“Suspect-Proof”? Paranoia, Suspicious Reading, and the Racial Passing Narrative

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2022-03-20 02:02Z by Steven

“Suspect-Proof”? Paranoia, Suspicious Reading, and the Racial Passing Narrative

American Literary History
Volume 34, Issue 1, Spring 2022
pages 272–282
DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajab089

Sinéad Moynihan, Associate Professor of English
University of Exeter

This short essay considers racial passing narratives in relation to the “postcritical turn,” highlighting the proliferating reappraisals of the practices of “suspicious” or “symptomatic” reading in literary studies and the extent to which passing narratives offer an opportunity to test some of the claims of this body of scholarship. The utility of the passing narrative for this critical project lies in its persistent, self-conscious foregrounding of reading practices. Revisiting passing narratives in light of postcritique reveals that symptomatic reading is not a monolithic practice; rather, there are multiple ways of reading suspiciously. Moreover, and more importantly, passing narratives disclose that what has now become an orthodoxy in postcritique—that attitudes such as “paranoia,” “suspicion,” and “vigilance” profoundly limit “the thickness and richness of our aesthetic attachments”—ignores contexts, like that of a passer in a white supremacist society, in which such strategies are not a choice but are essential for survival (Felski 17). The key question posed herein is: What forms of privilege enable a reader to relinquish her attachment to paranoia, suspicion, and vigilance; to opt for openness rather than guardedness, submission rather than aggression (21)? Narratives of racial passing provide one answer to that question.

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Do Not Pass

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-12-03 02:50Z by Steven

Do Not Pass

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times


This may come as a shock to you, especially if you look at whiteness as a boon and blackness as a burden, but I have never once wished to be white. If a fairy godfather came to me and said I could switch races, I’d open the window and make him use it. I think 99 percent of black people would do the same. That’s not a knock on whiteness — it seems to be working out well for many people — it’s that I love blackness, even if passing would allow me to unhook myself from the heavy anchor called racism. It’s cool: I’ve learned how to be as quick as a Br’er Rabbit, even with the anchor attached. Still, you might argue, wouldn’t switching from a disadvantaged race to the dominant one be as liberating as a winning lottery ticket? Well, for those who’ve been able to complete the sociopolitical fantasy trip and become racial transvestites, it usually ends badly.

The character who jumps the color line is a fascinating American rogue, a self-­constructed person, a trickster who’s discovered that race is not an unscalable wall but a chain-link fence with holes big enough for some people to slip through. But once they cross the line, they’re fugitives hiding in plain sight, on the lam from themselves and their histories, cut off from their families, unchained from racism but chained to a secret whose revelation would bring an end to a life built on lies and a stolen place in the dominant culture. All that makes racial shape-shifters a fantastic opportunity for a writer: they’ve got Huck Finn’s independence, an identity in turmoil, a secret that could destroy their world, a refusal to be defined by others and a vantage on race that very few ever get to have. And in the story of a racial fugitive, there’s always a ticking bomb. It’s a corollary of the literary law that if you put a loaded rifle onstage, it has to go off: if a character shifts races, eventually he’ll be unmasked, and usually it’s painful physically or psychically or both…

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Trauma and Race: A Lacanian Study of African American Racial Identity

Posted in Books, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Philosophy, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2016-02-03 03:26Z by Steven

Trauma and Race: A Lacanian Study of African American Racial Identity

Baylor University Press
February 2016
190 pages
9in x 6in
Hardback ISBN: 9781602587342

Sheldon George, Professor of English
Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts

African American identity is racialized. And this racialized identity has animated and shaped political resistance to racism. Hidden, though, are the psychological implications of rooting identity in race, especially because American history is inseparable from the trauma of slavery.

In Trauma and Race author Sheldon George begins with the fact that African American racial identity is shaped by factors both historical and psychical. Employing the work of Jacques Lacan, George demonstrates how slavery is a psychic event repeated through the agencies of racism and inscribed in racial identity itself. The trauma of this past confronts the psychic lack that African American racial identity both conceals and traumatically unveils for the African American subject.

