English 4640G: Construction of Racial Identity in Post Civil War America

Posted in Course Offerings, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-16 15:29Z by Steven

English 4640G: Construction of Racial Identity in Post Civil War America

Huron University College at Western University
London, Ontario, Canada
Winter 2013

Neil Brooks, Associate Professor, English

Course Description: Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination argues that the canonical American literary tradition can only be understood after recognizing the presence of an often silenced, but almost ubiquitous Africanist persona. This persona served as a negative stereotype against which the dominant American identity could define itself. However, even Morrison’s groundbreaking work re-inscribes the binary between Black and White in America and fails to theorize adequately the ways in which bi-racial and multi-racial identity have complicated the ideologies she discusses. This course will begin with Morrison’s analysis and then look at several novels and stories which the explore the instability of any color line between Black and White in America.

Course Objectives: This course addresses the examination of how racial identity, particularly mixed race identity, is constructed in America through close engagement with selected literary works written by Americans since the end of the Civil War. By the end of the course students should have improved their critical reading and writing in ways which will enable their success in a wide variety of University courses. Further, students will have learned American historical background, feminist literary theory, patterns of racial construction, theories of performativity, and skills in analyzing artistic achievement within the works. Finally, the course aims to provide the framework for applying these skills and knowledge in engaging with the narratives students will encounter and create outside the classroom.

Course Material:

For more information, click here.

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Finding the Silver Lining: Hair, (Mixed) Race, and Identity Politics in Toni and Slade Morrison’s Little Cloud and Lady Wind

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2013-09-09 04:49Z by Steven

Finding the Silver Lining: Hair, (Mixed) Race, and Identity Politics in Toni and Slade Morrison’s Little Cloud and Lady Wind

The Lion and the Unicorn
Volume 37, Number 2, April 2013
pages 173-187
DOI: 10.1353/uni.2013.0016

Sika A. Dagbovie-Mullins, Associate Professor of English
Florida Atlantic University

we are
black people, we rainclouds
closer to the sun and full of life.

—Marvin Wyche Jr., “We Rainclouds” (1974)

As a little girl I dreamed freely, often on the top step of the back porch—morning, noon, sunset, deep twilight. I loved clouds, I loved red streaks in the sky. I loved the gold worlds I saw in the sky. Gods and little girls, angels and heroes and future lovers labored there, in misty glory or sharp grandeur.

—Gwendolyn Brooks, Report from Part One (1972)

In Happy to Be Nappy (1999), bell hooks describes black girls’ unprocessed hair as “soft like cotton, flower petal billowy soft, full of frizz and fuzz.” In addition to being described as puffy, spongy, kinky, crinkly, wooly or cotton-like, “natural” unprocessed hair is often associated with clouds. “Flower petal billowy soft” immediately evokes the image of lightness but also brings to mind billow clouds, layers of water vapor that create fluffy wave-like patterns in the sky. The trope of black-hair-as-clouds is especially noticeable in descriptions of black hair in twentieth-century African American literature. In Jessie Redmon Fauset’s “Double Trouble” (1923), Angelique shakes her “short, black, rather wiry hair til it misted like a cloud” (32); Fran Ross’s mixed race protagonist in Oreo (1974) is told: “Kinky hair—like that beautiful fuzzy cloud you have—is not really kinky” (49); in Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow (1983), Avey Johnson’s daughter’s hair “had stood massed like a raincloud about to make good its threat” (13); in Dorothy West’s The Wedding (1995), Clark Cole thinks of his mistress: “There is no beauty like that of a brown skinned woman when she is beautiful: the velvet skin, the dark hair like a cloud” (97); and in John Edgar Wideman’s Hiding Place (1998), Tommy’s hair is described as, “[c]ombed so high it’s a cloud over his head, a bushy cloud making him taller than his brothers” (77). Toni and Slade Morrison’s children’s book Little Cloud and Lady Wind (2010), illustrated by Sean Qualls, focuses on a young female cloud whose image appears as a black or biracial girl; she sports a giant blue Afro (cloud), striking feature and a continuation of the hair/cloud analogy. In fact, some of Morrison’s novels also equate African American hair with clouds. In Tar Baby after Jadine complains about the effect of the island’s foggy weather on her hair, “[s]he pressed her hair down with both palms, but as soon as she removed them her hair sprang back into a rain cloud” (Morrison, Tar Baby 64) and in Love, the narrator, L, describes the transition black hair goes through when wet as she recounts the actions of a woman on the beach: “Her hair, flat when she went in [the water] rose up slowly and took on the shape of the clouds dragging the moon” (Morrison, Love 106). Little Cloud’s hair and her lavender tan skin act as racial signifiers in this children’s book about independence, belonging, and community.

