(Re)mapping the Borderlands of Blackness: Afro-Mexican Consciousness and the Politics of Culture

Posted in Anthropology, Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2014-01-16 19:53Z by Steven

(Re)mapping the Borderlands of Blackness: Afro-Mexican Consciousness and the Politics of Culture

Duke University
233 pages

Talia Weltman-Cisneros

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Romance Studies in the Graduate School of Duke University

The dominant cartography of post-Revolutionary Mexico has relied upon strategic constructions of a unified and homogenized national and cultural consciousness (mexicanidad), in order to invent and map a coherent image of imagined community. These strategic boundaries of mexicanidad have also relied upon the mapping of specific codes of being and belonging onto the Mexican geo-body. I argue that these codes have been intimately linked to the discourse of mestizaje, which, in its articulation and operation, has been fashioned as a cosmic tool with which to dissolve and solve the ethno-racial and social divisions following the Revolution, and to usher a unified mestizo nation onto a trajectory towards modernity.

However, despite its rhetoric of salvation and seemingly race-less/positivistic articulation, the discourse of mestizaje has propagated an uneven configuration of mexicanidad in which the belonging of certain elements have been coded as inferior, primitive, problematic, and invisible. More precisely, in the case of Mexicans of African descent, this segment of the population has also been silenced and dis-placed from this dominant cartography.

This dissertation examines the coding of blackness and its relationship with mexicanidad in specific sites and spaces of knowledge production and cultural production in the contemporary era. I first present an analysis of this production immediately in the period following the Revolution, especially from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, a period labeled as the “cultural phase of the Mexican Revolution.” This time period was strategic in manufacturing and disseminating a precise politics of culture that was used to reflect this dominant configuration and cartography of mexicanidad. That is, the knowledge and culture produced during this time imbedded and displayed codes of being and belonging, which resonated State projects and narratives that were used to define and secure the boundaries of a unified, mestizo imaginary of mexicanidad. And, it is within this context that I suggest that blackness has been framed as invisible, problematic, and foreign. For example, cultural texts such as film and comics have served as sites that have facilitated the production and reflection of this uneasy relationship between blackness and mexicanidad. Moreover, this strained and estranged relationship has been further sustained by the nationalization and institutionalization of knowledge and culture related to the black presence and history in Mexico. From the foundational text La raza cósmica, written in 1925 by José Vasconcelos, to highly influential corpuses produced by Mexican anthropologists during this post-Revolutionary period, the production of knowledge and the production of culture have been intimately tied together within an uneven structure of power that has formalized racialized frames of reference and operated on a logic of coloniality. As a result, today it is common to be met with the notion that “no hay negros en México” (there are no blacks in Mexico).

Yet, on the contrary, contemporary Afro-Mexican artists and community organizations within the Costa Chica region have been engaging a different cultural politics that has been serving as a tool of place-making and as a decolonization of codes of being and belonging. In this regard, I present an analysis of contemporary Afro-Mexican cultural production, specifically visual arts and radio, that present a counter-cartography of the relationship between blackness and mexicanidad. More specifically, in their engagement of the discourse of cimarronaje (maroonage), I propose that these sites of cultural production also challenge, re-think, re-imagine, and re-configure this relationship. I also suggest that this is an alternative discourse of cimarronaje that functions as a decolonial project in terms of the reification and re-articulation of afromexicanidad (Afro-Mexican-ness) as a dynamic and pluri-versal construction of being and belonging. And, thus, in their link to community programs and social action initiatives, this contemporary cultural production also strives to combat the historical silence, dis-placement, and discrimination of the Afro-Mexican presence in and contributions to the nation. In turn, this dissertation offers an intervention in the making of and the relationships between race, space and place, and presents an interrogation of the geo-politics and bio-politics of being and belonging in contemporary Mexico.


