Land of the cosmic race: race mixture, racism, and blackness in Mexico [Villarreal Review]

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2014-08-28 20:37Z by Steven

Land of the cosmic race: race mixture, racism, and blackness in Mexico [Villarreal Review]

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 10, 2014
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1989-1991
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2014.920094

Andrés Villarreal, Professor of Sociology
University of Maryland, College Park

Land of the cosmic race: race mixture, racism, and blackness in Mexico, by Christina A. Sue, New York, Oxford University Press, 2013, xi + 234 pp., £15.99 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-19-992550-6

A powerful official ideology promoted by the Mexican Government since the early twentieth century glorifies the mestizo, defined as the descendant of both indigenous and Spanish peoples, as a symbol of national identity. This same ideology holds racism to be inexistent in contemporary Mexico, and negates the contribution of individuals of African descent to Mexican history and to the racial make-up of the nation. Despite the importation of many thousands of slaves during the colonial period, blacks have been essentially erased from the national consciousness. Christina Sue’s outstanding ethnographic study uncovers how Mexican men and women work to reconcile this official national ideology which they vehemently espouse, with their own lived experiences in which individuals with a darker skin tone are routinely discriminated in everyday life, and in which African ancestry is clearly evident in some regions of the country.

Research on racial attitudes in Indo-Latin American countries such as Mexico has focused mostly on the mestizo–indigenous dichotomy. However, Sue convincingly argues that distinctions along a colour continuum within the mestizo population have an important effect on individuals’ life chances. Framing discussions in terms of colour rather than race allows many Mexicans to make comparisons without violating the national ideology according to which racial classifications are no longer relevant.

In contrast to the official ideology of non-racism, Sue finds evidence of tremendous racial prejudice among her subjects in the coastal city of Veracruz. Veracruzanos with a lighter skin tone enjoy preferential treatment socially and in work settings. Employers often code their preference for workers with lighter skin tones by soliciting candidates with ‘good presentation’, a term whose meaning is fully known by job applicants. Racial prejudice is also evident within family units. Family members use a variety of gatekeeping techniques to prevent the entry of dark-skinned individuals into their families through marriage. A woman interviewed by Sue reports that her mother-in-law refuses to speak to her because she is darker than her husband (94). Veracruzanos also agonize over children inheriting the phenotype of a darker parent. Reflecting the disappointment that his daughter inherited his darker skin tone, one father notes: ‘I wouldn’t have cared if she was ugly like me, but I wanted her to have green eyes … like her mother or be light like her mother. But she came out ugly like me’ (74). As in other parts of Latin America, Sue finds that Veracruzanos systematically equate whiteness with beauty and higher social standing. Darker family members are routinely insulted and devalued, while lighter members receive more resources and attention…

Read the entire review here.

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Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth and Culture [Hauskeller Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2014-08-28 20:26Z by Steven

Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth and Culture [Hauskeller Review]

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 10, 2014
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1946-1948
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2013.870348

Christine Hauskeller, Senior Lecturer of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology
University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Race and the genetic revolution: science, myth and culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan, New York, Columbia University Press, 2011, xiv + 296 pp., £22.66 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-231-15697-4

The similarities and differences among humankind have been a central theme in knowledge production, and modern biological and medical science has contributed much to the formation of race. Race and the Genetic Revolution takes its starting point from two current empirical facts: that ‘race is a scientific myth and a social reality. (2)’ DNA knowledge and genetic tests are promoted as indicating racial differences as biological differences, even though race has been unmasked in the twentieth century as a powerful social reality without a biological basis. Population genetics has shown that races are ideological constructs, yet today we find genetics widely used to re-inscribe nineteenth-century racial categories and prejudices into current social practices. To discuss these developments, Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan have brought together contributions by distinguished scholars with multidisciplinary expertise. The resulting anthology unfolds, with sharpness and clarity, the genealogy of the myth of race and how genetics is being misappropriated to revive it.