Trauma and Race investigates the vexed, ambivalent attachment of African Americans to their racial identity, exploring the ways in which such attachment is driven by traumatic, psychical urgencies that often compound or even exceed the political exigencies called forth by racism.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Race Today, or Alterity and Jouissance
  • 1. Race and Slavery: Theorizing Agencies beyond the Symbolic
  • 2. Conserving Race, Conserving Trauma: The Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois
  • 3. Approaching the Thing of Slavery: Toni Morrison’s Beloved
  • 4. The Oedipal Complex and the Mythic Structure of Race: Ellison’s Juneteenth and Invisible Man
  • Conclusion: Beyond Race, or The Exaltation of Personality
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English 4640G: Construction of Racial Identity in Post Civil War America

Posted in Course Offerings, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-16 15:29Z by Steven

English 4640G: Construction of Racial Identity in Post Civil War America

Huron University College at Western University
London, Ontario, Canada
Winter 2013

Neil Brooks, Associate Professor, English

Course Description: Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination argues that the canonical American literary tradition can only be understood after recognizing the presence of an often silenced, but almost ubiquitous Africanist persona. This persona served as a negative stereotype against which the dominant American identity could define itself. However, even Morrison’s groundbreaking work re-inscribes the binary between Black and White in America and fails to theorize adequately the ways in which bi-racial and multi-racial identity have complicated the ideologies she discusses. This course will begin with Morrison’s analysis and then look at several novels and stories which the explore the instability of any color line between Black and White in America.

Course Objectives: This course addresses the examination of how racial identity, particularly mixed race identity, is constructed in America through close engagement with selected literary works written by Americans since the end of the Civil War. By the end of the course students should have improved their critical reading and writing in ways which will enable their success in a wide variety of University courses. Further, students will have learned American historical background, feminist literary theory, patterns of racial construction, theories of performativity, and skills in analyzing artistic achievement within the works. Finally, the course aims to provide the framework for applying these skills and knowledge in engaging with the narratives students will encounter and create outside the classroom.

Course Material:

For more information, click here.

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By Custom and By Law: Black Folklore and Racial Representation at the Birth of Jim Crow

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-02-13 18:53Z by Steven

By Custom and By Law: Black Folklore and Racial Representation at the Birth of Jim Crow

University of Maryland, College Park
222 pages

Shirley C. Moody

Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Maryland, College Park in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

By Custom and By Law: Black Folklore and Racial Representation at the Birth of Jim Crow establishes folklore as a contested site in the construction of racial identity during the emergence and solidification of legalized racial segregation at the end of the nineteenth century. By examining institutional interests, popular culture performances, and political rhetoric, I demonstrate how representations of black folklore played a seminal role in perpetuating a public discourse of racial difference. Alternately, my work introduces new scholarship examining the counter-narratives posed by nineteenthcentury African American scholars, writers and folklorists who employed folklore in their various academic works and artistic productions as a vehicle to expose
and critique post-Reconstruction racial hierarchies.

In chapter one I reveal how constructions of black folklore in ante- and post-bellum popular culture intersected with emergent white folklore studies to provide a taxonomy for codifying racial difference, while simultaneously designating folklore as the medium through which racial representation would be debated. Chapter two recovers the important, but virtually unacknowledged role of African American folklorists in brokering public and academic access to black folk culture and in providing an alternative to the racist constructions of black folklore prevalent in the post-Reconstruction era. Chapter three re-contextualizes Charles Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman as both a response to the larger national discourse surrounding black folklore and also as part of a concerted effort among black intellectuals to first expose how perceptions of racial realities were constructed through representations of black folklore, and then to redefine the role of black folklore in African American cultural and literary works.

In sum, my dissertation provides a cultural history of a formative moment in the construction of a late nineteenth century racialized discourse that placed representations of black folklore at its center. My research both recovers the neglected role of early black folklorists and writers in studying and interpreting black cultural traditions and asserts the profound significance of representations of black folklore in negotiating the perceptions and practices that have worked to define US racial ideologies in the nineteenth century and beyond.


