Beige Bubble Bodies: New People by Danzy Senna

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2017-11-12 04:12Z by Steven

Beige Bubble Bodies: New People by Danzy Senna

The Miami Rail

Claudia Milian, Associate Professor of Spanish & Latin American Studies
Duke University

New People by Danzy Senna, Riverhead Books, 240 pp.

Danzy Senna’s New People unfolds the creases of Maria and her fiancé, Khalil’s flat lives––exposing sharp, furrowed, details of their beige being in a pre-tech gentrifying Brooklyn bubble. Their barely colored bodies, their contrasts between white and brownish, are a prototype, a palette that is substituted, again and again, by the mélange of nationalities and shades that fill in the indistinct Northeastern landscape.

The neutrally named and orphan Maria, a border girl, as it were, whose nebulousness crosses, re-crosses, and double-crosses racial and cultural spectrums and expectations, steers toward the excessive closeness, to an infinite jest, of mixed race America and its vague embodiments. Senna is, on the face of it, in exclusive conversation with black-and-white America. But the novel’s other deviations of grayness and brownness provoke, drift, and pump up the volume on Maria’s out of body experiences as she walks in and out of Latina states…

Read the entire review here.

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An Interview with Danzy Senna

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Women on 2016-07-21 00:43Z by Steven

An Interview with Danzy Senna

Volume 25, Number 2 (Spring, 2002)
pages 447-452
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2002.0092

Claudia M. Milian Arias

More than a coming of age story, Danzy Senna’s first novel, Caucasia (Riverhead Books, 1998) addresses themes of coming into consciousness within the U.S. ethnoracial landscape. Clearly in dialogue with Nella Larsen’s Passing as well as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Caucasia is a first person narrative where anything that happens to the protagonist, Birdie Lee, relates to the rest of the nation. Caucasia interrogates, displaces, and transforms the normative meanings of whiteness, and by extension, Americanness. The multiracial protagonist disappears into America “without a name, without a record. With only the body I traveled in. And a memory of something lost.” As Birdie becomes a transient subject, she undoubtedly echoes a critical question posed by Meena Alexander in The Shock of Arrival. That is: “Does passing mean being granted free passage?”

Birdie’s painful, but transformative, realities thus shift our focus into her reconceptualization of the multiple Americas within America. The larger function of the narrative is to recover and remap America as racially mixed, where multiple memories, or an inventory of memories, are used to identify, catalogue, access, and interrelate thematic histories of displacement. Birdie’s multiraciality critiques the black and white binary not so much by going “beyond” it. Rather, she investigates these polar oppositions from within that binary—incisively demonstrating new identities and discourses that emerge from the continuous examination of not only being racially marked and ranked, but also of being positioned to live as a racialized subject.

Senna was born in Boston in 1970. She holds a B. A. from Stanford University and a M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine. In addition, Senna is the author of the anthologized essays, “The Color of Love,” in The Beacon Best of 2001: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures (Beacon Press, 2001), and “The Mulatto Millennium,” in Half and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural (Pantheon, 1998).

MILIAN ARIAS: At the beginning of Caucasia, there is a scene where Deck tells Ronnie: “Welcome to the land of miscegenation.” Caucasia follows up on this theme, since the novel functions, to a certain extent, as both a testimony of the lived experiences of being multiracial and a critique of the rigidity of racial categories in the United States. At a time when race relations are constructed, if not understood, in binary and bipolar extremes of black and white, how do you see multiraciality fitting within these strict categories? What is your take on the proposed multiracial category for the U.S. Census?

SENNA: America has always been “the land of miscegenation.” The history of our country is one of disparate groups clashing and commingling. We’ve only recently begun to acknowledge this fact, and lately to celebrate rather than deny mixture. Of course, in many ways I think this recognition is a good thing, but I’m also wary of the way multiraciality has become fetishized in the media and in the popular discussion on race. In particular, I worry when multiracial pride is used to uphold an ahistorical and depoliticized vision of race in America. I’m suspicious of adding a new category to the Census for a lot of reasons. I think the idea of a separate multiracial category in many ways upholds a simplistic, scientific vision of race: If you mix a white and a black, you get a biracial. If you mix a Chicano and an Asian, you get a Chic-Asian, as if race were simply like mixing colors in a paint box. I’m not so much interested in categorizing further, or adding new groups, so much as I am interested in deconstructing the premise of race itself. My hope is that the addition of this new category will spur a debate on the idea of race. But I also wonder if we’re becoming more like Brazil, where complexion rather than race is the predominant system of identification. In Brazil, racism is able to function within a “land of miscegenation”—so we should see that as a warning, perhaps.

