Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Posted in Anthologies, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-09-29 01:09Z by Steven

Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Peter Lang
September 2021
366 pages
13 fig. b/w.
Paperback ISBN:978-2-8076-1625-7
ePUB ISBN:978-2-8076-1627-1 (DOI: 10.3726/b18256)

Edited by:

Hélène Charlery, Professor of English Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France

Aurélie Guillain, Professor of American Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France

Many recent studies of racial passing have emphasized the continuing, almost haunting power of racial segregation even in the post-segregation period in the US, or in the post-apartheid period in South Africa. This “present-ness” of racial passing, the fact that it has not really become “passé,” is noticeable in the great number of testimonies which have been published in the 2000s and 2010s by descendants of individuals who passed for white in the English-speaking world. The sheer number of publications suggest a continuing interest in the kind of relation to the personal and national past which is at stake in the long-delayed revelation of cases of racial passing.

This interest in family memoirs or in fictional works re-tracing the erasure of some relative’s racial identity is by no means limited to the United States: for instance, Zoë Wicomb in South Africa or Zadie Smith in the UK both use the passing novel to unravel the complex situation of mixed-race subjects in relation to their family past and to a national past marked by a history of racial inequality.

Yet, the vast majority of critical approaches to racial passing have so far remained largely focused on the United States and its specific history of race relations. The objective of this volume is twofold: it aims at shedding light on the way texts or films show the work of individual memory and collective recollection as they grapple with a racially divided past, struggling with its legacy or playing with its stereotypes. Our second objective has been to explore the great variety in the forms taken by racial passing depending on the context, which in turn leads to differences in the ways it is remembered. Focusing on how a previously erased racial identity may resurface in the present has enabled us to extend the scope of our study to other countries than the United States, so that this volume hopes to propose some new, transnational directions in the study of racial passing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction – Hélène Charlery and Aurélie Guillain
  • Part I: Memories of Racial Passing – Reconstructing Local and Personal Histories – From Homer Plessy to Paul Broyard
    • To Pass or Not to Pass in New Orleans – Nathalie Dessens
    • Racial Passing at New Orleans Mardi Gras; From Reconstruction to the Mid- Twentieth Century: Flight of Fancy or Masked Resistance? – Aurélie Godet
    • Passing through New Orleans, Atlanta, and New York City: The Dynamics of Racial Assignation in Walter White’s Flight (1926) – Aurélie Guillain
    • African American Women Activists and Racial Passing: Personal Journeys and Subversive Strategies (1880s– 1920s) – Élise Vallier-Mathieu
  • Part II: Memory, Consciousness and the Fantasy of Amnesia in Passing Novels
    • “What Irene Redfield Remembered”: Making It New in Nella Larsen’s Passing – M. Giulia Fabi
    • Between Fiction and Reality: Passing for Non- Jewish in Multicultural American Fiction – Ohad Reznick
    • Experiments in Passing: Racial Passing in George Schuyler’s Black No More and Arthur Miller’s Focus – Ochem G.l.a. Riesthuis
    • Passing to Disappearance: The Voice/ Body Dichotomy and the Problem of Identity in Richard Powers’s The Time of Our Singing (2004) – Anne-Catherine Bascoul
  • Part III: Memories of Racial Passing within and beyond the United States: Towards a Transnational Approach
    • “The Topsy-Turviness of Being in the Wrong Hemisphere” Transnationalizing the Racial Passing Narrative – Sinéad Moynihan
    • Passing, National Reconciliation and Adolescence in Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002) and The Wooden Camera (Ntshaveni Wa Luruli, 2003) – Delphine David and Annael Le Poullennec
    • Transnational Gendered Subjectivity in Passing across the Black Atlantic: Nella Larsen’s Passing, Michelle Cliff ’s Free Enterprise and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time – Kerry-Jane Wallart
  • About the Authors/ Editors
  • Index
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Plessy v. Ferguson: An Excerpt from Firsthand Louisiana

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2021-09-15 02:06Z by Steven

Plessy v. Ferguson: An Excerpt from Firsthand Louisiana

University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press
2020-08-13

Devon Lord, Editor In Chief

Discover the history of the Pelican State through the eyes of the people who lived it and shaped its course. In Firsthand Louisiana: Primary Sources in the History of the State, historians Janet Allured, John Keeling, and Michael Martin have compiled dozens of important, interesting, devastating, and even entertaining firsthand accounts cover Louisiana’s history along with questions for further analysis and discussion. Below is an excerpt concerning the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision and its impact on Louisiana and the nation as a whole.

