Clare Kendry’s “True” Colors: Race and Class Conflict in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2012-05-28 01:37Z by Steven

Clare Kendry’s “True” Colors: Race and Class Conflict in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Volume 15, Number 4 (Autumn, 1992)
pages 1053-1065

Jennifer DeVere Brody, Professor of Drama
Stanford University

Interpretations of Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929) often have failed to explain the complex symbolism of the narrative. Indeed, dismissive or tendentious criticisms of the text have caused it to be eclipsed by Larsen’s “earlier and more intriguing” book, Quicksand (1928). This essay reexamines Passing as a work concerned with the simultaneous representation and construction of race and especially class, within a circumscribed community. As such, my paper contributes to debates within Black feminist criticism about the value of these aspects of identity in relation to the production of black female subjectivities. I contend that the novel’s main characters are neither purely “psychological” beings, as Claudia Tate asserts, nor are they essentially “sexual” creatures, as Deborah McDowell argues. Rather, I read Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry as representatives of different ideologies locked in struggle for dominance.

In her introduction to Passing Deborah McDowell one of the most astute critics of Larsen’s work, states that “many critics have been misled by the novel’s epigraph … [since] it invites the reader to place race at the center of any critical interpretation.” It would appear that McDowell herself has been misled by Passing’s obviously unreliable narrator. So too, McDowell seems to agree with Claudia Tate’s belief that, “Race is peripheral to Passing. It is more a device to sustain the suspense than a compelling social issue.” I disagree with these assertions because it seems to me that the text is “all about race” or rather, the mediation of race in relation to sexuality and class.

McDowell recognizes certain tropes employed by Larsen and, like many other critics, she maintains that Irene Redfield is the primary referent of the novel’s title. Ultimately, however, McDowell is unable to give a full explication of the texf s meaning since she tries to read/uce the text as a tale of latent sexual passion without discussing the key issues of race and class. Thus, while her discussion is certainly valuable, one might also say that it reifies sexuality at the risk of not exploring how sexuality is connected inextricably with other historically produced phenomena such as race and class. In order to sustain her ingenious reading of Passing as a tale that “passes for straight” and sublimates lesbian desire, McDowell misses the more intricate implications addressed by Larsen’s work. The iconography McDowell reads as sexual is simultaneously racial: it also expresses class positionality. For example, the objective correlative envelope used in the first paragraph of the novel signifies not only the “sexual” (McDowell reads it as a “metaphorical vagina”) but also the sender’s race (alien) and class (elite). Thus, my reading emends McDowell’s by insisting on the importance of race and class in Passing.

If race as well as class conflict must occupy a primary position in any discussion of…

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Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana’s Free People of Color

Posted in Anthologies, Books, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2011-04-24 17:27Z by Steven

Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana’s Free People of Color

Louisiana State University Press
August 2000
344 pages
Trim: 6 x 9 , Illustrations: 14 halftones
Paper ISBN-13: 978-0-8071-2601-1

Edited by:

Sybil Kein (born Consuela Marie Moore), Distinguished Professor of English Emerita
University of Michigan

The word Creole evokes a richness rivaled only by the term’s widespread misunderstanding. Now both aspects of this unique people and culture are given thorough, illuminating scrutiny in Creole, a comprehensive, multidisciplinary history of Louisiana’s Creole population. Written by scholars, many of Creole descent, the volume wrangles with the stuff of legend and conjecture while fostering an appreciation for the Creole contribution to the American mosaic.

The collection opens with a historically relevant perspective found in Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson’s 1916 piece “People of Color of Louisiana” and continues with contemporary writings: Joan M. Martin on the history of quadroon balls; Michel Fabre and Creole expatriates in France; Barbara Rosendale Duggal with a debiased view of Marie Laveau; Fehintola Mosadomi and the downtrodden roots of Creole grammar; Anthony G. Barthelemy on skin color and racism as an American legacy; Caroline Senter on Reconstruction poets of political vision; and much more. Violet Harrington Bryan, Lester Sullivan, Jennifer DeVere Brody, Sybil Kein, Mary Gehman, Arthé A. Anthony, and Mary L. Morton offer excellent commentary on topics that range from the lifestyles of free women of color in the nineteenth century to the Afro-Caribbean links to Creole cooking.

