Two Chowan Discovery Panels in Chicago

Posted in History, Live Events, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, United States on 2014-11-11 23:59Z by Steven

Two Chowan Discovery Panels in Chicago

Chowan Discovery Group
Press Release
2014-10-27

Marvin T. Jones, Executive Director

Thursday, 2014-11-13, 09:00 CST (Local Time) and Friday, 2014-11-14, 16:00 CST (Local Time)

For the second consecutive conference, Chowan Discovery Group is hosting two panels at the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference at DePaul University in Chicago. Address is DePaul University Center, 2250 N. Sheffield at the Fullerton CTA station.

  • Thursday, November 13 from 2:15 to 3:45pm, Room 325: “Mobility and Definition in Mixed-Race History.” The moderator is Mayola Cotterman, retired professor, Northwestern University. The panelists are:
    • Dr. Arwin D. Smallwood (North Carolina A&T University): “Documenting and Exploring the Early History of Mixed Race Peoples: Over Five Hundred Years of the Merging of Native American, African, and European Peoples in North America from the 1500s to Present”
    • Ainsworth Tracy (New York College – CUNY): “Documenting the Intersections and History of African-Americans and Native Americans in Colonial America: American Marronage: An Examination of Eastern North Carolina.”
    • Marvin T. Jones (Chowan Discovery Group): “Measurements of a Mixed-Race Community – the Winton Triangle.” Jones’ presentation will give the audience the size and scope of the Winton Triangle by showing numbers of large houses, stores, churches, acreages, professionals and educators.
  • Friday, November 14 from 1:45 to 3:15pm, Room 314A: “Beginnings and Transitions of Mixed Race People in North Carolina.” The Moderator is Steven F. Riley of www.mixedracestudies.org. Panelists are:
    • Lars Adams (Independent Writer): “The Algonquians of North Carolina: Ethnic Transformation and Identity Retention in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries”
    • Dr. Arwin D. Smallwood (North Carolina A&T University): “One of America’s First Mixed Race Peoples: A Study of the Tuscarora and the Indian Woods, Reservation Established in Bertie County, North Carolina in 1717.”
    • Marvin T. Jones (Chowan Discovery Group): “A Mixed Race Family at War – The Robbins Family.” We are still in the time of the 150th anniversary observances of the Civil War. This story is about one Mixed Race Family and its role in the War and beyond.

For last minute information call 202.236.2030.

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One Big Mixed Race Classroom: New Models for Digital, Transnational, and Cross-Disciplinary Pedagogy

Posted in Live Events, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Teaching Resources, United States on 2013-11-21 05:03Z by Steven

One Big Mixed Race Classroom: New Models for Digital, Transnational, and Cross-Disciplinary Pedagogy

Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association
Beyond the Logic of Debt, Toward an Ethics of Collective Dissent
2013-11-21 through 2013-11-24

Washington Hilton
1919 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C.

Washington Hilton, Columbia Hall 9 (T)
Friday, 2013-11-22, 12:00-13:45 EST (Local Time)

CHAIR: Asha Nadkarni, Assistant Professor of English
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

PANELISTS:

Zelideth María Rivas, Assistant Professor of Japanese
Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia

Michele Elam, Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor of English and Olivier Nomellini Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education
Stanford University

Lawrence-Minh B. Davis
University of Maryland, College Park

Catherine Ceniza Choy, Professor Ethnic Studies
University of California, Berkeley

Steven F. Riley, Independent Scholar
MixedRaceStudies.org

In Fall 2013 and Spring 2014, the Mixed Race Initiative, a new digital pedagogy project, will stage a global conversation about mixed race, virtually connecting over 70 classrooms in 9 countries, exploring how notions of race vary—and remain constant—across regions and borders. Transnational and cross-disciplinary in character, the project will exist at once inside and outside of American studies, with numerous participating Americanists and American studies classrooms in dialogue with an even greater number of scholars and students in other fields.

This engages the hows and whys of the initiative, thinking through its guiding theoretical and ethical concerns, its challenges and opportunities. Roundtable participants, all of whom helped develop the project curriculum and/or took part in the teaching program, will discuss their particular points of entry, the cross-disciplinary and transnational work in which they engaged, and how that work has grown or could grow the humanities, American studies, and mixed race studies. How, we might consider, can mixed race pedagogy be a critical means of rethinking American studies—and vice versa?  How can a global initiative, extending beyond U.S. borders and the English language, explore mixed race as a necessarily inter- and transnational subject? What does it mean to teach—and craft curriculum—communally?

For more information, click here.