1896:PLESSY V. FERGUSON

The most important United States Supreme Court case to originate in Louisiana is Plessy v. Ferguson, which in 1896 affirmed the constitutionality of southern segregation laws. In 1890 the Louisiana legislature passed the state’s first segregation bill, the Separate Car Act, which required that railroads provide separate cars for white and black passengers. As a state senator from St. John the Baptist Parish, Henry Demas was one of four remaining African American Republicans in that chamber. In response to the act, leading members of the Afro-Creole community in New Orleans formed the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens Committee) to challenge the legality of the act. On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy bought a first-class train ticket from New Orleans to Covington and boarded the white passenger car. A private detective hired by the committee ensured that the conductor had him arrested for violating the Separate Car Act, and the test case began. After losing both in a local court and the Louisiana Supreme Court, the case was appealed to the US Supreme Court. In a 7–1 decision, the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, asserting, among other points, that it was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police power to maintain the health, safety, and morals of its citizens. Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan, however, saw through the reasoning behind the law and the majority opinion, and declared in the most famous dissenting opinion in the history of the Court that the decision established second-class citizenship for African Americans in the South. Through the “separate but equal” rule, that accommodations for each race had to be roughly the same in quality, Jim Crow laws came to dominate southern race relations until overturned fifty-eight years later by Brown v. Board of Education

Read the entire article here.

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An American Color: Race and Identity in New Orleans and the Atlantic World

Posted in Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Louisiana, Monographs, United States on 2021-08-31 02:12Z by Steven

An American Color: Race and Identity in New Orleans and the Atlantic World

University of Georgia Press
2022-01-15
272 pages
Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in
Hardcover ISBN: 9-780-8203-6076-8
Paperback ISBN: 9-780-8203-6078-2

Andrew N. Wegmann, Associate Professor of History
Delta State University, Cleveland, Mississippi

For decades, scholars have conceived of the coastal city of New Orleans as a remarkable outlier, an exception to nearly every “rule” of accepted U.S. historiography. American only by adoption, New Orleans, in most studies, serves as a frontier town of the circum-Caribbean-a vestige of North America’s European colonial era along the southern coast of a foreign, northern, insular United States. Beneath that, too, many have argued, a complex algorithm of racial mixtures was at work well into the nineteenth century, a complexity of racial understanding and treatment that almost every scholar to date has claimed simply did not exist within the more “American” states further north and outside the bounds of the Caribbean’s bizarre socioracial influence.

The reality, as An American Color explains, is that on the surface, New Orleans did have a racial and social system that confounded the more prudent and established black-white binary at work in the social rhetoric of the British-descended states further north. But this was not unique, especially within the United States. As Andrew N. Wegmann argues, New Orleans is representative of a place with different words for the same practices found throughout the North American continent and the Atlantic world. From New Orleans to Charleston and Richmond, the social construction of race remained constant and Atlantic in nature, predicated on a complex, socially infused, multitier system of prescribed racial value that challenged and sometimes abandoned preordained definitions of “black” and “white” for an assortment of fluid but meaningful designations in between. New Orleans is thus an entry point for the study of color in an Atlantic United States.

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Becoming American in Creole New Orleans, 1896–1949

Posted in Anthropology, Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2021-08-12 21:15Z by Steven

Becoming American in Creole New Orleans, 1896–1949

Louisiana State University Press
July 2021
224 pages
5.50 x 8.50 inches
no illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 9780807175477

Darryl Barthé Jr., Lecturer in History
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

Extensive scholarship has emerged within the last twenty-five years on the role of Louisiana Creoles in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, yet academic work on the history of Creoles in New Orleans after the Civil War and into the twentieth century remains sparse. Darryl Barthé Jr.’s Becoming American in Creole New Orleans moves the history of New Orleans’ Creole community forward, documenting the process of “becoming American” through Creoles’ encounters with Anglo-American modernism. Barthé tracks this ethnic transformation through an interrogation of New Orleans’s voluntary associations and social sodalities, as well as its public and parochial schools, where Creole linguistic distinctiveness faded over the twentieth century because of English-only education and the establishment of Anglo-American economic hegemony.

Barthé argues that despite the existence of ethnic repression, the transition from Creole to American identity was largely voluntary as Creoles embraced the economic opportunities afforded to them through learning English. “Becoming American” entailed the adoption of a distinctly American language and a distinctly American racialized caste system. Navigating that caste system was always tricky for Creoles, who had existed in between French and Spanish color lines that recognized them as a group separate from Europeans, Africans, and Amerindians even though they often shared kinship ties with all of these groups. Creoles responded to the pressures associated with the demands of the American caste system by passing as white people (completely or situationally) or, more often, redefining themselves as Blacks.

