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

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2014-05-21 14:41Z by Steven

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

Civil War History
Volume 60, Number 2, June 2014
pages 199-201
DOI: 10.1353/cwh.2014.0041

Padraig Riley, Assistant Professor of History
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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

Almost Free is the story of Samuel Johnson of Warrenton, Virginia, a mixed-race slave who worked successfully to free himself and then purchased his wife and children in the early nineteenth century. Less successfully, he then struggled for many years to free his extended family, and to establish a legacy of black freedom in the heart of the slaveholding republic. Relying on a remarkable series of petitions Johnson sent to the Virginia state legislature from 1811 to 1837, Wolf reconstructs the man’s life and identity. This entails considerable speculation, but Wolf’s imaginings are balanced by a rich archival source base covering much of Johnson’s life. This accessible book is ideal for undergraduate instruction, and it is an important addition to scholarship on race and slavery. For Wolf, Samuel Johnson demonstrates that free blacks were not simply “slaves without masters” and that race in the antebellum South was a fluid concept, rather than a simple black-and-white proposition.

Wolf contends that race was not dictated by statute but rather was “something people themselves created and re-created in their multiple interactions with one another” (3). Samuel Johnson became free in 1812, well after an 1806 statute that compelled all freed slaves to leave the state within a year, under threat of being sold back into slavery. Because he wanted to remain in Virginia, he had to petition the state legislature. While most such petitions failed, Johnson’s succeeded because he was backed by both local whites and a few influential political figures. Thus, at the local level, whites did not simply act out the 1806 statute or Thomas Jefferson’s fears about the dangers of slave emancipation. They instead accepted Samuel Johnson as their neighbor, quite literally in the case of John and Maria Smith, who lived next door to him.

As a free man, Johnson saved money to purchase his wife and children, becoming, like many free black slaveholders, the master of his own family. He also owned land and sued white men in court. But, ultimately, the law left him and his family vulnerable. Despite numerous petitions to the state legislature, his family members were never allowed to remain in Virginia as free inhabitants. Had Johnson freed his family, they would have been legally bound to leave the state within a year; had he unexpectedly died, his family would have remained enslaved, subject to sale. In addition, Johnson suffered numerous other legal restraints as a free man of color, from restrictions on owning firearms to being unable to testify against a white man in court. He could be a white man’s neighbor, but he was very far from being his equal.

Why, then, did Johnson stay? Wolf poses this question quite poignantly by contrasting Johnson with Spencer Malvin, a free African American man who married Johnson’s daughter Lucy in 1826. Malvin, born free, knew the evils of slavery firsthand: as a teenager, he had been apprenticed to one Fielding Sinclair, who killed his adolescent slave. Sinclair was charged with murder, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence, perhaps because Malvin could not testify against a white man. After Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, Malvin openly attacked slavery, circulating antislavery papers in Warrenton. He left Virginia and his family in 1832, along with a fugitive named Sandy, eventually settling in Pennsylvania.

But Johnson and his daughter Lucy remained, even after white hostility to free blacks increased in the wake of Turner’s rebellion. Many of the local whites who had supported Johnson’s petitions in the past now requested that the state legislature support the colonization of all free blacks outside of Virginia. For Wolf, Johnson’s decision to remain under such circumstances suggests an act of resistance: “In staying, they rejected racial exclusion. . . . They challenged the notion that Virginia belonged to white people” (107).

On the one hand, this contention is clearly true. But in other respects, Samuel Johnson’s life was marked by deference, rather than challenge, and white support for his limited freedom was a sign of condescension rather than recognition. Thus Philip Pendleton Barbour, as Wolf shows us, one of the foremost defenders of slavery during…

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Can ‘Belle’ End Hollywood’s Obsession with the White Savior?

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2014-05-15 04:56Z by Steven

Can ‘Belle’ End Hollywood’s Obsession with the White Savior?

The Daily Beast
2014-05-04

Keli Goff

The black characters in films like ‘The Help’ and ’12 Years A Slave’ always seem to need a white knight. But the black protagonist in ‘Belle,’ a new film about racism and slavery in England, takes matters into her own hands.