Following Krimsky’s programmatic foreword, the book is divided into six parts relating to the social realms in which genetic race is fabricated. The chapters deconstruct the amalgamation of ideology and pseudo-science and discuss in detail the flawed methods used to establish biological races. This folk genetics of race is problematic, however, not least because it is increasingly applied in institutions with social power and authority, such as health services and the police. In Part I, Michael Yuddell and Robert Pollack present a history of the ideology of race and an evolutionary perspective on why strict biological human races cannot exist. Part II analyses the politics and uses of the large forensic DNA databases in the USA and the UK. In both countries, ethnic minorities are over-represented in these databases and thus become prime suspects in police proceedings. Profiles of suspects are kept in the databases even when the individuals are never charged with any crime. Michael Risher argues that these DNA banking practices could be seen as unconstitutional and Helen Wallace points out the human rights aspects. Both observe no decided political will to counteract this re-racialization. In Part III on the logic of genetic ancestry testing, Troy Duster deconstructs the underlying idea of ‘pure’ races, the construction of reference data sets and the statistics used to produce percentages of racial origin. Testing products promising to identify the racial ancestry of an individual, he concludes, are flawed and buyers should beware that they buy nothing of any actual meaning or use. Duana Fullwiley looks at the uptake of ancestral informative DNA markers in the creation of search profiles in policing. Despite falling short of the scientific credibility that would be required for courtroom evidence, DNA-derived racial profiles inform investigative searches…

Read the entire review here.

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Paint the White House black: Barack Obama and the meaning of race in America [Haltinner Review]

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2014-08-28 19:21Z by Steven

Paint the White House black: Barack Obama and the meaning of race in America [Haltinner Review]

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 10, 2014
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1938-1941
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2013.871314

Kristin Haltinner, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Idaho

Paint the White House black: Barack Obama and the meaning of race in America, by Michael P. Jeffries, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2013, 210 pp., $22.95 (soft cover), ISBN 978-08-047-8096-4

In his song ‘Paint the White House Black’ (1993), after which Jeffries’ book is named, George Clinton raps:

Colors don’t clash, people just do

Color me happy next to you

Aww, just like it should, there goes the Neighborhood

That is what they’d have us believe

Paint the White House black, brown

Paint the White House…

Paint the White House black, brown

Paint the White House, black…

Like Clinton, Jeffries calls on all people to interrogate the ‘metalanguage’ of race (15). In his song, George Clinton highlights the hypocrisy of Bill Clinton’s presidency, expresses the need for race- and class-critical politics and calls for black or brown representation in the White House. In contrast, Jeffries’ book argues that having a president of colour does little to challenge institutional racism or the ‘language’ of race and that Americans must explore how race functions as a dynamic and powerful force in society.

Jeffries’ book begins with the paradox of Obama’s presidency: the question of whether race relations have improved or disintegrated since 2008. Rather than falling into the tempting trap of simply providing resolution to this dichotomy, Jeffries implores readers to investigate the underlying processes that contribute to current racial discourse and the birth of the question itself.

To do this, Jeffries expands previous understandings of race and racial formation by calling on scholars and citizens to explore ‘race in action’ (3), that is, to use the case study of Obama to examine the creation of racial meanings and knowledge. Jeffries builds on the work of Hall and Higginbotham to launch his analysis, arguing first that ‘race operates as a language’ in that it creates and hides deeper implications and significance while concurrently holding distinct, context-dependent meanings (7) and, second, that race defines and produces other socially constructed categories such as class or gender. Jeffries argues that the best way to examine current racial knowledge and its operation is through engaging with theories of intersectionality to ‘search for and highlight all the social forces that give cultural events racial meaning’ (14).

The book consists of four substantive chapters that provide evidence and analysis for Jeffries’ claims. Chapter two engages with intersectionality to examine how current racial knowledge is simultaneously constructed by and produces the concept of nation. Jeffries successfully argues that much of the vitriol targeted at Obama is due to the continued connection between Americanism, whiteness and the ‘politics of inheritance’ (15). Obama struggles with this in his memoir where he describes both wanting to be, like his father, an honourable black man – one who chases the American dream, but also witness to and halted by broader social inequality and black marginalization. Jeffries uses Obama’s experiences to argue for a novel construction of national identity built on a new collective culture that challenges supremacy in all forms and encourages connections between ‘ethnoracial communities’ (45).

