Ghosts of Camptown

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2014-07-13 06:41Z by Steven

Ghosts of Camptown

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic LIterature of the United States
Volume 39, Issue 3 (Fall 2014)
pages 49-67
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlu025

Grace Kyungwon Hong, Associate Professor of Gender Studies and Asian American Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

This essay engages the deployment of form in Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother (1996), focusing in particular on its strategy of embedding fantastical stories within its narrative structure and on the ways in which the mystical or magical tone of these stories pervades the narrative, establishing a frame seemingly incongruous with the memoir’s setting within a military camptown in South Korea. If a classically realist tone and linear narrative arc are the formal expressions of nationalist culture, the autobiographical novel’s departure from these formal strategies, I argue, is necessary to convey the complex juridical status of the camptown. Through a curious excess of state sovereignty, because they are simultaneously under both US and South Korean sovereignty, the camptown and its residents are subject to abandonment by both nation-states, producing a heightened vulnerability to death. Accordingly, such complex relationships to sovereignty demand a narrative form organized around a complex and divided subject unlike the possessive individual at the center of traditional autobiographies, a divided subject formed around an ethics in which no one is blameless and everyone is complicit.

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Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial. Ralina L. Joseph. [Cannon]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-07-11 06:58Z by Steven

Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial. Ralina L. Joseph. [Cannon]

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic LIterature of the United States
Volume 39, Issue 3 (Fall 2014)
pages 207-209
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlu028

Sarita Cannon, Associate Professor of English Language and Literature
San Francisco State University

Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial. Ralina L. Joseph. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012. 248 pages. $84.95 cloth; $23.95 paper.

Ralina L. Joseph’s timely book about representations of multiracial black women in popular culture makes a significant contribution to the growing field of critical mixed-race studies. Drawing on research in various fields, Joseph closely reads four texts produced between 1998 and 2008: Showtime’s television series The L Word (2004-09), Danzy Senna’s coming-of-age novel Caucasia (1998), Alison Swan’s independent film Mixing Nia (1998), and the reality competition show America’s Next Top Model (2003-present). Joseph examines representations of black mixed-race subjectivity in these texts through two tropes: the new millennium mulatta and the exceptional multiracial. These two very different archetypes of multiracial identity are nonetheless linked by a common desire to transcend blackness, a proposition that Joseph argues is deeply troubling in twenty-first-century America, where, although many proclaim that affirmative action is no longer necessary, structural inequalities between blacks and whites remain entrenched.

One of Joseph’s central claims in Transcending Blackness is that popular representations of black mixed-race women fall into one of two categories. The new millennium mulatta is, in many ways, a revision of the tragic mulatta figure, made popular in films such as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Imitation of Life (1959). According to Joseph, the new…

Read or purchase the review here.

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Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference by Anne Pollock (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2014-07-11 06:52Z by Steven

Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference by Anne Pollock (review)

Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Volume 88, Number 2, Summer 2014
pages 393-395
DOI: 10.1353/bhm.2014.0025

Lundy Braun, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Africana Studies
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Anne Pollock, Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).

Science and technology studies (STS) scholar Anne Pollock’s Medicating Race uses the lens of “durable preoccupations” to explore the racialization of different categories of heart disease from the early twentieth century when cardiology emerged as a medical specialty. The book is a useful reminder that the intense and sometimes vitriolic debate over BiDil, a medication for heart failure and the first race-based drug, is but one moment—though a very public one—in a long history of the mobilization of race in cardiology. Drawing on rich and varied sources, including archival materials, scientific articles, interviews, and professional conferences, Pollock extends prior analyses of BiDil to examine the intersection of race with the numerous epistemological debates that characterize the history of heart disease. Why, Pollock asks, has race proved so resilient in the history of heart disease, despite relentless critique?

This deeply theorized account tracks “epistemologically eclectical” racial preoccupations as they travel among the social worlds of science, the clinic, and the pharmaceutical industry. Weaving together three main themes—the role of heart disease research in constituting Americanness, the persistence of racial categorization throughout this history, and the social and political dimensions of health disparities activism—Pollock argues that the durability of race in theories of heart disease is a dynamic biosocial process enmeshed in ambiguous and changing classifications of both disease and race and the persistence of unequal access to power, resources, and treatment. As Pollock writes, “Preoccupations with racial differences always exceed the data itself” (p. 19).

