Posthistorical fiction and postracial passing in James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2017-12-22 19:54Z by Steven

Posthistorical fiction and postracial passing in James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird

Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Published online: 2017-12-15
9 pages
DOI: 10.1080/00111619.2017.1381068

Gerald David Naughton, Associate Professor of American Literature
Gulf University for Science & Technology (GUST), Kuwait

This article examines James McBride’s National Book Award–winning novel The Good Lord Bird (2013) as an example of both posthistorical fiction and postracial passing. These twin ambiguities, the article argues, structure McBride’s neo-slave narrative, pointing toward the inherent ironies of racial, gender, and historical construction, both in the era of the novel’s historical setting (the 1850s) and in the age of the novel’s critical reception (the twenty-first century). Ultimately, the essay suggests, McBride’s novel plays within these ironies, rather than attempting to unravel them. Identity and history in the text exist only as models of performativity, and constructs of essence or authenticity are eschewed.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Colorblindness is not Progressive: a Review of “The Color of Water”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2016-07-10 00:31Z by Steven

Colorblindness is not Progressive: a Review of “The Color of Water”

The Tempest

Maya Williams

We should make it clear that the concept of colorblindness isn’t just a white perspective to have or to talk about.

The Color of Water: a Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother (1995) tells the story of a mixed race man named James McBride and his Jewish mother coming of age in a time when mixed race visibility was relatively taboo. This nonfiction novel’s format is such a unique one because while you read it, you can see how fluid time is and how history is capable of repeating itself for generations.

This is such a good book, you guys. After re-reading it, I was struck once more by the intricacies of McBride’s storytelling, the parallels between McBride and his mother, and their human strength. Hands down, one of the most interesting people to read about in this book is Ruth McBride Jordan, the author’s mom…

Read the entire review here.

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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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Times Fluid, Mobile and Ambivalent: Constructing Racial & Personal Identity in James McBride’s The Color of Water

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-29 01:18Z by Steven

Times Fluid, Mobile and Ambivalent: Constructing Racial & Personal Identity in James McBride’s The Color of Water

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature
Volume 4, Number 5 (2015)
pages 63-71
DOI: 10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.4n.5p.63

Yuan-Chin Chang
Department of Applied English Studies
China University of Technology, Wunshan District, Taipei City 116, Taiwan

James McBride’s memoir The Color of Water provides a rich and nuanced history of the author – a Black American man – and his white mother. Using the theories of Bhabha regarding hybridity, ambivalence and a Third Space between different cultures or individuals, it is demonstrated that racial and personal identities are constructed, and historically reconstructed, as flexible and mobile entities in this memoir. The linking of narratives and voices across different decades demonstrates the Third Space in the relationship between McBride and his mother, and each individual’s relationship to and understanding of themselves in a broader multiracial culture. Lacan’s theories regarding rhetoric and signification are also used to underpin an exploration of the ways in which McBride portrays his own changing understanding of biracial identity in America.

Read the entire article here.

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Crossing B(l)ack: Mixed-Race Identity in Modern American Fiction and Culture

Posted in Barack Obama, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs on 2013-02-07 00:30Z by Steven

Crossing B(l)ack: Mixed-Race Identity in Modern American Fiction and Culture

University of Tennessee Press
150 pages
Cloth ISBN-10: 1572339322; ISBN-13: 978-1572339323

Sika A. Dagbovie-Mullins, Associate Professor of English
Florida Atlantic University

The past two decades have seen a growing influx of biracial discourse in fiction, memoir, and theory, and since the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the presidency, debates over whether America has entered a “post-racial” phase have set the media abuzz. In this penetrating and provocative study, Sika A. Dagbovie-Mullins adds a new dimension to this dialogue as she investigates the ways in which various mixed-race writers and public figures have redefined both “blackness” and “whiteness” by invoking multiple racial identities.