Chapter three explores the politics of multiracial identity and the social objectification of multiracial bodies as symbols of a post-racial society. Jeffries uses the experience of multiracial young adults to demonstrate how race operates as a ‘metalanguage’ by either hiding its relation to other social forces or racializing phenomena that may not be racially based. Through these interviews, the malleable nature of race and multiraciality is identified and white supremacy accurately cited as the lynchpin of racism. Multiracial identity is, in turn, presented as one possible weapon in the war to fight racial oppression. Continuing his critique of post-racial ideology, in chapter four Jeffries more deeply discusses the ways in which multiracial people are falsely used as evidence of a post-racial America or ‘the end of black politics’ (16). Through an intersectional analysis, Jeffries demonstrates how class informs and defeats this assumption: recognizing the persistent operation of a ‘black counterpublic’ and the ways in which black political institutions have been undermined (93). He ultimately calls on citizens to demand change to the institutions that create inadequate leadership and host political power, rather than solely critiquing leaders of colour…

Read the entire review here.

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The biopolitics of mixing: Thai multiracialities and haunted ascendancies [England Review]

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom on 2014-08-28 19:00Z by Steven

The biopolitics of mixing: Thai multiracialities and haunted ascendancies [England Review]

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 10, 2014
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1923-1926
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2014.925129

Sara England, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, California

The biopolitics of mixing: Thai multiracialities and haunted ascendancies, by Jinthana Haritaworn, Surrey, UK, Ashgate, 2012, vii + 187 pp., £49.50 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-7546-7680-5

The Biopolitics of Mixing falls within a large and growing literature that questions the claim that many nations in the world are now post-racial. This claim is often backed up by the observation that there are a growing number of multiracial subjects who are accepted and celebrated as beautiful, desirable and maybe even genetically superior members of society. It is further bolstered by the claim that race itself has been discredited as a category that has any biological meaning, that through mixing racial categories are blending and creatively transgressed and that multiracial subjects are the products of the ultimate sign of racial tolerance: love, marriage and family-making. Through interviews with peoples of Thai multiracial heritage and analysis of public narratives of multiraciality in England and Germany, Haritaworn argues that this new discourse that celebrates multiracial subjects may appear to be more progressive, having done away with prior narratives of the degenerate hybrid and the marginal man; however, there are also ways that this celebratory discourse ignores what she calls the ghosts of eugenics, the Thai prostitute and other less positive images of multiraciality. She also argues that the celebration of multiraciality marginalizes other subjects who do not fit the narrative of the happy multiracial subject and the love story that produced them, and that it celebrates certain kinds of mixing and multiculturalism over others. In the end, despite its seemingly progressive nature, new discourses of multiraciality still draw on conceptions of biopolitics and biological citizenship that continue to silence certain subjects and reinforce heteronormative, liberal, white subjectivity.

In chapter 2, Haritiworn enters into the debate about the ‘what are you’ question. She notes that, like researchers before her, she designed her interviews with this question in mind. However, she came to the conclusion that the question itself is problematic, both as encountered in the daily lives of multiracial people and as posed by researchers because in both cases it assumes in advance that the multiracial body is ‘naturally’ or ‘obviously’ ambiguous and in need of ‘dissection’ and explanation. Through her interviews she shows that often the ambiguity is created in the encounter itself as the subject is misrecognized as some other ‘monoracial’ category and only through the interrogation is the multiraciality revealed and its ‘signs’ searched for in the body of the interrogated. She further argues that though her interviewees did not see these questions as particularly offensive, they did come to assume an almost ritualistic character in which the interviewee knew in advance how the interrogation was going to proceed and what assumptions underlie it. Some therefore compliantly responded to what the interrogator wanted to hear, others delighted in shocking them, while others played along with their racial assumptions and misrecognitions. While none of these strategies serve to dismantle the racial assumptions behind the interrogation, they could sometimes turn the power of ‘surveillance’ back onto the interrogator whose racial assumptions were revealed.

