The Time of the Multiracial

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

The Time of the Multiracial

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

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

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

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

1. Neoliberalism, Postidentity

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

2. Gender, Sexuality, Family

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

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

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

Read or purchase the review of the three books here.

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Celeste Ng’s debut novel focuses on racial isolation

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-20 20:05Z by Steven

Celeste Ng’s debut novel focuses on racial isolation

The Herald & Review
Decatur, Illinois

Marylynne Pitz, Tribune News Service Writer

Celeste Ng (pronounced “ing”) spent the first nine years of her life in the Pittsburgh suburb of South Park and recalls frequent visits to Century III Mall where her parents, who were academics, shopped enthusiastically at B. Dalton’s and Waldenbooks.

“Our house was just crammed full of books,” said the writer, whose debut novel, “Everything I Never Told You,” made The New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of 2014 and was the Amazon book of 2014. Ng, 34, lives in Cambridge, Mass.

Her debut novel, set in 1977, focuses on the Lee family. There’s Marilyn, an American woman who ignored her mother’s advice and married James, who is Chinese; the couple’s two daughters, Lydia and Hannah; and a son, Nath. Members of the mixed-race family try hard to blend into the vanilla atmosphere of a college town in Ohio. But the Lees remain outsiders, and their sense of isolation is palpable.

As the story opens, Lydia Lee drowns in a lake and so does her mother’s fervent hope that her daughter will become a doctor. Among surviving family members, the death of this promising high school student dredges up intense resentment, bitter truths and harsh anger. Who knew the word kowtow was so loaded?…

Read the entire article here.

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Cedric Dover, the Anglo-Indian Who Sought Worldwide Solidarity With Racial Minorities

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-18 15:27Z by Steven

Cedric Dover, the Anglo-Indian Who Sought Worldwide Solidarity With Racial Minorities

The Wire

Elisabeth Engel, Research Fellow
German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C.

Slate, Nico, The Prism of Race: W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

The scholarship that takes up W.E.B. Du Bois’s thesis that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line – the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea” fills libraries around the globe.

Ever since the African-American leader defined the concept in Souls of Black Folk in 1903, it figured prominently in research on the United States and the transnational contexts of Western imperialism. Nico Slate, a historian at Carnegie Mellon University, is no exception. His research on social movements in the United States and India has long explored how black Americans and colonial subjects advanced their struggles against white supremacy. His most recent book, The Prism of Race: W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover, makes the case that this struggle did not just pose the problem of race, but also that of colour.

The story of the 20th century that unfolds from the perspective of people defined as coloured is the subject of Slate’s account. He traces it through the lens of Cedric Dover (1904–1961), an Anglo-Indian biologist, who dedicated his work to the study of race and his political ambition to the movement toward Afro-Asian solidarity. Dover was born in colonial Calcutta, one year after Du Bois’s historic prediction. Slate shows that Dover was one of those “men in Asia and Africa,” whose libraries were filled with Du Bois’s and other African Americans’ writings. Precisely, Dover’s personal library, comprising his writings and reading, is Slate’s main primary source…

Read the entire review here.

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Identity Is At The Heart Of Brash, Essential ‘Mulattos’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-16 20:27Z by Steven

Identity Is At The Heart Of Brash, Essential ‘Mulattos’

National Public Radio

Michael Schaub, Book Critic

Williams, Tom, Among The Wild Mulattos and Other Tales (Huntsville, Texas: Texas Review Press, 2015)

“Odder than two-headed calves, stranger than, Uri Geller who could bend spoons with his mind.” That’s how the narrator of “Who Among Us Knows the Route to Heaven?” — one of the stories in Tom Williams’ collection Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales — describes himself and his brother, growing up in the suburbs of Ohio in the early 1970s.

What sets them apart is their heritage. Their father is black and their mother is white, and they’re not allowed to forget it. The narrator’s white schoolmates admire his athleticism, but, he recalls, “when I brought to lunch fried chicken or napped in history, they chuckled quietly and nodded at each other in affirmation that their parents and the TV were right about black folk.” As for his black friends: “[I]f I professed an admiration, say, for the music of Supertramp … they aimed at me the barbs their parents had taught them: ‘Tom’ and ‘Traitor.’ ”

For many Americans, the experience of being multiracial in a society obsessed with neat, arbitrary categories is a no-win situation. That’s not just because of the prejudice they face, whether it comes in the form of unvarnished racism or willful ignorance. It also has a lot to do with a society that urges them to integrate, but slaps them down any time they dare express their identity in a way that seems right to them…

Read the entire book review here.

