The Time of the Multiracial

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-09-03 17:25Z by Steven

The Time of the Multiracial

American Literary History
Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 2015
pages 549-556
DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajv026

Habiba Ibrahim, Associate Professor of English
University of Washington, Seattle

Habiba Ibrahim is the author of  Troubling the Family: The Promise of Personhood and the Rise of Multiracialism (2012). Her current book project, Oceanic Lifespans, examines how age and racial blackness have been mutually constituted.

These three recent studies all read how mixed racialism expresses and challenges the terms of US nationalism during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Collectively, they account for a period when the nation developed as a global force through a series of racializing projects, implemented through intra- and international war, imperialist expansion and conquest, and the consolidation of the color line at home. Tropes such as miscegenation, tragic mulatta, and genres of mixedness such as the “racial romance” (Sheffer 3) reveal a key aspect of the cultural imagination during the turbulent era that led up to and inaugurated the “American Century.” Figures of deviant intimacy—interracial sex, incest, same-sex filiation—and figures of gender, such as the mulatto/a, and the tragic muse revealed the cultural outcomes of the unfinished project of nation building. All of these studies take racial mixedness and its correlating categories as key analytical starting points for unmasking the neutrality or invisibility of state power. Thus, they bring to mind the urgency of the current moment: what analytics can interrupt the post-ness—postracialism, postfeminism, and postidentitarianism—of the present?

1. Neoliberalism, Postidentity

Twenty years ago, mixed racialism first appealed to literary scholars because it offered a critical space in which to explore the era’s political contradictions and transitions. During the heyday of the so-called multiracial movement, key developments in the cultural politics of identity were well under way. The culture wars were still raging with neoconservative moralists and left-of-center liberals vying for influence over social and political life. At the same time, neoconservatives  and neoliberals converged around the erosion of identitarian categories as social tools for making political and historical critiques. By the neoliberal era of the 1980s and 1990s identity was increasingly viewed as the stuff of separatist and single-issue groupthink, rather than as an instrument through which to analyze the operations and historicity of power. Perhaps this explains the remarkably accelerating cultural and scholarly interest in multiracial identity by the mid-1990s. After all, what did the appearance of the multiracial indicate? Under the umbrella term “multiracialism,” subjects with competing social, political, and cultural views formulated clashing accounts of how to situate race in US discourse. As a diagnostic tool, multiracialism bore the potential to cut through the present.

2. Gender, Sexuality, Family

Twenty years later, interdisciplinary scholarship in philosophy, performance studies, literary, and cultural studies increasingly take multiracialism as a starting point for thinking historically about social identities and cultural production. Current literary scholarship retrieves unfamiliar, forgotten history in order to diagnose the present, or to reconsider our present-day relationship to the historical. Some scholars have started with how multiracialism is treated within current US discourse—as the balm of postracial transcendence on the one side, as another separatist identity on the other—to ask how we’ve arrived at these particular interpretations. This line of inquiry denaturalizes present-day meanings attached to the multiracial and clearly departs from work that vehemently argues one position or the other.

What stands out about more recent studies—Kimberly Snyder Manganelli’s Transatlantic Spectacles of Race (2012), Jolie A. Sheffer’s The Romance of Race (2013), and Diana Rebekkah Paulin’s Imperfect Unions (2012)—is the way they represent a decisive turn toward staunchly comparativist, even transnational approach to multiracial literary studies. Comparativism indicates that the field is broadening its spatial and analytical scope to pursue fuller explorations of the historical and historiographical. Such a broadened scope repositions interest in the cultural politics of gender, sexuality, and family as deep engagements with the modern.

Like Suzanne Bost’s Mulattas and Mestizas (2003), Teresa Zackodnik’s The Mulatta and the Politics of Race (2004), and Eve Allegra Raimon’s The “Tragic Mulatta” Revisited (2004), Transatlantic Spectacles of Race, investigates early intersections between racial amalgamation and womanhood by exploring how the figurative feminization of racial mixedness has been instrumentalized to vie for various nationalist and counter-nationalist outcomes over the long nineteenth century. Manganelli’s unique contribution is to read the mixed-race “tragic mulatta” of the Americas alongside its heretofore-unacknowledged counterpart, the Jewish “tragic muse” of Victorian British literature, thereby positioning both blackness and Jewishness along the same…

Read or purchase the review of the three books here.