  • Abstract
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Mapping Blackness Elsewhere: Mestizaje, Anthropology, and the Coloniality of Knowledge
    • 1.1 Mestizaje and the Mapping of Blackness Beyond the Borders of Modern Mexicanidad
    • 1.2 Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran: The Production of Knowledge and the Anthropological (Dis)placement of Blackness in Post-Revolutionary Mexico
    • 1.3 Recuerdos del Jarocho: The Museumification of Blackness
    • 1.4 The Coloniality of Knowledge and the Dis-placement of Blackness
  • Chapter Two: Forjando Patria: Framing and Performing Blackness in the “Golden Age” of Mexican Culture
    • 2.1 Memin Pinguin: Dis-locating Blackness
    • 2.2 Angelitos negros: Absorbing Blackness and Saving the National Family
    • 2.3 Al son del mambo: Discovering and Modernizing the Primitive Place of Blackness
    • 2.4 On Framing Blackness and Popular Culture as a Racialized Regime of Representation
  • Chapter Three; Cimarronaje Cultural: Towards a Counter-Cartography of Blackness and Belonging in Mexico
    • 3.1 Articulating the Place of Blackness in the Costa Chica
    • 3.2 Understanding Cimarronaje Cultural as a Counter-Cartography of Blackness and as a Place-Making Narrative
    • 3.3 Cimarronaje Cultural: Towards a Counter-Cartography of Blackness
      • 3.3.1 El Centro Cultural Cimarron
      • 3.3.2 Naufragio and the Work of Aydée Rodriguez Lopez
      • 3.3.3 Cimarron: La Voz de los Afromestizos
    • 3.4 Conclusions: Cimarronaje as a Decolonial Project
  • Chapter Four: Towards a Re-mapping of Blackness and Belonging in Mexico
    • 4.1 México Negro and the Encuentro de los Pueblos Negros: From Pluri-versal Networks to Social and Political Action
    • 4.2 Nomenclature, Identity in Politics, and the Re-thinking of Afro-Mexican Consciousness
  • Conclusions
  • Figures One-Six
  • Bibliography
  • Biography


  • Figure 1: Mural Painting, Centro Cultural Cimarrón
  • Figure 2: Mural Painting, Centro Cultural Cimarrón
  • Figure 3: Mural Painting, Centro Cultural Cimarrón
  • Figure 4: Naufragio, Aydée Rodriguez Lopez
  • Figure 5: Naufragio, Aydée Rodriguez Lopez
  • Figure 6: Naufragio, Aydée Rodriguez Lopez

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Home is Where the Hurt Is: Racial Socialization, Stigma, and Well-Being in Afro-Brazilian Families

Posted in Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Media Archive, Social Science on 2014-01-09 03:25Z by Steven

Home is Where the Hurt Is: Racial Socialization, Stigma, and Well-Being in Afro-Brazilian Families

Duke University
228 pages

Elizabeth Hordge Freeman

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Sociology in the Graduate School of Duke University

This dissertation examines racial socialization in Afro-Brazilian families in order to understand how phenotypically diverse families negotiate racial hierarchies and ideologies of white supremacy. As an inductive, qualitative project, this research is based on over fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil in fifteen poor and working-class Bahian families and 116 semi-structured interviews with family members and informants. Findings suggest that one of the most prominent features of racial socialization is the pervasive devaluation of black/African influences, which is conveyed through implicit and explicit messages as well as concrete practices (including rituals) that promote the stigmatization of negatively valued racialized physical features. The study reveals a pattern of unequal distribution of affection based on racial appearance (phenotype), which is evident in parent-child, sibling, extended family, and romantic relationships. Findings suggest that negative appraisals of racial phenotype may significantly compromise affective bonds in families and have social psychological consequences impacting self-esteem and sense of belonging, while also eliciting suicidal ideations and anxieties. These outcomes are most pronounced for Afro-Brazilian females. Racial socialization also conveys the “strategically ambiguous” logic of color and racial classification, uncritically exposes family members to racist messages, jokes, and stereotypical images of Afro-Brazilians, and encourages cultural participation that superficially valorizes Afro-Brazilian culture and fosters nationalism, rather than racial identity. In contrast to traditional findings of racial socialization in the U.S., messages valorizing racial heritage are rare and efforts to prepare family members for bias rely on universal terms. Families do employ counter-discourses and creative strategies of resistance; and so, racial socialization is characterized by practices that reflect both resistance and accommodation to racial hierarchies. I conclude that racial socialization in families is influenced by and sustains racialization processes that maintain the broader system of white supremacy. Contrary to how racial socialization has been framed as having a purely protective role in families, this study illustrates how it may disadvantage blacks vis-à-vis whites and uniquely stigmatizes the most “black-looking” family members vis-à-vis those who more closely approximate an idealized (whiter) somatic norm. Future studies should triangulate data on racial socialization from other regions of the Americas.


