Allyson Hobbs. A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. [Smith-Pryor Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-12-29 02:43Z by Steven

Allyson Hobbs. A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. [Smith-Pryor Review]

The American Historical Review
Volume 120, Issue 5, December 2015
pages 1903-1904
DOI: 10.1093/ahr/120.5.1903

Elizabeth M. Smith-Pryor, Associate Professor of History
Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

Allyson Hobbs. A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. 382. $29.95.

In A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, Allyson Hobbs provides a well-written and sweeping overview of the phenomenon of passing from the colonial era through the present. With five chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue Hobbs charts a “longue duree” (27) of passing as white, while tracing its connections to changing meanings of race and racial identity in America. Drawn to the topic through her own family stories of long lost relatives, Hobbs contends too many historians and literary scholars only view passing as an act that leads to the benefits of whiteness. Instead, Hobbs suggests we cannot fully understand passing without “reckoning with loss, alienation, and isolation that accompanied, and often outweighed, its rewards” (6). For, Hobbs argues, “the core issue of passing” is not becoming white but losing a black identity (18). Consequently, she suggests the study of passing allows us to see how people live and experience “race.”

Hobbs’s study relies on the…

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Emmanuelle Saada. Empire’s Children: Race, Filiation, and Citizenship in the French Colonies

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive on 2015-09-28 19:26Z by Steven

Emmanuelle Saada. Empire’s Children: Race, Filiation, and Citizenship in the French Colonies

The American Historical Review
Volume 118, Issue 2
pages 468-470
DOI: 10.1093/ahr/118.2.468

Gary Wilder, Associate Professor of Anthropology
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Emmanuelle Saada, Empire’s Children: Race, Filiation, and Citizenship in the French Colonies. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2012. Pp. xv, 339. Cloth $81.00, paper $27.50, e-book $27.50.

In this carefully researched and sharply argued analysis of disputes over the status of abandoned mixed-race children (mĂ©tis) in the French Empire, Emmanuelle Saada demonstrates how gendered racial logics came to subtend French republican law. Rather than seek to understand a supposed contradiction between metropolitan republicanism and colonial racism, Saada offers a persuasive account of France as an imperial republic organized partly around a form of republican racism that operated through families on embodied subjects. Drawing masterfully on archival history, legal scholarship, and political theory, she provides a welcome critique of works that treat colonial domination as mere violence as well as those that accept republican states’ own discourses about abstract universal legality being incompatible with racial particularity and concrete communities.

Saada begins with a political dilemma that was created for colonial administrators by the 1889 Nationality Law. It held that all children born on national territory to unknown parents were accorded French citizenship. Authorities feared that if this measure were to be applied automatically in the colonies, children whose filiation was uncertain and whose ways of life were more “native” than “French” would automatically become citizens. Alternatively, they worried that if this measure was ignored, biologically and culturally “French” children would be misclassified as natives and pose a potential threat to the colonial order. She argues that the entire system of colonial domination depended on social distance between “French” and “native” and legal distinction between “citizen” and “subject.” (The book provides an indispensable genealogy of these categories in the French Empire.) Administrators believed that immersion in the native milieu could lead métis to acquire dangerous social pathologies. Even worse was the fear that they could become “declassed”—socioculturally French but legally native subjects. This non-alignment of social identity and legal status risked undermining racial “dignity” and French “prestige” in the …

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Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2014-04-10 20:49Z by Steven

Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering

The American Historical Review
Volume 115, Issue 5 (December 2010)
pages 1364-1394
DOI: 10.1086/ahr.115.5.1364

