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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Where Black and Jewish Identity Merge

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2017-03-30 19:36Z by Steven

Where Black and Jewish Identity Merge


Adam Langer, Culture Editor

courtesy emily raboteau

Before they had finished their books, before Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts had published “Harlem Is Nowhere” — a finalist for the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award — and before Emily Raboteau had published “Searching for Zion,” which was published in January, the two women used to take walks together. They would amble past the George Washington Bridge, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Jumel Terrace Books and other landmarks in the Upper Manhattan neighborhoods where both authors currently live.

Both Raboteau and Rhodes-Pitts are young mothers in their 30s whose nonfiction books share a common theme: a yearning for some sort of promised land. For Rhodes-Pitts, whose book is the first in a planned trilogy about black utopias, that place is Harlem; for Raboteau, it is not just one place, but a series of locations where displaced blacks have endeavored to find a homeland.

Raboteau’s journey began in Israel, where her best friend from childhood had moved to make aliyah, but it also led her through such locations as Jamaica, Ethiopia and Ghana, where she came to challenge some of her long-held assumptions about race and religion. The Forward’s Adam Langer invited the authors to have another conversation, this time at Emily Raboteau’s office at City College where she teaches. The writers discussed parenthood, promised lands, and their thoughts on the relationship between blacks and Jews…

Read the entire interview here.

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Race, Place and Community

Posted in Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2017-03-30 12:51Z by Steven

Race, Place and Community

Duke University
Trent Semans Center
Great Hall
Duke University Medical Center Greenspace
Durham, North Carolina 27710
Thursday, 2017-03-30, 08:00-10:00 EDT (Local Time)

Emily Raboteau, Professor of English
City College of New York

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

A conversation with award-winning author Emily Raboteau. A Q&A and book (Searching for Zion) signing will follow.

The event, “Race, Place and Community,” is free and open to the public. Light breakfast will be served. Those unable to attend can watch a live webcast of the event at

Organized by the Duke Clinical Research Institute, the event co-sponsors include the Duke School of Medicine, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Center on Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship, and Left of Black.

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Race, Place and Community: A Conversation with Author Emily Raboteau

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2017-03-29 20:06Z by Steven

Race, Place and Community: A Conversation with Author Emily Raboteau

DCORE: Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Micah English, T ’17

Emily Raboteau

Award-winning author Emily Raboteau will visit Duke and Durham this week as part of the Duke School of Medicine’s ongoing series, A Conversation about Race.

She will be interviewed by Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture in the Department of African and African American studies. Neal, is also the co-director of the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity and the host of the weekly webcast, Left of Black. A portion of the event will be recorded live for a future episode of Left of Black.

The event, “Race, Place and Community,” is free and open to the public and will be held at 8 a.m., Thursday, March 30 in the Great Hall at Trent Semans Center. Light breakfast will be served. Those unable to attend can watch a live webcast of the event at

Raboteau, an English professor at the City College of New York, will sign copies of her latest book, Searching for Zion, following the talk.

Organized by the Duke Clinical Research Institute, the event co-sponsors include the Duke School of Medicine, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Center on Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship, and Left of Black.

Searching for Zion is a work of creative nonfiction that chronicles Raboteau’s search for a place to call “home,” as a biracial woman who never felt at home in America. Recently DCORE was able to speak with Raboteau about being of mixed race, blackness and the racial color line…

Read the entire interview here.

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The Rumpus Interview with Emily Raboteau

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2016-12-30 02:16Z by Steven

The Rumpus Interview with Emily Raboteau

The Rumpus

Gina Prescott

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race is a collection of essays and poetry that takes its name from James Baldwin’s classic, The Fire Next Time. Jesmyn Ward, the collection’s editor and author of the National Book Award-winning novel, Salvage the Bones, was inspired to create the collection after finding solace in reading Baldwin in the wake of the seemingly never-ending killings of young black men covered by the media over the last few years.

In her introduction, Jesmyn writes “I needed words. The ephemera of Twitter, the way the voices of the outraged public rose and sank so quickly, flitting from topic to topic, disappointed me. I wanted to hold these words to my chest, take comfort in the fact that others were angry, others were agitating for justice, others could not get Trayvon’s baby face out of their heads.”

This slim collection achieves its intended purpose of both comforting its readers and expressing the pain and complexity of what it means to be black in the United States. It brings together a talented group of astute black writers, including Edwidge Danticat, Kiese Laymon, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, and Isabel Wilkerson. Their pieces, in turn, are reflective, angry, somber, humorous, informational, and cautiously hopeful. It is a necessary and beautiful collection, the kind of book that when you finish it, you are full of gratitude for its existence, bring it to your chest as Jesmyn hoped, and think, “Thank you, Thank you.”