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The Impact of Internet Publishing and Online Communications on Mixed-Race Discourses

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, United States on 2013-10-18 05:06Z by Steven

The Impact of Internet Publishing and Online Communications on Mixed-Race Discourses

The Asian American Literary Review
Special Issue on Mixed Race, Volume 4, Issue 2 (Fall 2013)
Mixed Race is an Inbox: pages 127-136

Steven F. Riley, Creator
MixedRaceStudies.org: Scholarly perspectives on the mixed race experience

Glenn C. Robinson, Creator
MixedAmericanLife.us: Mixed Culture | Mixed Heritage | Mixed Identity

Steven F. Riley, creator of MixedRaceStudies.org, and Glenn C. Robinson, creator of MixedAmericanLife.us first met (virtually) in the chat-room of the March 16, 2011 episode of Mixed Chicks Chat and have corresponded with each other ever since. They have met each other in person at the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival in Los Angeles in 2011 and 2012.

Riley has received many comments describing how his MixedRaceStudies.org has become an integral part of college courses. Robinson’s sites are an open forum for dialog and social sharing, and have a steady growth of followers. Here, they continue their conversations about mixed race and technology.

Purchase the issue here.

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One Drop of Love: A Multimedia Solo Performance on Racial Identity by Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni at University of Maryland

Posted in Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Live Events, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-03-29 20:00Z by Steven

One Drop of Love: A Multimedia Solo Performance on Racial Identity by Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni at University of Maryland

University of Maryland, College Park
The Stamp (Adele H. Stamp Student Union) [Directions]
Atrium Room
Friday, 2013-03-29, 17:00-19:30 EDT (Local Time)

Sponsored by the Multiracial Biracial Student Association (MBSA), Office of Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy (MICA), The Asian American Literary Review, University of Maryland Asian American Studies Program, and Hamsa.

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, Playwright, Producer, Actress, Educator

Jillian Pagan, Director

Q&A afterwards hosted by:

Steven F. Riley, Founder and Creator
www.MixedRaceStudies.org

One Drop of Love is a solo performance piece that journeys from Boston, Michigan, Los Angeles, and East & West Africa from 1790 to the present as a culturally Mixed woman explores the influence of the One Drop Rule on her family and society.


Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni. ©2103, Evan Tamayo

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni is a leading activist concerning mixed race, and is an actor, comedian, producer and educator. One Drop of Love is her MFA thesis, and she will be using footage from her performances to make a documentary.

Admission is free.


Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni and Steven F. Riley. ©2012, Laura Kina

Ms. Cox DiGiovanni appeared in the 2013 Academy Award and Golden Globe winning film Argo (2012); co-created, co-produced and co-hosted the award-winning weekly podcast Mixed Chicks Chat (2007-2012); and co-founded and produced the annual Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival® (2008-20012). For more on Ms. Cox DiGiovanni and One Drop of Love, visit: http://www.onedropoflove.org.

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The Chowan Discovery Group: Documenting the Mixed-Race History of North Carolina’s “Winton Triangle”

Posted in Articles, History, Native Americans/First Nation, New Media, United States on 2013-03-20 21:53Z by Steven

The Chowan Discovery Group: Documenting the Mixed-Race History of North Carolina’s “Winton Triangle”

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2013-03-20

Vikki Bynum, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

Here’s another region of the South with a fascinating history of mixed-race ancestry. I discovered the Chowan Discovery Group after Steven Riley, creator and moderator of MixedRaceStudies.org, introduced me via email to the Group’s Executive Director, Marvin T. Jones. The “Winton Triangle,” located in Hertford County, North Carolina, encompasses the three towns of Winton, Cofield, and Ahoskie. Here, people maintain a distinctive identity rooted in Native American, European, and African ancestry.

According to Marvin Jones, the Triangle traces its origins to before the 1584 arrival of the English to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where Chowanoke (Choanoac) Indian settlements were prominent along the Chowan River. After the English invasion, diseases (to which Native Americans lacked immunity) and territorial disputes decimated and disrupted the Chowanoke settlements of present-day Hertford County…

Read the entire article here.

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While multiracial identities give the appearance of a deconstruction of a social order based on race, I suggest otherwise.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes, My Articles/Point of View/Activities on 2013-03-20 03:47Z by Steven

While multiracial identities give the appearance of a deconstruction of a social order based on race, I suggest otherwise. For example, many multiracial Americans of African/European descent understandably attempt to claim and reassert their non-African ancestry; reminding us how they are “a little French, a little Scottish, Italian, etc.,” few of us stop to ponder the near utter destruction of their African ancestry and how it has-even with the inclusion of European ancestry-been reduced to “black.”  While some may embrace a “Black/White” identity, I ask where are the “Luba/Lithuanians,” “Shona/Scottish,” “Ewe/Estonians,” “Igbo/Icelanders?”  It used to be our identities told us and others, where we came from, what we did, how we hunted, how we gathered our food, where we pressed our wine, how we made cheese, when we planted, how we worshiped, and how we lived.  Only a few seem to know or notice these nearly infinite identities (even from Europe) have been reduced through the centuries by the onslaught of white supremacy to just a handful of exploitable commoditized categories. We think we can manipulate the morally corrupt framework of “race” into a modern utopia, but even the so-called “new” hybrid identities may be reabsorbed or discarded back into the oppressive essentialist elements.

