New Perspectives on James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Passing, United States on 2017-06-26 19:18Z by Steven

New Perspectives on James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

University of Georgia Press
2017-07-15
272 pages
Trim size: 6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-8203-5097-4
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-8203-5096-7

Edited by

Noelle Morrissette, Associate Professor of English
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) exemplified the ideal of the American public intellectual as a writer, educator, songwriter, diplomat, key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and first African American executive of the NAACP. Originally published anonymously in 1912, Johnson’s novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is considered one of the foundational works of twentieth-century African American literature, and its themes and forms have been taken up by other writers, from Ralph Ellison to Teju Cole.

Johnson’s novel provocatively engages with political and cultural strains still prevalent in American discourse today, and it remains in print over a century after its initial publication. New Perspectives contains fresh essays that analyze the book’s reverberations, the contexts within which it was created and received, the aesthetic and intellectual developments of its author, and its continuing influence on American literature and global culture.

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Getting In and Out

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, United States on 2017-06-26 19:12Z by Steven

Getting In and Out

Harper’s Magazine
July 2017

Zadie Smith

Who owns black pain?

Discussed in this essay:

Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele. Blumhouse Productions, QC Entertainment, and Monkeypaw Productions, 2017. 104 minutes.

Open Casket, by Dana Schutz. 2017 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. March 17–June 11, 2017.

You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
Langston Hughes

Early on, as the opening credits roll, a woodland scene. We’re upstate, viewing the forest from a passing car. Trees upon trees, lovely, dark and deep. There are no people to be seen in this wood—but you get the feeling that somebody’s in there somewhere. Now we switch to a different world. Still photographs, taken in the shadow of public housing: the basketball court, the abandoned lot, the street corner. Here black folk hang out on sun-warmed concrete, laughing, crying, living, surviving. The shots of the woods and those of the city both have their natural audience, people for whom such images are familiar and benign. There are those who think of Fros­tian woods as the pastoral, as America the Beautiful, and others who see summer in the city as, likewise, beautiful and American. One of the marvelous tricks of Jordan Peele’s debut feature, Get Out, is to reverse these constituencies, revealing two separate planets of American fear—separate but not equal. One side can claim a long, distinguished cinematic history: Why should I fear the black man in the city? The second, though not entirely unknown (Deliverance, The Wicker Man), is certainly more obscure: Why should I fear the white man in the woods?…

…We have been warned not to get under one another’s skin, to keep our distance. But Jordan Peele’s horror-fantasy—in which we are inside one another’s skin and intimately involved in one another’s suffering—is neither a horror nor a fantasy. It is a fact of our experience. The real fantasy is that we can get out of one another’s way, make a clean cut between black and white, a final cathartic separation between us and them. For the many of us in loving, mixed families, this is the true impossibility. There are people online who seem astounded that Get Out was written and directed by a man with a white wife and a white mother, a man who may soon have—depending on how the unpredictable phenotype lottery goes—a white-appearing child. But this is the history of race in America. Families can become black, then white, then black again within a few generations. And even when Americans are not genetically mixed, they live in a mixed society at the national level if no other. There is no getting out of our intertwined history…

Read the entire review here.

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Stanford graduate student finds patterns in stories about multiracialism

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2017-06-22 00:55Z by Steven

Stanford graduate student finds patterns in stories about multiracialism

Stanford News
Stanford University, Stanford, California
2017-06-21

Alex Shashkevich


Vanessa Seals (Image credit: Margaret Sena)

English doctoral student Vanessa Seals studies contemporary American novels and memoirs about multiracial people’s experiences to examine the role families play in their search for identity.

Who am I? It’s a question many of us ask at some point in our lives.

Vanessa Seals, a doctoral student in English, is exploring how people of mixed race tackle this question and form their racial identities.

Seals read and analyzed more than 50 contemporary American novels and memoirs, largely written in the past two decades, about the experiences of multiracial people as part of her dissertation research. She found that mixed-race individuals represented in the literature almost always look to their family and relatives when trying to figure out who they are…

Read the entire article here.

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No, Interracial Love is Not “Saving America”

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2017-06-14 01:25Z by Steven

No, Interracial Love is Not “Saving America”

Wear Your Voice: Intersectional Feminist Media
2017-06-12

Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda

This year is the 50th anniversary of Loving vs. Virginia, the famous Supreme Court case that officially overturned state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Predictably, this has been accompanied by a flurry of events, films, articles, and even songs celebrating this moment as a milestone in the history of America’s journey toward racial equality.