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Mixed Messages: The Role of the Multiracial Character in Children’s Literature

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-09-01 19:47Z by Steven

Mixed Messages: The Role of the Multiracial Character in Children’s Literature

theracetoread: Children’s Literature and Issues of Race
2015-08-20

Karen Sands-O’Connor, Professor
English Department
Buffalo State, The State University of New York, Buffalo, New York

In 19th and early 20th century children’s literature, the multiracial character generally evoked one of two responses: fear, or pity. Tom Sawyer’s Injun Joe, for example, was much feared by Tom and his gang, Tom even having nightmares about the character coming to get him. In Caddie Woodlawn, the children of an Indian mother and white father are “half savage” and the recipient of Caddie’s attempts to “civilize” them by paying for new clothes. Other examples can be found in British Empire literature—the “ugly mulatto” being a stock character of fear in books by G.A. Henty, H. Rider Haggard, and others; and the pitiable female “half-breed” or “mulatto” who cannot ultimately be saved by the white hero also figures in the works of these authors.

After World War II, as civil rights in the US and changing immigration patterns in Britain meant increasing, often hostile, interaction between racial groups, the multiracial character in children’s literature nearly disappeared for a time. But a generation later, many things had changed. More and more children were born who had parents of different races, but it was unclear where they would fit in to a post-civil rights society. Both American and British authors produced books dealing with this issue, but for this blog, I’m just going to look at two from Britain: Anthony Masters’ Streetwise (London: Methuen, 1987), and Jacqueline Roy’s Soul Daddy (London: Collins, 1990)…

Read the entire article here.

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Dr. Seuss and Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-09-01 02:15Z by Steven

Dr. Seuss and Racial Passing

theracetoread: Children’s Literature and Issues of Race
2015-02-11

Karen Sands-O’Connor, Professor
English Department
Buffalo State, The State University of New York, Buffalo, New York


A Star-Belly Sneetch’s worst fear: that we might not be able to tell “them” from “us”.

Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved children’s authors in America. He also has a rather mixed record on issues of race and diversity. As a young man, Dr. Seuss wrote and drew for various magazines and college publications. In these, Seuss portrayed Africans and Asians in stereotypical fashion. During World War II, Seuss drew some political cartoons which sympathized with African-Americans and Jewish people and others that accused Japanese-Americans of perpetrating acts of sabotage.

After the war, Seuss’s attitudes changed. These changes in attitude came about, in part, because of his writing commissions. He visited Japan on assignment for Life magazine, and saw the devastation caused by the atomic bombs his country dropped. His writing for children also began to take off. Both of these things resulted in a measurable difference in his public attitudes toward racism…

Read the entire article here.

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“These narratives of racial passing have risen from the dead”

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-08-29 01:46Z by Steven

“These narratives of racial passing have risen from the dead”

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
May 2015
275 pages
DOI: 10.7282/T38G8NJG

Donavan L. Ramon

Ph.D. Dissertation

Instead of concurring with most critics that racial passing literature reached its apex during the Harlem Renaissance, this project highlights its persistence, as evidenced in the texts examined from 1900 to 2014. Using psychoanalysis, this dissertation recovers non-canonical and white-authored narratives that critics overlook, thus reconceptualizing the genre of passing literature to forge a new genealogy for this tradition. This new genealogy includes novels, life writings, and short stories. In arguing for the genre’s continued relevance and production, this project offers a rejoinder to critics who contend that racial passing literature is obsolete. Part one of this dissertation complicates the notion that characters pass only in response to witnessing a lynching or to improve their socioeconomic status, by asserting that racial passing begins in the classroom for male characters and at home for their female counterparts. It thus precedes the threat of violence or middle class aspirations. Whereas the first half of this project is preoccupied with the gendered beginnings of racial passing, the second half examines its effects, on both writing and death. This project explores racial passing in Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900), James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun (1929), Vera Caspary’s The White Girl (1929), Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s The Stones of the Village (1988), Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (1999), Philip Roth’s The Human Stain (2000), Bliss Broyard’s One Drop (2003) and Anita Reynolds’ American Cocktail (2014).

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Times Fluid, Mobile and Ambivalent: Constructing Racial & Personal Identity in James McBride’s The Color of Water

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-29 01:18Z by Steven

Times Fluid, Mobile and Ambivalent: Constructing Racial & Personal Identity in James McBride’s The Color of Water

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature
Volume 4, Number 5 (2015)
pages 63-71
DOI: 10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.4n.5p.63

Yuan-Chin Chang
Department of Applied English Studies
China University of Technology, Wunshan District, Taipei City 116, Taiwan

James McBride’s memoir The Color of Water provides a rich and nuanced history of the author – a Black American man – and his white mother. Using the theories of Bhabha regarding hybridity, ambivalence and a Third Space between different cultures or individuals, it is demonstrated that racial and personal identities are constructed, and historically reconstructed, as flexible and mobile entities in this memoir. The linking of narratives and voices across different decades demonstrates the Third Space in the relationship between McBride and his mother, and each individual’s relationship to and understanding of themselves in a broader multiracial culture. Lacan’s theories regarding rhetoric and signification are also used to underpin an exploration of the ways in which McBride portrays his own changing understanding of biracial identity in America.

