A Breezy Chameleon, Blurring Social Borders

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2014-02-17 17:21Z by Steven

A Breezy Chameleon, Blurring Social Borders

The New York Times

Jennifer Schuessler, Staff Editor

When the literary scholar George Hutchinson was in the archives at Howard University one afternoon a decade ago, he thought he knew which story of a neglected African-American woman writer he was chasing.

He was at work on a biography of Nella Larsen, whose classic Harlem Renaissance novel “Passing” was rediscovered in the 1970s. But while poking around, Mr. Hutchinson noticed a listing for the papers of Anita Thompson Dickinson Reynolds, an obscure contemporary of Larsen’s, and decided to take a look.

There, amid a jumble of letters and cassette tapes, lay an unpublished memoir breezily recounting the Zelig-like adventures of a woman who had starred in some of the first black films made in Hollywood, mingled with the Harlem Renaissance elite, been drawn by Man Ray and Matisse in Paris and touched down in Spain during its Civil War, before packing up her Chanel dresses and heading home to a more conventional life as a psychologist.

It was a story of passing stranger than anything Larsen had imagined, recounted with uncommon sexual frankness and blithe disregard for racial barriers. “I was fascinated by the way she threaded together all these different worlds, with this total nonchalance,” Mr. Hutchinson said in a recent interview. “I had never read anything like it.”

Previously, Reynolds’s name had survived mainly in a few scattered footnotes. But now, Harvard University Press is publishing her memoir, as “American Cocktail: A ‘Colored Girl’ in the World.”…

Read the entire book review here.

Tags: , , ,

‘Mixed’ [Watson Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-02-06 20:19Z by Steven

‘Mixed’ [Watson Review]

Inside Higher Ed

Andrea Watson

Garrod, Andrew, Christina Gómez, Robert Kilkenny, Mixed: Multiracial College Students Tell Their Life Stories (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013). 208 pages.

Mixed (Cornell University Press) is a collection of 12 autobiographical essays written by college students who identify as multiracial. Unlike most books that focus on children with white and black parents, this one is by and about young adults with multiple racial backgrounds. Each chapter is written by a different author, who starts with family history and moves along from early years to college years. All of the contributors are Dartmouth students.

Thomas Lane is one of the authors. In his chapter, “The Development of a Happa,” he describes what it was like growing up with a Japanese mother and a white father. He discusses how he felt stuck between two worlds, but associated more with the white side until college. “Before college I knew I was ethnically Asian, but I refused to accept the Asian culture. Since coming to Dartmouth, however, I have learned to appreciate all aspects of being Japanese.”

“In My World 1+1=3,” by Yuki Kondo-Shah, is by a young woman who has a Japanese mother and a Bangladeshi father. She writes that she identified as Japanese when she lived in Japan, but when she moved to the United States, at 7, she had to figure out where she fit in. The author says growing up, she always felt stuck between her two identities and could never fully identify with one or the other. “While I spent most of my childhood being Japanese and my college years identifying as a mixed-race minority, I began my professional career as an Asian American.”

Ana Sofia De Brito wrote the “Good Hair” chapter. As a Cape Verdean, she says her father would always push her to date lighter-skinned men over dark-skinned men, because she would “destroy the race” if she married one. “Although I have never had a strong preference for any particular type and have dated boys from various backgrounds and races, at college my preference has focused on men with darker skin.” Within her family, De Brito is considered white because of her European features, but she writes that she identifies as black because society pressures her to choose; she can’t be “other.”…

Read the entire review and interview with editor Andrew Garrod here.

