Charles Chesnutt Racial Relation Progression Throughout Career

Posted in Biography, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-05-24 21:09Z by Steven

Charles Chesnutt Racial Relation Progression Throughout Career

Cleveland State University
May 2011
60 pages

Lindy R. Birney

Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree Master of English

Charles Chesnutt began his career with an ideology that race should not be a category in which to judge others. He felt that through literature he could help influence society and help create a less racial centric civilization. His career began with positive reviews from short story publications in multiple magazines. However, most critics and readers at the time did not know of Chesnutt’s racial background. It was not until his second collection of short stories that Chesnutt revealed the truth about his heritage. After his success with The Conjure Woman and The Wife of His Youth (both published in 1899), Chesnutt began to assert his political agenda more aggressively into his writing. His second novel The Marrow of Tradition (1901) received very poor reviews; critics were repulsed by Chesnutt’s revolutionary philosophies concerning the racial caste system. The poor reception of Chesnutt’s three novels forced him to retire from a literary career. Years later, during the Harlem Renaissance, a time of prolific African American writers, Chesnutt was disappointed in the baseness of black characters in literature. He scolded Harlem Renaissance writers for their lack of strong black characters, but Chesnutt’s short stories that were published in The Crisis also lacked the racial uplift that he so desperately sought. Chesnutt’s intensity of racial relation literature had dwindled over time and he left it to the next generation of writers to fulfill the social agenda that his literature was never able to achieve.

Read the entire thesis here.

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Skinship: Dialectical Passing Plots in Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery on 2016-05-24 00:32Z by Steven

Skinship: Dialectical Passing Plots in Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative

American Literary Realism
Volume 46, Number 2, Winter 2014
pages 116-136

Martha J. Cutter, Professor of English and Africana Studies
University of Connecticut

Racial definitions were in crisis within the U.S. during the mid-nineteenth century, with the country moving closer and closer to a Civil War in which the legal basis for enslavement and other forms of discrimination might be abolished. Therefore, historians and legal scholars such as Daniel Sharfstein and Joel Williamson have argued that the time period of 1830-1860, rather than that of the early twentieth-century, should be regarded as the era of the rise of the “one-drop” rule; laws regarding racial purity were passed amid the emergence of the plantation economy in the 1830s to provide a reliable source of labor and prevent what Sharfstein has termed “racial migration.” As Sharfstein has argued, “The one-drop rule’s transformation from ideological current to legal bright line and presumed social reality is in essence a story of freedom. [During] the thirty years preceding the Civil War . . . [t]he prospect of freedom for people of African descent hastened the one-drop rule’s rise as whites attempted to preserve social hierarchies and property relations in the absence of slavery.” Legal and scientific discourse from these decades further attempted to stabilize ideas of racial purity, even in the face of evidence that racial migration was an on-going fact of the U.S’s very existence.

How did racial passing texts from this time period respond to this attempt to stabilize the meaning of blackness and whiteness? Some texts endorse the attempt to stabilize race by portraying passing characters whose migration from blackness to whiteness or vice versa is figured as an invalidation of a “true” or “authentic” racial identity. For example, in Mary Langdon’s abolitionist passing novel Ida May (1854), a white child is stained brown and sold into slavery; but no one ever actually believes that the eponymous [End Page 116] heroine is anything but white, so the passing plot in fact supports racial difference and the idea that there is a “true” white race that somehow can be separated physically from the black race.

Other racial passing texts from this time period are more multivalent, in that they invoke the idea that race is physical (a matter of “one drop” of blood), only to transgress this idea through the manipulation of racialized identities based in performance, legal structures, and circumstances. Frank Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends (1857) at times invokes blood-based ideologies of race; Emily Garie’s hair, for example, is described as being “a little more wavy than is customary in persons of entire white blood” (emphasis added). Yet the novel often undercuts this rhetoric of racial blood through scenes in which race is shown to be more performative than biological. William Wells Brown’s Clotel (1853) similarly at times invokes what Adéléke Adéèkó has called “hemocentric imageries.” Brown implies at one point, for example, that “The infusion of Anglo-Saxon with African blood has created an insurrectionary feeling among the slaves of America hitherto unknown” (emphasis added). The text as a whole, however, shows race to be based in performance, legal discourse, and power relations, rather than in anything biological. For example, Clotel’s “black” daughter Althesa is said to be “as white as most white women in a southern clime.” The “somatic indecipherability” of the “white negro,” as Guilia Fabi phrases it, here emphasize that race is a sociohistorical construct, rather than a matter of blood or physical essence.

