A Mixed Race: Ethnicity in Early America, edited by Frank Shuffelton (Oxford University Press, 1993) [Review]

A Mixed Race: Ethnicity in Early America, edited by Frank Shuffelton (Oxford University Press, 1993) [Review]

African American Review
Volume 29, Number 1 (Spring 1995)
pages 149-152

Raymond F. Dolle, Associate Professor of English
Indiana State University

A Mixed Race extends the recent work of ethnographic critics, such as James Clifford (The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art [1988]), and such literary critics as Werner Sollors (Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture [1986]) and William Boelhower (Through a Glass Darkly: Ethnic Semiosis in American Literature [1987]). These critics have argued that ethnicity is not located solely in an essential cultural identity, continuity, or tradition, and that texts should not be understood as mimetic descriptions of an essential, unchanging ethnic difference (even though that is often the pretense of these texts). Rather, the center of ethnicity should be seen as a dynamic relation between cultural groups, and their texts as orchestrations of multivocal exchanges among these groups as they transform themselves (the hegemonic group included) in the process of confronting others. Thus, ethnicity is performance, a group’s continually changing self-understanding in relation to a changing larger world, a struggle for control over narratives, values, and the self. Furthermore, this process of ethnicity is carried on by means of signs and codes that are generated by the groups to negotiate relationships with other hostile or accommodating groups. So, to understand more fully the ethnic foundation of our culture, we must recognize ethnic semiosis in colonial texts. Such clarifying views have enabled the scholars in this volume to consider the circumstances, rhetorical negotiations, and representation of ethnic formation in early America…

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