Tags: , , , , ,

New Orleans After the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom by Justin A. Nystrom (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-29 17:33Z by Steven

New Orleans After the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom by Justin A. Nystrom (review)

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 111, Number 4, Autumn 2013
pages 617-619
DOI: 10.1353/khs.2014.0023

Aaron Astor, Associate professor of History
Maryville College, Maryville, Tennessee

Nystrom, Justin A., New Orleans after the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

The narrative arc between the birth of Radical Reconstruction and its final death in Jim Crow is bookended by two events in the city of New Orleans. The infamous “Riot of 1866” showcased for the nation the unwillingness of defeated Confederates to concede any political power to the black masses of the South emerging from slavery. The massacre of black Republicans at the Mechanics’ Institute would play a key role in undermining Johnsonian Reconstruction in the congressional elections of that year. Thirty years later, a mixed-race New Orleanian named Homer Plessy would challenge the Louisiana Separate Car Act, only to have the United States Supreme Court enshrine the “separate but equal” doctrine for the nation at large. But between these tragic moments of racial oppression and humiliation was a remarkably complex, multifaceted, and highly contingent struggle between myriad ethnoracial, class, regional, and partisan forces that complicated any teleological understanding of the rise and fall of Reconstruction.

Justin A. Nystrom’s lucid and colorful account of New Orleans after the Civil War explores this remarkable and ongoing battle for power and dignity among the various forces converging on the streets and in the local and state legislative halls. Nystrom’s portrait of nineteenth-century New Orleans reveals the webs of kinship that seamlessly crossed the color line and lent the city caste system a distinctive three-class character—whites, black slaves, and mixed-race Afro-Creoles. The delicate balance of New Orleans society, further complicated by sizable white ethnic immigrant populations pouring into the city in the 1850s, would explode as early as April 1862 when the Union navy captured the city with hardly a fight.

Nystrom’s study follows the interconnected lives of southern white elites like Ezekiel John Ellis and Frederick Nash Ogden, Afro-Creoles like Charles St. Albin Sauvinet and Louise Drouet, white Creoles like Arthur Toledano and Aristee Louis Tissot, white and black “carpetbaggers” like Algernon Sydney Badger, Henry Clay Warmoth, and Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, and ex-slaves like Peter Joseph. The intersection of these colorfully named characters produced an entropic political culture with self-serving factions vying for power in the city, the state, and the region. Nystrom expends considerable effort detailing epic street clashes like the “Battle of Liberty Place” in 1874, when a new Democratic White League movement briefly wrested control of the city from its Republican Customs House–based leadership. Added to the paramilitary violence were competing Mardi Gras floats with explicitly political messages that inscribed new and competing racial discourses that undermined the legitimacy of the mixed-race political order. Nystrom’s analysis reveals a tumultuous era of intraparty factionalism that simultaneously complicated revisionist accounts of postwar Republicanism, while also showcasing the difficulty that “Redeemer” factions faced in shaping a white supremacist order long after 1877.

This is an important book for understanding postwar urban politics in the largest city in the South. It is deeply researched, splendidly written, and well contextualized within the larger historiography of Reconstruction. There are some limitations to the personality and kin-based methodology, however. The two infamous bookending moments—the 1866 riot and the Plessy case—ironically receive only cursory treatment in this book. Nystrom’s central characters were mostly bystanders to these events, which meant that they appeared only in the narrative shadows despite their national significance. Another problem, of course, is the exceptionalism of New Orleans itself. For several obvious reasons, New Orleans was (and is) simply atypical as a southern locale. As such, a study of the city is going to have limited implications for understanding the national drama of Reconstruction. Still, Nystrom manages to extrapolate from the complex and contingent history of New Orleans to make the convincing case that the racial politics of the post–Civil War South was much more unpredictable and contested than even post–Foner historians have appreciated…

Tags: , , , ,

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930 [Joseph Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-28 07:42Z by Steven

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930 [Joseph Review]

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
Published online: 2014-01-26
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlt079

Ralina L. Joseph, Associate Professor of Communication
University of Washington

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930. Jolie A. Sheffer. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 2013. 248 pages. $72.00 cloth; $24.95 paper; $24.95 electronic.

Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century multiracial characters in US popular culture almost always have been dismissed by critics as tragic. They are the torn victims of race crossing whose inevitably dismal fates result from their race-infringing parents and are exacerbated by their own romantic adventures across racial lines. Mixed-race characters bear epithets such as the tragic mulatto, the half-caste, and the half-breed; their downfall is unchangeable presumably because of the incompatible white and minority bloods that flow within their veins. Stories about multiracial characters function in US culture as barometers of race relations. Tragic mixed-race tales illuminate the white nation’s pathological fear of the deepest and most permanent form of integration: miscegenation.

