The world these writers evoke is one in which white people remain the center of the story and Black people are at the margins, poor, stiff, and dignified, with little better to do than open their homes and hearts to white women on journeys to racial self-awareness.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-08-10 02:22Z by Steven

Interracial worlds, friendships, marriages—Black and white lives inextricably linked, for good and for bad, with racism and with hope—are all but erased by [Courtney E.] Martin and [Robin] DiAngelo, and with them the mixed children of these marriages, who are the fastest-growing demographic in the country. I found nothing of my own multiracial family history in these books; my husband’s Black middle-class family is nowhere to be found either, inconvenient for being too successful, too educated, too adept over generations to need Martin’s handouts or DiAngelo’s guidance on dealing with white people. The world these writers evoke is one in which white people remain the center of the story and Black people are at the margins, poor, stiff, and dignified, with little better to do than open their homes and hearts to white women on journeys to racial self-awareness.

Danzy Senna, “Robin DiAngelo and the Problem With Anti-racist Self-Help,” The Atlantic, September 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/09/martin-learning-in-public-diangelo-nice-racism/619497/.

Tags: , , ,

Robin DiAngelo and the Problem With Anti-racist Self-Help

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2021-08-09 21:21Z by Steven

Robin DiAngelo and the Problem With Anti-racist Self-Help

The Atlantic
September 2021 (Published online 2021-08-03)

Danzy Senna, Associate Professor of English
University of Southern California


Illustration by Vahram Muradyan; images by Les Byerley / Shutterstock; QuartoMundo / CGTrader

What two new books reveal about the white progressive pursuit of racial virtue

Last March, just before we knew the pandemic had arrived, my husband and I enrolled our son in a progressive private school in Pasadena, California. He was 14 and, except for a year abroad, had been attending public schools his whole life. Private was my idea, the gentle kind of hippie school I’d sometimes wished I could attend during my ragtag childhood in Boston-area public schools amid the desegregation turmoil of the 1970s and ’80s. I wanted smaller class sizes, a more nurturing environment for my artsy, bookish child. I did notice that—despite having diversity in its mission statement—the school was extremely white. My son noticed too. As he gushed about the school after his visit, he mentioned that he hadn’t seen a single other kid of African descent. He brushed it off. It didn’t matter.

I did worry that we might be making a mistake. But I figured we could make up for the lack; after all, not a day went by in our household that we didn’t discuss race, joke about race, fume about race. My child knew he was Black and he knew his history and … he’d be fine.

Weeks after we sent in our tuition deposit, the pandemic hit, followed by the summer of George Floyd. The school where my son was headed was no exception to the grand awakening of white America that followed, the confrontation with the absurd lie of post-racial America. The head of school scrambled to address an anonymous forum on Instagram recounting “experiences with the racism dominating our school,” as what one administrator called its racial reckoning began. Over the summer, my son was assigned Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. When the fall semester began, no ordinary clubs like chess and debate awaited; my son’s sole opportunity to get to know other students was in affinity groups. That meant Zooming with the catchall category of BIPOC students on Fridays to talk about their racial trauma in the majority-white school he hadn’t yet set foot inside. (BIPOC, or “Black, Indigenous, and people of color,” was unfamiliar to my son; in his public school, he had described his peers by specific ethnic backgrounds—Korean, Iranian, Jewish, Mexican, Black.)…

Read the entire review of the books here.

Tags: , , ,

How The Vanishing Half fits into our cultural fixation with racial passing stories

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-09-19 20:36Z by Steven

How The Vanishing Half fits into our cultural fixation with racial passing stories

Vox
2020-08-14

Constance Grady


Zac Freeland/Vox

The Vox Book Club is linking to Bookshop.org to support local and independent booksellers.

Passing for white never left.”

In Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, the character of Stella haunts the narrative like a ghost. Stella is the half who vanished: half of her family, half of her sister’s heart. And she vanished by excising half of her own identity.

Stella is a light-skinned Black woman, and when she is 16, she decides to start passing for white. Her identical twin sister Desiree, meanwhile, grows up to marry the darkest-skinned man she can find. Stella breaks away from her family, and we don’t get a chance to meet her on the pages of the novel until nearly halfway through the book when at last her niece, Desiree’s dark-skinned daughter, tracks her down. It’s only in that last section that we finally learn exactly what happened to Stella.

Stella’s fate haunts the novel, and so does the genre her story belongs to. There’s a long history of narratives of racial passing in the American novel, and The Vanishing Half plays with the genre in new and interesting ways. So as the Vox Book Club spends the month talking about The Vanishing Half, I wanted to put it in the context of the passing novel more broadly.