Becoming American in Creole New Orleans offers a critical comparative analysis of “Creolization” and “Americanization,” social processes that often worked in opposition to each another during the nineteenth century and that would continue to frame the limits of Creole identity and cultural expression in New Orleans until the mid-twentieth century. As such, it offers intersectional engagement with subjects that have historically fallen under the purview of sociology, anthropology, and critical theory, including discourses on whiteness, métissage/métisajé, and critical mixed-race theory.

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White Like Me

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-06-22 13:39Z by Steven

White Like Me

The New Yorker
1996-06-10

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


Anatole Broyard, date unknown. Photograph courtesy The New School Archives and Special Collections / The New School

Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer, not a black writer. So he chose to live a lie rather than be trapped by the truth.

In 1982, an investment banker named Richard Grand-Jean took a summer’s lease on an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Fairfield, Connecticut; its owner, Anatole Broyard, spent his summers in Martha’s Vineyard. The house was handsomely furnished with period antiques, and the surrounding acreage included a swimming pool and a pond. But the property had another attraction, too. Grand-Jean, a managing director of Salomon Brothers, was an avid reader, and he took satisfaction in renting from so illustrious a figure. Anatole Broyard had by then been a daily book reviewer for the Times for more than a decade, and that meant that he was one of literary America’s foremost gatekeepers. Grand-Jean might turn to the business pages of the Times first, out of professional obligation, but he turned to the book page next, out of a sense of self. In his Walter Mittyish moments, he sometimes imagined what it might be like to be someone who read and wrote about books for a living—someone to whom millions of readers looked for guidance.

Broyard’s columns were suffused with both worldliness and high culture. Wry, mandarin, even self-amused at times, he wrote like a man about town, but one who just happened to have all of Western literature at his fingertips. Always, he radiated an air of soigné self-confidence: he could be amiable in his opinions or waspish, but he never betrayed a flicker of doubt about what he thought. This was a man who knew that his judgment would never falter and his sentences never fail him.

Grand-Jean knew little about Broyard’s earlier career, but as he rummaged through Broyard’s bookshelves he came across old copies of intellectual journals like Partisan Review and Commentary, to which Broyard had contributed a few pieces in the late forties and early fifties. One day, Grand-Jean found himself leafing through a magazine that contained an early article by Broyard. What caught his eye, though, was the contributor’s note for the article—or, rather, its absence. It had been neatly cut out, as if with a razor…

Read the entire article here.

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How one woman discovered her true cultural heritage

Posted in Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos, Women on 2021-04-08 02:16Z by Steven

How one woman discovered her true cultural heritage

BBC News
2021-04-06

What would you do if you discovered one of your parents wasn’t who they said they were?

That’s what happened to Gail Lukasik who found out her mother had ‘passed’ as white to escape racial segregation in the US, in the early 20th Century.

She was, in fact, mixed race but had kept it secret all her life and made Gail promise to keep the secret until after she died.

Gail has turned her story into a book called White Like Her.

Video produced by Trystan Young.

Watch the video here.

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What did make Louisiana, and especially its port city, New Orleans, different from the English colonies or the eastern seaboard was the way it understood race mixture.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-02-15 02:55Z by Steven

None of this, of course, should encourage the reader to think of Louisiana as any sort of racial haven. Louisiana began as a white idea and remained one: Choctaw kindnesses were repaid with genocide, most Africans were shipped in as chattel slaves, and Europeans walked the land as rulers, just as they did everywhere else. What did make Louisiana, and especially its port city, New Orleans, different from the English colonies or the eastern seaboard was the way it understood race mixture. Though white Americans also had sex with Africans and Indians, they usually denied its result. Anyone with “one drop” of African blood was by the American schema defined as black, and everyone else was effectively white.

Joe Wood, “Fade to Black: Once Upon a Time in Multi-Racial America,” The Village Voice, 12/08/1994. 25-34. https://www.villagevoice.com/2019/12/04/escape-from-blackness-once-upon-a-time-in-creole-america/.

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Escape From Blackness: Once Upon a Time in Creole America

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-10-29 01:55Z by Steven

Escape From Blackness: Once Upon a Time in Creole America

The Village Voice
2019-12-04

Originally published on 1994-12-08 as “Fade to Black: Once Upon a Time in Multi-Racial America”

Joe Wood

“Growing up in New Orleans,” you told me later, “it would be impossible to see race as anything but socially constructed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

“METTÉ MILATE
ENHAUT CHOUAL,
LI VA DÎ NÉGRESSE PAS
SO MAMAN.”