Unlike their varied strategies of resistance to the ‘what are you’ question, Haritaworn’s interviewees were more consistent in their celebration of the ‘beautiful Eurasian’, a discourse that she argues appears to turn the tables on the bioracial logic of eugenics in which mixes were assumed to produce degenerations of the ‘pure’ racial stocks, but that upon inspection actually shares some of its logic. For example, interviewees talked of themselves as superior breeds that are more beautiful and healthy than monoracial individuals, a belief grounded in the long-standing racial logic that equates phenotype with other ‘non-racial’ characteristics. But even within this celebration of mixing as producing bodies with ‘the best of both worlds’, some mixes were seen as more beautiful or seamless, than others, particularly Asian plus white which produces a browned white body or a diluted Thai body, in contrast to those who are a ‘dually minoritized mix’ whose bodies were seen as a more problematic clashing of disparate racialized body parts (Arab nose with Thai eyes, etc.). Haritaworn further shows that this ‘ghost of eugenics’ in the celebration of the biological superiority of the multiracial body is not simply a discourse among multiracial peoples themselves but is also present in the public sphere and given the legitimization of scientific ‘truth’ through research that seeks to locate race at the genetic level and has made the argument that multiracial peoples exhibit more ‘heterozygosity’ and are therefore physically and mentally superior to those who do not mix. She demonstrates this in chapter 4 through an analysis of the British documentary Is it Better to be Mixed Race? which aired on Channel 4 in 2009. The documentary follows Araathi Prasad, a British South Asian scientist, as she interviews largely white male scientists and happy heterosexual multiracial families with their beautiful children. Haritaworn argues that ‘While superficially reversing the old racial purity doctrine on national reproduction, the new bioracial knowledge repeats its heteronormativity and preserves and diversifies its ableism’ (89). In contrast to the racial logic of eugenics, ‘Interraciality is foregrounded as the transgressive, cutting-edge practice of the future’; however, like eugenics ‘heterosexuality remains its unspoken, taken for granted backdrop’ (90). Thus, rather than dismantling the idea of race as a biological fiction, this new line of research reifies it into the body at the genetic level and reproduces ideas of superior and inferior ‘biological citizens.’…

Read the entire review here.

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Utopian visions of racial admixture

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-08-27 21:19Z by Steven

Utopian visions of racial admixture

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 10, 2014
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1847-1851
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2014.932409

C. Matthew Snipp, Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor of Sociology
Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

In a world unbounded by racial divisions, the choice of a lover, a spouse and the children that come from that union should transcend the schemes devised by others to oppress and exploit. Racial admixtures, to the extent that they blur and obscure entrenched ideas from the past, are things to be celebrated and embraced. Both of these books, as different as they are, embrace the essential value of racial admixture but from very different perspectives, for very different reasons, and with very different emphases.

The United States of the United Races traces the history of interracial relationships in this country. Carter begins his narrative with a close reading of the French author Hector St John de Crèvecoeur. Crèvecoeur penned a very popular work titled Letters from an American Farmer that was intended to describe everyday life in the new nation. Carter’s discussion makes it clear that Crèvecoeur was an opponent of slavery and portrayed it in the vilest possible terms. However, Carter takes Crèvecoeur’s opposition to slavery and tries to make something more of it. Carter writes:

Crèvecoeur’s most important legacy… suggested that true Americans cast off the old ways of their ancestors and consented to a new way of life based on equality. In this, mixture was a positive. The American was new and mixed, just as the society was new and mixed and the way of life was new and mixed. (26, emphasis added)

Carter’s insistence that Crèvecoeur’s abolitionist leanings represent an early endorsement of racial amalgamation is a logical leap for which he provides no justification.

Taking a benign view of this logical lapse, a reader could conjecture that important links in this argument fell victim to an editor’s delete key. However, I dwell on this point because it is the first instance of something that happens in other parts of the book. That is, Carter wishes to convince us that the proponents of racial amalgamation, the formation of intimate personal relationships across racial lines have been a thriving social movement throughout the nation’s history. In places, Carter’s ebullient embrace of this theme causes him to stretch a point that sorely tests a reader’s credulity.

In a similar though subtler fashion, Carter situates the movement for racial amalgamation within the larger movement to abolish slavery. Chapter 2 is titled ‘Wendell Phillips, Unapologetic Abolitionist, Unreformed Amalgamationist’ and focuses on the life of a single abolitionist to assert the centrality of interracial marriage within the movement, invoking the affairs of Frederick Douglass with white women as additional evidence. Carter is careful to point out that ‘racial amalgamation’ was a controversial position and one that could incite violence. This chapter vacillates between making interracial marriage a focal point of the movement to abolish slavery and acknowledging that this was an extremely unpopular position. Nonetheless, the narrative of this chapter too often seeks to make us believe that the freedom to form interracial intimate relationships was one of the core objectives of the abolitionist movement. To be sure, there were abolitionists who subscribed to this view. Carter delivers evidence that at least one existed, but the argument in chapter 2 does little to dispel the view that this was little more than the lunatic fringe of the abolition movement…

What is Your Race? takes on a problem in US public policy that seems poised to only grow more serious over time. Namely, the USA has a set of public policies anchored to a racial classification system with categories that are increasingly out of step with a twenty-first-century experience and understanding of the American racial order. Prewitt has written a policy brief that consists of three parts: (1) it begins by laying out the origins of the existing system; (2) it then turns to the growing problems connected with the status quo; and (3) it concludes with recommendations for modifying the existing system along with a strategy for deploying these recommendations. The book contains eleven chapters and it would not be unfair to say that the first nine chapters are a prologue and justification for chapters 10 and 11. However, before turning to the final and most important chapters of this book, the first nine chapters deserve notice.