The film Belle, which opens this weekend in limited release stateside, is inspired by a true story, deals with the horrors of the African slave trade, and its director is black and British. For these reasons, comparisons to the recent recipient of the Best Picture Oscar, 12 Years a Slave, are inevitable

But there are some notable differences.

Among them, Belle is set in England, while 12 Years a Slave is set in America. 12 Years a Slave depicts—in unflinching detail—the brutalities of slavery, while Belle merely hints at its physical and psychological toll. But the most significant deviation is this: whereas 12 Years a Slave faced criticism for being yet another film to perpetuate the “white savior” cliché in cinema, in Belle, the beleaguered black protagonist does something novel: she saves herself.

Belle marks the first film I’ve seen in which a black woman with agency stands at the center of the plot as a full, eloquent human being who is neither adoring foil nor moral touchstone for her better spoken white counterparts,” the novelist and TV producer Susan Fales-Hill told The Daily Beast

Read the entire article here.

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Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 by Dagmar Schultz (review)

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2014-05-05 17:30Z by Steven

Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 by Dagmar Schultz (review)

African Studies Review
Volume 57, Number 1, April 2014
pages 237-238
DOI: 10.1353/arw.2014.0038

Patricia-Pia Célérier, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 is a 79-minute documentary in English and German, directed and produced by Dagmar Schultz. An academic and close friend of Lorde’s, Schultz also co-edited (with May Opitz and Katharina Oguntoye) the book Farbe Bekennen: Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (1986; translated as Showing our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, University of Massachusetts Press, 1991), which marked the beginning of the “Afro-German movement.” Schultz contributed her own archival video and audio recordings and footage to the documentary, adding testimonies from Lorde’s colleagues, students, and friends. Released in 2012, twenty years after Lorde’s death, Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 is an homage to the African American writer’s tremendous contributions as well as a useful complement to two other documentaries: A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde (1995) by Ada Gray Griffin and Michelle Parkerson, and The Edge of Each Other’s Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde (2002) by Jennifer Abod. Schultz’s film has attracted significant attention and received the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Barcelona Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 focuses on an understudied period in the life of the prolific author and activist, the time when she traveled between the U.S. and Germany to lecture and visit friends. It features her relationship to the black diaspora and her mentoring role in the development of the antiracist struggle and the Afro-German movement before and after the German reunification. In true feminist fashion, the documentary links the personal and the political, representing Lorde’s ongoing fight against cancer, her inspiring presence at feminist consciousness-raising meetings, her carefree dancing at multiracial lesbian parties, and her partnership with the poet Gloria I. Joseph.

The film highlights Lorde’s part in building bridges among women of color, feminist, and LGBT social justice movements, in “hyphenating” black Germans. In doing so, it contextualizes the history of major cultural shifts in the late ’80s/early ’90s in Germany. It speaks to audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with Lorde’s work by articulating themes that are at the core of the writer’s production: for instance, the meaning of intimacy and sharing, and the radical role a creative understanding of difference plays in personal and intellectual growth.

Although valuable as a testimonial and politically committed film, Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 unfortunately lacks a strong coherent form, its point of view neither sufficiently clear nor technically grounded. Because the filmmaker does not provide a theoretical or narrative perspective (apart from documenting Lorde’s life), the archival images and interviews overtake the film, which in turn seems dated, as if it had been produced twenty years ago. The viewer is not pulled into the story early enough, and the editing does not compensate imaginatively for the somewhat haphazard manner with which the documentary proceeds.

Should we consider, nevertheless, that the historical and political value of such a film overrides issues of filmic quality and narrative coherence, especially because it was made on a tight budget and is a labor of love? A documentary cannot be considered as merely reproducing cultural (feminist, Afro-German, LGBT) meaning, but also as creating (new) meaning. Unfortunately, Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 does not sufficiently demonstrate an awareness of the different ways of understanding and theorizing women’s lives that are available today. As a recording of social life and a travelogue, it does accomplish the two goals of the documentary genre: it informs and educates. Like feminist films of the 1970s, it celebrates the clamor of women’s voices and the rising up of women of color and gay women. It sheds light on the diversity of women’s lifestyles and choices and the issues in gay politics. But how do these images of Lorde inform our current understanding of feminism and feminist practices? What spaces does Lorde’s legacy occupy today? These questions are not answered by the film. In addition, because it does not suggest an awareness of the discursive and technical changes that have advanced the…

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To the Manner Born?

