transcending blackness

From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial

ralina l. joseph

Transcending Blackness

Transcending Blackness
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From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial

ralina l. Joseph

Duke​university​Press Durham​anD​LonDon 2013

©​2013​Duke​University​Press All​rights​reserved Printed​in​the​United​States​of​America​on​acid-​ ree​paper​♾ f Designed​by​Heather​Hensley Typeset​in​Whitman​by​Tseng​Information​Systems,​Inc. Library​of​Congress​Cataloging-​ n-​ ublication​Data​appear​​ i P on​the​last​printed​page​of​this​book.

For​JJ,​t J, ​an D​nv
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Contents
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PreFaCe​ From​Biracial​to​Multiracial​to​Mixed-​ ace​​ R to​Critical​Mixed-​ ace​Studies ix R introDuCtion​ Reading​Mixed-​ ace​African​American​Representations​​ R in​the​New​Millennium 1
p a r T i : T h e n e w M i l l e n n i u M M u l aT Ta

1.​Televising​the​Bad​Race​Girl:​​ Jennifer​Beals​on​The L Word,​the​Race​Card,​and​ the​Punishment​of​Mixed-​ ace​Blackness 37 R 2.​The​Sad​Race​Girl:​​ Passing​and​the​New​Millennium​Mulatta​in​Danzy​Senna’s​Caucasia 67
p a r T i i : T h e e x c e p T i o n a l M u lT i r a c i a l

3.​Transitioning​to​the​Exceptional​Multiracial:​​ Escaping​Tragedy​through​Black​Transcendence​in​Mixing Nia 95 4.​Recursive​Racial​Transformation:​​ Selling​the​Exceptional​Multiracial​on​America’s Next Top Model 125

ConCLusion​ Racist​Jokes​and​the​Exceptional​Multiracial,​or​​ Why​Transcending​Blackness​Is​a​Terrible​Proposition 155 notes  173 BiBLiograPhy  201 inDex  219

PreFaCe
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FroM Biracial To MulTiracial To Mixed- race To criTical Mixed- race sTudies

In​the​autumn​of​1992,​I​arrived​at​the​oldest​dorm​on​Brown​ University’s​campus,​a​stately,​crumbling​edifice​complete​with​ ivy-​ overed​walls​and​cinder-​ lock​lined​rooms​that​rebelled​ c b against​ my​ efforts​ to​ tack​ up​ my​ leftie​ political​ posters​ and​ batik-​ rint​tapestry.​I​was​a​nervous​kid​outfitted​in​meticup lously​ripped​jeans,​tan​Birkenstocks,​and​a​lingering​fear​that​ an​admissions​officer​was​going​to​pop​out​at​any​moment​and​ announce​that​there​had​been​a​big​mistake:​I,​the​daughter​ of​a​secretary​and​a​mechanic,​really​was​not​allowed​into​this​ hallowed​ Ivy​League​institution.​Class​and​race,​and​my​exhausting​efforts​to​avoid​talking​about​both,​structured​my​life.​ While​class​remained​a​more-​ asily​submergible​entity​in​neoe bohemian,​grunge-​ ccented​Providence​of​the​early​1990s,​the​ a changing​signs​and​signals​of​race​glowed​and​blinked​like​my​ own​personal​fluorescent​sign.​I​worried​that​my​racially​ambiguous​but​clearly​nonwhite​looks​made​me​hypervisible,​and​ before​going​to​college​I​bobbed​and​weaved​the​ubiquitous​ “what​are​you?”​questions,​to​save​myself​from​having​to​reveal​ what​I​shrugged​off​as​my​race​story. ​ My​efforts​to​remain​race​neutral​were​supported​ by​my​ utter​lack​of​language​to​begin​to​chip​away​at​the​race​question.​Before​college​I​had​never​uttered​“multiracial.”​“Mixed”​ was​the​term​we​used​inside​my​suburban​Virginia​house​and​

“biracial”​seemed​popular​with​outsiders​referring​to​me.​But​even​within​ the​confines​of​my​immediate​family,​those​terms​were​not​my​own:​they​ were​monoracially​applied​descriptors​that​did​not​quite​match​up​with​ my​ interior​ racialized​ self.​ At​ Brown​ I​ found​ myself​ embraced​ by​ the​ vibrant​community​of​students​of​color​and​given​the​language​to​understand​that​my​unique​racialization​was​not​all​that​special,​a​revelation​ that​was​a​complete​and​total​relief.​I​soon​learned​of​the​term​multiracial​ as​an​“us”​term,​one​applied​by​mixed-​ ace​people​in​the​process​of​self-​ r identification.​To​me​it​quickly​meant​community;​it​meant​not​having​to​ define​myself​further;​it​meant​having​a​safe​space​to​collectively​articulate​my​frustration​with​the​outside​world’s​confusion​about​my​phenotype.​As​a​first-​ emester​first-​ ear​confronted​with​the​new-​ o-​ e​term​ s y t m “multiracial,”​I​embraced​it​immediately.​At​seventeen,​I​could​not​have​ imagined​that​that​word​would​enter​my​daily,​even​hourly,​vocabulary​ over​the​next​four​years​at​college.​In​the​United​States​during​the​twenty-​ first​century,​racialized​labels​are​just​as​multiple,​contentious,​and​slippery​ as​ they​ were​ during​ the​ twentieth​ century,​ but​ for​ me,​ that​ new​ word,​“multiracial,”​and​that​alone,​felt​just​perfect.​Just​as​Stuart​Hall​became​black​in​Jamaica​of​the​1960s​with​the​advent​of​Black​Nationalism​ in​the​United​States,​I​became​multiracial​in​New​England​of​the​1990s​ with​the​advent​of​the​multiracial​student​movement​on​my​liberal​college​ campus.1​I​was​privately​mixed​for​the​first​seventeen​years​of​my​life​until​ I​publically​came​out​as​multiracial. ​ My​initiation​into​the​world​of​multiraciality​came​about​at​the​Third​ World​Center​(twC)​whose​moniker​bore​its​1960s​activist​roots.​There​ I​learned​of​the​Brown​Organization​of​Multiracial​and​Biracial​Students​ (BomBs),​a​group​that​some​student​leaders​had​started​two​years​earlier.​ When​Brown’s​paradigm-​ hifting​minority​student​orientation,​the​Third​ s World​Transition​Program​(twtP),​asked​participants​to​break​out​into​ racial​affinity​group​sessions,​a​number​of​multiracial​first-​ ears​had​felt​ y split​ about​ where​ to​ go.​ So​ they​ created​ their​ own​ multiracial​ affinity​ group,​which​eventually​became​BomBs.​When​I​was​first​introduced​to​ the​group​I​remember​immediately​loving​the​implied​destruction​in​the​ group’s​name,​which​was​so​counter​to​the​other​blandly​multicultural​ student​group​names​I​would​come​to​be​familiar​with,​such​as,​“prism”​or​ “mosaic.”​As​my​coming​into​a​multiracial​consciousness​did​nothing​less​ than​explode​my​earlier​attempts​at​racial​neutrality,​BomBs​resonated​ with​my​mixed-​ acial​epistemology. r
Preface


x

​ We​modeled​our​organization​after​the​university’s​existing​racial​support​and​advocacy​student​groups,​such​as​the​Organization​of​United​African​Peoples​(ouaP),​the​Asian​American​Students​Association​(aasa),​and​ the​Latin-​ merican​Students​Organization​(Laso),​which​modeled​themA selves​after​traditional​civil​rights​groups.​BomBs​meetings​took​place​in​ the​warm​embrace​of​the​twC,​in​community​with​other​students-​ f-​ olor​ o c groups.​In​order​to​populate​our​meetings​in​those​early​pre-​ mail​days,​ e BomBs​members​rounded​up​recruits​by​official​means,​including​posting​fliers​for​the​group​around​the​campus​cafeterias​and​unofficially​by​ slyly​approaching​the​racially​ambiguous​dormmate​down​the​hall.​In​September​of​1991,​a​year​before​I​arrived​at​Brown,​BomBs​put​out​its​first​ flier:2
BoMBs!

Brown​Organization​of​Multi-​and​Biracial​Students This​is​an​organization​especially​designed​for​any​and​all​persons​who​ have​ever​felt​left​out​or​marginalized​by​members​of​groups​to​which​ they​partly​or​wholly​belong.​Our​organization​is​intended​as​a​support​ group​for​bi/multiracial​or​multicultural​people​who​have​in​the​past​ been​forced​to​“choose”​between​the​different​races​and​cultures​that​ are​parts​of​their​identities. ​ In​the​past,​we​have​been​ignored​and​treated​as​though​we​were​ invisible,​ solely​ because​ we​ have​ always​ been​ defined​ in​ terms​ of​ other​ people.​ no​ more.​ The​ reason​ why​ our​ people​ have​ been​ ignored​throughout​history​is​because​there​has​never​been​any​sort​ of​political​base​or​forum​from​which​to​make​our​voices​heard​and​ to​raise​society’s​awareness​of​our​existence.​Presently,​organizations​ like​ours​have​been​springing​up​at​college​campuses​nationwiDe.​ Why?​ Because​ our​ numbers​ are​ growing.​ With​ the​ absence​ of​ anti-​ miscegenation​laws​since​1967,​and​the​consequences​thereof,​there​ are​more​oF​us​than​ever​BeFore.​Even​the​U.S.​government​has​ been​forced​to​sit​up​and​take​notice​of​us,​as​they​are​being​pressured​ to​include​us​as​a​separate​category​on​the​year​2000​census​forms. ​ Why​do​we​say​“our​people”?​Because,​like​members​of​other​recognized​racial​groups​in​this​country,​our​people​Do​have​a​common​experience​from​which​to​draw​unity​and​solidarity.​Not​only​do​we​feel​ the​same​racism​from​the​white​majority​as​do​our​other​Third​World​ brothers​and​sisters,​but​we​get​it​from​them​as​well.​We​refuse​to​sit​by​
From Biracial to Multiracial