At a mixed race conference I recently attended, larger-than-life photographs of Richard and Mildred Loving, the white man and black woman whose relationship inspired the court case in 1965, adorned the walls. There and elsewhere, the Lovings were portrayed as “heroes” whose love valiantly overcame the racism of their time.

Just today, the New York Times proclaimed that interracial love was “saving America.”.

Statistics show that interracial marriages in the U.S. are on the rise, and this undoubtedly reflects a shift in attitudes toward race in the American population overall. However, there are several reasons why using interracial marriage as proof of racial progress in our society is not only misleading, but harmful.

First, state recognition of partnership often functions as a superficial symbol of progress, obscuring deeper issues of violence and inequality for the most marginalized members of a community. For example, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, many heralded this as proof that queer people had finally been accepted into mainstream society…

Read the entire article here.

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Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Posted in Books, Canada, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs on 2017-05-30 20:54Z by Steven

Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
October 2017
295 pages
ISBN13: 978-1-77112-240-5

Michelle La Flamme, Professor of English
University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

Canada’s history is bicultural, Indigenous, and multilingual, and these characteristics have given risen to a number of strategies used by our writers to code racially mixed characters. This book examines contemporary Canadian literature and drama in order to tease out some of those strategies and the social and cultural factors that inform them.

Racially hybrid characters in literature have served a matrix of needs. They are used as shorthand for interracial desire, signifiers of taboo love, images of impurity, symbols of degeneration, and examples of beauty and genetic perfection. Their fates have been used to suggest the futility of marrying across racial lines, or the revelation of their “one drop” signals a climactic downfall. Other narratives suggest mixed-race bodies are foundational to colonization and signify contact between colonial and Indigenous bodies.

Author Michelle LaFlamme approaches racial hybridity with a cross-generic and cross-racial approach, unusual in the field of hybridity studies, by analyzing characters with different racial mixes in autobiographies, fiction, and drama. Her analysis privileges literary texts and the voices of artists rather than sociological explanations of the mixed-race experience. The book suggests that the hyper-visualization of mixed-race bodies in mono-racial contexts creates a scopophilic interest in how those bodies look and perform race.

La Flamme’s term “soma text” draws attention to the constructed, performative aspects of this form of embodiment. The writers she examines witness that living in a racially hybrid and ambiguous body is a complex engagement that involves reading and decoding the body in sophisticated ways, involving both the multiracial body and the racialized gaze of the onlooker.

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The Uproar Over ‘Transracialism’

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, United States on 2017-05-18 19:53Z by Steven

The Uproar Over ‘Transracialism’

The New York Times
2017-05-18

Rogers Brubaker, Professor of Sociology
University of California, Los Angeles


Rachel Dolezal in 2015. The controversy over her choice to identify as black has lingered.
Credit Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review, via Associated Press

Rogers Brubaker is a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author, most recently, of “Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities.”

The world of academic philosophy is ordinarily a rather esoteric one. But Rebecca Tuvel’s article “In Defense of Transracialism,” published in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia this spring, has generated a broad public discussion.

Dr. Tuvel was prompted to write her article by the controversy that erupted when Rachel Dolezal, the former local N.A.A.C.P. official who had long presented herself as black, was revealed to have grown up white. The Dolezal story broke just 10 days after Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair debut, and the two discussions merged. If Ms. Jenner could identify as a woman, could Ms. Dolezal identify as black? If transgender was a legitimate social identity, might transracial be as well? Dr. Tuvel’s article subjected these public debates to philosophical scrutiny.

The idea of transracialism had been rejected out of hand by the cultural left. Some worried — as many cultural conservatives indeed hoped — that this seemingly absurd idea might undermine the legitimacy of transgender claims. Others argued that if self-identification were to replace ancestry or phenotype as the touchstone of racial identity, this would encourage “racial fraud” and cultural appropriation. Because race has always been first and foremost an externally imposed classification, it is understandable that the idea of people declaring themselves transracial struck many as offensively dismissive of the social realities of race…

Read the entire article here.

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Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-05-15 00:05Z by Steven

Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

University of North Carolina Press
May 2017
230 pages
6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, notes, bibl., index
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3283-4
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3282-7
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3284-1

Alisha Gaines, Assistant Professor of English
Florida State University

In 1948, journalist Ray Sprigle traded his whiteness to live as a black man for four weeks. A little over a decade later, John Howard Griffin famously “became” black as well, traveling the American South in search of a certain kind of racial understanding. Contemporary history is littered with the surprisingly complex stories of white people passing as black, and here Alisha Gaines constructs a unique genealogy of “empathetic racial impersonation”–white liberals walking in the fantasy of black skin under the alibi of cross-racial empathy. At the end of their experiments in “blackness,” Gaines argues, these debatably well-meaning white impersonators arrived at little more than false consciousness.

