Mapping the liminal identities of mulattas in African, African American, and Caribbean literatures

Posted in Africa, Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2011-01-16 04:05Z by Steven

Mapping the liminal identities of mulattas in African, African American, and Caribbean literatures

Pennsylvania State University
December 2006
285 pages
AAT: 3343682
ISBN: 9780549992738

Khadidiatou Gueye

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy December 2006

In twentieth-century African, African American, and Caribbean literatures, mixed-blood women are often misread as figures frozen in tragic postures. Such unrealistic portraitures replicate the traditional white-authored pathologizations of racial hybridity. Drawing on the theoretical framework of liminality, this study investigates how mulattas negotiate their identities in specific socio-cultural environments, times, and places. Four writers of African descent and dissimilar socio-historical backgrounds are studied: Abdoulaye Sadji from Senegal, Bessie Head from South Africa, Mayotte Capécia from Martinique, and Nella Larsen from the United States.

The study is divided into five chapters that deal with the experiences of mulattas in autobiographical writing, sexuality, madness, racial passing, and expatriation. Thematic and stylistic discrepancies in the works examined are ancillary to the common liminal strategies of de-marginalization and self-reconstruction of female heroines. Their attempts at self-assertion appear in the ways in which they resist the constrictions of patriarchal and racist regimes. Their construction of spaces of agency is interwoven with ambiguity, ambivalence, and contradictions, which are emblematic of the discontinuities of their lives and paradigmatic of their intricate search for identity. In the works, the liminal experiences of mulattas are framed within the quests for social visibility, the affirmation of humanity, the renegotiation of space, and the anomic straddling between oppositional boundaries and statuses. Through their striving to rise above the limitations imposed on their gender and race, mulattas commit acts of transgression and dissemblance, and disrupt racial taxonomy. I demonstrate that liminality is a major unifying thread that runs through all the narratives and argue that it creates alternative existential paradigms for mixed-blood women. Liminality is an appropriate tool that challenges monolithic views of identities through the re-articulation of cultural meanings.

My main contribution is twofold. First, I extend the traditional cartography of liminality, which is usually based on small-scale societies where individuals have loyalty to their primary communities. Second, I suggest new vistas for race criticism in diasporic studies.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter One
    • Monoracial, Biracial, and the Entre-Deux
    • Introduction
    • Black/White Polarization
    • Racial Hybridity
    • Betwixt and Between: The Ambiguity of Liminality
  • Chapter Two
    • Liminal Psychoautobiographies: Rites and Routes
    • Autobiography as Autrebiographie: Je-Jeu in Mayotte Capécia’s Je suis martiniquaise
    • Internal Drama: Spectralized Presences in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power
  • Chapter Three
    • The Liminal Experience of Sexuality and the Problematic of Respectability
    • Sexuality at Point Zero in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Mayotte Capécia’s La négresse blanche
    • Sexuality and Normative Illegitimacy in Mayotte Capécia’s La négresse blanche
    • Nini, mulâtresse du Sénégal: Between Sexual Empowerment and Disempowerment
  • Chapter Four
    • Herspace: Liminal Madness and Racial Passing of the Mulatta
    • I am Mad But I am Not Mad: Shuttling Between Seamless Identities in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power
    • Telling a New Story: Racial Performance and Ambiguity in Nella Larsen’s Passing
  • Chapter Five
    • The Limen of Journeys: Mulattas and Colonial Paris
    • The French Métropole: Interior Landscapes in Nini, mulâtresse du Sénégal
    • Migration and Trans-Caribbean Identity in Je suis martiniquaise and La négresse blanche
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Purchase the dissertation here.