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and​be​ignored​any​longer.​We​are​the​invisible​minority​within​a​minority,​but​this​is​about​to​Change. ​ we​exist.​we​are​here​among​you. ​ we​are​a​PoLitiCaL​Pressure​Cooker​aBout​to​exPLoDe. ​ join​us. 1st​organizationaL​meeting: sunDay,​sePtemBer​22,​7:00​Pm 1st​FLoor​oF​the​twC. see​you​there. The​ “we,”​ the​ “us,”​ the​ “our,”​ the​ all​ caps​ were​ intoxicating​ to​ me,​ and​ to​my​cohort,​a​newly​formed​group​of​multiracial​subjects.​Both​idealism​and​budding​militancy​were​apparent.​When​I​showed​the​flier​from​ September​1991​to​BomBs​members​in​2009,​they​told​me​that​its​dramatic​“old-​ chool”​style​sounded​markedly​different​from​their​own​less​ s politicized​rhetoric.​We​were​a​first-​ eneration​movement​and,​as​such,​ g we​were​emphatic​about​defining​ourselves​with​each​other​and​against​ “whole”​race,​or​monoracially​identified​people.​We​used​what​was​even​ then​old-​ ashioned​language​of​oppositionality​to​stake​a​claim​of​victim​ f status.​We​believed​our​multiracial​identification​was​new,​radical,​and​ incendiary.​Later​I​learned​that​various​multiracial​peoples​had​indeed​ collaborated,​and​colluded,​in​other​places​and​times.​For​example,​elite​ mixed-​ ace​people,​deemed​variously​“black,”​“mulatto,”​or​“colored”​by​ r white​society,​helped​cement​African​American​color​and​class​distinctions​by​creating​a​“beige-​ cracy,”​to​use​the​word​of​the​founding​multio racial​studies​historian​Paul​Spickard.3 ​ But​this​type​of​a​privileged​legacy​was​not​apparent​to​us,​those​born​ in​the​early​1970s​to​race-​ raitor​parents​just​a​handful​of​years​after​the​ t Loving v. Virginia​ decision​ decriminalized​ interracial​ marriage​ in​ 1967.​ BomBs’s​first​newsletter​bears​evidence​of​this​particular​history​and​our​ sense​that​we​were​pioneers: If​a​multiracial​organization​gets​off​the​ground,​it​has​the​potential​ to​be​very​powerful.​We​know​that​there​are​a​lot​of​us​out​there,​but​ the​problem​has​always​been​that​we​have​never​identified​ourselves​ as​a​separate​group.​We​have​always​been​either​in​limbo​or​forced​to​ choose​sides.​Hasn’t​it​always​been​hard​for​you,​multiracial​friend,​to​ define​your​own​identity​because​others​felt​obligated​to​choose​it​for​

Preface


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you?​No​more.​This​organization​is​important​because​it​will​allow​us​ to​have​a​separate​space​for​multiracials,​where​we​can​define​ourselves​ in​terms​of​ourselves,​and​not​in​terms​of​other​groups.​What​we​need​ are​committed​people​willing​to​stick​together​and​carve​a​niche​for​ ourselves​at​this​university​so​that​our​voices​can​be​heard.​Previous​ attempts​at​starting​and​maintaining​similar​organizations​in​the​past​ have​failed,​but​only​because​of​lack​of​support​or​commitment.​But​we​ know​that​you’re​all​out​there​(we’ve​seen​you).​Don’t​just​wish​us​luck.​ Come​join,​bond—unite! Reading​these​words​so​many​years​later,​I​can​see​how​this​racially​provocative​ organization​ spoke​ so​ eloquently​ to​ kids​ like​ me,​ the​ multiracially​awkward​soul​wading​through​late​adolescence​in​the​early​1990s.​ One​phrase​that​particularly​jumps​out​to​me​is​“we’ve​seen​you.”​I​wonder​now:​Is​it​an​observation?​A​lure?​A​threat?​A​wink​from​one​insider​ to​another?​The​writers​assumed​that​we​racial​outsiders​shared​multiracial​pain​and​exclusion​and​the​concomitant​desire​to​become​visible,​a​ desire​to​become​racially​legible,​named,​and​claimed.​To​exchange​status​ as​“them”​for​“us.”​Their​rhetoric​asserted​that​group​identity​alone​would​ create​a​space​for​our​support​and​resistance. ​ These​two​documents​from​the​1991–92​school​year​represent​the​very​ beginning​of​BomBs.​They​were​the​founding​documents​that​I​pored​over​ as​a​first-​ ear.​I​joined​and​began​attending​weekly​meetings,​later​plany ning​those​meetings​and​leading​the​organization​forward.​As​multiracial​ student​activists,​we​were​struck​by​the​sense​that​we​were​doing​something​new​and​different​in​the​very​old​world​of​race.​In​BomBs​I​found​a​ community​of​fellow​self-​ escribed​racial​outsiders.​Regulars​tended​to​be​ d people​like​my​late-​ eenage​self,​whose​self-​ dentity​was​bound​up​in​those​ t i three​little​words,​not​a​romantic​“I​love​you,”​but​an​incredulous​“what​ are​you?”​Through​conversations​at​BomBs​I​understood​that​I​didn’t​have​ to​answer​that​question​the​way​the​asker​intended.​That​I​could​turn​the​ question​around​on​my​interrogator:​why​do​you​want​to​know?​That​I​ could​identify​in​an​unsatisfyingly​nebulous​way.​Although​I​never​personally​described​myself​as​“human”​or​“American”​as​some​of​my​fellow​ BomBs​members​defiantly​did,​I​gave​annoyingly​nebulous​answers​such​ as​“woman​of​color”​that​allowed​me​to​provide​a​politicized​response​and​ yet​avoid​laying​bare​my​personal​history.​I​relished​being​able​to​resist​ “what​are​you?,”​which​to​me​was​akin​to​avoiding​opening​a​vein​to​the​
From Biracial to Multiracial


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genealogy​that​might​logically​explain​my​oddly​racialized​looks.​Nestled​ within​the​protective​cocoon​of​the​twC,​BomBs​allowed​me​the​space​to​ resist​racialization​by​performing​a​multiracial​identity. ​ Resist​and​perform​I​did!​Multiracialism​simply​obsessed​me​at​Brown.​ I​read,​discussed,​wrote​about,​and​challenged​everything​and​anything​ having​to​do​with​mixed-​ aciality.​In​my​sophomore​year,​I​became​one​ r of​the​second​sets​of​co-​ hairs​of​BomBs.​I​hosted​forums​such​as​“Hair​ c Issues,”​ a​deliberation​ for​women​of​color​on​the​relationship​ between​ gender,​ racial​ authenticity,​ and​ hair.​ Not​ to​ be​ outdone​ by​ traditional​ student​race​groups,​we​began​Multiracial​Heritage​Week.​We​brought​ mixed-​ ace​speakers,​professionally​multiracial​folks,​such​as​the​journalr ist​Lisa​Jones,​the​author​and​the​daughter​of​the​African​American​writer​ and​activist​Amiri​Barka​(Leroi​Jones),​and​the​white,​Jewish​writer​Hettie​ Jones;​academics,​such​as​the​philosopher​Naomi​Zack;​and​comedians,​ such​as​Amy​Hill.​Intrigued​by​the​vast​number​of​mixed-​ ace​women​at​ r Brown​who​did​not​necessarily​identify​with​the​term​multiracial​or​even​ each​other,​I​worked​with​Sachi​Cunningham,​my​friend​and​one​of​the​ founders​of​BomBs,​to​create​Mixed Girls,​a​documentary​that​examined​ mixed-​ ace​women’s​perceptions​of​and​reactions​to​their​own​multiracialr ity.4​I​became​the​undergraduate​teaching​assistant​for​an​anthropology​ course​called​“Growing​Up​Ethnic​and​Multicultural”​and​co-​ esigned​the​ d curriculum​for​a​Group​Independent​Study​Project,​“Multiraciality​in​the​ United​States,”​where​we​examined​the​“multiracial​movement’s”​founding​texts​from​the​late​1980s​to​early​1990s. ​ While​in​the​early​days​of​BomBs​we​took​our​political​cues​from​civil​ rights​ and​ racial​ nationalist​ groups,​ we​ took​ our​ naming​ and​ identity​ cues​from​authors​in​the​emerging​multiracial​movement,​many​of​whom​ identified​as​mixed-​ ace,​and​all​of​whom​distanced​themselves​from​past​ r work​pathologizing​interracial​relationships​and​multiracial​people.​In​the​ early​ 1990s,​ we​ read​ the​ historians​ Paul​ Spickard’s​ Mixed Blood​ (1989)​ and​F.​James​Davis’s​Who Is Black?​(1991),​the​psychologist​Maria​Root’s​ anthology​Racially Mixed People in America​ (1992),​and​the​philosopher​ Naomi​Zack’s​Race and Mixed Race​(1994).​The​most​influential​of​these​ scholars​ to​the​multiracial​ movement​ was​Root,​who​has​argued​vehemently​that​mixed-​ ace​people​have​a​nearly​constitutional​right​to​self-​ r identify​and​even​deserve​their​own​bill​of​rights.5​With​a​new​body​of​ work​in​multiracial​studies​came​the​choice​of​terminology​not​frequently​ in​circulation​before:​“multiracial,”​and​then,​following​a​similar​movePreface