William Max Nelson, Assistant Professor of History
University of Toronto

A minor nobleman from Alsace, traveling in French colonial Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) on the eve of the French and Haitian revolutions, expressed  surprise that “it has not already occurred to some ingenious speculator to monopolize … the fabrication of all mulattoes.”1 Perhaps no one had embarked upon this endeavor, the Baron de Wimpffen speculated, for fear that the metropolitan government would “take advantage of this bright idea to incorporate even the manufacture of the human race into its exclusive privilege.”2 While Wimpffen was clearly satirizing the Exclusif—the much-hated metropolitan monopoly on the trade and manufacture of natural resources and goods from the colonies—his comments reveal something that is not widely recognized about the eighteenth century: there was an understanding that the “fabrication” or “manufacture” of human beings was possible, and even desirable to some.3 Wimpffen’s words are jarring, not only because they raise the possibility that human beings could be manufactured, but also because they do so in an offhand manner, presenting it as a whimsical observation or a delicate joke rather than as a ghastly vision of control and production in which human beings are merely another raw material to be transformed. The topic of sexual relations between people of African and European descent was not an uncommon one in eighteenth-century writing about Saint-Domingue, where it was generally agreed that such unions were more prevalent than in other French colonies; Wimpffen’s comments, however, pointed beyond the usual tropes invoked against the social and moral ramifications of colonial mĂ©tissage and libertinage (miscegenation and the debased pursuit of sensual pleasure).

Although some masters seem to have profited from the sale of their own mulatto children, Wimpffen was presumably correct in believing that there were no actual businesses on Saint-Domingue that aimed to monopolize “the manufacture of the human race.”4 A decade earlier, however, two men with connections to the colonial administration—former governor-general Gabriel de Bory and a lawyer named Michel-RenĂ© Hilliard d’Auberteuil—had published works calling for a similar kind of “manufacture.” In Essai sur la population des colonies Ă  sucre (1776) and ConsidĂ©rations sur l’Ă©tat prĂ©sent de la colonie française de Saint-Domingue (1776–1777), respectively, Bory and Hilliard d’Auberteuil sketched out separate plans for the large-scale selective breeding of slaves, free people of color, and the white residents of the island.5 Neither viewed his project as a potential business venture; instead, each plan was envisioned as a solution to some of the colony’s most significant social, political, and military problems. Their proposals were not highly detailed; nor were they even the focus of the books in which they were included. Yet they remain of great historical importance because they appear to have been the first suggestions for large-scale selective breeding of humans that was meant to be carried out in a real time and place (rather than the fictional nowhere of utopias) and with the intention of creating a new racial hierarchy.

The existence of these plans raises new questions regarding the relationship between the development of ideas about the selective breeding of human beings and the development of ideas of race. Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century in Europe and the Atlantic world, a fundamental idea was emerging of race as a heritable and inescapable way of being that encompassed physical, moral, intellectual, and psychological characteristics and provided a basis for hierarchical differentiation.6 There was a considerable amount of fluidity and ambiguity within the new ideas and nomenclature, but people were gradually establishing and stabilizing many of the terms, concepts, and scientific questions that would lay the foundation for the more elaborate attempt to create a science of race in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.7 Yet even as modern ideas of race were being formed, some people apparently believed that human beings could be constructed to fit within narrowly defined categories based primarily on skin color and civil status. The possibility of a dynamic circularity in the eighteenth century between making men and making race seems not to have been previously recognized by scholars.8

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Decrying White Peril: Interracial Sex and the Rise of Anticolonial Nationalism in the Gold Coast

Posted in Africa, Articles, History, Media Archive on 2014-02-07 23:15Z by Steven

Decrying White Peril: Interracial Sex and the Rise of Anticolonial Nationalism in the Gold Coast

The American Historical Review
Volume 119, Issue 1 (February 2014)
pages 78-110
DOI: 10.1093/ahr/119.1.78

Carina E. Ray, Associate Professor of African and Afro- American Studies
Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts

In the summer and fall of 1919, the African-owned Gold Coast press was awash with news stories and impassioned commentary about the postwar race riots that had recently devastated Liverpool, Cardiff, and other major port cities in Britain. Angered by the sexual politics underlying the riots, Gold Coast commentators were quick to point out that the ports’ white rioters were not the only ones aggrieved by interracial sexual relations. Atu, a regular columnist for the Gold Coast Leader, responded to news that black men were targeted for repatriation after being attacked on the ports’ streets for “consorting with white women” by reminding his readers “that in their own country white men freely consort with coloured women, forming illicit alliances, and in many cases leaving on the coast abandoned offspring to the precarious protection of needy native families.” He continued, “It does not require much skill to diagnose the canting hypocrisy underlying” the riots, but the question now was whether “any sensible man [could] suppose that these men will return to their homes to view with complacency the spectacle of white men associated with  coloured women.” In a few short lines, Atu vivified the “tensions of empire” created  by the movement of African men between metropole and colony, and their different  systems of raced and gendered sexual access.