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‘Toubab La!’ Literary Representations of Mixed-Race Characters in the African Diaspora

Posted in Africa, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Europe, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United Kingdom, United States on 2009-11-27 00:35Z by Steven

‘Toubab La!’ Literary Representations of Mixed-Race Characters in the African Diaspora

Cambridge Scholars Publishing
July 2007
453 pages
ISBN13: 9781847182319
ISBN: 1-84718-231-3

Ginette Curry, Professor of English
Florida International University

The book is an examination of mixed-race characters from writers in the United States, The French and British Caribbean islands (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Jamaica), Europe (France and England) and Africa (Burkina Faso, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal). The objective of this study is to capture a realistic view of the literature of the African diaspora as it pertains to biracial and multiracial people. For example, the expression “Toubab La!” as used in the title, is from the Wolof ethnic group in Senegal, West Africa. It means “This is a white person” or “This is a black person who looks or acts white.” It is used as a metaphor to illustrate multiethnic people’s plight in many areas of the African diaspora and how it has evolved. The analysis addresses the different ways multiracial characters look at the world and how the world looks at them. These characters experience historical, economic, sociological and emotional realities in various environments from either white or black people. Their lineage as both white and black determines a new self, making them constantly search for their identity. Each section of the manuscript provides an in-depth analysis of specific authors’ novels that is a window into their true experiences.

The first section is a study of mixed race characters in three acclaimed contemporary novels from the United States. James McBride’s The Color of Water (1996), Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (1998) and Rebecca Walker’s Black White and Jewish (2001) reveal the conflicting dynamics of being biracial in today’s American society. The second section is an examination of mixed-race characters in the following French Caribbean novels: Mayotte Capécia’s I Am a Martinican Woman (1948), Michèle Lacrosil’s Cajou (1961) and Ravines du Devant-Jour (1993) by Raphaël Confiant. Section three is about their literary representations in Derek Walcott’s What the Twilight Says (1970), Another Life (1973), Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967) and Michelle Cliff’s Abeng (1995) from the British Caribbean islands. Section four is an in-depth analysis of their plight in novels written by contemporary mulatto writers from Europe such as Marie N’Diaye’s Among Family (1997), Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000) and Bernardine Evaristo’s Lara (1997). Finally, the last section of the book is a study of novels from West African and South African writers. The analysis of Monique Ilboudo’s Le Mal de Peau (2001), Bessie Head’s A Woman Alone: Autobiographical Writings (1990) and Abdoulaye Sadji’s Nini, Mulâtresse du Sénégal (1947) concludes this literary journey that takes the readers through several continents at different points in time.

Overall, this comprehensive study of mixed-race characters in the literature of the African diaspora reveals not only the old but also the new ways they decline, contest and refuse racial clichés. Likewise, the book unveils how these characters resist, create, reappropriate and revise fixed forms of identity in the African diaspora of the 20th and 21st century. Most importantly, it is also an examination of how the authors themselves deal with the complex reality of a multiracial identity.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
    • Chapter 4: Mayotte Capécia’s I am a Martinican Woman (1948): “My father is Black, My Mother is Brown, and I, Am I White?” (Martinican Riddle)
    • Chapter 5: Michèle Lacrosil’s Cajou (1961): The Anti-Narcissus
    • Chapter 6: Raphaël Confiant’s Ravines du Devant-Jour (1993): Ethnostereotypes in Martinique
    • Chapter 7: The Racial Paradox of Derek Walcott in What the Twilight Says (1970), Derek Walcott: Another life (1973) and Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967)
    • Chapter 8: Michelle Cliff’s Abeng (1995): A Near-White Jamaican Woman’s Quest for Identity
    • Chapter 9: Marie N’Diaye’s Among Family (1997): A Desperate Search for Caucasian Identity
    • Chapter 10: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000): The Concept of Englishness in the 21st Century
    • Chapter 11: Bernardine Evaristo’s Lara (1997): Transculturality in England: Oyinbo, Whitey, Morena, Nig Nog, Nigra!
    • Chapter 12: Monique Ilboudo’s Le Mal de peau (2001): Colonization and Forced Hybridity
    • Chapter 13: Bessie Head’s A Woman Alone: Autobiographical Writings (1990): White-on-Black and Black-on-Black Racial Oppression in Southern Africa
    • Chapter 14: Abdoulaye Sadji’s Nini, Mulâtresse du Sénégal (1947): “Toubab La!”
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • Primary Sources
  • Critical Sources
  • Index

Read a preview  here.

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