A Mysterious Heart: ‘Passing’ and the Narrative Enigma in Faulkner’s “Light in August” and “Absalom, Absalom!”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-13 00:29Z by Steven

A Mysterious Heart: ‘Passing’ and the Narrative Enigma in Faulkner’s “Light in August” and “Absalom, Absalom!”

Amerikastudien / American Studies
Volume 58, Number 1, 2013
pages 51-78

Marta Puxan-Oliva
Department of Modern Language and Literatures and English Studies
University of Barcelona , Barcelona, Spain

This essay argues that William Faulkner’s Light in August and Absalom, Absalom! use the device of the narrative enigma to effectively tell stories in which the cultural practice of ‘passing for white‘ in the United States under the Jim Crow system is strongly suggested. The secret is the essential feature of the social practice of passing, which makes the construction of the plot around a narrative enigma especially suitable. By not resolving the narrative enigma, the novels not only preserve the secret of the supposed ‘passers,’ but construct a narrative that departs from the most important conventions of the so-called genre of the passing novel. The truly modernist narrative strategy of placing an unresolved mystery to drive the plot even allows Faulkner to go a step further: the narrative can portray the Southern white fear of passing with even more significance than the actual act of passing itself. It is precisely the fact that the main characters, Joe Christmas and Charles Bon, have uncertain blood origins that allows and even urges the white community of Jefferson to build a story set only upon conjecture along established racial patterns. Therefore, the effect of the narrative enigma is twofold: it retains the racialization of the story and preserves the secret of the passers, while ambiguously uncovering the false grounds upon which the fear of miscegenation constructs and maintains racial boundaries.

He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart, forgotten. unforgiven, and excessively romantic.
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Sometimes literature illuminates in a striking way the emotional and historical effects that contemporary social practices—no longer operative today—had in the past, providing an understanding that an analysis from the viewpoint of our transformed, contemporary societies cannot offer. This is the case with the practice of ‘passing’ in the United States, and with the series of novels that constitute what has been labeled the passing novel genre. Joel Williamson defines ‘passing’ as “crossing the race line and winning acceptance as white in the white world” (100). Movement in the opposite direction is less common. Even though the practice survives—broadened to include gender passing, but still primarily denoting racial or ethnic mobility—the force and historical function that passing for white had during the Jim Crow period, which peaks in the late nineteenth century and the interwar period, perished with the end of segregation. Viewed as a genre, the…

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On Race and Medicine: Insider Perspectives ed. by Richard Garcia (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-16 18:01Z by Steven

On Race and Medicine: Insider Perspectives ed. by Richard Garcia (review)

American Studies
Volume 55, Number 1, 2016
pages 163-164
DOI: 10.1353/ams.2016.0057

David Colón-Cabrera

ON RACE AND MEDICINE: Insider Perspectives. Edited by Richard Garcia. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 2015.

The fields of anthropology and sociology, in addition to health sciences, have problematized the topic of race and medicine extensively. The dubious history of medical practice towards non-white bodies has left deep impacts on the manner in which biomedicine still speaks, treats, and cares for individuals who are not white. Medicine has its own white privilege problem in the way it often sets whiteness (and maleness) as the default body to research, treat, and care for. On Race and Medicine reflects on these challenges by providing an insight into the experiences of practitioners and researchers at the intersection of race and healthcare.

The book falls within the purview of current research and theory exploring the cultural, social, and political aspects of science. While the book does not specifically identify its aim and scope within Science and Technology Studies, it focuses on those involved in the production and practice of medicine. On Race and Medicine relies on narratives that characterize the multidisciplinary nature of medicine from the perspective of a diverse group of academics and health practitioners—though only a third are women. The book presents the experiences and trajectories of the collaborators and their induction to the topic of race within healthcare. Edited by Richard Garcia, the book’s four sections attempt to retrospectively challenge the manner in which health disparities have been evaluated in recent decades. The first section, Health Disparities, sets the tone by arguing how historical and environmental factors can help explain current health disparities. The Personal Essay presents the omnipresent effect that a racial and ethnic identity has in developing attitudes and behaviors towards healthcare. In Race and Medicine several collaborators reflect on their own biases, attitudes, privileges, and experiences at the intersection of race and medicine. Collaborators recount their challenging experiences encountering medicine while being an ethnic/racial other or being exposed to the ethnic/racial other. Finally, in Towards Solutions, the collaborators discuss the limitations that they deal with in their work and practice. The latter sections are the core of the book since they answer the editor’s central question: “But is this form—rather than the traditional writing of social science or public health—useful, or even necessary?” (31). The use of “forensic chapters” (4) by the collaborators exemplify the manner in which medicine deals with the lived experiences of ethnic and racial minorities, and invite the reader to reflect on those challenges.