Read the entire article here.

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Podcast #75: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith on Race, Writing, and Relationships

Posted in Articles, Audio, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-27 00:55Z by Steven

Podcast #75: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith on Race, Writing, and Relationships

The NYPL Podcast
The New York Public Library
New York, New York
2015-08-25

Tracy O’Neill, Social Media Curator

There are few authors as smart, powerful, and visionary as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith. Adichie’s Americanah won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award with its delicious satire, while Smith took the Orange Prize for her moving transatlantic novel On Beauty. This week, we’re proud to present Adichie and Smith discussing clear writing, race, and relationships on the New York Public Library Podcast.

For more details, click here.

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Moor, Mulata, Mulatta: Sentimentalism, Racialization, and Benevolent Imperialism in Mary Peabody Mann’s Juanita

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-26 23:12Z by Steven

Moor, Mulata, Mulatta: Sentimentalism, Racialization, and Benevolent Imperialism in Mary Peabody Mann’s Juanita

J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists
Volume 2, Number 2, Fall 2014
pages 301-329
DOI: 10.1353/jnc.2014.0021

Maria A. Windell, Assistant Professor of English
University of Colorado, Boulder

“Moor, Mulata, Mulatta” argues that Mary Peabody Mann’s Juanita (1887) imports U.S. sentimental abolitionism to a Cuban setting. In so doing, it imports a racial hierarchy divergent from that developing in Cuba. By translating figures such as Eva-like children and the tragic U.S. mulatta into a Cuban narrative, Mann’s novel overwrites figures such as the Cuban mulata and rewrites Cuba’s antislavery and anticolonial movements—erasing their multiracial nature. The alternate Cuba that Juanita envisions exemplifies a late-nineteenth-century U.S. hemispheric imaginary, thereby prefiguring U.S. influence in Cuba following the Spanish-Cuban-American War.

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ETHS 306 : Politics of Mixed Racial Identity

Posted in Course Offerings, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-08-22 01:38Z by Steven

ETHS 306 : Politics of Mixed Racial Identity

Metropolitan State University, Saint Paul, Minnesota
2002-08-24 to Present

This course focuses on the phenomenon of mixed race descent in the United States. For comparative purposes, the course also explores the topic in relation to other nations. Included in the course are historical perspectives, and exploration of the psychology, sociology and literature associated with mixed race descent.

For more information, click here. For the Library Guide, click here.

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Pauline Hopkins and the Death of the Tragic Mulatta

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-11 20:17Z by Steven

Pauline Hopkins and the Death of the Tragic Mulatta

JoAnn Pavletich, Associate Professor of English
University of Houston, Houston, Texas

Callaloo
Volume 38, Number 3, Summer 2015
pages 647-663
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2015.0103

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, turn-of-the-century intellectual, editor of the Colored American Magazine, and author of essays, plays, short stories, and four complex novels written in the short span of five years is deservedly celebrated as a writer whose texts attempt to subvert racist social norms and encourage resistance. As Claudia Tate rightly claims, Hopkins’s first novel, Contending Forces, is a “manifesto on the value of fiction to social activism in black America” (170), and in the introduction to Contending Forces, Hopkins herself claims that “[i]n giving this little romance expression in print, I am not actuated by a desire for notoriety or for profit, but to do all that I can in an humble way to raise the stigma of degradation from my race” (13–14). These activist and didactic intentions are borne out in all four of her novels, which offer readers a parade of righteous and pure men and women who do not deserve the “stigma of degradation” and struggle to rise above it. Hopkins’s politically charged novels transmit their arguments through many genres, but most obviously and predominantly through the conventions of the period’s sentimental and domestic literature, which includes an almost obsessive preoccupation with feminine virtue, submissiveness, and piety. Significantly, each of Hopkins’s full-length novels employs these conventions in the context of a mixed-race female protagonist, resulting in a tension between the author’s stated purpose of promoting African American agency and the imperatives that structured sentimentalism. This tension is the focus this essay.

The significance of Hopkins’s mixed-race female protagonists has been a central topic in previous scholarship on her work. The figure of the mulatto, or the tragic mulatta, a stock figure in nineteenth-century sentimental literature, sprung out of that century’s confluence of abolitionist efforts and gender ideologies, emerging alongside and structured by notions of “true womanhood” in antebellum America. As many scholars have observed, this popular and influential trope functioned as an effective vehicle to explore relations between the races. According to Hazel Carby, one of Hopkins’s first and most sensitive critics, “[a]s a mediating device the mulatto had two narrative functions: it enabled an exploration of the social relations between the races … and it enabled an expression of the sexual relations between the races, since the mulatto was a product not only of proscribed consensual relations but of white sexual domination” (xxi–xxii). This literary exploration, however, took place in a specific and limited ideological context where the dominant literary form and the dominant gender ideology were both constituted by notions of “true womanhood.” Thus, while the mulatto functioned as a narrative device, it existed within narratives inextricably tied to the rhetoric of true womanhood.