  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1. Introduction
    • 1.1 “The Face of A Slave”
    • 1.2 Background
    • 1.3 Case Selection
      • 1.3.1 Community Site
    • 1.4 Data and Methods
    • 1.5 Methodology
    • 1.6 “Second Sight” or Double Vision? My Subjectivity in the Field
    • 1.7 Organization of the Dissertation
  • 2. Literature Review
    • 2.1 Crafting a Social Order: Race and Racialization
      • 2.1.1 Towards a Phenotypic Continuum
    • 2.2 Blinded by the White: Whitening and Racial Socialization in Families
      • 2.2.1 Studying Families in the U.S. and Brazil
      • 2.2.2 Mothering in Families
    • 2.3 The Stigmatized Body and Well Being
    • 2.4 The Family Systems Paradigm and Emotions
    • 2.5 Conceptual Framework
    • 2.6 Theoretical Framework
    • 2.7 The Racial Rubik: Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
  • 3. “All in the Family”: Implicit and Explicit Racial Socialization
    • 3.1 Chapter Preface
    • 3.2 “Strategic Ambiguity” and Color Inconsistencies
      • 3.2.1 Family Interventions in Racial Classification
      • 3.2.2 Will the real white person please stand up?
      • 3.2.3 There are no whites, We are all black!
    • 3.3 Race and Space
      • 3.3.1 Todo no seu Lugar – Everything in its Place
    • 3.4 “Explicit Socialization Messages?.
      • 3.4.1 Educação é Salvação: Education is Salvation
      • 3.4.2 Reading Bodies, Not Books
    • 3.5 Racially (Mixed Messages) and Quotas
    • 3.6 What is racism?
    • 3.7 Media and Culture
      • 3.7.1 Novelas
      • 3.7.2 Re-Telling National Tales
    • 3.8 Conclusion
  • 4. What’s Love Got to Do With It? : The Stigma of Racialized Features, Affect, and Socialization in Families
    • 4.1 Context
    • 4.2 The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Mother-Child Relationships
    • 4.2.1 Harbingers of Racial Socialization: Babies
    • 4.3 Like a Good Neighbor
    • 4.4 Mama’s Baby is Daddy’s Maybe
    • 4.5 Racial Roulette and Sibling Rivalry
    • 4.6 She’s just my (pheno)Type: Romantic Love
      • 4.6.1 Race and Romance
    • 4.7 Discussion
  • 5. Black and “Blue”: Racial Stigma and Well being
    • 5.1 Incog-negro: Abandoning Blackness
    • 5.2 When Racial Roulette is Violent
    • 5.3 Depression, Trust, and Trauma
    • 5.4 Pretty Please?! Beauty and Self-Esteem
    • 5.5 We (Don’t) Belong Together
    • 5.6 Discussion
  • 6. Pigments of the Imagination: Beauty, Body, and Racialization
    • 6.1 The Bodies Exhibit
    • 6.2 Hands, Feet, and Ears, Oh My!
    • 6.3 Hair-itage
      • 6.3.1 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
    • 6.4 The Roots of Resistance: Afro-Aesthetics
      • 6.4.1 Hide My Roots! Afro-Aesthetics and Cultural Movements at Home
    • 6.5 Discussion
  • 7. “Where There is Power, There is Also Resistance
    • 7.1 Nascimento Family Values
      • 7.1.1 Racial Names.
      • 7.1.2 Race and Privilege
      • 7.1.3 Beauty
      • 7.1.4 Racial History
      • 7.1.5 Internalized Racism
    • 7.2 The Santos Family
      • 7.2.1 Racial Rituals
    • 7.3 The de Jesus Family: The Brazilian Black Panthers
      • 7.3.1 Brief Life History of Pantera Negra
      • 7.3.2 Explicit Socialization
    • 7.4 Discussion
  • 8. Conclusion – The Ties That Bind
    • 8.1 Limitations and Future Directions
    • 8.2 Conclusions
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Appendix D
  • Appendix E
  • References
  • Bibliography