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ment​of​scholarship​in​the​United​Kingdom,​“mixed-​ ace.”​As​a​first-​and​ r second-​ ear​college​student,​I​found​these​books​thrilling​because​they​ y defended,​named,​and​historicized​my​own​existence. ​ Mixed-​ ace​ was​ the​ object​ of​ my​ personal,​ political,​ and​ academic​ r study—a​full-​ lown​preoccupation.​I​learned​as​much​as​I​could​about​the​ b history,​literature,​and​racialization​of​mixed-​ ace​folks.​Through​BomBs,​ r my​haven​of​the​twC,​twtP,​all​of​the​various​programs​supporting​students​ of​ color,​ and​ my​ coursework​ in​ American​ civilization,​ then​ Afro​ American​(now​Africana)​studies,​semiotics,​literature​history,​and​sociology.​I​also​learned​about​larger​questions​of​race,​class,​gender,​sexuality,​ and,​most​importantly,​power.​I​learned​that​racialized​choice,​a​key​value​ of​the​multiracial​movement,​was​not​an​option​for​most,​while​racialized​conscription,​which​we​special​mixies​fought​against,​was.​I​learned​ about​structural​racism​and​how​to​explore​the​lived​realities​of​race,​from​ differential​rates​of​homeownership,​healthcare,​and​high​school​graduation​rates,​among​other​measures.​Consequently,​I​soon​found​that​questions​of​power​were​largely​absent​from​early​multiracial​movement​literature.​I​found​myself​questioning:​what​happened​after​we​created​our​ own​terms?​Outside​of​fulfilling​one’s​own​self-​ dentity​desires​or​sating​ i the​curiosities​of​onlookers,​what​does​a​term​that​provides​an​“accurate”​ account​of​“what​mixes?”​or​“what​percentages?”​reveal?​What​happens​ after​the​missing​story​is​told,​or​the​incorrect​story​is​righted?​What​happens​after​we​join​the​table?​And​most​importantly,​were​we​reinforcing​ the​racial​order​rather​than​blowing​it​up? ​ These​budding​questions​converged​in​my​senior​year​at​Brown​when​ I​wrote​a​thesis​on​the​representations​of​a​cross-​ ection​of​mixed-​ ace​ s r women​in​magazine​advertisements,​a​study​that​drew​on​the​multiracial,​ interdisciplinary​ track​ I​ had​ been​ pursuing.​ I​ identified​ two​ dialectics​ of​representation,​“crossover/spice”​and​“beauty/beast”​and​argued​that​ these​advertisements​overwhelmingly​sought​to​categorize​and​exoticize​ mixed-​ ace​women,​demonstrating​ discomfort​ with​miscegenation​ and​ r multiracials​themselves.​Even​though​my​study,​in​retrospect,​was​overly​ ambitious,​ methodologically​ questionable,​ and​ incoherently​ written​ in​ places​(in​my​attempt​to​sound​similar​to​the​theory​I​fought​to​comprehend),​researching​and​writing​in​a​new​scholarly​area​was​so​exciting​that​ I​realized​that​I​wanted​to​make​a​career​out​of​my​questioning.​I​wanted​ to​be​an​academic​who​studied​multiraciality. ​ Over​the​course​of​my​four​years​at​Brown​I​learned​that​the​“what​
From Biracial to Multiracial


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are​ you?”​ question​ that​ so​ plagued​ me​ and​ that​ I​ initially​ identified​ as​ solely​the​lot​of​multiracial​folks​like​me,​was​actually​the​lot​of​all​people​ who​did​not​appear​to​belong,​whether​through​race,​gender,​sexuality,​ or​ability​status.​This​idea​has​percolated​more​over​the​years,​as​has​the​ notion​of​cross-​ dentity,​or​perhaps​more​specifically​to​use​the​words​of​ i Stuart​Hall,​“cross-​ dentification​connections.”6​I’ve​been​traveling​from​ i the​questions​“who​is​mixed-​ ace?”​to​“what​does​mixed-​ ace​mean?”​to​ r r “how​do​people​use​mixed-​ ace?”​to​“why​is​it​important​to​name,​underr stand,​and​unpack​mixed​race?”​These​questions​led​to​the​topic​that​became​a​central​concern​of​this​book:​the​attempted​silencing​and​demeaning​of​the​blackness​in​mixed-​ ace​blackness,​a​pernicious​dynamic​that​ r did​not​appear​to​pollute​all​representations​of​the​nonwhite​aspects​of​ multiracial​Asian​Americans,​Latinos,​and​American​Indians. ​ In​my​final​year​as​an​undergraduate​I​became​disillusioned​with​the​ utopian​ promises​ of​ multiracial​ studies​ and​ activism.​ They​ seemed​ so​ focused​ solely​ on​ naming​ and​ claiming​ a​ multiracial​ identity,​ and​ that​ was​no​longer​enough​for​me.​Things​just​seemed​more​complicated​than​ that.​One​moment​of​revelation​came​to​me​while​chatting​with​a​white​ woman​who​attended​a​BomBs​public​event:​I​was​alarmed​to​hear​that​ she​came​to​learn​how​to​obtain​a​nonblack​identity​for​her​mixed-​ ace​ r African​American​preschool-​ ged​daughter.​I​was​even​more​alarmed​later​ a to​learn​that​she​was​not​alone;​the​political​scientist​Kim​Williams​investigated​mothers​just​like​this​on​the​nationwide​scale.​Williams​found​ that​ the​ leaders​ and​ participants​ of​ multiracial​ advocacy​ groups​ were​ overwhelmingly​white​women​married​to​black​men.​The​most​famous​ of​these​women​is​Susan​Graham,​founder​of​Project​raCe​(Reclassify​All​ Children​Equally),​who​led​the​fight​for​the​multiracial​category​on​the​ census,​and​even​had​her​young​son​testify​before​Congress,​so​that​he​did​ not​have​to​identify​as​black.7 ​ Graham​ and​ other​ well-​ nown​ spokespeople​ in​ the​ multiracial​ mok ment​identified​multiracialness​as​the​only​possible​form​of​racial​identification,​which​simultaneously​pathologized​blackness,​apparently​unrepentantly.​From​this​type​of​multiracial​activism,​and​not​from​the​type​ of​minority-​ ased​community​articulated​by​BomBs,​sprang​the​so-​ alled​ b c 1990s-​ ra​multiracial​agenda,​with​the​first​item​being​the​establishment​ e of​a​new​census​category.​Arguments​for​color​blindness​and​against​race-​ based​measures​such​as​affirmative​action,​which​began​to​be​dismantled​ across​the​country​immediately​after​I​graduated​from​college,​accompaPreface


xvi

nied​this​embrace​of​“the​multiracial​cause.”8​For​example,​in​the​mid-​ o-​ t late​1990s,​Newt​Gingrich,​the​former​Republican​Speaker​of​the​House,​ aligned​himself​with​a​so-​ alled​multiracial​cause,​and​supported​such​ c measures​as​the​addition​of​a​“multiracial”​category​on​the​2000​U.S.​Census,​which​was,​much​to​the​chagrin​of​multiracial​activists,​defeated​in​ lieu​of​a​“mark​one​or​more”​option.​Because​of​these​strange​collaborations​I​began​questioning​the​politicians’,​the​media’s,​and​even​my​own​ embrace​ of​ multiracialism.​ Was​ love​ of​ mixed-​ ace​ people​ really​ love,​ r or​was​it​a​disguised​hatred​of​monoracial​African​Americans,​a​form​of​ coded​antiblack​racism? ​ The​antiblack​racism​in​the​multiracial​movement​from​the​1990s​did​ not​fit​with​my​multiracial​college​activism,​and​yet​it​stuck​with​me.​It​ unsettled​me​to​understand​how​politicians​and​the​media​manipulated​ multiracialism​into​an​alignment​of​“my​people”​with​the​politics​of​the​ Far​Right.​Understanding​the​split​dividing​national​multiracial​advocacy​ groups​from​college-​ ased​activists​helped​me​see​why​some​of​my​closest​ b friends​around​the​country,​who​were​mixed​black​and​white​and​who​ grew​up​with​close​ties​to​African​American​communities,​didn’t​want​ anything​to​do​with​this​multiracial​thing.​Why​weren’t​their​stories​a​part​ of​the​burgeoning​narrative​of​mixed-​ ace?​Other​questions​loomed​for​ r me:​In​our​celebrations​of​mixed-​ ace,​were​we​excluding​or​dismissing​ r the​experiences,​histories,​and​racializations​of​other​minoritized​communities?​How​could​multiracialism​work​to​dismantle​and​not​fortify​the​ privileges​of​whiteness?​How​could​we​articulate​our​agenda​in​a​way​that​ might​forge​cross-​ acial​coalitions,​instead​of​separations? r ​ After​ I​ left​ college​ I​ began​ to​ answer​ many​ of​ my​ questions​ on​ the​ utility​of​mixed-​ ace​through​the​writings​of​the​essayist​Lisa​Jones​in​her​ r book​Bulletproof Diva​(1994).​I​had​read​Jones’s​essays​initially​in​her​column​in​the​Village Voice,​and​I​thought​about​them​time​and​again​as​I​developed​my​own​multiracial​research​agenda.​Jones​captured​the​“what​ are​you?”​question—the​variety​of​ways​in​which​mixed-​ ace​people​are​ r often​questioned​because​of​their​“racially​ambiguous​looks”—better​than​ anyone​had​managed​to​do: Who​ are​ you,​ what​ are​ you,​ where​ are​ you​ from,​ no,​ where​ are​ you​ really​from,​where​are​your​parents​from,​are​your​grandparents​Americans?​Are​you​from​here,​what’s​your​background,​what’s​your​nationality,​where​do​you​live?​Are​you​black,​are​you​white,​do​you​speak​
From Biracial to Multiracial

xvii

Spanish?​ Are​ you​ really​ white,​ are​ you​ really​ black?​ Are​ you​ Puerto​ Rican,​are​you​half​and​half,​are​you​biracial,​multiracial,​interracial,​ transracial,​racially​unknown,​race​neutral,​colorless,​colorblind,​down​ with​the​rat​race​and​the​human​race?​Who​are​you?​Where​are​you​ coming​from?​Who​are​your​people? She​helped​me​understand​that​the​“what​are​you?”​question​and​all​its​ permutations​mark​mixed-​ ace​people​as​either​pathological​or​extraordir nary,​the​object-​ ike​“what”​or​exotic​and​desirous​“who.” l ​ At​another​level,​I​would​encounter​popular​representations​of​multiracial​people​in​memoirs,​novels,​television​shows,​and​films​that​were​ equally​dim​about​who​and​what​multiracial​people​might​be.​Like​most​ people,​I​instinctively​read​texts​against​lived​experiences,​and​in​the​case​ of​multiracial​African​Americans,​the​representations​do​not​reflect​the​ true​complexity​of​lives.​For​years,​from​teaching​high​school​English​in​ Miami​to​studying​ethnic​studies​in​graduate​school​in​San​Diego​to​teaching​ difference​ and​ communication​ courses​ in​ Seattle,​ I​ have​ struggled​ to​accept​the​limitations​of​representations​of​multiracial​African​Americans.​I​have​wanted​to​find​resistant​counternarratives​that​echoed​the​ rich​ diversity​ of​ experiences​ and​ racialized​ identifications​ that​ multiracial​people​have,​from​identifying​with​one​monoracial​identity,​to​two​ or​more​monoracial​identities,​to​a​race​not​in​his​or​her​own​background,​ to​“multiracial”​as​a​category,​to​all​of​the​above.​But​what​I’ve​come​back​ to​over​and​over​for​the​case​of​mixed-​ ace​blackness​is​the​failure​of​the​ r representative​landscape​to​meet​the​experiential​one. ​ The​experiential​landscape​is​what​has​inspired​Transcending Blackness.​ My​readings​in​this​book​wouldn’t​be​possible​without​all​of​the​experiences​I​have​enjoyed​with​a​vibrant​community​of​organic​and​trained​ intellectuals​and​activists.​Because​this​project​began​with​BomBs,​I​must​ begin​by​thanking​the​people​who​powered​BomBs,​especially​Sachi​Cunningham,​ Mike​ Hurt,​ Dean​ Karen​ McLaurin,​ and​ Jason​ Sperber,​ and​ who​powered​me​through​BomBs,​including​Praveen​Fernandes,​Jeffery​ Mingo,​Heather​Reid,​and​Jim​Wallace.​My​BomBs​critique​was​crying​ out​for​a​frame,​and​at​the​University​of​California,​San​Diego,​my​professors​Jane​Rhodes,​Daphne​Brooks,​Yen​Espiritu,​Nicole​King,​Ross​Frank,​ and​George​Lipsitz​opened​up​new​worlds​of​ethnic​and​cultural​studies​ to​frame​my​ideas.​Cherise​Smith,​Sarita​Cannon​and​Lisa​Ze​Winters— members​ of​ the​ East​ Bay​ dissertation-​ riting​ group—beautifully​ modw
Preface

