Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy [Kuryla Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-03-29 01:39Z by Steven

Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy [Kuryla Review]

Journal of American History
Volume 105, Issue 4, March 2019
pages 1073–1074
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jaz127

Peter Kuryla, Associate Professor of History
Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee

Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy. By Alisha Gaines. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. xvi, 213 pp. Cloth, $80.00. Paper, $27.95.)

In Black for a Day Alisha Gaines shows the limitations of a specific kind of white liberal empathy. If liberalism requires that political space include others that are imagined as reasonable and therefore capable of persuasion, then empathy seems central to the project. How should people imagine these others? How should they enact their understanding of the others around them, and how does empathy work amid the tangled, complex history of race and racism in the United States? What happened when white liberals took too literally one of Gunnar Myrdal’s central conclusions in An American Dilemma (1944)—that racism was a white problem? Gaines…

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The Prism of Race: W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover [Silkey Review]

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-12-16 01:23Z by Steven

The Prism of Race: W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover [Silkey Review]

Journal of American History
Volume 103, Issue 3, December 2016
pages 822-823
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jaw452

Sarah L. Silkey, Associate Professor of History
Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania

The Prism of Race: W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover By Nico Slate. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. xviii, 246 pp. $90.00.)

Nico Slate explores the evolution of twentieth-century “colored cosmopolitanism,” an intellectual movement to unify the “colored world” around shared experiences of exploitation and oppression, through the lens of Cedric Dover’s transnational intellectual and artistic circles (pp. 17, 19). Observing how African Americans represented “a racial minority within the United States but a racial majority within the colored world,” Dover (1904–1961), a scholar and Indian nationalist of mixed-race ancestry from Calcutta, advocated “colored solidarity” as a tool for antiracist, anti-imperialist activism to achieve social justice on a global scale (p. 141). Seeking inspiration and friendship from African American intellectuals, Dover taught at Fisk…

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That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia [Smithers Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States, Virginia on 2016-12-16 00:50Z by Steven

That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia [Smithers Review]

Journal of American History
Volume 103, Issue 3, December 2016
pages 742-743
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jaw364

That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia By Arica L. Coleman. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013. xxiv, 300 pp. $45.00.)

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

Few Virginians have negatively affected the Old Dominion more than Walter Ashby Plecker. In his role as registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, a position he held from 1912 to 1946, Plecker oversaw a campaign to preserve the racial “purity” of Virginia’s white population and divide African Americans, Native Americans, and Caucasians along a black-white binary. To that end, Plecker was not only evangelical in his calls for the separation of the races but was also one of the founding members of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America and, with John Powell and Earnest Sevier Cox, played a pivotal role…

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Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of “Race” in Twentieth-Century America

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2014-04-09 22:33Z by Steven

Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of “Race” in Twentieth-Century America

The Journal of American History
Volume 83, Number 1 (June, 1996)
pages 44-69

Peggy Pascoe (1954-2010), Beekman Professor of Northwest and Pacific History
University of Oregon

On March 21, 1921, Joe Kirby took his wife, Mayellen, to court. The Kirbys had been married for seven years, and Joe wanted out. Ignoring the usual option of divorce, he asked for an annulment, charging that his marriage had been invalid from its very beginning because Arizona law prohibited marriages between “persons of Caucasian blood, or their descendants” and “negroes, Mongolians or Indians, and their descendants.” Joe Kirby claimed that while he was “a person of the Caucasian blood,” his wife, Mayellen, was “a person of negro blood.”

Although Joe Kirby’s charges were rooted in a well-established—and tragic—tradition of American miscegenation law, his court case quickly disintegrated into a definitional dispute that bordered on the ridiculous. The first witness in the case was Joe’s mother, Tula Kirby, who gave her testimony in Spanish through an interpreter. Joe’s lawyer laid out the case by asking Tula Kirby a few seemingly simple questions:

Joe’s lawyer: To what race do you belong?
Tula Kirby: Mexican.
Joe’s lawyer: Are you white or have you Indian blood?
Kirby: I have no Indian blood.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Joe’s lawyer: Do you know the defendant [Mayellen] Kirby?
Kirby: Yes.

Joe’s lawyer: To what race does she belong?
Kirby: Negro.

Then the cross-examination began.

