Mixed-Race Identity in the American South: Roots, Memory, and Family Secrets

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2022-02-21 21:41Z by Steven

Mixed-Race Identity in the American South: Roots, Memory, and Family Secrets

Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield)
May 2021
236 pages
6½ x 9
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-7936-2706-3
eBook ISBN: 978-1-7936-2707-0

Julia Sattler, Assistant Professor of American Studies
TU Dortmund University, Dortmund, Germany

This interdisciplinary investigation argues that since the 1990s, discourses about mixed-race heritage in the United States have taken the shape of a veritable literary genre, here termed “memoir of the search.”

The study uses four different texts to explore this non-fictional genre, including Edward Ball’s Slaves in the Family and Shirlee Taylor Haizlip’s The Sweeter the Juice. All feature a protagonist using methods from archival investigation to DNA-testing to explore an intergenerational family secret; photographs and family trees; and the trip to the American South, which is identified as the site of the secret’s origin and of the family’s past. As a genre, these texts negotiate the memory of slavery and segregation in the present.

In taking up central narratives of Americanness, such as the American Dream and the Immigrant story, as well as discourses generating the American family, the texts help inscribe themselves and the mixed-race heritage they address into the American mainstream.

In its outlook, this book highlights the importance of the memoirs’ negotiations of the past when finding ways to remember after the last witnesses have passed away. and contributes to the discussion over political justice and reparations for slavery.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Memoir of the Search: The Emergence of a Mixed-Race Literary Genre
  • Chapter 1: Writing Mixed Selves at the Turn of the Millennium
  • Chapter 2: Family Secrets: Uncovering Mixed Race Heritage
  • Chapter 3: Media of Memory: Generating the Family
  • Chapter 4: Narrating the Mixed-Race Nation
  • Chapter 5: The Past in the Present: Encounters with the South
  • Conclusion: Making History at the Turn of the Millennium
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Finding Grace: Two Sisters and the Search for Meaning Beyond the Color Line

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2012-04-29 17:19Z by Steven

Finding Grace: Two Sisters and the Search for Meaning Beyond the Color Line

Simon & Schuster
July 2007
296 pages
Paperback ISBN-10: 0743200543; ISBN-13: 9780743200547

Shirlee Taylor Haizlip

In her widely acclaimed, bestselling memoir, The Sweeter the Juice, Shirlee Taylor Haizlip asked us to redefine our concepts of race and family by examining her biracial heritage—how different gradations of dark and light skin led to a split in her mother’s nuclear family, and how various relatives have been reunited many years later, some of them previously unaware of their layered racial makeup. In this eloquent, moving, and eagerly awaited continuation of her story, Haizlip pushes further into the fascinating terrain of family, race, and racial passing. Just over ten years ago, Haizlip’s African American mother was reunited with her sister, who had spent her whole life passing for white; both women were in their eighties and had not seen or heard anything about each other since early childhood. Now Haizlip answers the many questions that linger from the previous book: What happened between these long-separated sisters after their reunion? What did they learn about each other, and about themselves? Is it possible to heal the wounds caused by such a rift?

In rich, elegant prose, Haizlip contrasts her mother’s fulfilling adult life with her aunt’s solitary white existence. They lived on opposite sides of the race line, but both women, says Haizlip, were plagued by “America’s twin demons: a paranoia about purity and an anxiety about authenticity.” These women and other members of the author’s extended family come vividly, achingly to life in these pages, turning this astute cultural investigation into a poignant, delightful, and highly personal narrative. Haizlip deftly, fluidly conveys the complexities of this story—the sadness, comedy, danger, anger, confusion, shame, fear, longing, excitement, and joy of her family’s rupture and reunion. We learn how Haizlip’s mother’s abandonment by members of her immediate family affected her daily life; we learn about the lives of relatives who left her behind, and of the members of succeeding generations who knew of the rift, and of those who did not.

Haizlip’s readers, too, appear here—after The Sweeter the Juice, Haizlip was flooded by letters in which people shared similar family stories of bi-racial heritage, passing, and the eventual revelation of an extended racial makeup. She includes some of these letters here, affirming that her own seemingly unusual tale is actually a very familiar, very American story: of the tumultuous, complicated interactions between black and white communities and individuals—interactions marked by fear and distrust, but also by camaraderie, ardor, and love. In sharing her own and her readers’ stories, Haizlip forges a new picture of America’s hidden racial past and its multihued future. Passionate, indomitable, and always generous toward her subjects, Haizlip explores what happens when the race divide exists within one family, and the effect of secret racial histories and their revelation on individuals and America at large.