xviii

eled​ethical,​positive​scholarship​and​provided​the​support​necessary​for​ me​to​finish​my​dissertation—and​they​along​with​Allison,​Mike,​Alonzo,​ and​Ava​Marie​Smith​keep​me​longing​for​Oakland.​At​the​University​of​ Washington,​ wireD​(Women​Investigating​ Race,​Ethnicity,​ and​ Difference)​has​bolstered​me​through​many​a​long,​gray​day,​and​I​want​to​thank​ all​the​members​of​our​collective​for​making​Seattle​an​intellectually​and​ personally​productive​space;​my​wireD​writing​group,​LeiLani​Nishime,​ Habiba​Ibrahim,​and​Tyina​Steptoe​for​validating​and​pushing​my​work;​ and​Luis​Fraga​for​his​support​of​wireD.​My​students,​including​Manoucheka​Celeste,​Madhavi​Murty,​Elizabeth​Cortez,​Anjali​Vats,​Kate​Bell,​ Kris​ Mroczek,​ Jennifer​ McClearen,​ Tabitha​ Bronsma,​ Jamie​ Moshin,​ Vanessa​Au,​Monique​Lacoste,​Camille​Elmore-​ rummer,​Desireé​Boyd,​ T Michelé​Prince,​Juana​Reid,​and​the​Barbados​crew,​helped​this​work​to​ come​alive​in​the​classroom.​My​colleagues​Crispin​Thurlow,​Christine​ Harold,​Leah​Ceccarelli,​Valerie​Manusov,​Jerry​Baldasty,​David​Domke,​ Michelle​Habell-​ allan,​Sonnet​Retman,​Angela​Ginorio,​Judy​Howard,​ P Andrea​Griggs,​and​Lea​Vaughn​warmly​welcomed​me​into​the​uw​fold.​A​ special​thanks​for​the​pedis​and​pep​talks​with​my​Seattle​sisters,​Janine​ Jones,​ Alexes​ Harris,​ and​ Joy​ Williamson-​ ott;​ raucous​ laughter​ with​ L Wadiya​Udell;​coffee​shop​work​dates​with​Jen​Neighbors;​and​family​fun​ with​ the​ Kalbach-​ dells,​ LaBordes,​ Fabers,​ Joneses,​ Bonney-​ etmans,​ U R Espanias,​and​Wu-​ loyds.​A​variety​of​fellowships​provided​me​with​the​ F time​and​space​to​think,​including​the​American​Association​of​University​Women,​the​University​of​California​President’s​Fellowship,​the​Ford​ Foundation,​and​the​Woodrow​Wilson​Career​Enhancement​Fellowship.​ When​my​faith​in​this​project​waned,​the​advice,​support,​and​critique​of​ Daphne​Brooks,​Matt​Jacobson,​Laura​Helper-​ erris,​Ken​Wissoker,​and​ F my​two​anonymous​reviewers​rocketed​me​through​my​revisions.​Thank​ you​to​Shosanna​Weinberger​for​allowing​her​incredible​image​to​grace​ the​cover​of​the​book.​I​will​be​forever​grateful​to​the​University​of​Washington’s​Whiteley​Center​for​providing​me​with​the​most​beautiful​space​ in​the​world​to​think​and​write.​Much​love​to​my​families​the​Landwehrs,​ Captains,​ D’Souzas,​ Whites,​ and​ Scanlans.​ My​ utmost​ appreciation​ to​ the​people​who​encouraged​me​to​ask​too​many​questions:​my​parents,​ Richard​and​Irene​Landwehr,​and​Grandpi,​Jesse​Meeks. ​ Most​of​all,​I​thank​James,​TJ,​and​Naima​Joseph​for​endlessly​embracing​their​spacey​partner​and​mama.​We​live​this​book​every​day.​Questions,​ comments,​compliments,​complaints,​and​jokes​about​multiraciality​are​
From Biracial to Multiracial


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an​integral​part​of​our​everyday​lives.​I​am​a​multiracial​woman,​partnered​ with​ a​ multiracial​ man,​ and​ together​ we​ have​ two​ multigenerationally​ mixed-​ ace​ children.​ Our​ children​ are​ racialized​ quite​ differently​ from​ r each​other:​our​caramel-​ omplexioned​son​is​read​as​“minority”​(although​ c racially​ambiguous​to​many),​while​our​ringleted,​olive-​ kinned​daughter​ s is​read,​for​the​most​part,​as​white.​When​I​registered​my​son​for​kindergarten​in​the​Seattle​public​school​system,​the​older​African​American​ woman​ who​ took​ my​ registration​ forms​ (none​ of​ which,​ surprisingly,​ asked​for​race)​looked​at​me​and​at​the​required​picture​of​him​that​I​presented​along​with​his​birth​certificate​and​entered​“black”​for​our​boy.​ Our​girl​has​been​racialized​by​the​system​as​well:​after​she​became​ill​at​ her​preschool,​a​paramedic​filling​out​his​routine​paperwork​noted​her​ as​“white.”​But​what​would​have​happened​if​either​of​these​events​had​ occurred​after​a​beach-​ eavy​July​in​San​Diego​instead​of​a​house-​ eavy​ h h February​in​Seattle?​Our​“race”​switches​with​the​seasons​and​with​geography.​We,​as​a​family,​work​to​normalize​and​concretize​our​discussions​ of​race​and​mixed-​ ace​that​have​made​their​way​into​every​page​here.​This​ r book​is​dedicated​to​them,​my​own​race-​ onscious,​race-​ hifting,​racially​ c s plural​family,​who​are​my​inspiration,​support,​and​favorite​distraction.

Preface


xx

introDuCtion
–​ — ​– ​

reading Mixed- race aFrican aMerican represenTaTions in The new MillenniuM

I​have​never​been​at​home​in​my​body.​Not​in​its​color,​not​in​its​size​ or​shape.​Not​in​its​strange,​unique​conglomeration​of​organic​forms​ and​wavy​lines.​.​.​.​There’s​an​awkwardness​to​my​body,​a​lack​of​grace,​ as​if​the​racial​mix,​the​two​sides​coming​together​in​my​body​have​yet​ to​reconcile.
—rebecca walker, Black, White, and Jewish

For​a​young​man​of​mixed​race,​without​firm​anchor​in​any​community,​ without​even​a​father’s​steadying​hand,​the​essential​American​ideal— that​our​destinies​are​not​written​before​we​are​born,​that​in​America​ we​can​travel​as​far​as​our​energy​and​talents​will​take​us—has​defined​ my​life.​With​a​mother​from​Kansas​and​a​father​from​Kenya,​I​know​ that​stories​like​mine​can​happen​only​in​the​United​States​of​America.
—Barack obama, “what is patriotism?”

Representations​ of​ multiracial​ Americans,​ especially​ those​ with​ a​ black​ parent​ and​ a​ white​ parent,​ appear​ everywhere​ in​the​twenty-​ rst-​ entury​United​States,​from​the​memoirs​ fi c of​ celebrity​ children​ to​ the​ reality​ shows​ of​ supermodels​ to​ the​speeches​of​presidential​candidates.​Some​representations​ equate​ mixed-​ ace​ with​ pain:​ the​ multiracial​ individual​ is​ r mired​in​the​confusion​and​problems​imagined​to​be​inherent​ in​the​racial​mixture​of​black​and​white.​These​images,​such​

as​ the​ ones​ Rebecca​ Walker​ conjures​ in​ her​ memoir,​ feature​ a​ twenty-​ first-​ entury​twist​on​the​old​stereotype​of​the​“tragic​mulatto,”​a​phrase​ c coined​by​the​poet​and​literary​scholar​Sterling​Brown​in​1933​to​connote​ the​character​who​represents​the​problem​of​race​mixing,​and​who​is​inevitably​ruined​because​she​or​he​is​a​person​“without​a​race.”1​Other​representations​equate​multiraciality​with​progress:​the​mixed-​ ace​person​ r functions​as​a​bridge​between​estranged​communities,​a​healing​facilitator​of​an​imagined​racial​utopia,​even​the​embodiment​of​that​utopia.​ These​images,​such​as​the​one​Barack​Obama’s​team​cultivated​during​his​ first​ presidential​ election​ campaign,​ feature​ a​ special,​ sometimes​ messianic​mixed-​ ace​character​who​has​moved​beyond​the​assumed​confines​ r of​his​or​her​African​American​heritage,​and​whose​very​existence​portends​racial​liberation.​In​both​positive​and​negative​modes,​despite​their​ many​differences,​blackness​operates​as​metaphoric​tether.​Further,​blackness​is​presented​as​an​internal,​secret​attribute​of​the​multiracial​individual,​something​to​be​struggled​with​or​repressed​in​private. ​ This​book​examines​the​legacy​of​the​problem-​ pecial​dichotomy.​Blacks ness​remains​pathological​in​both​typological​iterations.​In​the​former​it​ is​the​root​cause​for​the​multiracial​African​American​woman’s​emotionally​and​sexually​unbalanced​behavior;​in​the​latter​the​multiracial​African​American​subject’s​metaphorical​sloughing​off​of​blackness​is​the​root​ cause​of​her​success.​Multiracial​nationalist​advocacy​for​a​“multiracial”​ category​on​the​2000​U.S.​Census​used​this​dual​trope:​multiracials​need​ self-​ dentification​ because​ they​ are​ troubled​ by​ confusing​ choices​ and​ i are​a​special​people.​The​texts​I​examine​in​Transcending Blackness​largely​ advance​ the​ idea​ that​ mixed-​ ace​ identity​ formation,​ characteristically​ r marked​by​struggle,​takes​place​in​isolation;​such​individual​and​personal​ experiences​are​thought​to​be​antithetical​to​a​larger​group​or​community​ sentiment.2​In​general,​monoracial​characters​in​the​texts​that​I​analyze​ do​not​question​the​permeability​of​racial​borders. ​ Without​question,​racist​laws​are​at​the​root​of​the​mandate​that​multiracial​African​Americans​identify​as​black:​the​one-​ rop​rule,​more​techd nically​called​hypodescent,​dictated​that​anyone​with​any​degree​of​black​ “blood”​was​considered​black,​and​biologically​based​chattel​slavery​and​ Jim​Crow​racism​in​the​United​States​helped​confirm​that​blackness​was​ inferior.​Nevertheless,​one​unintentional​result​of​racist​law​and​action​has​ been​the​growth​and​strength​of​multiracial​African​Americans​through​ membership​in​black​communities;​in​the​words​of​Valerie​Smith,​“these​
Introduction