List of Tables

  • Table 1: Color Categorization by Percentage
  • Table 2: Summary of the color terms used in interviews and observations
  • Table 3: Summary of responses to the question: What is your race?
  • Table 4: List of all color or racial nicknames used by informants

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Schwarzsein, Weißsein, Deutschsein: Racial Narratives and Counter-discourses in German Film After 1950

Posted in Dissertations, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-08-13 01:53Z by Steven

Schwarzsein, Weißsein, Deutschsein: Racial Narratives and Counter-discourses in German Film After 1950

Duke University
286 pages

Michelle René Eley

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Carolina-Duke Program – German Studies in the Graduate School of Duke University

This dissertation uses film to explore shifts in conceptions of race, cultural identity and national belonging in Germany from the 1950s West Germany to contemporary reunified Germany. Through the analysis of several German productions featuring Black characters in major narrative or symbolic roles, it identifies narrative and cinematic techniques used to thematize and problematize popular German conceptions of race and racism and to utilize race as a dynamic and flexible symbolic resource in defining specific identity borders. The dominant discourse around the concept of race and its far-reaching implications has long been impeded by the lack of a critical German vocabulary. This gap in mainstream German language is in large part a consequence of the immutable association between “race” (in German, Rasse) as a term, and the pro-Aryan, anti-Semitic dogma of National Socialist ideology. As Germany struggles to address racism as a specific problem in the process of its ongoing project to rehabilitate national identity in a post-colonial era indelibly marked by the Second World War, the films discussed in this work—Toxi (R.A. Stemmle, 1952), Gottes zweite Garnitur (P. Verhoeven, 1967), Angst essen Seele auf (R.W. Fassbinder, 1974), Die Ehe der Maria Braun (R.W. Fassbinder, 1979), Alles wird gut (Maccarone, 1998) and Tal der Ahnungslosen (Okpako, 2003)—provide evidence of attempts to create counter-discourses within the space of this language gap.

Using approaches based primarily in critical race and film studies, the following work argues that these films’ depictions of racism and racial conflict are often both confined by and add new dimension to definitions of Blackness and of conceptions of race and racism in a German context. These attempts at redefinition reveal the ongoing difficulties Germany has faced when confronting the social and ideological structures that are the legacy of its colonialist and National Socialist history. More importantly, however, the films help us to retrace and recover Germany’s history of resistance to that legacy and expand the imaginative possibilities for using poetic politics and communities of coalition to affect social change.

Read the entire thesis here.

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Left of Black S3:E9 | Racial Passing and the Rise of Multiracialism

Posted in Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States, Videos on 2012-11-14 14:50Z by Steven

Left of Black S3:E9 | Racial Passing and the Rise of Multiracialism

Left of Black
John Hope Franklin Center
Duke University

Mark Anthony Neal, Host and Professor of African & African American Studies
Duke University

Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Clinical Assistant Professor of Communications
University of Southern California, Annenberg

Habiba Ibrahim, Associate Professor of English
University of Washington

Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University.

For many African Americans, the practice of ‘Passing’—where light-skinned Blacks could pass for White—remains a thing connected to a difficult racial past. In her new book, Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity (Baylor University Press), Marcia Dawkins, a professor in the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California provides a fresh take on the practice arguing that passing in the contemporary moment transcends racial performance.

Dawkins talks about her new book with Left of Black host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal, via Skype.  Neal is also joined by University of Washington Professor Habiba Ibrahim for part one of a two-part interview about her new book Troubling the Family: The Promise of Personhood and the Rise of Multiracialism (University of Minnesota Press) in which she links the rise of Multiracialism in the 1990s to the maintenance of traditional gender norms.