In the beginning of the story, Little Cloud separates from the other clouds, “not wanting to blend into a group and lose her freedom, [but] not wanting to frighten the earth” (Toni and Slade Morrison). A visit from Lady Wind shows Little Cloud that her cloud duties of providing mist and dew are important, teaching her to respect both her individuality and restoring her place in the sky community. The story is reminiscent of Eric Carle’s Little Cloud (1996), which also features a “Little Cloud” that chooses independence: “The clouds pushed upward and away. Little Cloud pushed downward and touched the tops of horses and trees” (Carle). Toni and Slade Morrison’s book seems to signify on this Little Cloud predecessor who does not take a human form (and thus remains a white cloud). On one level, Little Cloud and Lady Wind encourages children to express their individuality while honoring “the whole is far mightier than any single part” (Little Cloud, inside flap). On another level, the story is a subtle treatise on mixed…

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Toni Morrison and the Evolution of American Biracial Identity

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations on 2013-02-12 02:37Z by Steven

Toni Morrison and the Evolution of American Biracial Identity

Occidental College
Oxy Scholar: ECLS Student Scholarship
Submisions for 2009
17 pages

Emily Isenberg

She enchanted the entire school. When teachers called on her, they smiled encouragingly. Black boys didn’t trip her in the halls; white boys didn’t stone her, white girls didn’t suck their teeth when she was assigned to be their work partners; black girls stepped aside when she wanted to use the sink in the girls’ toilet, and their eyes genuflected under sliding lids ( Morrison 62).

This passage from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is describing the biracial girl named Maureen Peal. In just these few sentences the suggestion that Maureen is a mediator between both races in her school is clear, and this premise is supported by the sociologist F. James Davis, whose 1991 book, Who is Black: One Nation’s Definition explains that biracial people may act “objectively with the black and the white communities both while not being fully a part of either, and often being a liaison person between the two” (Davis 150). Davis’ observation supports what we see reflected in this particular passage, but throughout the novel we see that this premise does not continue to hold true. Maureen in reality cannot be the mediator between the two races because she is not actually accepted by either group. My analysis of Maureen Peal will portray her as the female version of Everett Stonequist’s concept of the “Marginal Man.” This term comes from Everett Stonequist’s 1937 book, The Marginal Man. Stonequist, an American sociologist best known for his work in race relations, explains that the figure of the “Marginal Man” embodies the sense of inner conflict between the two races: “Having participated in each he is now able to look at himself from two viewpoints…the marginal Negro from that of the white man as well as the black man” (Stonequist 145). Maureen’s biracial identity gives her the position of the “Marginal Man” who, according to Stonequist, cannot belong to either race and has a “dual personality” which is forced onto him by his society. This “dual personality” prevents the “Marginal Man” from developing cohesion between the two parts of himself. It is because Maureen Peal senses a lack of cohesion in her inner self that she rejects her black would-be friends, Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola, not because she thinks of herself as superior to them…

Read the entire paper here.

