The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory

The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory

University of Minnesota Press
248 pages
18 b&w photos | 6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-8166-5613-4 (paper)
ISBN: 978-0-8166-5612-7 (cloth)

Tavia Nyong’o, Associate Professor of Performance Studies
New York University

Does racial hybridity offer a future beyond racial difference?

At a time when the idea of a postracial society has entered public discourse, The Amalgamation Waltz investigates the practices that conjoined blackness and whiteness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Scrutinizing widely diverse texts—archival, musical, visual, and theatrical—Tavia Nyong’o traces the genealogy of racial hybridity, analyzing how key events in the nineteenth century spawned a debate about interracialism that lives on today.

Deeply interested in how discussions of racial hybridity have portrayed the hybrid as the recurring hope for a distant raceless future, Nyong’o is concerned with the ways this discourse deploys the figure of the racial hybrid as an alibi for a nationalism that reinvents the racist logics it claims to have broken with.  As Nyong’o demonstrates, the rise of a pervasive image of racially anomalous bodies responded to the appearance of an independent black public sphere and organized politics of black uplift.  This newfound mobility was apprehended in the political imaginary as a bodily and sexual scandal, and the resultant amalgamation discourse, he argues, must be recognized as one of the earliest and most enduring national dialogues on sex and sexuality.

Nyong’o tracks the emergence of the concept of the racial hybrid as an ideological modernization of the older concept of the mongrel and shows how this revision brought race-thinking in line with new understandings of sex and gender, providing a racial context for the shift toward modern heterosexuality, the discourse on which postracial metaphors so frequently rely.  A timely rebuttal to our contemporary fascination with racial hybridity, The Amalgamation Waltz questions the vision of a national future without racial difference or conflict.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Antebellum Genealogies of the Hybrid Future
  • 1. The Mirror of Liberty: Constituent Power and the American Mongrel
  • 2. In Night’s Eye: Amalgamation, Respectability, and Shame
  • 3. Minstrel Trouble: Racial Travesty in the Circum-Atlantic Fold
  • 4. Carnivalizing Time: Decoding the Racial Past in Art and Installation
  • Conclusion: Mongrel Pasts, Hybrid Futures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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