The Manner of Blackness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-05-06 02:06Z by Steven

The Manner of Blackness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Volume 100, Number 2, 2017
pages 112-142

Michael A. Istvan Jr., Lecturer in Philosophy
Texas State University

Commentators have suggested that Nella Larsen’s Passing rejects the view that there is some sort of black essence. This article challenges this reading. Since Irene is the most vocal advocate of an essence in respect to which all blacks are homogenous, much of the evidence for thinking that Passing is skeptical about such an essence amounts to evidence for not trusting Irene’s judgment in general, and for not trusting her judgment on this matter in particular. My arguments, then, will often involve explaining why Passing is not leading the reader to mistrust Irene’s judgment on this matter. Now, what exactly is meant by a black essence is, explicitly in this book, mysterious. Nevertheless, this article intends to shed some light on how Passing understands the nature of this something, this je ne sais quoi, peculiar to blacks. My tentative interpretation is that this something is an intangible and indefinite manner of being that is neither a conscious choice nor an inborn fact of biology, but rather a given of culture. This article takes this, in effect, blackness manner to be, so Passing seems to indicate, a function of one’s belief that one is black in a milieu of pervasive anti-black prejudice. Passing thus has something to offer those today who struggle to adjudicate between a pull towards essentialism and a pull towards constructionism. What Passing emphasizes in this discussion is the possibility that, in addition to biological and societal influences, one’s mind state is a crucial ingredient to one’s racial identity.

Tags: , , ,

Metisse Narratives

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Women on 2009-09-24 03:14Z by Steven

Metisse Narratives

Soundings: A journal of politics and culture
Issue 5, Spring 1997

Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Visiting Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
Duke University

Jayne Ifekwunigwe discusses the testimonies of women of ‘mixed race’ parentage in the English-African diaspora.

Rather than representing a portrait of metisse (‘mixed race’) girls as unruly, at age six Sandra and Aneya have exposed the major problematic of ‘race’.  Their discussion highlights the cultural paradoxes of ‘race’ and colour which multiple generations of women, men and children in England silently negotiate in their everyday lives.  These individuals descend from lineages which cut across so-called different ‘black and white’ ‘races’, ethnicities, cultures, and classes. Their roots are both endogenous and exogenous.

In varied cultural and historical contexts, countless terms are employed to name such individuals – mixed ‘race’, mixed heritage, mixed parentage, mestizo, mestiza, mulatto, mulatta, Creole, coloured, mixed racial descent, etc. I deploy the terms metisse (f), metis (m), metissage which more appropriately describe generations of individuals who by virtue of birth and lineage do not fit neatly into preordained sociological and anthropological categories.  In England, at the moment, there are a multitude of terms in circulation which describe individuals who straddle racial borders.  More often than not, received terminology either privileges presumed ‘racial’ differences (‘mixed race’) or obscures the complex ways in which being metis (se) involves both the negotiation of constructed ‘black’/’white’ racial categories and the celebration of converging cultures, continuities of generations and over-lapping historical traditions.  The lack of consensus as to which term to use, as well as the limitations of this discursive privileging of ‘race’ at the expense of generational, ethnic, and cultural concerns, led me to metis(se) and metissage…

…Gettin’ into me late teens, I didn’t think much about meself because of all these conflicts that were startin’ to come up from the past. Also new ones that were comin’ in from other communities – black communities – that were really shockin’ me. I mean there were times when I wouldn’t show me legs. I’d go through the summer wearing tights and socks. Cause I thought they were too light and too white-lookin’. There was a lot of pressure. I remember one day I was leanin’ up somewhere and this guy said to me, ‘Boy, aren’t your legs white.’ I just looked in horror, and felt really sick and wanted to just run away. I was thinkin’, God why didn’t you make me a bit darker? Why did you make me so light? It took me years to reconcile that…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,