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Literature and Racial Ambiguity

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2012-10-13 01:25Z by Steven

Literature and Racial Ambiguity

320 pages
8.7 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
Hardback ISBN: 978-90-420-1428-2 / 90-420-1428-8
Paperback ISBN: 978-90-420-1418-3 / 90-420-1418-0

Edited by:

Teresa Hubel, Associate Professor of English
Huron University College in London, Ontario

Neil Brooks, Associate Professor of English
Huron University College at Western University, London, Ontario


  • Neil Brooks and Teresa Hubel: Introduction
  • 1. Peter Clandfield: “What Is In My Blood?”: Contemporary Black Scottishness and the work of Jackie Kay
  • 2. Neluka Silva: “Everyone was Vaguely Related”: Hybridity and the Politics of Race in Sri Lankan Literary Discourses in English
  • 3. Teresa Zackodnik: Passing Transgressions and Authentic Identity in Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun and Nella Larsen’s Passing
  • 4. Myriam Perregaux: Whiteness as Unstable Construction: Kate Pullinger’s The Last Time I Saw Jane
  • 5. Bella Adams: Becoming Chinese: Racial Ambiguity in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club
  • 6. Jennifer Sparrow: Strategic Créolité. Caliban and Miranda after Empire
  • 7. Jennifer Gibbs: White Identity and the New Ethic in Faulkner’s Light In August
  • 8. Elizabeth DeLoughrey: White Fathers, Brown Daughters: the Frisbie Family Romance and the American Pacific
  • 9. Rita Keresztesi Treat: Writing Culture and Performing Race in Mourning Dove’s Cogewea, The Half-Blood ‘(1927)
  • 10. Kathryn Nicol: Visible Differences: Viewing Racial Identity in Toni Morrison’s Paradise and “Recitatif”
  • 11. Yvette Tan: Looking Different/Rethinking Difference: Global Constants and/or Contradictory Characteristics in Yasmine Gooneratne’s A Change of Skies and Adib Kalim’s Seasonal Adjustments
  • 12. Margaret D. Stetz: Jessie Fauset’s Fiction: Reconsidering Race and Revising Aestheticism
  • 13. Paul Allatson: “I May Create A Monster”: Cherríe Moraga’s Transcultural Conundrum
  • 14. Michele Hunter: Revisiting the Third Space: Reading Danzy Senna’s Caucasia
  • Notes on the Authors
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Black and White Both Cast Shadows: Unconventional Permutations of Racial Passing in African American and American Literature

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-10-12 20:55Z by Steven

Black and White Both Cast Shadows: Unconventional Permutations of Racial Passing in African American and American Literature

University of Arizona
220 pages

Derek Adams

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY In the Graduate College THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

This dissertation proposes to build upon a critical tradition that explores the formation of racial subjectivity in narratives of passing in African-American and American literature. It adds to recent scholarship on passing narratives which seeks a more comprehensive understanding of the connections between the performance of racial norms and contemporary conceptions of “race” and racial categorization. But rather than focusing entirely on the conventional mulatta/o performs whiteness plot device at work in passing literature, a device that reinforces the desirability of heteronormative whiteness, I am interested in assessing how performances of a variety of racial norms challenges this desirability. Selected literary fiction from Herman Melville, Mary White Ovington, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and ZZ Packer provides a rich opportunity for analyzing these unconventional performances. Formulating a theory of “black-passing” that decenters whiteness as the passer’s object of desire, this project assesses how the works of these authors broadens the framework of the discourse on racial performance in revelatory ways. Racial passing will get measured in relation to the political consequences engendered by the transgression of racial boundaries, emphasizing how the nature of acts of passing varies according to the way hegemonic society dictates racial enfranchisement. Passing will be situated in the context of various modes of literary representation—realism, naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism—that register subjectivity. The project will also explore in greater detail the changing nature of acts of passing across gendered, spatial, and temporal boundaries.



Read the entire dissertation here.