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2014-05-02 01:20Z by Steven

To the Manner Born?

The New York Times
2014-05-01

Manohla Dargis

‘Belle’ Centers On a Biracial Aristocrat in the 18th Century

No bodices seem to have been harmed, much less ripped, during the making of “Belle,” a period film at once sweeping and intimate, about an 18th-century Englishwoman who transcends her historical moment. Even so, peekaboo bosoms tremble throughout the movie amid the rustle of luxurious gowns and the gasps of polite company as conventions are crushed underfoot. Melodramatic and grounded in history, “Belle” is enough of an old-fashioned entertainment that it could have been made in classic Hollywood. Well, except for one little thing that would have probably given old studio suits apoplexy: The movie’s prettily flouncing title character is biracial.

You meet her as a child, just as she’s being taken by her father, a navy captain, Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), from some shadowy mystery hovel to a large country manor. There, in an elegantly appointed room, the kind that announces the refinement of its inhabitants and whispers their entitlement, Sir John formally claims the child as his own and promptly hands her over to his uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson, very good), and Lady Mansfield (a dry, funny Emily Watson). The Lord and Lady keep their lips, necks and manners stiff, but take the girl in and raise her as their own — or almost. Soon she’s laughing in the garden, and then she’s a genteel beauty (a fine Gugu Mbatha-Raw) facing life as a black woman in a slave-trading country.

She’s based on Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), the daughter of an African woman, Maria Bell, who was probably enslaved and maybe captured off a ship by Sir John. The details of their association and Bell’s life are murky, but when Dido was young, Sir John took her to Lord Mansfield, who raised her alongside another grandniece, Elizabeth Murray (played by a strong Sarah Gadon). In one account, Thomas Hutchinson, a governor of Massachusetts, described visiting the family: “a Black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies” and later walked arm in arm with one. “She had a very high cap, and her wool was much frizzled in her neck,” Hutchinson wrote, “but not enough to answer the large curls in fashion. She is neither handsome nor genteel — pert enough.”…

Read the entire review here and watch an anatomy of a scene here.

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Chinese Cubans: A transnational history by Kathleen Lopez (review) [Roopnarine]

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive on 2014-04-21 20:46Z by Steven

Chinese Cubans: A transnational history by Kathleen Lopez (review) [Roopnarine]

Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
Volume 15, Number 1, Spring 2014
DOI: 10.1353/cch.2014.0018

Lomarsh Roopnarine, Associate Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History
Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi

López, Kathleen, Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013)

Without a doubt, the literature on Cuba since the mid-nineteenth century to contemporary times has primarily focused on Cuban wars of independence, the abolition of slavery, the United States of America’s involvement and domination and Fidel Castro’s revolution and socialism. Spanish Whites, Black Africans and Mulattos have been the main ethnic groups discussed. Cuban Chinese have largely been unexplored, save for the period 1847–74, when they were introduced as indentured “Coolies.” Kathleen López tries to rescue Cuban Chinese from their marginalization in Cuba’s national discourse by examining and expanding on their history. She takes a transnational approach and shows how Chinese in Cuba have maintained meaningful connections with their homeland and other Chinese in the United States and Peru. She also demonstrates how racial ideologies, class stratification, gender imbalance among the Chinese and Castro’s socialist doctrines converged to shape Chinese presence in Cuba. The end result is a rich narrative of Chinese struggle, participation, and contributions to Cuba.

