BOOK REVIEW: “White Like Her” by Gail Lukasik, Reviewed By C. Ellen Connally

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-08-03 02:22Z by Steven

BOOK REVIEW: “White Like Her” by Gail Lukasik, Reviewed By C. Ellen Connally

Cool Cleveland
2019-07-16

Former Clevelander and author Gail Lukasik named her recently published memoir White Like Her. Subtitled My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing, Lukasik tells the story of her mother, Alvera Frederic Kalina, who changed her racial identity from black to white when she married in 1944 and moved to Cleveland. With that move, she abandoned her black family and racial heritage and in her mind, became white like the man she married.

Alvera hid her secret from the world until her daughter made the discovery when she was tracing her family tree. Her mother’s birth certificate and that of her grandfather and other relatives ,along with census records, showed that her mother and other relatives were black. When confronted with such concrete evidence, Alvera refused to admit her mixed-race heritage. In her mind, her life as a black person was over when she married and left New Orleans, the city of her birth. She begged her daughter not to reveal her secret. For 17 years, until her mother’s death, Lukasik continued her research but did not reveal her findings outside her immediate family.

Stories of passing — a term used to define the process of abandoning one’s cultural identity and adopting another — are traditionally associated with a light-skinned black person who assumes a white identity. People of color living as white have been the theme for many literary works in the late 19th and 20th century. Clevelander Charles W. Chesnutt, a black man who could have easily passed for white, wrote a significant number of stories about black people passing for white around the turn of the 20th century. Many of the stories take place in Cleveland which he fictionalized to be Groveland, Ohio…

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Mixed Race-Politics and Homi Bhabha’s Third Space Theory in Charles Chesnutt’s “The Wife of His Youth” and “The Sheriff’s Children”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2019-07-28 23:30Z by Steven

Mixed Race-Politics and Homi Bhabha’s Third Space Theory in Charles Chesnutt’s “The Wife of His Youth” and “The Sheriff’s Children”

The Oswald Review: An International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Criticism in the Discipline of English
Volume 20, Issue 1 (2018)
Article 6 (pages 37-50)

Gabrielle Sanford
Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Virginia

Tru Leverette, a Mixed race professor of African American and Mixed race literature, explains that people of mixed ancestry have a difficult and confusing racial path: “I, like many other persons born to parents of different races, sometimes think of myself as moving in the space that unites the two, as traveling from one shore to another . . . and other times as sailing the river that forms the meridian between two shores” (“Traveling” 79). And while there has been progress in how America regards biracial people today, Mixed race people are often marginalized in society, literature, and politics through underrepresentation and a lack of acknowledgment of their culture and characteristics. There is very little space for Mixed race people to have their own identities because they are neither seen as a separate race nor accepted into the races that form their racial identity. They are only seen as a combination of two or more races that needs to fit into a predetermined racial mold. This blindness sidelines biracial and multiracial groups and leaves them without legal status.

Charles Chesnutt, a post-Reconstruction Mixed race author, presents Mixed race issues in his short stories “The Wife of His Youth” (1899) and “The Sheriff’s Children” (1889). Chesnutt’s characters, however, do not want representation for their Mixed race to be the final goal in the changing social structure of America, but rather want to be a part of White society and leave behind their Black heritage. This is seen in “The Wife of His Youth” when Ryder seeks to leave his Blackness in his past and embrace an upward climb to White status by being a part of the Blue Vein Society. The same is seen in “The Sheriff’s Children” when Tom grieves over the unfairness of his life due to being Mixed race. Notwithstanding the feelings of these characters, though, Chesnutt encourages a third space for Mixed race representation and a social acceptance of hybridity; he also, to be sure, recognizes that this third space has the potential to marginalize Blacks and biracial people even further…

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Light, Bright and Damn Near White: Black Leaders Created by the One-Drop Rule

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Slavery, Social Justice, United States on 2019-07-20 23:29Z by Steven

Light, Bright and Damn Near White: Black Leaders Created by the One-Drop Rule

JacksonScribe Publishing Company
2014-09-24
418 pages
6 x 1 x 9 inches
Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0985351205

Michelle Gordon Jackson
Foreword by: Adam Clayton Powell IV

Picture

During the 19th and 20th centuries, a powerhouse of Black American leaders emerged, consisting primarily of men and women with “an apparent mix of Caucasoid features.” The face of the African warrior, brought to America centuries prior from the Ivory Coast had changed, due to perpetual miscegenation (race-mixing) and the application of the One-Drop Rule, a racial marker exclusive to the United States, in which a person was considered Black if he or she had any African ancestry.

No other country in the world has historically defined race in the same manner. Accepted socially and legally since slavery, this “rule,” as well as its strict enforcement, created a dynamic leadership pool of Light, Bright and Damn Near White revolutionaries, embraced by the Black community as some of its most vocal and active leaders.

This book features these unsung Black heroes and heroines (covering the Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights eras). Some born slaves and some born free, these men and women were on the forefront of civil rights, innovation, and social reform. Their personal contributions are woven within the very fabric of American culture and policy.

The continued acceptance of the One-Drop Rule is apparent, in America’s embracing of Barack Obama as the first Black President of the United States, and not the first bi-racial president, despite his mother’s race (White).

This informative book is about history . . . American History and African-American History.

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The (Dis)Ability of Color; or, That Middle World: Toward A New Understanding of 19th and 20th Century Passing Narratives

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-03-25 13:16Z by Steven

The (Dis)Ability of Color; or, That Middle World: Toward A New Understanding of 19th and 20th Century Passing Narratives

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
2015

Julia S. Charles, Assistant Professor of English
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

This dissertation mines the intersection of racial performance and the history of the so-called “tragic mulatto” figure in American fiction. I propose that while many white writers depicted the “mulatto” character as inherently flawed because of some tainted “black blood,” many black writers’ depictions of mixed-race characters imagine solutions to the race problem. Many black writers critiqued some of America’s most egregious sins by demonstrating linkages between major shifts in American history and the mixed-race figure. Landmark legislation such as, Fugitive Slave Act 1850 and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) are often plotlines in African American passing literature, thus demonstrating the failure of America to acknowledge its wrongdoings against people of color. While this project surveys passing narratives collectively, it pays careful consideration to those novelists whose presentations of the mixed-race figure challenge previously conceived notions of the “tragic mulatto” figure. I investigate how the writers each illuminate elements of the history of slavery and its aftermath in order to remark on black disenfranchisement at the turn of the century. Ultimately, however, I argue for the importance of the mixed-race figure as a potent symbol for imagined resolution between the larger narrative of American freedom and enslavement of blacks in the United States.

I examine several works of African American racial passing literature: William Wells Brown’s The Escape; Or, A Leap for Freedom (1858), the first published play by an African American writer. It explores the complexities of American culture at a time when tensions between North and South were about to explode into the Civil War. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860), tells the true story of the mixed-race Ellen Craft and her husband who escaped to freedom through various racial performances. Nella Larsen sets her novella Passing (1929) in Harlem in the 1920s. The story centers on two childhood friends reunited, but each dealing with their mixed-race ancestry in different ways. Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral (1928) and The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life (1931) and Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Wife of His Youth” and “A Matter of Principle” (1900). endeavors to depict a better class of blacks through her examination of the fair-skinned bourgeois-striver Angela Murray. Each of these stories address American legacies of racism and representation beginning with the Civil War.

I investigate how these authors use the mixed-race figure (mostly) following the Civil War to mark the continuing impact that its legacy has had on black Americans through the New Negro Harlem Renaissance, but also to gesture to the mythic moment of freedom symbolized by successfully crossing the so-called color line. In addition to cataloguing an era of migration, the African American passing narrative represents the moment in which we shift from only seeing characters in terms of monoracial identities. These writers suggest that new performative modes of racial affiliation are necessary to achieve freedom. Reminding us that characters of mixed status practiced race in ways that enabled them to build shared identity despite an often disparate cultural heritage, these works suggest that identities like blackness are always constituted through performance. I argue that racial passing facilitated the “performance” of whiteness together with, an acknowledgment of what is accepted as blackness.

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White Supremacy and the Dangerous Discourse of Liberal Tolerance

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States on 2018-02-15 02:06Z by Steven

White Supremacy and the Dangerous Discourse of Liberal Tolerance

The Paris Review
2018-02-13

Ismail Muhammad
Oakland, California


A scene at the race disturbance in Wilmington, North Carolina. Originally published in Colliers Weekly, November 26, 1898.

Watching Donald Trump speak about the violent white-supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville last summer was a surreal experience. Not the first press conference where he referred to neo-Nazi protestors as “very fine people.” I mean the second time, when he repudiated those fine people. “Racism,” he intoned, clearly reading from a teleprompter, “is evil … white supremacists and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” Nobody could mistake his droning boredom for actual investment in the words he was speaking: his attempt to embrace the decorous discourse of liberal tolerance was baldly hypocritical.

As the summer ended and the fall semester began at U.C. Berkeley, where I study literature, far-right agitators descended along with the cool weather. A succession of activists and pundits—Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, and their ilk—made their way to campus. They brought the far-right protestors and threats of violence along with them, all the while invoking the language of tolerance and free speech. Berkeley’s former chancellor Nicholas Dirks even cited the campus community’s “values of tolerance” in defending Yiannopoulos’s appearance. The myriad ways in which people were deploying the word tolerance managed to drain the already-insufficient term of its content. All that was left was am empty concept that could accommodate any agenda. It was more clear than ever that the language of tolerance had become ineffective, just a mask behind which antipluralist demagogues could hide.

Admitting that Trump and the far right are capable of surprising me makes me feel unforgivably naive. At this point, to be surprised feels like a luxury, and I find myself bored with the chorus of outraged liberal critics who sound the alarm every time Trump breaks another democratic norm. But it’s worth inquiring why white supremacy continues to surprise us when white-race hatred is such an intractable aspect of American society. And how our shock perpetuates that violence.

In Charlottesville’s aftermath, I turned to Charles Chesnutt’s 1901 novel, The Marrow of Tradition. In his novel, Chesnutt—an impossibly industrious author, activist, lawyer, and educator—looks back at the wreckage of post-Reconstruction racial politics and attempts to answer these questions via historical fiction. Marrow is, among other things, an examination of how the genteel language of tolerance obscures and enables antiblack violence. In his focus on historical calamity—the Wilmington massacre narrowly and the collapse of Reconstruction more broadly—Chesnutt uses the form of the novel to examine how our shared language reinforces white supremacy’s grip on American society…

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No Exit: Mixed-Race Characters and the Racial Binary in Charles Chesnutt and Ernest J. Gaines

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-11 01:14Z by Steven

No Exit: Mixed-Race Characters and the Racial Binary in Charles Chesnutt and Ernest J. Gaines

Studies in the Literary Imagination
Volume 49, Number 1, Summer 2016
pages 33-48
DOI: 10.1353/sli.2016.0003

Keith Byerman, Professor
Department of English
Indiana State University

While Ernest J. Gaines has generally emphasized the importance of white writers rather than black ones in his career, he shares with Charles Chesnutt an interest in the role of mixed-race characters in narrative. Repeatedly in his brief fiction-writing career, Chesnutt engaged with both the passing tradition and the status of those who were marked as black though they clearly had white ancestry. Similarly, Gaines, in both novels and short stories, depicted the social and racial pressures on light-skinned characters.1 The focus of this essay will be on narratives of those who have been clearly labeled black regardless of ancestry. While Gaines shows little interest in stories of passing, he shares with Chesnutt a concern for Black Creoles and for those who choose or are compelled to identify as black. The texts I will be examining are Chesnutt’s Paul Marchand, F. M. C. and “The Wife of His Youth” and Gaines’s Catherine Carmier and “Bloodline.” The two novels treat Creole characters and their status within multiracial and multiethnic societies, while the two stories focus on light-skinned men and their relationships to other blacks as well as whites.

Each of these works in one way or another signifies on the tradition of the tragic mulatto/a. For example, there is no deceit or confusion on the part of the central characters about their racial category, as there is in Chesnutt’s House Behind the Cedars. Nor is there the angst of white and mulatto romance such as we see between Robert and Mary Agnes in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Instead, we find a free man of color who turns out to be white, a “black” man who has the arrogance and racial superiority of his white father, a family of Black Creoles who are the only members of the community who define themselves as different from blacks, and a light-skinned man who at the end of the story may or may not identify with his black past.

Both authors, in effect, depict complex performances of race along the socially constructed boundary that constitutes the color line. Thus, each of them rejects straightforward ideas of essentialism, but does so in the context of his particular historical moment. For Chesnutt, this moment of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is the time of retrenchment in civil rights, white racial terrorism, and the development of a racial “science” that sought to give a biological, social, and anthropological basis for essentialist thinking and policies. Gaines’s moment came at the high point of the civil right movement, with the emergence of black nationalism and a reversed claim of essentialism that asserted black moral superiority. Thus, it can be argued that each writer uses mixed-race characters to subvert fixed notions of race while acknowledging the power of such notions in shaping the lives of their characters.

It is also worth noting that all four works involve some moral violation that extends beyond white supremacy (which both writers see as a fixed aspect of the societies they depict) and the violations of black women’s bodies that produced the mixed-race characters that are their subjects. Thus, the texts create an implicit link between such figures and the moral failure that is the nation’s racial ideology.

