic “racial” characteristics (hair type, skin colour, etc.) (Wilson 1984:43).

The historical background to this confusion, and the contradictions that persist should we accept this language uncritically, are reflected in a record by the American Hip Hop group Public Enemy, which describes the “logic” of “racialised” classification during slavery in the Americas:

White mother, white father, white baby; Black mother. Black father, Black baby; white mother, Black father. Black baby; Black mother, white father. Black baby. (Public Enemy 1990).

A more detailed historical analysis is provided in the literature (Jordan 1962; Cohen & Green 1972; Berlin 1974; Root 1992). But of course, underlying the notion of “mixed-race” is the idea of “miscegenation” or “race-mixing”. This is a concept which continues to be used uncritically even in scholarship produced in the 1980s and 90s, as if it is a value-free descriptive term. An appreciation of its origins indicates its more dubious nature…

Read or purchase the article here.

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The Elusive Variability of Race

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2013-03-31 04:59Z by Steven

The Elusive Variability of Race

Council for Responsible Genetics
Volume 21, Issue 3-4 (July-August 2009)
Pages 4-6

Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law
Columbia University

The question of race is, at its core, a questioning of humanity itself.  In various eras and locales, race has been marked by color of skin, texture of hair, dress, musical prowess, digital dexterity, rote memorization, mien, mannerisms, disease, athletic ability, capacity to write poetry, sense of rhythm, sobriety, childlike cheerfulness, animal anger, language, continent of origin, hypodescent, hyperdescent, religious affiliation, thrift, flamboyance, slyness, physical size, or presence of a moral conscience. These presumed markers may appear random in the aggregate, but they have nevertheless been deployed to rationalize the distribution of resources and rights to some groups and not others. Behind the concept of race, in other words, is a deeper interrogation of what distinguishes beasts from brothers;  of who is presumed entitled or dispossessed,  person or slave, autonomous or alien, compatriot or enemy.

In the contemporary United States, race is based chiefly on broad and variously calibrated metrics of African ancestry. To get a full sense of the ideological incoherence of race and racism, however, one must also include the longer history: the centuries-old Chinese condescension to native Taiwanese Islanders; the English derogation of the Irish for “pug noses”; the plight of the Dalit (i.e., untouchables) in India; or comprehensively eugenic regimes like Hitler’s.

Despite the enormous definitional diversity of what race even means, and despite the fact that the biological studies – from Charles Darwin’s observations to the Human Genome Project – have patiently, repetitively and definitively shown that all humans are a single species, there remain many determined to reinscribe a multitude of old racialist superstitions onto the biotechnologies of the future.  Despite the biological evidence – and a towering body of social science that is cumulative (observations over time), comprehensive (multiple levels of inquiry) and convergent (from a variety of sources, places, disciplines) – we are still asking the same centuries-old questions…

…So what is race if not biology?

Race is a hierarchical social construct that assigns human value and group power. Social constructions are human inventions, the products of mind and circumstance. This is not to say that they are imaginary. Racialized taxonomies have real consequences upon biological functions, including the expression of genes. They affect the material conditions of survival-relative respect and privilege, education, wealth or poverty, diet, medical and dental care, birth control, housing options and degree of stigma…

…If history has shown us anything, it’s that race is contradictory and unstable. Yet our linguistically embedded notions of race seem to be on the verge of transposing themselves yet again into a context where genetic percentages act as the ciphers for culture and status, as well as economic and political attributes. In another generation or two, the privileges of whiteness may be extended to those who are “half” this or that.  Indeed, some of the discussions about Barack Obama’s “biracialism” seemed to invite precisely such an interpretation. Let us not mistake it for anything like progress, however: biracialism always has a short shelf life. For example, by the time he was elected President, Barack Obama was no longer our first “half and half president” but had become all African-American all the time. Indeed, Obama himself seemed to acknowledge the more complex reality of his own lineage in an off-the-cuff aside, when, speaking about his daughters’ search for a puppy, he observed that most shelter dogs are “mutts like me.”

In fact, of course, we’re all mutts – and as Americans, we’ve been mixing it up faster and more thoroughly than anyplace on earth. At the same time, we live in a state of tremendous denial about the rambunctiousness of our recent lineage. The language by which we assign racial category narrows or expands our perception of who is more like whom, tells us who can be considered marriageable or untouchable. The habit of burying the relentlessly polyglot nature of our American identity renders us blind to how intimately we are tied as kin.

In the United States’ vexed history of color-consciousness, anti-miscegenation laws (the last of which were struck down only in 1967) enshrined the notion of hypodescent. Hypodescent is a cultural phenomenon whereby the child of parents who come from differing social classes will be assigned the status of the parent with the lower standing. Most parts of the Deep South adhered to it with great rigidity, in what is commonly called the “one drop and you’re black” rule. Take for example, New York Times editor Anatole Broyard, who denied any relation to his darker-skinned siblings and “passed” as white for most of his adult life. There were many who expressed shock when it was uncovered that he was “really” black. Some states, like Louisiana, practiced a more gradated form of hypodescent, indicating hierarchies of status with vocabulary like “mulatto,” “quadroon,” and “octaroon.” And even today, despite our diasporic, fragmented, postmodern cosmopolitanism, there is a thoughtless or unconscious tendency to preserve these taxonomies, no matter how incoherent. Consider Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the daughter Senator Strom Thurmond had by his family’s black maid. She lived her life as a “Negro,” then as an “African American,” and attended an “all-black” college. But in her 70s, when Thurmond’s paternity became publicized, she was suddenly redesignated “biracial.” Tiger Woods and Kimora Lee Simmons are alternatively thought of as African-American or “biracial,” but rarely as “Asian-American.”