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ROMST 200.01: Critical Approaches to Mestizaje

Posted in Course Offerings, New Media, United States on 2012-01-07 02:03Z by Steven

ROMST 200.01: Critical Approaches to Mestizaje

Duke University
Spring 2012

Claudia Milian, Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Romance Studies; African & African American Studies

This seminar will examine critical theories of mestizaje, miscegenation, mixed race, and hybridity as articulated in Latino, Latin American, and African-American projects of racial identification and classification. In particular, the course aims to study the theories, rhetoric, and assumptions of racial and cultural inclusion, while analyzing frameworks that propose mestizaje, hybridity, or “mixedness” as oppositional and transgressive concepts that highlight an emancipatory potential. The seminar will investigate the following questions: What does it mean to have hybridity as the foundation of an identity that is most often associated with Latinas and Latinos? In effect, who are the “mestizos?” In what ways does a mestiza consciousness speak to twenty-first century articulations of the increased prominence of mixed race in the United States? What possibilities can mestizaje offer through its multiple locations of cultures and races in both countering purist constructions of racial ideologies and in building alliances with other “contact zones” of mixtures that remain to be discursively mapped in the critical language of mestizaje? The course will draw from wide ranging theoretical, literary, and historical approaches to notions of mixture as a mode of inquiry that charts new identities, social practices, and knowledge production.

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Into the box and out of the picture: The rhetorical management of the mulatto in the Jim Crow era

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2011-08-24 03:41Z by Steven

Into the box and out of the picture: The rhetorical management of the mulatto in the Jim Crow era

Duke University
573 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3250085

Jené Lee Schoenfeld

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of English in the Graduate School of Duke University

Contemporary conventional wisdom maintains that anyone who has any trace of black ancestry is black. This precept, known as the “one drop rule,” was not always so widely accepted; in fact, from 1850 to 1920 an intermediate racial category—mulattoappeared on the United States Census. Visibly “both/and” in a society of “either/or,” the ambiguous body of the mulatto had the potential to obscure the color line and thus the system of racial hierarchy predicated on the division it marks. Therefore, the limited tolerance under slavery of an intermediate racial status became untenable during Jim Crow. In my dissertation, I argue that the fiction of the Jim Crow era helped the one drop rule gain hegemonic status.

Through sustained close readings of texts by Frances Harper, Thomas Dixon, Nella Larsen, Charles Chesnutt, Mark Twain, and William Faulkner, I argue that the biological determinism of the one drop rule is inadequate to explain what makes their characters—who are often physically, culturally, and even socially aligned with whiteness—”truly” black and suggest that in mulatto fiction, self-identification emerges as the fundamental basis of racial identity. I argue that fiction facilitated the containment of racial indeterminacy by “rhetorically managing” the mulatto into choosing blackness for herself through characterizations of those who remained racially liminal as tragically marginal and generally despicable, and contrasting characterizations of those who chose to identify as black as noble, privileged, and supported by the embrace of their families and their communities. The possibility of choosing one’s racial identification, however, undermines racial ideology’s essentialist pretense to racial authenticity. Therefore, choice must be supplemented by demonstrations of racial allegiance, such as “intraracial” marriage, which preserves at least the illusion of biological and cultural racial continuity, and seamless performances, of blackness or whiteness. Finally, I examine the relative authority—asymmetrical because of the construction of whiteness as pure and exclusive—of self-identification with respect to whiteness and blackness, and the near impossibility of self-identification outside this binary.

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • 1. “What are you?” And why it matters
  • 2. “Genocidal Images” or “Imagined Community”: Converting the Marginal Mulatto into a Light-Skinned Elite Black
  • 3. Keeping Race in the Family: Marriage as Racial Pledge of Allegiance
  • 4. Indeterminacy on the Loose! Invisible Blackness and the Permeability of the Color Line
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • Biography


The mulatto figure in American fiction is too often treated by critics as though she is static, both within individual texts and over the course of American literary history. Critics tend to assume that the most famous version of the mulatto figure—the antebellum tragic mulatto, whose near-whiteness was used to evoke white readers’ sympathy for the abolitionist cause is the only significant template for the mulatto figure. Moreover, they take for granted the mulatto’s essential blackness, explaining away her apparent whiteness as solely a concession to white racism. My dissertation models an approach to the mulatto figure that is attentive to the figure’s development.