Over email, I had the opportunity to interview one of the contributors, Emily Raboteau, author of the novel The Professor’s Daughter and the memoir Searching for Zion. Emily’s essay, “Know Your Rights!,” is about her struggle to determine when and how she should discuss police brutality and race with her two young children. She finds her answer in a series of murals and in the rehabilitation of the High Bridge

Rumpus: Jesmyn has stated that she was very broad when she solicited pieces, explaining that she wanted to keep it open. Can you describe your experience receiving Jesmyn’s invitation to write something for this collection. Did you know right away what you wanted to write about or was it overwhelming?

Raboteau: Initially, I planned to write a letter to my kids to prepare them for the tough stuff they’ll encounter as black Americans, just as Baldwin did by writing The Fire Next Time as a love letter to his nephew, James. I felt honored that Jesmyn asked me to participate in this project, but also overwhelmed by the assignment, not least of all because nobody writes as powerfully as Baldwin. More than that, I didn’t know what to say. The massacre in Charleston had just happened and the uprising in Ferguson was going on. My kids were, are, still really little. I felt and feel scared for their well-being—my son in particular had already been pathologized. He’s not yet in kindergarten. I felt helpless, angry, and tongue-tied. Then I ran across this mural in my neighborhood while walking with my family, and it felt like a small gift. Once I discovered that it was part of a larger series of murals in neighborhoods most plagued by police brutality, I decided to photograph them and structure my piece as a photo essay rather than a letter. The murals jogged me out of my stasis. Good art has the power to do that for us…

Read the entire interview here.

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I feel what we’re what we’re experiencing with Trump and his constituents is a lot of backlash anxiety about the loss of white supremacy, but this too is part of progress.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-11-20 01:16Z by Steven

I feel what we’re what we’re experiencing with [Donald] Trump and his constituents is a lot of backlash anxiety about the loss of white supremacy, but this too is part of progress. Do you know the comedian Hari Kondabolu?  I bet Z will like his stuff in a couple more years. Here he is on the year 2042 when Census figures indicate that whites will be the minority: “In 2042 apparently white people will be 49 percent. First of all, why do we give a fuck? Why do we keep mentioning this? Why is this even an issue? Are there white people here that are concerned that they’ll be the minority in 2042? Don’t worry white people, you were a minority when you came to this country. Things seemed to have worked out for you.” And have you heard about Lori Tharps’ important new book, Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families. The author, who is in a mixed-race marriage and mother to mixed kids, shares the concerns that have driven your work. Of course, Z’s experience is a lot different than mine when I was growing up. I was a unicorn. He’s of another, more diverse, generation, a different ethnic background, and lives in a cosmopolitan neighborhood. As you’ve pointed out, you can’t throw a rock in your corner of Brooklyn without hitting a mixed kid. Not that anyone should be throwing stones. —Emily Raboteau

Mira Jacob and Emily Raboteau, “Our Kids, Their Fears, Our President?Literary Hub, November 7, 2016.

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Our Kids, Their Fears, Our President?

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States on 2016-11-20 00:39Z by Steven

Our Kids, Their Fears, Our President?

Literary Hub

Mira Jacob and Emily Raboteau on Raising Children of Color in Trump’s America

Writers Mira Jacob and Emily Raboteau conducted this conversation via email during the week before the election, at night after getting their kids to bed.

Emily Raboteau: Mira, Lit Hub has invited us to converse about the election and this historical moment as mothers, so I think jumping off from something about how our kids are handling the election (their fears, our fears, the way their fears mirror ours) and how we answer their tough questions might be a good entry point. I am a mother of two—G is five, and D is three. He will be a ninja for Halloween (a bad one, he insists, not a good one) and D will be a skeleton. G is interested in and seduced by bad guys, horror, the nature of evil, the power of evil embodied by Darth Vader, wolves in fairy tales, dark gods in myths, the power of natural disasters, tornadoes, hurricanes, gods attached to natural disasters, superhero villains, and the like, and so has an understanding of Trump as a real-life bad guy—a force to battle. He intuits that we are frightened of him, and so, is frightened of him. I think he considers the election a battle between good and evil. He asked me the other day whether it would be ok/appropriate for us to kill Trump if/when he shows up at our apartment door. I wonder if your son has asked you questions about Trump, Clinton, the election. And how you have fielded those questions? How old is he now?

Mira Jacob: Wow. I read this and thought, ok, so we’re all just in it now. I hate to be relieved by that, but I am. Your son is that scared of a potential presidential candidate. Last month, my son Z, who just turned eight, said, “But Trump doesn’t like brown boys like me. If he’s president, does that mean the government won’t like me? The army? What about the police?” This, as he is falling asleep.