Garcia and collaborators seem to be writing for health professionals who are reticent to appreciate the value of personal essays as a narrative tool to explain the complexity of race and healthcare. The editor makes a compelling, though limited, argument supporting the study of health disparities in the US. On Race and Medicine relies on an abundance of sociological and anthropological knowledge, but the editor’s discussions referencing these disciplines could have benefitted from more depth; for example, on pages 4–5 Garcia states: “I imagine the topic of health disparities as a section in a syllabus of an American studies course, along with the other sections that consider race in America.” He appears to overlook the fact that fields in anthropology, sociology, the humanities and public health have crafted entire programs and courses that examine race and medicine in a holistic manner. Similarly, Garcia’s exhortation, “I’d call for a moratorium on disparities studies if anyone were listening. We know. They exist. Enough studies already. Now let’s fix them” (160) misses the point by inadvertently minimizing the scholarship of the aforementioned disciplines.

Garcia and collaborators provide contrasting and dynamic insights that challenge some of the notions of race and healthcare in a very personal way. The value of this book lies in the personal contributions alluding to the diversity of socioeconomics and relative privilege within ethnic and racial communities, and their influence on health-seeking behaviors and attitudes. At the end of the book, in regard to the challenges that the interaction of race and healthcare cause, Garcia poses the question “What can I do?” (166). This seems an unspoken call…

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Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture by Jennifer Ann Ho (review)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2016-07-04 18:13Z by Steven

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture by Jennifer Ann Ho (review)

American Studies
Volume 55, Number 1, 2016
pages 165-166
DOI: 10.1353/ams.2016.006

Jeehyun Lim, Assistant Professor of English
Denison University, Granville, Ohio

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. By Jennifer Ann Ho. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 2015.

Jennifer Ho’s Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture raises timely questions about the category of Asian American at a time when reexaminations of identity categories are being actively carried out in what the feminist theorist Robyn Wiegman calls fields invested in identity knowledges. As Ho explains in her introduction, questioning the definition of Asian American in and of itself is not a new project. The category of Asian American, while rooted in grassroots social movements of the 1960s and meant to counter the demeaning signification of “Oriental,” has been scrutinized, if not solely then most forcefully, by poststructural critiques such as Kandice Chuh’s Imagine Otherwise. Yet Ho’s project differs from existing critiques in at least two regards. First, it consistently illuminates the concept of racial ambiguity—mostly through mixed-race identities and identifications but also through other norm-defying and transgressive identities and identifications emerging variously from transracial adoptees to the definitions of Asian American texts—as the method of exposing and critiquing the multiple exclusions that arise in the vexed project of Asian American self-determination. Secondly, as much as it is invested in bringing into high relief the impossibility of a rigid and exclusionary definition of Asian American, it is likewise equally invested in reestablishing the category as an important site of knowledge production and of social and cultural engagement…

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“As White as Most White Women”: Racial Passing in Advertisements for Runaway Slaves and the Origins of a Multivalent Term

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-03-23 18:29Z by Steven

“As White as Most White Women”: Racial Passing in Advertisements for Runaway Slaves and the Origins of a Multivalent Term

American Studies
Volume 54, Number 4, 2016
pages 73-97

Martha J. Cutter, Professor of English and Africana Studies
University of Connecticut

In 1731 a man named Gideon Gibson, along with several of his relatives, emigrated from Virginia to South Carolina. At first it was reported with consternation that Gibson was a free black man married to a white wife. However, when the South Carolina House of Assembly took up an investigation of Gibson, then governor Robert Johnson concluded that the Gibson family were “not Negroes nor Slave but Free people.” The Gibsons were allowed to remain in the colony, and they prospered, eventually purchasing 450 acres of prime South Carolina land; Gibson owned black slaves, and his sister married a wealthy planter. Gideon Gibson’s son married a white woman and himself became the owner of at least seven slaves. It would be forty-five more years before the colonies declared independence from Britain, but it seems the Gibsons had already declared themselves free from the social, legal, or ideological codes that would construct them as black, Negro, or mulatto. Another investigation in 1768 revealed that Gideon Gibson, Jr., “escaped the penalties of the negro law by producing upon comparison more red and white in his face than could be discovered in the faces of half the descendants of … [the House of Assembly].” Gideon Gibson, Jr., was judged to have been passing for white; he was in actuality a very light-skinned black man with black ancestors. Yet he was also a slave owner and a prosperous member of South Carolinian society.