López divides her book into three neat sections. The first section, “From Indentured to Free,” is really a journey of why and how the Chinese were brought to Cuba and their subsequent treatment on the sugar plantations. Lopez paints a sad picture of how Chinese were manipulated and deceived into leaving their homeland and worked as indentured laborers in Cuba. The Chinese were told that they would be wage-laborers, but in reality their employers treated them like African slaves. Some Chinese resisted their deplorable working and living conditions, but a majority of them served out their contracts, drifted into noncontractual plantation employment and became fruit and vegetable vendors. As they earned wages, they also “participated in the social and cultural life of the towns and helped to build the foundations for Chinese communities in Cuba” (81). However, the “planting of their roots” in Cuba was not without challenges. The Chinese were exposed to bouts of discrimination and cultural ridicule from the wider Cuban society and suffered from internal schisms within their own society, particularly between the second wave of business elites and the former indentured “coolies.” Yet, they persevered.

The second section, “Migrants between Empires and Nations,” is an analysis of how Chinese Cubans gradually practiced selective assimilation within a class- and race-conscious plantation society, while simultaneously maintaining their own culture and identity. They formed a series of international and national associations, which they used as a base to build solidarity and to participate in Cuban society. The result was impressive. Chinese Cubans were involved in the building of modern Cuba. They fought in many wars and sided with and supported the independence movement. Readers may be surprised at the magnitude of Chinese participation in Cuba from the 1890s to 1959. Their participation might have emanated from their desire to be Chinese Cuban, but anti-immigration laws and anti-Chinese sentiments in Cuba and the Western Hemisphere as well as political turbulence in their homeland might have also pushed them to be more proactive in their new homeland. Whatever the reasons for their participation might have been, Lopez provides an excellent narrative of Chinese Cubans as freedom fighters, rebels and nation-builders as never depicted before.

The third section, “Transnational and National Belonging,” describes a dramatic turn in the general welfare of Chinese in Cuba, precipitated by the overthrow of the nationalist government in China (1949) and the introduction of socialism in Cuba (1959). Both events affected the Chinese community in Cuba. Many Chinese fled the new communist government in China, and relations between China and Cuban Chinese broke down. Ten years later, Fidel Castro toppled the US-backed regime in Cuba and embarked on a socialist journey for Cuba. However, communist China and socialist Cuba were at odds with each other since Cuba leaned towards the Soviet Union. These complex international events had an enormous impact on the Chinese in Cuba. Castro nationalized and disallowed private businesses, and as a consequence, almost all aspects of Chinese life deteriorated and declined, including their businesses, their associations, and their numbers—the latter through mass migration. However, efforts have been made to restore Chinatown and other Chinese communities in Cuba.

The strength of this book lies…

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Josephine Baker’s Rainbow Tribe

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Women on 2014-04-21 01:46Z by Steven

Josephine Baker’s Rainbow Tribe

Slate
2014-04-18

Rebecca Onion

To prove that racial harmony was possible, the dancer adopted 12 children from around the globe—and charged admission to watch them coexist.

Beginning in 1953, almost 30 years after her first successful performances on the Paris stage, the singer and dancer Josephine Baker adopted 12 children from different countries, ranging from Finland to Venezuela. She installed what she called her “Rainbow Tribe” in a 15th-century chateau in the South of France and charged admission to tourists who came to hear them sing, to tour their home, or to watch them play leapfrog in their garden.

This little-known chapter in Baker’s life is an uncomfortable one. “I would begin to tell the story of Josephine Baker, and people would start to laugh,” says Matthew Pratt Guterl, the author of a new book on Baker’s later life, Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe. “And I would start to wonder what that laughter signified.” Guterl, a professor of Africana studies and American studies at Brown University, has in essence written two books in one: the story of Baker’s family, and a meditation on the meaning of that laughter…

Read the entire review here.

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Michael David Kwan, Things That Must Not Be Forgotten: A Childhood in Wartime China, reviewed by Yuxin Ma

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2014-04-20 16:38Z by Steven

Michael David Kwan, Things That Must Not Be Forgotten: A Childhood in Wartime China, reviewed by Yuxin Ma

International Journal of China Studies
Volume 4, Number 1, April 2013
pages 169-171

Yuxin Ma, Associate Professor of East Asian History
University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

Michael David Kwan, Things That Must Not Be Forgotten: A Childhood in Wartime China, Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 2000, reprinted 2012, 240 pp. + xvi.