As an aside, I recently saw a poster on a wall in New York. It may have been an ad for Benetton—I can’t remember. It showed a very pretty light-skinned girl with brown curly hair who looked to be part black and part white. She held a sign that read: “I’m a mulatto. I can’t be racist.” The sign was bizarre for many reasons, not the least of which was the use of the word “mulatto.” (I thought I was the only one still using that outdated term!) But also, the idea that someone mixed cannot be racist due to their mixed heritage revealed an illusion people seem to have: The idea that race mixture somehow neutralizes the problem of racism. Furthermore, the sign implied that black and white were the only two races in existence. Isn’t it possible that this mulatto could be racist against groups outside of those she is a part of: for instance, Latinos or Asians? Couldn’t she be xenophobic? And isn’t it possible to be racist against your own group(s)?

The poster revealed to me the invisibility of groups who don’t fit into the black-white paradigm. Based on appearance, the girl in the poster could have easily been Puerto Rican, or Dominican, two racially mixed groups, but these identities aren’t as palatable in the American imagination, since they tend to signify “outsider, poverty, non-white, un-American” whereas the mulatto represents assimilation, the end of blackness, and the end of the discussion on racism. These other “mixed” groups, Latino, in particular, threaten the idea of American hegemony in a way that the blissful black-white mulatto in the picture doesn’t.

Mulatto pride can fit in neatly with the black-white paradigm. And mulattos can be racist. And race mixing can exist and has existed happily within a racist and racialized structure. I’m wary of sanctifying any group based on race, or romanticizing the so-called mulatto…

Read or purchase the interview here.

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Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science on 2012-09-18 22:02Z by Steven

Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies

University of Georgia Press
288 pages
5 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8203-4435-5
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8203-4436-2
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-8203-4479-9

Claudia Milian, Associate Professor of Spanish & Latin American Studies
Duke University

With Latining America, Claudia Milian proposes that the economies of blackness, brownness, and dark brownness summon a new grammar for Latino/a studies that she names “Latinities.” Milian’s innovative study argues that this ensnared economy of meaning startles the typical reading practices deployed for brown Latino/a embodiment.

Latining America keeps company with and challenges existent models of Latinidad, demanding a distinct paradigm that puts into question what is understood as Latino and Latina today. Milian conceptually considers how underexplored “Latin” participants—the southern, the black, the dark brown, the Central American—have ushered in a new world of “Latined” signification from the 1920s to the present.

Examining not who but what constitutes the Latino and Latina, Milian’s new critical Latinities disentangle the brown logic that marks “Latino/a” subjects. She expands on and deepens insights in transamerican discourses, narratives of passing, popular culture, and contemporary art. This daring and original project uncovers previously ignored and unremarked upon cultural connections and global crossings whereby African Americans and Latinos traverse and reconfigure their racialized classifications.

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ROMST 200.01: Critical Approaches to Mestizaje

Posted in Course Offerings, New Media, United States on 2012-01-07 02:03Z by Steven

ROMST 200.01: Critical Approaches to Mestizaje

Duke University
Spring 2012

Claudia Milian, Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Romance Studies; African & African American Studies

This seminar will examine critical theories of mestizaje, miscegenation, mixed race, and hybridity as articulated in Latino, Latin American, and African-American projects of racial identification and classification. In particular, the course aims to study the theories, rhetoric, and assumptions of racial and cultural inclusion, while analyzing frameworks that propose mestizaje, hybridity, or “mixedness” as oppositional and transgressive concepts that highlight an emancipatory potential. The seminar will investigate the following questions: What does it mean to have hybridity as the foundation of an identity that is most often associated with Latinas and Latinos? In effect, who are the “mestizos?” In what ways does a mestiza consciousness speak to twenty-first century articulations of the increased prominence of mixed race in the United States? What possibilities can mestizaje offer through its multiple locations of cultures and races in both countering purist constructions of racial ideologies and in building alliances with other “contact zones” of mixtures that remain to be discursively mapped in the critical language of mestizaje? The course will draw from wide ranging theoretical, literary, and historical approaches to notions of mixture as a mode of inquiry that charts new identities, social practices, and knowledge production.

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