Not long after, the Leader published a series of commentaries under the provocative  title “Immoral Sanitation.” The unnamed author of the series’ first installment declared that unseemly sexual liaisons between African women and European men had transformed the “social life” of Sekondi, a busy coastal town in the Gold Coast’s Western Province, into “a condition of depravity.” Elsewhere in the colony,  “a woman who boldly acknowledges herself the kept mistress of a European is thrown out of society and virtually looked down upon by men and women of respectability,”  claimed the writer. In Sekondi, however, he accused “energetic advocates of this dishonourable mode of life” of enticing young women into sexual relationships with European men, whose “carnal lust” was causing the moral deterioration of the town’s womenfolk. The claims made in the “Immoral Sanitation” series, argued Leader columnist Atu, were more broadly applicable to “other parts of the country where this traffic,” which he likened to “prostitution on the part of African women by a class of white men of a low caste,” was carried on.

The Leader’s lurid tales of illicit relationships between profligate white men and debauched African women during the early twentieth century contrast sharply with historical accounts of respectable marriages between entrepreneurial African women and European men during an earlier time period in coastal West Africa. These unions produced West Africa’s prominent Afro-European trading families and are often credited with successfully integrating European men into local West African societies and empowering African women during the long period of contact preceding the nineteenth-century advent of formal colonial rule. Interracial marriages contracted in accordance with African customary law, and less frequently those recognized as lawful by the religious and administrative bodies associated with the European presence on the coast, were indeed regular features of the region’s littoral trading enclaves. Constrained by a dearth of sources, scholars have had comparatively little to say about the range of coercive and less seemly sexual encounters, including concubinage, prostitution, and rape, that also characterized the interracial sexual economies of West Africa’s coastal trading hubs. While it is difficult to speculate about native Gold Coasters’ reactions to these relationships prior to the twentieth century, scattered commentary from as early as 1902 in the Leader, the colony’s most politically radical newspaper, suggests that disquiet over them was not new. With the appearance of the “Immoral Sanitation” series and likeminded commentaries, however, this simmering discontent boiled over into full-blown condemnation of local interracial sexual relations. These rare primary sources vividly illustrate how a diverse group of politically marginalized yet highly politicized Gold Coast men from the colony’s embattled intelligentsia, along with disillusioned demobilized soldiers and seamen in post–World War I Britain, used these illicit relationships to challenge the moral legitimacy of British colonial rule. On the one hand, by portraying African women as either immoral race traitors or innocents in need of protection from predatory Europeans, these men were able to claim a leadership role as moral stewards of the nation. On the other hand, by casting European men as sexually promiscuous interlopers, they challenged the very idea that Europeans were morally suited to rule the colonial world…

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“Mulatto” women thus embodied white dependency and white power…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes, Women on 2012-03-07 21:23Z by Steven

People of mixed racial heritage, or “mulattoes,” symbolized the dependence of white men on black labor, both in the field and in the bed. Marked by their very skin color and other features as products of the white-black encounter in the South, mulatto women were obviously white and not-white, like “our white Caroline.” They were products of the long encounter between white exploiters of labor and black sources of labor, productive and reproductive. Their commodification reminded all that, in the South, every child of an enslaved mother was some form of slave laborer, an arrangement that enabled plantation slavery to function. Every enslaved man, woman, and child was a repository of reproductive capital and a source of production. The white political economy of the South would have collapsed without the legal and cultural fictions that assigned the “mulatto” and other children of African women to the created categories “black” and “enslaved.” Women like the “fair maid Martha,” and “the Yellow Girl Charlott” also, in their phenotypes, illustrated the long past of white sexual assault. “Mulatto” women thus embodied white dependency and white power, and offered men the chance to recapitulate and reexamine the past that had produced both white power and mixed-race individuals. Unwillingly, such women introduced a pornographic history, one obscene yet for that very reason more lusted-after, into the parlors, bedrooms, and above all, the markets of the elite white man’s world. They made flesh the years of white men desiring and depending on women (and men) who were supposedly less than civilized, Christian, or even human.

