The Optics of Interracial Sexuality in Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings and Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2016-06-23 19:45Z by Steven

The Optics of Interracial Sexuality in Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings and Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

College Literature
Volume 41, Number 1, Winter 2014
pages 119-148
DOI: 10.1353/lit.2014.0004

Jolie A. Sheffer, Associate Professor, English and American Culture Studies
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

This essay focuses on the racial and sexual politics undergirding interracial relationships between men of color and white women. Alexie and Tomine’s works reveal how legal and cinematic histories of interracial romance continue to shape ethnic men’s sense of individual and community identity. An example of comparative ethnic-studies scholarship, this essay explores how minority subjects in the US are shaped by distinct racial logics. Alexie’s collection reflects the influence of the cinematic tropes of the Western and the history of US government attempts to weaken tribal ties on contemporary Native American male characters. Tomine’s graphic novel reveals the racial and sexual conventions of mainstream pornography and the individualist logic of the model minority myth on Asian-American men. Both authors suggest that queerness functions as an alternative ethical relation between parties, one grounded in equality rather than domination and relatively free of the visual logic of racialization.

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The Time of the Multiracial

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-09-03 17:25Z by Steven

The Time of the Multiracial

American Literary History
Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 2015
pages 549-556
DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajv026

Habiba Ibrahim, Associate Professor of English
University of Washington, Seattle

Habiba Ibrahim is the author of  Troubling the Family: The Promise of Personhood and the Rise of Multiracialism (2012). Her current book project, Oceanic Lifespans, examines how age and racial blackness have been mutually constituted.

These three recent studies all read how mixed racialism expresses and challenges the terms of US nationalism during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Collectively, they account for a period when the nation developed as a global force through a series of racializing projects, implemented through intra- and international war, imperialist expansion and conquest, and the consolidation of the color line at home. Tropes such as miscegenation, tragic mulatta, and genres of mixedness such as the ‚Äúracial romance‚ÄĚ (Sheffer 3) reveal a key aspect of the cultural imagination during the turbulent era that led up to and inaugurated the ‚ÄúAmerican Century.‚ÄĚ Figures of deviant intimacy‚ÄĒinterracial sex, incest, same-sex filiation‚ÄĒand figures of gender, such as the mulatto/a, and the tragic muse revealed the cultural outcomes of the unfinished project of nation building. All of these studies take racial mixedness and its correlating categories as key analytical starting points for unmasking the neutrality or invisibility of state power. Thus, they bring to mind the urgency of the current moment: what analytics can interrupt the post-ness‚ÄĒpostracialism, postfeminism, and postidentitarianism‚ÄĒof the present?

1. Neoliberalism, Postidentity

Twenty years ago, mixed racialism first appealed to literary scholars because it offered a critical space in which to explore the era’s political contradictions and transitions. During the heyday of the so-called multiracial movement, key developments in the cultural politics of identity were well under way. The culture wars were still raging with neoconservative moralists and left-of-center liberals vying for influence over social and political life. At the same time, neoconservatives ¬†and neoliberals converged around the erosion of identitarian categories as social tools for making political and historical critiques. By the neoliberal era of the 1980s and 1990s identity was increasingly viewed as the stuff of separatist and single-issue groupthink, rather than as an instrument through which to analyze the operations and historicity of power. Perhaps this explains the remarkably accelerating cultural and scholarly interest in multiracial identity by the mid-1990s. After all, what did the appearance of the multiracial indicate? Under the umbrella term ‚Äúmultiracialism,‚ÄĚ subjects with competing social, political, and cultural views formulated clashing accounts of how to situate race in US discourse. As a diagnostic tool, multiracialism bore the potential to cut through the present.

2. Gender, Sexuality, Family

Twenty years later, interdisciplinary scholarship in philosophy, performance studies, literary, and cultural studies increasingly take multiracialism as a starting point for thinking historically about social identities and cultural production. Current literary scholarship retrieves unfamiliar, forgotten history in order to diagnose the present, or to reconsider our present-day relationship to the historical. Some scholars have started with how multiracialism is treated within current US discourse‚ÄĒas the balm of postracial transcendence on the one side, as another separatist identity on the other‚ÄĒto ask how we‚Äôve arrived at these particular interpretations. This line of inquiry denaturalizes present-day meanings attached to the multiracial and clearly departs from work that vehemently argues one position or the other.

What stands out about more recent studies‚ÄĒKimberly Snyder Manganelli‚Äôs Transatlantic Spectacles of Race (2012), Jolie A. Sheffer‚Äôs The Romance of Race (2013), and Diana Rebekkah Paulin‚Äôs Imperfect Unions (2012)‚ÄĒis the way they represent a decisive turn toward staunchly comparativist, even transnational approach to multiracial literary studies. Comparativism indicates that the field is broadening its spatial and analytical scope to pursue fuller explorations of the historical and historiographical. Such a broadened scope repositions interest in the cultural politics of gender, sexuality, and family as deep engagements with the modern.