  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter I: Folklore at the Birth of Jim Crow
  • Chapter II: The Hampton Folklore Society and The Crafting of a Black Folk Aesthetic
  • Chapter III: Conjure Justice: Charles Chesnutt and the Stolen Voice
  • Conclusion: “We Don’t Remember Enough:” Customary Folklore in Ralph Ellison’s “Flying Home”
  • Bibliography


  • 1. Thomas Rice as Jim Crow (circa 1830)
  • 2. The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels (Boston, 1843)
  • 3. Oliver Scott’s “Refined Negro Minstrels” (1898)
  • 4. “The Old Folks at Home”
  • 5. “A Hampton Graduate at Home”
  • 6. “The Spirit of Hampton”

From page 64:

In a society fraught with racial tensions it would be difficult to overestimate the impact of the popular representations of the black folk, coupled with the intellectual and “scientific” assessments of black folklore, on turn of the century racial politics. As many cultural commentators, past and present, have observed, demarcating racial difference in light of the increasing biological, social and cultural miscegenation came with a host of attendant difficulties. The judges and legislatures who constructed and supported the “one drop rule” recognized the difficulty of visually distinguishing race, realizing that racial identification had to move beyond physical markers. But if discerning race based on physical appearance was difficult, identifying the color of a person’s blood presented an obvious paradox. This dilemma required new indicators of racial identity, and those indicators were found in attention to what were, ostensibly, racially differentiated behaviors, i.e. folk customs. There was an insistence, for example, that blacks could not imitate whites; that the behavioral differences, if not inherent, were so ingrained that they had become “spontaneous” and “natural.” Clearly, dominant interpretations of black minstrelsy as inherent and authentic worked to legitimize segregationist agendas by supplying examples of the kinds of uncivilized behaviors which blacks supposedly exhibited as vastly different from civilized white society.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Black and White Both Cast Shadows: Unconventional Permutations of Racial Passing in African American and American Literature

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-10-12 20:55Z by Steven

Black and White Both Cast Shadows: Unconventional Permutations of Racial Passing in African American and American Literature

University of Arizona
220 pages

Derek Adams

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY In the Graduate College THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

This dissertation proposes to build upon a critical tradition that explores the formation of racial subjectivity in narratives of passing in African-American and American literature. It adds to recent scholarship on passing narratives which seeks a more comprehensive understanding of the connections between the performance of racial norms and contemporary conceptions of “race” and racial categorization. But rather than focusing entirely on the conventional mulatta/o performs whiteness plot device at work in passing literature, a device that reinforces the desirability of heteronormative whiteness, I am interested in assessing how performances of a variety of racial norms challenges this desirability. Selected literary fiction from Herman Melville, Mary White Ovington, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and ZZ Packer provides a rich opportunity for analyzing these unconventional performances. Formulating a theory of “black-passing” that decenters whiteness as the passer’s object of desire, this project assesses how the works of these authors broadens the framework of the discourse on racial performance in revelatory ways. Racial passing will get measured in relation to the political consequences engendered by the transgression of racial boundaries, emphasizing how the nature of acts of passing varies according to the way hegemonic society dictates racial enfranchisement. Passing will be situated in the context of various modes of literary representation—realism, naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism—that register subjectivity. The project will also explore in greater detail the changing nature of acts of passing across gendered, spatial, and temporal boundaries.



Read the entire dissertation here.

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Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, 1st Edition

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Law, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Social Science, United States, Women on 2012-02-06 05:26Z by Steven

Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, 1st Edition

Cengage Learning
464 pages
Paperback ISBN-10: 0534573932  ISBN-13: 9780534573935

Edited by:

James Montmarquet, Professor of Philosophy
Tennessee State University

William Hardy, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion
Tennessee State University

This anthology provides the instructor with a sufficient quantity, breadth, and diversity of materials to be the sole text for a course on African-American philosophy. It includes both classic and more contemporary readings by both professional philosophers and other people with philosophically intriguing viewpoints. The material provided is diverse, yet also contains certain themes which instructors can effectively employ to achieve the element of unity. One such theme, the debate of the “nationalist” focus on blackness vs. the many critics of this focus, runs through a great number of issues and readings.