Complicating the histories of black-to-white passing and blackface minstrelsy, Gaines uses an interdisciplinary approach rooted in literary studies, race theory, and cultural studies to reveal these sometimes maddening, and often absurd, experiments of racial impersonation. By examining this history of modern racial impersonation, Gaines shows that there was, and still is, a faulty cultural logic that places enormous faith in the idea that empathy is all that white Americans need to make a significant difference in how to racially navigate our society.

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SAS Researchers Probe Racial Passing, Identity Based on Two Novels

Posted in Africa, Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-05-11 01:18Z by Steven

SAS Researchers Probe Racial Passing, Identity Based on Two Novels

American University of Nigeria
2017-05-01

Nelly Ating

The modern-day issues of “racial passing” and “identity,” dominated the April 20 SAS research seminar presented by Dr. Agatha Ukata and Dr. Brian Reed of the English & Literature department.

The duo’s research probes the phenomenon in “Being and Not Being:  How Society Negotiates Humanity.”  This is a study based on Nella Larsen, and Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and on Isidore Okpewho’s Call Me by My Rightful Name.

This work will be presented at the African Literature Association conference at Yale University in June.

Leading the discussion, Dr Ukata said that despite disparity in the years of publication of the novels, it is astonishing to see the recurrence of “racial passing” in this era…

Read the entire article here.

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The Manner of Blackness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-05-06 02:06Z by Steven

The Manner of Blackness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Volume 100, Number 2, 2017
pages 112-142

Michael A. Istvan Jr., Lecturer in Philosophy
Texas State University

Commentators have suggested that Nella Larsen’s Passing rejects the view that there is some sort of black essence. This article challenges this reading. Since Irene is the most vocal advocate of an essence in respect to which all blacks are homogenous, much of the evidence for thinking that Passing is skeptical about such an essence amounts to evidence for not trusting Irene’s judgment in general, and for not trusting her judgment on this matter in particular. My arguments, then, will often involve explaining why Passing is not leading the reader to mistrust Irene’s judgment on this matter. Now, what exactly is meant by a black essence is, explicitly in this book, mysterious. Nevertheless, this article intends to shed some light on how Passing understands the nature of this something, this je ne sais quoi, peculiar to blacks. My tentative interpretation is that this something is an intangible and indefinite manner of being that is neither a conscious choice nor an inborn fact of biology, but rather a given of culture. This article takes this, in effect, blackness manner to be, so Passing seems to indicate, a function of one’s belief that one is black in a milieu of pervasive anti-black prejudice. Passing thus has something to offer those today who struggle to adjudicate between a pull towards essentialism and a pull towards constructionism. What Passing emphasizes in this discussion is the possibility that, in addition to biological and societal influences, one’s mind state is a crucial ingredient to one’s racial identity.

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The Asian Turn in Mixed Race Studies: Retrospects and Prospects

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2017-05-04 03:20Z by Steven

The Asian Turn in Mixed Race Studies: Retrospects and Prospects

Asia Pacific Perspectives
Volume 14, Number 2: Spring 2017

Emma J. Teng, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations; Associate Professor of Chinese Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In 1930, the young Han Suyin (pen name of Rosalie Chou, 1916-2012) read this passage in a book called Races of the World: “Racial mixtures are prone to mental unbalance, hysteria, alcoholism, generally of weak character and untrustworthy…” Shaken, she prayed, “Oh God… don’t let me go mad, don’t let my brain go, I want to study.”1

Probably the most famous Eurasian author of the 20th century, one who served as a major interpreter of China to the West during the tumultuous Cold War era, Han was haunted by these words and driven throughout her life by a determination to prove them untrue, fighting the pronounced stigma and the obstacles faced by mixed-heritage individuals during her era. As she highlighted in this famous scene from her autobiographical A Mortal Flower (1965), such stigma was not only a product of social prejudice, but also heavily reinforced by scientific and pseudoscientific discourses of the time.

From our vantage point today, it is a good moment to take stock of how far we have come (or failed to come) over the century that separates us from Han’s birth. How have popular perceptions of “mixed-race” peoples changed in Asia and across the globe? How have academic discourses evolved? And perhaps most importantly, how have “mixed” individuals themselves advocated for their equal rights and recognition? The articles in this pathbreaking issue of Asia Pacific Perspectives address these vital questions and others, focusing their analyses on historical and contemporary manifestations of “mixedness” across East Asia…

Read the entire article here.

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