The Hybridity Revolution

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Canada, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-06-05 21:45Z by Steven

The Hybridity Revolution

Canadian Literature: A Quarterly of Criticism and Review

Michelle La Flamme

Adebe DeRango-Adem (Editor) and Andrea Thompson (Editor), Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out.

Societies that pride themselves on an imagined monoracial norm have rare glimpses into the multi-racial experience. The contemporary literary phenomenon some refer to as the “boom in bi-racial biography” (Spickard) has offered nuanced reflections on the ontological impact of this liminal hybrid position. At their thematic core, most bi-racial and multiracial narratives demonstrate the complexity of this form of embodiment and the semiotics of a body continually affected, and constructed, by the racialized gaze. Several thematic issues are repeated in both Carol Camper’s seminal anthology, Miscegenation Blues: Voices of Mixed Race Women (1994), and the more recent Other Tongue: Mixed Race Women Speak Out (2010). The writing in both anthologies is a bold testament to the pervasiveness of multiraciality and ultimately counters many social scientific conclusions. The interest in such anthologies is also in keeping with the rise in autobiography and critical race theories. In both fields there is a consistent tendency to privilege personal accounts of the mixed race experience and, as Camper claims in her preface, the importance of “speaking for ourselves” as “experts on our own lives.”

The women writers in Other Tongues outline moments of interpellation, the power of the racialized gaze, and the stages of their shifting notions of self based on multiply-coded bodies that challenge monoracial definitions of identity. The work accounts for various individual experiences of “passing” and the complexities of a body that is repeatedly read for signs of authenticity. These writers contest the notion of a “post-racial” world in that these poems, memoirs, short stories, and art work continually reference the fact that visual identifiers of race are understood within “always already” historical and cultural conditions that lead to the racialization of the body despite the individual’s efforts (or best intentions) to defy these norms. The editors of Other Tongues suggest that it offers unique perspectives on the “changing racial landscape that [has] occurred over the last decade” in order to offer a “snapshot of the North American terrain of questions about race, mixed-race, racial identity, and how mixed-race women in North American identify in the twenty-first century” in a time that is marked by “the inauguration of the first mixed-race Black president in North America.” However, the anthology is more personal than critical, privileges women’s voices, and fails to represent the range of mixedness in North America. Given that the themes and content echo Camper’s 1994 anthology, the uniqueness of this collection is perhaps overstated…

Read the entire review here.

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“Being a Half-breed”: Discourses of Race and Cultural Syncreticity in the Works of Three Metis Women Writers

Posted in Articles, Canada, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2010-09-26 20:29Z by Steven

“Being a Half-breed”: Discourses of Race and Cultural Syncreticity in the Works of Three Metis Women Writers

Canadian Literature
“Native, Individual, State”
Number 144, Spring, 1995
pages 82-96

Jodi Lundgren

In his introduction to All My Relations, Thomas King asserts that “being Native is a matter of race rather than something more transitory such as nationality”: “one is either born an Indian or one is not.” While King adds that there is no “racial denominator” among Natives and that it is important to “resist the temptation of trying to define a Native,” at least until the body of work by authors of Native ancestry reaches some sort of critical mass,” he contends that Indianness is an inborn genetic trait (x-xi). The danger of King’s position is elucidated by ethnohistorian James Clifton:

the uncritical use of Indian, White, and Black, and the associated ethnocentric assumptions about ancient differences in behaviour and potentialities, history, and culture effectively block analytic thinking. These historically derived, culturally patterned, institutionally reinforced convictions include such persistent ideas as being and becoming Indian is a matter largely of biological ancestry, that Indianness is fixed by blood. A related assumption is that the labels White and Indian mark sharply defined categories—culturally defined ways of sorting diverse people into a few classes. A further assumption is that these differences are primordial, inevitable, original, durable and natural. (23)

In other words, when race is considered anything more than an “accident of birth” (King xi), biological determinism soon follows and is inevitably used to justify and perpetuate the disempowerment of oppressed groups. Historically, as Noel Elizabeth Currie asserts, Europeans constructed the different “races’ they encountered in their colonialist and imperialist ventures as “inferior” and “savage’ in order to exploit them economically; contemporary Canadian society, internalized racism is a key element in Native people’s oppression. Beatrice Culleton’s novel April Raintree demonstrates the way in which a light-skinned Metis girl, for whom assimilation into white society appears a possibility, is convinced by her teachers, foster family, and social workers that Native people are responsible for their own disempowerment and that their social positioning is unalterable. Growing up isolated from any Metis community, April Raintree perceives her options as dichotomous: either become the drunken Indian Other or assimilate. In contrast, Maria Campbell’s autobiography Halfbreed illustrates the validating effects of having been raised in a family with a strong sense of Metis identity. Situating the Metis historically, Campbell characterizes their identity as a cultural construct; her emphasis is thus on ethnicity rather than race. In I Am Woman and Sojourner’s Truth, Lee Maracle too focusses not on race but on cultural heritage and political disempowerment as determinant of Metis experience. Hybrid by definition, Metis identity is predicated upon what is “an inescapable and characteristic feature of all post-colonial societies,” namely, cultural syncreticity (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin 30). Thus, a positivist emphasis on race such as that put forth by Thomas King is peculiarly problematic for the Metis. That racial stereotyping has had a devastating impact on the Metis and other Native peoples is, however, undeniable. Its operation is thoroughly explored in April Raintree

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