2

‘rules’​were​internalized​by​African​Americans​who​converted​them​from​ mere​signifiers​of​shame​to​markers​of​pride.”3​Representations​of​blackness​as​something​to​be​transcended​fly​in​the​face​of​the​historic​embrace​ of​multiracial​African​Americans​in​African​American​communities.​Such​ flat​representations​of​mixed-​ ace​African​Americans​belie​the​complexity​ r of​real-​ ife​experiences​of​such​subjects,​who​live​simultaneously​as​black​ l and​ mixed-​ ace,​ in​ a​ messy​ multiplicity​ that​ is​ rarely​ contained​ in​ any​ r racialized​nomenclature. ​ Racialized​expression,​including​nomenclature,​is​not​a​foregone​conclusion​but​a​form​of​representation,​which​Stuart​Hall​describes​as​“an​ essential​part​of​the​process​by​which​meaning​is​produced​and​exchanged​ between​members​of​a​culture.”4​Representations​are​vehicles​that​drive​ controlling​and​alternative​images​of​race,​gender,​class,​and​sexuality,​the​ social​forces​that​govern​our​society.​Popular​cultural​representations​are​ fertile​areas​of​study​because​they​allow​us​to​analyze​the​myths​of​our​culture,​or​as​Hall​puts​it,​“popular​culture​.​.​.​is​where​we​discover​and​play​ with​the​identifications​of​ourselves,​where​we​are​imagined,​where​we​ are​represented.”5​In​other​words,​popular​representations,​where​identity​is​imagined​as​both​a​site​of​social​domination​and​agency,​transform​ seeming​fictions​of​racialization​and​sexualization​into​something​close​ to​reality.​Evelynn​Hammonds​argues​that​visual​representation,​in​particular,​is​a​fundamental​scholarly​site​because​“in​the​U.S.​race​has​always​ been​dependent​upon​the​visual.”6 ​ But​such​representations​do​not​simply​create​meaning​in​a​one-​ ay​ w process.​As​Hall​and​the​Open​University​scholars​illustrate​in​their​famous​circuit​of​culture,​because​of​the​interplay​of​audiences​and​texts,​ culture​reflects,​critiques,​and​creates​changing​ideologies.7​Just​as​culture​is​perpetually​ mutating,​so​are​racial​meanings.​Michael​ Omi​and​ Howard​Winant​explain​that​race​is​not​an​essence,​but​“an​unstable​and​ ‘decentered’​complex​of​social​meanings​constantly​being​transformed​by​ political​struggle,”​a​process​that​works​to​apply​racial​meanings,​which​ they​deem​racialization.8​Because​both​culture​in​general​and​racial​representations​more​specifically​are​dynamic,​it​might​seem​that​shifts​in​ culture​ keep​ up​ with​ quick​ transformations​ in​ racialization.​ Racialization​ works​ by​ means​ of​ cultural​ representations,​ and​ representations​ actualize​racialization;​put​another​way,​lived​experiences​of​race​inform​ representational​ ones,​ and​ representational​ race​ informs​ experience.9​ Changes​in​culture​and​racialization​do​not,​however,​immediately​transReading Mixed-Race Representations


3

late​to​changes​in​material​life​in​such​areas​as​state​and​public​policies.10​ And​most​representations​of​mixed-​ ace​African​Americans​do​not​reveal​ r the​reciprocal​complexity​produced​through​this​exchange.​The​script​of​ multiracial​blackness​is​stuck​in​a​circuit​of​controlling,​anti-​ lack​images. b ​ In​this​“mulatto​millennium,”11​to​use​the​author​Danzy​Senna’s​phrase,​ images​of​multiracial​blackness​largely​do​not​illuminate​the​benefits​of​ identifying​as​black.​Instead​of​showing​Americans​embracing​blackness​ in​messy,​hybridized,​multiracial​forms,​the​unspoken​dictate​in​contemporary​representations​of​multiracial​Americans​is​that​blackness​must​ be​risen​above,​surpassed,​or​truly​transcended.​In​order​to​avoid​being​ the​“new​millennium​mulatta”​who​is​always​divided,​alone,​and​uncomfortable,​as​exemplified​in​the​first​epigraph,​popular​images​suggest​that​ one​must​become​the​“exceptional​multiracial”​who​is​the​unifying,​post-​ racial,​U.S.​ideal,​as​exemplified​in​the​second​epigraph.​To​be​more​specific​about​the​terms​of​this​binary,​on​the​one​hand,​multiracial​blackness​ is​ disdained​ for​ its​ imagined​ primordially​ raced​ nature,​ with​ its​ tragic-​ mulatta​lineage.​On​the​other​hand,​multiracial​blackness​is​desired​for​ its​imagined​transcendent​quality,​where​it​is​ahistorically​divorced​from​ racism​and​sexism​in​the​United​States​with​its​troubling​history​of​chattel​ slavery,​Jim​Crow​racism,​and​entrenched​misogyny.​Because​the​popular​ conception​that​race​means​black,​the​end​of​race​must​mean​the​end​of​ blackness.​Whiteness,​imaged​as​pure,​invisible,​and​promise-​ aden,​rel mains​prized​as​the​savior​for​multiracial​African​American​figures​from​ blackness,​presented​as​sullied,​hypervisible,​and​tragedy​filled. ​ The​ new​ millennium-​ ulatta​ image​ is​ not​ supplanting​ the​ excepm tional​multiracial​but​is​functioning​in​tandem​with​it,​with​both​modes​ operating​ simultaneously​ in​ a​ dialectic.​ As​ dialectical​ stereotypes,​ the​ two​ images​ are,​ in​ the​ words​ of​ Yuko​ Kawai,​ “ambivalent​ as​ they​ contain​ contradictory​ messages​ simultaneously.”12​ The​ condemnation​ of​ blackness​is​either​implicit,​where​blackness​is​stigmatized​through​the​ presentation​of​tragic-​ ulatta​inevitability,​or​explicit,​where​throwing​ m off​the​yoke​of​blackness​means​arriving​at​a​safely​post-​ acial​state.​The​ r struggle​with​black​transcendence​occurs​through​not​only​racialized​but​ gendered​and​sexualized​performances.​Gender​is​not​a​floating​additive​ characteristic​in​the​representations​I​examine;​it​is​an​essential​intersectional​category​that​structures​and​restructures​race,​as​well​as​other​imbricated​categories,​such​as​class​and​sexuality.13​In​the​representations​I​ examine,​gendered​identity​helps​racialized​identity​become​operative,​
Introduction


