Passing Interest: Racial Passing in US Novels, Memoirs, Television, and Film, 1990–2010

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2014-08-18 02:28Z by Steven

Passing Interest: Racial Passing in US Novels, Memoirs, Television, and Film, 1990–2010

State University of New York Press
July 2014
352 pages
Hardcover ISBN13: 978-1-4384-5227-2
Electronic ISBN13: 978-1-4384-5229-6

Edited by:

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

Explores how the trope of racial passing continues to serve as a touchstone for gauging public beliefs and anxieties about race in this multiracial era.

The first volume to focus on the trope of racial passing in novels, memoirs, television, and films published or produced between 1990 and 2010, Passing Interest takes the scholarly conversation on passing into the twenty-first century. With contributors working in the fields of African American studies, American studies, cultural studies, film studies, literature, and media studies, this book offers a rich, interdisciplinary survey of critical approaches to a broad range of contemporary passing texts. Contributors frame recent passing texts with a wide array of cultural discourses, including immigration law, the Post-Soul Aesthetic, contemporary political satire, affirmative action, the paradoxes of “colorblindness,” and the rhetoric of “post-racialism.” Many explore whether “one drop” of blood still governs our sense of racial identity, or to what extent contemporary American culture allows for the racially indeterminate individual. Some essays open the scholarly conversation to focus on “ethnic” passers—individuals who complicate the traditional black-white binary—while others explore the slippage between traditional racial passing and related forms of racial performance, including blackface minstrelsy and racial masquerade.

Table of Contents

  • Preface: The “Posts” of Passing / Gayle Wald
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Introduction: The (Not So) New Face of America / Julie Cary Nerad
  • 2. On the Margins of Movement: Passing in Three Contemporary Memoirs / Irina Negrea
  • 3. “A Cousin to Blackness”: Race and Identity in Bliss Broyard’s One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life / Lynn Washington and Julie Cary Nerad
  • 4. Can One Really Choose? Passing and Self-Identification at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century / JenĂ© Schoenfeld
  • 5. Passing in Blackface: The Intimate Drama of Post-Racialism on Black. White / Eden Osucha
  • 6. Broke Right in Half: Passing of/in Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone / Julie Cary Nerad
  • 7. Passing for Chicano, Passing for White: Negotiating Filipino American Identity in Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son / Amanda Page
  • 8. Race in the Marketplace: Postmodern Passing and Ali G / Ana Cristina Mendes
  • 9. Passing for Black, White, and Jewish: Mixed-Race Identity in Rebecca Walker and Danzy Senna / Lori Harrison-Kahan
  • 10. Smiling Faces: Chameleon Street, Racial Passing/Performativity, and Film Blackness / Michael B. Gillespie
  • 11. Consuming Performances: Race, Media, and the Failure of the Cultural Mulatto in Bamboozled and Erasure / Meredith McCarroll
  • Bibliography
  • Contributor Biographies
  • Index
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Passing for White, Passing for Jewish: Mixed Race Identity in Danzy Senna and Rebecca Walker

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Passing, Religion, United States on 2014-05-23 17:15Z by Steven

Passing for White, Passing for Jewish: Mixed Race Identity in Danzy Senna and Rebecca Walker

MELUS
Volume 30, Number 1, Indeterminate Identities (Spring, 2005)
pages 19-48
DOI: 10.1093/melus/30.1.19

Lori Harrison-Kahan, Associate Professor of the Practice of English
Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

Imitation of Life, one of the classic narratives of racial passing, originated as a 1933 novel by Jewish writer Fannie Hurst, but it is perhaps best known as the 1959 melodrama directed by Douglas Sirk inducing finale of the Sirk film, the prodigal black daughter, who has crossed the color line and passed for white, returns home for her mother’s funeral, collapsing in tears on the coffin as she blames herself for her mother’s death. Despite the progress of racial politics between the publication of Hurst’s novel and the release of Sirk’s film, whiteness continues to be positioned as the privileged identity, a positioning that the 1959 adaptation successfully critiques. In the film, the light-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane Johnson, reviles her blackness as an object of self-hatred from a young age. Given a black doll by her white playmate, Susie, Sarah Jane throws the gift to the floor, crying, “I don’t want the black one.” The camera seizes upon the image of the rejected doll, foreshadowing the inevitable events to come: Sarah Jane’s forsaking of her dark-skinned mother in order to reinvent herself as a white woman. With her story’s heartbreaking ending, Sarah Jane becomes yet another tragic mulatta, joining the ranks of mixed race women in American literature and culture who typically meet bitter fates for their transgressions of the color line.

Almost forty years later, however, the narrative of passing does, finally, experience a significant shift. In contrast to most literary and cultural representations of passing, Danzy Senna’s 1998 novel,…

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The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Judaism, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Religion on 2013-01-01 03:29Z by Steven

The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary (review)

Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
Volume 31, Number 1, Fall 2012
pages 206-208
DOI: 10.1353/sho.2012.0123

Andrea Levine
George Washington University

This volume’s title signals its central critical intervention, a challenge to the masculine biases that have shaped studies of minstrelsy and of cross-racial appropriation and desire more broadly. Most conspicuously, Lori Harrison-Kahan takes on the influential paradigm established by Michael Rogin in his 1996 Blackface, White Noise. Rogin, of course, argues that early twentieth-century Jewish blackface performances worked to confirm the still-contested “whiteness” of Jewish entertainers, a “true” whiteness that presumably resided beneath the “mask” of blackface.

Harrison-Kahan, in fact, identifies Rogin’s paradigm as one of two predominant, “oppositional,” modes of reading Jewish investment in black culture; in the second paradigm, which she traces back at least to Irving Howe, Jews “empathetically identify” with black suffering (p. 4). In practice, though, she contends much more consistently with Rogin’s well-known charges of appropriation and exploitation.