Steven F. Riley, “Don’t Pass on Context: The Importance of Academic Discourses in Contemporary Discussions on the Multiracial Experience,” (paper presented at the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival, Los Angeles, California, June 11, 2011).

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Demographic Demagoguery: Gregory Rodriguez’s views on race and the census just don’t add up

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-16 18:15Z by Steven

Demographic Demagoguery: Gregory Rodriguez’s views on race and the census just don’t add up

MixedRaceStudies.org
2011-04-08

Steven F. Riley

Gregory Rodriguez’s editorial titled “President Obama: Black and more so” or “President Obama: At odds with clear demographic trends toward multiracial pride” in the April 4, 2011 edition of the Los Angeles Times reveals the destructive hubris that can occur when one mixes historical amnesia, cultural insensitivity, a misinterpretation of demographic information and plain ignorance into an essay about the complexities of race in the United States.

Rather than demand that our first black President, Mr. Obama provide the nation with a “teaching moment,” perhaps Mr. Rodriguez should head back to his schoolbooks for a learning moment.  There, he may learn that so-called “racial mixing”—via coercion and consent—has been occurring in the Americas for over 500 years.  Thus we are not entering a multiracial era, we have always been multiracial. He may also learn that ‘race’ is a social, not biological construct; originally designed for the commoditization, exploitation, oppression and near extermination of African, indigenous (and later Asian) populations. Race is an evolving convention that is constantly being constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed to preserve the hegemony of those holding social and political power in the United States. Our decennial census is a tool that helps us measure our social interactions on the ground; not our dead ancestors in the ground.

Far from “bucking a trend,” the President is in fact part of the overwhelming majority of persons of mixed ancestry who proudly checked ‘black’ and only ‘black’ as their social identity on the 2010 Census. The trend is clear. This group, which is the most populous segment of the mixed-race population in the United States, is commonly referred to as African American. Mr. Rodriguez may also learn—without the aid of geneticists—that in addition to the vast majority of the nearly 39 million black Americans in this country, an even greater number of white Americans are of mixed ancestry—be it first, second, third, or any distant generation.  I find it puzzling that Mr. Rodriguez would violate one the tenets of the multiracial identity movement, by criticizing the President for exercising his freedom to choose a monoracial identity and at the same time, give his wife, the First Lady Michelle Obama—despite her known ancestral heterogeneity—(pardon the pun) a pass.  Even more puzzling is why many in the multiracial identity movement insist that President Obama embrace them because his mixed ancestry, while they simultaneously deny the very same mixed-ness of those on the ‘black’ side of Rodriguez’s so-called “racial divide.”

Mr. Rodriguez joins the chorus of commentators heralding a significant demographic shift due to a large percentage increase in the small number of people identifying as more than one race. But any first-year student of statistics will tell you that small changes can have large effects on small populations.  The 134% increase (since the 2000 Census) in the population of those who identified as both black and white is no more significant than the 118% percent increase in the black population of South Dakota!  Thus when we superimpose the 32% percent increase in the mix-race population to the nation as a whole, the percentage moves from 2.4% to only 2.9%.  Though 2000 was the first year that Americans could identify themselves as being of more than one race, it was not by any stretch, the first year that Americans were enumerated as such.  Another learning moment for Mr. Rodriguez would reveal that as far back as 1850, the census counted mulattoes (black/white) individuals.  In fact, in 1890 the categories quadroon (1/4th black) and octoroon (1/8th black) would make a one-time appearance.  The mulatto category would disappear in the 1900 census; reappear in 1910 and 1920. After 1920, this “emerging demographic trend” would come to a sudden end.

While some writers may write glowing articles about—for example—a 70% increase in the number of people checking two or more races in Mississippi (from 0.74% in 2000 to 1.15% in 2010), and how they are supposedly leading to “the softening of racial lines,” as Mr. Rodriguez puts it, a deeper interrogation actually reveals the continuing persistence of racial lines.  What you will not hear from the likes of Mr. Rodriguez is the fact that Mississippi has the lowest percentage of people checking two or more races while ironically—and not surprisingly due to its tortured racial past—at the same time, having the greatest potential for racial mixing because it is the state with the lowest white to black ratio in the nation.

Lastly, though our first comparative decennial examination of self-identified multiracial census data does indeed reveal an increase the number of individuals willing to identify as two or more races, what will censuses of future decades tell us about the identities of the children of today’s mixed-race population?  Will they identify as mixed? Will they, as some sociologists suggest, choose to identify as “traditional” racialized identities?  Will they occupy the middle or upper rungs of a Latin American-styled pigmentocracy? Or, will they transcend racialized identities altogether?  The mixed-race population may at some point in the distant future, become the fastest declining population in the United States. Mr. Rodriguez makes no attempt whatsoever to answer these questions and no attempt to envision what our society will look like if any of these scenarios come to fruition.  Rather than project his frustrations about America’s inability to enter the realm of post-raciality on President Obama, and his decision to check a single check box, perhaps Mr. Rodriguez could take a closer look at the racial attitudes of America, and while he’s at it, himself.