Telling stories of wartime China from the perspective of a Eurasian boy, Kwan’s memoir reconstructs a lost China where unforeseen wars and revolution, international politics, and economic disorders in the 1930s and 1940s changed people’s life courses as they carried on their patriotic struggle for survival. The 2012 new edition adds a preface by the author’s son on his father’s late years in China since 1980s, which presents the author’s life story in a Chinese emotion yeluo guigen – fallen leaves return to the root of the tree. The book provides fascinating details on the lives of a Chinese family with a British housewife, their interactions with other Westerners, Eurasians, and Chinese folks. Kwan focused on how turbulent changes in China affected his coming- of-age, his family members and their friends. Through the inquisitive eyes of a biracial child in search for his identity at home, within the small Western community, and in Chinese society at large, Kwan presented the contradictions, brutality and ruptures in wartime China with fresh and humane touches.

The first eight chapters described the sheltered and privileged life of David’s childhood. Born in Japanese occupied Harbin in 1934 as the youngest son to an influential railway administrator who worked underground for the Nationalist government, Kwan’s Swiss biological mother jilted him, and he called his father’s new British wife Ellen as Mother. Under his father’s tutelage, David had lived with Anglo-Chinese friends in British Concession in Tienjin, developed friendship with a tenant farmer who engaged in guerilla activities in Beidaihe, and enjoyed the life of the Western community at the Legation Quarter in Beijing which isolated them from “war, disease, poverty and starvation.” (p. 56) David was not immune to the suffering of ordinary Chinese through shared experiences of Japanese bombing, gunfight, and martial law, and interactions through shopping, sightseeing, and vacation breaks. First tutored by Chinese teachers then attended the International School, David grew up bicultural with the knowledge his father was a secret agent for the Nationalist government in Chungking. After the Pearl Harbor Incident, Japanese sealed the Legation Quarter and closed the International School. David attended a Chinese school briefly where he suffered from excruciating racism and bullying…

Read the entire review here.

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Making the Modern Family: Interracial Intimacy and the Social Production of Whiteness

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-04-07 03:39Z by Steven

Making the Modern Family: Interracial Intimacy and the Social Production of Whiteness

Harvard Law Review
Volume 127, Issue 5 (2014-03-17)
pages 1341-1394

Camille Gear Rich, Associate Professor of Law
Gould School of Law
University of Southern California

According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family. By Angela Onwuachi-Willig. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. 2013. Pp. 325.

Angela Onwuachi-Willig’s provocative book According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family seems tailor-made for the current cultural moment. The book arrives on the heels of the reelection of our first mixed-race President. It arrives in the midst of a media blitz that favorably presents mixedrace couples on a routine basis, making the multiracial family seem a normal, even pedestrian occurrence. Indeed, in 2012 the cultural embrace of the interracial family seemed complete when Modern Family was chosen as the top sitcom in the United States. The program centers on the Dunphy-Pritchetts, an interracial, gay-tolerant family, seemingly progressive in all dimensions. Onwuachi-Willig’s new book, however, boldly challenges the contemporary claim that interracial families are now an accepted and celebrated part of the American polity. The author instead painstakingly reveals that the world still subjects the interracial family to insult and inferior treatment that the law fails to address and, further, that the acceptance of interracial couples in contemporary popular culture is far more partial, conditional, and ambivalent than it might initially seem.