To get an expert view, I called up Alisha Gaines, an English professor at Florida State University and the author of Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy. Together, we talked through the history of the African American passing novel, what passing looks like after Jim Crow (sorry, Ben Shapiro), and how passing novels can show us how race is produced and reproduced. Below is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

The first African American stories of racial passing are slave narratives

Constance Grady

Do we know when the first of these narratives emerged? How old are stories about racial passing?

Alisha Gaines

It’s an old story. In literature and in life, America has a fascination with impersonation, which includes blackface minstrelsy. And passing narratives, if you want to be technical about it, in African American literature, they start with the slave narrative…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Is There a Self in This Text? Satire, Passing, and Life in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-07-19 03:50Z by Steven

“Is There a Self in This Text? Satire, Passing, and Life in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Published online 2020-06-25
DOI: 10.1080/00111619.2020.1784083

Myers Enlow
University of Memphis , Memphis, Tennessee

In this paper, I argue that Danzy Senna’s Caucasia is a satirical passing narrative that exposes the tragedy of traditional passing novels as archaic for relying on racial binaries and perpetuating white desirability. I draw on the existing scholarship surrounding satire and traditional passing narratives and apply it to Senna’s work to analyze the ways this novel differs from traditional, early 20th-century passing narratives to comment on the absurdity of white desirability and the racial binary through the American Dream. Specifically, I look at Caucasia as a location in which the main characters – biracial Birdie and Cole Lee; their white mother, Sandy; and their black father, Deck – must find a way to live. The all-white space the characters are forced to inhabit informs their racial identities and desires and leads to a double consciousness within the narrator, Birdie. Ultimately, Senna’s satire illuminates the tragic passing narrative as complicit in upholding and reinforcing assumptions of a binary world. Additionally, Senna shows the double consciousness African Americans and biracial individuals embody because of America’s fixation on the white, American Dream that manifests itself as life in Caucasia.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , ,

Refusing Historical Amnesia: Emily Raboteau, Danzy Senna, and the American South

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2019-10-24 13:36Z by Steven

Refusing Historical Amnesia: Emily Raboteau, Danzy Senna, and the American South

English Language Notes
Volume 57, Issue 2 (2019-10-01)
pages 99-113
DOI: 10.1215/00138282-7716184

Nicole Stamant, Associate Professor of English
Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia

Issue Cover

Performing what Michele Elam calls “a refusal of historical amnesia,” Danzy Senna and Emily Raboteau expose how social justice and hospitality are constructed in and around what Pierre Nora calls lieux de mémoire. Engaging particular sites of memory in the American South—places with national and personal significance—Raboteau and Senna negotiate and interrogate the interstitial spaces of racial ambiguity, liminality, and invisibility as they uncover different modes of commemoration and fend off historical forgetting. Writing about their experiences as biracial African Americans, Raboteau and Senna show readers how memorialization of black southern experience connects with communal or inherited familial memories. Their considerations of memory, and the attendant concerns about subjectivity and forgetting, demonstrate the central place of testimony to mnemonic restitution. In so doing, they also expose new ways to engage trauma: through the affect of what Lauren Berlant describes as “crisis ordinariness.”

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,

For someone so utterly unsentimental and sternly rational about race and blackness, he indulged his wife’s strange neoessentialist belief in “hybrid vigor”—that is, her belief that their daughter’s racial fusion of black and white represented the birth of a new, superior race.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-09-19 23:04Z by Steven

He [George Schuyler] was a man of contradictions. For someone so utterly unsentimental and sternly rational about race and blackness, he indulged his wife’s [Josephine Cogdell] strange neoessentialist belief in “hybrid vigor”—that is, her belief that their daughter’s racial fusion of black and white represented the birth of a new, superior race. With Schuyler’s help, his wife turned their only daughter into a social experiment, raising Philippa on a scientifically prepared diet of raw meat, unpasteurized milk, and castor oil, and keeping her in near isolation from other children. The child’s strange upbringing was both a raging success and a terrible failure. Philippa learned to read at two, became an accomplished pianist at four, and a composer by five. She was a child celebrity, a kind of black Shirley Temple with a high IQ who became the subject of scores of articles in publications such as Time, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, and was roundly hailed as a genius. There is a poignant moment in Kathryn Talalay’s biography of Philippa Schuyler, Composition in Black and White, when Philippa is thirteen and her parents finally show her the detailed scrapbook they’ve been keeping about her upbringing and career—notes and articles they’ve been keeping diligently over the years. Philippa, rather than being touched, was horrified to realize, with sudden clarity, all the ways she’d been her parents’ social experiment and “puppet.” In the years that followed, she grew increasingly disillusioned with America, her own blackness, and the musical career of her youth. Like a character out of Black No More, she eventually changed her name and began to pass as white—as an Iberian-American named Filipa Montera. She spent most of her adult life overseas, still playing music, but less seriously, and trying to find herself in various romantic affairs. She eventually tried to reinvent herself as an international journalist and children’s advocate, and in 1967 she died in a helicopter crash while attempting to evacuate war orphans out of Vietnam.

