Dorothy Roberts, “Fatal Invention: The New Biopolitics of Race.”

Posted in Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Videos on 2014-11-28 23:08Z by Steven

Dorothy Roberts, “Fatal Invention: The New Biopolitics of Race.”

McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario, L8S4L9, Canada

Public Lecture: Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology at UPenn, came to McMaster University on October 23, 2014 to give a lecture titled “Fatal Invention: The New Biopolitics of Race.”

In her talk, Roberts examined the myth of the biological concept of race – revived by purportedly cutting-edge science, race-specific drugs, genetic testing, and DNA databases – continues to undermine a just society and promote inequality in a supposedly “post-racial” era.

Presented by the Bourns Lectureship in Bioethics and the McMaster Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest.

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Beyond the Pale: Unsettling “Race” and Womanhood in the Novels of Harper, Hopkins, Fauset and Larsen

Posted in Dissertations, Law, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-03-28 01:44Z by Steven

Beyond the Pale: Unsettling “Race” and Womanhood in the Novels of Harper, Hopkins, Fauset and Larsen

McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
December 1996
303 pages

Teresa Christine Zackodnik, Professor of English
University of Alberta, Canada

A thesis Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor Of Philosophy

This dissertation proposes that writers like Frances Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen “talk out both sides” of their mouths, parodying the values of the black bourgeoisie, racialized notions of womanhood, and understandings of racial difference popular at the turn into the twentieth century. Using complex modes of address, these authors have written novels that in all likelihood were read in different directions by their white and African American readerships. I contend that these narratives would have placated their white readership with familiar forms, while simultaneously forging a sense of community with their African American readers in novels of a highly political nature which questioned and subverted definitions of womanhood and “race”. These “tragic mulatta” and “passing” novels, published from 1892 to 1931 are contextualized with an analysis of three cultural efforts to consolidate turn-of-the-century American beliefs regarding race and gender: legal statutes codifying racial identities, theories of racial difference, and notions of gender identity disseminated through the cult of domesticity. Because the mulatto is neither white nor black, her ambivalent identity and experience make parody a significant trope with which these authors interrogate identity. In order to “pass” for “true women” or for white, these mulatto characters utilize and parody the very qualities designed to ensure the “purity” of whiteness and womanhood. This study argues that such parodies access an African American tradition of parodic performance that played to and on white notions of “blackness” and constructions of white identity. Moving from a consideration of such “signifyin(g)” acts as a challenge to gender and racial identities represented by heroines who pass for “true women,” the study concludes with a consideration of how race, as a political category of description, is destabilized through the representation of heroines who choose to pass for white.


  • CHAPTER 1: Codifying and Quantifying “Race” in Turn-of-the-Century America
  • CHAPTER 2: Unsettling “Race” and Womanhood in Tum-of-the-Century America: Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy and Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces
  • CHAPTER 3: Policing the Bounds of Race: Jessie Fauset’s The Chinaberry Tree and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand
  • CHAPTER 4: Transgressions and Excess: Passing as Parodic Performance in Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun and Nella Larsen’s Passing
  • CONCLUSION: New Trajectories of Self-Definition

Read the entire thesis here.

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Mixed bodies, separate races: The trope of the “(tragic) mulatto” in twentieth-century African literature

Posted in Africa, Canada, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2010-09-01 17:33Z by Steven

Mixed bodies, separate races: The trope of the “(tragic) mulatto” in twentieth-century African literature

McMaster University (Canada)
251 pages
AAT NR57539

Diana Adesola Mafe, Assistant Professor of English
Denison University

This dissertation proposes that the American literary trope of the “tragic mulatto” has both roots and resonances in sub-Saharan Africa. The concept of the mulatto, a person of mixed black and white heritage, as a tragic, ambiguous Other evolved primarily from nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American fiction. I argue, however, that the mulatto occupies a similarly vexed discursive space in the historiography of sub-Saharan Africa and contemporary African literature. After contextualizing the American trope through such postbellum novels as James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928), I track the emergence of specific racially mixed populations in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of trade, migration, and colonialism. My historical survey of such mixed race communities as the Afro-Portuguese lançados of Senegambia and the Coloured people of South Africa brings to light the remarkable currency of (tragic) mulatto stereotypes across time and space. Having established the circulation of mulatto stereotypes in (pre-)colonial sub-Saharan Africa, I consider how two contemporary mixed race South African writers engage with such stereotypes in their work. This study argues that twentieth-century Coloured writers Bessie Head and Arthur Nortje realize the trope of tragic mixedness in their respective lives and writing. Head and Nortje reflect the rigid apartheid ideology of their native South Africa and assign universality to the “plight” of being mixed race in a segregationist society. But both writers also use their (gendered) identities as “tragically mixed” to challenge the policed racial categories of apartheid, subverting fixity through, paradoxical performances of Self. I conclude my study in the post-civil rights and post-apartheid arena of the twenty-first century, using my own experiences as an African “mulatta” and the current field of mixed race studies to illustrate how paradox itself is indispensable to progressive readings and imaginings of mixed race identity.

Table of Contents

  • CHAPTER ONE: The Evolution of the “Tragic Mulatto” Trope in American Literature: An Introduction
  • CHAPTER TWO: The White Man’s “Other” Burden: (Pre-)Colonial Race Mixing in the “Dark Continent”
  • CHAPTER THREE: A Mulatta in Motabeng: Bessie Head’s A Question of Power as African Tragic Mulatta Fiction
  • CHAPTER FOUR: A Portrait of the (Tortured) Artist as a Young (Coloured) Man:Reading Arthur Nortje
  • CHAPTER FIVE: The Premise/Promise of Paradox: Concluding Theories and Reflections from a New Millennium “Mulatta”

Purchase the dissertation here.

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