Beginning with early twentieth-century beliefs about infectious etiologies of heart disease, racial discourses shaped the emergence and professionalization of cardiology in complex ways. So deeply entrenched were ideas of syphilitic heart disease in blacks, for example, that Booker T. Washington’s death from arteriosclerosis in 1915 remained a matter of dispute until the 2000s. For African American physicians committed to providing medical care to their neglected communities, engagement with black heart disease also provided them with access to the modern technologies of scientific medicine, albeit limited. As others have shown with diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer, discourses of modernity, stress, and civilization were central to the whitening of coronary heart disease by midcentury.

Particularly fascinating is Pollock’s detailed examination of the complicated relationship between the famed Framingham Heart Study organized in 1948 and the Jackson Heart Study organized in 2000. Framingham researchers constructed their population as both white and normal through changing coding practices, categorizations, computerization, and data analysis, all of which cohered to produce hypertension as a distinct disease category. Modeled on Framingham, the Jackson Heart Study recruited only self-identified blacks, constructing a population that was simultaneously representative and different. Unlike the Framingham investigators, the Jackson investigators incorporated the social dimensions of health disparities, in addition to lifestyle and genetics, into the study design. In chapter 3, Pollock traces the complexity of social processes that produced African American hypertension as a distinctive disease category—and the consequent emergence of the category of African American itself as a risk factor for heart disease. Moving to “durable preoccupations” in contemporary race science in later chapters, Medicating Race analyzes the debates about the salt-slavery hypothesis of hypertension, thiazide diuretics, and BiDil.

While arguing throughout the book for careful attention to biology in any constructivist analysis, for this reader Pollock underestimates the consequences of genetic essentialism and market imperatives in medicine. Yet, in making explicit the tensions in democracy embedded in the historical debates over black heart disease, this book provides fresh insight into a key aspect of the dilemma of difference: when and how to use race in contemporary research. Despite at least a decade of careful social and scientific scrutiny, the academic and public debate about race and race science is not, nor can it be, settled as long as race remains such a salient marker of inequality in U.S. society.

This theoretically sophisticated book does an excellent job of making many familiar STS concepts relevant to medical history. Placing current arguments over race and heart disease in a broad historical context, Pollock adds valuable nuance to the historiography of race and heart disease and their material-semiotic natures. For all its semiotic ambiguity, heart…

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Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection by Nadine Ehlers [review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-06-19 20:57Z by Steven

Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection by Nadine Ehlers [review]

International Social Science Review
Volume 88, Issue 3 (2014)

Matt Campbell
Doctoral Student of History
University of Houston, Houston, Texas

Ehlers, Nadine. Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2012. x + 184 pages. Paper, $25.00.

Race theory is a discipline that has become increasingly useful in the social sciences in the past few decades. In Racial Imperatives, Nadine Ehlers, a scholar of women’s and gender studies, provides a welcome view of the often forgotten question of how whiteness and blackness are formed and how individuals “pass” as one or the other. Her work is brimming with interdisciplinary content, including philosophy, critical theory, race and gender studies, and history. In contrast to earlier works that have taken only a historical approach or only a philosophical approach to race, Ehlers builds on a broad range of scholarship, including such well known titles as the historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Figure in Black (1987), the philosopher George Yancy’s Black Bodies, White Gazes (2008), performance studies specialist E. Patrick Johnson’s Appropriating Blackness (2003), as well as a host of other works from scholars of slavery, post-Civil War racism, and African American studies. Ehlers also blends the work of French theorist Michel Foucault and the gender studies of Judith Butler to exhibit the “discipline” that exists in race and how through performativity, race is ultimately a game of passing…

Read the entire review  here.

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Thanks, Belle, it’s nice to see a face like mine on screen

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2014-06-11 20:27Z by Steven

Thanks, Belle, it’s nice to see a face like mine on screen

The Guardian (The Observer)
2014-06-07

Ashley Clark

In giving top billing to Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the film Belle makes a real contribution to raising awareness of the mixed-race experience

My heart leaps whenever I see the poster for Amma Asante’s new film, Belle, high up on billboards around town. The poised, sincere face of its lead actress, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (a Brit of black South African and white English extraction), towers above an otherwise white cast including Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, and ex-Harry Potter villain Tom Felton.

