The Prisms of Passing: Reading beyond the Racial Binary in Twentieth-Century U.S. Passing Narratives

Posted in Dissertations, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-04-30 00:40Z by Steven

The Prisms of Passing: Reading beyond the Racial Binary in Twentieth-Century U.S. Passing Narratives

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
2011
217 pages

Amanda M. Page

A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of English and Comparative Literature.

In “The Prisms of Passing: Reading beyond the Racial Binary in Twentieth-Century U.S. Passing Narratives,” I examine a subset of racial passing narratives written between 1890 and 1930 by African American activist-authors, some directly affiliated with the NAACP, who use the form to challenge racial hierarchies through the figure of the mulatta/o and his or her interactions with other racial and ethnic groups. I position texts by Frances E.W. Harper, James Weldon Johnson, and Walter White in dialogue with racial classification laws of the period—including Supreme Court decisions, such as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and immigration law, such as the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924—to show how these rulings and laws were designed to consolidate white identity while preventing coalition-building among African Americans and other subordinate groups.

In contrast to white-authored passing narratives of the time, I argue that these early African American passing narratives frequently gesture toward interracial solidarity with Native American, European immigrant, Latina/o, or Asian American characters as a means of
challenging white supremacy. Yet, these authors often sacrifice the potential for antiracist coalitions because of the limitations inherent in working within the dominant racial and nativist discourses. For example, in Iola Leroy (1892), Harper, despite her racially progressive intentions, strategically deploys white nativist discourse against Native Americans to demonstrate the “Americanness” of her mulatta heroine and demand recognition of African American assimilation. Though later African American passing narratives, such as Johnson‘s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and White‘s Flight (1926), began to reflect a collaborative global approach to civil rights as the century progressed, these strategies of domestic antagonism and/or international solidarity with groups outside of the black-white binary ultimately worked in service to a specifically African American civil rights agenda.

This study concludes with an examination of a contemporary passing narrative by an Asian American author. Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son (2001) revises the form to challenge the continued marginalization of Latina/os and Asian Americans and thus suggests the need for a reconsideration of how we approach civil rights activism to accommodate new racial dynamics in the post-civil rights era.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Iola Leroy or, Shadows Uplifted

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, Slavery, United States, Women on 2018-03-05 01:19Z by Steven

Iola Leroy or, Shadows Uplifted

Broadview Press
2018-02-28
352 pages
5½” x 8½”
Hardcover ISBN: 9781554813858 / 1554813859
(Originally published in 1892)

Frances E. W. Harper (1825-1911)

Edited by:

Koritha Mitchell, Associate Professor of English
Ohio State University

Frances Harper’s fourth novel follows the life of the beautiful, light-skinned Iola Leroy to tell the story of black families in slavery, during the Civil War, and after Emancipation. Iola Leroy adopts and adapts three genres that commanded significant audiences in the nineteenth century: the sentimental romance, the slave narrative, and plantation fiction. Written by the foremost black woman activist of the nineteenth century, the novel sheds light on the movements for abolition, public education, and voting rights through a compelling narrative.

This edition engages the latest research on Harper’s life and work and offers ways to teach these major moments in United States history by centering the experiences of African Americans. The appendices provide primary documents that help readers do what they are seldom encouraged to do: consider the experiences and perspectives of people who are not white. The Introduction traces Harper’s biography and the changing critical perspectives on the novel.

Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: A Brief Chronology
  • A Note on the Text
  • Iola Leroy; Or, Shadows Uplifted
  • Appendix A: Slavery, Civil War and Emancipation, Reconstruction and Its Demise
    1. From the Fugitive Slave Act (1850)
    2. United States Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, the Dred Scott Decision (1857)
    3. From the First Confiscation Act (1861)
    4. From the Second Confiscation Act (1862)
    5. The Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
    6. From the Freedmen’s Bureau Act (1865)
    7. The Thirteenth Amendment (1865)
    8. From the Fourteenth Amendment (1868)
    9. The Fifteenth Amendment (1870)
    10. The Compromise of 1877
    11. From United States Supreme Court Justice Billings Brown, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
  • Appendix B: Not White? Then You Can’t Be Equal
    1. From Abraham Lincoln, Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes (1862)
    2. From Frances Harper, “Mrs. Frances E. Watkins Harper on the War and the President’s Colonization Scheme,” Christian Recorder (27 September 1862)
    3. From Michigan Supreme Court Justice James Campbell, The People v. Dean (1866)
  • Appendix C: Black Families in Slavery and Freedom
    1. From Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
    2. Dictated letters between enslaved husbands and wives while separated by their owners
    3. From “Arrest of Fugitive Slaves,” Cincinnati Gazette (29 January 1856)
    4. Frances Harper, “The Slave Mother: A Tale of Ohio” 1857)
    5. Testimony about enslaved men and women who fled slavery to join the Union effort and often planned to return to help family members escape (1863)
    6. Letter from a black soldier to his children (1864)
    7. Letter from a black soldier to the owner of one of his daughters (1864)
    8. Newspaper Notices in Hopes of Finding Lost Loved Ones after Emancipation (1866–93)
  • Appendix D: Education in Slavery and Freedom
    1. From the South Carolina Negro Act (1740)
    2. Account about an enslaved woman who ran a midnight school (1881)
    3. Account of teaching/learning in secret during slavery (1902)
    4. An account of finding the spark for learning while enslaved (1885)
    5. Accounts of the consequences of learning to read and write
    6. Account of black soldiers wanting education
    7. Account of recently emancipated people’s eagerness to learn
    8. Testimony on Ku Klux Klan preventing school attendance after Emancipation (1872)
  • Appendix E: Preventing Freedom Even after Emancipation
    1. Laws constraining black girls and boys via apprenticeship and African Americans of every age via vagrancy statutes (1865)
    2. Testimony about Ku Klux Klan raping black women whose husbands/fathers voted (1871)
    3. From Henry W. Grady, “The Race Problem in the South” (1889)
    4. From Ida B. Wells, The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States (1895)
  • Appendix F: Black Women’s Activism
    1. From Frances Harper, “We Are All Bound Up Together” (1866)
    2. Frances Harper, “Aunt Chloe’s Politics” (1872)
    3. From Frances Harper, “Colored Women of America,” Englishwoman’s Review (15 January 1878)
    4. From Frances Harper, “The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the ColoredWoman,” African Methodist Episcopal Church Review (1888)
    5. From Frances Harper, “Enlightened Motherhood: An Address … Before the Brooklyn Literary Society” (15 November 1892)
    6. From Fannie Barrier Williams, “The Intellectual Progress of The Colored Women of the United States Since the Emancipation Proclamation” (1893)
  • Appendix G: Being Black and a Woman: Aesthetics and Reception
    1. William J. Watkins, “The Reformer,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper (7 April 1854)
    2. Grace Greenwood, Impressions of Harper as a Speaker (1866)
    3. From Anna Julia Cooper, “The Status of Woman in America” (1892)
    4. Reviews of Iola Leroy
      1. “Publications Reviewed,” Christian Recorder (12 January 1893)
      2. From “Review 1,” Independent (5 January 1893)
      3. Richmond Planet (21 January 1893)
      4. From “Recent Fiction,” The Nation (23 February 1893)
      5. From “Our Book List,” A.M.E. Church Review (April 1893)
      6. “Book Review,” Friends’ Review; a Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal (22 June 1893)
      7. Review of Reviews (January 1895)
      8. From “Recent Fiction,” Independent (29 October 1896)
      9. From Edward Elmore Brock, “Brock’s Literary Leaves,” Freeman (Indianapolis) (14 August 1897)
      10. [W.E.B. Du Bois,] “Writers,” Crisis (April 1911)
  • Works Cited and Select Bibliography
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“Split At The Root”: The Reformation of The Mulatto Hero/Heroine

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2014-05-01 19:13Z by Steven

“Split At The Root”: The Reformation of The Mulatto Hero/Heroine

AmeriQuests (Online)
Vanderbilt University
Volume 6, Number 1
2008-11-18

Tia L. Gafford, Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies
Mercer University

Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy offers a valuable insight on the development of a holistic and natural model for patriarchy in the 19th century. Harper combines normally diametrically opposed ideologies of masculinity and femininely in the characters of Dr. Frank Latimer and Iola Leroy who become cultural heros/heroines by embracing a Black consciousness. By addressing what she considers to be a more cohesive productive society, Harper contextualizes the mulatto racial and social visions against the backdrop of the post-Reconstruction South. Within this new radical mixed race, Dr. Latimer and Iola Leroy rescues this normative stereotypical version and redefines them as the pre-cursors of Alain Locke’s “New Negro.” By rejecting whiteness as a mean to emancipate themselves out of an otherwise racial bondage, Iola Leroy and Dr. Latimer embrace the “one drop” rule. By “casting themselves” into the racial “pot,” Harper sets the mulatto up to ideally “work for the people.”

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“A Very Different Looking Class of People”: Racial Passing, Tragedy, and the Mulatto Citizen in American Literature

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2013-08-05 04:53Z by Steven

“A Very Different Looking Class of People”: Racial Passing, Tragedy, and the Mulatto Citizen in American Literature

University of Southern Mississippi
2013-02-18
81 pages

Stephanie S. Rambo

Honors Prospectus Submitted to the Honors College of The University of Southern Mississippi In Fulfillment Bachelors of Arts In the Department of English

This project explores the mulatto citizen as one who prevails against tragedy, uses passing as an escape route to freedom and equality, and establishes a fixed racial identity in a color struck world. In nineteenth-century American literature, the mulatto penetrates a seemingly solid world of color to reveal racial anxieties of the time. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lonely (1852), William Wells Brown’s Clotel, or the President’s Daughter (1853), Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends (1857) and Frances E.W. Harper’s Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted depict these mulatto characters as agents of social change. Each of these texts present the figure of the mulatto in a historical context, as a slave in the South and free/freedman in the antebellum North. Considering these various genres (esp. the blending of fiction and nonfiction at times), this study examines how different authors take a political stance by using the mulatto figure to define U.S. citizenship.

Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a foundational text due to the political response during Abraham Lincoln’s administration and from abolitionists worldwide. Stowe represents those minorities excluded from the democratic process, namely African Americans and women who were both disenfranchised. I examine political fiction by Brown, Webb, and Harper due to their depictions of the laws of slavery and African Americans’ civil rights struggles throughout the nineteenth century. Most of these American writers were excluded themselves from the political process. Therefore, I consider these writers most capable to present the voice of the marginal, mulatto citizen.

Read the entire thesis here.

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Dividing Lines: Class Anxiety and Postbellum Black Fiction

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2013-02-24 22:48Z by Steven

Dividing Lines: Class Anxiety and Postbellum Black Fiction

University of Michigan Press
2013
232 pages
6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-472-11861-8
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-472-02890-0

Andreá N. Williams, Associate Professor of English
Ohio State University

Photograph of John and Lugenia Burns Hope and family, undated, Atlanta University Photographs—Individuals, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library
(Pictured from left to right: Dr. John Hope, Edward Hope, John Hope, II, and and Lugenia Burns Hope)

New insights on the intersection of race and class in black fiction from the 1880s to 1900s

Dividing Lines is one of the most extensive studies of class in nineteenth-century African American literature. Clear and engaging, this book unveils how black fiction writers represented the uneasy relationship between class differences, racial solidarity, and the quest for civil rights in black communities.

By portraying complex, highly stratified communities with a growing black middle class, these authors dispelled popular notions that black Americans were uniformly poor or uncivilized. But even as the writers highlighted middle-class achievement, they worried over whether class distinctions would help or sabotage collective black protest against racial prejudice. Andreá N. Williams argues that the signs of class anxiety are embedded in postbellum fiction: from the verbal stammer or prim speech of class-conscious characters to fissures in the fiction’s form. In these telling moments, authors innovatively dared to address the sensitive topic of class differences—a topic inextricably related to American civil rights and social opportunity.

