“It’s a Kind of Destiny″: The Cultural Mulatto in the “New Black Aesthetic″ and ‘Sarah Phillips’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2010-06-25 17:17Z by Steven

“It’s a Kind of Destiny″: The Cultural Mulatto in the “New Black Aesthetic” and ‘Sarah Phillips’

The Humanities Review
A Publication of St. John’s University English Department, Jamaica, New York
Volume 6.1 (Fall 2007)
pages 21-28

Habiba Ibrahim, Assistant Professor of English
University of Washington

An Essay

IN “THE NEW BLACK AESTHETIC,” published in Callaloo in 1989, Trey Ellis identifies a rupture between the black aesthetics of previous generations, and the “new” aesthetics of black artists who came of age in a post-integration era. These younger artists, unfettered by concerns over racial authenticity or, more pertinently, black cultural traditions, borrow as easily from white culture as from black, and are therefore what Ellis refers to as “cultural mulattoes.” He writes, “Just as a genetic mulatto is a black person of mixed parents who can often get along fine with his white grandparents, a cultural mulatto, educated by a multi-racial mix of cultures, can also navigate easily in the white world” (235). This easy navigation between black and white worlds is the key distinction between a “new” black aesthetic-which, according to Ellis, encompasses such varied forms as the comedy of Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock, the films of Spike Lee, the jazz of Wynton Marsalis-and older black aesthetic movements, most notably the Black Arts Movement, which often focused on delineating an essential blackness through art and meaning. Ellis proposes that the young black artists who came of age after integration form a black arts movement that constantly challenges what blackness “is.”..

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