Scholarly perspectives on the mixed race experience.
Irish and Italian Americans came to be considered members of the white race as their assimilation provided them with the material resources that allowed them to move away from the menial labor that was seen as synonymous with being black. Occupational and class mobility along with the loss of ethnic identity allowed these groups to assert what they were; phenotypically white immigrants from Europe who had been denied the ability to claim that identity because of racialized ethnocentrism. Today, Asian and Latino Americans who are light-skinned and have high economic status, particularly those who have white partners, may also gain entry into the white race. Those who marry whites are almost assured that their offspring will be accepted as white.
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.
Juliet Hooker, Associate Professor of Government and African and African Diaspora Studies University of Texas, Austin
The first book to simultaneously analyze U.S. African-American and Latin American political thinkers and their ideas about race.
Transforms understandings of prominent U.S. African-American and Latin American intellectuals through a hemispheric analysis.
Challenges political theory’s preoccupation with East/West comparisons by foregrounding the Americas.
Brings African-American and Latin American political thought into conversation and shows how each discipline was developed through transnational intellectual exchanges.
Maps a genealogy of racial thought in the Americas.
In 1845 two thinkers from the American hemisphere – the Argentinean statesman Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, and the fugitive ex-slave, abolitionist leader, and orator from the United States, Frederick Douglass – both published their first works. Each would become the most famous and enduring texts in what were both prolific careers, and they ensured Sarmiento and Douglass’ position as leading figures in the canon of Latin American and U.S. African-American political thought, respectively. But despite the fact that both deal directly with key political and philosophical questions in the Americas, Douglass and Sarmiento, like African-American and Latin American thought more generally, are never read alongside each other. This may be because their ideas about race differed dramatically. Sarmiento advocated the Europeanization of Latin America and espoused a virulent form of anti-indigenous racism, while Douglass opposed slavery and defended the full humanity of black persons. Still, as Juliet Hooker contends, looking at the two together allows one to chart a hemispheric intellectual geography of race that challenges political theory’s preoccupation with and assumptions about East/West comparisons, and questions the use of comparison as a tool in the production of theory and philosophy.
By juxtaposing four prominent nineteenth and twentieth-century thinkers – Frederick Douglass, Domingo F. Sarmiento, W. E. B. Du Bois, and José Vasconcelos – her book will be the first to bring African-American and Latin American political thought into conversation. Hooker stresses that Latin American and U.S. ideas about race were not developed in isolation, but grew out of transnational intellectual exchanges across the Americas. In so doing, she shows that nineteenth and twentieth-century U.S. and Latin American thinkers each looked to political models in the ‘other’ America to advance racial projects in their own countries. Reading these four intellectuals as hemispheric thinkers, Hooker foregrounds elements of their work that have been dismissed by dominant readings, and provides a crucial platform to bridge the canons of Latin American and African-American political thought.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Race Theory and Hemispheric Juxtaposition
Part I : Ambas Américas
1. “A Black Sister to Massachusetts”: Latin America and the Fugitive Democratic Ethos of Frederick Douglass
2. “Mi Patria de Pensamiento”: Sarmiento, the United States, and the Pitfalls of Comparison
Part II: Mestizo Futurologies
3. “To See, Foresee, and Prophesy”: Du Bois’ Mulatto Fictions and Afro-Futurism
4. “A Doctrine that Nourished the Hopes of the Non-White Races”: Vasconcelos, Mestizaje’s Travels, and U.S. Latino Politics
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.
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.
“Fidèle” begins by outlining the religious landscape of Ruston. The town does not have any synagogues, pagodas, or temples; rather, it has “only churches whose steeples/ are wooden hands formed in prayer” (84). From the very beginning, we are told to question the Boudreaux family in the poem based on the title, ““Fidèle,” French for faithful. The Boudreauxs, with their children and dog, repeatedly ask Pham, as she works in her family’s garden, to come to church with them someday. Pham declines these invitations as her husband instructs her…
Rachel Dolezal, the former branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who gained global notoriety in 2015 after being “outed” as a white woman pretending to be black, is back with a new book on race. Dolezal, who is ethnically German, now claims that she is “transracial”, a condition she compares to transgenderism. By this she means that although she was born white, she identifies with being black, arguing that race is a social construct.
Dolezal complains of further victimisation because “transracialism” is not recognised in the same way as transgenderism. And Dolezal sees herself as triply stigmatised; because of her race, because of her trans status and also because of the perceived illegitimacy of this status.
For someone like me, concerned both with race and with the role of narrative in culture, the narrative spun by Dolezal is both confounding and uniquely fascinating. In an interview with BBC Newsnight, she announced – not incorrectly, in my view – that “race is a lie”. At the same time, she laid claim to the transracialism that she demands to be accepted as a truth…
As generations passed, ideas of “black” and “white” were further complicated by the complex striations of racial coding that were implemented both during and after slavery, across the Americas, as a consequence of voluntary and involuntary coupling between Europeans and Africans.