Edward E. Baptist, ““Cuffy,” “Fancy Maids,” and “One-Eyed Men”: Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States, 1876,” The American Historical Review, (December, 2001).

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“Cuffy,” “Fancy Maids,” and “One-Eyed Men”: Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2012-03-06 17:00Z by Steven

“Cuffy,” “Fancy Maids,” and “One-Eyed Men”:  Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States

The American Historical Review
Volume 106, Number 5 (Decenber 2001)
pages 1619-1650 (55 paragraphs)

Edward E. Baptist, Associate Professor of History
Cornell University

In January 1834, the slave trader Isaac Franklin wrote from New Orleans to his Richmond partner and slave buyer, Rice Ballard: “The fancy girl, from Charlattsvilla [Charlottesville], will you send her out or shall I charge you $1100 for her. Say quick, I wanted to see her . . . I thought that an old Robber might be satisfied with two or three maids.” Franklin implied that his partner was holding the young woman, one of many “fancy maids” handled by the firm of Franklin, Armfield, and Ballard, for his own sexual use. Unwilling, the jest implied, to share his enslaved sex objects, Ballard was keeping the desirable Charlottesville maid in Richmond instead of passing her on to his partners so that they might take their turn of pleasure. The joke, and the desire it did not seek to disguise, was business as usual. In this case, the business was a slave-trading partnership, and systematic rape and sexual abuse of slave women were part of the normal practice of the men who ran the firm—and the normal practice of many of their planter customers as well. Franklin, Armfield, and Ballard supplied field hands and carpenters to the raw new plantations of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas in the 1830s, but they also supplied planters with many a “fancy maid.” In fact, the letter quoted went on to suggest, tongue in cheek, that such women were in such heavy demand that the firm might do better selling coerced sex retail rather than wholesale. Referring to two enslaved women, Franklin mused self-indulgently on the conversion of female labor into slavers’ money: “The old Lady and Susan could soon pay for themselves by keeping a whore house.” Yet what did Franklin indulge most? Was sexual or monetary greed the trump suit in his own decision-making? Perhaps, he continued, in the vein of aggressive sexual banter that pervades the traders’ letters, the partners would rather see the house “located and established at your place, Alexandria, or Baltimore for the Exclusive benefit of the consern&[its] agents.”

Franklin and his colleagues passionately wanted “mulatto” women, and black people generally: as bodies to rape and bodies to sell. If these men were more than mere exceptions in the society in which they lived—and I shall argue that they illustrate that society’s half-denied and half-remembered assumptions about commerce and rape—then the stakes of explaining their desires are high. What sort of society did slaveowning white men create in the antebellum U.S. South? What sorts of ideas and psychological forces cemented their devotion to the supposedly pre-modern institution of racial slavery to a deep involvement in the rapid commercial expansion that reached a peak during the 1830s?

