Is There an Identity Beyond Race? Four Case Studies

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Judaism, Law, Media Archive, Religion on 2015-10-30 00:47Z by Steven

Is There an Identity Beyond Race? Four Case Studies

Michigan Quarterly Review
Volume XLI, Issue 3, Summer 2002

Paula Marantz Cohen, Distinguished Professor of English
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White. By Earl Lewis and Heidi Ardizzone. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. Pp. 301. $26.95.

Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. By Rebecca Walker. New York: Riverhead Books, 2001. Pp. 336. $14.

Pearl’s Secret: A Black Man’s Search for his White Family. By Neil Henry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Pp. 321. $24.95.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. By James McBride. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996. Pp. 228. $23.95 (hb), $14 (pb).

All four books under review here are concerned with telling dramatic tales about singular, real lives. But they are also books about race. They are driven by the larger goal of making the individual story stand for more than itself.

To write something that is true to the distinctiveness of human experience while also being socially and politically illuminating is hard to achieve. Earl Lewis and Heidi Ardizzone’s Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White seems the most successful, perhaps because it is the only book in the group that is not a memoir. Lewis explains in an Afterword that he first stumbled on the subject while working on his dissertation seventeen years earlier, then returned to it when, as a professor at the University of Michigan, he began directing Ardizzone’s doctoral research on interracial identity in the first half of the twentieth century. They eventually decided to collaborate. The long period of gestation as well as the collaborative approach help to account for the book’s judicious tone in telling a story at once private and public, full of subjective elements yet illuminating of its social moment.

Love on Trial takes as its point of departure a sensational news story from the 1920s. Pursuing the story through careful research into court transcripts and newspaper archives, the authors piece together a fascinating narrative in which the personal intersects the social with tragic consequences.

The story centers on the marriage of Alice Jones, a nanny from Westchester, to Leonard “Kip” Rhinelander, a young scion of one of New York’s oldest and richest society families. It seems that the couple met, courted, and married without apparent difficulty until their relationship became publicized by the New York press, probably through the instigation of Leonard’s disapproving father. A scandal erupted when it was alleged that Alice Jones was black—a fact that Leonard subsequently claimed he did not know and which he made the basis for an annulment suit against his wife…

Read the reviews here.

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Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-05 21:01Z by Steven

Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White

W. W. Norton & Company
May 2002
320 pages
5.5 × 8.3 in
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-393-32309-2

Earl Lewis, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Emory University

Heidi Ardizzone, Assistant Professor of American Studies
University of Notre Dame

When Alice Jones, a former nanny, married Leonard Rhinelander in 1924, she became the first black woman to be listed in the Social Register as a member of one of New York’s wealthiest families. Once news of the marriage became public, a scandal of race, class, and sex gripped the nation—and forced the couple into an annulment trial.

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This depiction of Alice [Jones Rhinelander] fell squarely into a white tradition of depicting mulatto women as sexually available, sexually victimized, and/or sexually predatory.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2010-03-05 03:43Z by Steven

…This depiction of Alice [Jones Rhinelander] fell squarely into a white tradition of depicting mulatto women as sexually available, sexually victimized, and/or sexually predatory.  By the 1920s many white Americans, particularly northern whites, joined African Americans in blaming southern white men for the existence of the substantial mulatto population that now (supposedly) threatened the racial purity of white America both by its very presence and by the behaviour—particularly the sexual behavior—of its members.  Indeed, northern white writers continued to be fascinated with the supposed rituals of white-male-controlled interracial sex in the South, particularly exclusive “octoroon balls” at which light-skinned African American women competed to be the mistress of socially elite white men who would support them financially in return for sex and companionship, all in the name of romance.  Such depictions, however, painted the women as desperately competing for their shared goal: a rich white lover.  By the 1920 images of mulatto women focused even more directly on their supposed obsession with “landing,” either as a wife or a mistress, a rich white benefactor—and on using that liaison to appropriate white money, property, and even power…

Lewis, Earl and Heidi Adrizzone. Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White.  New York: W. W. Norton. 2002. Pages 166-167.

