The Possible South: Documentary Film and the Limitations of Biraciality

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2015-11-29 01:39Z by Steven

The Possible South: Documentary Film and the Limitations of Biraciality

University Press of Mississippi
288 pages
6 x 9 inches
38 b&w illustrations, bibliography, index
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496804082

R. Bruce Brasell
Birmingham, Alabama

Using cultural theory, author R. Bruce Brasell investigates issues surrounding the discursive presentation of the American South as biracial and explores its manifestation in documentary films, including such works as Tell about the South, bro•ken/ground, and Family Name. After considering the emergence of the region’s biraciality through a consideration of the concepts of racial citizenry and racial performativity, Brasell examines two problems associated with this framework. First, the framework assumes racial purity, and, second, it assumes that two races exist. In other words, biraciality enacts two denials, first, the existence of miscegenation in the region and, second, the existence of other races and ethnicities.

Brasell considers bodily miscegenation, discussing the racial closet and the southeastern expatriate road film. Then he examines cultural miscegenation through the lens of racial poaching and 1970s southeastern documentaries that use redemptive ethnography. In the subsequent chapters, using specific documentary films, he considers the racial in-betweenness of Spanish-speaking ethnicities (Mosquitoes and High Water, Living in America, and Nuestra Communidad), probes issues related to the process of racial negotiation experienced by Asian Americans as they seek a racial position beyond the black and white binary (Mississippi Triangle), and engages the problem of racial legitimacy confronted by federally non-recognized Native groups as they attempt the same feat (Real Indian).

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“Watch me go invisible”: Representing Racial Passing in Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-11-28 15:53Z by Steven

“Watch me go invisible”: Representing Racial Passing in Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro

South Central Review
Volume 32, Number 3, Fall 2015
pages 45-69

Sinéad Moynihan, Senior Lecturer
University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom

This essay examines the potential of the graphic novel as a vehicle to explore one of the most enduring tropes in American culture: racial passing. As what Hillary Chute and Marianne DeKoven term a “hybrid project,” graphic narrative has the potential to pose “a challenge to the structure of binary classification that opposes a set of terms, privileging one.” Since passing narratives are themselves devoted to unsettling binaries – racial binaries – this essay considers the marrying of the graphic novel and the passing narrative in Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro (2008). How, in other words, can what Scott McCloud terms “the art of the invisible” (comics) depict what Joel Williamson memorably calls “invisible blackness”?

The essay is particular interested in two aspects of Incognegro’s hybridity, one of which relates content, the other to form. First, in terms of content, the collaborators make several significant revisions to the comic book’s signature character, the superhero, amalgamating the conventions of the superhero story with those of passing narratives in order to destabilise some of both genres’ most telling assumptions. Second, in terms of formal devices, this essay examines the particular combination of visual and textual vocabularies deployed in Incognegro to portray the ambiguously-raced subject, comparing it to the ways in which such subjects have been racially-encoded in more conventional literary and cinematic narratives of passing. Ultimately, this essay considers whether Incognegro’s hybrid properties offer new political possibilities for the narrative of racial passing.

Read or purchase the article here.

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PART 1: Dispatches from Dream City: Zadie Smith and Barack Obama

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-11-28 02:41Z by Steven

PART 1: Dispatches from Dream City: Zadie Smith and Barack Obama

Electric Lit

The Editor

Reading and re-reading Zadie Smith’s spookily empathetic essay about Dreams of My Father and the natural linguistic flexibility of the biracial, upwardly mobile figure, the inevitable thought occurred to me: Is Zadie Smith the Barack Obama of literature?

Consider the parallels between the two: both are biracial (Zadie Smith had a white English father and a black Jamaican mother). Both are precocious strivers who came from somewhat déclassé origins and rose to become shining examples of their respective countries’ meritocratic aspirations (Zadie Smith grew up in a council flat, the English equivalent of a housing project, and received a scholarship to Oxford). Both give evidence of having been closer to their white parent. Both seem to promise liberation from the bad faith that has existed on both sides of the color line since the start of the post-civil rights era. Both are figures who because they smoothly speak the language of progressivism (in Smith’s case, the language of progressivism is the language of avant-garde literature and abstruse academic theory) appear–or in the case of Obama, appeared–less cautious and conservative than they really are. Changing My Mind is the title of Zadie Smith’s collection of what she calls ‘occasional essays;’ it might as well be titled ‘Only Connect,’ to use the credo of her beloved E.M.Forster’s Howards End–like Forster and like Obama, Zadie Smith is a builder of bridges and a reconciler of the seemingly irreconcilable.