On May 15, 1845, an enslaved black woman named Fanny ran away from her Alabama owner. Since Fanny could read and write, her owner speculates in an advertisement posted in the Alabama Beacon (June 14, 1845) that she might forge a pass for herself. But Fanny’s master also comments that “she is as white as most white women, with straight light hair, and blue eyes, and can pass herself for a white woman.” Fanny can pass for white, but indeed one wonders what her owner means when he says that she is “as white as most white women.” Are many “white women” not quite “pure” white? And yet they are not subject to perpetual enslavement, as Fanny is. Fanny is also described as “very pious” and “very intelligent.” This valuable piece of “property,” it is implied, in other ways is no different from a white woman. She is religious, rational, and light-skinned. In what ways is she not, the advertisement seems to wonder, a “white woman”? The advertisement appears to grant Fanny humanity as more than property, even as it seeks to re-enslave her. Her owner seems to know that nothing but “a fiction of law and custom”—to borrow Mark Twain’s words in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)—keeps her enslaved.

Although some scholars argue that racial passing began in earnest in the mid- to late nineteenth century, reached its pinnacle in the early twentieth century, and then abated or became “passé” by the 1930s, these two incidents and many others discussed in this essay indicate that, as both a word and a behavior, passing has a longer and more extensive early history and genealogy. Moreover, its meaning is unstable and changes based on historical context. When Gideon Gibson passed for white in 1731, he did so to migrate into a category of identity that empowered him in a period in which such racial migration was somewhat acceptable because ideologies of black racial inferiority had not yet solidified. That he owned slaves himself indicates that he did not see his passing as a challenge to the codes of law that allowed the perpetual possession of black human property; for Gibson slaveholding might have been a sign of his wealth, status, and power, rather than a racially inflected behavior. Fanny’s owner, on the other hand, manifests a more convoluted attitude toward passing and race, because by 1845 the ideology of African American physical and mental inferiority was entrenched and often used to rationalize the fact that blacks were the only group of individuals who could legally be held in perpetual enslavement in the United States. Matthew Frye Jacobson argues that in the United States, “whiteness” denoted “not only color but degree of freedom (as against…

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Postracial Mestizaje: Richard Rodriguez’s Racial Imagination in an America Where Everyone Is Beginning to Melt

Posted in Articles, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-11-19 02:21Z by Steven

Postracial Mestizaje: Richard Rodriguez’s Racial Imagination in an America Where Everyone Is Beginning to Melt

American Studies
Volume 54, Number 1, 2015
pages 89-113
DOI: 10.1353/ams.2015.0007

Lee Bebout, Associate Professor of English
Arizona State University

And it seemed to me that the larger questions about America that the color raised is the fact that we are, all of us, in our various colors, our various hues, melting into each other and creating a brown nation. I tried to write a brown book, that is, brownly, by engaging contradiction and paradox, and rhetorical devices that suggest the way that I experience my own life. That is, for example, as the descendent of a conquistador and the Indian—as a Hispanic.

Richard Rodriguez

In recent years, racial formation in the United States has thrived in precipitous tension. Since the social and political tumult of the various freedom struggles from the 1950s to the 1970s and the rise of multiculturalism, explicitly racist discourses and practices have fallen from favor. Yet as many have noted, the material saliency of race is felt as much as ever. Thus, we are left with a wide array of seeming contradictions that maintain white supremacy and other forms of inequality in the guise of fairness and the protection of rights: ever-rising incarceration rates in communities of color through mandatory sentencing and policies of disparate impact, delegitimization campaigns against the first African American President of the United States through questions of his birthright citizenship, anti-(Latino) immigration policies that respond to the Hispanicization of America that mark people under “reasonable suspicion” of foreignness, and the targeting and banning of Mexican American Studies curricula by calling for students to be treated as individuals. These are but a few examples of the dynamic tension of racial formation in contemporary U.S. culture. It is within this context that I seek to situate Richard Rodriguez’s exploration of race in America in his 2002 book Brown: The Last Discovery of America.

Responding in part to Huntingtonian fears of a “clash of civilizations” and a “browning of America,” Rodriguez exalts the impurity of brown as a great American tradition. For Rodriguez, it is not “Brown, … in the sense of pigment, necessarily, but brown because mixed, confused, lumped impure, unpasteurized, as motives are mixed, and the fluids of generations are mixed and emotions are unclear, and the tally of human progress and failure in every generation is mixed, and unaccounted for, missing in plain sight.”