Jolie A. Sheffer warns that this is not the full story. In The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930, Sheffer imagines mixed-race subjects in turn-of-the-twentieth-century literature and their women of color (often mixed-race) authors as not just the embodiment of tragedy but the active agents of resistance and change. Sheffer writes that while stories of miscegenation and incest, which she terms racial romances, serve the function of “reveal[ing] a history of exploitation of racialized…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Detecting Winnifred Eaton

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2014-01-19 04:33Z by Steven

Detecting Winnifred Eaton

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
Published online: 2014-01-16
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlt078

Jinny Huh, Assistant Professor of English
University of Vermont

In her recent introduction to Winnifred Eaton’s Marion: The Story of an Artist’s Model (1916), Karen E. H. Skinazi explores the relationship between racial ambiguity—that of both the anonymous author and the heroines in Marion and its predecessor, Me: A Book of Remembrance (1915)—and the audience’s ability to detect racial coding. “Me’s success,” Skinazi states, “has been predicated on a mystery that allowed each reader the chance to become a literary Sherlock Holmes, cracking the codes of its vault of shocking secrets” (xvii). Later, Skinazi writes that a New York Times reviewer, playing detective, solves Eaton’s racial passing utilizing the science of detection à la Edgar Allan Poe (xxi-xxii). Skinazi’s allusions to the art of detection, although brief, are astute, leading to this essay’s rereading of Eaton’s legacy through the lens of detection and the anxieties produced by its failures, especially the threat of racial passing. It is no coincidence that Eaton published her fiction at a time when both classic detective fiction and African American passing tales were at the peak of their popularity.

Few critics have examined Eaton’s role in the detective genre. This essay responds to this oversight by arguing that Eaton’s reliance on a trope of racial and ethnic passing, both in her choice of pseudonym and in her Japanese romances, cannot be fully appreciated without situating her within the context of the panic about detecting passing that swept America during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The unique lens of detective fiction allows us further to conceptualize Eaton’s role as a founding figure of Asian American fiction. This essay also highlights Eaton’s familiarity with rules of genre, particularly detective fiction and African American passing narratives, and her participation in the construction of racial epistemologies that were then being codified by…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , , ,

Editorial January 2014: On Reading Two Recent Memoirs by Afro-Germans

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive on 2014-01-18 04:08Z by Steven

Editorial January 2014: On Reading Two Recent Memoirs by Afro-Germans

The Collegium for African American Research (CAAR)
January 2014

Gundolf Graml, Associate Professor of German and Director of German Studies
Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia

Two recent memoirs by German authors with an African connection emphasize that German history cannot be written without including the histories and perspectives of black Germans (as well as that of many other non-white people).

In Deutsch sein und Schwarz dazu [Being German and also Being Black], published in 2013 with Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, author Theodor Michael takes a long and probing look back at his experiences as a black German. Born in 1925 to a white German mother from the Eastern Prussian provinces and a black Cameroonian father, Michael’s childhood and youth coincided with the decline of the democratic German Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism.

In a low key style Michael recollects his participation in the infamous Völkerschauen [colonial peoples exhibits] organized by circusses and zoos. He describes his attempts to get by as hotel page and as extra in some of the Third Reich’s anti-British colonial films. And he details the toll that life under the Nuremberg race laws took on his body and mind. While his siblings managed to get out of Germany, Theodor Michael stayed behind, spending the last years of the regime as a forced laborer in a factory outside of Berlin, where he survived the war. After liberation, he managed to get into the Western zone, where he then tried to rebuild his life…

…Jennifer Teege’s memoir, Amon: Mein Großvater hätte mich erschossen [Amon: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me], published in 2013 with Rowohlt Verlag, addresses the topic from the perspective of the second postwar generation of Germans. Teege, born in 1970 to a white German mother and a Nigerian father, grew up in an orphanage and later was adopted by a white middle-class German family. Decades later she finds out that her mother’s father, her grandfather, was Amon Göth, the concentration commander of Plaszow near Krakow, whose brutality and inhumanity are depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. For Teege, who has lived in Israel for several years and worked with Holocaust survivors, the sudden discovery of a biological connection to one of the most infamous Nazi perpetrators was surpassed only by the shock that the grandmother to whom she has been attached so closely was Göth’s girlfriend and one of his most ardent defenders…