©2011, Steven F. Riley

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Biracial versus black: Thought leaders weigh in on the meaning of President Obama’s biracial heritage

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-03-16 16:46Z by Steven

Biracial versus black: Thought leaders weigh in on the meaning of President Obama’s biracial heritage

theGrio
NBC News
2012-11-19

Patrice Peck

“If I’m lucky enough to have children, I won’t tell them that Barack Obama was America’s first black president.”
 
Thus began columnist Clinton Yates’ piece, “Barack Obama: Let’s not forget that he’s America’s first bi-racial president”. Published on The Washington Post website two days after the 2012 election, Yates’ piece explores the notion that singling out President Obama’s African heritage alone has resulted in an incomplete narrative of his identity.

“As a black man who plans to eventually start a family with my white girlfriend, I’m going to tell [my future children] that Obama was the first man of color in the White House and that America’s 44th president was biracial,” writes Yates. “What would I look like telling my kids that a man with a black father and a white mother is ‘black’ just because society wants him to be?” Yates’ stance on President Obama’s racial identity points to an on-going, complicated debate surrounding the president’s race and how he chooses to identify himself.
 
Since Obama’s second presidential election win, countless media outlets have analyzed the major support in voter turnout exhibited by African-Americans and Latinos for the president. At the same time, an overwhelming amount of racist backlash surged on Twitter for several days, signaling the fact that, for better or for worse, race will likely always be a predominant element to consider during Obama’s term as president.
 
Yet, most reports on and reactions to President Obama have failed to mention his biracial heritage. It is rarely addressed in discussions concerning how the public identifies Obama, or critiques of how the president identifies himself. Yates’ consideration of Obama as the “first bi-racial president” is rare in its vociferous proclamation to define the man by both lineages.

To widen this limited discourse, we asked some of the nation’s leading authorities on biracial and multi-racial issues to share their thoughts on the president’s self-identification as black, and the possible stakes of not addressing his bi-racial identity more directly. These leaders offer interesting and at times surprising perspectives on what it means to have not only a black man, but also a biracial man in the White House.
 
Here is what they told theGrio about this historic first. How do you think President Obama’s bi-racial ancestry influences the nature of his presidency?

Steven F. Riley, founder of MixedRacesStudies.org
 
In the paper “Barack, Blackness, Borders and Beyond: Exploring Obama’s Racial Identity Today as a Means of Transcending Race Tomorrow,” I explained that the president is black for three different reasons. I used a sociological framework, an ethnological framework, and a psychological framework. Number one, I say he’s black because he says he is. Number two, his heterogeneity, or his mixed background, is no different from people who are black. And then lastly, I say he’s black because he looks black, from a sociological viewpoint…

Yaba Blay, author of (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race and artistic director of the multiplatform (1)ne Drop project
 
Everyone seems to be negating President Barack Obama’s own story. The man himself has said publicly in print that, yes, his mother is white; yes, he is technically bi-racial, mixed race, whatever the language is people choose to use, but in this racialized society he is seen as a black man. And for that reason he identifies as black

Andrew Jolivétte, Associate Professor at San Francisco State University and editor of Obama and the Biracial Factor: The Battle for the New American Majority
 
For mixed people, being mixed you identify differently at different times and in different situations. I think the president is no different, so [a bi-racial] child still can take pride in [the fact] that President Obama is a bi-racial president. But he’s also a black president. I don’t think that they’re mutually exclusive. And that’s what happens often in politics when it comes to policy, that it has to be one or the other, not some sort of combination of policies that can be good. Because he’s bi-racial and always compromising and trying to find the balance between two different identities, I think he tries to do the same things in terms of his policy…

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Professor of Ethnic Studies at Stanford University and author of When Half is Whole: Multiethnic Asian American Identities
 
I think his identifying [as African-American] is very positive. On the other hand, I think there’s nothing creative or innovative or groundbreaking or revolutionary about [his identifying as black.] It’s very much following the status quo of the way that a majority of people expect him to identify… I personally didn’t have a lot of expectations about his ability to really go beyond what would be the mainstream position in terms of how he labeled and located himself. I have hopes that he might help us to go beyond these kinds of rigid racial classifications and categories. I think he could do that if he was able to identify himself more openly with all the different parts of his heritage…

Read the entire article here.

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The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White [Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2013-02-13 15:30Z by Steven

Daniel J. Sharfstein. The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. 415 pp. Hardcover ISBN: 9781594202827.