Williams delves into the familiar and lesser-known works of Frances E. W. Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Charles W. Chesnutt, Sutton Griggs, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, showing how these texts mediate class through discussions of labor, moral respectability, ancestry, spatial boundaries, and skin complexion. Dividing Lines also draws on reader responses—from book reviews, editorials, and letters—to show how the class anxiety expressed in African American fiction directly sparked reader concerns over the status of black Americans in the U.S. social order. Weaving literary history with compelling textual analyses, this study yields new insights about the intersection of race and class in black novels and short stories from the 1880s to 1900s.

Contents

  • Introduction: Contending Classes, Dividing Lines
  • 1. The Language of Class: Taxonomy and Respectability in Frances E. W. Harper’s Trial and Triumph and Iola Leroy
  • 2. Working through Class: The Black Body, Labor, and Leisure in Sutton Griggs’s Overshadowed
  • 3. Mapping Class Difference: Space and Social Mobility in Paul L. Dunbar’s Short Fiction
  • 4. Blood and the Mark of Class: Pauline Hopkins’s Genealogies of Status
  • 5. Classing the Color Line: Class-Passing, Antiracism, and Charles W. Chesnutt
  • Epilogue: Beyond the Talented Tenth
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Slippery Language and False Dilemmas: The Passing Novels of Child, Howells, and Harper

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-06-28 02:00Z by Steven

Slippery Language and False Dilemmas: The Passing Novels of Child, Howells, and Harper

American Literature
Volume 75, Number 4, December 2003
pages 813-841

Julie Cary Nerad, Associate Professor of English
Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland

Conceived in slavery, gestated in racialist science, and bred in Jim Crow segregation, the U.S. race system calcified into a visual epistemology of racial difference based largely on skin color. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this visual schema of biological difference, despite fluctuation within racial categories—even within whiteness itself—was generally reduced to just white and nonwhite. This illusion of racial dichotomy sometimes allowed very light-skinned African Americans to choose between a black or a white identity. “The position of the pale [black] individual,” wrote African American psychiatrist Charles Gibson in 1931, “is analogous to that of a traveler who has come to a forked road. One branch of the fork is remaining Negro; the other is ‘passing for white.'” In Gibson’s schema, light-skinned African Americans could choose to retain their black identity and risk reverse discrimination within the darker-skinned community, or they could pass as white through an identity of deception, trading the ties of their African American family and friends for economic opportunity, a choice often conceptualized as crass materialism. Recent scholarship on passing for white has complicated Gibson’s simple binary of individual choice by recognizing racial passing as an aggressive political challenge to the ideological construct of race. As a form of performative trespass, many have argued, passing exposes race as a performative identity category, like gender and class. Recognizing this dimension of racial identity does not reduce the cultural and psychological significance of race; rather, it attempts to separate race from biology and the fallacious hierarchy of innate difference that has been used historically to justify systemic inequity and violence.

Despite its impetus, however, recent critical work on race often illustrates the degree to which the one-drop rule still has a toehold on American racial consciousness. “One drop” of “black blood” continues to imply a responsibility to blackness that academic deconstructions of race have not significantly altered. One goal of my essay is to investigate how continuing misconceptions about race as a biological imperative influence our readings of novels about racial passing, despite our acknowledgment that race is performative. The cause I identify here is twofold. First, the ideology of racial uplift and the tenacious persistence of the one-drop rule converge to influence our perceptions of race and our reading of passing novels. Racial uplift, with its debt of responsibility, has become a significant part of our racial ideology: if one’s family is African American, if one has any “drop” of black blood, then one has a responsibility to the race and should proclaim oneself black. That is, no matter how “white” one’s skin, we assume that passers are black and censure their attempts to live outside the bounds of that identity. This assumption evinces the tenacity of—and simultaneously reinforces—the one-drop rule.