Separate spheres ideology, later christened the Cult of True Womanhood by Barbara Welter, advanced a regime of purity, piety, submissiveness, and domesticity as the basis for female moral authority. Writers seeking to end slavery or ameliorate racial injustices depicted mixed-race women possessing these characteristics in order to represent Black women as capable of asserting moral authority and participating in civil society. The obvious dilemma presented by this construct, however, is what Shirley Samuels has termed the “double logic of power and powerlessness”: the contradiction between an assertion of female authority and the purity, piety, submissiveness, and domesticity that policed female subjectivity (4). That Hopkins created pure and submissive protagonists and engaged the conventional marriage plot of sentimental literature is not surprising. Given the way in which slavery stripped African American women of maternal and familial rights, Hopkins’s and others’ use of the “seemingly conventional trope of redemptive maternity [and marriage] becomes not so conventional” (McCullough 40). Moreover, as Ann duCille notes, for the black female intelligentsia of the post-Reconstruction era, “marriage was the calling card that announced … civility and democratic entitlement” (30). This democratic entitlement came with a price, however, and this article examines Hopkins’s innovative responses to working within the ideological constraints of her era, while simultaneously attempting to “faithfully portray the inmost thoughts and feelings of the Negro” (Contending Forces 14).

This essay’s analysis of the representational arc of Hopkins’s mixed-race female protagonists…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Poitier Revisited: Reconsidering a Black Icon in the Obama Age

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-08-08 05:10Z by Steven

Poitier Revisited: Reconsidering a Black Icon in the Obama Age

Bloomsbury Publishing
2015-01-15
288 pages
25 bw illus
229 x 152 mm
Hardback ISBN: 9781623564919

Edited by:

Ian Gregory Strachan, Associate Professor of English
College of The Bahamas

Mia Mask, Associate Professor of Film
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

Sidney Poitier remains one of the most recognizable black men in the world. Widely celebrated but at times criticized for the roles he played during a career that spanned 60 years, there can be no comprehensive discussion of black men in American film, and no serious analysis of 20th century American film history that excludes him. Poitier Revisited offers a fresh interrogation of the social, cultural and political significance of the Poitier oeuvre. The contributions explore the broad spectrum of critical issues summoned up by Poitier’s iconic work as actor, director and filmmaker. Despite his stature, Poitier has actually been under-examined in film criticism generally. This work reconsiders his pivotal role in film and American race relations, by arguing persuasively, that even in this supposedly ‘post-racial’ moment of Barack Obama, the struggles, aspirations, anxieties, and tensions Poitier’s films explored are every bit as relevant today as when they were first made.

Table of Contents

  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Introduction
  • 1. Walking with Kings: Poitier, King, and Obama / Aram Goudsouzian, University of Memphis, USA
  • 2. Historicizing the Shadows and Acts: No Way Out and the Imagining of Black Activist Communities / Ryan De Rosa, Los Angeles Public Schools, USA
  • 3. Caribbean All-Stars: Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and the Rise of the African-American Leading Man / Belinda Edmondson, Professor of English and African-American & African Studies, USA
  • 4. “Draggin’ the Chain”: Linking Civil Rights and African American Representation in The Defiant Ones and In the Heat of the Night / Emma Hamilton and Troy Saxby, University of Newcastle, Australia
  • 5. Whisper Campaign on Catfish Row: Sidney Poitier and Porgy and Bess / Jeff Smith, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
  • 6. To Sir, With Love: A Black British Perspective / Mark Christian, Lehman College, USA
  • 7. Transgression or Legal Union?: The Meaning of Interracial Marriage in 1967 Film and Law / Kim Warren, University of Kansas, USA
  • 8. A Blues the Tom: Sidney Poitier’s Filmic Sexual Identities / Ian Gregory Strachan, College of The Bahamas, Bahamas
  • 9. Black Masculinity on Horseback: From Duel at Diablo to Buck and the Preacher and beyond / Mia Mask, Vassar College, USA
  • 10. Stepping Behind the Camera: Sidney Poitier’s Directorial Career / Keith Corson, Rhodes College and Memphis College of Art, USA
  • 11. No Shafts, Super Flys, or Foxy Browns: Sidney Poitier’s Uptown Saturday Night as Alternative to Blaxploitation Cinema” / Novotny Lawrence, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, USA
  • 12. Transcending Paul Poitier: Six Degrees of Separation and the Construction of Will Smith / Willie Tolliver, Jr., Agnes Scott College, USA
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