Why? As a mixed-race Brit myself – white and black Caribbean, as I’ve been checking in the relevant boxes for some years now – it’s always been significant to me to see someone who looks like they could be a close relative in the foreground rather than the background. The film’s protagonist, Dido Elizabeth Belle, as you might now know, is based on an actual 18th-century mixed-race woman of white British and black African heritage who was raised as an aristocrat.

The issues still seem relevant now: how does a mixed-race person navigate the spaces between cultures and the isolation that sometimes ensue? Film and television that genuinely engages with the mixed-race British experience is rare, so it’s always thrilling when it happens in mainstream entertainment. Mixed-race visibility is not new, particularly in professional sports, but the wonderful sight of Jessica Ennis on the medal podium is not the same as experiencing the layered complexity of a multifaceted story…

…The sociologist Emma Dabiri convincingly argues that “black-mixed people can be racialised as black, whereas non-black-mixed people are able to inhabit a more ambiguous exotic space”. This, says Dabiri, puts paid to the myth that all mixed-race groups can be packaged together – as the media often attempt to do – as one separate, monolithic community: a tidy narrative of progress…

Read the entire article here.

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Race, Romance, and Rebellion: Literatures of the Americas in the Nineteenth Century. Colleen C. O’Brien. [Orihuela]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2014-06-09 02:25Z by Steven

Race, Romance, and Rebellion: Literatures of the Americas in the Nineteenth Century. Colleen C. O’Brien. [Orihuela]

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic LIterature of the United States
Published Online: 2014-06-05
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlu027

Sharada Balachandran Orihuela, Assistant Professor of English
University of Maryland

Race, Romance, and Rebellion: Literatures of the Americas in the Nineteenth Century. Colleen C. O’Brien. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013. 224 pages. $65.00 cloth; $24.50 paper; $65.00 electronic.

Colleen C. O’Brien’s Race, Romance, and Rebellion: Literatures of the Americas in the Nineteenth Century examines American rebel-romances written in the era of reform (1835-70) that engage with concepts as broad and contentious as race, gender, and rights in nineteenth-century America. In part, this project is indebted to the close relationship O’Brien sees between romanticism, with its ideals of freedom and emancipation, and rebellion, the necessary political outcome of a quest for freedom. Such rebellion is transfigured into the romances O’Brien studies, since a number of novels she examines center on transcendent affective relationships with liberatory outcomes. New world romances, she suggests, envision the expansion of rights and freedom to a range of different populations and respond to the changing geopolitical climate ushered in by colonial expansion. O’Brien thus directs her attention to cross-racial romances as existing in dialogic relation to the “myths of revolutionary origin in the United States and Haiti and the definitions of freedom each created” (xi).

For O’Brien, these myths of revolutionary origin or rebellion allude to the revolutionary fights for freedom in the American and Haitian contexts, as well as to the rejection of patriarchal authority. However, as demonstrated in her first chapter, American rebellion is also used to justify the white supremacist backlash that resulted from increasing demands for rights across the Americas. Rebellion thus addresses possibility as much as anxiety about national expansion and possible incorporation. O’Brien examines amalgamation—taken to mean both literary and geographical expansion—as well as the literary representations of cross-racial love and “the amalgamation of abolition and suffrage interests through the expansion of citizenship rights.”…

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Almost Free: A Story About Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia by Eva Sheppard Wolf (review) [Lee]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2014-06-09 02:15Z by Steven

Almost Free: A Story About Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia by Eva Sheppard Wolf (review) [Lee]

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 111, Number 2, Spring 2013
pages 252-254
DOI: 10.1353/khs.2013.0034

Deborah A. Lee, PhD, Independent Historian
Stanardsville, Virginia

Wolf, Eva Sheppard, Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012)

In Almost Free, Eva Sheppard Wolf explores race and freedom in the antebellum South by illuminating the interesting—if obscure—life of Samuel Johnson, a free black man of Fauquier County, Virginia. He worked hard, observed rules, won friends, and acquired considerable property and respectability, but he fell achingly short of obtaining the freedom and security he sought for himself and his enslaved family. Johnson stands out in history because, between 1812 and 1837, he petitioned the legislature ten times in that cause, with the support of many white neighbors. Wolf concludes from this case study that slavery and freedom were not mere opposites; that Johnson, in his attainment of property and respectability, occupied a “broad space . . . between freedom and slavery”; and that race was “simultaneously momentous and tenuous” (p. 3).