Here one may find common ground between Rodriguez’s “brown” and theorizations of complex personhood by Gloria Anzaldúa and Avery Gordon. Each maps the interactions of multiple, contradictory elements that constitute any individual. For Anzaldúa, this means embracing rejected aspects of the self: the working class, the indigenous, and the queer. In complementary fashion, Gordon suggests that people are not so easily compartmentalized as either victims or agents of their own destiny. Together, they articulate the impurity that Rodriguez terms brown. As this article will demonstrate, however, even as Rodriguez seeks to contest notions of purity, racial and otherwise, Brown serves the interests of the dominant racial order vis-à-vis its relationship to neoliberal thought and discursive strategies. Through Brown, Rodriguez advances a post-racial mestizaje, an embrace of mixture and contradiction that seeks to subvert the social construct of race and yet simultaneously acquiesces to the logics that undergird current inequalities.

In a Brown Context

The political thrust of Rodriguez’s brown project takes on greater significance when placed in context with his earlier work and its critical response. A child of Mexican immigrants who came of age during the Chicano movement—although certainly not a part of it—Rodriguez is one of the most recognized Latina/o public intellectuals today. Yet his vocal arguments against bilingual education, ethnic studies, and affirmative action have long made him a target of criticism. With the publication of his first memoir, Hunger of Memory, and his speaking engagements in conservative circles, Rodriguez advanced a problematic argument of a split between private and public selves. For Rodriguez, his Mexican heritage and the Spanish language were relegated to the private, familial sphere. Because of this argument, Rodriguez became a veritable Hispanic, anti-Chicano boogieman. Tomás Rivera, Ramón Saldívar, William Nericcio, and others critiqued Rodriguez’s thinking, and sometimes Rodriguez himself, as the result of a colonized mind, blind to history and structural…

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“Black No More”?: Walter White, Hydroquinone, and the “Negro Problem”

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-05-02 21:33Z by Steven

“Black No More”?: Walter White, Hydroquinone, and the “Negro Problem”

American Studies
Volume 47, Number 1 (Spring 2006)
pages 5-30

Eric Porter, Professor of American Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz

In an August 1949 Look magazine article—”Has Science Conquered the Color Line?”—NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White pondered the social implications of monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone, an antioxidant used in rubber and plastics manufacturing that had recently been found to remove melanin from human skin. Government investigators had publicly identified this effect in 1940, after investigating complaints by black and Mexican workers at a Texas tannery who developed pale patches of skin on their hands, arms and torsos because of the presence of hydroquinone in their protective gloves. Hydroquinone would eventually be used medicinally to treat severe forms of vitiligo (a disease involving the progressive loss of melanin which makes one’s skin appear mottled) by removing the remaining melanin from patients’ skin, thus evening out their skin tone. It has also been used as a fading compound to treat different kinds of localized hyper-pigmentations and is still found in often-dangerous skin lightening cosmetic products sold to people with dark complexions across the globe.

In 1949, however, the ultimate medical, cosmetic, and social impacts of hydroquinone were still unknown. White wrote his article after traveling to Chicago to meet with scientists engaged in research on the substance. Afterwards, he took it upon himself to speculate on its future in ways that echoed George Schuyler’s 1931 prototypical black science fiction novel Black No More, in which Dr. Junius Crookman, a fictional Harlem physician, devises a way to induce vitiligo “at will” and “solve the American race problem” by turning dark skins pale. Unfortunately for White, his speculations, which might be described as a bad piece of journalism that degenerated into an involuntary piece of science fiction, rendered him a lightning rod for criticism. For the civil rights leader seemed to suggest that hydroquinone provided a solution to the problems of segregation, racism, and colonialism in the post-World War II world by enabling non-white peoples to bleach their skins.

White’s article baffled his contemporaries. Not only did he seem to be advocating an absurd, demeaning, and physically damaging political strategy; some were also struck by the irony that the comments about hydroquinone came from the blond-haired, blue-eyed Executive Secretary of the NAACP. Early in his tenure with the organization, White had been sent to the South to gather information for the organization’s anti-lynching crusade and did so, risking his life in the process, by passing as a white traveling salesman. His career as a “race man” and his leadership of the NAACP since 1931 both affirmed as well as called into question definitions of racial identity, which in turn prompted questions about his role at the organization’s helm…

…What I will argue, however, is that, whatever White’s professional motivations, the ideas embedded in “Has Science Conquered the Color Line?” and especially in a somewhat longer, unpublished version of the piece, the resonances of these ideas with other bits of White’s public commentary, and responses to the Look article by black leaders and lay people alike—all give insight into some of the political and moral dilemmas revolving around race, science, and civil and human rights during the immediate postwar period. Moreover, they illustrate how a scientific, political, and moral imperative to abandon racial thinking had entered African American political and popular discourse by the end of the 1940s. This imperative emanated from decades of research seeking to debunk race as a biological category, and it was given new immediacy by both the horrors of Nazi racial science put into practice and a post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki faith in science, technology, and rational thought as vehicles by which to overcome the problems of the world (the racist and genocidal applications of the bombing notwithstanding). The notion that race was irrational and irrelevant was increasingly prominent, albeit in complicated ways, through the 1940s within a broader, transnational context of academic writing, journalistic reportage, and the rhetoric of statecraft. But it had a particular and no less complicated resonance among African Americans during the immediate post-World War II era.

