Dr. Zebulon Miletsky talks about the mixed race / mixed culture experience to BWTM

Posted in Barack Obama, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States, Videos on 2017-07-19 03:31Z by Steven

Dr. Zebulon Miletsky talks about the mixed race / mixed culture experience to BWTM

Bayloric Worldwide Television & Media
2017-07-18

Ingram Jones, Host

Dr Zebulon Miletsky assistant professor of Africana Studies at Stony University, New York talks to BWTM  about his experiences and shares a wealth of knowledge on the topic of race.

Dr. Zebulon Vance Miletsky teaches African-American History at Stony Brook University where he is an Assistant Professor in both the Departments of Africana Studies and History. He is the author of numerous articles, essays and most recently a book chapter that appeared in the anthology “Obama and the Biracial Factor: The Battle for a New American Majority” which traces the contested meanings throughout history of terminology for multiracial people and the role that this historical legacy of “naming” plays into how President Obama is read as African American, but still asserts a strategic biracial identity through the use of language, symbols, and interactions with the media. Miletsky who is half-Jewish (white) and African-American/Afro-Caribbean, received his Ph.D. in African-American Studies with a concentration in History at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2008 . There, he was trained as a historian by some of the best thinkers in the field of Black Studies, many of whom are veterans from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 70s. His research interests include: Racial passing; interracial marriage; African-Americans in Boston; Northern freedom movements; and Mixed race history. Miletsky has given a Ted Talk and at Stony Brook University entitled “Tracing Your ‘Routes’” and has have been interviewed on Huffington Post Live, various radio shows including the WBAI NYC 99.5 FM Pacifica radio show “Behind the News-Long Island” and the “Multiracial Family Man” Podcast.

Watch the interview (01:26:47) here. Read the transcript here.

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SBU Libraries Black History Month Lecture 2-13-17 Dr. Zebulon Miletsky: “Obama, Post-Racialism and the New American Dilemma”

Posted in Barack Obama, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States, Videos on 2017-07-10 01:57Z by Steven

SBU Libraries Black History Month Lecture 2-13-17 Dr. Zebulon Miletsky: “Obama, Post-Racialism and the New American Dilemma”

Stony Brook Library Media Services
2017-02-13 (Published 2017-02-15)

Zebulon Vance Miletsky, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 as the 44th President of the United States, raised hopes for many that as a country we were entering a post-racial moment, that the twin legacies of oppression and slavery were overcome, not only in the United States, but the world. That same period, however, brought crises of authority caused by neo-liberalism, police violence, and mass incarceration that have consistently set back the very racial progress that Obama’s presidency seemed to inaugurate. Far from being post-racial, the Obama years were a period of constant racial crisis, the repercussions of which were felt daily since the killings of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson in the summer of 2014. It took the election of an African American to the nation’s highest office to uncover a level of racial hatred the likes of which we have not seen since the 1960s, requiring an analysis of the relationship between multiracialism and post-racialism, as well as how whiteness operates in the United States, to fully appreciate what has come to pass. The election of Donald Trump as President has been a clear rejection of the post-racial era ushered in by Obama. Much like our more recent experiment in racial democracy, there are parallels between what happened with the overthrow of Reconstruction, America’s startling experiment in biracial democracy after the Civil War and today. The historical roots of the “whitelash” that fueled Trump’s victory lie in a prior racial backlash to an unprecedented attempt to grant African Americans citizenship during the period of Reconstruction. Based on a book chapter-in-progress for a volume on the Black Intellectual Tradition in America, this presentation discusses how the 21st century could potentially mark a new low in American race relations—or a “new American dilemma”.

Dr. Zebulon Vance Miletsky is an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and a historian specializing in recent African-American History, Civil Rights and Black Power, Urban History, Mixed Race and Biracial identity, and Hip-Hop Studies. His research interests include: African-Americans in Boston; Northern freedom movements outside of the South; Mixed race history in the U.S. and passing; and the Afro-Latin diaspora. He is the author of numerous articles, reviews, essays and book chapters and is currently working on a manuscript on the civil rights movement in Boston. Ph.D.; African-American Studies with a concentration in History, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2008.

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Beyond Biracial: When Blackness Is a Small, Nearly Invisible Fraction

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Work, United States on 2014-05-13 21:29Z by Steven

Beyond Biracial: When Blackness Is a Small, Nearly Invisible Fraction

The Root
2014-05-12

Jenée Desmond-Harris, Senior Staff Writer and White House Correspondent

In the past, these Americans would have been labeled “quadroons” or “octoroons.” Today their options are so much broader. What can they teach us about race in 2014 and in the future?