Mayelien’s lawyer: Who was your father?
Kirby: Jose Romero.
Mayelien’s lawyer: Was he a Spaniard?
Kirby: Yes, a Mexican.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Was he born in Spain?
Kirby: No, he was born in Sonora.
Mayellen’s lawyer: And who was your mother?
Kirby: Also in Sonora.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Was she a Spaniard?
Kirby: She was on her fathers side.
Mayelien’s lawyer: And what on her mother’s side?
Kirby: Mexican.
Mayellen’s lawyer: What do you mean by Mexican, Indian, a native [?]
Kirby: I don’t know what is meant by Mexican.
Mayellen’s lawyer: A native of Mexico?
Kirby: Yes, Sonora, all of us.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Who was your grandfather on your father’s side?
Kirby: He was a Spaniard.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Who was he?
Kirby: His name was Ignacio Quevas.
Mayellen’s lawyer: Where was he born?
Kirby: That I don’t know. He was my grandfather.
Mayellen’s lawyer: How do you know he was a [S]paniard then?
Kirby: Because he told me ever since I had knowledge that he was a Spaniard.

Next the questioning turned to Tula’s opinion about Mayellen Kirby’s racial identity.

Mayellen’s lawyer: You said Mrs. [Mayellen] Kirby was a negress. What do you know about Mrs. Kirby’s family?
Kirby: I distinguish her by her color and the hair; that is all I do know.

The second witness in the trial was Joe Kirby, and by the time he took the stand, the people in the courtroom knew they were in murky waters. When Joe’s lawyer opened with the question “What race do you belong to?,” Joe answered “Well . . . ,” and paused, while Mayellen’s lawyer objected to the question on the ground that it called for a conclusion by the witness. “Oh, no,” said the judge, “it is a matter of pedigree.” Eventually allowed to answer the question, Joe said, “I belong to the white race I suppose.” Under cross-examination, he described his father as having been of the “Irish race,” although he admitted, “I never knew any one of his people.”

Stopping at the brink of this morass, Joe’s lawyer rested his case. He told the judge he had established that Joe was “Caucasian.” Mayellen’s lawyer scoffed, claiming that Joe had “failed utterly to prove his case” and arguing that “[Joe’s] mother has admitted that. She has [testified] that she only claims a quarter Spanish blood; the rest of it is native blood.” At this point the court intervened. “I know,” said the judge, “but that does not signify anything.”

From the Decline and Fall of Scientific Racism to an Understanding of Modernist Racial Ideology

The Kirbys’ case offers a fine illustration of Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s observation that, although most Americans are sure they know “race” when they see it, very few can offer a definition of the term. Partly for this reason, the questions of what “race” signifies and what signifies “race” are as important for scholars today as they were for the participants in Kirby v. Kirby seventy-five years ago. Historians have a long—and recently a distinguished—record of exploring this question. Beginning in the 1960s, one notable group charted the rise and fall of scientific racism among American intellectuals. Today, their successors, more likely to be schooled in social than intellectual history, trace the social construction of racial ideologies, including the idea of “whiteness,” in a steadily expanding range of contexts.

Their work has taught us a great deal about racial thinking in American history.  We can trace the growth of racism among antebellum immigrant workers and free-soil northern Republicans; we can measure its breadth in late-nineteenth-century segregation and the immigration policies of the 1920s. We can follow the rise of Anglo-Saxonism from Manifest Destiny through the Spanish-American War and expose the appeals to white supremacy in woman suffrage speeches. We can relate all these developments (and more) to the growth and elaboration of scientific racist attempts to use biological characteristics to scout for racial hierarchies in social life, levels of civilization, even language.

Yet the range and richness of these studies all but end with the 1920s. In contrast to historians of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century United States, historians of the nation in the mid- to late-twentieth century seem to focus on racial ideologies only when they are advanced by the far Right (as in the Ku Klux Klan) or by racialized groups themselves (as in the Harlem Renaissance or black nationalist movements). To the extent that there is a framework for surveying mainstream twentieth-century American racial ideologies, it is inherited from the classic histories that tell of the post-1920s decline and fall of scientific racism. Their final pages link the demise of scientific racism to the rise of a vanguard of social scientists led by the cultural anthropologist Franz Boas: when modern social science emerges, racism runs out of intellectual steam. In the absence of any other narrative, this forms the basis for a commonly held but rarely examined intellectual trickle-down theory in which the attack on scientific racism emerges in universities in the 1920s and eventually, if belatedly, spreads to courts in the 1940s and 1950s and to government policy in the 1960s and 1970s.