This led to a dizzying taxonomy of racial mixes, including (but not confined to) so-called mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, tercerons, quintroons and beyond, depending on how many generations back a person’s African ancestry was traced. A person might be able to pass as white if their direct African ancestry was three or four generations removed – although if their relative “blackness” was discovered, it was a source not only of shame but was a precondition of legal slavery…
In this course, we will read novels that investigate the phenomenon of racial passing in the United States, whereby “black” persons light-skinned enough to appear “white” cross the color line to live as white people. Along the way, we will read a smattering of cultural theory on the social construction of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class, etc., and what it means to “perform” identity.
Perhaps more than other forms of criticism, outsiders often imagine literary criticism to be free from the vagaries of the present moment. American President Donald Trump and British politician Nigel Farage, the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, may intrude on other aspects of life, but surely we can still enjoy the beauty of John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in relative peace. Yet aesthetic appreciation is as subject to Hamlet’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as anything else, and nowhere does this pliable relationship to literature assert itself more than in the critical reception of authors of color . An illustrative example of this dynamic might be charted through the work of Zadie Smith, presented by the literary world as the “mixed-raced” poster child for the cosmopolitan axis of London–Brooklyn…
Carlos Molinari, “Time do Bangu em 1905,” Bangu.net, via Ludopédio, Francisco Carregal is pictured seated front row and center in the photo.
The ideology of racial democracy cast a long shadow over twentieth-century race relations in Brazil. First popularized by influential Brazilian scholar Gilberto Freyre, this theory presumed a level racial playing field that was paradoxically dependent on the whitening of the populace. Rather than helping to drive the country toward a multiracial future, racial democracy shrouded the structural issues that remained as a legacy of Brazilian slavery.
Throughout his corpus of writings, Freyre portrayed Afro-Brazilians as sexualized Dionysian figures with a florid talent for bodily movement, expressed not only through capoeira and samba but also on the soccer pitch. Freyre used soccer as a foil for his theories of racial democracy throughout the course of his career, assigning certain attributes such as surprise, skill, cleverness, speed, and spontaneity on a racialized basis even as he tried to claim racial syncretism both in soccer and in broader society. Journalist Mario Filho furthered this discourse in his 1947 book O Negro no Futebol Brasileiro, for which Freyre wrote the introduction. Freyre and later Filho lionized certain players while glossing over others to create the myth that soccer exemplified multiracial harmony within Brazil’s racial democracy.
The career arcs of two key soccer players—Francisco Carregal in Rio de Janeiro and Arthur Friedenreich in São Paulo—offer a lens to evaluate the extent of Afro-Brazilian agency during the early decades of soccer’s growth in Brazil. The stories of their respective careers and historical representations illustrate the extent to which the myth of racial democracy was contingent on the process of whitening, in soccer’s case less through manipulation of behavioral traits and physical appearance.
To better understand these individuals and their status in Brazilian soccer as vanguards for future generations of Afro-Brazilian players, let’s look at both men through the context of their careers as well as their portrayals by Filho in his landmark text…
Mark Whalan, Robert D. and Eve E. Horn Professor of English University of Oregon
Race, Manhood, and Modernism in America offers the first extended comparison between American writers Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) and Jean Toomer (1894-1967), examining their engagement with the ideas of “Young American” writers and critics such as Van Wyck Brooks, Paul Rosenfeld, and Waldo Frank. This distinctively modernist school was developing unique visions of how race, gender, and region would be transformed as America entered an age of mass consumerism.
Focusing on Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), and Toomer’s Cane (1923), Race, Manhood, and Modernism in America brings Anderson and Toomer together in a way that allows for a thorough historical and social contextualization that is often missing from assessments of these two literary talents and of modernism as a whole. The book suggests how the gay subcultures of Chicago and the traumatic events of the Great War provoked Anderson’s anxieties over the future of male gender identity, anxieties that are reflected in Winesburg, Ohio. Mark Whalan discusses Anderson’s primitivistic attraction to African American communities and his ambivalent attitudes toward race, attitudes that were embedded in the changing cultural and gendered landscape of mass mechanical production.
The book next examines how Toomer aimed to broaden the racial basis of American cultural nationalism, often inspired by the same cultural critics who had influenced Anderson. He rejected the ethnographically based model of tapping the “buried cultures” of ethnic minorities developed by his mentor, Waldo Frank, and also parted with the “folk” aesthetic endorsed by intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. Instead, Toomer’’ monumental Cane turned to discourses of physical culture, machine technology, and illegitimacy as ways of conceiving of a new type of manhood that refashioned commonplace notions of racial identity.
Taken together, these discussions provide a fresh, interdisciplinary appraisal of the importance of race to “Young America,” suggest provocative new directions for scholarship, and give new insight into some of the most crucial texts of U.S. interracial modernism.