One need look no further than the program Modern Family itself to find evidence of America’s continuing anxiety about interracial unions. While fans of the program know the cast of characters well, the program’s viewers most likely have not fully apprehended the program’s cultural commitments and underlying political ambitions. The core characters of Modern Family are members of a white nuclear family, Claire and Phil Dunphy and their three children. This couple’s 1950s-style Dick and Jane union stands alongside the May-December romance of Claire’s white father, Jay Pritchett, who, having separated from Claire’s white mother, has married Gloria, a fiery Latina from Colombia. Jay has also functionally adopted Manny, Gloria’s Latino son. The family clan is complete when we are introduced to Claire’s brother, Mitchell Pritchett, a white gay man who has coupled with another white gay man, Cameron, and adopted Lily, a Vietnamese child. The not-so-silent political subtext that informs this current cultural favorite is that the era of interraciality has ended and the postracial future has arrived. Indeed, in the world of Modern Family, “interraciality,” the term Onwuachi-Willig uses to describe the discrimination aimed at mixed-race couples in American society, is a relic of the past. The program further reassures its viewers that the white nuclear family will not be threatened by this new post-racial future, a time when whites casually form intimate family relationships with people of color. For Modern Family is treacle-coated reassurance that in these new “modern families,” interracial parenting and interracial marriage will simply mimic the dynamics of the white nuclear family in its original form.

Close analysis of Modern Family further demonstrates that, despite the seeming cultural celebration of interracial families, the racial acceptance offered in the program is surprisingly partial. One major racial group is left out of the Dunphy-Pritchett clan’s seemingly capacious diversity circle — blacks. Indeed, in the Dunphy-Pritchett family, white parents eagerly reach out to care for Latino, Asian, and mixed-race children, but there are no black children in the family. Over the course of each season we occasionally see black friends, or black neighbors, but there is no sign that any black person has ever been invited into the Dunphy-Pritchett marital bed. One wonders, why did the producers’ willingness to represent interracial intimacy stop with blacks? According to Our Hearts provides an answer. Onwuachi-Willig explains that black-white romantic dyads and the mixed-race families they produce are particularly anxiety provoking in the United States and, as a consequence, are typically erased and rendered culturally invisible (p. 18). She further argues that this invisibility hides the fact that black-white families suffer under a unique form of hostility and disadvantage (p. 9). By charting these black-white couples’ experiences and using them in a “miner’s canary” analysis to assess race relations, she argues, we learn just how long racism and fear of interracial intimacy have endured (p. 122)…

…Indeed, history shows that the interracial family historically has been an institution that assimilated ethnic or racial differences to whiteness and therefore did not disturb the existing racial status hierarchy. Ethnic whites that immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, including Germans and Northern Europeans, intermarried with “American” or British whites as a way of being absorbed into the larger category of privileged white persons. A second wave of immigrant intermarriage expanded the category of whiteness again in the 1950s and 1960s, when Italians and other Southern Europeans were added to the category of whiteness. Today we are experiencing a third wave in this expansion as sections of the Asian and Latino communities have gained sufficient social status that they are being accepted as suitable marriage partners by privileged whites today. In many cases, whites appear willing to treat Asian or Latino background, particularly for mixed-race persons, as a kind of “ethnic” rather than racial difference. Professor Charles Gallagher refers to this dynamic, in which racialized or subordinated ethnic groups are granted status equal to whiteness, as “racial redistricting.”

Given the subtle and sophisticated nature of Onwuachi-Willig’s account of the interracial family, it is surprising that she does not cover the potentially racially regressive role the interracial family can play in contemporary race relations. However, this oversight may be a consequence of methodological choices she makes in her study. First, Onwuachi-Willig opts to make the black-white multiracial family the paradigmatic case that guides her understanding of interraciality (p. 122), and an assimilation focus is not as common in black-white families. Sociologists have suggested that assimilation messages are not as common because phenotypic differences prevent many children in black-white mixed-race families from assimilating to whiteness easily. However, there is some evidence that even black-white interracial families use these unions as a path for their children into whiteness when possible. Second, sampling bias may account for the problem. Onwuachi-Willig uses an approach called convenience sampling in her account. Specifically, she collects stories from former volunteers and acquaintances made through friends (pp. 8–10); understandably these like-minded individuals were more likely to share her progressive vision. Those who were not like-minded, for obvious reasons, would likely opt not to participate in a study of interraciality-based discrimination. Members of interracial couples who could see their children easily transitioning to a white identity or a transcendent raceless identity would be less interested in exploring the unique forms of discrimination faced by interracial couples.