The official racial classification used by the federal government does not emanate from the Census Bureau. It is instead, a product of the Office of Management and Budget and articulated in a document known as Directive No. 15 (revised October 1997). Prewitt is well aware of this fact and, indeed, discusses this document at length. However, the focus of this book is on the way that the US Census Bureau collects information about race, and the recommendations that he makes are most applicable to the Census Bureau. This is not surprising partly because Prewitt is a former Census Bureau director. He writes with an insider’s deep knowledge about the workings of this complex organization. More significantly, the Census Bureau is arguably the single largest producer of data about race in the nation. Much if not most of what Americans know about race in their nation originates at the Census Bureau.

Prewitt begins by presenting a concept that he calls ‘statistical races’. Statistical races were first created by the Constitutional mandate that a census be taken every ten years. Constitutional language embedded whites and African American slaves, and excluded American Indians in the first census taken in 1790. In every census since, race has been a prominent feature. Prewitt acknowledges that racism and prejudice are indeed social realities that frame the everyday lives of Americans. However, statistical races, he argues, are classificatory artifacts manipulated to serve public policy interests…

Read the review of both books here.

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The collection of race-based data in the USA: a call for radical change

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2014-08-27 20:27Z by Steven

The collection of race-based data in the USA: a call for radical change

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 10, 2014
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1839-1846
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2014.932407

Peter Aspinall, Emeritus Reader in Population Health
University of Kent, United Kingdom

Two important new books by Greg Carter and Kenneth Prewitt provide detailed historical perspectives on how understandings of race and race categories have evolved since the founding of the republic. Prewitt focuses on an analysis of racial classification in the US census – the so-called ‘statistical races’ –and its changing role in US policy, culminating in recommendations for radical change. Carter takes as his theme population mixing across the races, offering a positive, even celebratory, but little known account of the moments and movements that have praised mixing. As pressures mount on the ‘statistical races’ in the late twentieth century, Prewitt uses the political space opened up by these debates to offer fundamental changes to US methods of ethno-racial data collection, including the removal of these questions from the census. The jury is in recess for further deliberations.

Read the review of both books here.

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Documentary reveals Jewish mother’s ‘Little White Lie’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-08-26 01:58Z by Steven

Documentary reveals Jewish mother’s ‘Little White Lie’

The Times of Israel
2014-08-17

Rebecca Spence

Lacey Schwartz’s film about reconciling her hidden black paternity to the Ashkenazi Jewish home she was raised in strikes universal themes

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — When Lacey Schwartz celebrated her bat mitzvah more than two decades ago in her hometown of Woodstock, New York, a synagogue-goer turned to her and said, “It’s so nice to have an Ethiopian Jew in our midst.”

Never mind that Schwartz, a striking 37-year-old with long black curls and a megawatt smile, is about as American as they come. Raised by two Ashkenazi Jewish parents in a largely white, upstate New York town, Schwartz’s complexion — darker than that of her relatives — had long been attributed to a Sicilian grandfather.

Despite lingering questions, she believed the story. But when Schwartz enrolled at Georgetown University and the Black Student Alliance sent her a welcome letter based on a picture she submitted, Schwartz could no longer deny something was amiss.

She confronted her mother, Peggy Schwartz, only to discover that her biological father was a black man named Rodney with whom she had had an affair.

The discovery of her family secret and Schwartz’s coming to terms with her newly complex racial identity serves as the basis for “Little White Lie,” a moving documentary that had its official world premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last Sunday following screenings in Cape Cod, Mass., and Philadelphia

…While Schwartz the filmmaker has embraced her black identity, it has not been at the expense of the strong Jewish cultural identity she developed during her formative years. Some of the earliest stirrings of the film came through her work with Reboot, a hand-picked collective of Jewish creative professionals who come together to explore meaning, community and identity…

Read the entire article here.