“JUST PUT A
MULATTO ON HORSEBACK,
AND HE’LL TELL
YOU HIS MOTHER WASN’T
A NEGRESS.”

—Creole proverb, as translated
by Lafcadio Hearn, 1885

NEW ORLEANS — It was late and the show was finished. We were hungry and drunk. Adolph said Mulé’s was probably closed by now but he knew a place to eat on the other side of town. “Maybe you’ll see some of them over there, too,” he said. Adolph is a scholar of African American history and politics, and he was raised in New Orleans and knew how they looked and where they ate. They liked Mulé’s, a seventh-ward diner that serves the best oyster rolls in the city. The other place, Adolph said, was also good for observations, but far below seventh-ward culinary standards. It turned out to be an all-night fast-food joint, lighted too brightly, with a listless crowd of party people waiting in broken lines for some uninspired fried fare.

For a moment I forgot entirely about them and they. I wanted to try an oyster roll but there were none left, so I ordered a chicken sandwich “dressed” with lettuce and tomato and mayonnaise. The woman at the cash register seemed bored by my enthusiasm, and sighed, and in response I noted her skin color. She was dark. I turned my head and checked out two sleepy-eyed girls in the next line. They looked tired in their frilly prom dresses; their skin was waxen, the sad pale finish of moonlight. I knew — oh, I hesitated a moment, because I could see how a hasty eye might have thought them white, but I knew. Turning to Adolph I whispered “creole” and made giant drunken nod in their direction. Adolph looked and confirmed it: they were, in fact, them

Read the entire article here.

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Overtures to Louisiana Whites failed, and biracial activists had no choice but to swallow their racist pride and ally with emancipated Blacks by the end of 1864.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2020-08-21 17:57Z by Steven

The reconstruction of the Union seemed to be on everyone’s mind, including abolitionists. In late January 1864 [William Lloyd] Garrison challenged an anti-Lincoln resolution at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society meeting. Garrison’s longtime friend Wendell Phillips, primed to take the helm of abolitionism from his old friend and mentor, labeled Lincoln “a half-converted, honest Western Whig, trying to be an abolitionist.” As Garrison stared down emancipation, Phillips looked past emancipation at the reconstruction of the United States. Back in December 1863, Lincoln had announced his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which offered restoration of rights (except slave-holding) to all Confederates taking the loyalty oath. When loyalty levels reached 10 percent, states could establish governments that restricted civil rights for Black residents, Lincoln had proposed. But this proposal “frees the slave and ignores the negro,” Phillips snapped. The sizable free biracial community of New Orleans snapped, too, demanding voting rights. These biracial activists separated “their struggle from that of the Negroes,” said an observer. “In their eyes, they were nearer to the white man, they were more advanced than the slave in all respects.” Overtures to Louisiana Whites failed, and biracial activists had no choice but to swallow their racist pride and ally with emancipated Blacks by the end of 1864.

Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2016), 226.

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Dark secrets: The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, reviewed

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-07-27 00:46Z by Steven

Dark secrets: The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, reviewed

The Spectator
2020-07-18

Rabeea Saleem


Brit Bennett. Credit: Getty Images

Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half, A Novel (New York: Riverhead Books, 2020)

Bennett’s compelling novel explores the fraught subject of what it means to ‘pass for white’ in a black community

Passé Blanc is the Creole expression — widely used in the US — for black people ‘passing for white’ to seek social and economic privileges otherwise denied them. Brit Bennett has a panoptic approach to racial passing in this intergenerational family saga, which takes us on a 20-year journey into the lives of twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes.

We meet them in the 1950s as children living in Mallard, a small town in the Deep South known for its light-skinned negroes. For Desiree, the local obsession with skin colour makes little sense, since being light-skinned didn’t save her father from being lynched by white men. In their teens, the twins run away to New Orleans, but their paths soon diverge: ‘Stella became white and Desiree married the darkest man she could find.’

Fourteen years later Desiree is spotted back in Mallard with a ‘blueblack’ child in tow called Jude. She is an anomaly in a town where ‘nobody married dark’, adhering to the strict colour code of its mixed-race founder, who was determined that the town would see ‘each generation lighter than the one before’. Stella, meanwhile, remains estranged from her family and now lives a life of luxury with her white husband and their daughter Kennedy in an affluent, all-white neighbourhood in LA. She has kept her past a secret from them, with her daughter realising how Stella would cite lack of money as an excuse not to discuss her background — ‘as if poverty were so unthinkable to Kennedy that it could explain everything’. Eventually, Jude’s and Kennedy’s paths cross, dismantling Stella’s carefully constructed façade…

Read the entire review here.

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