Like Suzanne Bost‚Äôs Mulattas and Mestizas (2003), Teresa Zackodnik‚Äôs The Mulatta and the Politics of Race (2004), and Eve Allegra Raimon‚Äôs The ‚ÄúTragic Mulatta‚ÄĚ Revisited (2004), Transatlantic Spectacles of Race, investigates early intersections between racial amalgamation and womanhood by exploring how the figurative feminization of racial mixedness has been instrumentalized to vie for various nationalist and counter-nationalist outcomes over the long nineteenth century. Manganelli‚Äôs unique contribution is to read the mixed-race ‚Äútragic mulatta‚ÄĚ of the Americas alongside its heretofore-unacknowledged counterpart, the Jewish ‚Äútragic muse‚ÄĚ of Victorian British literature, thereby positioning both blackness and Jewishness along the same…

Read or purchase the review of the three books here.

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The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880‚Äď1930; and Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans [Smithers Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-03-08 06:33Z by Steven

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880‚Äď1930; and Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans [Smithers Review]

The Journal of American History
Volume 100, Issue 4 (March 2014)
pages 1222-1224
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jau065

Gregory D. Smithers, Associate Professor of History
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia

Jolie A. Sheffer, The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2013. xiv, 233 pp. Cloth, $72.00. Paper, $24.95.) Emily Epstein Landau, Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013. xviii, 310 pp. $39.95.)

Since the global financial crisis in 2008 there has been a lot of discussion in newspapers and among historians about the resurgence of economic history. Major university presses have initiated book series devoted to the history of capitalism, while college classrooms across the country reportedly fill with students eager to learn about the past heroics and/or misdeeds of bankers, entrepreneurs, and Wall Street insiders. This turn in historical scholarship has productive potential, for while history is often written about the deceased, it is written for the living so they might better understand the world in which they live. At the same time, the renewed prominence that economic histories now enjoy also has the potential to sideline (and silence) the histories of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and the working classes.

In this context, Jolie A. Sheffer’s The Romance of Race and Emily Epstein Landau’s Spectacular Wickedness are welcome interventions in historical scholarship. Sheffer, whose focus is on the intersecting literary categories of incest and miscegenation, and Landau, who provides a detailed historical examination of the New Orleans vice district of Storyville, demonstrate how understanding the complex and interconnected histories of race, gender, and sexuality remains critical to comprehending the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. In an era dominated by corrupt politicians and…

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The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930 [Joseph Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-28 07:42Z by Steven

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930 [Joseph Review]

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
Published online: 2014-01-26
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlt079

Ralina L. Joseph, Associate Professor of Communication
University of Washington

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930. Jolie A. Sheffer. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 2013. 248 pages. $72.00 cloth; $24.95 paper; $24.95 electronic.

Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century multiracial characters in US popular culture almost always have been dismissed by critics as tragic. They are the torn victims of race crossing whose inevitably dismal fates result from their race-infringing parents and are exacerbated by their own romantic adventures across racial lines. Mixed-race characters bear epithets such as the tragic mulatto, the half-caste, and the half-breed; their downfall is unchangeable presumably because of the incompatible white and minority bloods that flow within their veins. Stories about multiracial characters function in US culture as barometers of race relations. Tragic mixed-race tales illuminate the white nation’s pathological fear of the deepest and most permanent form of integration: miscegenation.

Jolie A. Sheffer warns that this is not the full story. In The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930, Sheffer imagines mixed-race subjects in turn-of-the-twentieth-century literature and their women of color (often mixed-race) authors as not just the embodiment of tragedy but the active agents of resistance and change. Sheffer writes that while stories of miscegenation and incest, which she terms racial romances, serve the function of ‚Äúreveal[ing] a history of exploitation of racialized…

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Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896‚Äď1937 (review) [Sheffer]

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2013-04-20 20:15Z by Steven

Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896‚Äď1937 (review) [Sheffer]

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S.
Volume 37, Number 4, Winter 2012
DOI: 10.1353/mel.2012.0061
pages 203-205

Jolie A. Sheffer,  Associate Professor, English and American Culture Studies
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

Julia H. Lee‚Äôs Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896‚Äď1937 offers new insights on how African American and Asian American identities were defined in relation to one another during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. As Lee explains, the book seeks to show how ‚ÄúAmerican identity emerges from the interplay between the fantasies of the ‚ÄėNegro Problem‚Äô and the ‚ÄėYellow Peril‚Äô‚ÄĚ (5). Lee focuses on iconic texts and court cases, as well as lesser-known novels, memoirs, and films in order to show how widely the trope of interracial encounter traveled, and how varied were its permutations.