The present essay seeks to explain the ideas about slavery, rape, and commerce embedded in and produced by the passionate desires of Franklin and his partners. For some years, historians interpreting the institutions and ideology of nineteenth-century southern slavery have focused their attentions on explaining slaveholders’ paternalist defenses of their planter institution. Like some of their sources, such histories have often explicitly or implicitly portrayed the domestic slave trade as a contradiction within an otherwise stable system. Recent works have returned the issue of that trade to the forefront, arguing that the commerce in human beings was an inescapable and essential feature of the region’s pre–Civil War society and culture. In the drop of water that is the correspondence between Franklin, Ballard, and their associates, one might perceive a need to push historians’ revisions of the slave South’s whole world further still. Indeed, these men reveal themselves as being so devoted to their picture of the slave trade as a fetishized commodification of human beings that we may need to insist on such a mystification as one of the necessary bases of the economic expansion of the pre–Civil War South. They also assert, especially through their frequent discussions of the rape of light-skinned enslaved women, or “fancy maids,” their own relentlessly sexualized vision of the trade. Finally, the traders insist in accidental testimony that sexual fetishes and commodity fetishism intertwined with such intimacy that coerced sex was the secret meaning of the commerce in human beings, while commodification swelled its actors with the power of rape. Such complexities lead one to wonder if historians might do well to reinterpret the antebellum South—a society in which the slave trade was a motor of rapid geographical and economic expansion—as a complex of inseparable fetishisms…

…The white world’s obsession with black female sexuality began, of course, long before the U.S. domestic slave trade, or even the United States itself. From the beginning of the European-African encounter, attempts to claim that black female bodies were disgusting because they did not obey European gender roles rang hollow. During the seventeenth-century rise of the plantation complex, black women became by law the sexual prey of all white men. Later, would-be patriarchs of the eighteenth century, such as Virginia’s William Byrd II, attempted to exert sexual control over black women as part of wider projects of household and self-dominion. By the nineteenth century, the belief that black women were inherently sexually aggressive, in contrast to allegedly chaste white females, increased their attractiveness to white men, even as white men publicly proclaimed their disgust with African-American women and their love for the pure and passive belle. Many encounters, rather than a single Freudian trauma of infantile sexuality, shaped the complex obsession with black women. Then the rejected black female body returned in the fixation on the fancy maid.

The rise of the domestic slave trade after 1790, as new lands opened up in the South and new demands for plantation produce—namely, cotton—arose in the Atlantic world, created a particular commercialized category of enslaved women that focused white fixations. Within the trade, light-skinned or mulatto “fancy maids” became to many white men the perfect symbols of slavery’s history, while also ensuring that being “a smooth hand with Cuff” helped make one a “one-eyed man.” To men such as the slave traders discussed here, women like the Charlottesville maid evoked a process of power and pleasure, remembered and forgotten in an ambiguous, simultaneous experience parallel to that which characterized the traders’ commodity-fetish relationship to “Cuffy.” Indeed, coercion, the trade, and the pairing of sexual imagery with women of mixed African and European ancestry were always close companions. Northern and British visitors to pre–Civil War New Orleans rarely failed to write about “yellow” women, “fancy maids,” and nearly white octoroons sold as both house servants and sexual companions in the slave trade. Some observers claimed to have knowledge of special auctions at which young, attractive, usually light-skinned women were sold at rates four to five times the price of equivalent female field laborers. Travelers and other writers constantly returned to the simultaneously offensive and exciting sight of coerced interracial sex, especially between white men and light-skinned “fancy” women…

…Yet the specific white focus on “fancy” or obviously mixed-race women relentlessly returns us to the place of history, especially its memory and its understanding, as the remembering that was present in the traders’ sexual fetishes. The exploitation of enslaved women of African and mixed African-European backgrounds was a part of plantation society long before the ideology of sentimental feminine domesticity could have ever unleashed male anxieties. And the same exploitation undoubtedly contributed, in ways not yet sufficiently investigated by cultural historians, to the ideal of the independent master. The traders’ own words remind us that “land pirates” believed that they became “one-eyed men” through the rape of women who symbolized the past, present, and future of slaveowning men. This becoming was a not-so-secret history that mixed anxiety and pleasure, attraction and control. Fancy maids, more than other enslaved women, embodied a history of rape in the pre-emancipation nineteenth-century South, one that reveals white anxieties about dependence on blacks but that allowed white men to assert and reassert their power and control.