White’s article and the controversies it elicited demonstrate how dilemmas around race and rights, conditioned by scientific research on race, were, in fact, significant components of black racial formations at mid-century. The imperative to move beyond race affected other political and personal choices—for example, national versus international affiliation, the primacy of race or class in social analysis, integrationist versus nationalist civil rights agendas, race consciousness versus color blindness in personal deportment and interpersonal relations—facing African Americans. And it caused people to ponder the usefulness of the sense of black virtue that constituted their own understanding of what it meant to be human.

This essay moves next to an assessment of “Has Science Conquered the Color Line?” and issues that arose as White, a middle-class “race man” capable of passing as white, tried to debunk the idea that race had a biological basis while maintaining a link to his racial community. The investigation continues by examining the controversy surrounding White’s piece, which demonstrates how political leaders and lay people alike addressed the limitations and value in racial affiliation and racial transcendence. In the process, it explores some of the conceptual and political questions about race, science, and rights that emerged as black leaders like White contemplated the Faustian bargain of linking domestic civil rights struggles to U.S. foreign policy goals and a concomitant ethos of color blindness. The conclusion revisits the idea that engagements with scientific accounts of race were significant to African American racial formations at mid-century, and it ponders the implications of these engagements in light of scholarly claims about the importance of black political cultures and racial discourses during this period…

Read the entire article here.

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Racial Paradise or Run-around? Afro-North American Views of Race Relations in Brazil

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-12-12 04:11Z by Steven

Racial Paradise or Run-around? Afro-North American Views of Race Relations in Brazil

American Studies
Volume 46, Number 1 (Spring 2005)
pages 43-60

David J. Hellwig, Professor Emeritus of Interdisciplinary Studies
St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota

North American students of slavery and race relations have long used comparative approaches to examine the troubling phenomena of racial discrimination and violence in a society committed to democratic processes and equality. Implicit in these studies is the idea that understanding gained through a comparative perspective will facilitate action to reduce the gap between the ideals and the reality of North American life. Two societies in particular have been studied: South Africa and Brazil. While the example of South Africa has provided insight into aspects of North American culture deplored by most Americans, the example of Brazil has traditionally offered a positive model, one worthy of emulation.

Although people of African descent constitute a minority of the population, more Africans were brought to Brazil as slaves, slavery lasted longer, and today more black and brown people reside there than in any other Western Hemisphere nation. Despite the heritage of slavery, Brazil has traditionally been perceived by North Americans and white Brazilians as a social or racial democracy. According to the myth of the racial paradise, slavery was relatively mild in Brazil, relations between masters and bondsmen were softened by extensive miscegenation, slavery was ended without bloodshed, and since abolition in 1888, skin color has played little if any part in social stratification since. If there are relatively few dark-skinned Brazilians at the higher levels of society, it simply reflects disadvantages rooted in slavery. Above all, one finds no tradition of racial violence or of Jim Crow.

While the image of Brazil as a social democracy is still common in North America and even more so in Brazil, it has been seriously challenged since the end of World War II. In the 1950s UNESCO sponsored a thorough re-examination of Brazilian race relations by international teams of scholars. Though such international recognition reinforced the Brazilian elite’s belief in their racial democracy, in fact the studies did as much to undermine as to affirm the traditional image of Brazilian society. Studies done in the 1960s and 1970s by Brazilian scholars such as Florestan Fernandes, the Argentine-Brazilian Carlos Hasenbalg and the French sociologist Roger Bastide were even more critical of Brazil’s reputation as a society remarkably free of racism.

Black North Americans participated in the affirmation of the racial paradise myth until the mid-twentieth century, and in the contemporary attack upon it. Their critique was a product of the scholars’ re-examination of Brazil and reflected the greater knowledge of Latin America acquired through enhanced opportunities for formal study and travel there. More important, however, were black Americans’ domestic experiences following the gradual dissolution of Jim Crow after World War II and the resurgence of black nationalism in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Black Americans have observed that in contemporary Brazil, as in the U.S., dark-skinned people continue to constitute a disproportionate percentage of the poor and dispossessed despite repeated assurances by dominant groups of acceptance and advancement based on individual merit. Black people in both societies have been victims of arun-around: made promises and guaranteed rights but at the same time denied the education and financial resources needed to transform rights and opportunities into better jobs, housing and health care. Furthermore, given the low level of racial identity and unity among Afro-Brazilians, the likelihood of them altering their status within Brazilian society appears, if anything, even less likely than for black North Americans.

