Mixed Race Stereotypes in South African and American Literature by Diana Adesola Mafe (review)

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa, United States on 2015-05-26 01:30Z by Steven

Mixed Race Stereotypes in South African and American Literature by Diana Adesola Mafe (review)

Research in African Literatures
Volume 46, Number 2, Summer 2015
pages 166-168

Tru Leverette, Associate Professor of English
University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida

Mafe, Diana Adesola, Mixed Race Stereotypes in South African and American Literature: Coloring Outside the (Black and White) Lines (New York, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

In her recently published study, Diana Adesola Mafe explores the literary trope of the tragic mulatto through a comparative analysis of American and South African novels. Her work is both useful and timely, filling a gap in the literary study of colouredness and the transnational study of mixed race literature. Through this transnational lens, Mafe argues that the advent of the “age of Obama” and the renewed celebration of race mixture in the United States coincide with South Africa’s post-apartheid efforts to imagine itself as a Rainbow Nation. This celebration in both nations, however, overlooks important historical realities that are often explored through the literary figure of the tragic mulatto. Acknowledging that mulattos have often been “called upon to embody historic national moments” (1), Mafe asserts “a reading of South African fictions alongside American counterparts reveals the ongoing relevance of the tragic mulatto, which functions not only as a dated cliché and cautionary tale but also as a radical embodiment of possibility and a vehicle for social critique” (2). Indeed, Mafe illustrates through her analysis that the tragic mulatto has long functioned as a trope through which American and South African writers have critiqued race, identity, national belonging, and state-sanctioned racism.

Mafe begins her study with the introduction “Tainted Blood: The ‘Tragic Mulatto’ Tradition,” wherein she introduces the celebration of mixture within the contemporary sociopolitical contexts of the United States and South Africa. She also begins to address the tragic mulatto as a historical type. Acknowledging that, in the United States, the tragic mulatto trope developed as an abolitionist tool, Mafe briefly explores its origins in antebellum and postbellum literature. Additionally, she presents a justification for her comparative study, arguing “the tragic mulatto is a provocative keystone for analyzing these American and South African texts, which might otherwise have little else in common. When read alongside each other, these fictions expose mutual histories of stigmatization and marginalization for the mulatto figure” (14).

In chapter one, “God’s Stepchildren: The ‘Tragedy of Being a Halfbreed’ in South African Literature,” Mafe offers a history of miscegenation in South Africa and the United States, allowing her to trace the origins of the coloured and mulatto populations, respectively, in each nation. Having delineated this history, Mafe then turns her attention to the use of colouredness in South African fiction, which, she asserts, was not offered in-depth characterization until the twentieth century: “This development is inextricable from the emergence of colouredness as a ‘new’ social identity, mounting national interest in race categorization, and a literary shift from exploring Anglo-Boer relations to exploring black-white relations” (34). Through analyses of Sarah Gertrude Millin’s eugenicist novel God’s Step-Children and Peter Abrahams’s The Path of Thunder, Mafe establishes the literary origins and original uses of the tragic mulatto trope in South African literature. Throughout, she draws parallels with and highlights divergences from the use of the trope in American literature, in particular Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Passing and James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.

In her next chapter, “‘An Unlovely Woman’: Bessie Head’s Mulatta (Re) Vision,” Mafe turns her analysis to the life and work of South African writer Bessie Head, specifically her novel A Question of Power, arguing “this text is a startling conceptualization of the mulatta that parallels but also challenges the efforts of earlier American writers” (59). Mafe explores the stereotype of the beautiful tragic mulatta and Head’s inversion of it through the presentation of an ugly protagonist, simultaneously exploring the novel’s ironic use of madness and its presentation of female sexuality. Since depictions of the tragic mulatta typically position her between the demands of white female respectability and the stereotype of black female passion, Head’s protagonist “destabilizes the exotic and erotic iconography of the mulatta, which is remarkably consistent in the American tradition” (63).

Turning from the tragic mulatta, in chapter three Mafe analyzes presentations of the mulatto man’s sexuality, again torn between “‘white’ propriety and ‘black’ passion” (86) and his filial relationship to his white father. In “‘A Little Yellow Bastard Boy’: Arthur Nortje’s Mulatto Manhood,” Mafe reads the father-son dynamic in…

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Lopsided Afro

Posted in Africa, Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, South Africa on 2015-05-04 18:17Z by Steven

Lopsided Afro

Mixed Humans ~ Reflections on occupying a space of inbetweenness. Persistently grappling with identity.
2015-05-04

Brian Kamanzi
Cape Town, South Africa

Self Determination.