Second, in focusing almost exclusively on passing as an intentional act of racial identification, scholars have regarded it as primarily a political challenge to the racial status quo. In many novels of passing, however, the characters’ sense of racial identity develops less consciously, in conjunction with (not simply in conscious opposition to) the racially marked socioeconomic and cultural spaces they inhabit. Legally black but corporeally white, these passers are initially unaware that their genetic heritage includes a “drop” of black blood. I call these critically neglected characters unintentional passers. They do not know that in the eyes of the law they are passing. Texts of unintentional passing, and there are many, destabilize notions of biologically constructed racial identity precisely because the passers are unaware that they are transgressing legal boundaries. The discrepancy between legal race categories and racial self-perceptions reveals how race functions in the United States to maintain socioeconomic inequalities by controlling an individual’s sense of identity and her place within family, community, and nation. Our own tendency to conceptualize these fictional characters as…

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Passing and the Rise of the African American Novel

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing on 2012-05-18 21:04Z by Steven

Passing and the Rise of the African American Novel

University of Illinois Press
2001
208 pages
6 x 9 in.
Paper ISBN: 978-0-252-07248-2

M. Giulia Fabi, Associate professor of American literature
University of Ferrara, Italy

Revealing the role of light-skinned black characters passing for white in African American literature

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2003

Passing and the Rise of the African American Novel restores to its rightful place a body of American literature that has long been overlooked, dismissed, or misjudged. This insightful reconsideration of nineteenth-century African American fiction uncovers the literary artistry and ideological complexity of a body of work that laid the foundation for the Harlem Renaissance and changed the course of American letters.

Focusing on the trope of passing—black characters lightskinned enough to pass for white—M. Giulia Fabi shows how early African American authors such as William Wells Brown, Frank J. Webb, Charles W. Chesnutt, Sutton E. Griggs, Frances E. W. Harper, Edward A. Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson transformed traditional representations of blackness and moved beyond the tragic mulatto motif. Challenging the myths of racial purity and the color line, these authors used passing to celebrate a distinctive, African American history, culture, and worldview.

Fabi examines how early black writers adapted existing literary forms, including the sentimental romance, the domestic novel, and the utopian novel, to express their convictions and concerns about slavery, segregation, and racism. Chesnutt used passing as both a structural and a thematic element, while James Weldon Johnson innovated by parodying the earlier novels of passing and presenting the decision to pass as the result, rather than the cause, of cultural alienation. Fabi also gives a historical overview of the canon-making enterprises of African American critics from the 1850s to the 1990s and considers how their concerns about promoting the canonization of African American literature affected their perceptions of nineteenth-century black fiction.

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Impurely Raced // Purely Erased: Toward a Rhetorical Theory of (Bi)Racial Passing

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2011-05-21 02:31Z by Steven

Impurely Raced // Purely Erased: Toward a Rhetorical Theory of (Bi)Racial Passing

University of Southern California
May 2009
348 pages

Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Visiting Scholar
Brown University

Dissertation Presented to the FACULTY OF THE GRADUATE SCHOOL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (COMMUNICATION)

This dissertation develops a theory about the interrelations between mixed race identification and passing as they pertain to the field of rhetoric and to United States slavery and segregation settings. I introduce the concept of (bi)racial passing to argue that passing is a form of rhetoric that identifies and represents passers intersectionally via synecdoche. In Chapter One I introduce the rhetorical, cultural, and conceptual significances of passing based on a review of the literature. I introduce the central argument of the project by proposing a theory of (bi)racial passing that considers the problems and possibilities of mixed race representation and mobility as a bridge between Platonic episteme and Sophistic doxa as well as between the material and symbolic components of biracial categorization. Chapter Two considers the historical narrative of Ellen Craft at the intersection of synecdoche and irony to highlight and transgress real and imagined borders that stretch beyond a simple consideration of race. Taking up the issue of appropriation through a detailed critique of the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, my third chapter considers passing as an antecedent form of identity theft and as a form of resistance. In contrast to the cases examined in these chapters, my fourth chapter explores Harper’s Iola Leroy, as a fictional account of passing that ties synecdoche to eloquence, articulating the tension between the threat of passing contained in the Plessy ruling and its relation to contemporary attempts at measuring discrimination at the intersection of race, class, and gender.