…The growing involvement of the United States in the world, along with the expansion of international trade and travel in the twentieth century, made black and white Americans more aware of Brazil and Latin America in general. One visit to South America, that of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt in 1913, was widely reported in the black and white press. The article Roosevelt wrote on “The Negro in Brazil” for the popular weekly Outlook in February, 1914, reinforced the prevalent image of race relations in Brazil. The Philadelphia Tribune was pleased to note that Roosevelt found colored professors in the state-supported schools, black and mulatto judges, extensive miscegenation, and no segregation or lynchings. His findings, it commented, were “of more than passing interest to us as a race” in highlighting the different treatment of the black race in Brazil and many other societies and in the United States. If wise, the United States would adopt the racial pattern existing in Brazil and avoid racial polarization and violence, the paper warned. A Chicago Defender editorial also praised Roosevelt’s article, telling readers “There is little or no prejudice in Brazil, therefore the problem, as we term it, is being solved in the only possible and effective way of solving it, by absorption, the intermarriage of the races a common occurrence, a man or woman being solely judged on their individual merit, upon their standing in life, the color of their skin playing little part.”

Throughout the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s the black American press continued to endorse a highly flattering assessment of race relations in Brazil. Leaders such as Booker T. Washington, Kelly Miller, W.E.B. DuBois and William Pickens agreed that Brazil offered people of color opportunities denied in the United States. J. A. Rogers in his classic 1924 history, From “Superman” to Man, also confirmed the traditional view. “In Brazil., .the Negro is taught not only to regard himself the equal of the white man, but he is given an opportunity to prove it. There is no walk of Brazilian life, official or unofficial, where he is not welcome and which he has not filled.” Rogers added that more than one Brazilian president had been of Negro descent, an observation often included in references to Afro- Brazilians. At least two articles published in the Journal of Negro History, Herbert B. Alexander’s “Brazilian and U.S. Slavery Compared” in 1922 and Mary W. Williams’ “The Treatment of Negro Slaves in the Brazilian Empire” in 1930, developed the thesis Frank Tannenbaum later popularized in his influential work Slave and Citizen that the status of Negroes in Brazil differed dramatically from the United States in large part because of the marked difference in the institution of slavery in the two societies…

…Nowhere was the trend of black Americans in the 1940s to question the existence of racial democracy in Latin America as apparent as in the comments of the premier black intellectual of the twentieth century, W.E.B. DuBois. His observations are especially instructive not only because of his status as a scholar and activist but because of the sharp change in his assessment of Brazilian race relations over the years. In the 1910s and 1920s DuBois expressed opinions shared by others regarding Brazil. The absence of a color bar and the absorption of the Negro race into the larger society without tension and violence testified to the baselessness of North American fears regarding race. It was important, he felt, for North Americans to challenge the view implicit in most books on Brazil that it was a white country and to read books such as The Conquest of Brazil by Roy Nash, a former Executive Secretary of the NAACP. This work, published in 1926, stressed both the presence of blacks in the nation’s history and the acceptability of race mixture in Brazil, DuBois noted.

In the 1930s DuBois said little if anything about Brazil. Early in the next decade, however, he reversed his previous position and presented a hard-hitting critique of Brazilian race relations and ideology. North American blacks “long pretended to see a possible solution in the gradual amalgamation of whites, Indians and blacks” in South America, he remarked. They “have grown used to being told the settlement of the Negro problem in Brazil is merely a matter of time and absorption: that if we shut our eyes long enough, a white Brazil. . . will emerge and Africa in South America disappear.” Such a belief was both unfounded and dangerous, DuBois now insisted. Racial amalgamation had meant neither “social uplift” nor greater power and prestige for mulattoes and mestizos in Latin America. While “dark blood” ran through the veins of many whites, dark people continued to experience social barriers, economic exploitation and political disfranchisement. White immigration was encouraged at all costs.