Read the entire review of the books here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Passing Strange

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-01-16 17:31Z by Steven

Passing Strange

The New York Times

Joyce Johnson

In 1855, Henry Broyard, a young white New Orleans carpenter, decided to pass as black in order to be legally entitled to marry Marie Pauline Bonée, the well-educated daughter of colored refugees from Haiti, who was about to have his child; their marriage license describes them both as “free people of color.” A century and a half later, their great-great-granddaughter, Bliss Broyard, who had been raised as white, abruptly found herself confronting the implications of her newly discovered black identity.

The daughter of the writer and New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard, she had grown up with a feeling “that there was something about my family, or even many things, that I didn’t know.” What was lacking was any real sense of the history of the father she adored or any contact with his relatives, apart from one dimly remembered day in the past when her paternal grandmother had once visited them in their 18th-century house in the white enclave of Southport, Conn. Even in the last weeks of his life, the secret Anatole Broyard had kept from Bliss and her brother, Todd, was one he could not bear to reveal himself; it was their mother who finally told them, “Your father’s part black,” not long before Broyard died of prostate cancer…

…In one way, he wasn’t wrong at all. “My father truly believed,” Bliss Broyard writes in “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life — a Story of Race and Family Secrets,” “that there wasn’t any essential difference between blacks and whites and that the only person responsible for determining who he was supposed to be was himself.” But for Broyard to construct a white identity required the ruthless and cowardly jettisoning of his black family. He would later lamely tell his children that their grandmother and their two aunts, one of them with tell-tale dark skin, simply didn’t interest him. During the 1960s, he expressed no sympathy for the civil rights movement, opposed, his daughter writes, to a movement that required “adherence to a group platform rather than to one’s ‘essential spirit.’ ” His posthumously published memoir, “Kafka Was the Rage,” revealed only that his people were from New Orleans…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , ,

What Comes Naturally: A Racially Inclusive Look at Miscegenation Law

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2014-01-16 17:12Z by Steven

What Comes Naturally: A Racially Inclusive Look at Miscegenation Law

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies
Volume 31, Number 3, 2010
pages 15-21
DOI: 10.1353/fro.2010.0020

Jacki Thompson Rand, Professor of History; American Indian and Native Studies
University of Iowa

In What Comes Naturally Peggy Pascoe interrogates the U.S. racial regime through a study of civil marriage and miscegenation law. Her admirable work traces the development of legislation and court decisions about mixed marriage between White settlers and African Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Asians, and American Indians. Bans against mixed marriages, or miscegenation, between White men and women of color, Pascoe argues, served to protect White supremacy and heteronormative patriarchy. By maintaining boundaries between the races, and material consequences that favored men in land disputes and White relatives in estate disputes, for example, White men’s economic and social positions were reinforced while women’s positions were undermined. Pascoe includes American Indians in her study because their lands, unique relationship with the federal government, and kinship systems presented complications not found in other cases. Pascoe also briefly mentions tribal miscegenation laws among the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Creeks.

Pascoe’s book and a recent special issue of the journal Frontiers, on interracial marriage and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century North American Indians, White settlers, and African Americans, complement each other in some ways. French fur traders in the Northeast and Great Lakes region and Spanish and Mexicans in the Southwest mixed with Native women long before the creation of the United States. The French were early astute observers of Native people and soon realized the crucial role kinship played in providing access to prime beaver-trapping grounds along rivers. French men married into Native groups to enhance their trade. By the nineteenth century White American men also sought Native women who held land as a way of gaining access to resources. The federal government looked upon such unions as a means to facilitate Indian acculturation and assimilation into White society, even well into the twentieth century. In many instances Native families saw the marriage of their daughters to White men as a means to enhance their access to trade goods and to a more secure life.