People of mixed racial heritage, or “mulattoes,” symbolized the dependence of white men on black labor, both in the field and in the bed. Marked by their very skin color and other features as products of the white-black encounter in the South, mulatto women were obviously white and not-white, like “our white Caroline.” They were products of the long encounter between white exploiters of labor and black sources of labor, productive and reproductive. Their commodification reminded all that, in the South, every child of an enslaved mother was some form of slave laborer, an arrangement that enabled plantation slavery to function. Every enslaved man, woman, and child was a repository of reproductive capital and a source of production. The white political economy of the South would have collapsed without the legal and cultural fictions that assigned the “mulatto” and other children of African women to the created categories “black” and “enslaved.” Women like the “fair maid Martha,” and “the Yellow Girl Charlott” also, in their phenotypes, illustrated the long past of white sexual assault. “Mulatto” women thus embodied white dependency and white power, and offered men the chance to recapitulate and reexamine the past that had produced both white power and mixed-race individuals. Unwillingly, such women introduced a pornographic history, one obscene yet for that very reason more lusted-after, into the parlors, bedrooms, and above all, the markets of the elite white man’s world. They made flesh the years of white men desiring and depending on women (and men) who were supposedly less than civilized, Christian, or even human.

If the presence of “mulattoes” poorly concealed dependence, in both the past and present, on black labor, the presence of fancy maids allowed white men to remember and reassert a sort of control over both past and present. The history of rape, obvious to all, though openly spoken by few, was the remembered meaning of the fetish of the “fancy maid” in the white male mind. Assaults repeated and thus confirmed a history that had produced white men who bought and sold black women and men, and had made mulattoes as well. The historic penis, the one-eyed man, of earlier generations had in fact fathered the fancy maid—creating in the flesh a symbol of the history of coerced sexuality to which white men like the slave traders could return to at will. Like the Freudian fetishisms that do not produce neuroses, this symbolic relationship was the sexualized prose of the slave traders’ world. It worked for them…

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Of Rogues and Geldings

Posted in Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-06-20 05:33Z by Steven

Of Rogues and Geldings

The American Historical Review
AHR Forum: Amalgamation and the Historical Distinctiveness of the United States
Volume 108, Number 5 (December 2003)

Barbara J. Fields, Professor of History
Columbia University

David Hollinger has performed a valuable service by insisting on the historical uniqueness of the Afro-American experience, rejecting the false history, spurious logic, and expedient politics that collapse the situations of Afro-Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and indigenous Americans into a single category. He correctly insists that there is no counterpart for any other descent group to the one-drop or any-known-ancestry rule that, with minor exceptions, has historically identified Afro-Americans. He criticizes the bankrupt politics that has resulted from treating a multi-century history of enslavement and racist persecution as a simple variation on the immigrant experience. (He might have added that the immigrants-all version of American history, while labeling as immigrants Africans and Afro-Caribbeans who arrived as slaves as well as Indians and Mexicans whose country was taken over by outsiders, omits from its central narrative persons of African descent who truly were immigrants.) And when he gets too close to some of the very misconceptions that his own analysis ought to preclude, his good sense draws him back; as when, after speculating that greater recognition of mixed-ancestry offspring might result in greater acceptance of unambiguous African ancestry, he quickly acknowledges that greater isolation is just as likely. But the focus on “ethnoracial mixture” with the suggestion that historians should “see the history of the United States as, among other things, a story of amalgamation” is a different matter. It brings to mind an anecdote about an Irishman who, when asked the way to Ballynahinch, responds: “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here at all.”

…Whether called assimilation or amalgamation, the goal of blending in the discordant element operates on the rationale rather than on the problem. Framing questions in those terms guarantees that the answers will remain entangled in racist ideology. For example, a pair of sociologists investigating the degree of Afro-Caribbean immigrants’ assimilation into American society unquestioningly adopt as their measure of assimilation the rate of intermarriage between Afro-Caribbeans and native white Americans, rather than the much higher rate of intermarriage between Afro-Caribbeans and native Afro-Americans. The American ancestry of most native Afro-Americans goes back to the seventeenth or eighteenth century, whereas native white Americans are apt to be only first or second-generation Americans. Racism thus enters unannounced and unnoticed, to define eleventh or twelfth-generation black natives as less American than the children and grandchildren of white immigrants.