Table of Contents

  • Preface.
  • Introduction.
    • 1. W.E.B. DuBois: From The Souls of Black Folk.
    • 2. Molefi K. Asante: Racism, Consciousness, and Afrocentricity.
    • 3. Kwame Anthony Appiah: Racisms.
    • 4. J. L. A. Garcia: The Heart of Racisms. Contemporary Issue: Views on “Mixed Race”.
    • 5. Naomi Zack: Mixed Black and White Race and Public Policy.
    • 6. Lewis R. Gordon: Race, Biraciality, and Mixed Race-In Theory.
    • 7. Martin R. Delaney: The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored Peoples of the United States.
    • 8. Frederick Douglass: The Future of the Negro, The Future of the Colored Race, The Nation’s Problem, and On Colonization.
    • 9. Marcus Garvey: From Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.
    • 10. Maulana Karenga: The Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles): Their Meaning and Message.
    • 11. Molefi K. Asante: The Afrocentric Idea in Education.
    • 12. Cornel West: The Four Traditions of Response. Contemporary Issue: “Ebonics”.
    • 13. Geneva Smitherman: Black English/Ebonics: What it Be Like?
    • 14. Milton Baxter: Educating Teachers about Educating the Oppressed. Feminism, Womanism, and Gender Relations.
    • 15. Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?
    • 16. Patricia Hill Collins: The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought.
    • 17. bell hooks: Reflections on Race and Sex.
    • 18. Angela P. Harris: Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory.
    • 19. Charles W. Mills: Do Black Men Have a Moral Duty to Marry Black Women? Contemporary Issue: Women’s Rights and Black Nationalism.
    • 20. E. Francis White: Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse, and African American Nationalism.
    • 21. Amiri Baraka: Black Woman. Violence, Liberation, and Social Justice.
    • 22. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
    • 23. Malcolm X: Message to the Grass Roots.
    • 24. Howard McGary: Psychological Violence, Physical Violence, and Racial Oppression.
    • 25. Laurence M. Thomas: Group Autonomy and Narrative Identity. Contemporary Issue: Affirmative Action.
    • 26. Bernard Boxill: Affirmative Action.
    • 27. Shelby Steele: Affirmative Action. Ethics and Value Theory.
    • 28. Alain Locke: Values and Imperatives.
    • 29. Michele M. Moody-Adams: Race, Class, and the Social Construction of Self-Respect.
    • 30. Laurence M. Thomas: Friendship.
    • 31. Cornel West: Nihilism in Black America.
    • 32. Katie G. Cannon: Unctuousness as a Virtue: According to the Life of Zora Neale Hurston. Contemporary Issue: A Classic Question of Values, Rights, and Education.
    • 33. Booker T. Washington: Atlanta Exposition Address.
    • 34. W.E.B. DuBois: The Talented Tenth.
    • 35. Patricia J. Williams: Alchemical Notes: Reconstructing Ideals from Deconstructed Rights.
    • 36. Regina Austin: Sapphire Bound!
    • 37. Derrick Bell: Racial Realism-After We’re Gone: Prudent Speculations on America in a Post-Racial Epoch.
    • 38. John Arthur: Critical Race Theory: A Critique. Contemporary Issue: Racist Hate Speech.
    • 39. Charles Lawrence and Gerald Gunther: Prohibiting Racist Speech: A Debate. Aesthetics.
    • 40. James Baldwin: Everybody’s Protest Novel.
    • 41. Larry Neal: The Black Arts Movement.
    • 42. Angela Y. Davis: Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”: Music and Social Consciousness.
    • 43. Ralph Ellison: Blues People. Contemporary Issue: Rap Music.
    • 44. Crispin Sartwell: Rap Music and the Uses of Stereotype.
    • 45. Kimberle Crenshaw: Beyond Racism and Misogyny: Black Feminism and 2 Live Crew. Philosophy and Theology.
    • 46. David Walker: David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United stated.
    • 47. James H. Cone: God and Black Theology.
    • 48. Victor Anderso: Ontological Blackness in Theology.
    • 49. Anthony Pinn: Alternative Perspectives and Critiques. Contemporary Issue: Womanist Theology and the Traditionalist Black Church.
    • 50. Cheryl J. Sanders: Christian Ethics and Theology in a Womanist Perspective.
    • 51. Delores Williams: Womanist Reflections on “the Black Church,” the African-American Denominational Churches and the Universal Hagar’s Spiritual Church.
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Passing, segregation, and assimilation: How Nella Larsen changed the “Passing” novel

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2011-12-19 00:06Z by Steven

Passing, segregation, and assimilation: How Nella Larsen changed the “Passing” novel

University of Texas, El Paso
December 2010
105 pages
Publication Number: AAT 1483825
ISBN: 9781124390468