Pascoe treats miscegenation law that covered American Indians primarily in the case of Oregon. In fact, miscegenation law evolved from initially targeting White and African American unions to include White unions with other races, including American Indians. The creation and enforcement of laws that pertained to marriages with Native Americans, Pascoe notes, seemed to coincide with external or individual circumstances where the acquisition or loss of land was at stake. Like the unions of French men and Native women, many marriages followed the custom of the country, where the partners were bound to each other outside of civil law. In the mid-nineteenth century the Oregon Territorial Supreme Court heard a case to determine whether such marriages were legal under territorial law. Oregon settler land claims at that time were unstable, so it is not surprising that the court and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the custom of the country. While this chapter of American Indian history diverged from the history of barring mixed marriages, Pascoe demonstrates that the tolerance of mixed marriage between White men and Indian women also secured White male patriarchy. It was a variation on the theme of White supremacy.

Like settler regimes elsewhere White American society viewed race through a biological lens that assessed parentage, phenotype, and blood quantum. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries both the American and the Australian governments encouraged intermarriage to Whiten and eventually erase indigenous populations. The coexistence of miscegenation laws that pertained to Native peoples and assimilation proponents of interracial marriage arose from conflicting impulses. On one hand, intermarriage was objectionable on the grounds Pascoe depicts in her book: the progeny of mixed marriages challenged racial regimes, White supremacy, and White male privilege. But the federal government and settler society’s twin desires to avert an unaffordable war with Indians and to expropriate lands in Native possession weakened the resolve to bar mixed marriages. In the Frontiers special issue Cathleen Cahill explores the federal Indian Service as a site of applied assimilation policy where marriages between Whites and American Indians were made possible by putting numbers of White women in proximity to eligible Native men.

In the same period intermarriage could also serve as a vehicle for the expropriation of Native…

Tags: , ,

Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist by G. Reginald Daniel (review)

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2014-01-15 08:15Z by Steven

Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist by G. Reginald Daniel (review)

Hispanic Review
Volume 82, Number 1, Winter 2014
pages 116-119
DOI: 10.1353/hir.2014.0008

Mércia Santana Flannery, Lecturer of Portuguese
Romance Languages Department
University of Pennsylvania

G. Reginald Daniel, Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist, 336 pages, hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-05246-5. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012).

In Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, the sociologist Erving Goffman (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963) discusses the relationship between individuals who possess a social stigma and the “normals” (8). Reginald Daniel’s new book, Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist, discusses the stigmatized identity of the most celebrated Brazilian novelist as perceived in his literary work. Machado’s biography is traced, his work commented on, and we are offered a picture of the Brazilian mulatto writer as a way to understand the inclusion, or lack thereof, of race relations and black identification in his writings.

Having written extensively about Brazil’s racial relations and about Machado, Daniel is delving into known territory, being more than well qualified to take on the subject. In the introduction, the author comments on the importance of Machado’s legacy to the Brazilian literary canon, and on this famous author’s “betrayal” and his “racial self-negation” (1). From here on, the assumption seems to be that a mulatto writer should be expected to make his race a topic of his literary writings, but we miss the advancement of this line of thought.

In the first chapter, Daniel includes a panoramic consideration of Brazil’s racial configuration. A recapitulation of the country’s racial makeup and the role of miscegenation as an explanation for who Brazilians are as a people is also incorporated. Daniel discusses the Brazilian preference for the white-European phenotype, along with the stigmatization of African ancestry, which foregrounds the ensuing analysis of Machado’s relationship with his own racial ambiguity.

This chapter supplies an interesting account of Brazil, and particularly Rio de Janeiro, during the nineteenth century, the time when Machado wrote and that he used to contextualize most of his novels and short stories. Daniel stresses Brazil’s looking to the outside, especially to Europe (France and England in particular) as a way for the elites to “reckon with the embarrassing gulf between themselves and the masses” (26). Machado is guilty of the same, having chiseled out his characters mostly from European models.