On the scale of American literary history, I argue that the representation of the mulatto is inextricably bound up with the (United States’) political context. Though I am also interested in the way that racial indeterminacy is represented in contemporary texts, in what I think of as the post-mulatto moment, I decided quite early on that this was better saved for a future project. I focus instead on representations of the mulatto during the Jim Crow era and how those representations differ from antebellum representations of the mulatto. At its heart, this project is fundamentally a literary one, but as I sought to explain why the mulatto was represented differently in the Jim Crow era, I became interested in the relationship between those representations and a broader social and political context.

Accordingly, I offer an interdisciplinary hypothesis that literature concerning the mulatto—what I call “mulatto fiction”—was instrumental in facilitating an historical shift in the racial structure of the United States from an antebellum racial system with some possibility of a third racial category (labeled “mulatto”) to a system that is much more rigidly a binary of black and white. The effect of this historical shift was that the mulatto “became” black. While I believe that this may be true, I want to qualify this as a provisional claim. I can and do offer (mostly in chapter one) concrete evidence that such a historical shift occurred. For example, “mulatto” appeared as a category on the United States’ census from 1850 to 1920, but from 1930 onward, mulattoes were moved into the box marked “Negro,” and thus rendered invisible as mulattoes. It is to this shift that my title, “Into the Box and Out of the Picture,” refers. To establish the causal relationship between mulatto fiction and the historical shift that I describe, at this stage I can only offer a theory about why other, more obvious, forms of racial discipline, such as the law, might have had limited power to control the mulatto’s racial identification.

I would also qualify my related claim that mulatto fiction is invested in facilitating the development of the binary racial system through the disappearance of the mulatto. Additional research into authorial biography would allow me to make that claim more forcefully, however, I stand by that claim as a description of a trend in fiction of the early Jim Crow era (in the years shortly after Reconstruction). Some of the most interesting works of mulatto fiction—those by Faulkner and Larsen, for example—are critical of the binary racial schema. Those texts, however, tend to appear later in the Jim Crow era, when the binary is already well-established. Even in those texts, as I argue at length in the body of my dissertation, the critiques are limited by the existing terms of the discourse. In Quicksand, for example, Larsen locates the “problem” of the mulatto in the system—not in her mulatto protagonist, Helga—yet she cannot imagine any positive resolution to the situation. Though Helga eventually marries a black man and settles in the most apparently “authentic” black setting—among the folk of the rural South—almost as soon as she arrives, Helga is (as usual) looking for a way out. Despite Larsen’s critique of the racial system that so confines Helga, there is no way out for her. As in earlier works of mulatto fiction, Helga must fully embrace a black racial identity or die.

Another way in which my dissertation seeks to broaden the context in which we interpret the mulatto figure is by expanding the scope of the texts we might include. I argue for the consideration of what I call “mulatto discourse,” which, in addition to literary texts, includes representations of the mulatto in such fields as law and (pseudo)science. The mulatto, especially in the Jim Crow era, is a site of contestation over the establishment and location of the color line. That is to say, the mulatto figures centrally in arguments about where whiteness (along with “legitimate” access to white privilege) ends and blackness begins. Indeed, this is a question explored in the literature I discuss, but it is a battle fought in other contexts as well. Regarding the literature, I argue that authors on both sides of the color line, and from both racist and antiracist perspectives, are invested in the racial identification of the mulatto figure. The motivation behind such an investment differs; racists, obviously, are interested in supporting racial hierarchy, whereas antiracists may hope that a strategic cssentialism will create a richer base from which to mount challenges to that hierarchy. Similarly, racists and antiracists represent the mulatto differently with respect to the question of racial identity. Racists tend to emphasize the mulatto’s degeneracy, thereby suggesting that the mulatto should not exist. Antiracists tend to push the mulatto away from racial liminality by representing the tragically marginal mulatto negatively, while drawing the mulatto into blackness by representing the “light-skinned” member of the black elite positively. Despite these variations, these approaches are part of a common discourse. What all of the fictional texts under analysis in my dissertation have in common is an interest in the possibilities (in some cases, even the necessity) and the limits of self- identification for the mulatto.