Steven F. Riley
2011-02-28

“This is the decade of Tiger Woods and Barack Obama, where we talked about race combinations,” Robert Groves, director of the federal agency, said about forthcoming 2010 Census data in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt”. “I can’t wait to see the pattern of responses on multiple races. That’ll be a neat indicator to watch.”

The Toronto Star
December 13, 2010

While it is tempting to be as excited as Mr. Groves is in waiting for the census results of the racial makeup of the United States, I would suggest that the so-called “race combinations” that he speaks of have been occurring for quite some time. Much has been written in recent years about the “changing face” of America that foretells that we will become a “mixed-race” country, or as Marcia A. Dawkins states, a “Miscege-Nation.”  Yet, this is not wholly true, for we are not becoming a multiracial society, we already are a multiracial society.  We have been multiracial not for years, or even decades, but for centuries.

So while many may proclaim that an increasing number of self-identified mixed-race individuals will usher in a new era of racial reconciliation, we are fortunate to benefit from the excellent scholarship of Daniel J. Sharfstein, Associate Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, who points out to us that racial mixture is as old as the nation and it has not—in and by itself—led to racial reconciliation.  In fact, his portrayal of three families over a span of three centuries in his new book The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, shows that under the specter of white supremacy, racial mixture was—and may still be—a way-station on the road to a white racial identity.  These racial journeys occurred so frequently in American history they should be considered one of  the great mass movements of people such as the settlement of North America, the westward expansion, and immigration. Furthermore, these journeys from black to white did not necessarily involve a change of venue, but could occur in the same community over a generation or more.

Unlike the stories of the Hemmings and Hairstons that explore the white roots of black families, The Invisible Line is an important work that explores the “black” roots of white familes. Though “race” as we know it today is a social—not biological—construct,  Sharfstein reminds us that it was and still is a very salient social construct.  In fact, for the families portrayed in the book, “race” becomes a form of wealth/property, obtained (by “passing” if necessary) and inherited by future generations.  In The Invisible Line, Sharfstein avoids casting a pejorative gaze upon these “passers” and their occasional accusers and instead casts blame squarely on the shoulders white supremacy.  Early in the introduction, Sharfstein points out that…

African Americans began to migrate from black to white as soon as slaves arrived on American shores.  In seventeenth-century Virginia, social distinctions such as class and race were fluid, but the consequences of being black or white were enormous.  It often meant the difference between slavery and freedom, poverty and prosperity, persecution and power.  Even so, dozens of European women had children by African men, and together they established the first free black communities in the colonies.  With every incentive to become white—it would give them better land and jobs, lower taxes, and less risk of being enslaved—many free blacks assimilated into white communities over time…

After researching hundreds of families, court cases, government records, histories, scholarly works, newspaper accounts, memoirs and family papers, Sharfstein chose to focus on three families: the Gibsons, the Spencers and the Walls.  Each of these families left the bondage of slavery and took different trajectories on the path towards a white identity.

The Gibsons

The Gibson story begins in 1672 in colonial Virginia when a free woman named Elizabeth Chavis successfully sued for the freedom of a boy of color named Gibson Gibson… who was also her son. In a reversal of English law where the status of the child followed that of the father, the colonies in a bid to codify slavery enacted laws that set the status of the child to follow the mother, or as the saying went, “birth follows the belly.” Contrary to popular belief, the laws did little to restrict interracial unions—especially between white men and black women—but rather, channeled these unions for the benefit of the institution of slavery. For Gibby Gibson and his brother Hubbard, harsh laws against people of color encouraged them to marry whites. Sharfstein states:

Whites in the family gave their spouses and children stronger claims to freedom and had immediate economic advantages—while black women were subject to heavy taxes, white women were not.  Increasingly harsh laws did not separate Africans and Europeans.  To the contrary, they spurred some people of African descent to try to escape their classification.

The Gibsons took what I shall describe as a fast-track to whiteness.  After Gibby Gibson’s freedom he and his brother spent the next 50 years amassing land and, yes… slaves.  After moving to South Carolina in the 1730s as planters they were granted hundreds of acres. By the time of the Civil War they were part of the Southern aristocracy.  Two brothers, Randall Lee and Hart Gibson, again took the spotlight and became standout students at Yale University and later ,officers in the Confederate Army.  Randall was promoted to brigadier general in 1864.  Despite the Confederate defeat at the end of the war, Randall would be a successful New Orleans lawyer, a founder of Tulane University, and would eventually be elected to represent Louisiana for four terms in the House of Representatives and for nine years in the U.S. Senate.