Stephanie Troutman, a 36-year-old professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., has a white mother and a black father. She has her own family’s racial elevator speech down to a single sentence: “I’m a mixed woman who has a child with a black man and a child with a white man.” Her 7-year-old son, Rex, is unambiguous when it comes to his racial identity and “very pro black,” even protesting when he’s described as merely “brown,” she says.

With her 11-year-old daughter, Melora—whose pale, golden-hued skin; light eyes; and long, copper-colored hair prompt strangers to ask if she’s “Mediterranean” or “Arab”—things aren’t as simple.

“For now I’ve told her that she’s a person of color. That’s the best way I can explain it. I want to take it away from black and white because those are weird options for her,” Troutman says. “But I always kind of knew that I’d have a kid who looked white, and I was right. When Melora was born, my friends were like, ‘How did her dad’s white hippie granola genes completely beat out your biracial genes?’ ”

Despite those biracial genes, Troutman realized as a teen that most people see her as “just light skinned” (in other words, black). That hit home one day in the mid-1990s when, in a classically tragic black-identity-forming moment, a Florida stranger yelled “nigger” at her from a passing car.

“At first I was like, ‘Damn, that’s kind of messed up. Who are they yelling at?’ And then I realized I was the only person on the street.”

Given the way she’s perceived, Troutman is “willing to talk about the biracial thing”—her own mixed heritage—in certain contexts, but most of the time, she says, “I don’t think there’s anything new or interesting about it.”

What is interesting to Troutman is the experience of her preteen daughter, who, if you’re doing the crude math, is one-quarter black. She’s the kind of person who would have been called a “quadroon” when that “one-drop rule“-inspired term appeared on census forms between about 1850 and 1920, alongside its also-retired relatives, “octoroon” (one-eighth black) and mulatto (one-half).

Of course, as Zebulon V. Miletsky, a visiting assistant professor of Africana studies at Stony Brook University whose research interests include the history of the mixed-race experience, explains, “A lot of times, the people who took the census would sort of guess those things.”…

…Attention to Americans who have both black- and white-identified parents peaked during what Miletsky calls the “biracial boom” of the 1990s. They found celebrity touchstones in the likes of Mariah Carey and Halle Berry; validation from support organizations; and—in the ultimate victory for those whose rallying cry was “Don’t put me in a box!“—the creation in 2000 of a new, multiracial census category. With that, says Ralina L. Joseph, author of Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial, came the fading of the “tragic mulatto” stereotype and the emergence of the “millennium mulatto,” along with an accompanying sense of legitimacy…

Read the entire article here.

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About Biracials Learning About African-American Culture or B.L.A.A.C.

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-08-18 20:25Z by Steven

About Biracials Learning About African-American Culture or B.L.A.A.C.

Biracials Learning About African-American Culture or B.L.A.A.C.
2013-06-18

Zebulon Miletsky, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Stony Brook University, State University of New York

The idea for this blog came from several discussions with students and young people who come from mixed-race backgrounds, especially so-called “white and black” biracials who, for whatever reason, grew up without learning very much about African-American life, history or culture. Whether they be trans-racially adopted, grew up in a home without the biological black parent or were perhaps raised in an area without many black people, the probability for people of mixed race descent to grow up without a solid, positive grounding in the black experience is much higher for reasons that will become fairly obvious. Not so obvious at times, however, is the more complicated truth of racism in America, a past deeply rooted in the ugly practice of white supremacy and centuries of stigmatization of African-American culture, heritage and contributions. This phenomenon, known to some scholars as “Anti-blackness”, has done more to confuse and ultimately divide than perhaps any other factor…

Read the entire article here.

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In many ways, Obama’s story provides a possible model for black­ descended multiracial people in that racial acceptance and success depends on an identity that is closely tied to blackness…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2012-04-22 19:35Z by Steven

In many ways, Obama’s story provides a possible model for black­ descended multiracial people in that racial acceptance and success depends on an identity that is closely tied to blackness. In the larger sense, Obama reconciles the tensions between what G. Reginald Daniel has called “multigenerational multiracials,” that is to say, the category that most African Americans fall into as a racially mixed people, and “first-generation” multiracial people who have one parent that identifies as monoracially white and another that identifies as monoracially black. The question is: does this require an African American identification or can it simply be a multiracial identity that affirms one’s connection to the African Diaspora and the black experience? Had Obama identified more with the white side of his parental lineage, or even more strongly as a mixed race person, many Americans might not today know the name Barack Obama. The important point to take away from this memoir is that in the end, the protagonist, the hero, does not choose a mixed race identity but, rather, an African American one. To do otherwise would surely have antagonized and alienated African American support and acceptance. Anything less than full and absolute acceptance of an African American identity would have cost Obama severely.