In chapter two, Daniel reflects on the “absence” of literary voices of African ancestry in Brazil. He explains this situation through a description of the African Brazilian condition, which worked to “neutralize” those who could have worked as “mouthpieces in the African Brazilian struggle” (35). According to Daniel, this was a result of how European Brazilians thought about blackness. Considering that blackness in Brazil was so “irreconcilable with social advancement,” those who moved upwards could only be perceived as “whitened” (35). The chapter includes a brief account of other Brazilian mulatto writers and the degree to which they included the African Brazilian tradition in their work. For example, Caldas Barbosa used the African Brazilian vernacular in his modinhas and lundus, whereas Lima Barreto “openly discussed the topic of racism from an African Brazilian point of view” (58).

In chapter three, Daniel offers a biographical account of Machado’s life, including his modest origins in Livramento (born to a Portuguese immigrant mother, a washerwoman and seamstress, and a mulatto house painter), until his death as an acclaimed writer in Laranjeiras. Machado’s transition, the accomplishment of his hard-fought upward mobility, with scant formal education, as he was mostly self-taught, is a reason for praise and part of what is used to compose his portrait as a genius. However, as Daniel indicates, Machado was also condemned for his refusal to discuss racial themes in his works, or, as demonstrated by José do Patrocínio’s accusation, for having “hated his race” (67).

What is unclear is how we are meant to believe that Machado was a detractor, in view of what was said thus far in the book about Brazil’s racial relations. Was Machado acting as the majority of Brazilians did—and do—as far as race is concerned? Do we expect more of him because of his notoriety? In addition, Daniel notes, citing other scholars, that “Machado disguised his mulatto facial features by wearing a thick moustache and a beard and that he also wore his hair closely cropped in his late years to enhance this camouflage…

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television [Galvin Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Europe, New Media on 2014-01-13 20:08Z by Steven

The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television [Galvin Review]

Film Ireland
Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland

Steven Galvin, Editor

Dr Zélie Asava introduces her book The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television, a critical investigation of race in contemporary Irish visual culture which explores concepts of Irish identity, history and nation in relation to screen representations of those who have become known as the ‘new Irish’.

In 2009, Ireland had the highest birth rate in Europe, with almost 24 per cent of births attributed to the ‘new Irish’. By 2013, 17 per cent of the nation was foreign-born. 2013 has seen a plethora of Irish films exploring the interstices of identity, borderlands and cross-cultural communications in the Irish space: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave features Irish-German actor Michael Fassbender and Irish-Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga in a slavery-era narrative; Neil Jordan’s Byzantium features Saoirse Ronan as an English vampire who falls in love with an all-too human Irish-American in Britain and brings him to Ireland to become immortal; Paula Kehoe’s An Dubh ina Gheal [Assimilation] looks at the Irish-Aborigines’ of Australia, Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy positions the Irishman within a transnational, interracial context in Mister John; the Boorsma brothers’ Milo utilizes the racial narrative of ‘passing’ to illuminate issues of disability and discrimination, centralising an Irish family who are also Dutch-Romanian; and Ama’s storyline on Fair City examines the position of illegals in Ireland and the challenges of blending distinctly different cultural values.

As Fintan O’Toole notes, there is no genuine newness in the ‘new Irish’, as Ireland has a history of cultural and ethnic heterogeneity, but ‘understanding globalization in the Irish context is as much a task of remembrance as it is of encountering the new’ (2009: viii). Following O’Toole, my book aims to connect the ‘dislocated continuity’ of racial discourses which have been circulating for many hundreds of years in Ireland and highlights the need to break down essentialist conceptualisations of Irishness by asserting its diversity, nonfixity and instability.  As racial representations tend to be focused on black/white issues, the book reflects this by looking at dominant screen representations of the ‘new Irish’ as non-white. However, it does also examine other marginalised identities in Ireland by referencing Jewish, Romanian, Traveller and a variety of Eastern European characters in brief. There is still much more work to be done on this subject and it is my hope that this book will serve as a contribution to that dialogue. The book asks how and why black and mixed-race characters are represented in Irish screen culture, and how this fits into broader shifts in the visual industries, in national politics and in the international landscape…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , ,