“Historically, in the United States, if you had one drop of black blood, you were defined as black. You had various names for people who looked as white as their master, but they were defined as black. I didn’t grow up identifying as black because of that — for me it was more about pride, culture and my parents’ politics.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2018-12-31 04:29Z by Steven

“Historically, in the United States, if you had one drop of black blood, you were defined as black. You had various names for people who looked as white as their master, but they were defined as black. I didn’t grow up identifying as black because of that — for me it was more about pride, culture and my parents’ politics. But Maria, like me, walks into a room and people don’t see that she’s black. She deals with that as a conflict more than just the fact of being mixed. If you pass as white in the world but know yourself not to be white, you’re privy to all those uncensored comments about black people that other black people sort of in liberal circles are shielded from. You’re constantly aware of this kind of mask falling away.” —Danzy Senna

Eleanor Wachtel, Danzy Senna’s darkly comic take on racial identity, Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel, CBC Radio, June 15, 2018. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/writersandcompany/danzy-senna-s-darkly-comic-take-on-racial-identity-1.4707804.

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Danzy Senna’s darkly comic take on racial identity

Posted in Audio, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-12-31 04:21Z by Steven

Danzy Senna’s darkly comic take on racial identity

Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel
CBC Radio
2018-06-15

Eleanor Wachtel, Host


Danzy Senna’s novel New People follows graduate student Maria through bohemian Brooklyn in the 1990s as she wrestles with her identity and her future. (Mara Casey)

American novelist Danzy Senna draws on her experience growing up in an interracial family in her edgy, prize-winning fiction. In her latest novel, New People, she writes with insight and subversive humour about what it means to be half-black and half-white.

Senna was born in Boston in 1970 to parents from very different worlds, who wed a year after interracial marriage became legal. Her mother, the poet and novelist Fanny Howe, came from a privileged background, with English/Irish family roots going back to the Mayflower. Her father, the African-American editor and academic Carl Senna, grew up in poverty in the South, the son of an orphaned black mother and absent Mexican father. In her 2009 memoir, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? A Personal History, Senna traces her father’s family story and her own complicated upbringing following her parents’ breakup when she was five years old. Raised with an acute black consciousness, during a time when, as Senna describes it, “‘mixed’ wasn’t an option; you were either black or white,” she brings to all her writing an awareness — and astute analysis — of class, race and identity…

Read the entire story here. Listen to the full episode (00:54:47) here.

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Shades of Gray: Writing the New American Multiracialism

Posted in Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2018-12-26 19:54Z by Steven

Shades of Gray: Writing the New American Multiracialism

University of Nebraska Press
December 2018
348 pages, index
Hardcover: 978-0-8032-9681-7

Molly Littlewood McKibbin, Assistant Professor of Instruction
English and Creative Writing Department
Columbia College Chicago

Shades of Gray

In Shades of Gray Molly Littlewood McKibbin offers a social and literary history of multiracialism in the twentieth-century United States. She examines the African American and white racial binary in contemporary multiracial literature to reveal the tensions and struggles of multiracialism in American life through individual consciousness, social perceptions, societal expectations, and subjective struggles with multiracial identity.

McKibbin weaves a rich sociohistorical tapestry around the critically acclaimed works of Danzy Senna, Caucasia (1998); Rebecca Walker, Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (2001); Emily Raboteau, The Professor’s Daughter (2005); Rachel M. Harper, Brass Ankle Blues (2006); and Heidi Durrow, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010). Taking into account the social history of racial classification and the literary history of depicting mixed race, she argues that these writers are producing new representations of multiracial identity.

Shades of Gray examines the current opportunity to define racial identity after the civil rights, black power, and multiracial movements of the late twentieth century changed the sociopolitical climate of the United States and helped revolutionize the racial consciousness of the nation. McKibbin makes the case that twenty-first-century literature is able to represent multiracial identities for the first time in ways that do not adhere to the dichotomous conceptions of race that have, until now, determined how racial identities could be expressed in the United States.

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“And then I had to get comfortable making people uncomfortable. And so, for me, on the act of coming out as a black person in white spaces was where I think the seeds of that came.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2018-08-25 02:54Z by Steven

“Very early on, I learned to, I‘d say, “Ruin the dinner party,” and that became something. I think of that as my origins as a writer, actually, was that I learned very early on that I was going to disrupt, and that I was going… My presence was not going to always be comfortable. And then I had to get comfortable making people uncomfortable. And so, for me, on the act of coming out as a black person in white spaces was where I think the seeds of that came. And it was about learning speech over silence, ’cause there was a very easy solution, which was just not to say anything. And having my parents’ politics drummed into me from a very early age.”—Danzy Senna

Danzy Senna’s Life Isn’t Black and White,” Articulate, April 24, 2018. https://www.articulateshow.org/articulate/danzy-sennas-life-isnt-black-and-white. (00:08:58-00:09:40).

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Danzy Senna’s Life Isn’t Black and White

Posted in Autobiography, Interviews, United States, Videos on 2018-08-24 20:40Z by Steven

Danzy Senna’s Life Isn’t Black and White

Articulate
2018-04-24

Jim Cotter, Host & Managing Editor

Author Danzy Senna’s heritage gives her a unique perspective on race in America.

Watch the interview (00:06:40-00:16:40) and read the transcript here.

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The Ineradicable Color-Line: Danzy Senna’s “New People”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-01-23 03:57Z by Steven

The Ineradicable Color-Line: Danzy Senna’s “New People”

Los Angeles Review of Books
2017-08-01

Gabrielle Bellot, Staff Writer
Literary Hub

Danzy Senna, New People, A Novel (New York: Riverhead, 2017)

IN LONDON IN JULY, at the dawn of a new century, W. E. B. Du Bois spoke in front the Pan-African Conference about the challenges of the era to come. “[T]he problem of the Twentieth Century,” he said, in a statement that would later appear in and come to define his epochal collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, “is the problem of the color-line.” The idea of describing American antiblack racial segregation by the simple, if not even deceptively charming, term color-line, had appeared two decades earlier in the title of Frederick Douglass’s 1881 essay, “The Color Line,” but it would come to be associated particularly with The Souls of Black Folk. So seductive was the phrase for Du Bois that he used it two more times to bookend an essay in the book, “Of the Dawn of Freedom,” but it was, of course, more than a memorable line. The color-line was as explicit as it was psychic, delineated in signs, denials, and public executions as much as it was in one’s choice of path, one’s footfalls, one’s bones and dreams. Racism is merely obvious when it becomes visible; its potential existence follows us, invisibly and phantasmally, when we’ve come to expect it…

The problem of the 21st century in the United States is still the color-line, a line that extends back into prior centuries. This is the age of identity — as all ages have been, really, but the very notions of what it means to have an identity or to be something are now, more than ever, at the fore. But even as we have blurred racial lines in ways scarcely imaginable when The Souls of Black Folk appeared in 1903, we still have our clear-cut demarcations. And in many ways, lines of color, alongside the complexities of what it means to pass as one thing or another, may be what best defines Danzy Senna’s epochal — in its most literal sense — new novel, New People. Du Bois is not an explicit presence in the novel, yet his thematic and political concerns — updated, as it were, for this new era — haunt New People. These themes of passing and racial demarcations informed Senna’s first novel, Caucasia, as well. New People also explores an idea common in Percival Everett’s fiction — the two, incidentally, are married — of reclaiming and repackaging racial stereotypes as a person of color…

Read the entire review here.

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Beige Bubble Bodies: New People by Danzy Senna

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2017-11-12 04:12Z by Steven

Beige Bubble Bodies: New People by Danzy Senna

The Miami Rail
2017-10-31

Claudia Milian, Associate Professor of Spanish & Latin American Studies
Duke University

New People by Danzy Senna, Riverhead Books, 240 pp.

Danzy Senna’s New People unfolds the creases of Maria and her fiancé, Khalil’s flat lives––exposing sharp, furrowed, details of their beige being in a pre-tech gentrifying Brooklyn bubble. Their barely colored bodies, their contrasts between white and brownish, are a prototype, a palette that is substituted, again and again, by the mélange of nationalities and shades that fill in the indistinct Northeastern landscape.

The neutrally named and orphan Maria, a border girl, as it were, whose nebulousness crosses, re-crosses, and double-crosses racial and cultural spectrums and expectations, steers toward the excessive closeness, to an infinite jest, of mixed race America and its vague embodiments. Senna is, on the face of it, in exclusive conversation with black-and-white America. But the novel’s other deviations of grayness and brownness provoke, drift, and pump up the volume on Maria’s out of body experiences as she walks in and out of Latina states…

Read the entire review here.

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Talking the Talk: Linguistic Passing in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-09-06 02:41Z by Steven

Talking the Talk: Linguistic Passing in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S.
Volume 42, Number 2, Summer 2017
pages 156-176

Melissa Dennihy, Assistant Professor of English
Queensborough Community College, City University of New York, Bayside, New York

Danzy Senna’s 1998 novel Caucasia, set in 1970s New England, follows the breakup of the mixed-race Lee family: African American father Deck, white mother Sandy, and biracial daughters Cole and Birdie. When Deck and Sandy separate following the latter’s involvement in a risky political plot, darker-skinned sister Cole moves with Deck to Brazil, while protagonist Birdie goes undercover with Sandy, passing as white to help her mother dodge the FBI. Birdie’s passing has led critics to categorize Caucasia as a contemporary passing novel, situated within a long tradition of US passing literature established by works such as James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929).1 However, white is not the only passing identity assumed by Caucasia’s protagonist, and the multiple forms of passing Birdie and other characters undertake throughout the novel suggest that racial identity—how one constructs one’s race and how one’s race is constructed by others—continuously shifts by context. Passing is not portrayed as a permanent crossing of the color line in this text but as an ongoing series of acts involving regular adjustments in one’s performance of racial identity. Characters pass not just for white but for multiple racial and ethnic identities, including different versions of Blackness and whiteness.