By exploring the vibrant yet marginalized culture of the Creole people across time, Creole goes far in diminishing past and present stereotypes of this exuberant segment of our society. A study that necessarily embraces issues of gender, race and color, class, and nationalism, it speaks to the tensions of an increasingly ethnically mixed mainstream America.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
    • 1 People of Color in Louisiana – Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson
    • 2 Marcus Christian’s Treatment of Les Gens de Couloir Libre – Violet Harrington Bryan
    • 3 Plaçage and the Louisiana Gens de Couleur Libre: How Race and Sex Defined the Lifestyles of Free Women of Color – Joan M. Martin
    • 4 Composers of Color of Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The History Behind the Music – Lester Sullivan
    • 5 The Yankee Hugging the Creole: Reading Dion Boucicault’s The OctoroonJennifer DeVere Brody
    • 6 The Use of Louisiana Creole in Southern Literature – Sybil Kein
    • 7 Marie Laveau: The Voodoo Queen Repossessed – Barbara Rosendale Duggal
    • 8 New Orleans Creole Expatriates in France: Romance and Reality – Michel Fabre
    • 9 Visible Means of Support: Businesses, Professions, and Trades of Free People of Color – Mary Gehman
    • 10 The Origin of Louisiana Creole – Fehintola Mosadomi
    • 11 Louisiana Creole Food Culture: Afro-Caribbean Links – Sybil Kein
    • 12 Light, Bright, Damn Near White: Race, the Politics of Genealogy, and the Strange Case of Susie GuilloryAnthony G. Barthelemy
    • 13 Creole Poets on the Verge of a Nation – Caroline Senter
    • 14 “Lost Boundaries”: Racial Passing and Poverty in Segregated New Orleans – Arthé Anthony
    • 15 Creole Culture in the Poetry of Sybil Kein – Mary L. Morton
  • Contributors
  • Index
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Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Arts, Books, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, United States on 2010-05-12 15:29Z by Steven

Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country

Duke University Press
392 pages
7 illustrations, 1 table

Edited by:

Tiya Miles, Professor of American Culture, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Native American Studies
University of Michigan

Sharon Patricia Holland, Associate Professor of English; African & African American Studies
Duke University

Contributors: Joy Harjo, Tiya Miles, Eugene B. Redmond, Jennifer DeVere Brody, Sharon Patricia Holland, Tiffany M. McKinney, David A. Y. O. Chang, Barbara Krauthamer, Melinda Micco, Celia E. Naylor-Ojurongbe, Deborah E. Kanter, Robert Warrior, Virginia Kennedy, Tamara Buffalo, Wendy S. Walters, Robert Keith Collins, Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui, Roberta J. Hill

Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds explores the critically neglected intersection of Native and African American cultures. This interdisciplinary collection combines historical studies of the complex relations between blacks and Indians in Native communities with considerations and examples of various forms of cultural expression that have emerged from their intertwined histories. The contributors include scholars of African American and Native American studies, English, history, anthropology, law, and performance studies, as well as fiction writers, poets, and a visual artist.

Essays range from a close reading of the 1838 memoirs of a black and Native freewoman to an analysis of how Afro-Native intermarriage has impacted the identities and federal government classifications of certain New England Indian tribes. One contributor explores the aftermath of black slavery in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, highlighting issues of culture and citizenship. Another scrutinizes the controversy that followed the 1998 selection of a Miss Navajo Nation who had an African American father. A historian examines the status of Afro-Indians in colonial Mexico, and an ethnographer reflects on oral histories gathered from Afro-Choctaws. Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds includes evocative readings of several of Toni Morrison’s novels, interpretations of plays by African American and First Nations playwrights, an original short story by Roberta J. Hill, and an interview with the Creek poet and musician Joy Harjo. The Native American scholar Robert Warrior develops a theoretical model for comparative work through an analysis of black and Native intellectual production. In his afterword, he reflects on the importance of the critical project advanced by this volume.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword: “Not Recognized by the Tribe” / Sharon P. Holland
  • Preface: Eating out of the Same Pot? / Tiya Miles
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds / Tiya Miles and Sharon Patricia Holland
    1. A Harbor of Sense: An Interview with Joy Harjo / Eugene B. Redmond
    2. An/Other Case of New England Underwriting: Negotiating Race and Property in Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge / Jennifer D. Brody and Sharon P. Holland
    3. Race and Federal Recognition in Native New England / Tiffany M. McKinney
    4. Where Will the Nation Be at Home? Race, Nationalisms, and Emigration Movements in the Creek Nation / David A. Y. O. Chang
    5. In Their “Native Country”: Freedpeople’s Understandings of Culture and Citizenship in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations / Barbara Krauthamer
    6. “Blood and Money”: The Case of Seminole Freedmen and Seminole Indians in Oklahoma / Melinda Micco
    7. “Playing Indian”? The Selection of Radmilla Cody as Miss Navajo Nation, 1997-1998 / Celia E. Naylor
    8. “Their Hair was Curly”: Afro-Mexicans in Indian Villages, Central Mexico, 1700-1820 / Deborah E. Kanter
    9. Lone Wolf and DuBois for a New Century: Intersections of Native American and African American Literatures / Robert Warrior
    10. Native Americans, African Americans, and the Space That Is America: Indian Presence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison / Virginia Kennedy
    11. Knowing All of My Names / Tamara Buffalo
    12. After the Death of the Last: Performance as History in Monique Mojica’s Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots / Wendy S. Walter
    13. Katimih o Sa Chata Kiyou (Why Am I Not Choctaw)? Race in the Lived Experiences of Two Black Choctaw Mixed-Bloods / Robert Keith Collins
    14. From Ocean to o-Shen: Reggae Rap, and Hip Hop in Hawai’i / Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui
    15. Heartbreak / Roberta J. Hill
  • Afterword / Robert Warrior
  • References
  • Contributors
  • Index
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Meet the New Faculty: Jennifer Brody

