Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial by Ralina L. Joseph (review) [Ardizzone]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2014-10-29 00:25Z by Steven

Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial by Ralina L. Joseph (review) [Ardizzone]

African American Review
Volume 46, Number 4, Winter 2013
pages 787-790
DOI: 10.1353/afa.2013.0105

Heidi Ardizzone, Assistant Professor of American Studies
Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri

Joseph, Ralina L., Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012)

Ralina Joseph begins Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial with a personal story. Her own engagement with ongoing debates over identity, ancestry, authenticity, and race mirrored political and cultural shifts in perceptions of people of mixed ancestry at the time. As a college student in the 1990s, Joseph quickly embraced the term multiracial to describe her own “race story,” becoming a leader of Brown (University’s) Organization of Multi- and Biracial Students (BOMBS). Being multiracial became, she says, a “full blown preoccupation” (xv), resulting in her undergraduate thesis on cultural depictions of black-white women. Transcending Blackness continues this project, identifying two related images, the millennial mulatta, and the exceptional multiracial, which operate in a dialectic cultural relationship as a “two-sided stereotype” (5). Joseph defines both representations in relationship to blackness: Millennials are punished for their attempts to identify as black; exceptionals are rewarded for transcending blackness or even race itself. Rather than demonstrating that blackness might be embraced “in messy, hybridized, multiracial forms” in the cultural texts Joseph examines, blackness is the thing that “must be risen above, surpassed, or truly transcended” (4). However, Joseph also introduces a third potential option: multiracial blackness, identifying positively and simultaneously as mixed and as black or African American. While she embraces this option for herself and claims it as a dominant identity, the authors whose works she analyzes never display it in their fictional depictions of this black-unite figure. So multiracial blackness forms a third point in a now triangulated relationship that crosses the line between social experience and cultural representation.

Transcending Blackness follows a familiar literary and media studies format: The Preface, Introduction, and Conclusion bracket four chapters, each focusing on a particular genre, work, and multiracial or black-white female character. Joseph’s Introduction lays out her terms and framework, while providing a clear and concise history of people of mixed ancestry, of their treatment and categorization, and of the attitudes toward and circumstances of interracial unions. She also provides a selective trajectory of literary and media depictions of the black-white figure covering roughly a century prior to her target years of 1998-2008. This decade spans the first inclusion of the “pick one or more” option under the federal census’ racial categories, and the election of the first U.S. president who could have—but publically didn’t—exercise that option. Like the twenty years that preceded it, the 1998-2008 decade falls squarely in the overlapping postracial and postfeminist eras that Joseph identifies as key to understanding the shifting meaning of the representations of black-white women. However, her decade is a static one: Her chapters are not chronological, but organized around her analytic positioning of each text and character within her framework.

One result of this is that the four main chapters operate in some ways more as related essays than as an integrated argument. But there is a consistent analytical thread. In the first two chapters Joseph presents two examples of the new millennium mulatta to show “how blackness is cause and effect of sadness and pain for the multiracial African American figure.” The last two chapters then argue that for the exceptional multiracial “blackness is an irrelevant entity” (6). And the first chapter sets up Joseph’s argument, not just for the new millennium mulatta, but also for the absence of the multiracial blackness that Joseph is looking for but doesn’t find—at least not in the form in which she desires it to be…

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“I am on the Coloured Side”: The Roles of the White Suitor and the Black Mother in the Tragic Mulatta Narrative

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-10-27 19:56Z by Steven

“I am on the Coloured Side”: The Roles of the White Suitor and the Black Mother in the Tragic Mulatta Narrative

University of Massachusetts at Amherst
2013

Shannon D. Luders Manuel

What I propose to add to the already established dialogue regarding the tragic mulatta narrative is an investigation into the commonalities of the genre’s endings, as well as to assert that the tragic mulatta genre is present even at the turn of the 21st century with such works as Danzy Senna’s Caucasia. While my investigation by no means covers an exhaustive list of tragic mulatta narratives, the readings provide an overview of the ways in which the narrative has both evolved over time and stayed consistent during the antebellum, post-bellum, Harlem Renaissance, and the present day. I present each author as both building from previous authors’ works and as limited to the time period in which he or she pens the novel(s).