I never realised how practical those words would become for my life until I started to explore the world beyond the safety of my University. Work spaces where the politics of what is considered respectable are carried out with almost total compliance without anyone mentioning a word, without anyone signing a single suggestion to law.

It was and is suffocating.

I must admit though, this moment revived memories of my childhood.
Being a child of the “colonies” our British style schools and accompanying rules really struggled to accommodate students who just didn’t quite fit the profile.

My hair was just a disaster unless kept short.
In fact, my Dad’s distate for men with anything like long hair rang in stark synchornisation with a reality and imagination that reinforced in my mind that the very hair that came out of my head was essentially…..

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Trevor Noah’s World

Posted in Africa, Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, South Africa on 2015-04-27 22:17Z by Steven

Trevor Noah’s World

The Atlantic
2015-04-05

Douglas Foster, Associate Professor of Journalism
Medill School of Journalism
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

What makes The Daily Show’s new host unique—according to South African comics

CAPE TOWN, South Africa—When word circulated on Monday that standup comic Trevor Noah had been chosen to succeed Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, South Africans hailed Noah in hyper-caffeinated terms as the country’s “next great export” after Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Charlize Theron. On that day, I happened to be in Johannesburg shepherding students through the newsroom of The Star, where the lineup of stories at the morning editorial conference included a series of firefights between gangsters and police on public highways, allegations of corruption at every level of government, and the teetering condition of the state-run utility company, which regularly plunges the country into rolling blackouts. It was no wonder that news of a major U.S. television show hiring a 31-year-old mixed-race South African phenom as anchor had proven so welcome.

By now, the basics about Trevor Noah are well-known. He’s the young, super-cool comedian with the cherubic face and itchy Twitter finger who, beginning in 2012, achieved global recognition by way of Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart. In a series of solo performances around the world over the last three years, he has blown up in ways that cultural figures from South Africa haven’t since the 1960s and 1970s, when musicians like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba packed music halls during the height of racial oppression back home…

…What makes Noah’s comedy unique? “He’s slick as fuck!” Evans replied. “But also super charming,” added the young comic sitting next to him. He was a slight, Afrikaans-speaking man named Schalk Bezuidenhout, who sometimes opens for Noah when he’s performing in town. Only 22 years old—the same age as Noah when he jump-started his career as a comedian—Bezuidenhout had just come off stage after a set about the hazards of dating a flight attendant (“a non-smoking fuck”) and the unintended consequences of imposing a non-racial ideal on young people from South Africa’s 11 different language groups (“There’s nothing more messed up than a bunch of Afrikaans kids singing an African song”).

Both men said Noah distinguished himself from other comics by resisting labels and “genre-based comedy.” Bezuidenhout noted that Noah always identified himself as a mixed-race South African raised in straitened circumstances in Soweto without “using it as a crutch.” Contemporaries who have shared the stage with him say he’s unusually attuned to the audience, shifting direction based on the feel in the room, and Bezuidenhout has seen Noah drop chunks of material based on the city he’s performing in. This was a quality that a number of immigrants in South Africa had already mentioned to me. Omega Chembhere, a waiter, told me that when he had arrived from Zimbabwe 10 years earlier, much of South African pop culture had seemed inaccessible. “Trevor’s different, so good at it,” he said. “His strength is that everything springs from his experience in life, but you understand his reality because he makes an effort to explain.”…

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The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, and Japan’s Miss Universe Reveal Biracial Realities

Posted in Africa, Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, South Africa, United States on 2015-04-16 15:08Z by Steven

The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, and Japan’s Miss Universe Reveal Biracial Realities

Will Wright: Cinéma, Style, Race and Politics Permeate Our Lives. That Fascinates Me.
2015-04-09

Will Wright

Thanks in part to the changing of the guard at The Daily Show, biracial experiences and related politics have made headlines, and snuck into our minds. South African, Trevor Noah, once a correspondent for The Daily Show, has been named to host it, succeeding Jon Stewart. His immediate family tree seems about as strange to Americans as Senator Obama’s did when he began running for president; Mr. Noah’s mom is a Xhosa South African and his father Swiss.