  • Part I When the Rainbow Is Not Enough
    • Prologue
    • 1. A Twice-Told Tale
    • 2. The Gift
    • 3. The Etiology of Passing
    • 4. Visible and Invisible
    • 5. Passport to Privilege
    • 6. A Place Beyond Loss
    • 7. Creating a New Vocabulary
    • 8. In the Best of Families
    • 9. A Whiter Shade of White
    • 10. The Indian Who Wasn’t
    • 11. Tracking Will
    • 12. Life Review
    • 13. Eyes Other than Our Own
    • 14. Unexpected Encounters of Kith and Kin
  • Part II Relativity
    • 15. In Their Own Voices
  • Part III The Color of Letters
    • 16. Open Hearts, Open Minds
    • 17. The Last Word
  • Epilogue
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Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2012-04-24 04:10Z by Steven

Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White

Simon & Schuster
January 1995
272 pages
ISBN-10: 0671899333
ISBN-13: 9780671899332

Shirlee Haizlip

The Sweeter the Juice is a provocative memoir that goes to the heart of our American identity. Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, in an effort to reconcile the dissonance between her black persona and her undeniably multiracial heritage, started on a journey of discovery that took her over thousands of miles and hundreds of years. While searching for her mother’s family, Haizlip confronted the deeply intertwined but often suppressed tensions between race and skin color.

We are drawn in by the story of an African-American family. Some members chose to “cross over” and “pass” for white while others enjoyed a successful black life. Their stories weave a tale of tangled ancestry, mixed blood, and identity issues from the 17th century to the present. The Sweeter the Juice is a memoir, a social history, a biography, and an autobiography. Haizlip gives to us the quintessential American story, unveiling truths about race, about our society, and about the ways in which we all perceive and judge one another.

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“This damned business of colour”: Passing in African American novels and memoirs

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-04-24 03:26Z by Steven

“This damned business of colour”: Passing in African American novels and memoirs

Lehigh University
230 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3167071
ISBN: 9780542026218

Irina C. Negrea

Presented to the Graduate and Research Committee of Lehigh University in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English

The topic of this dissertation is an analysis of racial passing, as depicted in the novels The House Behind the Cedars by Charles Chesnutt, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, by James Weldon Johnson, and Passing by Nella Larsen, as well as in the memoirs The Sweeter the Juice by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, Notes of a White Black Woman by Judy Scales-Trent, and Life on the Color Line by Gregory Williams.

Starting from the premise that passing is a complex phenomenon that reinforces and subverts the racial system simultaneously, this dissertation focuses on the subversive side of passing that comes to light especially when the passer is found out—a side that becomes obvious in the reactions it provokes in white racists: horror, fear, disgust, and insecurity.

One other new element that this dissertation brings into the field is a classification of passing that can be used as a tool for the analysis of similar literary works. The majority of passers fall into one of two categories: identificatory and performative. Identificatory passing is predicated on the passer’s identification with the white ideology. It is permanent, and the passer breaks all ties with his/her African American ancestry. At the other end of the spectrum is performative passing, based on the view of race as performance—a matter of props, makeup, and/or behavior. The passer crosses the color line and “acts” white, but in most cases, s/he does not break his/her ties with his/her African American roots and community. Rather, the performative passer tries to acknowledge both his/her racial identities, refusing to be boxed in one narrow racial category. These types of passing do not exist in a “pure” state; there are characters who start as performers of race and end up identifying with whiteness, for example, but the two basic types exist, in one combination or another, in all the stories of passing ever written. These two different types of passing engender different types of subversion of the racial system, and they are discussed as well in this dissertation.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter I: “Gone Over on the Other Side:” Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars
  • Chapter II: “They Wouldn’t Know you from White:” The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  • Chapter III: “They Always Come Back:” Nella Larsen’s Passing
  • Chapter IV: The Family’s “Heart of Darkness:” Passing in African American Memoirs
  • Bibliography

Purchase the dissertation here.

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