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A Home Elsewhere: Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama

Posted in Barack Obama, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2012-09-25 22:01Z by Steven

A Home Elsewhere: Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama

Harvard University Press
May 2010
192 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
no illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674050969

Robert B. Stepto, Professor of English, African American Studies, and American Studies
Yale University

In this series of interlocking essays, which had their start as lectures inspired by the presidency of Barack Obama, Robert Burns Stepto sets canonical works of African American literature in conversation with Obama’s Dreams from My Father. The elegant readings that result shed surprising light on unexamined angles of works ranging from Frederick Douglass’s Narrative to W.E.B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk to Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

Stepto draws our attention to the concerns that recur in the books he takes up: how protagonists raise themselves, often without one or both parents; how black boys invent black manhood, often with no models before them; how protagonists seek and find a home elsewhere; and how they create personalities that can deal with the pain of abandonment. These are age-old themes in African American literature that, Stepto shows, gain a special poignancy and importance because our president has lived through these situations and circumstances and has written about them in a way that refreshes our understanding of the whole of African American literature.

Stepto amplifies these themes in four additional essays, which investigate Douglass’s correspondence with Harriet Beecher Stowe; Willard Savoy’s novel Alien Land and its interracial protagonist; the writer’s understanding of the reader in African American literature; and Stepto’s account of his own schoolhouse lessons, with their echoes of Douglass’ and Obama’s experiences.

Table of Contents

  • Part One: The W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures
    • Introduction
    • 1. Frederick Douglass, Barack Obama, and the Search for Patrimony
    • 2. W.E.B. Du Bois, Barack Obama, and the Search for Race: School House Blues
    • 3. Toni Morrison, Barack Obama, and Difference
  • Part Two
    • Introduction
    • 4. A Greyhound Kind of Mood
    • 5. Sharing the Thunder: The Literary Exchanges of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Bibb, and Frederick Douglass
    • 6. Willard Savoy’s Alien Land: Biracial Identity in a Novel of the 1940s
    • Afterword: Distrust of the Reader in Afro-American Narratives
  • Notes
  • Index
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In the Shadow of Her Ancestry: The New Tragic Mulatta

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2012-05-26 22:03Z by Steven

In the Shadow of Her Ancestry: The New Tragic Mulatta

North Carolina State University, Raleigh
60 pages

Vonda Marie Easterling

A thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty of North Carolina State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

This thesis examines the plight of the infamous tragic mulatta. Because of the mulatta’s lack of black features and her close resemblance to the white race, she was labeled by white society as the privileged of the black race. She was also referred to as the most tragic of all beings and elevated by white society over the darker skinned blacks. Thus, the mulatta found herself in a peculiar position in a race oriented, black-white society. Isolated from the black community and rejected as a part of the white community, the mulatta’s existence was then considered tragic.

Over the years, social and emotional change has occurred within the mulatta community. No longer considered the taboo of transgression, the mulatta still suffers from many of the same injustices as her ancestral mulatta. This research examines the psychological and emotional effects depicted in the 1959 film of Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life with sections of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and events from actress Dorothy Dandridge’s life. The research also analyzes Passing, Nella Larsen’s complex novel of the 1920s, to interrogate the strategy that many unidentifiably mulatto people mastered in order to achieve social and financial mobility. Lastly, the research explores the experience of the contemporary mulatta through Rebecca Walker’s memoir, Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, in order to explore the issues of the newly termed bi-racial person. The research explores the lineage between the historical mulatta figure and the new bi-racial persons to defuse the theory of the tragic mulatta as a mythical allusion.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Reel to Real: The Cinematic Mulatta
  • Chapter Two: To ‘Pass’ or Not to ‘Pass’: The Multi-Layered Practice of ‘Passing’
  • Chapter Three: As Time Goes By: The New Tragic Mulatta
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Crossing the Color Line: Narratives of Passing in American Literature

Posted in Course Offerings, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United Kingdom on 2012-01-03 22:58Z by Steven