But his mixed heritage is not the only one being discussed. If you pay attention to headlines about mixed race folks (who doesn’t, right?) then you’ve felt shockwaves from Japan’s Miss Universe contestant…

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The Trouble With Race

Posted in Africa, Articles, Europe, History, Law, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, South Africa, United States on 2015-04-13 00:38Z by Steven

The Trouble With Race

Foreign Affairs
March/April 2015

Gideon Rose, Editor

Everybody knows that racial tensions have been at the center of American political debate in recent months, but the story of racial and ethnic division is actually a global one, with a long and tortured history. For the lead package in the March/April issue, therefore, we decided to do a deep dive into racial issues in comparative and historical perspective.

Kwame Anthony Appiah kicks it off with a sweeping review of the rise and fall of race as a concept, tracing how late-nineteenth-century scientists and intellectuals built up the idea that races were biologically determined and politically significant, only to have their late-twentieth-century counterparts tear it down. Unfortunately, he concludes, recognizing that racial categories are socially constructed rather than innate doesn’t make racial problems easier to solve.

Fredrick Harris and Robert Lieberman explore the paradox of a United States in which stark racial inequalities persist even as official and individual-level racism have dramatically declined: a country that might be postracist but is hardly postracial. They point to the influence of historical legacies that baked the racism of previous eras into the cake of contemporary institutions and practices, from housing to finance to criminal justice…

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The Culture of Curls: What Hair Really Means in Mixed Race Societies

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, South Africa on 2015-03-16 02:13Z by Steven

The Culture of Curls: What Hair Really Means in Mixed Race Societies

The Yale Globalist
2013-12-24

Isidora Stankovic
Timothy Dwight College
Yale University

Look through any fashion magazine and you might notice something puzzling. Almost without exception, models of every race have the same sleek, straightened hair. The message from these media sources seems clear: these painstakingly smooth hairstyles are simply better. Women around the world have taken this message to heart and adopted straightened hair as a beauty ideal, but for some women, hair texture means something more. In societies with large mixed race populations, hair extends beyond beauty and becomes a factor that reveals ethnic heritage and even socioeconomic background. According to Professor Roberto González Echevarría, Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literatures at Yale University, “hair is a fashion statement as well as a statement of ethnicity.” Curls and kinky hair are loaded with stigma in many countries, in part because they represent the effects of historical interactions between different ethnic groups.

The legacy of European colonialism echoes strongly in Cuba, and has been influential in shaping race relations, social structure, and the identities of mixed-race individuals. Professor González Echevarría explains that Spaniards brought a relatively small number of African slaves to Cuba in the 16th century to replace the annihilated labor force. In the 19th century, the number of African slaves on the island grew as the country invested in the sugar industry. Interactions with white Europeans and black slaves created a significant mixed-race population, and the growth of this group has made it increasingly difficult to identify people as either black or white and produced a change in categorization of individuals. Thus, hair has become an important tool for labeling and social stratification. According to González Echevarría, “There are many gradations of mulatto in Cuba, and some are gauged by how kinky their hair is.” He adds that Cubans can be prejudiced against kinky hair, noting that to have kinky hair is to “tener pelo malo,” or “to have bad hair.” They may call the hair of black individuals “pasa,” and women of European origin even refer to their hair as “pasa” when they are having a bad hair day, often saying “tengo la pasa alborotada” (“I have messy/wild hair”)…

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The Multiple Meanings of Coloured Identity in South Africa

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive, Social Science, South Africa on 2015-01-28 23:17Z by Steven

The Multiple Meanings of Coloured Identity in South Africa

Africa Insight
Volume 42, Number 1 (2012)

Theodore Petrus, Lecturer
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Wendy Isaacs-Martin, Political & Governmental Studies Fellow
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

In post-1994, South African identity has taken centre stage in debates about diversity and its impact in a multicultural society. The coloured people of South Africa seem to have the most at stake in such debates due to the perceived ambiguity of their and others’ perceptions of their identity. This article interrogates the symbology of colouredness by providing a symbolic interpretation of the meanings of the symbols of coloured identity. Through the engagement with relevant literature, the article seeks to identify the symbols of coloured identity and the multivocality of these symbols. Our argument is that a symbological approach to coloured identity opens up possibilities for a variety of meanings that move beyond the historically inherited stereotypical associations with the identity.