In this sense, Senna’s novel challenges views of passing as an act in which one gives up who one “really” is to “become” white. Instead, Caucasia portrays passing as a tool used when one has a specific goal or outcome in mind: passing for white is not a permanent adoption of whiteness but a performance of it, used to access privileges, opportunities, or advantages. This is an important point since, long after we have acknowledged that race is not biological but socially constructed, some recent scholarship continues to portray passing as a masking of one’s “true” self or race. Valerie Rohy writes, for example, that “the term passing designates a performance in which one presents oneself as what one is not” (219).2 The phrase “what one is not” suggests an originary self, whereas I use the term passing not to imply an authentic self hidden under a false identity but to suggest that racial identity is multifaceted and varied, involving continual reconstructions of the self in different contexts. To read Caucasia’s Birdie as a black girl who fakes it while passing as white overlooks the fact that Birdie must learn to pass for black as well as white; neither racial performance comes naturally to her. Learning to perform both whiteness and Blackness helps Birdie recognize the possibility of passing for both—and other—racial/ethnic identities: passing is not a singular transition from black to white but a series of multidirectional, continual crossings into and out of different racial identities as circumstances allow or require.

However, what is most notable about Senna’s passing story is not its multiple acts of passing in different directions but that they do not always depend solely or even primarily on physical appearance. Set in a post-civil rights United States no longer structured by the color line of the Jim Crow era, Senna’s novel presents racial identity as constructed through more than just the physical realm: the text’s protagonist learns to claim both Blackness and whiteness by modifying not only her appearance but also her use of language. The linguistic is a critical factor in facilitating successful passing in Caucasia, calling attention away from physical attributes in determining who can claim a certain racial identity. The novel’s portrayal of what I call linguistic passing—situationally altering one’s way of speaking, in addition to or instead of altering appearance, to pass as a member of or gain insider status within a particular racial group—broadens traditional understandings of passing by shifting emphasis from the physical and visual to the linguistic and audible. If one can talk the talk convincingly enough, Caucasia suggests, one can gain access to groups or opportunities one might otherwise be excluded from or…

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Danzy Senna: New People

Posted in Audio, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-08-26 22:50Z by Steven

Danzy Senna: New People

Bookworm
KCRW FM
Santa Monica, California
2017-08-24


Photo by Christopher Ho

Danzy Senna relishes kicking political correctness to the curb. She believes that irony and humor are more effective than earnestness when writing about race and gender. In her novel New People, Senna takes on both the comedy and seriousness of race. Her mixed-race trickster heroine plays what she thinks is a funny prank on her mixed-race boyfriend – a racist prank that mushrooms into a full-scale drama on their 90s Stanford University campus… and that is just the beginning.

Listen to the entire episode (00:28:29) here.

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Danzy Senna’s New People Explores Race, Love, and Gentrification

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-08-10 00:47Z by Steven

Danzy Senna’s New People Explores Race, Love, and Gentrification

Elle
2017-08-03

Lisa Shea

The Caucasia author returns to her home ground: the personal and political dynamics of race.

In her latest novel, New People (Riverhead), Danzy Senna bores into the dynamics of race, identity, heritage, poverty, and privilege in contemporary America, exposing the pride and promises of change therein, as well as the pitfalls and pathologies. Agile and ambitious, the novel is also a wild-hearted romance about secrets and obsessions, a dramedy of manners about the educated black middle-class—the “talented tenth”—that is Senna’s authorial home ground. One critic, in reviewing Senna’s 2009 memoir, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, about her writer parents’ marriage and divorce, and her father’s disappearance from her life, called her trenchant observations on America’s fixation with race “nod-inducingly brilliant.”

The female protagonist of New People, Maria, shares some of Senna’s biographical outlines: Maria refers to herself as a “quadroon” adopted and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by a single mom, Gloria, who struggled for years but never was able to complete her dissertation at Harvard. Maria meets Khalil—who “grew up in a liberal, humanist, multiracial family, oblivious to his own blackness,” when they are students at Stanford—after he’d broken up with his white girlfriend. “Maria liked to joke that she was his transitional object,” Senna writes. “He was morphing into a race man before her very eyes.”

Now it is 1996, and they’re engaged and living together in a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood. “Interspersed among the old guard—the Jamaican ladies with their folding chairs, the churchy men in their brown polyester suits—are the ones who have just arrived. It is subtle, this shift, almost imperceptible. When Maria blurs her eyes right it doesn’t appear to be happening. They dance together at house parties in the dark. If I ruled the world they sing, their voices rising as one, Imagine that. I’d free all my sons.“…

Read the entire review here.

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