Crossing the Color Line: Narratives of Passing in American Literature

St. Mary’s College of Maryland
English 400.01
Fall 2008

Christine Wooley, Assistant Professor of English
This course will consider representations of passing (and thus also miscegenation) in nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. culture. While passing has often been depicted-and dismissed-as an act of racial betrayal, more recent criticism has suggested that we view these depictions of racial transgression and deception in more complicated ways. In this class, we will analyze various narratives centered around passing and miscegenation as sites through which we can better examine-and understand-the construction of racial identities in particular historical and political contexts. We will ask whether or not narratives about passing and miscegenation challenge the stability of racial categories. Likewise, we will pay close attention to how such narratives also engage issues of class, ethnicity, and gender. Syllabus may include works by authors such as Harriet Wilson, William Wells Brown, Lydia Maria Child, Frances Harper, William Dean Howells, Pauline Hopkins, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen, George Schuyler, Toni Morrison, and Philip Roth. In addition, this class will also draw on a selection of historical and legal documents, current critical works on race, and films such as The Jazz Singer and Imitation of Life.

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Feminist Readings of Native American Literature: Coming to Voice

Posted in Books, Canada, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, United States, Women on 2009-12-13 02:02Z by Steven

Feminist Readings of Native American Literature: Coming to Voice

University of Arizona Press
181 pages
6.0 x 9.0
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8165-1633-9

Kathleen M. Donovan, Professor and Department Head of English
South Dakota State University, Brookings

Who in a society can speak, and under what circumstances? These questions are at the heart of both Native American literature and feminist literary and cultural theory. Despite the recent explosion of publication in each of these fields, almost nothing has been written to date that explores the links between the two. With Feminist Readings of Native American Literature, Kathleen Donovan takes an important first step in examining how studies in these two fields inform and influence one another. Focusing on the works of N. Scott Momaday, Joy Harjo, Paula Gunn Allen, and others, Donovan analyzes the texts of these well-known writers, weaving a supporting web of feminist criticism throughout. With careful and gracefully offered insights, the book explores the reciprocally illuminating nature of culture and gender issues. The author demonstrates how Canadian women of mixed-blood ancestry achieve a voice through autobiographies and autobiographical novels. Using a framework of feminist reader response theory, she considers an underlying misogyny in the writings of N. Scott Momaday. And in examining commonalities between specific cultures, she discusses how two women of color, Paula Gunn Allen and Toni Morrison, explore representations of femaleness in their respective cultures. By synthesizing a broad spectrum of critical writing that overlaps women’s voices and Native American literature, Donovan expands on the frame of dialogue within feminist literary and cultural theory. Drawing on the related fields of ethnography, ethnopoetics, ecofeminism, and post-colonialism, Feminist Readings of Native American Literature offers the first systematic study of the intersection between two dynamic arenas in literary studies today.

Read an excerpt here.

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Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2009-11-19 18:43Z by Steven

Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus

Ohio State University Press
July 2008
224 pages
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8142-5168-3
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8142-1091-8
CD ISBN: 978-0-8142-9171-9

Margo Natalie Crawford, Associate Professor of English
Cornell University

After the “Black is Beautiful” movement of the 1960s, black body politics have been overdetermined by both the familiar fetishism of light skin as well as the counter-fetishism of dark skin. Moving beyond the longstanding focus on the tragic mulatta and making room for the study of the fetishism of both light-skinned and dark-skinned blackness, Margo Natalie Crawford analyzes depictions of colorism in the work of Gertrude Stein, Wallace Thurman, William Faulkner, Black Arts poets, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and John Edgar Wideman. In Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus, Crawford adds images of skin color dilution as a type of castration to the field of race and psychoanalysis. An undercurrent of light-skinned blackness as a type of castration emerges within an ongoing story about the feminizing of light skin and the masculinizing of dark skin. Crawford confronts the web of beautified and eroticized brands and scars, created by colorism, crisscrossing race, gender, and sexuality. The depiction of the horror of these aestheticized brands and scars begins in the white-authored and black-authored modernist literature examined in the first chapters. A call for the end of the ongoing branding emerges with sheer force in the post–Black movement novels examined in the final chapters.

Read excerpts from the book here.

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