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and​vice​versa.​Indeed,​this​book​is​concerned​with​images​of​mixed-​ ace​ r African​American​women​who​before​the​popularity​of​Obama​were​the​ most​prevalent​signifier​of​mixed-​ ace​blackness.​The​stereotype​of​the​ r tragic​mulatto​has,​in​actuality,​been​the​tragic​mulatta,​whose​excessive​ sexual​appetites​necessitate​her​use​and​abuse​by​white​men. ​ Mixed-​ ace​African​American​representations​from​1998​to​2008​have​ r crystallized​the​two-​ ided​stereotype​of​the​new​millennium​mulatta​and​ s the​exceptional​multiracial.​These​are​watershed​years​for​understanding​ a​new​era​of​race​politics​in​the​United​States,​and​the​politics​of​multiracial​U.S.​blackness​in​particular.​The​time​from​1998​to​2008​comes​in​ the​aftermath​of​the​passionate​debates​surrounding​mixed-​ ace​identifir cation​and​the​census.14​Part​of​the​politics​of​the​census,​the​major​political​issue​surrounding​mixed-​ ace​in​the​late​1990s​and​early​2000s,​conr cerned​citizens​choosing​a​high-​ restige​group​and​disidentifying​with​a​ p lower​one.15​Spanning​the​end​of​Bill​Clinton’s​presidency,​all​of​George​W.​ Bush’s​years​in​office,​and​the​election​of​Barack​Obama,​these​years​illustrate​a​moment​when​the​so-​ alled​color-​ lind​politics​of​the​Bush​era​ c b (with​its​much​heralded​“diverse”​cabinet)​vehemently​erased​the​Clinton​ era’s​nonthreatening​and​cursory​nod​to​multiculturalism.​The​Obama​era​ came​in​at​the​tail​end​with​a​new​breed​of​multiculturalism​cum​color-​ blind​post-​ acialism. r ​ In​this​time​period,​neoliberal​citizenship​has​been​perfectly​and​discursively​embodied​by​such​“naturally”​post-​ acial​citizens​as​mixed-​ ace​ r r African​Americans,​whose​very​existence,​the​literal​fusion​of​historically​ bifurcated​black-​ nd-​ hite​America,​portends​the​end​of​racism​and​idena w tity​politics​in​the​United​States.​In​1997,​as​Kimberly​McClain​DaCosta​ notes,​“the​Office​of​Management​and​Budget​(omB)​officials​were​deciding​the​future​of​[multiracial​people​and]​census​classifications,”​and,​as​ Habiba​Ibrahim​explains,​the​“celebrity​and​self-​ aming​of​Tiger​Woods”​ n proclaimed​the​multiracially​unique​term​“Cablinasian.”​And​in​1998,​the​ mainstream​news​media​exploded​over​the​newly​imagined​multiracial​ subject.16​At​the​other​end​of​the​decade,​2008​remains​a​landmark​year​ in​racial​and​mixed-​ acial​history,​the​year​the​nation’s​first​multiracial​ r African​American​president​was​elected.​Obama’s​ascension​to​the​highest​executive​office​of​the​United​States​makes​him,​and​the​exceptional​ multiracial,​the​ultimate​sign​of​mixed-​ ace​blackness​in​the​beginning​of​ r the​twenty-​ rst​century.17 fi ​ In​these​ten​years,​coded​anti-​ lack​sentiments​operated​in​a​variety​ b
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of​illustrative​and​representative​mixed-​ ace​African​American​cultural​ r sites.​After​exhaustive​research​I​believe​that​the​overwhelming​majority​ of​mainstream​images​of​mixed-​ ace​blackness​fall​into​categories​of​the​ r “new​millennium​mulatta”​or​the​“exceptional​multiracial,”​and​Transcending Blackness​includes​the​representations​that​illustrate​this​dialectic​in​ the​clearest​possible​manner.​Instead​of​focusing​each​chapter​on​a​selection​of​representations​(drawing​upon​the​substantive​database​of​multiracial​ African​ American​ representations​ that​ I​ have​ amassed​ over​ the​ years),​I​have​chosen​here​to​dive​deep​into​a​single,​representative​text​ per​chapter;​this​depth​versus​breadth​approach​allows​me​to​more​fully​ examine​the​textual​nuances​that​construct​the​new​millennium​mulatta​ and​the​exceptional​multiracial.​I​present​the​representations​as​operating​ along​a​nonchronological​spectrum​from​the​new​millennium​mulatta,​ the​exceedingly​tragic​and​mixed-​ acial,​to​the​exceptional​multiracial,​ r the​strikingly​successful​and​post-​ acial.​In​part​I,​“New​Millennium​Mur lattas,”​I​explore​contemporary​performances​of​the​self-​ eflexive,​tragic​ r mulatta​as​“the​bad​race​girl”​in​Jennifer​Beals’s​portrayal​of​Bette​Porter​ on​the​cable​television​drama​The L Word​(2004–8)​and​as​“the​sad​race​ girl”​in​Danzy​Senna’s​novel​Caucasia​(1998).​In​part​II,​“Exceptional​Multiracials,”​ I​ interrogate​ representations​ that​ develop​ the​ character​ of​ the​ racial-​ ransforming​mixed-​ ace​figure​in​Alison​Swan’s​independent​film​ t r Mixing Nia​(1998)​and​racial-​ witching​mixed-​ ace​figure​on​an​episode​of​ s r Tyra​Banks’s​reality​television​show​America’s Next Top Model​(2005). ​ While​the​first​half​of​the​book​shows​how​blackness​is​cause​and​effect​ of​sadness​and​pain​for​the​multiracial​African​American​figure,​the​second​half​of​the​book​shows​that​blackness​is​an​irrelevant​entity​for​the​ multiracial​African​American​figure.​The​representations’​reliance​upon​ the​trope​of​black​transcendence​reveals​the​idea​that​we​live​in​a​post-​ racial​society,​that​the​civil​rights​movement​did​its​job​in​eliminating​inequality​and​in​enabling​“all​of​us”​to​compete​on​a​level​playing​field.​At​ the​same​time,​paradoxically,​these​late-​ wentieth-​and​early-​ wenty-​ rst-​ t t fi century​images​of​multiracial​African​Americans​are​also​bound​by​the​ perception​that​blackness​must​be​surpassed​in​order​for​the​mixed-​ ace​ r subject​to​arrive​at​a​state​of​health​or​success.​In​a​post–civil​rights​era​ where​race,​much​less​racism,​cannot​be​mentioned​without​public​outcry,​anti-​ lack​racism​remains​prevalent​yet​coded.18​Contemporary​black-​ b white​representations​do​not​go​beyond​the​binary​of​the​new​millennium​ mulatta​and​the​exceptional​multiracial;​instead​they​operate​within​the​
Introduction


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umbrella​metaphor​of​black​transcendence.​The​trope​of​black​transcendence​that​circulates​within​representations​of​mixed-​ ace​African​Amerir cans​illustrates​the​flourishing​of​anti-​ lack​racism,​despite​the​continued​ b desire​for​“black​cool,”​and​despite​the​existence​of​the​first​(multiracial)​ (black)​president.​Ultimately,​mixed-​ ace​African​American​representar tions—and​by​extension​the​subjectivities​of​multiracial​African​American​individuals—continue​to​be​delimited​by​the​racist​notion​that​blackness​is​a​deficit​that​black​and​multiracial​people​must​overcome.​The​very​ language​that​Americans​use​to​name​these​figures,​and​the​painful​legacies​of​racial​debates​from​abolition​through​the​civil​rights​movement,​ shape​my​analysis​of​the​exceptional​multiracial​millennium​mulatta.
naming the Multiracial african american Figure

The​ etymologies​ of​ the​ terms​ applied​ to​ those​ with​ one​ black​ and​ one​ white​parent​illuminate​the​processes​of​their​racialization.​With​the​swell​ of​interest​in​issues​of​mixed-​ ace​comes​a​concomitant​concern​about​ r multiracial​terminology.​The​notion​of​“mixed-​ ace”​and​“monoracial”​as​ r separate​categories​to​describe​certain​African​Americans​can​seem​almost​nonsensical​and​voluntary,​and​yet​representations​of​mixed-​ ace​ r blackness​do​just​this.​Contrary​to​much​popular​discourse​on​mixed-​ ace,​ r the​fact​of​mixing​does​not​automatically​disprove​racial​categories​because​the​terms​themselves​include​race:​the​names​for​mixed-​ ace​people​ r signal​their​grounding​in​race​itself.​Indeed,​the​very​ability​to​“mix”​races​ rests​upon​the​premise​that​race​is​a​stable​and​singular​entity.​Reflecting​this​complicated​history,​we​lack​a​pithy,​neutral​term​for​mixed-​ ace​ r African​Americans​that​is​not​irreparably​damaged​by​its​troubling​past.​ “Mulatto”​is​not​a​viable​candidate.​Despite​the​fact​that​a​New York Times​ cover​story​in​2011​announced​that​young​multiracial​Americans​are​reclaiming​“mulatto,”​I​have​not​personally​encountered​a​widespread​reclamation​of​the​term.19 ​ In​the​anthology​Interracialism,​Werner​Sollers​illustrates​the​troubled​ history​of​“mulatto”​by​including​the​Oxford English Dictionary’s​tracing​of​ the​term​from​its​Spanish​and​Portuguese​etymology​of​animalism​(“mulato​young​mule,​hence​one​of​mixed​race”)​to​its​use​as​a​descriptor​of​ sickness​like​“mulatto​jack,”​meaning​“a​term​for​yellow​fever,”​to​a​“mulatto​complexion”​generally​described​as​unfortunately​“tawny”​in​color.​ However,​the​term’s​history​is​far​from​simply​negative.​The​privileged​materiality​of​mixed-​ ace​blackness​is​evident​in​historic​ties​between​“mur
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latto”​and​the​“mulatto​elite,”​which​attempted​to​garner​power​by​disassociating​with​blackness​through​practices​like​post–Civil​War​Blue​Vein​ societies​and​even​slaveholding.20​Because​of​this​history,​scholars​such​as​ P.​Gabrielle​Foreman​and​Caroline​Streeter​meet​“mulatto”​with​considerable​skepticism.21​This​term,​far​from​being​a​neutral​descriptor,​has​long​ been​seen​by​many​as​divisive,​troublesome,​and​antiquated. ​ Nevertheless,​ in​ popular​ culture​ “mulatto”​ remains​ popular,​ often​ dropped​ to​ prompt​ a​ laugh.​ For​ example,​ on​ an​ episode​ of​ the​ sitcom​ Will and Grace​in​2004,​a​one-​ pisode​character​who​we​are​told​is​despie cable​for​his​wide​variety​of​offensive​views,​laments​the​existence​of​his​ “bastard​mulatto​grandson”;​the​anachronistic​term​cements​the​character’s​laughably​in-​ he-​ ast​understanding​of​race​that​is​ostensibly​at​odds​ t p with​the​urbane,​white,​liberal,​gay​and​gay-​ riendly​New​Yorkers​on​the​ f show.​As​the​character’s​grandson​is​never​actually​shown,​he​remains​a​ convenient​comedic​ploy​through​racialized​allusion,​and​not​an​uncomfortable​and​dramatic​insertion​of​embodied​racialized​difference.​In​a​ second​example,​on​an​episode​of​the​sitcom​Scrubs,​also​from​2004,​the​ goofy​white​protagonist​J.​D.​is​enticed,​as​if​by​trance,​by​black-​ nd-​ hite​ a w Milano​cookies,​which​he​lovingly​and​mistakenly​calls​“mulattoes”​before​being​corrected​and​reprimanded​by​his​black​best​friend,​Turk,​and​ Turk’s​Dominican​American​wife,​Carla.​In​this​case​the​mere​existence​ of​African​American​and​Afro​Latina​supporting​players​allows​the​show​ to​spin​the​term’s​deployment​as​nothing​more​than​an​endearingly​naive​ (mis)understanding​of​contemporary​race​and​racialized​nomenclature. ​ In​a​third​example,​in​a​bit​at​the​White​House​Correspondents’​Association’s​annual​dinner​in​May​of​2009,​the​African​American​comedienne​ Wanda​ Sykes​ cracked​ to​ President​ Obama,​ “This​ is​ amazing.​ The​ first​black​president.​I​know​you’re​biracial,​but​the​first​black​president.​ You’re​proud​to​be​able​to​say​that.​That’s​unless​you​screw​up.​Then​it’s​ going​to​be,​what’s​up​with​the​half-​ hite​guy?​Who​voted​for​the​mulatto?​ w What​the​hell?”22​The​punch​line​for​Sykes’s​joke​is​simply​the​weird​word​ “mulatto.”​In​the​joke’s​setup,​Sykes​initially​claims​Obama​as​family.​She​ then​playfully​pushes​him​away​with​this​anachronistic​word,​which​signifies​the​authenticity​politics​that​dogged​Obama​from​the​beginning​of​ his​presidential​election​campaign​until​he​became​the​target​of​racism​ by​the​Clintons​and​their​supporters.23​As​Michael​Tesler​and​David​Sears​ note,​“The​most​pressing​racial​issue​of​2007​seemed​to​be​whether​Ba-

