Transcending blackness: from the new millennium mulatta to the exceptional multiracial [Aspinal Review]
Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 5, 2014
Peter J. Aspinall, Emeritus Reader in Population Health
University of Kent, UK
Transcending blackness: from the new millennium mulatta to the exceptional multiracial, by Ralina L. Joseph. Durham and London. Duke University Press. 2013.
xx+ 226 pp., (paperback). ISBN 978-0-8223-5292-1
This book is concerned with representations of mixed-race African American women, notably, the two categories into which fall the mainstream images of mixed-race blackness: the new millennium mulatta. exceedingly tragic, always divided, alone, and uncomfortable, and the exceptional multiracial, unifying, strikingly successful post-racial ideal. The analysed texts which form the main body of the book belong to the 1998-2008 era (following the debates about capture of the multiracial population in the 2000 US Census), a period during which representations crystallized into this two-sided stereotype. Both are rooted in a condemnation of blackness which is either implicit as where blackness is stigmatized through the presentation of tragic mulatta inevitability or explicit, where discarding the burden of blackness means arriving at a safely post-racial state. Both representations take place in the context of gendered and sexualized as well as racialized performances.
An in-depth approach is adopted in which four representative works are examined with regard to the textual nuances that construct the two stereotypes. Part 1 explores the new millennium mulatlas: the bad race girl’ in Jennifer Beals’s portrayal of Bette Porter on the cable television drama The L Word (2004-2008), in which Bette is mired in the tragic misfortune and destiny of the mulatta: and the ‘sad race girl’ in Danzy Senna’s novel ‘Caucasia‘ (1998), which investigates how Senna reinterprets the tragic mulatta heroine in her production of a new millennium mulatta representation. Race and gender arc the drivers that torture the protagonists who are unable to achieve the states of post-race and post-feminism. In part II, ‘The Exceptional Multiracial’. Joseph interrogates representations that develop the character of the racial-transforming mixed-race title character in Alison Swan’s independent film ‘Mixing Nia‘ (1998) and the racial-switching mixed-race contestant in an episode of Tyra Banks’s reality television show ‘America’s Next Top Model‘ (2005). These representations portray blackness as an irrelevant entity for the multiracial, something that can and should be transcended through racialized performances. Blackness, the cause of sadness and pain for the multiracial African American, must be erased or surpassed in order to reach a state of health or success.
These particular works were chosen by Joseph as they were ‘representations of this particular time period and particular subgenre of multiracial African American representations’ and are not isolated representations of mixed-race African Americans but representative texts. Indeed, she contends that contemporary black-white representations do not go beyond this binary, the idea that blackness is a deficit that black and multiracial people must overcome…
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