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Keeping up with the Joneses

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Social Science, United States on 2010-03-05 03:04Z by Steven

…Like many families of mixed ancestry and interracial families in the Northeast, the Joneses seemed to live in an ambiguous space in the American system of racial classification.  They seemed to be neither denying nor actively claiming a black racial identity.  Sociologists of the time and current historians have documented a number of cases—indeed a pattern—of mixed-race or mixed-marriage families living quietly in small “white” towns.  Unlike the model of “passing,” in with formerly black-identified individuals or families would become white-identified, many of these individuals and families simply lived in the spaces between absolutes.  Less consciously a political act of affirmation or denial of self, racial ambiguity enabled such individuals and families to embrace the multiple histories that constituted them.  They were black and white and other.  They understood that American society lacked a suitably dexterous category for those who defied the conventions of perception and boundary.  Former Kentucky politician Mae Street Kidd, born to a black mother and white father in 1904, summarized the sentiment of many when she wrote, “I never made an issue of my race.  I let people think or believe what they wanted to.  If it was ever a problem, then it was their problem, not mine.”…

Lewis, Earl and Heidi Adrizzone. Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White.  New York: W. W. Norton. 2002. Pages 36-37.

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Love and Race Caught in the Public Eye

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2009-12-05 05:23Z by Steven

Love and Race Caught in the Public Eye

ND Newswire
University of Notre Dame

Heidi Ardizzone, Assistant Professor of American Studies
University of Notre Dame

Earl Lewis, Provost
Emory University

Lovers seek to create a place that they can inhabit together against the obstacles of the world. Marriage promises that they will live in that place forever. What happens, though, when love cannot keep out the world’s strictures? What happens when the bond severs, and the nation serves as a witness to marital separation? And what happens when a culture’s notions about love and romance come into conflict with the lines dividing races and classes?

In 1925 Alice Beatrice Jones and Leonard “Kip” Rhinelander found themselves painfully trapped in this conflict between love and family, desire and social standing. Their marriage had the trappings of a fairy tale — wealthy New York scion marries humble girl from New Rochelle — yet the events that led to their estrangement provide an unusual window into the nation’s attitudes about race, class, and sexuality. Their sensational annulment trial scandalized 1920’s America and opened their private life to public scrutiny, amid cultural conflicts over racial definitions, class propriety, proper courtship and sexual behavior, and racial mixing.

As a Rhinelander, Leonard was descended from several of New York’s oldest and wealthiest families. Had he followed in the family tradition, Leonard might have attended Columbia University, joined the Rhinelander Real Estate Company, and made his mark on New York society through philanthropy and support of the arts.

By contrast, Alice’s parents immigrated in 1891 to the United States from England, where they had both worked as servants. George Jones had had some success in his adopted country; he eventually owned a fleet of taxicabs and several small properties. Alice, her sisters, and their husbands worked primarily as domestics and servants — solid members of the working class.

Despite this pronounced class difference, Alice and Leonard met and began dating in 1921. Their love deepened over the next three years, tested by months and years of separation as Leonard’s father tried to keep them apart. Philip Rhinelander’s efforts were in vain, however.  From 1921 to 1924 the lovers exchanged hundreds of letters and visited when possible. As soon as Leonard turned 21 and received money from a trust fund, he left school and returned to Alice. In the fall of 1924, they quietly married in a civil ceremony at the New Rochelle City Hall.

Had reporters from the New Rochelle Standard Star ignored the entry in the City Hall records, the couple might have lived their lives away from the public spotlight. They did not. Someone eventually realized that a Rhinelander had married a local woman, and it was news. And once they discovered who Alice Jones was, it was big news. The first story appeared one month after their wedding, announcing to the world that the son of a Rhinelander had married the daughter of a colored man.

Or had he? Well, at least he had married the daughter of a working-class man, and that was enough to start a tremor of gossip throughout New York. Reporters rushed to sift through the legal documents and contradictory accounts of and by the Joneses and the newlyweds. Despite the confidence of the first announcement, there was confusion for quite some time as to George Jones’s — and therefore Alice’s — precise racial identity…

Read the entire article here.

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