A tavern-keeper before and after emancipation, Samuel Johnson was resourceful and determined. After enlisting a third party to lawfully conduct the transaction, he earned five hundred dollars to purchase his freedom. Next, with much support and assistance from local whites, including a U.S. senator, he successfully petitioned for the right to remain in Virginia. This step complied with an 1806 law that otherwise required emancipated people to leave the state within a year. Only then did he complete the manumission. In the decade it took him to raise the money, however, he had married an enslaved woman named Patty and with her had two children, Lucy and Samuel Jr. To obtain more freedom and security for his family, he purchased them from their owner. Reluctant to free them without permission to remain in the state, and even more reluctant to leave Virginia, he repeatedly petitioned the legislature in their cause, with tremendous support of white neighbors. The case reached urgency as his daughter neared adulthood, so that as a free woman she could legally marry.

Wolf’s methodology and conclusions align with those of Melvin Patrick Ely in Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War (2004). Their observations of considerable interracial cooperation and a wide—yet still constrained—range of possibilities for free blacks in Virginia largely refutes Ira Berlin’s earlier thesis, summed up in the title of his seminal work, Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (1974). In her study, Wolf focuses on the way local people, white and black, variously ignored, challenged, circumvented, and maintained racial boundaries. While this shifting ground was remarkable, she concludes that “color often mattered more than behavior,” property rights were stronger than personal rights, and dark skin sometimes conferred a kind of invisibility (p. 40). Berlin and Wolf agree that white antipathy grew and racial attitudes hardened over time, narrowing possibilities for free blacks, but rather than occurring after the American Revolution, Wolf places this phenomenon in the 1820s.

Wolf does a beautiful job of narrating this complex story with limited sources, especially from Johnson’s perspective. She engages in necessary speculation about his thought processes and emotions in a particularly effective way, describing various alternatives. It was difficult, however, to get a sense of the black community from this study, though sources such as legislative petitions suggest that an African American counterculture thrived in the region. Nonetheless, the book clearly demonstrates the value of local history and helps readers understand the South in more complex and nuanced ways. Not least, Wolf points out that the story demonstrates how much family, freedom, and autonomy mattered to people such as the Johnsons and how they also make history…

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Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia by Eva Sheppard Wolf (reweiw) [Watkins]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2014-06-01 17:38Z by Steven

Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia by Eva Sheppard Wolf (reweiw) [Watkins]

Journal of the Early Republic
Volume 33, Number 3, Fall 2013
pages 575-577
DOI: 10.1353/jer.2013.0062

Andrea S. Watkins

Wolf, Eva Sheppard, Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012)

The tenuous status of free blacks within antebellum Virginia is examined by Eva Sheppard Wolf through the life of Samuel Johnson, a slave who purchased his own freedom and struggled over the course of the rest of his life to free his family and keep them together. His attempts to work within the legal framework established by the state and his own connections to powerful Virginia citizens illustrates the nebulous place free blacks held within antebellum society, as well as the role of personal relationships between black and white residents in achieving freedom and prosperity.

Wolf, associate professor of history at San Francisco State University, has pieced together a story of Johnson’s adulthood and family life through local court records and Virginia legislative petitions. The specifics of Samuel Johnson’s birth are not known, but his identification as “mulatto” in records indicates he had a slave mother and white father. Wolf suggests that Johnson’s white father may have found his mulatto slave son work in Norris Tavern in Warrenton, Virginia, the county seat for Fauquier County. As a tavern servant Johnson had the opportunity to forge relationships with white members of the community who came to Warrenton for court business and to save tip money to purchase his freedom. Johnson entered an agreement with his owner Edward Digges in 1802 to purchase his freedom for five hundred dollars. Virginia law regarding manumission of slaves changed in 1806. The new law established that freed slaves must leave the state within one year of liberation. Johnson had a choice to either continue to save and purchase his freedom with the knowledge he must leave or remain enslaved. The decision was not an easy one as he was married with two children by 1811, when he had collected the five hundred dollars.