In contrast, many parts of Latin America, like Brazil or Mexico, assign race by the opposite process, hyperdescent. That’s when those with any ancestry of the dominant social group, such as European, identify themselves as European or white, when they may also have African or Indian parents. As more Latinos have become citizens of the United States, we have interesting examples of this cultural cognitive dissonance: Just think about Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Lopez. Phenotypically they look very similar. Yet Knowles is generally referred to as black or African-American; Lopez is generally thought of as white (particularly among her Latino fan base) or Latina (among the rest of us), but she is never called black or even biracial…

Read the entire article here.

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Mama’s Baby, Papa’s, Too

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-31 04:54Z by Steven

Mama’s Baby, Papa’s, Too

Trans-Scripts: An Interdisciplinary Journal in the Humanities and Social Sciences at UC Irvine
First Issue Launch (2011-02-16)
Volume I (2011): Race: Theories, Identities, Intersections, Histories, and the “Post-Racial” Society
4 pages

Hortense Spillers, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

In the world of newspapers, “beneath the fold” apparently means that the feature bears only secondary interest or importance compared to what is situated above it, but in all fairness to the writer of the article that I am alluding to, all news for the last three weeks has taken a back seat—or should I say, assumed a beneath-the-fold-posture?—to events unfolding in Egypt. In a very real sense, though, post-millennium changes in American racial attitudes—the topic of the article—are in fact revolutionary-seeming and may go far to explain both the 2008 national elections and their midterm mate of 2010. Both elections “addressed” race in a more or less explicit manner and dispatched glaringly opposite messages concerning it. We might put it this way: It was as though 2010 were furious with 2008 and wrought its revenge in an election result that all but cancelled out the previous outcome. It seems that the Facebook crowd—the young and the restless—stayed home that day, and it is precisely that generational cohort toward which Susan Saulny’s New York Times piece, “Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above,” is aimed and from which it draws its inspiration. For this cohort, race is no longer just “race,” but becomes a playful smorgasbord of this, that, and the other. My head spins and my eyesight grows cock-eyed, trying to figure this one out. In short, I fall down in the dizziness.

We’ve been here before, and that is the disappointment. Reminded in the course of Saulny’s treatment that terms like “mulatto,” “once tinged with shame…is enjoying a comeback in some young circles” (1), one wonders what all the brouhaha about “post-racial” identity actually means, unless the new racialist reflexes are intended to be taken as parodic gestures, but I’m not at all sure that is the case. Ms. Saulny’s article, designated as a single entry in a series that “will explore the growing number of mixed-race Americans” (20), is based on the author’s probe of the issues, conducted among some fifty students who are members of the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association at the University of Maryland in College Park. Though membership in the MBSA is said to be open, the rationale for the group’s existence is predicated on the number of racial mixtures that converge on a single personality and the descriptive apparatuses that differentiate skin tone and hair type: “tan skin” and “curly brown hair,” for instance, signal, in one case, that the person’s ancestry “could have spanned the globe” (1). Americans are in the midst of a demographic shift, we know, that is fuelled by immigration and intermarriage, as “one in seven new marriages is between spouses of different races or ethnicities” (1). As a result, today’s undergraduate population comprises the “largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States” (1). Needing, then, names for racial categories that do not fit the traditional census classifications, the “new” subjects of race welcome “the multiracial option… after years of complaints and lobbying, mostly by white mothers of biracial children who objected to their children being allowed to check only one race.”

What amounts to demographic data and genetic input is here transliterated into terms of human and ontological value, and that is precisely the rebarbative boomerang of the old race concept, or “the racialized perception of identity,” as Robin Blackburn describes it. Rainier Spencer’s view, cited in the article, that “‘mixed race identity is not a transcendence of race, it’s a new tribe,’” penetrates to the heart of the matter, which I would conceptualize as the mimesis of a social and political problem that misnames its vocation. And what, exactly, is the problem?

…We very much doubt that the fury here is that there are not enough boxes on the census form, or a deficit of classificatory items, or the prohibition to check more than one, or even the thwarted desire to express racial pride, but, rather, the dictates of a muted self-interest that wishes to carve its own material and political successes out of another’s hide. To that degree, these celebratory, otiose gestures are very American! In other words, if “racial ambiguity” or looking that way, can be amplified and translated into a legitimate political interest (as it is increasingly becoming a commercial one), then the padded new racism that comes about as a result will gladly declare a new class of winners. But the historical reality (which the nineteen-year olds are not aware of, and neither this author, nor anyone else has informed them of it) is that racial ambiguity is itself a new-world thematic—probably about seven centuries old by now—so that 300 million coeval Americans, all of them, could check off several race boxes on the decennial census form, and who could argue with them? But I suspect that the citizen-taxpayer is not thinking, first and foremost, about traditional race ascription when she responds to the census taker’s queries, but, rather, by what cultural name she is interpellated. Saulny apparently found out (and how silly is this?) that President Obama, for instance, checked only one box on his 2010 census form, and that was the black one, while he could have checked two, Saulny trumpets. Well, yes, he could have checked two, but this President likely has a solid grasp of race and how it operates in the social and political context of the United States, and to call oneself mixed-race, or black and white, or something and something else, means what? What work is that supposed to do for you?…

Read the entire article here.

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