In “The Wife of His Youth,” Chesnutt can be seen as critiquing if not satirizing the pretensions of northern, middle-class, light-skinned blacks. It is worth noting that this is Chesnutt’s own social category, so the story may be read as self-criticism. The central character, Mr. Ryder, has become the leader of the Blue Vein Society, so called because its members are assumed to be light enough to have visibly blue veins. While the group denies such an exclusionary requirement, Ryder himself, though slightly darker than others, establishes a standard:

“I have no race prejudice,” he would say, “but we people of mixed blood are ground between the upper and the nether millstone. Our fate lies between absorption by the white race…

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Feeling Cosmopolitan: Strategic Empathy in Charles W. Chesnutt’s Paul Marchand, F.M.C.

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-12-16 01:42Z by Steven

Feeling Cosmopolitan: Strategic Empathy in Charles W. Chesnutt’s Paul Marchand, F.M.C.

MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States)
Published online: 2016-12-10
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlw046

Alexa Weik von Mossner, Assistant Professor
University of Klagenfurt, Klagenfurt, Austria

“By modern research the unity of the human race has been proved,” asserts Charles W. Chesnutt in “The Future American” (122). As a black American who was light-skinned enough to pass for white, Chesnutt deeply believed in monogenesis and in the universality of the human experience. It is therefore unsurprising that the racial identities of his fictional characters are often fluid and that many of them display a distinctly cosmopolitan attitude, affirming a common and equal humanity. Matthew Wilson reminds us that while Chesnutt chose to live as an African American in a society that forced its members into clear-cut racial groups, in his writing he “strove for a universal subject position that he perceived as outside of race” (Whiteness xvii). A typical example is Paul Marchand, F.M.C. (1998), one of Chesnutt’s late and long unpublished novels, in which a fair-skinned black man learns that he is biologically white and finds himself faced with the question of whether he should embrace a white identity and abandon his mixed-race wife and children. It has been argued, for example by William Ramsey, that the political efficacy of the novel suffers precisely from Chesnutt’s universalist desire to “exalt humanity above race” (Chesnutt, “Race Problem” 199) because such desire “can restrict the constructive, necessary black social agency that Chesnutt himself agitated for” (Ramsey 39). Even more detrimental in the eyes of many critics is the utter lack of realism in Chesnutt’s celebration of a universal humanism that leads his idealized protagonist to forsake his newly acquired privileges in favor of his mixed-race family and a more authentic and honest life abroad.

However, Chesnutt’s reliance on romantic idealization and other sentimental narrative strategies is in fact crucial for the political charge of his novel, which he conceived in the early 1920s. As…

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Charles Chesnutt Racial Relation Progression Throughout Career

Posted in Biography, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-05-24 21:09Z by Steven

Charles Chesnutt Racial Relation Progression Throughout Career

Cleveland State University
May 2011
60 pages

Lindy R. Birney

Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree Master of English

Charles Chesnutt began his career with an ideology that race should not be a category in which to judge others. He felt that through literature he could help influence society and help create a less racial centric civilization. His career began with positive reviews from short story publications in multiple magazines. However, most critics and readers at the time did not know of Chesnutt’s racial background. It was not until his second collection of short stories that Chesnutt revealed the truth about his heritage. After his success with The Conjure Woman and The Wife of His Youth (both published in 1899), Chesnutt began to assert his political agenda more aggressively into his writing. His second novel The Marrow of Tradition (1901) received very poor reviews; critics were repulsed by Chesnutt’s revolutionary philosophies concerning the racial caste system. The poor reception of Chesnutt’s three novels forced him to retire from a literary career. Years later, during the Harlem Renaissance, a time of prolific African American writers, Chesnutt was disappointed in the baseness of black characters in literature. He scolded Harlem Renaissance writers for their lack of strong black characters, but Chesnutt’s short stories that were published in The Crisis also lacked the racial uplift that he so desperately sought. Chesnutt’s intensity of racial relation literature had dwindled over time and he left it to the next generation of writers to fulfill the social agenda that his literature was never able to achieve.