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2010-02-02 18:24Z by Steven

Meet the New Faculty: Jennifer Brody

Duke Today
The Duke Community’s Daily News and Information Resource
Duke University

Andrea Fereshteh

Exploring the intersection of race, gender and art

Durham, North Carolina — From a very early age, Jennifer Brody was curious about the intersection of art, gender and race. She recalls a time as a young girl when she drew a picture of herself and colored her skin in brown.

“I told my mother that was the color I really was, even though she couldn’t see it,” says the fair-skinned Brody, the newest member of Duke’s African and African American Studies department. “As a young child, I had a conscious perception of how I might move through the world and what kinds of limitations and possibilities my specific location might engender.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Lecture by Professor Jennifer DeVere Brody

Posted in Anthropology, Live Events, Media Archive, United States on 2009-10-13 18:57Z by Steven

Lecture by Professor Jennifer DeVere Brody

Theater Dance & Performance Studies
University of California at Berkeley
Durham Studio Theater (Dwinelle Hall)
Thursday, 2010-02-18 16:00 PST (Local Time)

Sponsor: Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies

Jennifer DeVere Brody is a Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University where she teaches cultural and performance studies, gender and sexuality as well as film and literary studies. She is the author of Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity and Victorian Culture (Duke University Press, 1998) and Punctuation: Art, Politics and Play (Duke University Press, 2008). Her work has been supported by a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Ford Foundation, a grant from the British Society for Theatre Research and was recognized by the Monette/Horwitz Trust for Independent Research to combat homophobia. Her research on race, visual culture and African American Literature has appeared in journals such as Genders, Signs, Callaloo, Theatre Journal, Text and Performance Quarterly and numerous edited volumes. Before joining the faculty at Duke, Professor Brody was the Weinberg College Board of Visitors Research and Teaching Professor at Northwestern University. She was also the President of the Women and Theatre Program, a division of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. She serves on several boards and works with MLA, ASA, and ATHE.

Attendance restrictions: Free admission. Seating is limited. No advance reservations available.
Event Contact:, 510-642-8268

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Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United Kingdom, Women on 2009-10-12 23:07Z by Steven

Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture

Duke University Press
272 pages
13 b&w photographs
Cloth ISBN: 0-8223-2105-X, ISBN13: 978-0-8223-2105-7
Paperback ISBN: 0-8223-2120-3, ISBN13 978-0-8223-2120-0

Jennifer DeVere Brody, Professor, African and African American Studies
Duke University

Using black feminist theory and African American studies to read Victorian culture, Impossible Purities looks at the construction of “Englishness” as white, masculine, and pure and “Americanness” as black, feminine, and impure. Brody’s readings of Victorian novels, plays, paintings, and science fiction reveal the impossibility of purity and the inevitability of hybridity in representations of ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and race. She amasses a considerable amount of evidence to show that Victorian culture was bound inextricably to various forms and figures of blackness.

Opening with a reading of Daniel Defoe’s “A True-Born Englishman,” which posits the mixed origins of English identity, Brody goes on to analyze mulattas typified by Rhoda Swartz in William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, whose mixed-race status reveals the “unseemly origins of English imperial power.” Examining Victorian stage productions from blackface minstrel shows to performances of The Octoroon and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she explains how such productions depended upon feminized, “black” figures in order to reproduce Englishmen as masculine white subjects. She also discusses H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau in the context of debates about the “new woman,” slavery, and fears of the monstrous degeneration of English gentleman. Impossible Purities concludes with a discussion of Bram Stoker’s novella, “The Lair of the White Worm,” which brings together the book’s concerns with changing racial representations on both sides of the Atlantic.

This book will be of interest to scholars in Victorian studies, literary theory, African American studies, and cultural criticism.

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