Zebulon Vance Miletsky, “Mutt like me: Barack Obama and the Mixed Race Experience in Historical Perspective,” in Obama and the Biracial Factor: The Battle for a New American Majority, edited by Andrew J. Jolivétte (Bristol: The Policy Press, 2012), 149-150.

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Race on Trial: Passing and the Van Houten Case in Boston

Posted in History, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2010-09-01 22:14Z by Steven

Race on Trial: Passing and the Van Houten Case in Boston

Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 94th Annual Convention
Association for the Study of African American Life and History
Hilton Cincinnati, Netherland Plaza
Cincinnati, Ohio
2009-09-30

Zebulon V. Miletsky, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Stony Brook University, State University of New York

In 1894 Anna Van Houten sued Asa P. Morse in a controversial “breach of promise” case in Boston after he withdrew his proposal of marriage upon the discovery of her black ancestry. Morse contended it was a promise that he was not bound to keep because Van Houten was passing for white and had misrepresented herself by concealing her true identity. The case caused quite a stir in the delicate social and racial hierarchy of Boston and was watched very closely by the press who fed the public’s appetite for every detail of the scandal. While many in the public sympathized with Morse for having been deceived, the court concluded that the concealment of her race was not a factor and a breach of promise had indeed been committed. As a result, Van Houten won her original case as well as a sizable settlement. However, the verdict caused a public outcry. The case was successfully appealed and eventually overturned using a legal argument that claimed race constituted valid grounds for a breach of promise.

This paper examines the Van Houten case and what it reveals about Northern anxieties over passing and interracial marriage in the late nineteenth century in cities like Boston. The court’s acceptance of Morse’s appeal is problematic in that interracial marriages or engagements required a legal remedy to prevent them even though they were not prohibited by the state. The case also provides a unique glimpse into the public’s beliefs about the physical nature of race at the very moment when those views were beginning to shift from a scientific understanding to one that is more socially constructed. Finally, this case sheds light on the phenomenon of passing which gave way to a new legal construction of race that allowed for different kinds of evidence, such as photographs and witness testimony to prove the racial identity of an individual.

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City of Amalgamation: Race, Marriage, Class and Color in Boston, 1890-1930

Posted in Dissertations, History, Law, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2010-09-01 21:42Z by Steven

City of Amalgamation: Race, Marriage, Class and Color in Boston, 1890-1930

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
September 2008
223 pages
Paper AAI3337029

Zebulon V. Miletsky, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Stony Brook University, State University of New York

Submitted to the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation examines the evolution of early race relations in Boston during a period which saw the extinguishing of the progressive abolitionist racial flame and the triumph of Jim Crow in Boston. I argue that this historical moment was a window in which Boston stood at a racial crossroads. The decision to follow the path of disfranchisement of African Americans and racial polarization paved the way for the race relations in Boston we know and recognize today. Documenting the high number of blacks and whites who married in Boston during these years in the face of virulent anti-miscegenation efforts and the context of the intense political fight to keep interracial marriage legal, the dissertation explores the black response to this assault on the dignity and lives of African Americans. At the same time it documents the dilemma that the issue of intermarriage represented for black Bostonians and their leaders. African Americans in Boston cautiously endorsed, but did not actively participate in the Boston N.A.A.C.P.’s campaign against the resurgence of anti-miscegenation laws in the early part of the twentieth century. The lack of direct and substantial participation in this campaign is indicative of the skepticism with which many viewed the largely white organization.