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One Tough Cookie: Fran Ross’s “Oreo” Written Decades Before Its Time

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-08-08 18:44Z by Steven

One Tough Cookie: Fran Ross’s “Oreo” Written Decades Before Its Time

Lawrence Public Library
707 Vermont Street
Lawrence, Kansas

Kate Gramlich

There are a handful of books I have re-read several times because I found some deep, emotional connection with the characters, and each read is like a conversation with a dear old friend. (I have a dear new friend who revisits To Kill a Mockingbird every year for similar reasons and to see how his opinions on the text change over time.)

Then there are books I have re-read because I just know that I didn’t catch everything the author was throwing down the first time. And I’m here to tell you, folks, that Fran Ross’s Oreo is the queen of those books. Oreo’s heroine’s journey to find the “secret of her birth” had me laughing aloud and wrapping my brain around awesome word puzzles the entire time.

Though originally published in 1974 (more on that later), Oreo was re-printed by New Directions in July of this year, and I was lucky enough to grab it right off our New Fiction shelves at LPL last week…

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: CAUCASIA

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-08-08 04:46Z by Steven

Book Review: CAUCASIA


Bethany Lam

Senna, Danzy, Caucasia: A Novel (New York: Riverhead, 1999)

Two biracial sisters—one light-skinned, one dark—are separated as children. The younger, lighter girl grows into a troubled teenager, but she never forgets her beloved older sister. Can she find her sister again … and with her sister, her self?

Plot Summary:

Seven-year-old Birdie Lee idolizes her big sister, Cole. Growing up biracial in 1970s Boston, she needs Cole’s protection and support to cope with the racial tensions of the time (see “Boston busing desegregation“).

The two girls are so close that they have developed a secret language, “Elemeno.” Together, they dream of a fantasy world, also called “Elemeno,” whose inhabitants can change appearance as needed to blend in and survive. As young children, the sisters retreat to this world to escape the things that threaten them, especially the slow crumbling of their parents’ dysfunctional marriage…

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: “A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life” by Allyson Hobbs

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-08-08 00:33Z by Steven

Book Review: “A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life” by Allyson Hobbs

The Santa Fe New Mexican

Adele Oliveira

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs, Harvard University Press, 382 pages

In the first chapter of The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1903 treatise on race, he famously refers to the “veil” that separated black and white America. Du Bois writes about what becoming aware of the veil means: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Though Du Bois is referring to individuals who are recognizably black, the difficulty of maneuvering dual identities was particularly potent for racially ambiguous Americans — and especially those who chose to “pass” as white, either temporarily or permanently. The complicated practice of passing is the subject of Stanford history professor Allyson Hobbs’ book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. In the book, Hobbs traces the history of passing from the 18th century until roughly the end of the civil rights movement, examining the choice to pass and its consequences…

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-08-07 23:51Z by Steven

Book Review: Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.

Jennifer L. Ruef
Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

Urban Education
Volume 50, Number 6 (September 2015)
pages 776-783
DOI: 10.1177/0042085913519339

H. S. Alim, G. Smitherman (2012). Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. xv + 199 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-199-81298-1.

This review highlights the ways in which race is heard and played to advantage or disadvantage. From Barack Obama’s redefinition of presidential—through his deft linguistic style-shifting—to the ways race is read in the speech of students and the general public, Articulate While Black (AWB) challenges the notion of a postracial United States and persuades the reader that who decides the power of racialized English is an open question. Furthermore, it is a call to action for teachers to change the ways race is heard, leveraged, and celebrated in classrooms dedicated to equity and social justice.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story by Walter Hamilton (review)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Oceania on 2015-07-30 01:58Z by Steven

Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story by Walter Hamilton (review)

The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth
Volume 7, Number 3, Fall 2014
pages 565-567
DOI: 10.1353/hcy.2014.0047

Owen Griffiths

Hamilton, Walter, Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story (Sydney: NewSouth Books, 2012)

What if you felt like you didn’t belong to the society in which you were born and raised? This is the question Walter Hamilton explores in his powerful book about mixed-race children born during the occupation of Japan. Drawing on his long experience living in Japan as a correspondent for the Australian Broadcast Company (ABC), Hamilton weaves personal testimonials into a broader tale about race discrimination in the modern era. He focuses on cases drawn from Kure in southwestern Honshu (the “Kure kids”), which was the center of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) that included a large contingent of Australian troops. This is not just an Australian story, however. Hamilton reminds us that people from many different societies and cultures recoiled in “horror and pity” at the consequences of race mixing, including the Japanese, whose “racial intolerance was fully matched in the nations it fought against” (3).

