Identity and racial ambiguity in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

Identity and racial ambiguity in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

North Carolina Central University
82 pages

Carole Bonita Montgomery

Set in 1970s Boston, Danzy Senna’s novel, Caucasia (1998) centers around biracial Birdie Lee, whose racial identity is complex as she defines and redefines herself from her youth through young adulthood. Birdie and Cole Lee are daughters of Deck, an African American college professor, and Sandy Lee, a radical activist and educator who homeschools their daughters. The younger sister, Birdie, is very light-skinned, and people commonly mistake her for white, while Cole is often perceives as solely black. The girls do not notice this distinction until external forces, people, and institutions bring it to their attention. This thesis discusses Senna’s dramatization of Birdie Lee’s struggles with her own racial identity in 1970s America. As a first-person narrator, Birdie gives voice to Americans of her generation and younger who are able to be black, white, or both. The journey towards identity is a difficult for anyone; however, Senna highlights her convoluted path as this young biracial American detours from the conventional tragic mulatto’s outcome of self-destruction. Ultimately, Birdie embraces her double heritage and her skin tone, becoming a voice for the millennial mulatto.

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