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“A Spirit that Nursed a Grievance:” William Plomer’s “The Child of Queen Victoria”

Posted in Africa, Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa on 2015-01-28 20:48Z by Steven

“A Spirit that Nursed a Grievance:” William Plomer’s “The Child of Queen Victoria”

English in Africa
Volume 39, Number 2 (2012)
DOI: 10.4314/eia.v39i2.7

M Shum

When William Plomer’s The Child of Queen Victoria and Other Stories was published by Jonathan Cape in 1933, his literary reputation was well established: he was the author of two novels, two volumes of short fiction, and three collections of poetry. In addition, he was widely regarded in British literary circles as a significant talent. Edward Garnett, for example, the reader for Cape and the first person in publishing to recognise the talents of Lawrence and Conrad, wrote in a report on The Child of Queen Victoria and Other Stories that “Plomer is certainly the most original and keenest mind of the younger generation” (quoted in Alexander 1990, 192). In short, at the time of writing this story Plomer was operating within a milieu dramatically different from the geographical and artistic isolation in which, aged only nineteen, he had written Turbott Wolfe (1925), the novel on which his South African literary reputation rests. Yet one of the many fascinations of “The Child of Queen Victoria” is that it entails a fairly exact reprise, in the realist mode, of the central thematic strand of his first novel: interracial sex or ‘miscegenation.’ A question immediately arises: what motivated the return to this vexed thematic, and what did Plomer seek to accomplish in this second attempt that, we must assume, he was not able to accomplish in the first?

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Say It Loud, I’m Coloured and I’m Proud

Posted in Africa, Articles, Autobiography, History, Media Archive, Social Science, South Africa on 2015-01-10 23:25Z by Steven

Say It Loud, I’m Coloured and I’m Proud

The Root
2013-10-08

Lindsay Johns

Not black, not African: One man says it’s not easy being “Coloured” in South Africa.

Editor’s note: The spelling of the ethnic term “Coloured,” used within the context of South African history and culture, reflects the writer’s preference.

(The Root) — I know what you’re probably thinking, and to be honest, I don’t blame you. You probably took one look at the title of this piece and thought to yourself, “Hmmm, what kind of misguided individual, brainwashed by self-hate into a feeble attempt at reclaiming the oppressor’s language, would write a thing like that?” Regressive. Jarring. Distasteful, even. A deliberately provocative throwback to the demeaning racial abuse of the Jim Crow era, painfully evocative of segregated water fountains, restaurants, the backs of buses and despicable “Colored Only” signage.

Let me swiftly disabuse you of any such notion. Yes, you read the title correctly. Coloured and proud is what I am. And what’s more, I didn’t put my hands up to make inverted comma signs around the word, as if asking for special dispensation for the benefit of the politically correct brigade, whose knee-jerk reaction is to see it as an intrinsically bad word, without wholly understanding its usage or history in a broader, global context. I’m certainly not trying to be needlessly provocative but instead am trying to make a serious point. Just hear me out before you rush to judge or, worse still, take offense.

Let me make it very clear. I know full well that in an American or a British context, the term “colored” (or “coloured”) is an outdated and undeniably pejorative epithet. On that we are in wholehearted agreement. So you’ll be relieved to hear that I’m not using it in that context; nor would I ever.

My family are Coloured from Cape Town in South Africa. And here’s the rub: In a South African context, “Coloured” is a wholly acceptable word. But, pray tell, I hear you ask, what exactly do I mean by “Coloured”? I can almost hear the confusion in your voice. That’s another word for “black,” right? Or do I mean “light-skinned”? Or does it mean “mixed-race”? In fact, it can mean all and none of the above…

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Why mixed-race comic was ‘born a crime’

Posted in Africa, Articles, Arts, Media Archive, South Africa, United States on 2014-12-29 22:35Z by Steven

Why mixed-race comic was ‘born a crime’

Cable News Network (CNN)
2014-12-04

Jessica Ellis

Teo Kermeliotis

London (CNN) — When it comes to getting ready for a show, fast-rising South African comedian Trevor Noah has it all figured out.

“My ideal setting is I walk from the streets, backstage and straight onto the stage,” says Noah, who last year became the first African comedian to perform on Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show in the United States.

“Two minutes and I am on the stage. That way in my head I have gone from my world and then into a social setting with my friends. I want my audience to be my friends — that is when they will get the best comedy. If they see me as a performer, they won’t get the best show.”

At just 28 years old, Noah is already a big name in his country’s fledgling standup scene, as well as a cover star for Rolling Stone South Africa. But despite treating the audience as friends, he’s not afraid of provocative subject matter, with his latest show called “The Racist.”

he son of a black South African woman and a white Swiss man who met when interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa, Noah jokes that he was “born a crime.” On stage, he draws upon his particular life experiences to tackle thorny issues with his funny, and sometimes trenchant, punchlines…

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