Randall Gibson’s white identity went unchallenged until January 27, 1877, when James Madison Wells wrote in an article that, “This colored Democratic Representative seems to claim a right to assail the white race because he feels boastingly proud of the commingling of the African with Caucasian blood in his veins.”  This accusation was grounds for libel, but Gibson did not sue Wells.  He did not need to.  As Sharfstein deftly points out frequently throughout the Invisible Line, white communities were very much aware of “mixture in their midst,” yet chose to believe these individuals were white.  Even if a person believed that his or her whiteness was secure, accusing ones neighbor of being black could have unintended consequences, especially if your children had offspring with the neighbor.  “Race” became a socially agreed upon arrangement.   Thus, as Sharfstein wrote in a 2007 article:

“…the one-drop rule did not, as many have suggested, make all mixed-race people black. From the beginning, African Americans assimilated into white communities across the South. Often, becoming white did not require the deception normally associated with racial “passing”; whites knew that certain people were different and let them cross the color line anyway. These communities were not islands of racial tolerance. They could be as committed to slavery, segregation, and white supremacy as anywhere else, and so could their newest members—it was one of the things that made them white. The history of the color line is one in which people have lived quite comfortably with contradiction.”

Yet this contradiction was not the same of acceptance, especially in Louisiana, where Sharfstein says…

“the existence of a large, traditionally free mixed-race class meant that whites had long competed with people of color for jobs, land, and status…  …On the streets of New Orleans, it was famously difficult to distinguish one race from the other at a glance—many whites were dark, and many blacks were light.  Every day people witnessed the color line bending and breaking.  The result was that whites believed all the more deeply in their racial supremacy.  They organized their entire political life around it…. …Believing in racial difference—enough to kill for it—was what kept whites separate from blacks.  For white Louisianans, knowing that blacks could look like them did not discount the importance of blood purity.  Rather, they were as likely as anyone in the South to consider a person with traceable African ancestry, no matter how remote, to be black.  The porous nature of the color line required eternal vigilance.”

The Spencers

The Spencers took an inconspicuous path towards a white identity.  George Freeman, possibly the son of his owner Joseph Spencer, was emancipated at twenty-four years of age around 1814 in Clay County, Kentucky.  Through hard work and a large family, Freeman was able to raise a profitable farm, enough so that he could provide loans to other farmers.  By 1840, Freeman’s wife had died, but by then eleven people lived with him including his grown daughters with children of their own.  In 1841, the  Freeman farm would make room for another resident; a twenty-five year-old pioneer white woman from South Carolina named Clarissa “Clarsy” Centers, who was pregnant with his child.  Freeman and Centers were not married, and could not if they had wanted to because of Kentucky’s anti-miscegenation laws.  Sharfstein points out:

“Freeman and Centers were not the only ones in Clay County breaching the color line.  Several free black women were living with white men.  It was less common, however for black men to have families with white women, and their relationships were perceived as a far greater threat to the social and racial order.  After all, the mixed-race children of black women, more often than not, [became] pieces of property, markers of wealth, for their owners.  But the children of slave men and white women were free under Kentucky law, and they blurred the physical distinctions that made racial status conceivable and enforceable.  As a result, all such relationships were subversive, even those involving free men.

Moreover, the control that white men had over their families, something that approached ownership under the law, helped maintain the idea that all white men were equal citizens in a country increasingly stratified by wealth…  …That control was undermined when white women had children with black men…

At the same time white communities did not always respond to these relationships with reflexive deadly violence.  They were capable of tolerating difference or pretending it did not exist.  Across the South in the early decades of the nineteenth century, black men and white women were forming families and living in peace.”

In 1845, George Freeman and Clarsy Centers’ daughter Malinda was pregnant by Jordan Spencer, Freeman’s son or brother.  After three years and three children, Jordan and Malinda’s family was part of a clan of twenty people within three generations living on fifty acres on Freeman’s farm; that was to small to sustain them all.

By 1855, Freeman was dead, forced to mortgage his farm to fight a fornication charge because he could not marry Clarsy Centers. The family of Jordan and Malinda was forced to move 100 miles away within rural Johnson County, Kentucky.  When they got there they called themselves Jordan and Malinda Spencer and their new neighbors welcomed them into their community… and called them white. As Sharfstein states:

“In Johnson County and elsewhere, being white did not require exclusively European ancestry.  Many whites did not hesitate to claim Native American decent.  While Melungeons in Tennessee often lived apart and married among themselves, the Collins and Ratliff families in Johnson County were considerably less isolated.  Half of the worshippers at the Rockhouse Methodist meeting had white faces, and light and dark families were neighbors along the nearby creeks.  Many of the families themselves were mixed, like Jordan and Malinda Spencer’s.  Their community offered them a path to assimilation.  Although the Spencers were listed as “mulatto” in the 1860 census, dozens of Collins and Ratliff men and women were, at a glance, regarded as white.  Jordan Spencer may have been dark, but there was such a thing as a dark white man.”