Self-identification is particularly important in mulatto discourse because of the difficulty of using the external evidence of the mulatto’s phenotype to assign the mulatto a racial classification in accord with the rules established by racial ideology, in particular, the one drop rule, which dictates that anyone with a trace of black ancestry is to be considered as unequivocally black. My work focuses on the mulatto figure, exemplified by Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy, whose phenotype suggests a white racial identity; the most “problematic” figure from the perspective of those invested in racial hierarchy. (I deliberately do not say “who could pass for white,” because then I, too, would be assuming the mulatto’s essential blackness, which I do not.) This mulatto’s apparent whiteness often contradicts her legal status as a black. (I say “often” because in some cases the mulatto is not legally black.) Racial ideology developed and deployed a set of narratives in various fields to support its insistence on the mulatto’s essential blackness despite the potentially contradictory “evidence” of phenotype, legal status, or even social acceptance in white communities. Though some texts in mulatto discourse frame their exploration of the contradiction embodied by the mulatto as a critique of the “logic” of racial ideology, the driving force of mulatto discourse during the Jim Crow era seems to be an impulse toward containment of racial ambiguity.

The ramifications for Jim Crow of the problem of the mulatto’s ambiguous body were both practical and ideological. The mulatto presented a practical problem for segregation because she could move out of the places designated for her without being detected. In other words, she could access white privilege without (according to racial ideology) being legitimately entitled to it. Furthermore, the mulatto—whose body is a concrete reminder of intimate relationships between blacks and whites—presented an ideological problem for segregation, a form of racial hierarchy that sought to institute maximum distance between the races.

Because the mulatto’s blackness does not register visually, I argue that agency assumes a greater role in the mulatto’s racial identification than it otherwise might. Racism is implicated in the stakes of how the mulatto identifies racially, but because she is not visually identifiable as black, she may not be personally subjected to racism unless she identifies as black and publicly expresses this identification. For example, in Iola Leroy, set shortly after the Civil War, Iola takes a job in a Northern white establishment as salesperson. She informs the manager that she is “colored,” and he hires her, but cautions her not to tell her fellow employees. Iola does promise this, but she does not go out of her way to broadcast her racial identification either. Then one day, a coworker is where I go.” Confused by her own reluctance to make the connection between Iola’s church attendance and her racial identification—thereby admitting that she has been working with a “colored” woman without knowing it—the other salesperson asks why Iola attends a colored church. Iola finally makes her meaning plain: “Because I wished to be with my own people” Comprehending at last, the (presumably “legitimately”) white salesperson “looked surprised and pained, and almost instinctively moved a little farther from her.” By the end of the day, the entire staff knows about Iola’s racial identification and they insist that Iola be fired, which she is. This is a very clear example of the way in which agency plays a unique role in the apparently white mulatto’s racial identification and attendant experience (or lack thereof) of racism. If she had been characterized by more obvious phenotypic cues suggesting blackness, Iola would probably never have been hired, not even by the manager inclined to give a colored girl a chance. Yet if Iola had simply lied about her church (and other personal details that may have come up), the salespeople and their customers would have continued to assume that she was “legitimately” white, and she would not have been fired…

 Purchase the dissertation here.

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Mulatto Theology: Race, Discipleship, and Interracial Existence

Posted in Dissertations, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2011-08-08 03:54Z by Steven

Mulatto Theology: Race, Discipleship, and Interracial Existence

Duke University
290 pages

Brian Keith Bantum, Assistant Professor of Theology
Seattle Pacific University

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Religion in the Graduate School of Duke University

To exist racially “in-between,” being neither entirely of one race nor another, or more simply stated being a mulatto or interracial, has been characterized in the outlook that tends to mark existence in the modern world as a tragic state of being. It is from this outlook of loneliness and isolation that the term the “tragic mulatto” emerged. The dissertation Mulatto Theology: Race, Discipleship, and Interracial Existence will theologically interpret these lives so as to interrogate the wider reality of racialized lives that the mulatto’s body makes visible. As such, mulatto bodies are modulations of a racial performance in which all are implicated. The mulatto’s body is significant in that it discloses what is most pronouncedly masked in modern (and particularly white) identities.