Introduction


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rack​Obama​was​actually​‘black​enough.’”24​As​an​out​black​lesbian​with​a​ French​wife​and​white​twin​daughters,​Sykes’s​playing​with​the​tropes​of​ black​essentialism​remains​innocuous:​she​too​can​be​read​as​inauthentically​black​by​the​imagined​“black​authenticity​police,”​so​she​has​license​ to​make​such​a​joke.25​As​the​camera​cuts​to​Obama’s​laughing,​open​face,​ the​joke​is​shown​to​be​lighthearted​ribbing​and​not​nasty​indictment.​All​ three​examples​show​how​“mulatto”​variously​produces​disgust,​desire,​ and​playful​rejection​of​the​imagined​and​embodied​multiracial​African​ American​body. ​ Why​is​“mulatto”​fodder​for​mainstream​comedy?​Like​“Negro,”​it​is​an​ anachronistic​term​clearly​cemented​to​a​past​historical​moment.​However,​“Negro”​is​not​generally​deployed​within​comedic​settings​meant​to​ appeal​to​a​broad​swath​of​the​country,​such​as​network​sitcoms​and​presidential​roasts.​Nor​is​“Negro”​acceptably​used​by​white​people​in​mainstream​comedy,​as​in​the​first​two​examples.​In​a​world​in​which​liberals​ and​conservatives​lament,​genuinely​and​not,​the​so-​ alled​PC​police​and​ c a​subsequent​surveillance​of​the​correct​use​of​racialized​language,​does​ “mulatto”​remain​funny​and​popular​because​it​is​an​ostensibly​harmless​ race​joke​about​a​seemingly​post-​ acial​group​that​is,​by​its​very​definition,​ r safely​passed​oppression?26 ​ The​history​of​the​term​makes​it​impossible​for​me​to​use​“mulatto”​as​ contemporary​racialized​nomenclature.​Nevertheless,​we​do​not​have​a​ short​and​noncontentious​term​for​mixed-​ ace​African​Americans,​as​the​ r term​“hapa”​is​for​many​multiracial​Asian​Americans.27​When​specificity​ is​the​goal,​alternative​terminology​such​as​“black/white”​is​simply​confusing.​ The​ self-​ escribed​ multiracial​ movement​ of​ the​ 1990s​ chose​ as​ d its​major​political​issue​the​creation​of​a​“multiracial”​category​on​state​ and​federal​forms,​an​institutional​and​national​opportunity​movement​of​ self-​ efinition​and​self-​ aming.​This​activism​stemmed​in​part​from​the​ d n introduction​of​new​terminology,​such​as​“multiracial”​from​the​United​ States–based​ movement​ of​ scholarship​ and​ activism​ and​ “mixed-​ ace”​ r from​a​similar​set​of​scholarship​and​activism​in​the​United​Kingdom.28​ These​ two​ terms​ were​ popularized​ in​ the​ explosion​ of​ scholarship​ following​the​psychologist​Maria​Root’s​anthology​Racially Mixed People in America​(1992).​However,​in​the​United​States​during​the​twenty-​ rst​cenfi tury,​racialized​labels,​even​relatively​new​ones,​continue​to​be​contentious​and​slippery.​Because​of​the​very​real​possibility​that​using​terms​

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such​as​“mixed-​ ace”​or​“multiracial,”​without​including​black​or​African​ r American,​are​a​way​to​run​from​blackness,​I​am​left​with​cumbersome​ but​inclusive​terms. ​ In​Transcending Blackness,​when​I​am​speaking​historically,​or​of​images​ that​conjure​historic​stereotypes,​I​use​“mulattoes”​and​“mulattas.”​When​ referring​to​new-​ illennium​imagery,​I​sometimes​use​the​more​specific​ m term​ “black-​ hite,”​ but​ I​ more​ frequently​ use​ “mixed-​ ace”​ or​ “multiw r racial.”​“Mixed-​ ace”​and​“multiracial”​are​adjectives​modifying​“black”​ r or​“African​American,”​and​I​use​them​interchangeably,​following​the​lead​ of​the​representations​I​investigate.​I​prefer​these​two​terms​to​“biracial,”​ a​term​that​highlights​the​so-​ alled​graphic​division​between​black​and​ c white.​“Multiracial/mixed-​ ace​African​American”​also​names​the​positive​ r alliances​that​multiracial​people​forge​in​and​as​part​of​black​communities.​Even​though​I​am​analyzing​representations​of​black-​ hite​individuw als,​I​do​not​use​“multiracial​white”​as​a​phrase:​I​acknowledge​that​by​ doing​so​I​am,​in​a​sense,​following​the​logic​of​the​one-​ rop​rule,​where​ d any​degree​of​black​heritage​connotes​blackness,​even​when​talking​about​ multiracial​identities.​I​fully​acknowledge​that​all​racialized​terminology​ is​inherently​encumbered​ by​its​history​and​roots​in​biologically​ based​ racism,​and​that​race​is,​as​Michael​Omi​and​Howard​Winant​have​illustrated,​a​material​reality​and​a​social​construction.29​However,​as​I​am​examining​popular​cultural​representations​and​not​postulating​about​other​ (non)racialized​possibilities,​I​necessarily​use​racialized​terms. ​ Finally,​ I​ heed​ the​ black​ feminist​ media​ scholar​ Jacqueline​ Bobo’s​ warning​in​Black Women as Cultural Readers:​“Although​it​is​patently​evident​[that]​the​representations​of​black​women​in​mainstream​media​have​ been​persistently​negative,​scholarship​by​black​women​should​not​limit​ itself​to​a​hunt​for​negative​imagery.​This​can​be​self-​ efeating​in​that​it​ d diminishes​any​hope​for​change.​As​a​critical​practice​the​hunt​for​and​dissection​of​negative​imagery​also​centers​and​makes​concrete​the​thought​ of​black​women​as​being​something​other​than​human.”30​In​the​representations​I​examine,​I​leave​open​possibilities​for​counterhegemonic​readings,​and​for​the​progressive​possibilities​that​can​come​with​imagining​ racial​fluidity.
The genealogy of the new Millennium Mulatta

The​ history​ of​ mixed-​ ace​ African​ American​ representations​ is​ insepar rable​from​the​history​of​race​itself;​part​of​the​anxiety​over​mixed-​ ace​is​ r
Introduction


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the​anxiety​over​race.​In​order​to​lay​the​groundwork​for​the​contemporary​representations​I​analyze​in​this​book,​I​provide​a​mostly​chronological​genealogy​that​illustrates​the​pain​and​anxiety​of​race​actualized​in​the​ figure​of​the​new​millennium​mulatta.​This​genealogy,​starting​with​condemnation​of​mixing​in​the​colonies​and​ending​with​the​end​of​U.S.​antimiscegenation​laws,​only​becomes​fully​evident​by​examining​the​history,​ social​scientific​research,​literary​and​film​representations,​and​criticism​ that​together​produce​the​new​millennium​mulatta.​The​new​millennium​ mulatta​ figure​ that​ composes​ half​ of​ the​ representational​ landscape​ of​ contemporary​multiracial​African​Americans​is​indelibly​marked​by​the​ stereotype​of​the​tragic​mulatta.​As​part​I​of​Transcending Blackness​illustrates,​the​new​millennium​mulatta​is​a​“race​girl”:​a​self-​ eflexive​charr acter​who​is​knowledgeable,​angry,​or​sad​about​and​self-​ onscious​of​her​ c tragic​destiny.​Nevertheless,​despite​her​many​efforts​to​the​contrary,​she​ is​unable​to​perform​outside​the​confines​of​the​tragic​mulatta​and​ends​ up​inevitably​living​up​to​the​stereotype.​Where​are​the​tragic​mulatta’s​ roots​in​the​United​States? ​ The​first​answer​lies​in​the​parent​cause​of​multiracialism.​Interracial​ unions,​as​representations​of​mixed-​ ace​African​Americans​are​inextrir cably​entangled​with​the​history​of​U.S.​antimiscegenation​law.31​In​1661​ the​colony​of​Maryland​enforced​the​first​antimiscegenation​law​in​what​ was​to​become​the​United​States​by​prohibiting​marriage​among​whites​ and​ blacks​ and​ Native​ Americans.​ Following​ suit,​ for​ more​ than​ three​ hundred​years,​thirty-​ ight​states​established​and​enforced​antimiscegee nation​laws​between​whites​and​people​of​color.32​Such​racialized​boundaries​ worked​ to​ actually​ create​ race;​ the​ story​ goes​ that​ race​ precedes​ mixed-​ ace,​but​the​history​of​antimiscegenation​laws​illustrates​that​the​ r opposite​ is​ true.​ As​ early​ as​ the​ 1600s,​ white​ North​ American​ settlers​ called​mulattoes​a​“spurious​issue”​and​an​“abominable​mixture,”​demonstrating,​in​the​words​of​Thomas​Gossett,​a​desire​“to​keep​the​races​separate”;​mixed-​ ace​is​therefore​taboo​from​the​moment​of​conquest.33 r ​ However,​powerful​white​forces​consolidated​their​rule​through​the​ use​of​mixed-​ ace​black​bodies;​their​creation​in​slavery​was​encouraged​ r through​ interracial​ sex​ and​ procreation,​ although​ their​ legitimacy​ was​ disallowed​through​bans​on​interracial​marriage.​Eugene​Genovese​explains​ how​ “self-​ erving​ slaveholders”​ created​ and​ perpetuated​ stereos types​ about​ slaves’​ lusty​ sexual​ appetites​ in​ order​ to​ justify​ their​ own​ sexual​violence​against​black​women.34​Scholars​such​as​Lisa​Ze​Winters​
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illustrate​that​most​relationships​between​black​women​and​white​men​ actually​ consisted​ of​ forced​ sexual​ relations​ and​ rape​ as​ “the​ economy​ of​interracial​concubinage​is​neither​liberating​nor​romantic,​but​rather​ entrenched​in​the​brutal​violence​of​slavery.”35​Indeed,​the​U.S.​institution​of​slavery​depended​on​interracial​sex​for​the​reproduction​of​slave​ bodies.​Ruth​Frankenberg​puts​it​plainly:​white​men’s​“sexual​intercourse​ with​enslaved​women—in​the​context​of​matrilineal​descent​laws​for​enslaved​people—produced​more​slaves.”36​This​reproductive​labor​of​black​ women​has​been​at​the​heart​of​the​symbolic​history​of​interracial​sex​in​ the​United​States;​Patricia​Hill​Collins​notes​that​during​slavery​“efforts​to​ control​black​women’s​reproduction​were​important​to​the​maintenance​ of​the​race,​class,​and​gender​inequality​characterizing​the​slave​order.”37​ This​mixing​has​thus​also​helped​constitute​core​American​notions​of​race​ and​sex. ​ Mulattas​were​associated​with​an​image​of​a​jezebel,​a​woman​who,​ in​ Deborah​ Gray​ White’s​ words,​ “was​ the​ counterimage​ of​ the​ mid-​ nineteenth-​ entury​ ideal​ of​ the​ Victorian​ lady.​ She​ did​ not​ lead​ men​ c and​children​to​God;​piety​was​foreign​to​her.​She​saw​no​advantage​in​ prudery,​indeed​domesticity​paled​in​importance​before​matters​of​the​ flesh.”38​The​sexualized​figure​of​the​tragic​mulatto​or​mulatta​featured​ prominently​ in​ slavery-​ ra​ “fancy​ girl”​ (prostitution)​ markets​ where,​ e Genovese​notes,​“girls​young,​shapely,​and​usually​light​in​color,​went​as​ house​servants​with​special​services​required.”39​Slave​stories​and​songs​ frequently​ featured,​ according​ to​ Genovese,​ “‘yaller​ gals’​ as​ dangerous​ temptresses​ while​ making​ clear​ their​ sexual​ desirability;​ but​ when​ not​ more​in​fun​than​in​hostility,​ these​songs​and​stories​suggest​criticism​ of​the​sexual​irregularity​that​marked​the​girls’​origins.”40​Mulattas,​like​ other​black​women,​were​not​therefore​deemed​worthy​of​protection​from​ sexual​abuse;​“yaller​gals”​were​labeled,​says​E.​Frances​White,​so​“unrespectable”​that​regular​“sexual​assaults​on​black​women​[were]​perpetrated​by​white​men.”41​Thus,​images​of​African​American​multiraciality​ have​been​bound​up​for​hundreds​of​years​in​ideas​of​mixed-​ ace​female​ r hypersexuality,​as​the​mulatta​was​both​the​imagined​product​of​and​partner​in​illicit​sex,​the​very​projection​of​white​men’s​sexual​freedom. ​ Slavery​tamed​the​sexually​marked​mulatta,​whose​value​arose​from​her​ sexual​submission​to​white​men.​F.​James​Davis​notes,​“keeping​mulatto​ concubines​became​a​luxury​of​many​white​men​in​Southern​cities​during​ slavery.”42​Part​of​white​men’s​desire​for​the​mulatta​body​was​a​celebraIntroduction