The tragic mulatta of the post-bellum rejected white male suitors as a larger and more crucial rejection of sexual slavery and depravity, as well as attempting to shield the suitors from experiencing rejection from their own white contemporaries, as Angela does at the end of Plum Bun: “But I want you to know that from now on, so far as sides are concerned, I am on the coloured side. And I don’t want you to come over on that side” (373). However, the tragic mulattas continue to reject white male suitors even into the 21st century, and I assert that this repetition is limiting both to the characters themselves and to the narrative lives of contemporary mulatta readers. I further assert that the genre continues to pair rejection of the white male suitor with a reappropriation of true “blackness” and maternal domesticity. Through observing the tragic mulatta’s need to gain identity and sense of place through her darker mother or sister and the rejection of a white male suitor, tragic mulatta scholars—as well as critical race theorists in general—become more aware of the unique position the genre holds in identity formation as seen through what I believe are critical fictional texts for an interracial nation.

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The Black, British Atlantic: Blackness in Victorian Literature

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2014-10-27 18:18Z by Steven

The Black, British Atlantic: Blackness in Victorian Literature

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
2014

Donghee Om

My dissertation is about transnational aspects of the Victorian era from the vantage point of what Paul Gilroy described more than two decades ago as the “black Atlantic.” Looking at various ways in which the black Atlantic was at times a British Atlantic, my dissertation aims to complicate a flow of discussion that Gilroy’s Americanist successors have interpreted largely in light of U.S. slavery and its discursive contexts. Specifically, I explore how some nineteenth-century British authors such as Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mary Seacole, and Wilkie Collins rejected popular notions of blackness as a racial marker of African slavery with its implied negative qualities. Instead, their works convey a different idea about blackness as a pliable marker of cultural agency that not only constitutes a part of English culture, but is performed by people regardless of racial affiliation. This notion of blackness as performative signifier goes beyond the slavery metaphor in Victorian literature to frame an interpretive paradigm that allows us to read blackness in broader socio-political contexts.

As I show how canonical and non-canonical nineteenth-century British literature used various kinds of black performativity to undo essentialist notions of blackness, race, and identity itself, I demonstrate the integral status of blackness in Victorian literature. This in turn points to nineteenth-century English culture not as an isolated entity that imposed itself on Africans and on slave-owning colonies of the British Empire, but as participant in a larger cultural network called the black Atlantic. The black Atlantic thus invites us to revise British literature and culture by questioning the assumed homogeneity of white-centrism and even the stability of whiteness itself as foundational for English identity.

In the first chapter, I look at how Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) and Persuasion (1818) engage blackness without featuring a single black or mixed-race character. Reading this absence as literary strategy, I argue that the two novels reject the popular view of blackness as too restrictively applied to oppression and marginalization, and associate it instead with women’s autonomy and social participation in an era of heightened debate over slavery following the 1807 Slave Trade Act. Here blackness comes to represent an ethically viable form of women’s autonomy that doesn’t necessarily unsettle the established social order even as it challenges the mercantile logic of sexual hierarchy represented by the corrupt marriage market. In fact, by validating women’s autonomy in the context of middle-class ethics, Austen suggests that such autonomy is a prerequisite of social stability.

Chapter two explores how Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s three antislavery poems—“The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” (1847/1848), “Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave” (1850), and “A Curse for a Nation” (1855/1866)—extend beyond the issue of American slavery to address British racism. Representing blackness as a signifier of artistic creativity, the poems aesthetically challenge essentialist notions of black inferiority in a mid-Victorian society troubled by post-abolition economic decline and colonial unrest in the British West Indies. EBB’s antislavery poems thus work to liberate blackness from the chains of racial essentialism and draw on black performativity to expand the language of the poet’s social criticism.

Chapter three investigates Mary Seacole’s performative identity in her travel narrative, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857). Knowing her Victorian readers will be predisposed to read her mixed-race body as a marker of otherness, Seacole plays with their belief in ways that de-essentialize race: first, she disrupts whiteness as a racial signifier ontologically grounded in skin color by portraying her successful performance of the idealized English mother in the Crimea. Seacole then represents her physical “blackness” as a marker of life-saving hybrid medicine, a cultural signifier that revises racist notions of identity. In the process, she exposes Englishness as an unstable marker of identity that can be performed by people of different races.

