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

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

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

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

Rowan Faye Steineker
Department of History
University of Oklahoma

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

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

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

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The Leftovers

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

The Leftovers

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

Alexander Chee

‘Everything I Never Told You,’ by Celeste Ng

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

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

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

Read the entire review here.

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“Little White Lie”: Black And Jewish Filmmaker Documents Growing Up Believing She Was White

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-08-10 18:45Z by Steven

“Little White Lie”: Black And Jewish Filmmaker Documents Growing Up Believing She Was White

Madame Noire
2014-08-04

Veronica Wells

Most of us know from a very early age that we’re Black. It happens so early that many of us can’t remember a specific conversation or moment where we learned this truth. But that wasn’t the case for 37-year-old Lacey Schwartz.

Schwartz, a Harvard Law School graduate turned filmmaker, didn’t learn she was black until she was 18 years old. While many of us would look at Schwartz, with her light brown skin and dark, curly hair and suspect immediately that she has at least some Black ancestry, she was told by her Jewish family that she was White and had inherited her dark skin from her Sicilian grandfather.

Her story is so fascinating, so remarkable, that she decided to make it the subject for her documentary Little White Lie which premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this past weekend. It will eventually make its way to PBS next year.

The documentary, narrated, obviously, by Schwartz herself, details her at a funeral, discussions with her girlfriends and therapy sessions where she asks over and over again how she was able to “pass for white.”

In the film, Schwartz offers a bit of an explanation: “I come from a long line of New York Jews. My family knew who they were, and they defined who I was.”

Read the entire review here.

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‘Everything I Never Told You’ Exposed In Biracial Family’s Loss

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Audio, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Interviews, United States on 2014-08-04 18:54Z by Steven

‘Everything I Never Told You’ Exposed In Biracial Family’s Loss

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio
2014-06-28

Arun Rath
All Things Considered

It’s May, 1977, in small-town Ohio, and the Lee family is sitting down at breakfast. James is Chinese-American and Marilyn is white, and they have three children — two girls and a boy. But on this day, their middle child Lydia, who is also their favorite, is nowhere to be found.

That’s how Celeste Ng’s new novel, Everything I Never Told You, begins.

It’s soon discovered that Lydia has drowned in a nearby lake, in what looks like a suicide. The incident pulls the family into an emotional vortex and reveals deep cracks in their relationships with each other.

This all takes place an era when interracial marriages are only recently legal (the Supreme Court struck down interracial marriage bans in 1967). Lydia’s death forces members of the Lee family to confront their individual insecurities and grapple with their identity as a biracial family in the Midwest.

But would it be very different for them today? Ng answered that question for NPR’s Arun Rath, host of All Things Considered.

Ng, who is a first-generation Asian-American Midwesterner, also spoke about her own experiences growing up and about the state of the American conversation on race…

Read the article here. Listen to the interview here. Download the interview here.

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After the ‘White Lie’ Implodes, a Rich Narrative Unfurls

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, United States on 2014-08-02 16:59Z by Steven

After the ‘White Lie’ Implodes, a Rich Narrative Unfurls

The New York Times
2014-08-01

Felicia R. Lee

‘Little White Lie,’ Lacey Schwartz’s Film About Self-Discovery

Lacey Schwartz, a 37-year-old Harvard Law School graduate turned filmmaker, moves with ease in circles in which her identity as both black and Jewish seems unremarkable. What makes her biography striking is that Ms. Schwartz, a woman with light brown skin and a cascade of dark curls, grew up believing she was white.

How and why that happened is the subject of her film, “Little White Lie,” which has its premiere on Sunday at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, its first stop on the festival circuit before being broadcast on PBS next year. With Ms. Schwartz narrating, the camera travels to a funeral, girlfriend gab sessions and even her therapy appointments. At each stop, in raw conversations with family and friends, Ms. Schwartz asks over and over, how and why did she pass as white?

“I come from a long line of New York Jews,” she says early in the film, as photographs of her white relatives flash across the screen. “My family knew who they were, and they defined who I was.”

Ms. Schwartz was an only child who grew up in the mostly white town of Woodstock, N.Y. Her parents, Peggy and Robert Schwartz, told her that she favored her father’s swarthy Sicilian grandfather. It was not until she went off to college that she learned the truth.

Before starting college, “I was already questioning my whiteness because of what other people said and because I was aware that I looked different from my family,” she said in a recent interview. Then, based on the photograph accompanying her application, Georgetown University passed her name along to the black student association, which contacted her.

The university “gave me permission” to explore a black identity, Ms. Schwartz said…

…Bliss Broyard explored similar territory in a memoir about her father, the book critic Anatole Broyard, a black man who passed as white. She has said she was raised white but learned the truth about her father on his deathbed. But Ms. Broyard, unlike Ms. Schwartz, grew up with her biological father.

Jenifer L. Bratter, director of the Program for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Culture at Rice University, said the film’s twisting tale was part of “a larger story about race in America.”