There is a remarkable essay, “Two Directions for the Novel,” which is a kind of Beer Summit for contemporary fiction: on one side of the table is Joseph O’Neill, author of the Gatsbyesque 9/11 novel Netherland, on the other side is Tom McCarthy, writer of manifestos (still, after a century, a prerequisite for avant-garde credentials) and author of the astringently difficult novel Remainder

Read the part 1 of the article here. Read part 2 here.

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Posted in Course Offerings, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2015-11-27 02:58Z by Steven


University of California, Irvine
School of Humanities
Winter Quarter 2016

Jared Sexton, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Film & Media Studies

This course explores the politics of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the United States from the antebellum period to the post-civil rights era, paying specific attention to interracial sexuality as a fulcrum of power relations shaped by racial slavery and historical capitalism. We will address the emergence of the multiracial identity movement since the 1990s and discuss its relation to the legacies of white supremacy and the black freedom struggle. We will read for quality not quantity, with a premium on engaged class participation. Several short writing assignments, a midterm and a final exam are required.

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Between Two Worlds: Racial Identity in Alice Perrin’s The Stronger Claim

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2015-11-27 01:55Z by Steven

Between Two Worlds: Racial Identity in Alice Perrin’s The Stronger Claim

Victorian Literature and Culture
Volume 42, Special Issue 3, September 2014
pages 491-508
DOI: 10.1017/S1060150314000114

Melissa Edmundson Makala
University of South Carolina

Like many Anglo-Indian novelists of her generation, Alice Perrin (1867–1934) gained fame through the publication and popular reception of several domestic novels based in India and England. However, within the traditional Anglo-Indian romance plot, Perrin often incorporated subversive social messages highlighting racial and cultural problems prevalent in India during the British Raj. Instead of relying solely on one-dimensional, sentimental British heroes and heroines, Perrin frequently chose non-British protagonists who reminded her contemporary readers of very real Anglo-Indian racial inequalities they might wish to forget. In The Stronger Claim (1903), Perrin creates a main character who has a mixed-race background, but who, contrary to prevailing public opinion of the time, is a multi-dimensional, complex, and perhaps most importantly, sympathetic character positioned between two worlds. Even as Victorian India was coming to an end, many of the problems that had plagued the British Raj intensified in the early decades of the twentieth century. Perrin’s novel is one of the earliest attempts to present a sympathetic and heroic mixed-race protagonist, one whose presence asked readers to question the lasting negative effects of race relations and racial identity in both India and England.

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“Most Fitting Companions”: Making Mixed-Race Bodies Visible in Antebellum Public Spaces

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2015-11-27 01:28Z by Steven

“Most Fitting Companions”: Making Mixed-Race Bodies Visible in Antebellum Public Spaces

Theatre Survey
Volume 56, Issue 2, May 2015
pages 138-165
DOI: 10.1017/S0040557415000046

Lisa Merrill, Professor of Speech Communication, Rhetoric, Performance Studies
Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York

In the years leading up to the U.S. Civil War, free and fugitive persons of color were aware of the need to frame how they were seen in their everyday lives as part of an arsenal of rhetorical strategies to attract audiences to the abolitionist cause. In this article, I examine three spatial contexts that nineteenth-century mixed-race persons navigated for abolitionist ends in which their hybrid bodies were featured as an aspect of their public performances. These locations—Britain’s imperially sponsored Crystal Palace, a Brooklyn church pulpit, and the dramatic reader’s lectern—were not merely static places but were spaces animated and made meaningful by the interactions performed therein. Each framed a particular ocular and locational politics and strategically imbued some degree of social class privilege on the hybrid persons following its social scripts. But in so doing, each setting also reinforced colorism and contributed to notions of the supremacy of “whiteness” even while it furthered an antislavery agenda.

