“Suspect-Proof”? Paranoia, Suspicious Reading, and the Racial Passing Narrative

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2022-03-20 02:02Z by Steven

“Suspect-Proof”? Paranoia, Suspicious Reading, and the Racial Passing Narrative

American Literary History
Volume 34, Issue 1, Spring 2022
pages 272–282
DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajab089

Sinéad Moynihan, Associate Professor of English
University of Exeter

This short essay considers racial passing narratives in relation to the “postcritical turn,” highlighting the proliferating reappraisals of the practices of “suspicious” or “symptomatic” reading in literary studies and the extent to which passing narratives offer an opportunity to test some of the claims of this body of scholarship. The utility of the passing narrative for this critical project lies in its persistent, self-conscious foregrounding of reading practices. Revisiting passing narratives in light of postcritique reveals that symptomatic reading is not a monolithic practice; rather, there are multiple ways of reading suspiciously. Moreover, and more importantly, passing narratives disclose that what has now become an orthodoxy in postcritique—that attitudes such as “paranoia,” “suspicion,” and “vigilance” profoundly limit “the thickness and richness of our aesthetic attachments”—ignores contexts, like that of a passer in a white supremacist society, in which such strategies are not a choice but are essential for survival (Felski 17). The key question posed herein is: What forms of privilege enable a reader to relinquish her attachment to paranoia, suspicion, and vigilance; to opt for openness rather than guardedness, submission rather than aggression (21)? Narratives of racial passing provide one answer to that question.

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Arise Africa, Roar China: Black and Chinese Citizens of the World in the Twentieth Century

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-01-19 02:15Z by Steven

Arise Africa, Roar China: Black and Chinese Citizens of the World in the Twentieth Century

University of North Carolina Press
December 2021
408 pages
49 halftones, notes, bibl., index
6.125 x 9.25
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6460-6
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6461-3

Yunxiang Gao, Professor of history
Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This book explores the close relationships between three of the most famous twentieth-century African Americans, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Langston Hughes, and their little-known Chinese allies during World War II and the Cold War—journalist, musician, and Christian activist Liu Liangmo, and Sino-Caribbean dancer-choreographer Sylvia Si-lan Chen. Charting a new path in the study of Sino-American relations, Gao Yunxiang foregrounds African Americans, combining the study of Black internationalism and the experiences of Chinese Americans with a transpacific narrative and an understanding of the global remaking of China’s modern popular culture and politics. Gao reveals earlier and more widespread interactions between Chinese and African American leftists than accounts of the familiar alliance between the Black radicals and the Maoist Chinese would have us believe. The book’s multilingual approach draws from massive yet rarely used archival streams in China and in Chinatowns and elsewhere in the United States. These materials allow Gao to retell the well-known stories of Du Bois, Robeson, and Hughes alongside the sagas of Liu and Chen in a work that will transform and redefine Afro-Asia studies.

Table of Contents

  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Africa, Arise! Face the Rising Sun! W. E. B. and Shirley Graham Du Bois
  • 2. Arise! Ye Who Refuse to Be Bond Slaves! Paul Robeson, “the Black King of Songs”
  • 3. Transpacific Mass Singing, Journalism, and Christian Activism: Liu Liangmo
  • 4. Choreographing Ethnicity, War, and Revolution around the Globe: Sylvia Si-lan Chen Leyda
  • 5. Roar, China! Langston Hughes, Poet Laureate of the Negro Race
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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“My Uncle’s Cousin’s Great-Grandma Were a Cherokee” and I am Descended from an Ashanti King: The American Blood Idiom in the Simple Stories

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2021-12-23 17:10Z by Steven

“My Uncle’s Cousin’s Great-Grandma Were a Cherokee” and I am Descended from an Ashanti King: The American Blood Idiom in the Simple Stories

The Langston Hughes Review
Volume 27, No. 1, SPECIAL ISSUE: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” at 100: Part One Shane Graham and Chiyuma Elliott (2021)
pages 29-56
DOI: 10.5325/langhughrevi.27.1.0029

DeLisa D. Hawkes, Assistant Professor of English
University of Texas, El Paso

Langston Hughes satirizes America’s obsession with so-called “racial purity” in his stories featuring Jesse B. Semple to shed light upon internalized racism and white American attempts to erase US histories that complicate the standardized black-white color line. In his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1920), the speaker challenges a singular view of the many Black histories that exist through the metaphor of rivers. In his Simple stories, Hughes’s character Jesse B. Semple reflects on American Blackness and blood stereotypes that impact racial identity formation and community building. By invoking the “Indian grandmother” and royal African ancestor tropes, Hughes complicates those compartmentalized identities and US histories implied via the American blood idiom to denote associations with enslavement that bolster notions of intraracial difference and white supremacist ideology. Hughes’s Simple stories culminate his trajectory in establishing African American pride in African ancestry and an anticolonial rejection of racial purity as a legal and social principle that contributes to monolithic conceptions of American Blackness.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Live Events, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2018-11-12 23:30Z by Steven

Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts

5 University Gardens
Room 101
University of Glasgow
Glasgow, United Kingdom
Tuesday, 2018-11-20, 17:15Z

Janine Bradbury, Senior Lecturer in Literature
York St John University York, United Kingdom

JBradbury170802-Staff-Profile.jpg

The Transatlantic Literary Women are excited to be welcoming Dr. Janine Bradbury to Glasgow to give a paper titled: “Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts”. The talk takes place in room 101, 5 University Gardens at 5.15pm on Tuesday 20th November with drinks and refreshments available from 5. This is a social, friendly gathering. As always, everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an entire literary genre emerged in the United States that revolved around light skinned, mixed race African Americans who ‘fraudulently’ pretended to be or passed for white in order to ‘evade’ racism, prejudice, and segregation. Films like Imitation of Life brought the topic to a national audience and writers as diverse as William Faulkner, Mark Twain, and Langston Hughes featured passing in their works.

Given that the United States has a distinct history of race relations, how do stories about passing ‘work’ beyond these regional and national contexts? And do American stories about passing inspire and hold relevance for writers across the black Atlantic? How is gender and nationhood represented in these works? And what role do women writers play in the history of the passing genre?

This talk explores the phenomenon of ‘passing-for-white’ as represented in the work of transatlantic literary women ranging from Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen to contemporary British writer Helen Oyeyemi and asks why passing continues to inspire women writers across the West.

For more information, click here.

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The Prism of Race: W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover [Silkey Review]

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-12-16 01:23Z by Steven

The Prism of Race: W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover [Silkey Review]

Journal of American History
Volume 103, Issue 3, December 2016
pages 822-823
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jaw452

Sarah L. Silkey, Associate Professor of History
Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania

The Prism of Race: W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover By Nico Slate. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. xviii, 246 pp. $90.00.)

Nico Slate explores the evolution of twentieth-century “colored cosmopolitanism,” an intellectual movement to unify the “colored world” around shared experiences of exploitation and oppression, through the lens of Cedric Dover’s transnational intellectual and artistic circles (pp. 17, 19). Observing how African Americans represented “a racial minority within the United States but a racial majority within the colored world,” Dover (1904–1961), a scholar and Indian nationalist of mixed-race ancestry from Calcutta, advocated “colored solidarity” as a tool for antiracist, anti-imperialist activism to achieve social justice on a global scale (p. 141). Seeking inspiration and friendship from African American intellectuals, Dover taught at Fisk…

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The Prism of Race: W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-08-18 01:35Z by Steven

The Prism of Race: W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and the Colored World of Cedric Dover

Palgrave Macmillan
December 2014
268 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781137484093
Ebook (PDF) ISBN: 9781137484116
Ebook (EPUB) ISBN: 9781137484109

Nico Slate, Associate Professor of History
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Born a Eurasian ‘half-caste‘ in Calcutta in 1904, Cedric Dover died in England in 1961 a ‘colored’ man. One of the foremost experts on race in his generation and a leading figure in the movement toward Afro-Asian solidarity, Dover encountered in his own life the central paradox of race in the contemporary world: he knew that race did not exist in blood or bone, even as he knew that the color of a child’s skin determined everything from where he could go to school to how long he would live. Dover strove to be, in his words, ‘both ‘racial’ and antiracial at the same time.’ His life and work stand at the heart of one of the most creative and politically significant redefinitions of racial identity in the twentieth century—the invention of the colored world. This innovative ‘biography of race’ explores the concept of colored solidarity as enacted in Dover’s life as well as the ideas and relationships that connected him and four of his closest African American friends and colleagues: W.E.B. Du Bois, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson. In doing so, it illuminates a fascinating episode in the intellectual histories of race and cosmopolitanism while offering powerful insights into ongoing debates surrounding racial and ethnic identity today.

Table of Contents

  • Preface: Of Color
  • Introduction: The Prism of Race
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Cedric Dover’s Colored Cosmopolitanism
  • 2. W.E.B. Du Bois and Race as Autobiography
  • 3. Langston Hughes and Race as Propaganda
  • 4. Paul Robeson and Race as Solidarity
  • 5. The Black Artist and the Colored World
  • 6. The Death and Rebirth of the Colored World
  • Epilogue: Barack Obama and Race as Freedom
  • Afterward: The Library of the Colored World
  • Notes
  • Index
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Who’s Passing for Who?

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-12-27 01:50Z by Steven

Who’s Passing for Who?

Genius
2014-12-22 (Originally written in 1956)

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

In this short story, written in 1956, Hughes plays with the idea of race as a social construct. Considering the American “one-drop rule,” which meant if you had at least 1/33 African ancestry you were black, the narrator is puzzled by whether a couple in Harlem that he meets is a white couple passing as a black couple passing for white or a black couple who can pass for white. The joke is on the narrator.

One of the great difficulties about being a member of a minority race is that so many kindhearted, well-meaning bores gather around to help. Usually, to tell the truth, they have nothing to help with, except their company–which is often appallingly dull.