Johnson’s choice demonstrates the importance of personal relationships in understanding race relations in the antebellum period. Over time Johnson had established ties with important white men within Warrenton, Fauquier County, and beyond. He was known as a hard-working slave and was viewed by many as an asset to the community. To leave Fauquier County, or Virginia, was to face a life of uncertainty. Would he find such valuable work in another state or find a place in a new community equal to the one he had in Warrenton? Thus, Johnson chose to petition the state legislature to allow him to remain in Virginia and he enlisted the help of various white citizens as witnesses to his character. His petition was passed by the legislature, and eventually Samuel Johnson became a free man on August 25, 1812. The fact that Johnson called on white slave owners to attest to his hard work, character, and value to the community reveals how often the relationships between blacks and whites in the early nineteenth century do not match the rhetoric of speeches and legislation critical and fearful of the presence of free blacks.

Wolf recounts how in the following years Johnson purchased his wife and two children, but their position was precarious as they could be sold for payment of Johnson’s debts, and he could not free them without fear that officials would expel them from the state one year after manumission. Johnson submitted petition after petition to the state’s authorities requesting that his family be allowed to remain with him when freed, and again and again those petitions failed to pass. Wolf successfully portrays the frustrations of trying to navigate the legal system of the time, but also the high stakes for Johnson and his family if he acted without legal provision. Johnson’s resourcefulness in garnering support throughout the white community is evident in his 1826 petition for his daughter Lucy that had the signatures of 226 people including white women and two U.S. congressmen. Johnson successfully purchased a home and land on the edge of Warrenton, and the family established a comfortable lifestyle until his death in 1842. At that time only his daughter and her children were still living. Johnson had already freed Lucy, taking the chance that his own standing and her ties to the local community would forestall any attempts to have…

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Great Asian-Pacific American Authors: Amy Tan, Jhumpa Lahiri, and More

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2014-05-21 23:11Z by Steven

Great Asian-Pacific American Authors: Amy Tan, Jhumpa Lahiri, and More

Bookish
2014-05-15

Elizabeth Rowe

May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage month in the U.S., and, to honor the occasion, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite (but by no means all of our favorite) authors of Asian-Pacific heritage who celebrate their cultures in their writing. From classics such as Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ So Far From the Bamboo Grove to newer works, such as Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement, these books written by Asian-Pacific American authors showcase varied and insightful perspectives on identity and American life…

Lisa See

Don’t be fooled by her strawberry-blond locks and freckles: Lisa See is part Chinese (she has a Chinese great-grandfather) and grew up with a large Chinese-American extended family. In 2001, she was named National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women. Of her cultural background, See writes: “In many ways I straddle two cultures. I try to bring what I know from both [Chinese and American] cultures into my work. The American side of me tries to open a window into China and things Chinese for non-Chinese, while the Chinese side of me makes sure that what I’m writing is true to the Chinese culture without it seeming too ‘exotic’ or ‘foreign.’” In her most recent book, China Dolls, See takes on the Japanese internment in the United States during World War II, as well as the larger issue of racial passing

Read the entire article here.

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“Hafu” an AMAZING Start But We Need to Go Deeper

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2014-05-21 15:05Z by Steven

“Hafu” an AMAZING Start But We Need to Go Deeper

Multiracial Asian Families
2014-05-20

Sharon Chang

About a week ago I had the chance to do something I’ve been wanting to do (and bugging the filmmakers about for a long time)—finally go to a local screening of the documentary Hafu, meaning “half,” which represents 5 stories of mixed heritage Japanese folks navigating their multi/identities in Japan today. The film was made by a production team of mostly mixed-race Japanese themselves many either having been raised, born and raised, or with very close ties to the country. The movie shares with us the lived lives of: Edward (Venezuelan/Japanese), The Oi Family particularly their son Alex (Mexican/Japanese), David (Ghanaian/Japanese), Fusae (Korean/Japanese), and Sophia (Australian/Japanese)…

…Overall I think this documentary is a must-see. But (and you knew there was gonna be a “but”)—I would like to see the conversation go deeper. To me it felt like there was the proverbial elephant-in-the-room that never quite got called out. A missing critique of the systems and institutions of state, nation and global race politics that press against mixed heritage peoples, intrude upon, limit, and often direct their ID construction…

Read the entire review here.

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