The race evasion compounded by the equation of race with identity explains why the siren song of multi-racialism attracts so many people. The point is best approached by way of a question: What is wrong with racism? One answer, whose historical pedigree includes such antecedents as David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Phillip Randolph, and Martin Luther King, Jr., holds that racism is wrong because it violates the basic rights of human being and citizen. Most decent people would assent to that view, if it were put to them in so many words. But the ever-widening campaign for recognition of a “multi-racial” category of Americans suggests a different answer. What is wrong with racism, in that view, is that it subjects persons of provably mixed ancestry to the same stigma and penalties as persons of unambiguously African ancestry. The anguish of the Jean Toomer or the Anatole Broyard rests, ultimately, on a thwarted hope to be excused, on grounds of mixed ancestry, from a fate deemed entirely appropriate for persons of unambiguous African ancestry.

Such a view, for all the aura of progressivism and righteousness that currently surrounds multi-racialism, is not a cure for racism but a particularly ugly manifestation of it. For Jean Toomer and Anatole Broyard, as for today’s apostles of multi-racialism, it is mixed ancestry, rather than human status, that makes racism wrong in their case. If there is pathos in their predicament (bathos seems closer to the mark), it arises from that fact that American racism, while making no room for fractional pariahs, vaguely supposes that, logically, it ought to. White Americans have conceded little space for those claiming immunity by reason of mixed ancestry, and generally regarding passing as a particularly insidious form of deceit. The Anatole Broyard who passes without detection is like a leper who neglects to strike his clapper dish and shout “Unclean!” before approaching an inhabited area. Still, a latent strain of sentimentality has sympathized with the predicament of the person of mixed African and European ancestry: the tragic mulatto of racist literature and pop culture. Consistency seems to require that injustice be visited on the pariahs according to their quantum of pariah blood. But the imitation-of-life, tragic-mulatto plot-line works and appears tragic only if the audience simultaneously accepts two conflicting views, both racist: on the one hand, that the penalty for African taint should be proportioned to its extent; on the other, that there can be no such thing as a fractional pariah: one either is or is not…

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Tiger Woods Is Not the End of History: or, Why Sex across the Color Line Won’t Save Us All

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-02 19:08Z by Steven

Tiger Woods Is Not the End of History: or, Why Sex across the Color Line Won’t Save Us All

The American Historical Review
Volume 108, Number 5
December 2003

Henry Yu, Professor of History
University of California, Los Angeles

In December 1996, several months after Tiger Woods left Stanford University to become a professional golfer, a Sports Illustrated story entitled “The Chosen One” quoted Tiger’s father, Earl, claiming that his son was “qualified through his ethnicity” to “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.” Tiger’s mother, Kultida, agreed, asserting that, because Tiger had “Thai, African, Chinese, American Indian and European blood,” he could “hold everyone together. He is the Universal Child.” The story’s author concluded that, “when we swallow Tiger Woods, the yellow-black-red-white man, we swallow … hope in the American experiment, in the pell-mell jumbling of genes. We swallow the belief that the face of the future is not necessarily a bitter or bewildered face; that it might even, one day, be something like Tiger Woods’ face.” Building on the interest in Tiger Woods, stories about mixed-race children and intermarriage proliferated. In January 2000, both Newsweek and Time opened the millennium with cover art speculating on the multi-racial faces of America’s future. 