I find myself giving answers that feel much too complex for an eight-year-old, but how else can I modulate what he hears about—pussy grabbing, nasty women, Mexican rapists, Muslim terrorists, and whatever this week will hold? How do I explain, after he has just seen a TV clip of people of color being beaten and pushed out of Trump rallies—that even though his grandparents from his father’s side support Trump, they still love him dearly? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel sad about that. I have no idea what to do with that sadness in myself. It feels like a broken bone. But they love my son, they love my husband, and they are wonderful parents and grandparents to both of them. I don’t want my family falling apart over this nightmare…

Read the entire conversation here.

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The Trouble with Post-Blackness

Posted in Anthologies, Barack Obama, Books, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2016-08-25 21:25Z by Steven

The Trouble with Post-Blackness

Columbia University Press
February 2015
288 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9780231169356
Hardcover ISBN: 9780231169349
E-book ISBN: 9780231538503

Edited by:

Houston A. Baker, Distinguished University Professor
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

K. Merinda Simmons, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
University of Alabama

An America in which the color of one’s skin no longer matters would be unprecedented. With the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, that future suddenly seemed possible. Obama’s rise reflects a nation of fluid populations and fortunes, a society in which a biracial individual could be embraced as a leader by all. Yet complicating this vision are shifting demographics, rapid redefinitions of race, and the instant invention of brands, trends, and identities that determine how we think about ourselves and the place of others.

This collection of original essays confronts the premise, advanced by black intellectuals, that the Obama administration marked the start of a “post-racial” era in the United States. While the “transcendent” and post-racial black elite declare victory over America’s longstanding codes of racial exclusion and racist violence, their evidence relies largely on their own salaries and celebrity. These essays strike at the certainty of those who insist life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are now independent of skin color and race in America. They argue, signify, and testify that “post-blackness” is a problematic mythology masquerading as fact—a dangerous new “race science” motivated by black transcendentalist individualism. Through rigorous analysis, these essays expose the idea of a post-racial nation as a pleasurable entitlement for a black elite, enabling them to reject the ethics and urgency of improving the well-being of the black majority.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The Dubious Stage of Post-Blackness—Performing Otherness, Conserving Dominance, by K. Merinda Simmons
  • 1. What Was Is: The Time and Space of Entanglement Erased by Post-Blackness, by Margo Natalie Crawford
  • 2. Black Literary Writers and Post-Blackness, by Stephanie Li
  • 3. African Diasporic Blackness Out of Line: Trouble for “Post-Black” African Americanism, by Greg Thomas
  • 4. Fear of a Performative Planet: Troubling the Concept of “Post-Blackness”, by Rone Shavers
  • 5. E-Raced: #Touré, Twitter, and Trayvon, by Riché Richardson
  • 6. Post-Blackness and All of the Black Americas, by Heather D. Russell
  • 7. Embodying Africa: Roots-Seekers and the Politics of Blackness, by Bayo Holsey
  • 8. “The world is a ghetto”: Post-Racial America(s) and the Apocalypse, by Patrice Rankine
  • 9. The Long Road Home, by Erin Aubry Kaplan
  • 10. Half as Good, by John L. Jackson Jr.
  • 11. “Whither Now and Why”: Content Mastery and Pedagogy—a Critique and a Challenge, by Dana A. Williams
  • 12. Fallacies of the Post-Race Presidency, by Ishmael Reed
  • 13. Thirteen Ways of Looking at Post-Blackness (after Wallace Stevens), by Emily Raboteau
  • Conclusion: Why the Lega Mask Has Many Mouths and Multiple Eyes, by Houston A. Baker Jr.
  • List of Contributors
  • Index
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Choose Your Own Race

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-09-03 17:52Z by Steven

Choose Your Own Race

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times

Emily Raboteau

‘Your Face in Mine,’ by Jess Row

Do you ever dream of starting again in a new skin? This is the central question of Jess Row’s provocative and intriguing first novel, “Your Face in Mine.” It’s also a tag line of the shady enterprise in Bangkok where the book’s central character, Martin Wilkinson (né Lipkin), has paid a hefty sum to undergo something called racial reassignment surgery, to transform from a white Jewish man to an African-American one.

We’ve seen variations on this premise before, in the 1986 comedy flop “Soul Man,” in which C. Thomas Howell takes self-tanning pills so he can attend ­Harvard Law School on a scholarship for African-Americans, and in the 1961 best seller “Black Like Me,” wherein the white journalist John Howard Griffin disguised himself as black to tour the segregated South by bus. Those stories advanced blackface tradition from minstrelsy to illustrate (as only a white man can — with a wink) that it’s harder in this country to be black than white. Thankfully, Row’s narrative delves into more nuanced territory.