A close look at such incidents as the Kirby case, however, suggests a rather different historical trajectory, one that recognizes that the legal system does more than just reflect social or scientific ideas about race; it also produces and reproduces them. By following a trail marked by four miscegenation cases —the seemingly ordinary Kirby v. Kirby (1922) and Estate of Monks (1941) and the path breaking Perez v. Lippold (1948) and Loving v. Virginia (1967)—this article will examine the relation between modern social science, miscegenation law, and twentieth-century American racial ideologies, focusing less on the decline of scientific racism and more on the emergence of new racial ideologies.

In exploring these issues, it helps to understand that the range of nineteenth- century racial ideologies was much broader than scientific racism. Accordingly, I have chosen to use the term racialism to designate an ideological complex that other historians often describe with the terms “race” or “racist.” I intend the term racialism to be broad enough to cover a wide range of nineteenth-century ideas, from the biologically marked categories scientific racists employed to the more amorphous ideas George M. Fredrickson has so aptly called ‘romantic racialism.” Used in this way, “racialism” helps counter the tendency of twentieth-century observers to perceive nineteenth-century ideas as biologically “determinist” in some simple sense. To racialists (including scientific racists), the important point was not that biology determined culture (indeed, the split between the two was only dimly perceived), but that race, understood as an indivisible essence that included not only biology but also culture, morality, and intelligence, was a compellingly significant factor in history and society.

My argument is this: During the 1920s, American racialism was challenged by several emerging ideologies, all of which depended on a modern split between biology and culture. Between the 1920s and the 1960s, those competing ideologies were winnowed down to the single, powerfully persuasive belief that the eradication of racism depends on the deliberate non-recognition of race. I will call that belief modernist racial ideology to echo the self-conscious “modernism” of social scientists, writers, artists, and cultural rebels of the early twentieth century. When historians mention this phenomenon, they usually label it “antiracist” or “egalitarian” and describe it as in stark contrast to the “racism” of its predecessors. But in the new legal scholarship called critical race theory, this same ideology, usually referred to as “color blindness,” is criticized by those who recognize that it, like other racial ideologies, can be turned to the service of oppression.

Modernist racial ideology has been widely accepted; indeed, it compels nearly as much adherence in the late-twentieth-century United States as racialism did in the late nineteenth century. It is therefore important to see it not as what it claims to be—the non-ideological end of racism—but as a racial ideology of its own, whose history shapes many of today’s arguments about the meaning of race in American society…

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The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880–1930; 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, 1880–1930; 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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Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Localism, and Exclusion in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands [DeLeĂłn Review]

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2013-09-02 23:37Z by Steven

Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Localism, and Exclusion in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands [DeLeĂłn Review]

Journal of American History
Volume 99, Issue 4 (March 2013)
page 1284
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jas678

Arnoldo DeLeĂłn, Professor of History
Angelo State University, San Angelo Texas

Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Localism, and Exclusion in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. By Grace Peña Delgado. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012. xvi, 304 pp.

Several theses drive this book’s narrative, among them are three that the author develops scrupulously. First, international and national influences shaped the histories of the borderlands of Arizona and Sonora. Migration—created in the nineteenth century by civil war in China and global demands for labor—brought the Chinese to the United States and Mexico. Chinese communities sprouted in both countries by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, though they were more successful in Mexico where the Chinese established themselves as merchants. Commerce among these businessmen involved crossing borders and…

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The House on Bayou Road: Atlantic Creole Networks in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2013-06-04 18:18Z by Steven

The House on Bayou Road: Atlantic Creole Networks in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The Journal of American History
Volume 100, Issue 1 (June 2013)
pages 21-45
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jat082

Pierre Force, Professor of French and History
Columbia University

n 1813 a free man of color named Charles Decoudreau living in New Orleans went to court to repossess a house on the edge of town he had sold two years before to Charles Lamerenx, a white man from Saint Domingue. Despite being on opposite sides of a racial divide, the men and their families had much in common as “Atlantic creoles.” In this study, I test the meaning and explanatory power of Ira Berlin’s concept of “Atlantic creole” by telling the story of two families, one “black” and one “white,” whose paths briefly crossed in New Orleans in 1811.