One deplorable consequence of the ideology of whitening was that many Afro-Brazilians no longer identified with their African ancestry. “Despite facts, no Brazilian… dare boast of his black fathers,” DuBois observed. The tendency of the “darker people” of the West Indies and South America to “think white” was so ingrained that they were losing awareness of their cultural patterns. In Brazil as elsewhere, people who knew themselves to be of Negro and Indian descent consented to their government presenting the nation to the world as “white” by appointing only Caucasians to diplomatic posts. To DuBois such behavior was a “tragic mistake” that would “tend to eliminate the darker races from the world because of a concerted rush and scramble on their part to become white.” In short, absorption of the Negro was not only biologically difficult, it was culturally and politically damaging for African people in South America and the world asa whole…

Read the entire article here.

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The Racial Paradox of Tribal Citizenship

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2011-12-11 00:59Z by Steven

The Racial Paradox of Tribal Citizenship

American Studies
Volume 46, Numbers 3 & 4 (Fall-Winter 2005)
pages 163-185
Indigenous Studies Today
Volume 1 (Fall 2005/Spring 2006)

Steve Russell, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice
Indiana University

As I begin to write this my tribal election season is at hand. As usual, all the candidates claim to be “traditional.” This is a claim easy to make and hard to disprove. What is traditional? We are now over half Christian, and more of us speak English than speak Cherokee. Many of the accoutrements of contemporary identity have roots in recent times: frybread, ribbon shirts, jingle dresses, powwows. On the other hand, some items of earlier provenance, such as blowguns and turbans, surprise some modern Cherokees. We date our first written laws from 1808. We have lived under a series of written constitutions, the longest lasting those of 1839 and 1975. Is written law traditional? More to the point of this article, is the current Cherokee law of citizenship, a race-based law like that of most American Indian tribes, traditional?

I hope to show that the idea of “race” is, in Partha Chatterjee’s phrase describing nationalism, “a derivative discourse.” It is not only derived from European colonial discourse, but it has done and continues to do harm to Indian nations on a scale similar to that of smallpox and measles. Pathogens are typically ranked by body count, and so my task here will be to demonstrate that race theory is an Old World pathogen that diminishes the numbers of American Indians on a scale that invites comparison to “guns, germs, and steel.” It is perhaps instructive to read Chatterjee’s words and substitute “race” for “nationalism”:

Nationalism as an ideology is irrational, narrow, hateful and destructive. It is not an authentic product of any of the non-European civilizations which, in each particular case, it claims as its classical heritage. It is wholly a European export to the rest of the world. It is also one of Europe’s most pernicious exports, for it is not a child of reason or liberty, but of their opposite: of fervent romanticism, of political messianism whose inevitable consequence is the annihilation of  freedom.

Can “race” properly be considered, like nationalism, an ideology? According to the American Anthropological Association:

. . . physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them. Today scholars in many fields argue that “race” as it is understood in the United States of America was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century to refer to those populations brought together in colonial America: the English and other European settlers, the conquered Indian peoples, and those peoples of Africa brought in to provide slave labor. . . . As they were constructing U.S. society, leaders among European-Americans fabricated the cultural/behavioral characteristics associated with each “race,” linking superior traits with Europeans and negative and inferior ones to blacks and Indians…. Ultimately, “race” as an ideology about human differences was subsequently spread to other areas of the world. It became a strategy for dividing, ranking, and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers everywhere.

The AAA Statement refers in a part not quoted above to the “Great Chain of Being” theory as the philosophical basis for ranking people by race, a religious theory that looked to early anthropology for scientific support. Cultural anthropology was in turn supported in its endorsement of racial hierarchy by disciplines thought to be more empirical in content: archaeology and physical anthropology. Outside of Indian law, the primary postbellum legal expression of the “Great Chain of Being” was anti-miscegenation law, representing a legal endorsement of racist ideology that was not declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1967

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“A blood mixture which experience has shown furnishes the very highest grade of citizen-material”: Selective Assimilation in a Polynesian Case of Naturalization to U.S. Citzenship

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2011-01-02 01:25Z by Steven

“A blood mixture which experience has shown furnishes the very highest grade of citizen-material”: Selective Assimilation in a Polynesian Case of Naturalization to U.S. Citzenship

American Studies (ISSN: ISSN 0026-3079)
Volume 45, Number 3 (Fall 2004)
pages 33-48

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology
Wesleyan University

On the 11th of July, 1928, the front page of the Honolulu Pacific Advertiser read: “75 per cent white blood satisfies U.S.” The article reported what seems to be the landmark decision of U.S. District Court Judge William Lymer to allow a racially mixed Pacific Islander—Alfred Milner Stephen—to naturalize to U.S. citizenship. While the discussion focused on naturalization and citizenship, in Stephen’s case, blood racialization also played a key role. By blood quantum logic, Stephen was identified as three-quarters English and one-quarter Polynesian, the latter inherited from his mother, who was referred to as “half English and half Polynesian.” Judge Lymer argued that Stephen’s “predominance” of “white blood” qualified him for citizenship.