The passing plots of Hannah Crafts’ recently rediscovered novel The Bond-woman’s Narrative, written sometime after 1853, enter squarely within these complex questions by at times endorsing the idea that there is something physical to race (a drop of blood, a curl of hair, a tint in the eye) even as the narrative as a whole proffers a more flexible theorization of racial identity based not in racial blood, but in kinship, or rather what I call skinship. In the overt plot of The Bondwoman’s Narrative, as in The Garies and Their Friends and Clotel, blackness is…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Dreaming Black/Writing White: The Hagar Myth in American Cultural History

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Religion, United States, Women on 2016-05-21 23:06Z by Steven

Dreaming Black/Writing White: The Hagar Myth in American Cultural History

University Press of Kentucky
224 pages
6 x 9 photos
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8131-2143-7

Janet Gabler-Hover, Professor of English
Georgia State University

Winner of the SAMLA 2001 Book Award

Hagar, the Old Testament Egyptian heroine who bore Abraham’s son at the behest of Sarah, was traditionally regarded as an African. Yet the literature and paintings of the nineteenth century depicted Hagar as white. During this period, she became a popular subject for writers and artists, with at least thirteen novels published between 1850 and 1913 taking Hagar as their theme. Dreaming Black/Writing White examines how, for white feminists, Hagar became a liberating symbol to empower their own rebellion against patriarchal restrictions. Hagar’s understood blackness allowed her to represent a combination of sexual passion and artistic creativity that empowered women in the process of taking on male roles of economic power in American society. Because of Hagar’s ethnic complexity, she stands as an ironically positive figure at the center of several southern proslavery women’s novels such as The Deserted Wife, Hagar the Martyr, and The Modern Hagar. Through the persona of Hagar, women novelists felt free to create heroines whose suggestive blackness allowed readers to imagine themselves in rebellion against a restrictive patriarchy, but whose recoverable whiteness provided a safety hatch through which blackness could be disavowed. By exploring these complex and often contradictory depictions, Janet Gabler-Hover contends that the figure of Hagar is central to the canonized romance of nineteenth-century New England literature. The book also affirms Toni Morrison’s claim that blackness—indeed black womanness—lies at the heart of the white literary imagination in America.

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The Construction of Whiteness: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Race Formation and the Meaning of a White Identity

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2016-05-19 01:38Z by Steven

The Construction of Whiteness: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Race Formation and the Meaning of a White Identity

University Press of Mississippi
April 2016
256 pages (approx.)
6 x 9 inches
introduction, 8 b&w illustrations, bibliography, index
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496805553

Edited By:

Stephen Middleton, Professor of History and Director of African American
Mississippi State University

David R. Roediger, Foundation Professor of American Studies and History
University of Kansas

Donald M. Shaffer, Associate Professor of African American Studies and English
Mississippi State University

A critical engagement with the origins, power, and elusiveness of white privilege

Contributions by Sadhana Bery, Erica Cooper, Tim Engles, Matthew W. Hughey, Becky Thompson, Veronica T. Watson, and Robert St. Martin Westley

This volume collects interdisciplinary essays that examine the crucial intersection between whiteness as a privileged racial category and the various material practices (social, cultural, political, and economic) that undergird white ideological influence in America. In truth, the need to examine whiteness as a problem has rarely been grasped outside academic circles. The ubiquity of whiteness–its pervasive quality as an ideal that is at once omnipresent and invisible–makes it the very epitome of the mainstream in America. And yet the undeniable relationship between whiteness and inequality in this country necessitates a thorough interrogation of its formation, its representation, and its reproduction. Essays here seek to do just that work. Editors and contributors interrogate whiteness as a social construct, revealing the underpinnings of narratives that foster white skin as an ideal of beauty, intelligence, and power.