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Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank by Kathleen Pfeiffer (review)

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews on 2014-08-22 14:54Z by Steven

Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank by Kathleen Pfeiffer (review)

Callaloo
Volume 37, Number 3, Summer 2014
pages 735-739
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2014.0094

L. Lamar Wilson

Jean Toomer’s Cane remains one of the most enigmatic works that emerged during the last century. In the past three decades, critics have probed auto/biography, psychoanalysis, sociopolitical and theological discourse, gender studies, and Toomer’s own critical essays for answers to questions raised by his exploration of racial and national identity and dislocation, black male and female sexuality, and the metaphorical topoi of the United States North and South in the text. Nellie McKay, Robert B. Jones, Rudolph P. Byrd, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Karen Jackson Ford, Mark Whalan, and Kathleen Pfeiffer have unearthed insightful details about the circumstances surrounding Toomer’s formation of a complex racial identity, his life in the immediate years preceding Cane’s creation and publication, and the text’s impact on his subsequent writing and the Afro-modern and postmodern canons.

Whalan’s Letters of Jean Toomer: 1919–1924, published in 2006, and Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank, Pfeiffer’s 2010 response, have been particularly important. Letters gives scholars access to Toomer’s willingness to emphasize whatever aspects of his racial and cultural identity would appeal to black and white literati alike at any given moment during the years bookending Cane’s 1923 publication. Moreover, through Letters, Toomer’s co-dependency on Waldo Frank, his closest friend and mentor at the time, comes into fuller focus vis-à-vis impassioned declarations of artistic allegiance and filial devotion. With Brother Mine, Pfeiffer complicates critical notions of their relationship, offering a chronological collation of epistles between the two men. From Frank’s first letter to Toomer in October 1920, Pfeiffer implicates Frank in encouraging Toomer, who was initially reserved and professional, to open up to his input and affections and to the possibilities of publication available to him as a modernist “Negro” poet. In her introduction, Pfeiffer links the dissolution of their friendship to Toomer’s affair with Frank’s wife, art therapist Margaret Naumburg, and marks Toomer a turncoat. However, she discounts the betrayal Toomer expressed feeling in his autobiography of having been reduced to “a fraction of Negro blood” when, in fact, he desired to create “a synthesis in the matters of the mind and spirit analogous, perhaps, to the actual fact of at least six blood minglings” (qtd. in Pfeiffer 29). Ultimately, it would seem the strictures of America’s “one-drop rule” on the social status of one marked black was as much to blame.

What makes Brother Mine compelling, then, is that which made the earliest English and American readers fond of Pamela, The Power of Sympathy, and other epistolary novels: an intimate look at a complex love story. Readers see two men finding homosocial solidarity as they manipulate the constructs of race in the poetry that would become one of the New Negro Renaissance’s first critically acclaimed works. They also see Toomer offer Frank critical feedback on Holiday, Frank’s version of their trip to Spartanburg, South Carolina, which their letters often romanticize—while offering scant details. They read some of the most honest confessions in print of a white American man’s obsession with and hunger to embody blackness, and they witness Toomer deftly navigating his multiracial identity. As he and his beloved Jewish brother reach for a raceless identity neither can attain in America, readers watch them commit the ultimate crime: interracial love. Frank’s gleeful interest in the black American experience is palpable as he alludes to the pleasures and challenges he and Toomer encounter as they venture into the US South. Moreover, it is clear that Frank is living vicariously through Toomer’s relationships with his grandmother, best friend Ken, and on-again, off-again girlfriend Mae. What emerges from their dialogue is both men’s problematic conception of a kind of Lacanian jouissance subsumed in blackness, which Toomer calls a “soil [that] is a good rich brown” that “should yield splendidly to our plowing” in an August 3, 1922, letter in which he makes final plans for the pair’s Spartanburg excursion (59).