Despite these problems, in my view, Onwuachi-Willig’s account of the interracial family provides a much-needed starting point for persons interested in theorizing about the relationship between family formation and racial formation. However, some supplementation of her account is required in order to fully address the interracial family’s tutelary role or its role as a site of racial messaging. Part B further explores these roles, concentrating on families that appear to be committed to assimilating their members to whiteness and therefore are treated as reinforcing existing racial status hierarchy in the United States…

Read the entire review here.

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Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the Making of the African Diaspora in Europe by Tina M. Campt (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive on 2014-03-25 18:10Z by Steven

Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the Making of the African Diaspora in Europe by Tina M. Campt (review)

Callaloo
Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2014
pages 169-171
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2014.0006

Nicosia Shakes
Brown University

Campt, Tina M., Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012)

In Image Matters, Tina Campt uses a remarkable archive of vernacular photography to analyze processes of black subjectivity in early-twentieth-century Europe. Defined by the author as a genre of “everyday image-making” (7), vernacular photography is considered an important archival resource for understanding how blacks have historically constructed self-images that affirm their worth in societies that devalue their humanity (see also Brian Wallis and Deborah Willis, African American Vernacular Photography 2006). Campt’s reading of the photographs centers on three main registers through which they interact with the viewer: the visual, the haptic, and the sonic. Blending her analysis of these registers with historical research and the findings from her fieldwork in Germany and England, Campt treats these images as more than historical objects. They are “statements that express how ordinary individuals envisioned their sense of self, their subjectivity, and their social status” (7).

Campt engages mainly with the field of Black/African Diaspora Studies in three ways. Firstly, she departs from the prevailing “roots versus routes” conceptualizations that tend to focus on dispersion from a homeland and transnational interactions. Instead, she emphasizes black people’s inscription of themselves into their adopted countries. Secondly, by focusing on Afro-Germans and Afro-Caribbean British immigrants—two very distinct groups—Campt underscores the importance of viewing the African Diaspora as diverse, rather than as a homogenous group. Thirdly, she engages with the question of how the construction of the archives affects the conceptualization of the Diaspora. Here, the work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot, who Campt references, is very relevant. In his influential text Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995), Trouillot discusses the omissions that occur in various stages of archive construction, which ultimately affect how history is written. Campt infers that the history of the African Diaspora has been affected by silences within the visual archives. As such, the existence of certain diasporic groups such as Afro-Germans appears as an interruption in the mainstream narrative.

The book is divided into two sections, with three chapters bridged by two “interstitial” essays. Part 1, “Family Matters: Sight, Sense, Touch,” focuses on the biracial offspring of African men and German women, and builds on the research in Campt’s previous book, Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender, and Memory in the Third Reich (2005). The first chapter, “Family Touches” focuses primarily on Hans Hauck and to a lesser extent, the brothers, Mandenga, Manga, and Ekwin Ngando. There are multiple photographs of Hauck posing with his white German family as a child, and many of him as a soldier in the German army. These are juxtaposed with similar images of the Ngando brothers. The military images are shocking considering the popular conceptualization of the Third Reich military as an Aryan space commensurate with the doctrine of Aryan superiority. The fact that non-Aryans participated in the army speaks volumes about the nuances in the German state’s performance of Aryan superiority, even while subjecting non-Aryans to violent repression (see also Bryan Mark Rigg, Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers 2002). Hauck was sterilized as a child along with many other non-Aryans in a secret campaign carried out by the Gestapo; yet, he was allowed to join the Hitler Youth as a boy and later, the army. Like the Ngandos, he was denied full citizenship rights even while being required to perform military responsibilities for the state. Campt highlights an important point regarding the tension between how the images register and divergent historical facts. For example, the fact that Hauck’s grandmother was the one who gave the Gestapo permission to sterilize him troubles our reading of the image depicting loving family embraces between the two. Also, though the experiences of the Ngando brothers were similar to Hauck’s, the specificities of their lives cautions against a general narrative of black penalization in Germany. For example, Manga had a child with a white woman, Hertha Pilisch, in 1943, and later married her after the fall of the Nazi regime. Thus, unlike Hauck, Manga was not sterilized, and violated one of the fundamental rules of Nazism without detection for several years.