“Biological race trumps cultural race,” she added. “Race is something we’re really invested in validating or comprehending. It’s about how we understand race as a marker of difference, something that a story about ancestry can’t resolve.”..

Read the entire review here.

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Blacks and Blackness in Central America: Between race and place ed. by Lowell Gudmundson and Justin Wolfe, and: Labor and Love in Guatemala: The eve of independence by Catherine Komisaruk (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2014-08-01 19:58Z by Steven

Blacks and Blackness in Central America: Between race and place ed. by Lowell Gudmundson and Justin Wolfe, and: Labor and Love in Guatemala: The eve of independence by Catherine Komisaruk (review)

Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
Volume 15, Number 2, Summer 2014
DOI: 10.1353/cch.2014.0025

Julia A. Gibbings, Assistant Professor of History
University Of Manitoba, Canada

In his classic Spanish Central America, Murdo MacLeod reflected upon the importance of African slaves in the region and queried, “what happened to these black populations?” These two books, Blacks and Blackness in Central America and Labor and Love in Guatemala, seek to answer that question. In doing so, they uncover the silencing of Blackness as free people of color and their descendants disappeared from the sociocultural landscape or were cast into the geographic and cultural margins of the nation. In pointing to the multiple and complex forces that suppress Blackness, the authors call into question the predominant Indigenous/Ladino (non-Indigenous) binary in Central America. Recentering Blackness in the heart of Central American nations, these authors challenge even some of the most innovative scholarly works on the postcolonial period that have elided the existence of Afro-Central Americans and assumed that to be Ladino was equivalent to being Mestizo.

Blacks and Blackness in Central America, edited by Lowell Gudmundson and Justin Wolfe, originated from an international conference on the history of African Americans in Middle America that took place at Tulane University in November 2004. The result is an impressive collection of essays that contributes equally to African diaspora studies and Latin American historiography. This work adds to a new scholarship, such as Ileana Rodríguez-Silva’s Silencing Race: Disentangling Blackness, colonialism, and national identities in Puerto Rico, that seeks to uncover the powerful historical processes at work in societies where African-descended populations do not self-identify as such or have been systematically written out of national histories. The volume also contributes to Latin American historiography more broadly by participating in the rethinking of national mythologies of mestizaje. In addition to a relational approach to racial identity formation, many of the authors emphasize the racialization of space and place, illustrating how, for example, the Nicaraguan Mosquito Coast was racialized as Black and how Afro–Central America deployed the language of place and “rootedness” to make claims upon the nation-state.

Blacks and Blackness is divided into two parts, addressing the colonial and postcolonial periods, respectively. In Part I, “Colonial Worlds of Slavery and Freedom,” chapters on colonial Guatemala by Paul Lokken and colonial Costa Rica by Russell Lohse illustrate how Afro–Central Americans were participants in some of the most dynamic economic sectors—sugar and liquor in Guatemala and cacao and cattle in Costa Rica. Catherine Komisaruk’s work on colonial Guatemala and Rina Cáceres Gómez’s work on the Omoa fort in Honduras illustrate how slaves had a great deal of economic autonomy. Karl Offen’s particularly rich chapter demonstrates how the autonomous Afro-Amerindian and Amerindian populations of Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast challenged emerging ideologies of race by interacting with the British and Spanish as equals and highlights crucial internal differentiations and hierarchies within Mosquito society. By highlighting the African origins of many Ladinos, Lokken and Komisaruk challenge the idea that modern Ladinos are exclusively of mixed Spanish and Indigenous descent.

In Part II, “Nation Building and Reinscribing Race,” the contributors take up the postcolonial nineteenth century with chapters on British West Indians, Central American banana enclaves, the racialization of Nicaraguan regions and Afro-Nicaraguan participation in liberal politics. In three chapters on Nicaragua, Justin Wolfe, Lowell Gudmundson and Juliet Hooker examine the varied meanings of Blackness and the political engagements of Afro-Nicaraguans. Wolfe illustrates how Afro-Nicaraguans engaged a republican vision that challenged the conservative oligarchy and came to dominate political struggle in the decades after independence. Their demands for equality led them to deny the question of race and thus ultimately participate in the silencing of Blackness. Gudmundson augments Wolfe’s discussion through a fascinating analysis of Nicaragua’s 1883 census and by illustrating how charges of blackness became associated with challenges to honor and masculinity, which led some to abandon the category altogether and helped institutionalize the nonexistence of racial difference and the myth of homogeneity. Hooker illustrates how the conceptualization of the Nicaraguan nation as civilized emerged out of and against the representation of the Mosquito Coast as savage. This spatialization of race, she further argues, legitimated the disenfranchisement of certain racialized peoples. Next, Lara Putnam and Ronald…

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Ghosts of Camptown

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

Ghosts of Camptown

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

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

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

Read or purchase the article here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read or purchase the review here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire review  here.

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