Interracial Encounters follows from a recent wave of works committed to comparative and interethnic analysis, such as Vijay Prashad’s Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity (2001), Heike Raphael-Hernandez and Shannon Steen’s edited collection AfroAsian Encounters: Culture, History, Politics (2006), Caroline Rody’s The Interethnic Imagination: Roots and Passages in Contemporary Asian American Fiction (2009), and Cathy J. Schlund-Vials’s Modeling Citizenship: Jewish and Asian American Writing (2011). These books continue the ground-breaking work of Werner Sollors and Elizabeth Ammons to see patterns across ethnic literary traditions while carefully attending to the particular ways American ethnic and racial identities have been negotiated in relationship to other minority groups. Lee maintains the specificity of each group’s experiences in the United States and offers an important contribution to the study of American racial formation.

Lee makes coherent sense out of the complex and contradictory laws, court cases, and racial ideologies of the period she analyzes. Her re-reading of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) is particularly impressive, providing a powerful contribution to the scholarship of this pivotal court case while also shedding new light on its influence on literature and culture. Interracial Encounters does not oversimplify or selectively celebrate scenes of inter-racial solidarity; instead, Lee shows the ‚Äúmultiple logics of exclusion‚Ä̬† that were deployed in the period (5). While she provides ample evidence of cross-racial identification, she also illustrates the pattern of one group demanding inclusion at the expense of the other. Interracial Encounters reveals the tensions and alliances between Asian Americans and African Americans, as well as these groups‚Äô shifting relationship to normative whiteness. For example, her readings of the films The Birth of a Nation (1915) and The Cheat (1915) illustrate the contradictory ways African American and Asian American racialization appeared in popular cultural texts.

Lee is attuned to the complexity in how racial ideologies affect minority populations whose rights were (and still are) unevenly recognized and enforced. As she notes, ‚Äúan American national identity was natural, desirable, universal‚ÄĒand utterly impossible for African Americans and Asians to attain‚ÄĚ (10). While underscoring the US historical context for African American and Asian American literary production, Lee also traces the transnational and at times post-national implications of Afro-Asian encounters. Racial ideologies travel beyond the nation‚Äôs borders, particularly in this period when the US became a global superpower.

The introduction lays out Lee’s major claims and the theoretical concepts undergirding her work. Chapter Two contextualizes Asian American and African American racialization in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, particularly through the spatialization of the segregated train car, a site central to Plessy v. Ferguson. Chapter Three continues the discussion of segregated train travel by analyzing key scenes in Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (1901) and Wu Tingfang’s memoir America, through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat (1914).

Chapter Four addresses the transnational and imperial dimensions of racialization and orientalism as illustrated by the writings of the Anglo-Chinese-Canadian-American sisters Winnifred Eaton (Onoto Watanna) and Edith Eaton (Sui Sin Far). By studying their fiction and nonfiction set in the US and Jamaica, Lee shows the women‚Äôs competing strategies for asserting their status as representative Americans. Edith Eaton depicts Asian Americans and African Americans (and Afro-Caribbeans)…

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“Citizen Sure Thing” or “Jus’ Foreigner”?: Half-Caste Citizenship and the Family Romance in Onoto Watanna’s Orientalist Fiction

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2013-04-20 16:06Z by Steven

“Citizen Sure Thing” or “Jus’ Foreigner”?: Half-Caste Citizenship and the Family Romance in Onoto Watanna’s Orientalist Fiction

Journal of Asian American Studies
Volume 13, Number 1, February 2010
DOI: 10.1353/jaas.0.0067
pages 81-105

Jolie A. Sheffer,  Associate Professor, English and American Culture Studies
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

In “a contract” (1902), one of Winnifred Eaton’s popular orientalist romances published under the pen name Onoto Watanna, O-Kiku-san, a young Japanese woman, explains to her suitor, the Japanese-born but racially white businessman Masters, the difference between citizenship and belonging. She tells him, “You Japanese citizen sure thing . . . all the same you jus’ foreigner, all the same.” Masters protests, insisting, “You are trying to rob me of my birthright. Am I or am I not Japanese?” (56). Kiku’s answer is unwavering: “Japanese citizen, yes. . . . Japanese man? No, naever” (56). Speaking as a full-blooded Japanese woman in Japan, Kiku articulates the vast gap between legal rights and social recognition, between being a “sure” citizen under the law while nevertheless (“all the same”) being perceived as “jus’ foreigner,” one who is virtually indistinguishable from all other foreigners (as indicated by the repetition of “all the same”). In this scene, Masters wants to be recognized as Japanese, and the most effective means by which he imagines achieving recognition is to marry a Japanese woman, with the hope that “the next of our line possibly may be partly Japanese, and the next” (56). In this story, as throughout Eaton’s body of work, those who look different on account of race‚ÄĒwhether as a white man in Japan or a biracial woman in the United States‚ÄĒare perpetually seen as “jus'” foreigners. The white man’s status as perpetual foreigner in Japan neatly reverses the far more common experience of Asians in early-twentieth-century America, particularly since Kiku’s judgment of Masters’s foreignness is also based on his apparent failure to assimilate: he was educated in the West and lives in the English colony within Japan. Here, as throughout Eaton’s fiction, mixed blood is the primary measure of and means to cultural acceptance, more powerful than the legal rights granted by citizenship and more persuasive than residency.