The celebration of Tiger Woods’ mixed descent and his widespread popularity would seem to support David Hollinger‘s argument that the history of the United States has been a successful (albeit episodic) history of “amalgamation” overcoming group differences. With Woods as a prominent example, we might even be “crazy enough to believe” the idea that eventually “racism can be ended by wholesale intermarriage,” as Hollinger hints in his concluding paragraph.  However, I would argue that focusing on “intermarriage” and “race-mixing” should bring us to a different conclusion about U.S. history, and Woods might serve as a useful prism for separating out some other important aspects of the encounter of the United States with Asia and the Pacific…

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The Mercurial Nature and Abiding Power of Race: A Transnational Family Story

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2010-01-21 21:19Z by Steven

The Mercurial Nature and Abiding Power of Race: A Transnational Family Story

The American Historical Review
Volume 108, Number 1 (February 2003)
pages 84-118

Martha Hodes, Professor of History
New York University

There are many ways to expose the mercurial nature of racial classification. Scholars of U.S. history might note, for example, that the category of “mulatto” first appeared in the federal census of 1850 and then disappeared in 1930, or they might discover that immigrants who had not thought of themselves as “black” at home in the Caribbean found themselves classified as such upon passage to the United States. Such episodes serve to unmask the instability of racial systems, yet simply marshaling evidence to prove taxonomies fickle tells only a partial story. In an effort to tell a fuller story about the workings of “race”—by which I mean principally the endeavors of racial categorization and stratification—I focus here on historical actors who crossed geographical boundaries and lived their lives within different racial systems. A vision that accounts for the experiences of sojourners and migrants illuminates the ways in which racial classification shifts across borders and thus deepens arguments about racial construction and malleability.

At the same time, however, the principal argument of this essay moves in a different direction. We tend to think of the fluid and the mutable as less powerful than the rigid and the immutable, thereby equating the exposure of unstable racial categories with an assault on the very construct of race itself. In a pioneering essay in which Barbara J. Fields took a historical analysis of the concept of race as her starting point, she contended that ideologies of race are continually created and verified in daily life. More recently, Ann Laura Stoler has challenged the assumption that an understanding of racial instability can serve to undermine racism, and Thomas C. Holt has called attention to scholars’ “general failure to probe beyond the mantra of social constructedness, to ask what that really might mean in shaping lived experience.” Hilary McD. Beckles affirms that “the analysis of ‘real experience’ and the theorising of ‘constructed representation’ constitute part of the same intellectual project.” Drawing together these theoretical strands, I argue that the scrutiny of day-to-day lives demonstrates not only the mutability of race but also, and with equal force, the abiding power of race in local settings. Neither malleability nor instability, then, necessarily diminishes the potency of race to circumscribe people’s daily lives…

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Racial Mixture and Affirmative Action: The Cases of Brazil and the United States

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2009-10-26 01:59Z by Steven

Racial Mixture and Affirmative Action: The Cases of Brazil and the United States

The American Historical Review
Volume 108, Number 5
December 2003

Thomas E. Skidmore, Carlos Manuel de CĂ©spedes Professor of History Emeritus
Brown University

For me, as a historian of Brazil, North America’s “one-drop rule” has always seemed odd. No other society in this hemisphere has defined its racial types in such absolutist terms. David Hollinger, like many American historians before him, is clearly intrigued by this apparently unique “approach to the question of ethnoracial mixture.” How can we account for it? How could such a different racial classification have arisen in North America and not in any of the many other European colonial experiments in the New World?

Hollinger cites three features that in combination allegedly made U.S. racial evolution different. The first is a regime that tolerated slavery and thereby produced a significant population of slave descent. The second is massive immigration that enriched American society. The third is survival of an Indian population, even if only in token numbers.

But Hollinger examines the influence of these three factors on racial attitudes and behavior in the United States alone. If we add one other country, Brazil, to the picture, we find something rather startling. All three of Hollinger’s conditions also obtained in Brazil. Yet they did not produce the one-drop rule. Something else must have been at work.

If I had been writing this commentary a half century ago, I would have stressed the enormous difference between the two countries in the racial status given to the offspring of mixed unions.  Throughout the United States (multi-racial societies emerged in Charleston and New Orleans, but only temporarily), the one-drop rule defined mixed bloods (even the lightest mulattos) as black. In Brazil, by contrast, racial attribution depended on how the person looked and on the particular circumstances of that person, which led to the racial fluidity for which Brazil is famous

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