Hans Hauck will probably stand…

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The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World by Emily Clark (review) [Wright]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, United States on 2014-03-20 03:04Z by Steven

The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World by Emily Clark (review) [Wright]

Early American Literature
Volume 49, Number 1, 2014
page 257-262
DOI: 10.1353/eal.2014.0015

Nazera Sadiq Wright, Assistant Professor of English
University of Kentucky

The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World unveils the historical genealogy of the American quadroon from its invention as a by-product of the Haitian Revolution and evolution as an alluring figure of sexual desire in New Orleans to its contemporary representation in film and media. Emily Clark tells a masterful story of the quadroon’s migration from the Caribbean to the United States, surfacing in Philadelphia, and settling in New Orleans. She begins with the revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, a revolt that resulted in the establishment of Haiti in 1804. The American quadroon was a socially constructed formula created after the Haitian Revolution to reduce anxiety over race revolts in the Caribbean that threatened to reach American soil. The fictional quadroon, argues Clark, aided in the imaginative construction of New Orleans as a foreign city apart from the American polity. As with Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s black, female mistress kept hidden away like a secret, so too did Americans create “a complex symbolic strategy that kept the quadroon at an imaginative distance from the nation’s heart and heartland” (6). Clark insists that scholars consider New Orleans as a foundational scene of American history, arguing that “the presumption that the history of New Orleans and its quadroons is unique diverts the gaze of the rest of the nation away from its own unattractive Atlantic past, allowing it to remain firmly fixed on less-troubling founding scenes played out on the Mayflower and in Independence Hall” (9). The Strange History of the American Quadroon corrects this sanitization by examining the “intertwined stories” of the quadroon’s evolution as a cultural symbol, the actual people whom this racial classification represents, and the myth that New Orleans is the only home of the quadroon (10).

Using a dazzling array of materials carefully gleaned from archives and historical repositories, including collections at the Latin American Library at Tulane University, the Templeman Library at the University of Kent, and the Office of Archives and Records from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Clark restores the quadroon to US cultural memory. The first chapter situates the quadroon in the American popular and political imagination through her appearance in the Philadelphia press in 1807. With Haitian refugees migrating to Philadelphia and other US cities after the Haitian Revolution, the image of the quadroon articulated white Philadelphians’ fear of a black republic as well as more generalized anxiety regarding the tenuous political landscape of a newly formed nation. The chapter begins with a detailed account of Haiti’s involvement in the quadroon’s migration to America and her embattled appearance in Philadelphia politics and print culture, arguing that the figure of the black woman “emerged as a charged rhetorical device” in the Philadelphia newspapers to represent the animosity between radical and conservative Democratic Republicans (35). This animosity resulted in the quadroon press war of 1807, which recounted Philadelphia’s unstable relationship with Saint Domingue as a conflict among political parties. The richness of this chapter rests in the way Clark synthesizes the history of the Haitian Revolution and its impact on Philadelphia commerce to demonstrate how this duality “conjured the quadroon as a political trope” (37). This chapter will be especially helpful to scholars invested in studying Haiti through the lens of early Philadelphian print culture.

In chapter 2, Clark reveals how American consciousness came to terms with the Haitian Revolution by displacing fear onto the body of the “menagere,” which Clark defines as a free black woman of color who engaged in sexual partnership with white men in New Orleans. This individual wielded significant economic influence, while being demonized as “an insatiable consumer who seduced white men, including American white men, tempting them away from their proper roles as faithful husbands and fathers” (53-54). In that the “menagere” was viewed as a dangerous, sexually irresistible figure who disrupted men’s natural attachments to white women, the free black woman of color threatened national consciousness as a “usurper of patriotic filiation” (54). Quadroon balls emerged in the context of this perceived threat. In these ballrooms, “men could take in the spectacle of quadroon…

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