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President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation in Iowa

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-11-27 01:16Z by Steven

President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation in Iowa

The New York Review of Books

President Barack Obama

Marilynne Robinson

President Obama and Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa State Library, Des Moines, September 2015 (Pete Souza/White House)

The following conversation between President Obama and Marilynne Robinson was conducted in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 14. An audio recording of it can be heard at —The Editors

The President: Marilynne, it’s wonderful to see you. And as I said as we were driving over here, this is an experiment, because typically when I come to a place like Des Moines, I immediately am rushed over to some political event and I make a speech, or I have a town hall, or I go see some factory and have wonderful conversations with people. But it’s very planned out and scripted. And typically, we’re trying to drive a very particular message that day about education or about manufacturing.

But one of the things that I don’t get a chance to do as often as I’d like is just to have a conversation with somebody who I enjoy and I’m interested in; to hear from them and have a conversation with them about some of the broader cultural forces that shape our democracy and shape our ideas, and shape how we feel about citizenship and the direction that the country should be going in.

And so we had this idea that why don’t I just have a conversation with somebody I really like and see how it turns out. And you were first in the queue, because—

Marilynne Robinson: Thank you very much.

The President: Well, as you know—I’ve told you this—I love your books. Some listeners may not have read your work before, which is good, because hopefully they’ll go out and buy your books after this conversation.

I first picked up Gilead, one of your most wonderful books, here in Iowa. Because I was campaigning at the time, and there’s a lot of downtime when you’re driving between towns and when you get home late from campaigning. And you and I, therefore, have an Iowa connection, because Gilead is actually set here in Iowa…

Robinson: And also, one of the things that doesn’t take into account is that local governments can be great systems of oppression. And it’s a wonderful thing to have a national government that can intervene in the name of national values.

The President: Well, that was the lesson of the entire movement to abolish slavery and the civil rights movement. And that’s one thing—I mean, I do think that one of the things we haven’t talked about that does become the fault line around which the “us” and “them” formula rears its head is the fault line of race. And even on something like schools that you just discussed, part of the challenge is that the school systems we have are wonderful, except for a handful of schools that are predominantly minority that are terrible.

Our systems for maintaining the peace and our criminal justice systems generally work, except for this huge swath of the population that is incarcerated at rates that are unprecedented in world history.

And when you are thinking about American democracy or, for that matter, Christianity in your writings, how much does that issue of “the other” come up and how do you think about that? I know at least in Gilead that factors into one major character, trying to figure out how he can love somebody in the Fifties that doesn’t look like him.

Robinson: Iowa never had laws against interracial marriage. Only Iowa and Maine never had [them]—

The President: Those were the only two.

Robinson: Yes. And [Ulysses S.] Grant really did call [Iowa] the shining star of radicalism, and so on. We never had segregated schools; they were illegal from before, while it was still a territory, and so on. And these laws never changed and they became the basis for the marriage equality ruling that the Supreme Court here [in Iowa] did.

So that whole stream of the culture never changed. And at the same time, the felt experience of the culture was not aligned with the liberal tradition [of the] culture. And so in that book, Jack has every right to think he can come to Iowa, and yet what he finds makes him frightened even to raise the question…

Read the entire conversation here. Read part 2 of the conversation here.

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Violent Disruptions: Richard Wright and William Faulkner’s Racial Imaginations

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-11-26 19:58Z by Steven

Violent Disruptions: Richard Wright and William Faulkner’s Racial Imaginations

Harvard University
September 2013
177 pages

Linda Doris Mariah Chavers

A dissertation presented to The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of African and African American Studies

Violent Disruptions contends that the works of Richard Wright and William Faulkner are mirror images of each other and that each illustrates American race relations in distinctly powerful and prescient ways. While Faulkner portrays race and American identity through sex and its relationship to the imagination, Wright reveals a violent undercurrent beneath interracial encounters that the shared imagination triggers. Violent Disruptions argues that the spectacle of the interracial body anchors the cultural imaginations of our collective society and, as it embodies and symbolizes American slavery, drives the violent acts of individuals. Interracial productions motivate the narratives of Richard Wright and William Faulkner through a system of displacement of signs. Though these tropes maintain their currency today, they are borne out of cultural imaginings over two hundred years old. Working within the framework of the imaginary, Violent Disruptions places these now historical texts into the twenty-first century’s discourse of race and American identity.