My fifth chapter takes a turn by exploring the literary and cinematic versions of The Human Stain, as contemporary narratives of passing based on tragedy and synecdoche in the context of minstrel performance and Jim and Jane Crow segregation. My last chapter fleshes out the theory introduced in the first, working toward a theory of (bi)racial passing that rethinks inadequate dichotomies of episteme vs. doxa as well as white vs. black. Then, blending the critical race theory of intersectionality with rhetorical personae I explain the significances of synecdoche, metonymy, irony, appropriation, eloquence, and tragedy in the various instances of passing explored. At a theoretical level, I rethink the inadequate dichotomies of episteme vs. doxa as well as white vs. black. I conclude with a rhetorical theory of passing based on the fourth persona and six original passwords that present opportunities for future research.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Epigraph
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Chapter One: Running Along the Color Line: Racial Passing and the Problem of Mixed Race Identity
  • Chapter One References
  • Chapter Two: The “Craft” of Passing: Rhetorical Irony, Intersectionality and the Case of Ellen Craft
  • Chapter Two References
  • Chapter Three: “Membership Has Its Privileges:” Plessy’s Passing and the Threat of Identity Theft
  • Chapter Three References
  • Chapter Four: “She Was Above All Sincere:” (Bi)racial Passing and Rhetorical Eloquence in Iola Leroy
  • Chapter Four References
  • Chapter Five: “A Crow that Doesn’t Know How to Be a Crow:” Reading The Human Stain and Racial Passing from Text to Film
  • Chapter Five References
  • Chapter Six: Things Said in Passing: Toward a Rhetorical: Theory of (Bi)Racial Passing
  • Chapter Six References
  • Bibliography

LIST OF FIGURES

  • Figure 1: Rev. Rafael Matos Sr
  • Figure 2: “The New Eve”
  • Figure 3: Dramatic Theater of Passing
  • Figure 4: Ellen Craft in Plain Clothes
  • Figure 5: Ellen Craft as Mr. Johnson
  • Figure 6: D. F. Desdunes
  • Figure 7: Homer A. Plessy
  • Figure 8: Hopkins as Elder Silk
  • Figure 9: Miller as Younger Silk
  • Figure 10: Rhetorical Intersections of Passing
  • Figure 11: Dramatic Theater of Passing as Rhetorical and Intersectional
  • Figure 12: Layers of Meaning: The Dramatic and Tropological Roots of (Bi)racial Passing
  • Figure 13: Neoclassical Elements of Passing
  • Figure 14: The Truths of (Bi)racial Passing
  • Figure 15: (Bi)racial Passing as Material and Symbolic

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Iola Leroy or Shadows Uplifted

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, Women on 2011-01-26 22:50Z by Steven

Iola Leroy or Shadows Uplifted

1893
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Project Gutenberg EBook
2004-05-14
#12352

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

Read the entire book here.

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Surveying the Intersection: Pathology, Secrecy, and the Discourses of Racial and Sexual Identity

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2011-01-26 21:14Z by Steven

Surveying the Intersection: Pathology, Secrecy, and the Discourses of Racial and Sexual Identity

Journal of Homosexuality
Volume 26, Issue 2 & 3 (December 1993)
pages 1-20
DOI: 10.1300/J082v26n02_01

Marylynne Diggs

“Surveying the Intersection: Pathology, Secrecy, and the Discourses of Racial and Sexual Identity” cautions against the risks of metaphorical imperialism in readings of codified gay and lesbian representation. Taking issue with Foucault’s suggestion that the secret of the nineteenth century was the secret of sex, I suggest that, in the nineteenth-century American culture, where African-American identity and equality were among the most controversial issues of the century, the secrets of identity were secrets of race as well. Because scientific and literary representations of pathological and/or secret, essential identities are sites of intersection in the discources of homosexual and mixed-race identity, they should be investigated as intersections, rather than read as codifications of sexual difference. Surveying the discourses of scientific racism, genetics, and eugenics, and doing readings of Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy and Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s The Stones of the Village, I suggest that Harper’s representation of the mulatto leader can be read as an act of resistance to the representation of the mulatto as a degenerate, hybrid species; and that in Dunbar-Nelson’s story, the thematics of passing, secrecy, and the fear of detection, while having a recognizable homoerotic quality, should not be read simply as a codification of homosexual difference and panic. I conclude with a call for more work on historicizing the intersection of racial and sexual identity in the discouces of pathology and degeneration.

Read or purchase the article here.

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