The Walls

For the Wall family, the path to becoming white was a reluctant and painful one.  Orindatus Simon Bolivar (O.S.B.) Wall and his siblings were freed by their owner (and father) in the 1830s and 1840s and sent from their plantation in North Carolina to be raised by radical Quakers in Ohio.  O.S.B. Wall eventually ended up in Oberlin, Ohio.  With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, slave catchers could now demand assistance from federal and local officials in any state (including free-states) in locating and apprehending runaway slaves.  Sharfstein notes that,

“The act also permitted slave-owners to kidnap people and force them into federal court.  After a short hearing, a commissioner would determine the status of the person in custody.  Commissioners were paid ten dollars upon ruling that a person was a slave, but only five dollars if they determined that he or she was free.”

Thus even free and freed blacks lived in constant fear that they and their families could be kidnapped and enslaved.  Fortunately, there was no place more hostile to slave catchers than Oberlin.  A generation earlier, New England Puritans had built the college and the town in the northern Ohio forest, dedicating themselves to bringing “our perishing world… under the entire influence of the blessed gospel of peace.”  Oberlin Collegiate Institute, founded in 1832 was a school that educated both sexes and within three years took the then-radical step of admitting students “irrespective of color.” Oberlin did not just give blacks the opportunity to do business on equal terms with whites—it offered blacks the unheard-of possibility of real political power.   In 1857 the town voted John Mercer Langston to be its clerk and appointed him a manager of the public schools.  He was the first black elected official in the United States.

After the end of the Civil War, Wall was detached to South Carolina to the Bureau of Refugees, Freedman and Abandoned Lands, a new federal agency devoted to integrating former slaves into civil society, (otherwise known as the Freedman’s Bureau.)  His hope was “to do justice to freedmen” while “do[ing] no injustice to white persons.”  It would appear that his hopes would become a reality in the fall of 1865 when the Bureau had begun redistributing thousands of acres of confiscated property to freed-people, but President Andrew Johnson ordered almost all the land returned to its previous owners.  By the fall of 1865 former slaves found themselves no better than indentured servants.  As the hope of Reconstruction began to fade, he realized that to serve the righteous cause, he would need more than a title and a responsibility, more than the sanction of law.  He needed power. Wall would move to Washington D.C.

By 1877 Federal troops had abandoned the South, and as Sharfstein writes:

“Democrats had carte blanche to ‘encourage violence and crime, elevate to office the men whose hands are reddest with innocent blood; force the Negroes out of Southern politics by the shotgun and the bulldozer’s whip; cheat them out of the elective franchise; suppress the Republican vote; kill off their white Republican leaders and keep the South solid.  Countless thousands of Negroes in the South lived in conditions approximating slavery, shackled by sharecropping contracts, arrested on trumped-up charges, and sold as convict labor.  Every few days a Negro was lynched: burned, shot, castrated or hacked to pieces.”

Summary

The Invisible Line reveals that the trajectory of history is never a straight line.  The promise of the Reconstruction became the repression of Jim Crow. The Democrats of the past that sought defend slavery before and during the Civil War and deny basic freedoms to blacks afterwards are now the Republicans of the present who deny these events have any impact on the lives of black Americans today. Up became down, and black became white.

Perhaps the most emphatic paragraph in the book is on page 236, where Sharfstein describes the everyday pain in the lives of black Americans.

“The harder whites made it for blacks to earn a living, educate their children, and just make it through a single day without threat or insult, the greater the incentives grew for light-skinned blacks to leave their communities and establish themselves as white.  If anything, the drumbeat of racial purity, the insistence that any African ancestry—a single drop of blood—tainted a person’s very existence, accelerated the migration to new identities and lives.  The difference between white and black seemed obvious, an iron-clad rule, a biological fact.  But the Walls knew that blacks could be as good as whites and as bad, as smart and as stupid.  Blacks had just as much claim to schooling and jobs and love and family, to common courtesies each day.  The Walls knew that blacks could be every bit the equal to whites—and that their skins could be equally light.  As the United States veered from slavery to Jim Crow, O.S.B. Wall’s children did not stand up and fight. They faded away.”

This paragraph for me, offers a clear rationale why individuals chose to identify as white.  More importantly though, Sharfstein like all good historians, shows us how events in the past can be repeated in the present and in the future.  For the Spencers, becoming white meant fitting in.  For the Gibsons, becoming white allowed them to amass great wealth, to lose it (after the Civil War), and reclaim it. O.S.B. Wall lived his entire life working towards the goal that people of African descent could be free, prosperous, American and black.  For the Wall children, becoming white (even at the loss of financial status) was an escape from the indignities of being black.  The chains of oppression do not always result in resistance.  Sometimes the result is denial, surrender and assimilation.  Furthermore, Sharfstein, without saying so, reasserts the importance of influence of law and power upon the lives of his subjects.  Though it is now popular for contempary novelists and cursory historians to recount, reframe, and reimagine the stories of the individual lives without acknowledging the legal and social forces shaping those lives, this is simply unacceptable.  Fortunately, the works of Daniel Sharfstein and the late Peggy Pascoe remind us, as I like to put it, not to allow the history of experiences to obscure the experience of history.