Central to the poetic re-envisioning of Cane that emerges in Brother Mine is the homo-social desire that permeates every page. As Pfeiffer notes, the almost…

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Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-First Century by Circe Sturm (review) [Steineker]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2014-08-22 13:40Z by Steven

Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-First Century by Circe Sturm (review) [Steineker]

The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 38, Number 3, Summer 2014
pages 400-402
DOI: 10.1353/aiq.2014.0028

Rowan Faye Steineker
Department of History
University of Oklahoma

In Becoming Indian, anthropologist Circe Sturm provides another innovative study of Cherokee identity politics to accompany her previous work, Blood Politics. Sturm uses ethnographic data to explain the contemporary phenomenon of “racial shifting,” which she defines as the process of reallocating one’s racial self-identification from non-Indian to Indian. This surprising and controversial demographic trend has caused the number of people claiming a Native identity on the US Census to increase over 300 percent between 1960 and 2000. Additionally, the number of people claiming to be of mixed Native American descent grew by over 600 percent during the same period. Most of these racial shifters have gravitated toward a Cherokee identity, a trend that Sturm attributes to a history of cultural syncretism, high rates of exogamy, and Cherokee tribal enrollment policies, leading to the public perception that most Cherokees appear white. As a result, the number of self-identified Cherokee individuals in the United States has grown at an astonishing rate during the past thirty years. In order to shape this provocative study, Sturm conducted ethnographic fieldwork as well as documentary research among multiple self-identified Cherokee organizations, including the three federally recognized Cherokee groups: the Cherokee Nation, the Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She also skillfully builds upon historical studies concerning race, whiteness, and Native identity within American society, including Phil Deloria’s Playing Indian and David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness.

Sturm divides the study into two sections: “Racial Shifters” and “Citizen Cherokees.” In the first, she provides a detailed examination of racial shifters and their motivations for reindiginization based on her research among members of self-identified Cherokee organizations. She found that they claimed a Native identity based on a variety of reasoning, including newly discovered and documented Native ancestry, undocumented family stories, or even spiritual feelings. Despite their differences, Sturm finds that typical racial shifters previously identified as white, yet they all assert claims to indigeneity using blood discourse. After analyzing the narrative accounts used by racial shifters, she concludes that conceptions of whiteness drive this identity transformation. Racial shifters describe their change to Cherokeeness using a discourse of whiteness, an identity that they associate with the “excesses of American individualism, secularism, and anomie” (85). Sturm argues that these racial shifters undergo a type of conversion involving a search for a meaningful life, social transcendence, a process of socialization, and proselytization similar to a religious conversion experience. This process of converting to Cherokee neotribalism allows racial shifters a means to repudiate their whiteness and find a “remedy for the ‘ills of the modern, neoliberal age’ while keeping their white privilege” (85). Thus, Sturm greatly complicates widely held notions concerning racial shifters, particularly the argument that most are motivated by material gain. She also places the discussion of Native identity within a very present context that demonstrates shifting conceptions of race, indigeneity, and American identity within the cultural and political climate of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

While Sturm provides a balanced portrayal of racial shifters in an attempt to explain the cultural reasoning underlying their transformation, she clearly demonstrates that racial shifting is also a political act with numerous consequences. She does so by devoting the second half of the study to the reaction of members of the three federally recognized Cherokee groups to individuals and groups claiming Cherokee identity. Through their reactions, she explores how racial shifting is profoundly affecting what it means to be a member of a sovereign Native nation. Typically, these “citizen Cherokees” react negatively toward people trying to reclaim an indigenous status. As Native Americans via documented ancestry and political recognition, “citizen Cherokees” often use terms such as “wannabes” and “fake Indians” to describe racial shifters whom they commonly view as “poor white trash” attempting to access a higher social status. Sturm also describes several cases of racial shifters misappropriating Native symbols and beliefs in ways that are offensive toward “Cherokee citizens.” Not only is racial shifting a cultural threat to “Cherokee citizens,” it also becomes a legal threat to their political status as federally recognized members of sovereign indigenous nations, especially as some states have begun to legally…

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The Leftovers

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-08-18 00:32Z by Steven

The Leftovers

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
2014-08-15

Alexander Chee

‘Everything I Never Told You,’ by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng’s debut novel, “Everything I Never Told You,” is a literary thriller that begins with some stock elements: a missing girl, a lake, a local bad boy who was one of the last to see her and won’t say what he knows. The year is 1977, the setting, a quiet all-American town in Ohio, where everyone knows one another and nothing like this has ever happened before.

This is familiar territory, but Ng returns to it to spin an unfamiliar tale, with a very different kind of girl from the ones we’ve been asked to follow before. If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now.

The missing girl is Lydia Lee, apple of her father’s eye, her mother’s favorite daughter. A blue-eyed Amerasian Susan Dey, the most white-looking of her siblings in her mixed-race Chinese and white family, she is also so serious, so driven, so good and responsible, she seems the least likely to go missing…

Read the entire review here.

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