Culture, identities (individual and communal) are not only interconnected, but they are mixtures where peoples become presenced in the lives and practices of other “alien” peoples. This mixture requires careful reflection upon the formation of all identities, and the ways in which these identities become visible within the world. Given this arc of identity any reflection upon Christian identity must articulate itself within the inherent tensions of these identities and the practices that mark such identities within the world. Through this work I hope to show how European theology itself has failed to account for its own dominant enclosure of identities, but also how Christian reflection itself might find a way out of this tragic reality.

In examining the formation and performance of mulatto bodies this dissertation suggests these bodies are theologically important for modern Christians and theological reflection in particular. Namely, the mulatto’s body becomes the site for re-imagining Christian life as a life lived “in-between.” The primary locus of this re-imagination is the body of Christ. A re-examination of theological reflection and Scripture regarding his person and work display his character as uniquely mulatto, or the God-man. But not only is his identity mulatto, but his person also describes the nature of his work, his re-creation of humanity. So understood Christian bodies can be construed as “interracial” bodies—bodies of flesh and Spirit that disrupt modern formations of race. The Christian body points to a communal reality where hybridity is no longer tragic, but rather constitutive of Christian discipleship. This new, hybrid and “impure” way of existing witnesses to God’s redemptive work in the world.

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I – Renunciation: Racial Discipleship; or Disciplining the Body
    • Chapter 1 – I Am Your Son White Man! The Mulatto and the Tragic
    • Chapter 2 – Neither Fish Nor Fowl: Presence as Politics
  • Part II – Confession: Christ, the Tragic Mulatto
    • Chapter 3 – What Child is This? or How can this Be? The Mulatto Christ
    • Chapter 4 – I Am the Way: Mulatto Redemption and the Politics of Identification
  • Part III – Immersion: Christian Discipleship; or The New Discipline of the Body
    • Chapter 5 – You Must Be Re-Born: Baptism Mulattic Re-Birth
    • Chapter 6 – The Politics of Presence: Discipleship and Prayer
  • Bibliography
  • Biography

Read the entire dissertation here.

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French110s: From Haiti to New Orleans

Posted in Anthropology, Caribbean/Latin America, Course Offerings, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2010-12-13 02:10Z by Steven

French110s: From Haiti to New Orleans

John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute
Duke University
Fall 2010

Deborah Jenson

Haiti Lab: Undergraduate Opportunities

The first Humanities Laboratory at Duke, one of the key goals of the Haiti Lab is to bring innovative, interdisciplinary research more fully into the undergraduate experience at Duke and, indeed, to invite undergraduates to participate as researchers themselves.

The Haitian Revolution  (1791-1804) was a successful revolution against slavery, leading to the defeat of the French armies of Napoleon Bonaparte and the establishment of the first black republic in the New World. During the revolution, many Creole planters (white and of mixed race) and their households, including slaves, sought refuge elsewhere; by 1809, the population of New Orleans actually doubled with this “Haitian” influx. How did the culture and literature of nineteenth century New Orleans reflect Haitian influences? We will read fascinating Francophone New Orleans literature about the socio-racially complex cultures of slavery, the bourgeoisie, and the planters’ “aristocracy” in Louisiana. Did you know you could learn about the U.S. Civil War through French-language New Orleans novels that also integrate Creole poetry from colonial Saint-Domingue? Or that the first African-American short story was written in French, about Haiti? We will read about the drama of the historical Haitian maroon slave and poisoner Macandal, and about the Haiti-influenced libertine culture that bound together white men and women of color in the common law structure of plaçage. Students will do cultural research projects on subjects such as the cultural roots of Creole and Cajun cuisine, the Quadroon Balls, or the “voodoo queen” Marie Laveaux. In this course on French literature in our own historical and regional “backyard,” students will also explore the Haitian inspiration of Durham’s historic black Hayti” neighborhood. Course taught in French.

For more information, click here.

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