Contributors examine whiteness from several disciplinary perspectives, including history, communication, law, sociology, and literature. Its breadth and depth makes The Construction of Whiteness a refined introduction to the critical study of race for a new generation of scholars, undergraduates, and graduate students. Moreover, the interdisciplinary approach of the collection will appeal to scholars in African and African American studies, ethnic studies, cultural studies, legal studies, and more. This collection delivers an important contribution to the field of whiteness studies in its multifaceted impact on American history and culture.

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Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Posted in Books, Canada, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs on 2016-05-18 16:09Z by Steven

Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
January 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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Charlotte Brontë May Have Started the Fire, But Jean Rhys Burned Down the House

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2016-05-16 18:49Z by Steven

Charlotte Brontë May Have Started the Fire, But Jean Rhys Burned Down the House

Literary Hub

Bridget Read
Brooklyn, New York

Wide Sargasso Sea and The Limits of Bronte Feminism

In November of last year, Tin House published the text of a speech given by the author Claire Vaye Watkins, in which she spoke frankly of the various intersecting systems of privilege that affect the publishing world. Her main focus was the industry’s domination by men, their tastes and their interests, which even writers who are not men keep in mind when working toward literary success. The rousing essay ended with this call to arms: “Let us burn this motherfucking system to the ground and build something better.”

I thought of this speech this week, on the 200th anniversary of a famous literary house fire otherwise known as Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë’s novel about the eponymous “poor, obscure, plain and little” governess who quietly triumphs over several archetypal gothic adversaries: poverty, cruelty, a castle, a ghost, a brooding Byronic lover. Jane Eyre endures because it’s the story of an underdog, surely, as is the story of the author herself. Diminutive Charlotte and her sisters published their novels from their home in the Yorkshire moors, first under male pen names before being welcomed into important literary circles as women writers. Of Brontë, whose heroine notoriously requires the gruff, hot Mr. Rochester to regard her as a true partner before she will wed him, “equal—as we are,” Matthew Arnold complained in 1853: “The writer’s mind contains nothing but hunger, rebellion and rage, and therefore that is all she can, in fact, put in her book.” This, of course, is an excellent blurb for a novel in 2016, and cause to study Jane Eyre as a proto-feminist text….

There are other reasons that cultural objects get to hang around for multiple centennials, however, and rarely can a book’s radicalism alone account for its longevity in popular imagination. You might consider how Jane Eyre, not unlike the work of another famous but non-fictional Jane, in addition to being groundbreaking, is very safe. Jane E. might at first deny the hands of Rochester and her cousin St. John Rivers because they want to control her, but she does get married, eventually, all while maintaining her quiet dignity, her resilience, and her piety—meaning that her self-actualization is still in the service of morality, a Christian, patriarchal one. It is important to remember who exactly burns down the house in Jane Eyre, because it isn’t Jane. The arsonist of the novel is Bertha, Rochester’s shut-in wife, the infamous woman in the attic, and if a radical core can be found in Brontë’s work, it’s with her. Which is to say that the novel’s real potential for systemic annihilation is not the novel itself, and brings me to another anniversary, a 50th birthday, of Jean Rhys’s prequel to Jane Eyre: Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1966…

Read the entire article here.

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Marlene Daut

Posted in Audio, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2016-05-15 01:40Z by Steven

Marlene Daut

New Books Network

Dan Livesay, Assistant Professor of History
Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, California

Marlene Daut tackles the complicated intersection of history and literary legacy in her book Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865 (Liverpool University Press, 2015). She not only describes the immediate political reaction to the Haitian Revolution, but traces how writers, novelists, playwrights, and scholars imposed particular racial assumptions onto that event for decades afterward. Specifically, she identifies a number of recurring tropes that sought to assign intense racial divisions to the Haitian people. Individuals of joint African and European heritage, she contends, received the blunt of these attacks, as they were portrayed as monstrous, vengeful, mendacious, and yet also destined for tragedy. Moreover, observers and chroniclers of the Revolution maintained that these supposed characteristics produced ever-lasting discord with black Haitians. Daut analyzes hundreds of fictional and non-fictional accounts to argue that portrayals of the Haitian Revolution, and of the country itself, have long suffered under these false assumptions of exceptional racial problems. She has also produced a compendium of Haitian fiction during this period, in conjunction with the book. You can find it here.