Boston, with its substantial Irish population, had a pattern of Irish, and other immigrant women, taking Negro grooms–perhaps because of the proximity within which they often worked and their differing notions about the taboo of race mixing. Boston was, for example, one of the most tolerant large cities in America with regard to interracial unions by 1900. In the period between 1900 and 1904, about 14 out of every 100 Negro grooms took white wives. Furthermore, black and white Bostonians cooperated politically to ensure that intermarriage remained legal throughout the nation.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Abstract
  • Preface
  • Introdution
  • 1. A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation: Race, Marriage and Freedom in Boston
  • 2. Interracial Paradise?: Boston and the Profressive Racial Impulse
  • 3. Proving Ground: Boston’s Black Leadership and the Dilemma of Intermarriage
  • 4. Breach of Promise: Passing and the Van Houten Case in Boston
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliograpy

Preface

This dissertation examines the history of mixed race in Boston since 1890. As such, various mixed race “phenomena” are investigated including, but not limited to, interracial marriage, community and settlement patterns, the politics of intermarriage, love and sex across the color line, and racial paranoia surrounding the issue of miscegenation. It also investigates the disastrous implications the one-drop rule has had for virtually every important institution in American life: love, family and kinship patterns, marriage, sex, filial ties, legal and jurisdictional matters, education, community migration and settlement patterns. Furthermore, it tracks the evolution of the assumption of race as a biological reality to its present day manifestation as a socially constructed phenomenon. Finally, it outlines the ways in which the one-drop rule, originally intended to deny the rights of African Americans, came (somewhat ironically) to galvanize the black community.

The Introduction to this study serves as a brief review of the literature on the history of the one-drop rule in America. It is this measure of blackness, which has made racial mixing, miscegenation, and therefore, mixed race identity in the United States, problematic in ways that it did not in other post-slave societies. This literature illuminates the ways in which the one-drop rule came to govern America’s unique binary racial system, beginning with its incarnation as a widespread and complicated system of laws during slavery that decreed slave status was inherited through the mother (also known as hypodescent) to the anti-miscegenation laws that sprang up after the Civil War making it illegal in this country for people of different races to marry one another. A secondary aim of the introduction will be to briefly discuss nineteenth century pseudoscientific theories of race and the mythology of “blood theory”.

Chapter one, A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation, documents the relatively high number of blacks and whites who married in Boston during these years and the fight to keep interracial marriage legal. The politics of interracial marriage with a particular emphasis on the abolitionist legacy in Boston, beginning with the struggle to lift the ban on intermarriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1843, is the origin from which this study germinates. It was in this radical environment that progressives, radicals and other heirs to the abolitionist legacy formulated a counter-philosophy that attempted to transgress America’s greatest fiction—the notion of the “one-drop” rule. In this way, cities like Boston became havens for interracial marriages and love across the color line, in general.

Chapter two, Interracial Paradise, examines the somewhat idyllic ways in which Boston was portrayed by anti-amalgamationists and southern apologists to the lost cause of the Civil War. It discusses important neighborhoods such as the South End, which was the stage upon which much of this drama took place and was the heart of Boston’s black community after it moved out of the confines of Beacon Hill. African Americans in Boston cautiously endorsed, but did not actively participate in, the campaign against the resurgence of anti-miscegenation laws in the early part of the 20th century. This lack of direct and substantial black participation in this campaign is significant. It is indicative of the dilemma that the issue of intermarriage represented for black Bostonians and their leaders.

Chapter three, Proving Ground, examines the political struggle over the issue of interracial marriage and the dilemma it posed for the Boston branch of the N.A.A.C.P., as well as the national organization, when Congress attempted to pass a national ban on intermarriage in 1915. The N.A.A.C.P. and its Boston branch constituted the principal opposition to the ban. This chapter examines the political struggle over the issue of interracial marriage and the dilemma it posed for leading organizations such as the N.A.A.C.P., not only in Boston but across the nation. That same year, the Boston chapter held several mass meetings to protest the pending anti-miscegenation legislation in Congress. The Boston branch was especially challenged when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts attempted to pass a statewide ban in 1927 in response to the Jack Johnson interracial marriage controversy. I will examine the steps that were taken not only by the Boston N.A.A.C.P. to organize black Bostonians to defeat the bill, but the involvement of William Monroe Trotter’s National Equal Rights League and the dilemma the intermarriage caused for black leadership in general.

Chapter four, Breach of Promise, takes a look at a case of passing which was the Van Houten case in Boston. The case caused quite a stir in the delicate balance of social and racial hierarchy in Boston as well as a reversal of fortune in the courts. The case was watched very closely by the press who fed the public’s appetite for every detail of the story, much like the drama that filled the pages of the romance novels on passing such as Nella Larsen’s Quicksand. Like the protagonist of that story, Anna Van Houten was cursed by her racial betrayal and in the end despised for her deception. Her case was an important turning point in the adjudication of interracial marriage since it necessitated a legal remedy against intermarriage in a state where it was supposedly legal.