Chapter four considers how Wilkie Collins problematizes binaristic notions of race in Armadale (1866), Miss or Mrs? (1873), and The Guilty River (1886). Collins’s radical reevaluations of racial others vis-à-vis Englishness and Britishness come at a time when a series of colonial uprisings like the Indian “Mutiny” and the Morant Bay rebellion exacerbated the growing acceptance of permanent racial hierarchies (as opposed to the older notion of eventual human universality). Armadale emphasizes blackness as a marker of sympathy—the essential element of English morality seldom seen in the author’s time. Affirming blackness as the moral essence of Englishness, Miss or Mrs? and The Guilty River reflect Collins’s growing frustration with the way a kind of binaristic thinking he challenged in Armadale continued to thrive in English society. These texts ultimately call for understanding English identity as an ongoing expression of inter-racial, inter-cultural reciprocity.

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William Makepeace Thackeray: Racist?

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United Kingdom on 2014-10-26 17:07Z by Steven

William Makepeace Thackeray: Racist?

OUPblog: Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World
2011-07-18

John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature
University College, London

We can never know the Victorians as well as they knew themselves. Nor–however well we annotate our texts–can we read Victorian novels as responsively as Victorians read them. They, not we, own their fiction. Thackeray and his original readers shared a common ground so familiar that there was no need for it to be spelled out. The challenge for the modern reader is to reconstruct that background as fully as we can. To ‘Victorianize’ ourselves, one might say.

It goes beyond stripping out the furniture of everyday life (horses not motorised transport, no running hot water, rampant infectious diseases) into attitudes. Can we—to take one troublesome example—in reading, say, Vanity Fair, ‘Victorianize’ our contemporary feelings about race? Or should we accept the jolt that overt 19th-century racism gives the modern reader, take it on board, and analyse what lies behind it?

It crops up in the very opening pages of Vanity Fair. Thackeray’s first full-page illustration in the novel shows the coach carrying Amelia and Becky (she hurling her Johnson’s ‘Dixonary’ out of the window) from Miss Pinkerton’s to the freedom of Russell Square. Free, free at last. Looked at closely, we may also note a black footman riding postilion in the Sedley coach. He is, we later learn, called Sambo. He features a couple of times in the first numbers and his presence hints, obliquely, that the slave trade is one field of business that the two rich merchants, Mr Sedley and Mr Osborne, may have made money from. The trade was, of course, abolished by Wilberforce’s act in 1805, but slaves continued to work in the British West Indies on the sugar plantations until the 1830s. The opening chapters of Vanity Fair are set in 1813…

…There is another character in the novel with an interest in the West Indies. Amelia’s and Becky’s schoolmate at Miss Pinkerton’s academy, Miss Swartz, is introduced as the rich woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt’s.’ St. Kitt’s, one of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean, had (until well into the twentieth century) a monoculture economy based on one crop, sugar. The plantations were worked, until the mid-1830s, by slaves–of whom Miss Swartz’s mother must have been one. Dobbin’s and George’s regiment, the ‘—-th,’ has recently been garrisoned at St. Kitts just before we encounter them. One of their duties would be to put down the occasional slave rebellions.

Miss Swartz is, we deduce, the daughter of a sugar merchant (the name hints at Jewish paternity) who has consoled himself with a black concubine. This was normal practice. It was also something painfully familiar to Thackeray. His father had been a high-ranking official in the East India Company. Thackeray, we recall, was born in Calcutta and educated himself on money earned in India. Before marrying, Thackeray’s father, as was normal, had a ‘native’ mistress and by her an illegitimate daughter, Sarah Blechynden. It was an embarrassment to the novelist, who declined any relationship with his half-sister in later life. In the truly hideous depiction Thackeray made of Miss Swartz (he illustrated his fiction, of course) in chapter 21 (‘Miss Swartz Rehearsing for the Drawing-Room’) one may suspect spite and an element of shame. What was the abolitionist’s motto—‘Am I not a Man and a Brother’? What was Miss Swartz’s mute cry, ‘Am I not a Woman and a Sister?’ No is the answer Thackeray returns.

Thackeray’s views on race remained unreconstructed. In a letter sent to his mother from America, on his first trip there (now a world-famous as the author of Vanity Fair) he wrote of the black slaves he saw in the south: ‘They are not my men and brethren, these strange people with theire retreating foreheads, and with great obtruding lips and jaws . . . Sambo is not my man and my brother.’ Thackeray died during the American Civil War. He proclaimed himself a firm supporter of the Confederacy and slavery…

Read the entire article here.

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Medical Racism

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, United States on 2014-10-14 00:37Z by Steven

Medical Racism

The New York Times
2014-10-13

Brent Staples

The worst racial atrocities that took place in the Jim Crow South were carried out by the medical establishment, not by night riders cloaked in sheets. Indeed, many more African-Americans were killed by racist medical policies than by all the lynch mobs that ever existed. Until the late 1960s, the American Medical Association tacitly endorsed rules that denied membership to black physicians in the South, thus depressing their numbers in specialties such as surgery and ensuring that black patients would continue to receive dangerously substandard care — or no care at all.

This subject is rarely discussed in film or on television. The director Steven Soderbergh deserves praise for taking it up in “The Knick,” an absorbing, visually lush medical drama on Cinemax set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. The show centers on the self-obsessed, drug-addicted Dr. Thackery — compellingly played by Clive Owen — who leads a surgical team at the Knickerbocker, a hospital whose wards are awash in the immigrant poor. Known to his comrades as Thack, the junkie surgeon plans to carve his way to immortality, one bloody patient at a time, while lecturing to the rapt audience of doctors who crowd in to view his handiwork in the operating theater.

A racist, he is repulsed when a wealthy hospital patron forces him to accept the services of a talented black surgeon, Dr. Algernon Edwards — André Holland — even though Edwards has trained abroad and mastered techniques that his white betters have yet to learn…

…Critics who wonder about the real-world antecedents of the Dr. Edwards character should look to Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950). A towering figure in medical history, Dr. Drew helped to make blood banks possible by developing efficient ways to process and store vast amounts of blood plasma. He began his career in the 1930s when surgical residencies at white hospitals in New York — even those that treated black patients — were officially closed to black physicians. Charming and urbane, Dr. Drew wrangled what a contemporary later described as a “bootleg” residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, thanks to a white doctor who took an interest in him. The fact that he was light-skinned enough to be mistaken for white was clearly an asset; it made it easier for him to find acceptance with white colleagues and patients…

Read the entire article here.

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Reading Rivalry, Race, and the Rise of a Southern Middle Class in Charles W. Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-30 17:26Z by Steven

Reading Rivalry, Race, and the Rise of a Southern Middle Class in Charles W. Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition

Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
Volume 70, Number 3, Autumn 2014
pages 157-184
DOI: 10.1353/arq.2014.0018

Rachel A. Wise, Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of English
University of Texas, Austin

This essay argues that a sustained reading of the courtship plot and Lee Ellis’s role in Charles W. Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition allows us to see the novel as ultimately envisioning a New South in which racial loyalty still trumps middle-class and professional solidarity. It reads the novel’s romantic triangle as a dramatization of the rise of a white middle class whose professional capital overtakes the central role of a plantation-based aristocracy. In the process, this new class remakes a whiteness that fails to significantly challenge either the essential hierarchy of white over black or the bloody lynch law that enforces that hierarchy. Because Ellis, who initially seems one of the least prejudiced whites in the novel, succumbs to race loyalty, his romantic triumph over Tom suggests the hopelessness of any chances for solidarity, highlighting The Marrow of Tradition’s critique of black middle-class enculturation as a viable form of racial uplift.

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Black Legacies: Race and the European Middle Ages

Posted in Books, Europe, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs on 2014-09-28 20:18Z by Steven

Black Legacies: Race and the European Middle Ages

University Press of Florida
2014-09-02
192 pages
6×9
Cloth ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-6007-1

Lynn T. Ramey, Associate Professor of French
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Black Legacies looks at color-based prejudice in the medieval and modern texts in order to reveal key similarities. Bringing far-removed time periods into startling conversation, this book argues that certain attitudes and practices present in Europe’s Middle Ages were foundational in the western concept of race.

Using historical, literary, and artistic sources, Lynn Ramey show that twelfth- and thirteenth-century discourse was preoccupied with skin color and the coding of black as “evil” and white as “good.” Ramey demonstrates that fears of miscegenation show up in all medieval European societies.  She pinpoints these same ideas in the rhetoric of later centuries. Mapmakers and travel writers of the colonial era used medieval lore of “monstrous peoples” to question the humanity of indigenous New World populations, and how medieval arguments about humanness were employed to justify the slave trade. Ramey even analyzes how race is portrayed in films set in medieval Europe, revealing an enduring fascination with the Middle Ages as a touchstone for processing and coping with racial conflict in the West today.

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At Least We Talk About Race in the USA: Zadie Smith on Writing, Race and Color

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2014-09-24 20:13Z by Steven

At Least We Talk About Race in the USA: Zadie Smith on Writing, Race and Color

My American Meltingpot: A Multi-Culti Mix of Identity Politics, Parenting & Pop Culture
2014-09-22

Lori L. Tharps, Assistant Professor of Journalism
Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

…Last week Wednesday I skipped out of work as early as possible so I could get a front row seat at the University of Pennsylvania’s Speaker’s Series on Color featuring one of my all-time favorite authors, Zadie Smith. I’ve read (and own) almost all of Smith’s fiction, but I am also a big fan of her critical essays, especially those dealing with race and culture. I like her writing and I love her mind.

So, my biggest takeaway from the almost sold-out event, is that not only is Zadie Smith absolutely brilliant (and gorgeous, and taller than I expected), she’s also got a terrific sense of humor. Rather than present a formal reading of her work, Smith sat “in conversation,” (which is clearly a thing now.) with Penn English professor, Jed Esty who peppered her with questions about her books, her upbringing as a Mixed child in London and her process as a writer. She answered every query with honesty and held none of her opinions back, even when they may have insulted the vast majority of the mostly White audience.

I found myself nodding in agreement with so much of what Smith said regarding the difference between being Black in the USA vs, the UK…

Read the entire article here.

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One Drop of Love: A Must See Show

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-22 21:34Z by Steven

One Drop of Love: A Must See Show

A Life with Subtitles
2014-09-22

Sarah Quezada

Last week I was out of town bowling and doing improv with my co-workers. It was super fun, but my time away from Atlanta meant I was gone on the birthday of my dear friend, Katie. (You may remember her as my co-conspirator during the World Cup.)

After returning, we celebrated by going to the Fox Theater to see One Drop of Love. It’s a multimedia solo performance produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and the show’s writer/performer Fanshen Cox DiGivanni. It. Was. Phenomenal.

Fanshen tells her family’s story as an exploration into her own racial identity. She reenacts experiences from conversations with her Jamaican grandmother to her travels in Africa to childhood memories with her white mother to her marriage to her Italian husband…

Read the entire review here.

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The Octoroon: A Tragic Mulatto Enslaved by 1 Drop

Posted in Arts, Europe, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery on 2014-09-19 21:25Z by Steven

The Octoroon: A Tragic Mulatto Enslaved by 1 Drop

The Root
2014-09-09

Image of the Week: A sculpture addresses the ramifications for those who were mixed-race.


John Bell, The Octoroon, 1868. Marble, 159.6 cm high. Town Hall, Blackburn, U.K.

This image is part of a weekly series that The Root is presenting in conjunction with the Image of the Black Archive & Library at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.

Though it would hardly seem likely at first glance, this pallid image of slavery directly addresses the condition of black bondage. To all appearances, the young woman seen here represents a white captive. Except for her chains, she could pass for a conventional likeness of Venus, the classical goddess of love. As indicated by the inscription on the base of the statue, she is instead an octoroon—that is, an exceptionally light-skinned person of mixed race, technically defined as one-eighth black and the rest white.

The condition was reached by gradual degrees of miscegenation, or racial mixing, until the complexion of an individual often became indistinguishable from a person of “pure” white ancestry. In race-conscious societies, the prospect of racial mixture could threaten the precarious stability of the dominant order. The position of the octoroon along the edge of this fragile divide afforded some degree of maneuverability, often termed “passing.” Before the abolition of slavery, however, such light-skinned mulattoes faced the even more likely prospect of a life in bondage…

This demure, pensive vision of miscegenation and its dire consequences was made by the popular British sculptor John Bell. Through artfully constructed layers of sentimentality and aesthetic contrivance emerges one of the primary justifications for the enslavement of a whole group of human beings: the notion of one drop of black blood, the “drop sinister,” by which a light-skinned person could be consigned to a life of bondage…

Read the entire article here.

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