Eaton’s formulation of the “citizen sure thing” who is nonetheless a perpetual foreigner complicates Lisa Lowe’s now-paradigmatic account of the ways that “the American citizen has been defined over against the Asian immigrant, legally, economically, and culturally.” Again and again in Eaton’s fiction, the route to recognition is imagined through romance, breeding, and familial ties, embodied by the figure of the “half-caste,” the offspring of a white man and a Japanese woman. With her focus on the plight of the biracial figure born of the West’s previous encounters with the East, Eaton’s stories should be read as aggressive dramas of national belonging in which white men desire mixed-race women, and mixed-race children demand recognition in the U.S. family. In the story “A Half Caste” (1899) in particular, Eaton merges the interracial love story with a familial reunification plot in order to make the controversial claim that the threat of incest may be productive, serving as the means by which the half-caste can secure her rights as daughter and citizen. In Eaton’s fiction, the moment of incestuous desire and its disclosure occasions recognition of the half-caste’s rights as a member of the family and, by extension, as a citizen of the American “fatherland.”

The term “half-caste,” which was invented to define the mixed-race children of European fathers and Indian mothers on the subcontinent, relies upon the entrenched gendering of raced bodies and the racialization of women. In America as in Europe, masculinity and fatherhood have long been associated with the West, while femininity and motherhood have been aligned with racial and cultural Otherness. In the United States, ever since Commodore Matthew Perry “opened” Japan to American trade in 1853, American audiences have responded enthusiastically to the image of an American captain penetrating the mystical, oriental East via military and economic might‚ÄĒsymbolized by the cannons extending from Commodore Perry’s ships when he entered Tokyo Bay. This “scenario” of Western political-sexual conquest, to use Diana Taylor’s term for the “predictable, formulaic, hence repeatable” forms that tropes of…

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‘Romance of Race’ reveals rich cultural history

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-02-19 02:25Z by Steven

‘Romance of Race’ reveals rich cultural history

BGSU News
Bowling Green, Ohio
Thursday, 2013-02-14

A new book by Dr. Jolie Sheffer is further confirmation that one should never doubt the power of the pen. “The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1890-1930,” published in January by Rutgers University Press, explains the role of minority women writers and reformers in the creation of modern American multiculturalism.

Like their male counterparts Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo in Europe, these authors provided their largely middle-class, female readers an intimate and sympathetic look at people with whose lives they were otherwise unfamiliar. Through stories of romances between white men and minority women told in human terms, authors such as Mar√≠a Cristina Mena, Mourning Dove, Onoto Watanna and Pauline Hopkins created a vision of the United States as a mixed-race, even incestuous nation, says Sheffer, English and American culture studies…

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The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2012-09-23 02:44Z by Steven

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930

Rutgers University Press
January 2013
240 pages
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8135-5462-4
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8135-5463-1
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8135-5464-8

Jolie A. Sheffer, Associate Professor, English and American Culture Studies
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

In the United States miscegenation is not merely a subject of literature and popular culture. It is in many ways the foundation of contemporary imaginary community. The Romance of Race examines the role of minority women writers and reformers in the creation of our modern American multiculturalism.

The national identity of the United States was transformed between 1880 and 1930 due to mass immigration, imperial expansion, the rise of Jim Crow, and the beginning of the suffrage movement. A generation of women writers and reformers‚ÄĒparticularly women of color‚ÄĒcontributed to these debates by imagining new national narratives that put minorities at the center of American identity.¬†Jane Addams, Pauline Hopkins, Onoto Watanna (Winnifred Eaton), Mar√≠a Cristina Mena, and Mourning Dove (Christine Quintasket) embraced the images of the United States‚ÄĒand increasingly the world‚ÄĒas an interracial nuclear family. They also reframed public debates through narratives depicting interracial encounters as longstanding, unacknowledged liaisons between white men and racialized women that produced an incestuous, mixed-race nation.

By mobilizing the sexual taboos of incest and miscegenation, these women writers created political allegories of kinship and community. Through their criticisms of the nation’s history of exploitation and colonization, they also imagined a more inclusive future. As Jolie A. Sheffer identifies the contemporary template for American multiculturalism in the works of turn-of-the century minority writers, she uncovers a much more radical history than has previously been considered.

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