To Fathom His Very Roots: Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance and “Evidence” of His Literary Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing on 2021-06-04 02:29Z by Steven

To Fathom His Very Roots: Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance and “Evidence” of His Literary Racial Passing

J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists
Volume 9, Number 1, Spring 2021
page 69-80
DOI: 10.1353/jnc.2021.0008

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

During the latter part of the long nineteenth century, actor and author Sylvester Clark “Chief Buffalo Child” Long Lance completely discarded his African American ancestry to assert a composite Native American identity. He did so in hopes of escaping anti-Black violence. His writings suggest that he believed that performing the racialized stereotype of the “noble savage” would better position him to achieve inclusion in US society, which was otherwise denied to him in his legal “colored” (read: Black) racial identity. His complex and problematic approach to his ancestry and racial identity invites scholars to critically consider how some authors simultaneously challenged yet adhered to social expectations regarding racial identification when reflecting on their personal lives and asserting their racial identities in literature. Long Lance’s life and writings invite scholars to question what counts as “evidence” to prove so-called racial passing when authors or their characters reflect on certain aspects of their ancestry and racial identity. In this essay, I examine the complexities of racial passing in nineteenth and twentieth century literatures with attention to Long Lance’s unique perspective of his racial identity and shows how he used literary and legal racial passing to challenge racial binarism.

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