Listen to the interview (00:49:33) here. Download the interview here.

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Staking Claim: Settler Colonialism and Racialization in Hawai’i

Posted in Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Oceania, United States on 2016-05-13 01:50Z by Steven

Staking Claim: Settler Colonialism and Racialization in Hawai’i

University of Arizona Press
232 pages
6.00 x 9.00
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8165-0251-6

Judy Rohrer, Director of the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility (ICSR); Assistant Professor in Diversity and Community Studies
University of Western Kentucky, Bowling Green, Kentucky

Exploring how racialization is employed to further colonialism

In the heart of the Pacific Ocean, Hawai’i exists at a global crosscurrent of indigeneity and race, homeland and diaspora, nation and globalization, sovereignty and imperialism. In order to better understand how settler colonialism works and thus move decolonization efforts forward, Staking Claim analyzes competing claims of identity, belonging, and political status in Hawai’i.

Author Judy Rohrer brings together an analysis of racial formation and colonization in the islands through a study of legal cases, contemporary public discourse (local media and literature), and Hawai’i scholarship. Her analysis exposes how racialization works to obscure—with the ultimate goal of eliminating—native Hawaiian indigeneity, homeland, nation, and sovereignty.

Staking Claim argues that the dual settler colonial processes of racializing native Hawaiians (erasing their indigeneity), and indigenizing non-Hawaiians, enable the staking of non-Hawaiian claims to Hawai’i. It encourages us to think beyond a settler-native binary by analyzing the ways racializations of Hawaiians and various non-Hawaiian settlers and arrivants bolster settler colonial claims, structures, and white supremacist ideologies.

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Playing Asian: A Review of AATP’s “Yellow Face”

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-05-12 00:37Z by Steven

Playing Asian: A Review of AATP’s “Yellow Face”

Standford Arts Review

Loralee Sepsey

“You don’t have to live as an Asian every day of your life.”

These words, spoken by the character David Henry Hwang (Newton Cheng) in Stanford’s Asian American Theater Project’s production of Hwang’s “unreliable memoir” Yellow Face, ring clear throughout the small, intimate space of the Elliott Program Center. Hwang has his back to the audience, head tilted upwards as he confronts the character of Marcus (Levi Jennings) over his self-proclaimed “choice” to be Asian– Siberian Jewish American, to be exact. Marcus stands upon a simple podium, lights beaming down on him like some sort of halo. In this moment, Marcus is playing savior, the beacon of whiteness coming to “save” the play’s Asian community, taking the qualities of color that benefit him while remaining free of the struggle that comes from racism. Everyone wants to be Asian, but no one actually wants to be Asian…

Read the entire review here.

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Dying to Be Black: White-to-Black Racial Passing in Chesnutt’s “Mars Jeems’s Nightmare,” Griffin’s Black Like Me, and Van Peebles’s Watermelon Man

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-05-09 15:16Z by Steven

Dying to Be Black: White-to-Black Racial Passing in Chesnutt’s “Mars Jeems’s Nightmare,” Griffin’s Black Like Me, and Van Peebles’s Watermelon Man

Volume 28 / October 2004
pages 519-542
DOI: 10.1017/S0361233300001599

Baz Dreisinger, Associate Professor of English
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Is racial passing passé? Not according to contemporary book sales. The theme remains central to at least three recent best sellers: Danzy Senna’s Caucasia, Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, and Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Roth’s novel made it to the big screen this fall, just as Devil in a Blues Dress, the adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel starring Denzel Washington, did in 1995. Renewed academic attention is being paid, of late, to “classic” passing narratives; once-ignored ones, including Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars, are being revived; and still others being reread in the context of passing.

Read or purchase the article here.

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