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Dying to Be Black: White-to-Black Racial Passing in Chesnutt’s “Mars Jeems’s Nightmare,” Griffin’s Black Like Me, and Van Peebles’s Watermelon Man

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-05-09 15:16Z by Steven

Dying to Be Black: White-to-Black Racial Passing in Chesnutt’s “Mars Jeems’s Nightmare,” Griffin’s Black Like Me, and Van Peebles’s Watermelon Man

Prospects
Volume 28 / October 2004
pages 519-542
DOI: 10.1017/S0361233300001599

Baz Dreisinger, Associate Professor of English
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Is racial passing passé? Not according to contemporary book sales. The theme remains central to at least three recent best sellers: Danzy Senna’s Caucasia, Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, and Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Roth’s novel made it to the big screen this fall, just as Devil in a Blues Dress, the adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel starring Denzel Washington, did in 1995. Renewed academic attention is being paid, of late, to “classic” passing narratives; once-ignored ones, including Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars, are being revived; and still others being reread in the context of passing.

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Charles W. Chesnutt’s Stenographic Realism

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-02-28 23:18Z by Steven

Charles W. Chesnutt’s Stenographic Realism

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S.
Volume 40, Number 4, Winter 2015
pages 48-68

Mark Sussman
Hunter College, City University of New York

Speaking before a meeting of the Ohio Stenographer’s Association on 28 August 1889, Charles W. Chesnutt declared: “The invention of phonography deserves to rank, and does rank, in the minds of those who know its uses, with the great inventions of the nineteenth century; along with the steam engine, the telegraph, the sewing machine, the telephone” (“Some” 74). Phonography, the name Isaac Pitman gave to his popular system of shorthand notation, had been an obsession for Chesnutt going back about a decade. While he supported himself and his family for a short time solely by writing fiction, his income largely came first as a free-lance legal stenographer and then as the owner of his own successful stenography practice. In the midst of teaching himself Pitman’s shorthand, Chesnutt wrote in his journal on 28 June 1880: “I must write a lecture on phonography—the principles of the art; its uses, and the method of learning it” (Journals 143), and so his speech marked the culmination of his desire to entwine the practice of shorthand with his other obsession, that of becoming a writer of fiction.

This essay takes as its point of departure the idea that Chesnutt’s two coinciding writerly practices—stenography and fiction—are more than merely coincidental. The connection of writing to stenography and stenography to writing, far from being limited to the singular professional development of Chesnutt (the first major black American novelist), reflects some of the shared anxieties and contradictions of the racial and literary imaginations of the nineteenth century. Stenography, as a writing system that claims to record and preserve the inflections of human speech, and literary realism, a form of writing that claims to register the vicissitudes of human experience, both participate in a form of mimesis that was, by the end of the nineteenth century, the primary site of critical discord surrounding American fiction.

However, that discord was not only literary. Rather, debates about the role of mimesis in literary production, while they found their mute brother in the technology of stenography, also shaded into debates about the nature of imitativeness and, more specifically, whether or not imitativeness was an epistemic quality rooted in race. For race scientists, anti-abolitionists, and, later, for post-Reconstruction critics of black education, the idea that “Africans” possessed an imitative nature posed an insurmountable obstacle to any real education. Further, the idea that a black person appearing to have acquired knowledge through education was, in truth, only “parroting” what they had heard suggested that while blacks could use knowledge, only whites could truly possess it. Chesnutt’s dual practices of writerly mimesis turn racialized models of imitation on their head. His novel The House behind the Cedars (1900) suggests that imitation, in the form of learned manners and etiquette, constitutes the only identifiable form of “racial” behavior, white or black. Far from a perceived special “African” quality, imitation demonstrates the literal insubstantiality of race itself. Dialect fiction, an ostensibly mimetic writing form that portrays human speech as the locus of racial authenticity, ironically materializes and substantializes what Chesnutt elsewhere strove to demonstrate was insubstantial. For Chesnutt, then, writing was the sole arena in which the paradoxes of race thinking could take shape; to write race was, in some sense, and perhaps only for Chesnutt, to literally bring race into being.

The story “The Goophered Grapevine” exemplifies this phenomenon. One of Chesnutt’s stories written largely in dialect, this tale almost seems designed to look like one of Chesnutt’s stenographic transcriptions. It displays what Lisa Gitelman has described as “the underlying matter of representing orality” (52) in even those domains of literary culture without direct knowledge of shorthand writing. The story begins, as do all of the tales collected in Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman (1899), in the first person. The white Northerner John describes his and his wife Annie’s decision to move from northern Ohio to North Carolina, both for Annie’s health and in order for John to purchase a vineyard. The two encounter Julius McAdoo, a former slave, who warns them away from the vineyard, telling them that years ago some of the scuppernong vines were “goophered” (cursed or hexed…

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