Review of Spencer, Jon Michael, The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-01-09 13:05Z by Steven

Review of Spencer, Jon Michael, The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America

H-Net Reviews
January 1998

Richard L. Hughes

The Census, Race, and…

Amid a racial climate which includes a presidential advisory board on race and a discussion of slavery within the popular media, there lies an increasingly prominent dialogue on race in American culture. As the United States nears its next federal census in the year 2000, many Americans have expressed dissatisfaction with the accuracy of the current four categories of white, black, Asian and Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native. Some observers have supported the addition of a “multiracial” category where others, such as historian Orlando Patterson, have criticized the continued existence of racial categories on the census as a “scientifically meaningless” and “politically dangerous” “Race Trap.”[1]

One of the reasons why this debate resonates with so many Americans is that the discussion of race and public policy includes both the persistent belief that race is a fixed biological factor and the emerging notion of many scholars and policymakers that race is a fluid historical and sociopolitical construct. Acknowledging both perspectives, Jon Michael Spencer’s The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America is the latest scholarly contribution to this ongoing debate concerning the census and the possible use of the category “multiracial.” Borrowing both the title and analytical framework from Joel Williamson’s New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States (1980), which focused on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Spencer offers a cautionary tale about a “multiracial” category in the contemporary United States.[2] He contends that without a “frank assessment of race” and the end of racism, such a category would be “politically naive” and even “suicidal” to black Americans (pp. 148,155).

While Spencer shares Williamson’s astute perspective that the status of “mulattoes” or, to use Spencer’s term, “multiracial” Americans, is an instructive index for race relations, his argument about the dangers of a new government-sanctioned racial category centers on a “cross-cultural analysis” of multiracial Americans and the coloured people of South Africa (p. 11). Building on the comparative work of historian George Fredrickson, the writings of coloured intellectuals such as Richard Van der Ross and Allan Boesak, and interviews with other “coloured nationalists,” Spencer concludes that the creation of a coloured “middle status” under apartheid served to divide and oppress nonwhites by creating a buffer zone between white elites and the black masses (pp. xiii, 91).[3] The result was the continued oppression of South African blacks and a marginal status for coloured South Africans. Cognizant of the centrality of issues of personal identity in the current American debate, Spencer adds that the middle status robbed coloureds of the identity, esteem, and culture only possible through a unified black consciousness movement in more recent South Africa. Spencer’s valuable contribution lies in his comparative analysis in which the tragedy of South African apartheid underscores the possible dangers in careless additions to America’s racial landscape…

Read the entire review here.

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Jean Toomer and Cane: “Mixed-Blood” Impossibilities

Posted in Arts, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2010-02-03 03:46Z by Steven

Jean Toomer and Cane: “Mixed-Blood” Impossibilities

Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
Volume 64, Number 4, Winter 2008
E-ISSN: 1558-9595, Print ISSN: 0004-1610
DOI: 10.1353/arq.0.0025

Gino Michael Pellegrini, Adjunct Assistant Professor of English
Pierce College, Woodland Hills, California

Even though Jean Toomer was black and white, his fascination with miscegenation in his hybrid short-story cycle Cane (1923) was puzzling and untimely. Joel Williamson writes that by 1915 the one-drop rule had been accepted by both blacks and whites in the North and South (109). Hence, mixed bloods with visible traces of blackness, including members of the former mulatto elite, would be judged as black by both blacks and whites. At best, they could be “in some way, satisfyingly black”. In this article, I put forward a reading of Toomer and Cane that explains his fascination with miscegenation in terms of his hope for what was possible in America. Specifically, his unique and solitary position vis-à-vis the New Negro in Black Washington and the Young American in White Manhattan provided him with the reasons, models, and ideals to believe that, in Cane, he could effectively voice and sketch out a mixed race sensibility and community that would be grasped and appreciated by the American public. However, in the process of writing Cane, he came face to face with the rigid categories and limits of the black-white color line in the Jim Crow era, which rendered unintelligible and unsustainable in the culture at large the mixed race sensibility and community he sought to express and develop. In other words, we see in Cane the ultimately futile clash of Toomer’s Young American ideals with the socio-political realities of the black-white color line. Cane reveals the pain and frustration of this clash through muffled and ambivalent narrative voices, and through sketches of unacknowledged, crippled, misunderstood, and lost mixed race protagonists…

Read or purchase the article here.

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New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2009-11-02 01:51Z by Steven

New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States

Louisiana State University Press
240 pages
6 x 9
Paper ISBN-13: 978-0-8071-2035-4

Joel Williamson, Lineberger Professor in the Humanities
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

New People is an insightful historical analysis of the miscegenation of American whites and blacks from colonial times to the present, of the “new people” produced by these interracial relationships, and of the myriad ways in which miscegenation has affected our national culture. Because the majority of American blacks are in fact of mixed ancestry, and because mulattoes and pure blacks ultimately combined their cultural heritages, what begins in the colonial period as mulatto history and culture ends in the twentieth century as black history and culture. Thus, understanding the history of the mulatto becomes one way of understanding something of the experience of the African American.

Williamson traces the fragile lines of color and caste that have separated mulattoes, blacks, and whites throughout history and speculates on the effect that the increasing ambiguity of those lines will have on the future of American society.

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