In the first part of the dissertation, I show in detail the various narratives at work in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936) in order to portray the imaginations shared by the white characters and disrupted by the interracial body as spectacle. Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) depicts a similar racial imaginary but with more focus on its violent, corporeal effects. By contrast, in the second half of the dissertation, I demonstrate the writers’ central and racially charged characters from their earlier works, Light in August (1932) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin [Children] (1938; 1940) and look at how the figures of Joe Christmas and Big Boy, respectively, work as literary prototypes for their version in later works.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Communications/Media Studies, Forthcoming Media, History, Law, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Social Science, United States on 2015-11-26 01:35Z by Steven

Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence

University of Georgia Press
May 2016
336 pages
Trim size: 6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-8203-4956-5
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8203-4957-2

Edited by:

Chad Williams, Associate Professor of African & Afro-American Studies
Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts

Kidada E. Williams, Associate Professor of History
Wayne State University, Detroit, Michgan

Keisha N. Blain, Assistant Professor of History
University of Iowa

On June 17, 2015, a white supremacist entered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and sat with some of its parishioners during a Wednesday night Bible study session. An hour later, he began expressing his hatred for African Americans, and soon after, he shot nine church members dead, the church’s pastor and South Carolina state senator, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, among them. The ensuing manhunt for the shooter and investigation of his motives revealed his beliefs in white supremacy and reopened debates about racial conflict, southern identity, systemic racism, civil rights, and the African American church as an institution.

In the aftermath of the massacre, Professors Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, and Keisha N. Blain sought a way to put the murder—and the subsequent debates about it in the media—in the context of America’s tumultuous history of race relations and racial violence on a global scale. They created the Charleston Syllabus on June 19, starting it as a hashtag on Twitter linking to scholarly works on the myriad of issues related to the murder. The syllabus’s popularity exploded and is already being used as a key resource in discussions of the event.

Charleston Syllabus is a reader—a collection of new essays and columns published in the wake of the massacre, along with selected excerpts from key existing scholarly books and general-interest articles. The collection draws from a variety of disciplines—history, sociology, urban studies, law, critical race theory—and includes a selected and annotated bibliography for further reading, drawing from such texts as the Confederate constitution, South Carolina’s secession declaration, songs, poetry, slave narratives, and literacy texts. As timely as it is necessary, the book will be a valuable resource for understanding the roots of American systemic racism, white privilege, the uses and abuses of the Confederate flag and its ideals, the black church as a foundation for civil rights activity and state violence against such activity, and critical whiteness studies.

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She Is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Forthcoming Media, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Women on 2015-11-23 21:35Z by Steven

She Is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body

Oxford University Press
240 Pages
53 images
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780199968169
Paperback ISBN: 9780199968176

Melissa Blanco Borelli, Senior Lecturer in Dance
Royal Holloway University of London

  • Weaves together historical method, auto-ethnographic, and performative writing
  • Sits at the precipice of scholarly and public interest in Cuban cultural history

She is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body traces the history of the Cuban mulata and her association with hips, sensuality and popular dance. It examines how the mulata choreographs her racialised identity through her hips and enacts an embodied theory called hip(g)nosis. By focusing on her living and dancing body in order to flesh out the process of identity formation, this book makes a claim for how subaltern bodies negotiate a cultural identity that continues to mark their bodies on a daily basis. Combining literary and personal narratives with historical and theoretical accounts of Cuban popular dance history, religiosity and culture, this work investigates the power of embodied exchanges: bodies watching, looking, touching and dancing with one another. It sets up a genealogy of how the representations and venerations of the dancing mulata continue to circulate and participate in the volatile political and social economy of contemporary Cuba.

Table of Contents

  • Prologue, Entre Familia/Between Family
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Historicizing Hip(g)nosis
  • Interlude 1: Echando Cuentos/Telling Stories
  • Chapter 2: Hip(g)nosis at Work: Rumors, Social Dance and Cuba’s Academias de Baile
  • Interlude 2: A Marriage Proposal
  • Chapter 3: Hip(g)nosis as Pleasure: The Mulata in Film
  • Interlude 3: Lost Baggage
  • Chapter 4: Hip(g)nosis as Brand: Despelote, Tourism and Mulata Citizenship
  • Conclusion or Rear Endings
  • Index
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