Berlin’s work on “Atlantic creoles” is a powerful intervention in this field because it begins by telling a familiar story and proceeds with a much less familiar one. The familiar story is that of Africans being forcibly taken to America and stripped of their African identities, and developing a new creole or African American culture that was the product of their experience as slaves working in the plantations. Important as this story is, it captures “only a portion of the history of black life in colonial North America, and that imperfectly.” The story as usually told begins with an unadulterated “African” identity that was somehow erased or transformed by the experience of slavery and gave way to a creole identity that was a mix of various African, European, and Native American components. Inverting this story of origins, Berlin shows that the Africans of the charter generations were always already creole: their experiences and attitudes “were more akin to that of confident, sophisticated natives than of vulnerable newcomers.” Atlantic creoles originated in the encounters between Europeans and Africans on the western coast of Africa, starting in the fifteenth century, well before Christopher Columbus sailed to America. In a few coastal enclaves, …

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Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego [FitzGerald Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-05-02 17:17Z by Steven

Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego [FitzGerald Review]

Journal of American History
Volume 99, Issue 4 (2013)
pages 1285-1286
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jas672

David FitzGerald, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of California, San Diego

Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego. By Rudy P. Guevarra Jr. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012. xiv, 239 pp.)

I recently bought a house in San Diego whose records included a 1945 racial covenant stating that houses in the neighborhood would never be sold or occupied to “persons not of the white or Caucasian race.” The original owners would have been distressed to learn that the house was sold to me by a Jewish and Vietnamese American couple and that one of the Mexican kids on the block boasts of learning Amharic from his Ethiopian classmates. Rudy P. Guevarra Jr.’s book helped me understand the historical changes on my own street and draw broader lessons about U.S. immigration and ethnicity.

Guevarra, a fourth-generation Mexipino from San Diego, makes major contributions to scholarship on the history of immigration to California and the history of San Diego as he tells the forgotten story of ethnic mixing of thousands at Filipinos and Mexicans. Drawing on oral histories, census data, newspapers, and public records, he explains how a hostile racial atmosphere anchored in discriminatory law and hiring practices brought these two marginalized populations together. After the U.S. colonization…

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Shifting Boundaries of Race and Ethnicity: Indian-Black Intermarriage in Southern New England, 1760-1880

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2013-03-07 20:11Z by Steven

Shifting Boundaries of Race and Ethnicity: Indian-Black Intermarriage in Southern New England, 1760-1880

The Journal of American History
Volume 85, Number 2 (September, 1998)
pages 466-501

Daniel R. Mandell, Professor of History
Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri

In the century following the American Revolution, Indians in southern New England struggled to survive as communities, families, and individuals, in the face of prejudice and the region’s rapidly shifting social and economic landscape. Their struggle was shaped by intermarriage with “foreigners & strangers,” mostly African American men. The persistence, adaptation, and acculturation of particular ethnic groups, and the assimilation of members of those groups, are not unusual topics of study for historians, sociologists, and anthropologists. But the story of New England Indians in the early republic is unusual because it took place on the side of America’s racial line where few studies of ethnicity have gone. Examining relations between Indians and blacks in southern New England illuminates the fundamental flaws of a bichromatic view of racial relations in American history, and it offers new insight into the complexity and uncertainty of ethnic identity and assimilation…

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Miscegenation and the Free Negro in Antebellum “Anglo” Alabama: A Reexamination of Southern Race Relations

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2012-01-29 02:42Z by Steven

Miscegenation and the Free Negro in Antebellum “Anglo” Alabama: A Reexamination of Southern Race Relations

The Journal of American History
Volume 68, Number 1 (June 1981)
pages 16-34

Gary B. Mills (1944-2002), Associate Professor of History
University of Alabama, Gadsden

More than a quarter-century ago, the southern historian Frank L. Owsley predicted: “If the history of every county, or even smaller community in every Southern State would be written from the basic sources, a history of the South would emerge vastly different from any previously written.” A new generation of historians has accepted this challenge, returning to those long-neglected basic sources. While their approach has been more topical than geographical (as Owsley suggested), the results have definitely called into question many of the standard interpretations of the antebellum South.

The southern free Negro—and the miscegenation that is credited with producing him—may serve as an excellent case at point. Traditional interpretations of his genesis and evolution generally have followed a monolithic pattern As a class, by and large, he owed his existence to libidinous, but conscience-stricken, white planters—male planters, necessarily, since the unwritten double-standard of southern white society winked at white male exploitation of Negro women but tolerated no sexual relations that hinted of racial equality, such as white female relations with Negro males or legal interracial marriages Within free Negro society, allegedly, the family unit was unstable, due as much to the pattern of sexual incontinency that slavery forced upon blacks as to the desire of free black women to breed lighter offspring who might pass into white society. As a class, the free black is believed to have been a threat to the institution of slavery. Thus his contacts with slaves were limited, he was ostracized by white society (with the occasional exception of white immigrants and urban working-class whites), and he was all but legis lated out of existence.

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