Though The Invisible Line is about past racial migrations, the book says little if anything about present-day racial migrations.  Persistent economic and social disparity among racialized groups in the United States may lead to more Gibsons, Spencers and Walls in the future.  Just over a half-century ago, in 1947, N.A.A.C.P. Secretary Walter White said:

“Every year approximately 12,000 white-skinned Negroes disappear—people whose absence cannot be explained by death or emigration. Nearly every one of the 14 million discernible Negroes in the United States knows at least one member of his race who is ‘passing’—the magic word which means that some Negroes can get by as whites…  Often these emigrants achieve success in business, the professions, the arts and sciences. Many of them have married white people…  Sometimes they tell their husbands or wives of their Negro blood, sometimes not…”

Thus according to sociologist George A. Yancey, white Americans—despite demographic projections—will not lose their numerical majority status in 40 years or so.  For scholars like Yancey, Sharfstein’s secret journey to whiteness, may become a public parade.  Despite the increasing numbers and acceptance of interracial relationships and mixed-race births, intermarriage among non-blacks with whites far outpaces intermarriage between blacks and whites.  The future for Yancey and others is not a white/non-white divide, but rather a black/non-black divide.

With the increasing enactment of harsh anti-immigration legislation, it is indeed conceivable that many Asians and Latinos—particularly those with mixed European ancestry—may opt for a white identity through intermarriage with whites as a balm against increased anti-immigrant sentiment.  As sociologists Jennifer Lee and Frank D. Bean point out, “Asian and Latinos may be next in line to be white, with multiracial Asian whites and Latino whites at the head of the queue.”  If the notion that Asians and Latinos can become white seems implausible, sociologist Charles A. Gallagher points out in his 2010 essay “In-between racial status, mobility, and the promise of assimilation: Irish, Italians yesterday, Latinos and Asians today,”  “If you were Italian or Irish in the mid- to late- nineteenth century it was likely that, as a matter of common understanding and perception, you were on the ‘margins of whiteness.'”

While The Invisible Line is a remarkable book that should be read by anyone interested in the complicated racial history of the United States, it is not a book that trumpets a so-called “post-racial” era.   Sharfstein does an excellent job shattering the notion of racial difference and shows us that the African American experience is integral to the American experience as a whole.  Yet in doing so, he does not—and perhaps he should not—suggest that not only is the notion of  “difference” a fallacy, but the notion of “race” is too.  After all, shouldn’t the Gibsons, Spencers, Walls and their descendents transcend race at this point in time?  Race—or as Rainier Spencer suggests—the belief in race, has been, and still is such a potent force in American life, it may take three more centuries to dispense with it. For all of the current discourses on a utopian future filled with mixed or blended identities, these identities are still defined within same outdated and hierarchical social topology of the past 400 years.  Thus the consequences of the memberships within this multi-tiered topology still has the life altering outcomes—though not as extreme—as in the seventeenth century Virginia that Sharfstein describes.  Without a drastic altering or the elimination of this topology, individuals and families who can, will continue to make the journey from a lower tiered racialized status to a higher one and heap misery and scorn upon those who cannot.  In the end, Daniel J. Sharfstein’s Invisible Line, may not only be a window to the past, but also a glance at the future.

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My Day at the 5th Annual Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2012-10-15 05:29Z by Steven

My Day at the 5th Annual Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival

Gino Michael Pellegrini: Education, Amalgamation, Race, Class & Solidarity
2012-10-14

Gino Pellegrini, Adjunct Assistant Professor of English
Pierce College, Woodland Hills, California

Saturday morning, June 16, 2012: I take the Metro from North Hollywood to the Tokyo Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles. My destination is the 5th Annual Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival at the Japanese American National Museum and the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. This is a three-day event, but I can be there for just this one day, and my first goal is to meet Steven Riley, the creator of the website, Mixed Race Studies.
 
I have not attended an event centered upon the mixed experience in many years. I walk through the glass doors. The volunteer staff is welcoming and energetic. The imagery is colorful, ambiguous, and stimulating. The overall vibe is positive and hopeful, and for a moment I am taken aback to how I felt at my first mixed-experience event, the 2000 Harvard-Wellesley Conference on the Mixed Race Experience.
 
Skeptics say that this type of event, which brings together individuals of diverse mixes and backgrounds, is unsustainable. Do Hapas, blacklicans, latalians, jewasians, and standard black/white multiracials really have that much in common? Apparently many do, and this Festival holds together amazingly well and continues to grow thanks to the diligence, intelligence, and creativity of its founders, Fanshen Cox and Heidi Durrow.
 
The artists/writers whom I see present or talk to this day have strong personal voices and are very talented at what they do. Overall, their work complicates received understandings of multiracial identity, experience, and art…

Read the entire article here.

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