In 1790, when Congress passed a law to establish a uniform standard for naturalization—the Nationality Act—it was limited to “all free white persons.” Although Congress amended the Nationality Act in 1870, it did so only to conform to the intent of the Reconstruction amendments by expanding eligibility for naturalization only to “aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent” (Ancheta 1998, 23). Judge Lymer, who made clear that he was determining whether Stephen was a “white person” within the meaning of the 1870 nationality law, made him, in the words of Ian Haney Lopez, “white by law” (1996)…

…However, the justifications for racial prerequisites changed. For over thirty years in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries courts assumed that scientific evidence and common knowledge were consistent in defining who was “white.” But, as contradictions between scientific evidence and common knowledge became more pronounced (e.g. as when anthropologists classified some dark-skinned people as Caucasians), courts increasingly came to rely on common knowledge justifications alone (Lopez 1996, 7).

The Stephen case revealed the confusion surrounding the “scientific” and “common knowledge” definitions of whiteness. In petitioning for naturalization, Stephen was challenging longstanding legal precedent based on “scientific evidence” and “common knowledge,” but, as courts increasingly relied on the latter, it became apparent that the two definitions could no longer be reconciled. Judge Lymer reflected this problem when he remarked that the Stephen case was the first time a federal court had considered status of a person with “more than half white blood” and “less than one half Polynesian, Malay, or Oriental blood.” The Stephen case reveals the complicated intersections of race and nation in early twentieth-century American culture.

This essay discusses the rationales that guided the judge’s decision. It was the “predominance” of whiteness mixed with Stephen’s “Polynesian blood” that made the difference in the court’s decision. But that factor alone did not motivate Judge Lymer’s decision. Pervasive notions about the potential for Hawaiians to assimilate and to fulfill the requirements of American citizenship were also crucial in this ruling. Although the court recognized Stephen as Polynesian, it deemed him white enough to become American. Stephen could be de-racialized as a legal subject in the courtroom because of racial logic that assumed the easy assimilation of Polynesians based on the historical treatment of racially mixed Hawaiians. Hawaiians and some other Pacific Islanders—in this case Stephen was identified as a Polynesian who came from “Neuru Island”—were inconsistently incorporated into whiteness through a process of selective assimilation. That is, they were selectively incorporated as whites when racially mixed (depending on degree), where white “blood”—in relation to indigenous “blood”—has been figured as a solvent…

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“A Fascinating Interracial Experiment Station”: Remapping the Orient-Occident Divide in Hawai’i

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-09-20 20:30Z by Steven

“A Fascinating Interracial Experiment Station”: Remapping the Orient-Occident Divide in Hawai’i

American Studies
Volume 49, Number 3/4, Fall/Winter 2008
pages 87-109
E-ISSN: 2153-6856
Print ISSN: 0026-3079

Shelley Sang-Hee Lee, Assistant Professor of Comparative American Studies and History
Oberlin College

Rick Baldoz, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology
Oberlin College


During the 1920s and 1930s, American intellectuals on the U.S. continent often described Hawai’i as a “racial frontier,” a meeting ground between East and West where “unorthodox” social relations between Native Hawaiians, Asians, and Caucasians had taken root. The frontier metaphor evoked two very different images, the “racial paradise” and the “racial nightmare,” and in both characterizations, Asians figured prominently. In 1930, of the islands’ civilian population of nearly 350,000, about 236,000 or 68 percent were classified as Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, or Korean.  Political, religious, and educational leaders in Hawai’i were the main propagators of the racial paradise image, which expressed optimism in the ability of Caucasians and Asians to live together, while also celebrating the presence of Portuguese, Spanish, Puerto Ricans, Native Hawaiians, and an array of mixed-race groups.  They touted the assimilative powers of American institutions and promoted Hawai’i as a model of colonial progress to audiences on the U.S. mainland. David Crawford, the president of the University of Hawai’i,  summarized this view during a 1929 visit to Los Angeles where he spoke before a group called the Advertising Club. Hawai’i society, explained Crawford, was “demonstrating the possibility of the meeting of Orient and Occident on terms of friendship that practically eliminate race prejudice.”

This celebration of interracial harmony and cultural assimilation contrasted with views advanced by West Coast nativists who portrayed Hawai’i and its preponderance of Asians in the population as a cautionary example of the pitfalls of American expansionism. During debates in the early 1920s over renewing the Alien Land Law in California, anti-Japanese agitators cited Hawai’i as a failed experiment where the color line had been irretrievably breached by a vanguard force of…

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