Some members of the Negro race seem very well able to put up with it, though, in these uplifting years. Such was Caleb Johnson, colored social worker, who was always dragging around with him some nondescript white person or two, inviting them to dinner, showing them Harlem, ending up at the Savoy–much to the displeasure of whatever friends of his might be out that evening for fun, not sociology.

Friends are friends and, unfortunately, overearnest uplifters are uplifters–no matter what color they may be. If it were the white race that was ground down instead of Negroes, Caleb Johnson would be one of the first to offer Nordics the sympathy of his utterly inane society, under the impression that somehow he would be doing them a great deal of good.

You see, Caleb, and his white friends, too, were all bores. Or so we, who lived in Harlem’s literary bohemia during the “Negro Renaissance” thought. We literary ones considered ourselves too broad-minded to be bothered with questions of color. We liked people of any race who smoked incessantly, drank liberally, wore complexion and morality as loose garments, and made fun of anyone who didn’t do likewise. We snubbed and high-hatted any Negro or white luckless enough not to understand Gertrude Stein, Ulysses, Man Ray, the theremin, Jean Toomer, or George Anthell. By the end of the 1920’s Caleb was just catching up to Dos Passos. He thought H.G. Wells good….

Read the entire short story here.

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350:445 Revisiting Racial Passing in the 21st Century

Posted in Course Offerings, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2013-11-01 04:01Z by Steven

350:445 Revisiting Racial Passing in the 21st Century

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Summer 2013

This is a course on racial passing, which many people wrongly believe is an antiquated phenomenon. Passing has historically referred to light-skinned African Americans who use their phenotypes to pretend to be white and enjoy the privileges of whiteness. As we will discuss in our seminar, today people pass in a variety of ways, and not just racially. For example, folks regularly pass economically, religiously, and/or through gender. In discussing contemporary passing, we will begin with President Barack Obama, who some have argued has engaged in a form of passing by having black skin yet “white politics.”

We will read primary and secondary material on this literary genre, to determine the tropes, images, themes, and formal elements that comprise “the passing narrative.” We will also consider the ways in which it has been expanded in this “post-race” era.

Primary texts will include:

Films will include: “Imitation of Life” (1934 & 1959) and “The Human Stain” (2003).

For more information, click here.

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Langston Hughes showed me what it meant to be a black writer

Posted in Articles, Media Archive on 2013-08-02 04:31Z by Steven

Langston Hughes showed me what it meant to be a black writer

The Guardian
2013-07-31

Gary Younge, Feature Writer and Columnist

His 1926 essay, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain made clear that a black writer must write the best work they can, while refusing to be defined by other people’s racial agendas

One of my first columns on these pages didn’t make it into the paper. I’d written about the NATO bombing of Bosnia and the comment editor at the time thought I should stick to subjects closer to home. “We have people who can write about Bosnia,” he said. “Can you add an ethnic sensibility to this.”

The whole point of having a black columnist, he thought, was to write about black issues. I had other ideas. I had no problem writing about race. It’s an important subject that deserves scrutiny to which I’ve given considerable thought and about which I’ve done a considerable amount of research. I have no problem being regarded as a black writer. It’s an adjective not an epithet. In the words of Toni Morrison, when asked if she found it limiting to be described as a black woman writer: “I’m already discredited. I’m already politicised, before I get out of the gate. I can accept the labels because being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination, it expands it.”…

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Passing as White: The Life Altering Effects on Loved Ones

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-09-30 17:05Z by Steven

Passing as White: The Life Altering Effects on Loved Ones

Southern Connecticut State University
May 2006
122 pages
Publication Number: AAT 1435422
ISBN: 9780542641824

Kathleen Daubney

A Thesis Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree of Master of Science

This thesis analyzes the theme of passing in Harlem Renaissance literature and deals with the consequences that such transitions to white society had on the passers’ friends and relatives. Choices that one person makes can have a domino and long lasting effect on his or her family and friends. This study focuses on: Passing by Nella Larsen, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson, “Passing,” by Langston Hughes, and Comedy: American Style and Plum Bun both by Jessie Fauset. This thesis discusses if the family and friends have knowledge of the passing, if they had a voice in the novel, and if the children had knowledge of their heritage. It also discusses the effects passing had on the families and friends of the passers, along with their responses.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • PASSING AS WHITE: THE LIFE ALTERING EFFECTS ON LOVED ONES
  • FAUSET’S PLUM BUN: PASSING AND RETURNING
  • LARSEN’S PASSING: ESCAPE, WEALTH, OR APPEARANCE
  • THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLOURED MAN: WHITE, BLACK, WHITE?
  • HUGHES “PASSING”: I LOVE YOU, BUT
  • COMEDY AMERICAN STYLE: OLIVIA’S PASSING, THE FAMILY’S ESCAPE
  • CONCLUSION: TO PASS OR NOT TO PASS
  • REFERENCES

Purchase the dissertation here.

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