Introduction

Race and racial identity are perhaps the single most important social markers of identification in American life and culture. They serve as automatic registers of information about a person—their history, their background, their politics, and even, perhaps, their socioeconomic status—and yet for all the things we ask it to do for us, race falls incredibly wide of the mark. Race cannot, for example, tell us, who we’re going to become in the future, or what we can accomplish, or for that matter who we are. Social scientists, anthropologists, and biological scientists all tell us that race is not real—that there is no biological basis for race in human physiology—and yet, we live and operate on a day-to-day basis as though it were. What is the impact of this enduring paradox—America’s greatest fiction, one that we have lived and propagated now for more than four centuries?

As we have seen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, whiteness became highly sought after as the preferred status of choice that conferred all the benefits of racial privilege—and until the 1950s, naturalized citizenship. However, it should be mentioned that whiteness as a concept is far more significant for what it is not, then for what it is—namely, not black. Therefore, although America differs in its racial formulas of determining who is white and who is not, the main reason for the invention of whiteness, escape from the racial curse of blackness, remains intact in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. Gilberto Freyre’s notion of Brazil as an interracial democracy that is different from a racist United States is a good example of this phenomenon. Their odyssey over the highly contested and often controversial terrain of race and national identity has been a long and difficult journey. Burdened by a dual legacy of colonialism and foreign occupation, many of these republics, with the exception of perhaps Cuba, Haiti and anglophone West Indian countries, have suffered from a seeming inability to use blackness as a collective national organizing principle. Several of these countries have vacillated between ideologies that are based on white supremacy and reinforced by a legacy of historical amnesia. Scholars of race in Latin America have characterized this as an outright state of denial, for some, of their true racial make-up.

It is this unique binary racial system then, which has made racial mixing, miscegenation and a mixed race identity in the United States problematic in ways that it did not in other post-slave societies. It has had disastrous implications for virtually every important institution in American life: family and kinship patterns, marriage, filial ties, legal and jurisdictional matters, education, love, community migration and settlement. Race in the United States, for example, creates the odd and strange phenomenon that a white woman is able to give birth to a black child, but a black woman can never, under any circumstances, give birth to a white child. This was the basis for a widespread and complicated system of laws during slavery that decreed that slave status was passed on by the mother and miscegenation laws that sprang up after the Civil War making it illegal in this country for people of different races to marry one another. Moreover, racial classification in America has created an entire mythology that we still unflinchingly believe is based on the archaic and unsound biological concept of blood theory. It is still commonplace to hear someone characterize a mixed person, for example, as having “mixed-blood” and subscribe to the mythical concept of the one-drop-rule, also known as hypo-descent, meaning that racially mixed persons are assigned the status of the subordinate group in their ancestry.

In the United States, blood theory and pseudo-scientific theories of race reached their pinnacle in the late-nineteenth century with scientists engaged in a constant effort to prove that the Negro was a member of “a separate and permanently inferior species,” and, “not simply a savage or semi-civilized member of the same species.”  The basic assumption was that race was a biological phenomenon and an essential one at that.

It has become common practice of late in scholarship dealing with race and racial identity to point to the phenomenon of race as a socially constructed fallacy that has no basis in biological or scientific fact. Increasingly, terms such as construction, invention, and idea have replaced the once dominant scientific and empirical terminology used to describe race, a phenomenon that had, and still has, profound implications for the stratification of society. However, as eager as anthropologists are to proclaim the premature death of race, it is imperative to acknowledge the powerful and important social role that race still plays in our daily lives, cultures, and lived experiences, not to mention the endless sea of ink that has been spilled over the nature and image of the Negro. The theorem posed by W. I. Thomas in the year 1928, seems applicable here. It states, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” Perhaps one of the biggest limitations of these modern approaches is a marked tendency to critique ideas about race by challenging the validity of the concept of race itself. Because the discipline of anthropology has effectively moved to a “color blind” position, one which increasingly views society through the lens of ethnicity rather than race, it has confused the issue by distorting the role that race plays in society. By denying the importance of race and the way in which racial categories are formulated in the first place, it has among other things, opened itself up to a racial discourse that allows conservatives to advance the false ideal of a color-blind society…

Purchase the dissertation here.

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