The White Negress demonstrates that once we begin to look at women’s engagement with “cross-cultural exchange” (p. 15), these transactions appear far more nuanced than such binary approaches allow. Harrison-Kahan reads a number of early twentieth-century Jewish American women’s texts and performances as invested less in claiming “whiteness” than in destabilizing it, in part through assertions—if frequently ambivalent ones—of Jewish identity. Her analysis places considerable weight on the resistance to sanctioned gender and sexual roles on the part of such Jewish American female performers and writers as Sophie Tucker and Fannie Hurst. The author also revises “unidirectional” narratives of Jewish American cultural appropriations of “blackness,” suggesting that scholars should acknowledge the more “reciprocal” transactions that obtain among African American and Jewish American cultural producers and historical actors. So, for instance, she reads Zora Neale Hurston’s 1939 novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain, as a send-up, rather than a reinscription, of minstrel conventions, one that explores both the power dynamics and the mutual “cross-identifications” that attended Black-Jewish coalitions in the early years of the civil rights movement.

In another acute challenge to prevailing scholarship, Harrison-Kahan argues that the racial politics of Edna Ferber’s Showboat look quite different when one reads the novel that served as the basis for the Broadway musical, much-maligned for its traffic in sentimental and demeaning representations of African American characters. Harrison-Kahan emphasizes the novel’s “pluralistic” rendering of Jewishness and its emphasis on racial “mixing.” Similarly, she re-reads Hurst’s 1933 novel, Imitation of Life, which provided the basis for both the 1934 and 1959 film versions, texts far more familiar to most scholars than Hurst’s original novel. Harrison-Kahan argues that Hurst’s novel interrogates and exposes the commodification of “blackness” on which its protagonist’s business rests—and that these challenges to racial stereotypes work in conjunction with the challenges that Bea Pullman, as a “working woman,” poses to normative scripts of white femininity and maternity. As in the chapter on Ferber, the author makes a persuasive case for the under-examination of Hurst as a Jewish American author, in part because her biography deviated from that of the largely New York-based Eastern European Jewish immigrants whose work dominates the Jewish American “canon,” and in part—as with so many women writers—because her work was consistently marginalized by critics for its commercial success. One might, however, suggest that even given the historical frame of Harrison-Kahan’s project, her own privileging of “working” white femininity as a disruptive version of femininity is rather a circumscribed choice, leaving heterosexuality, among other indices of normative femininity, largely intact.

Harrison-Kahan’s readings are subtle and deft, and to her credit, she does not over-state the radicalism of either her own approach or the texts she reconsiders. A characteristic passage reads, “Hurst’s novel thus negotiates a fine line between being an additional inculcation of the mammy myth and a commentary on it” (p. 124). Harrison-Kahan works cogently and intelligently in the ambivalent space she charts, writing in the conclusion that whiteness can be “produced and destabilized through cross-racial performances and encounters” (p. 179).

This volume makes an important contribution to a scholarly…

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Her “Nig”: Returning the Gaze of Nella Larsen’s “Passing”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations on 2011-12-21 05:21Z by Steven

 Her “Nig”: Returning the Gaze of Nella Larsen’s “Passing”

Modern Language Studies
Volume 32, Number 2 (Autumn, 2002)
pages 109-138

Lori Harrison-Kahan, Full-time Adjunct Faculty in English
Boston College

In a scene from Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, Passing, a white man, John Bellew, enters his Chicago hotel room to find his wife, Clare, taking tea with two of her childhood friends. To the astonishment of the two women, Bellew greets his wife with an unusual pet name: “Nig.” When Clare asks her husband to explain his form of address to the stunned women, he replies, “When we were first married, she was as white as—as—well as white as a lily. But I declare she’s gettin’ darker and darker. I tell her if she don’t look out, she’ll wake up one of these days and find she’s turned into a nigger” (171). The moment is rich in dramatic irony, for unbeknownst to Bellew, his wife and her two friends are African Americans who are passing as white.

Although Bellew calls his wife “Nig” as a “joke” (171), the interpellation works to erase Clare’s given name, which connotes clearness, light, and whiteness. That Clare responds to this nickname seals the process of subjection. In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon notes the power of interpellation to constitute and deform the black body through a racialized naming such as “nigger” or “Negro.” In Fanon’s famous example of racial interpellation, the cry “Look a Negro!” pairs the derogatory naming with the fixing of the look. The simultaneous gaze (“Look”) and naming (“a Negro”) freeze the black man into “an object in the midst of other objects” (109). In Passing, Clare’s husband warns her that if she “don’t look out”—…

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The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary

Posted in Books, Judaism, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Religion, United States, Women on 2011-03-07 04:36Z by Steven

The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary

Rutgers University Press
2011-01-19
248 pages, 3 photographs
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8135-4783-1
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8135-4782-4
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8135-4989-7

Lori Harrison-Kahan, Full-time Adjunct Faculty in English
Boston College

During the first half of the twentieth century, American Jews demonstrated a commitment to racial justice as well as an attraction to African American culture. Until now, the debate about whether such black-Jewish encounters thwarted or enabled Jews’ claims to white privilege has focused on men and representations of masculinity while ignoring questions of women and femininity. The White Negress investigates literary and cultural texts by Jewish and African American women, opening new avenues of inquiry that yield more complex stories about Jewishness, African American identity, and the meanings of whiteness.

Lori Harrison-Kahan examines writings by Edna Ferber, Fannie Hurst, and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as the blackface performances of vaudevillian Sophie Tucker and controversies over the musical and film adaptations of Show Boat and Imitation of Life. Moving between literature and popular culture, she illuminates how the dynamics of interethnic exchange have at once produced and undermined the binary of black and white.

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