Focusing on several key novels—Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928), Lucinda Roy’s Lady Moses (1998), and Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (1998)—as well as memoirs by Obama, James McBride, and Rebecca Walker and the personae of singer Mariah Carey and actress Halle Berry, Dagbovie-Mullins challenges conventional claims about biracial identification with a concept she calls “black-sentient mixed-race identity.” Whereas some multiracial organizations can diminish blackness by, for example, championing the inclusion of multiple-race options on census forms and similar documents, a black-sentient consciousness stresses a perception rooted in blackness—“a connection to a black consciousness,” writes the author, “that does not overdetermine but still plays a large role in one’s racial identification.” By examining the nuances of this concept through close readings of fiction, memoir, and the public images of mixed-race celebrities, Dagbovie-Mullins demonstrates how a “black-sentient mixed-race identity reconciles the widening separation between black/white mixed race and blackness that has been encouraged by contemporary mixed-race politics and popular culture.”

A book that promises to spark new debate and thoughtful reconsiderations of an especially timely topic, Crossing B(l)ack recognizes and investigates assertions of a black-centered mixed-race identity that does not divorce a premodern racial identity from a postmodern racial fluidity.

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Being Black and White

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2011-01-29 22:16Z by Steven

Being Black and White

The American Prospect
E. J. Graff, Associate Director and Senior Researcher
The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism
Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts

When I was 18, I learned, quite belatedly, that my father’s brother had married a black woman. The wedding took place in 1958—the year I was born, the year after my parents married. Instantly I knew that racism had kept me from knowing my uncle (by then dead of a heart attack), my aunt, my cousins. Instantly I knew I would have to find them. But it was one thing to discover that the deepest, most volatile division in the country ran right through my family; actually crossing that divide to claim kinship was, for a long time, too daunting for someone whose only experience with “diversity” was being the sole Jewish kid among her semirural Ohio high school’s 2,300 students.

And so it wasn’t until my thirties that I finally met my aunt and cousins. To my surprise, they treated me not just as a cousin but as a living symbol of racial reconciliation. Once we’d met, told stories, and compared features—we share a long jaw and sharp chin—I started to notice how arbitrarily I’d sorted the world around me into “black” or “white.” All around were black people who looked related to me. White friends had color in their families of blood or choice: a stepfather, a spouse, a sister-in-law, a dearest friend. I started to feel that every American whose family has been here more than a few decades is from a mixed-race family, that somewhere out there—however near or far—we all have relatives of the “other” color. African Americans know this, of course, often down to the name of at least one plantation owner in the family tree. But for a white girl in a color-bound world, this was news.

As it happened, the insight that was striking me so personally—that the color line is drawn in shifting sand—would soon strike the culture. In the past few years, the headlines have been full of such things as the 2000 census’s mix-and-match option; genetic evidence that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (his dead wife’s half-sister and slave) left a widening delta of descendants; and the ascending god Tiger Woods’s refusal to reject his plural ethnicity. And since 1995, a number of mixed-race memoirs have hit our shelves, opening discussion of a new identity: biracial writers who have a black parent and a white one. These authors grapple with the sense that they don’t quite belong anywhere, that they aren’t fully claimed by either race. But their wide range of experiences reveals how deeply racial identity, like any identity, is affected not just by society but also by family, character, time, and place…

Read the entire article here.

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The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother (10th Anniversary Edition)

Posted in Biography, Books, Europe, History, Monographs, United States, Women on 2010-05-14 02:15Z by Steven

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother (10th Anniversary Edition)

Riverhead an Imprint of Penguin Publishing Group
352 pages
8.26 x 5.23in
Paperback ISBN: 9781594481925

James McBride

James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut.

Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared “light-skinned” woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.

The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in “orchestrated chaos” with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. “Mommy,” a fiercely protective woman with “dark eyes full of pep and fire,” herded her brood to Manhattan’s free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.

In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother’s footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents’ loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.

At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all- black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. “God is the color of water,” Ruth McBride taught her children, firmly convinced that life’s blessings and life’s values transcend race. Twice widowed, and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth’s determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college—and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.