Vivian Maguire

A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at El Paso in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of MASTER OF ARTS Department of English

In 1929, Nella Larsen wrote Passing, a novel that delves into the lives of two African-American women living in segregated society. Passing portrays the reunion of two childhood friends, Clare Kendry and Irene Westover. The relationship between Irene and Clare is at first one of fascination, as the two have lifestyles that intrigue one another. Things quickly start to change however, when Irene concludes that Clare and her husband Brian are having an affair. Irene’s suspicious attitudes toward Clare become hostile and she is more determined than ever to prevent Clare from joining her social circle and perhaps, from taking her place in black society. The novel takes an unexpected turn with a confrontation between John Bellew and Clare. She mysteriously falls to her death through an open window with Irene standing nearby. Clare’s demise is further muddled with a plethora of thoughts that run through Irene’s mind at the time, making her the lead suspect in Clare’s sudden death. Clare’s death is never resolved, leaving that event, like many others in the novel, open for interpretation. Irene, who prides herself on her honesty, has the most befuddled interpretation of how Clare died at the end of the story.

What makes Passing such an extraordinary novel is not only that it avoids the traditional conventions of the passing novel, which are typically concerned with the dire effects of leaving one’s race behind, but it calls those conventions into question. Clare does not redeem herself by returning to the black community; she dies, and possibly at the hands of a woman who was supposed to support her according to racial laws. The reader is compelled to sympathize with Clare while wondering what is wrong with Irene. The answer to that question is of course that Irene subscribes to the very ideas about race and ethics that the majority of Americans were invested in at that time. These racial edicts became far more pressing than the lives of individuals themselves, which Larsen recognized and set out to challenge.

Larsen’s Passing is important because it captures the subtlety and nuance of race relations and identity at this point in American history in a way that other novels of the time failed to do. Larsen did this by using the established genre of the passing novel to create a depiction that draws the reader’s focus to a point deeper than the act of passing itself, and directs it toward the more difficult underlying questions about race relations and racial identity. In the next chapter I will look at the social environment that surrounded the passing phenomenon. I will discuss what social analysts and early authors of passing texts identified as motivations behind passing and examine what Nella Larsen felt actually led individuals to do so. Ultimately I will address what Nella Larsen argues all along: individuals cannot fit into social roles designated by racial categories, and the resulting tension leads to unwarranted racial violence.

In my second chapter, I will address two authors who influenced Nella Larsen to change the traditional passing novel. I will describe how one author, Charles Chesnutt, inspired Larsen to change the traditional passing figure in order to demonstrate that the race problem was not in passing, but adhering to racial constructs. The second author, James Weldon Johnson, inspired Larsen with his satirical take on passing, and motivated her to further challenge the racial restrictions on American society.

In chapter three, I will explore how Larsen uses mirrors, an unreliable narrator, and ambiguous situations to comment on the futile and dangerous affect segregation and assimilation had on American culture. Her use of an untrustworthy, but racially loyal heroine helped to reveal the pitfalls in allowing an entire civilization to be divided by racial and social roles. Finally, I will look at two authors who succeeded Larsen, adopting her position on Americans’ dependency on racial and social roles, and what is lost in succumbing to assimilation. The first author I will discuss, Ralph Ellison, writes a novel that seemingly is not about passing at all, yet his exploration of assimilation illustrates that there is little difference between passing and assimilation to meet social expectations when both require performance and the severing of one’s identity. The second author, Danzy Senna, directly addresses both assimilation and passing as the same with a heroine that passes and assimilates at different intervals in order to avoid discrimination. Neither author offers a solution to the passing problem. Their message resembles Larsen’s in that though race is imagined, society’s dependence on racial divisions is not. To live separately from race is difficult, but possible, and worthwhile in the search for identity.

Table of Contents

  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Crossing the Line: Nella Larsen’s Take on Transcending Racial Boundaries
  • Shroud of Ethics: Nella Larsen and the Traditional Passing Novel
  • Mirror on the Wall: What Nella Larsen’s Ambiguous Novel Reveals About Passing
  • Passing in Time: Nella Larsen’s Impact on the Passing Novel
  • Epilogue
  • Endnotes
  • Works Cited
  • Curriculum Vita


In 1892, Homer Plessy, a man who was seven-eighths white and one-eighth black, was forcibly removed and then jailed for sitting in the whites-only section of a railroad car in Louisiana. Plessy disputed these events in the Supreme Court in 1896, where he argued that his black ancestry was imperceptible, and that he was by all definitions a white person. The Supreme Court ruled that Plessy’s exclusion from the white railroad car was not a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because while the amendment was created to ensure that all men are treated equally, it was never intended to eliminate social distinctions based on color.