Martin becomes black not to teach anyone a lesson but to better reflect his “true self.” As in Adam Mansbach’s novel “Angry Black White Boy,” Martin’s condition speaks to a generation of suburban white kids who came up in the 1990s possessed by a vibrant hip-hop culture that let them access sincere rage at the world’s injustice in a way music hadn’t done since punk. (One of the book’s sharpest moments is its loving remembrance of the Spike Lee film “Do the Right Thing,” and Row is gifted throughout at writing about music.) Martin’s self-diagnosis is “Racial Identity Dysphoria Syndrome.” He compares his plight to that of a transsexual, but oddly enough, instead of being born into the wrong gender, he believes that he was born into the wrong race. Odder still, that race can be purchased, packaged and sold. More convincingly, he demonstrates it can be performed…

Read the entire review here.

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Clearly Invisible Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity by Marcia Alesan Dawkins, and: The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics and Aesthetics in the New Millennium by Michele Elam (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2013-10-08 21:15Z by Steven

Clearly Invisible Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity by Marcia Alesan Dawkins, and: The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics and Aesthetics in the New Millennium by Michele Elam (review)

Philip Roth Studies
Volume 9, Number 2, Fall 2013
pages 99-103
DOI: 10.1353/prs.2013.0024

Donavan L. Ramon
Rutgers University

Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity, Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012, vxi + 229 pp.

Michele Elam, The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2011, xxiii + 277 pp.

According to W.E.B. DuBois’s prophetic theory articulated in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line” (221). Myriad critical and popular pieces over the past several years suggest that this theory has run its course: the celebration of mixed race people putatively implies the “end” of race. Certainly the election of the first biracial president has been touted as the epitome of post-race life in America. Yet as recent critical interventions by Michele Elam and Marcia Alesan Dawkins remind us, race remains prevalent because of biracial people, not in spite of it.

The continuities between DuBois’s theory and Elam’s are underscored by the title of the latter’s monograph. In The Souls of Mixed Folk, the Stanford University English Professor asserts that the notion of post-Black art being apolitical is a complete fiction, much like the idea that post-Civil Rights politics are in decline. By examining the images of mixed race subjects in a wide range of artistic forms, Elam argues that these venues are the newer locations that “engage issues of civil rights and social change” (16). To accept this belief, she begins her book by convincing readers that the increased interest in mixed race deludes many people into believing that race no longer exists. If this is truly the case, then why do fictional representations of biracial people continue to represent anxiety across a multitude of genres? More specifically, why has the last several years seen a resurgence in narratives of racial passing—such as Philip Roth’s The Human Stain?

Elam explores these questions across five thoroughly researched and well-written chapters. The first traces the history of mixed race studies in curricula across the nation while raising related yet ignored issues. For instance she problematizes the focus of heteronormative depictions of mixed race families at the expense of homosexual ones, while also reminding us that mixed Americans have historically been the result of sexual violation. She believes we must be mindful of considering the product of these unions as representatives of racial progress without understanding the nuances of slavery and violence inflicted on black bodies by whites.

Chapter two changes the focus from history to contemporary comic strips by Aaron McGruder and Nate Creekmore. In their works, Elam rightly sees racial identity as “a matter of public negotiation, social location, cultural affirmation, political commitment, and historical homage” (58). In chapter four, Elam situates the traditional European bildungsroman against the “mixed race bildungsroman”. The former focuses on the “social incorporation of the individual” (125) whereas protagonists in the latter are not “incorporated into the society or the social progress that they are supposed to represent . . . [and they] challenge the popular image of the ‘modern minority’” (126). She applies her theory of the “mixed race bildungsroman” to Emily Raboteau’s The Professor’s Daughter (1997) and Danzy Senna’s Symptomatic (2004). Elam’s last chapter examines performances of mixed race in Carl Hancock Rux’s play Talk and “The Racial Draft” skit from Dave Chappelle’s defunct late-night comedy show. Her argument here is that in both performances, there is a “re-visioning and a re-membering of the national order” (161).

The middle chapter is the one that is most germane to this journal, as it examines racial passing in Danzy Senna’s Causcasia (1999), Philip Roth’s The Human Stain (2000), and Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist (2000). Despite research to the contrary, Elam begins this chapter by arguing that racial passing literature is far from being an obsolete genre, as these novels attest. Despite living in a post-race era, these narratives collectively argue for the rebirth of racial passing as a “social inquiry” (98). Explaining further, the novels addressed here force readers to reconsider “the performative, iterative nature of racial identity as a rich social heuristic” (98).

This is nowhere more evident than in The Human Stain , where racial passing acts as a “reactionary vehicle to critique political correctness”—particularly because it is set during President Clinton’s sex scandal (98). In this regard, “performance,” can have multiple meanings in the novel: one referring…

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