This story is a tragedy on multiple levels, punctuated by poignant moments of survival, perseverance, and, occasionally, triumph. Japan’s defeat and subsequent seven-year occupation brought the impoverished Japanese, especially women, face to face with thousands of foreign troops, all bigger, healthier, and richer than most Japanese could have dreamed of at the time. The interactions that followed took many forms from rape and prostitution to workplace relationships and chance romance. The offspring of these encounters were the konketsuji (mixed-race children) or ainoko (half-caste or hybrid), boys and girls struggling to survive at the margins of a society already fractured by war, defeat, and occupation. These children were rejected by their communities and often their own families because they looked different, because they were impure. They also suffered the “sins” of their mothers, whom society often ostracized as prostitutes regardless of the true nature of their relationships with foreigners. Abandonment by both mothers and fathers was not uncommon, with reluctant relatives often stepping into the breach to care for them.

Karumi and Joji, the first two Kure kids we meet, exemplified this marginalization. Never knowing their fathers and abandoned by their mothers, the cousins were raised in poverty first by their aged great-grandmother and then separated when Joji was sent to Hawaii for adoption. After a time with her uncle and abusive aunt, Karumi was reunited with her great-grandmother, under whose care she thrived. At school she was a constant target for abuse. An Australian couple adopted her when she was eleven, but she never spoke of her adoption experience. Karumi nonetheless made a career for herself in nursing, married, and raised three children. Tragedy was close by, however. Her husband’s death in an accident left her a widow in her early forties with three kids to feed. She did remarry and continued to develop her career skills. Her comments, when looking back on her first husband’s death, exemplify the hardships of the mixed-race kid. “Remember what you went through as a child,” she said to herself. “Just try to think: ‘This [her husband’s death] ain’t nothing’” (246).

The mixed-race stigma forced on the Kure kids and their counterparts in Japan and elsewhere is a tragic legacy of our obsession with blood purity and skin color. It seems that everyone who came into contact with the so-called scientific racism of nineteenth-century Europe either adopted the concept wholesale or found at least some of it amenable to their own indigenous ideas. A long war filled with race hate intensified these prejudices, which then carried over into occupation policies like non-fraternization and bans on mixed-race marriage. The attitudes of the governments involved in the occupation, Japan’s included, more than matched those of the occupation authorities. They alternated between non-recognition of the children’s existence to prohibitions against immigration and adoption. Australia was particularly harsh in this regard, banning interracial marriage and immigration until after the peace treaty with Japan was signed in 1951, and then only under limited conditions. Some soldiers left Japan unaware they had fathered children. Others abandoned mother and child to their fate. Still others, however, sought to marry and bring their new families back to their homes but were thwarted by…

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Review: ‘Oreo,’ a Sandwich-Cookie of a Feminist Comic Novel

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-07-25 00:59Z by Steven

Review: ‘Oreo,’ a Sandwich-Cookie of a Feminist Comic Novel

The New York Times

Dwight Garner

Fran Ross’s first and only novel, “Oreo,” was published in 1974, four years after Toni Morrison’sThe Bluest Eye” and two years before Alex Haley’sRoots.” It wasn’t reviewed in The New York Times; it was hardly reviewed anywhere.

It’s interesting to imagine an alternative history of African-American fiction in which this wild, satirical and pathbreaking feminist picaresque caught the ride it deserved in the culture. Today it would be where it belongs, up among the 20th century’s lemony comic classics, novels that range from “Lucky Jim” and “Cold Comfort Farm” to “Catch-22” and “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

These sorts of lists have been for too long, to borrow a line from the TV show “black-ish,” whiter than the inside of Conan O’Brien’s thigh.

“Oreo” might have changed how we thought about a central strand of our literature’s DNA. As the novelist Danzy Senna puts it in her introduction to this necessary reissue: “ ‘Oreo’ resists the unwritten conventions that still exist for novels written by black women today. There’s nothing redemptively uplifting about her work. The title doesn’t refer to the Bible or the blues. The work does not refer to slavery. The character is never violated, sexually or otherwise. The characters are not from the South.”

Instead, in “Oreo” Ms. Ross is simply flat-out fearless and funny and sexy and sublime. It makes a kind of sense that, when this novel didn’t find an audience, its author moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s to write for Richard Pryor

Read the review here.

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