However little a percentage of his ancestry was black, it was that percentage that mattered. Despite Plessy’s white appearance, the state of Louisiana viewed him as black and treated him accordingly, illustrating the illogicality of racial lines and the laws created to guard them. This left individuals who, like Plessy, were visibly white, but by definition still black, to either accept their position in society as inferior or to escape such oppressive markers by passing for white.

In 1929, Nella Larsen wrote Passing, a novel that delves into the lives of two African-American women living in segregated society. Passing portrays the reunion of two childhood friends, Clare Kendry and Irene Westover. The two had lost touch when Clare’s father died and Clare was forced to move in with her two white and racist aunts. When they meet again, Irene is living in Harlem with her two children and her husband, who practices medicine. Clare has married a successful businessman, John Bellew. Clare’s husband however, is a white racist who is unaware that Clare is in fact black. At first glance, the title Passing appears to refer to the lifestyle that Clare has chosen. However, she decides early in the novel that she would like to rejoin black society and no longer cares for racial pretenses. Irene, who Clare has adopted as her guide into the black community, treats Clare with civility. Yet all the while, she is resentful of Clare’s cavalier attitude and wishes to prevent her reentry into the black community. In the novel, Irene’s identity will come into question, as she wears a particular visage for society while masking her true thoughts and feelings…

Purchase the thesis here.

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Controversy: Race and Sexuality on the American Frontier (FRO 100.023)

Posted in Barack Obama, Course Offerings, Gay & Lesbian, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2011-05-01 04:12Z by Steven

Controversy: Race and Sexuality on the American Frontier (FRO 100.023)

Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland

Angelo Robinson, Associate Professor of English

“Am I Black or White? Am I Straight or Gay? CONTROVERSY?”  Since its founding, and long before recording artist Prince penned these lyrics in the 1980s, America has been a space and a place demanding and mandating polarized definitions of race and sexuality. This course will examine the reasoning behind and ramifications of these dichotomies from the Colonial Period to the present in genres that include literature, film, and music.  We will also explore how these binaries affect people who identify as biracial and bisexual.

This discussion-based course requires intensive reading, viewing, and listening and will foster your critical thinking and analytical writing.  Topics of discussion will include the “one-drop rule,” the slavery debate, miscegenation, racial passing, segregation, integration, interracial desire, and sexual passing.  Special attention will be given to individuals who and organizations that refuse to follow racial and sexual dictates. Authors will include Thomas Jefferson, Harriet Jacobs, Mark Twain, Nella LarsenJames Weldon Johnson, Ralph Ellison, June Jordan, James Baldwin, Audre LordeStevie Wonder, Prince, Adrienne Rich, E. Lynn Harris, and Barack Obama.

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On Racial Frontiers: The New Culture of Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, and Bob Marley

Posted in Biography, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2010-10-22 03:21Z by Steven

On Racial Frontiers: The New Culture of Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, and Bob Marley

Cambridge University Press
June 1999
342 pages
8 b/w illus.
Size: 228 x 152 mm
Paperback ISBN-13: 9780521643931; ISBN-10: 0521643937

Gregory Stephens

Douglass, Ellison and Marley lived on racial frontiers. Their interactions with mixed audiences made them key figures in an interracial consciousness and culture, integrative ancestors who can be claimed by more than one group. An abolitionist who criticized black racialism; the author of Invisible Man, a landmark of modernity and black literature; a musician whose allegiance was to “God’s side, who cause me to come from black and white.” The lives of these three men illustrate how our notions of “race” have been constructed out of a repression of the interracial.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. Interraciality in historical context
  • 2. Frederick Douglass as integrative ancestor: the consequences of interracial co-creation
  • 3. Invisible community: Ralph Ellison’s vision of a multiracial ideal democracy
  • 4. Bob Marley’s Zion: a trans-racial ‘blackman redemption’
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