Danzy Senna, “George Schuyler: An Afrofuturist Before His Time,” The New York Review of Books, January 19, 2018. https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/01/19/george-schuyler-an-afrofuturist-before-his-time/.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

George Schuyler: An Afrofuturist Before His Time

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2019-09-17 17:18Z by Steven

George Schuyler: An Afrofuturist Before His Time

The New York Review of Books
2018-01-19

Danzy Senna


Jacob Lawrence: Harlem Street Scene, 1942
Private Collection/Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images/The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The first time I read George Schuyler’s 1931 novel, Black No More, it confused and unsettled me. Black No More is based on a fantastical, speculative premise: What if there were a machine that could turn black people permanently white? What if such a machine were invented in and introduced to 1920s America, a time of both increasing racial pride and persistent racial violence? What would the social and political implications be of such a race-reversal machine? What would it reveal about society? What lies and hypocrisies about blackness and whiteness and American identity would be revealed by the chaos that would ensue?

I was in college at the time I first read the book, and not quite ready for its cynical, almost misanthropic vision of race and society.

I had just reached that stage of racial identity that psychologist William Cross, in his 1971 “Negro-to-Black Conversion Experience,” called “immersion.” The immersion stage (number three of five) is when you eat, drink, and excrete blackness. It’s when you bite off the head of anybody who questions whether you, no matter how high your yellow, are anything less than Afrika Bambaataa.

What unsettled me about Black No More wasn’t just what I knew of Schuyler’s vaguely messed-up politics (which became a whole lot less vague and a whole lot more messed up in the decades following the novel’s publication). It was also that Schuyler was so merciless—about everyone. At the exact moment I was finding power and purpose in my black identity, he was telling me race didn’t exist…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Racial Passing in Twenty-First Century Literature: Complicating Color in the African-American Fin-de-Siècle Novel

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-08-31 19:51Z by Steven

Racial Passing in Twenty-First Century Literature: Complicating Color in the African-American Fin-de-Siècle Novel

Indiana University of Pennsylvania
December 2014

Pamela S. Richardson, Chief of Staff & Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives
Edward Waters College, Jacksonville, Florida

A Dissertation Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies and Research in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation focuses on how racial passing can be a critical strategy for defining and validating a nuanced conceptualization of blackness in twenty-first century African-American Literature. Specifically in the works of Sapphire, Danzy Senna, and Colson Whitehead, the historical moment of passing yet endures into the future. Scholars have thoroughly analyzed racial passing in African American literature according to a standard definition of narratives written primarily in the early twentieth-century. These texts are steeped in sentimentality and tragedy about the abandonment of the black body and social identity. However, the popularity of post-racial discourse at the turn of the twenty-first century marks a shift in racial passing as a millennial concept, creating a space for the expansion of what constitutes a passing narrative. These millennial narratives address and parallel the changing social-political American racial climate. This research is an attempt to trace the shifts of the racial passing construct that allow for questions of representation, resistance, agency, and power relative to race and race relations in an ever increasingly, but arguably, post-racial society. Furthermore, passing narratives at the turn of the century critique the importance of maintaining fixed racial identities in order to empower the individual through redefining, reconnecting, and reclaiming one’s blackness.

Read the introduction here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Biracial Identity Development in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

Posted in Books, Chapter, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2019-07-25 00:40Z by Steven

Biracial Identity Development in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

A chapter in Body Horror and Shapeshifting: A Multidisciplinary Exploration
Brill
2014-01-04
pages: 145–152
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-84888-306-2
DOI: 10.1163/9781848883062_016

Jin-Yu Lin

Biracial individuals frequently go through a search for identity, a struggle to choose an identity and finally to accept their inherent multiplicity. They identify with more than one racial group, and their sense of self remains constant across racial contexts. In childhood, they often find their appearance different from other children. As they age, biracial individuals grow more aware of their racial heritage, and run the risk of falling into the borderlines of identities. Drawing upon models from Kerwin and Ponterotto and Poston, as well as Root’s theory of the development of identity in biracial individuals, this chapter attempts to demonstrate how the protagonist in Caucasia develops her identity when facing racial differences. This chapter explicates the protagonist’s self-consciousness about her invisibility when experiencing an identity crisis while passing for Jewish. Her search for identity, her realisation, and eventually the embracing of her both- and identity is included. Finally, the chapter concludes with a discussion of how the significance, diversity, and complexity of the experiences of biracial individuals may challenge the social construct of race. Based on a more flexible post-ethnic perspective, race is viewed as being more performative than biological.

Tags: , ,

“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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,