Interspersed throughout his mother’s compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.


Half + Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural

Posted in Anthologies, Autobiography, Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive on 2010-02-12 05:23Z by Steven

Half + Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural

Pantheon an imprint of Random House
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-70011-8 (0-375-70011-0)

Edited by Claudine C. O’Hearn

As we approach the twenty-first century, biracialism and biculturalism are becoming increasingly common.  Skin color and place of birth are no longer reliable signifiers of one’s identity or origin.  Simple questions like What are you? and Where are you from? aren’t answered—they are discussed.  These eighteen essays, joined by a shared sense of duality, address the difficulties of not fitting into and the benefits of being part of two worlds.  Through the lens of personal experience, they offer a broader spectrum of meaning for race and culture.  And in the process, they map a new ethnic terrain that transcends racial and cultural division.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Claudine Chiawei O’Hearn
  • LOST IN PLACE by Garrett Hongo
  • THE DOUBLE HELIX by Roxane Farmanfarmaian
  • CALIFORNIA PALMS by le thi diem thuy
  • MORO LIKE ME by Francisco Goldman
  • THE ROAD FROM BALLYGUNGE by Bharati Mukherjee
  • LIFE AS AN ALIEN by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah
  • LOST IN THE MIDDLE by Malcolm Gladwell
  • A WHITE WOMAN OF COLOR by Julia Alvarez
  • A MIDDLE PASSAGE by Philippe Wamba
  • FOOD AND THE IMMIGRANT by Indira Ganesan
  • WHAT COLOR IS JESUS? by James McBride
  • POSTCARDS FROM “HOME” by Lori Tsang
  • FROM HERE TO POLAND by Nina Mehta
  • TECHNICOLOR by Ruben Martinez
  • AN ETHNIC  TRUMP by Gish Jen
  • About the Authors
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Is That Your Child? Mothers Talk about Rearing Biracial Children

Posted in Books, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2009-10-13 17:15Z by Steven

Is That Your Child? Mothers Talk about Rearing Biracial Children

Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield)
October 2008
146 pages
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-7391-2763-6
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-7391-2764-3
eBook ISBN: 978-0-7391-3208-1

By Marion Kilson and Florence Ladd

“Is That Your Child?” is a question that countless mothers of biracial children encounter whether they are African American or European American, rearing children today or a generation ago, living in the city or in the suburbs, are upper middle class or lower middle class. Social scientists Marion Kilson and Florence Ladd probe mothers’ responses to this query and other challenges that mothers of biracial children encounter.

Organized into four chapters, the book begins with Kilson and Ladd’s initial interview of one another, continues with an overview of the challenges and rewards of raising biracial children gleaned from their interviews with other mothers, presents profiles of mothers highlighting distinctive individual experiences of biracial parenting, and concludes with suggestions of positive biracial parenting strategies.

This book makes a unique contribution to the growing body of literature by and about biracial Americans. Although in the past twenty years biracial Americans like Rebecca Walker, June Cross, and James McBride have written of their person experiences and scholars like Kathleen Korgen, Maria Root, and Ruth Frankenberg have explored aspects of the biracial experience, none has focused on the experiences of a heterogeneous set of black and white mothers of different generations and socioeconomic circumstances as Kilson and Ladd do.

About the Authors
Marion Kilson is an anthropologist and the author of Claiming Place: Biracial Young Adults of the Post-Civil Rights Era (Bergin & Garvey 2000). Florence Ladd is a psychologist and won the Black Caucus of the American Library Association award for her novel, Sarah’s Psalm (Scribner 1997).

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1: The Back Story of Is That Your Child?
  • Chapter 2: Challenges and Rewards for Mothers of Biracial Children
  • Chapter 3: Profiles of Mothers of Biracial Children
  • Chapter 4: Nurturing Biracial Children: Some Lessons Learned
  • Appendix I: Interracial Marriages in the United States
  • Appendix II: Some Sociological Attributes of Mothers
  • Appendix III: Selected Multiracial Resources
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