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tion​of​the​taboo​union​of​whiteness​and​blackness:​the​mulatta​mythically​ embodied​ dark​ sexual​ deviance​ and​ white​ acceptability.43​ Some​ white​men​highly​prized​American​mulattas​for​their​sexual​desirability,​ and​yet​simultaneously​and​paradoxically,​in​order​to​discourage​race​mixing,​early​theoreticians​condemned​multiracials​as​having​a​sickly​countenance​stemming​from​psychological​dysfunction.44 ​ The​body​of​a​mulatto​or​mulatta​has​inspired​considerable​scientific​ debate​over​the​course​of​American​history.​Discussions​around​the​beginning​ of​ the​ nineteenth​ century​ highlighted​ the​ “hybrid-​ egeneracy​ d theory”​where​“mulattoes—like​mules—tend​to​be​barren,”​because​“no​ species​of​animals​in​the​natural​world​was​known​to​have​developed​from​ the​union​of​two​separate​species.”45​In​the​mid-​ 800s​scholars​studied​ 1 mulattoes​to​discern​the​biological​distance​or​proximity​between​blacks​ and​whites.​John​Mencke​writes​that,​particularly​in​the​realm​of​manumission,​ “although​ mulattoes​ were​ generally​ classed​ as​ Negroes​ in​ the​ United​ States,​ distinctions​ were​ drawn​ between​ mulattoes​ and​ blacks​ during​the​ante-​ ellum​period.”46​An​extensive​series​of​anthropometric​ b studies​during​the​U.S.​Civil​War​measured​virtually​every​body​part​of​soldiers​and​concluded​that​“full-​ lood”​blacks​were​physiologically​inferior​ b to​whites,​and​mulattoes​were​inferior​to​both​“parent”​groups.47​After​the​ death​of​this​debate,​mulattoes​were​still​seen​as​different​and​often​“superior”​by​virtue​of​their​white​blood,​but​were​“classed”​with​“full-​ lood”​ b blacks.48​Foregrounding​social​and​not​biological​degeneracy,​in​1871​Darwin​shot​through​the​biological​debate​in​his​own​racist​way,​arguing,​“the​ seemingly​low​fertility​rate​of​mulattos​resulted​from​the​degraded​and​ anomalous​ position​ of​ their​ class;​ their​ absorption​ into​ the​ black​ race;​ and,​of​course,​the​assumed​profligacy​of​mulatto​women.”49​These​debates,​which​were​in​effect​in​earnest​until​approximately​1910,​were​informed​by​biological​determinism,​or​scientific​research​that​sought​to​ explain​how​different​“races”​were,​in​fact,​different​“species.”50 ​ After​the​abolition​of​slavery,​the​U.S.​Census​distinguished​between​ mulattoes​and​Negroes​from​1870,​when​it​first​fully​counted​black​citizens​as​human​beings,​to​1920,​when​it​deemed​that​census​workers’​practice​of​eyeballing​citizens​to​determine​racial​ancestry​had​become​impossible​and​estimated​that​75​percent​of​the​black​population​had​some​ degree​of​white​or​Native​American​heritage.51​In​the​realm​of​spatial​segregation,​the​case​of​Plessy v. Ferguson​(1896)​put​an​end​to​questions​about​ legal​difference​between​Negroes​and​mulattoes.​Creating​the​“separate​
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but​equal”​doctrine,​the​U.S.​Supreme​Court​ruled​that​Homer​Plessy,​a​ light-​ kinned​“octoroon”​from​Louisiana,​could​not​ride​in​a​white​rails way​car.52​With​this​the​U.S.​government​sanctioned​the​one-​ rop​rule​ d of​ hypodescent​ because​ an​ image​ of​ a​ mixed-​ ace​ body​ expressed​ fear​ r of​ black​ infringement​ upon​ white​ space.53​ From​ Plessy​ came​ the​ ratification​of​spatial​segregation​through​the​legal​enforcement​of​Jim​Crow​ laws,​which​ensured​that,​as​James​Grossman​writes,​“regardless​of​how​ interdependent​the​races​might​be​in​the​South,​they​would​not​inhabit​ the​same​public​spaces.”54​Again,​this​reflects​whites’​fears​of,​in​Rachel​ Moran’s​words,​“interracial​intimacy,”​which​helped​keep​interracial​marriages​illegal​in​a​number​of​states​until​the​last​third​of​the​twentieth​century.55​To​keep​white​purity​intact,​miscegenation—and​its​product,​the​ mulatto—had​to​be​perceived​as​an​immediate​threat. ​ As​part​of​a​larger​critique​launched​against​racist​representations​of​ blacks,​a​number​of​African​American​scholars,​including​W.​E.​B.​Du​Bois,​ were​vocal​in​expressing​their​disgust​with​popular​denigration​of​“the​ mulatto.”56​ Speaking​ against​ the​ origin-​ f-​ he-​ pecies​ debate,​ Du​ Bois​ o t s states:​“it​[is]​impossible​ to​draw​a​color​line​between​black​and​other​ races,​[and]​in​all​physical​characteristics​the​Negro​race​cannot​be​set​ off​by​itself​as​absolutely​different.”57​In​order​to​prove​this​idea,​Du​Bois​ presents​ photographs​ of​ African​ American​ men​ and​ women​ of​ various​ proportions​of​white,​black,​and​Native​American​ancestry.​These​photographs​demonstrated​how​those​who​contain​mostly​“black​blood”​can​ easily​“look​white,”​as​well​as​how​those​with​a​majority​of​“white​blood”​ can​easily​“look​black.”​Du​Bois​critiques​easy​and​erroneous​connections​ between​looks​and​race.​In​1906,​African​American​novelists​devoted​significant​space​to​the​mulatto;​Suzanne​Bost​points​out,​“the​canon​of​turn-​ of-​ he-​ entury​African-​ merican​literature​is​mulatta​literature,​and​the​ t c A most​studied​authors​of​this​period​contribute​to​mulatta​mythology.”58​ For​example,​Alain​Locke​documents​how​“the​Negro​has​been​shunted​ from​one​stereotype​into​the​other,”​and​how​one​of​the​earliest​stereotypes​was​“the​mulatto​house​servant​concubine​and​her​children.”59 ​ The Birth of a Nation​(1915)​is​a​prime​example​of​the​texts​that​African​ American​scholars​and​critics​identified​as​racist​depictions​of​mixed-​ ace​ r people.​The​film​portrays​the​major​mixed-​ ace​female​character​as​perr forming​her​racialization​through​the​confines​of​a​singular​iteration​of​ her​sexuality.​This​trope​would​persist​through​the​twentieth​century​in​ books​and​films​such​as​Imitation of Life.​The Birth of a Nation,​the​earliest​
Introduction


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influential​cinematic​portrayal​of​mixed-​ ace​womanhood,​demonstrates​ r such​an​indelible​filmic​attachment​of​mixed-​ ace​to​sex,​which​cannot​be​ r escaped​during​a​nearly​century-​ ong​translation​to​the​new​millennium​ l mulatta.​This​landmark​film​spins​a​tale​of​the​romanticized​glory​days​of​ the​pre–Civil​War​South,​the​unnecessary​U.S.​Civil​War,​the​unlawful,​desegregated​South​of​the​Reconstruction​period,​and​the​final​triumphant​ rise​of​white​supremacy​and​control.60 ​ D.​W.​Griffith’s​film​The Birth of a Nation​was​based​on​Thomas​Dixon’s​ novels​The Clansman​(1905)​and​The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden, 1865–1900​(1902),61​and​it​was​also​inspired​by​President​ Wilson’s​unquestionably​racist​History of the American People​(1902).​The​ film​was​thus​informed​by​nostalgic​white​male​Southerners​living​in​the​ North​around​the​beginning​of​the​nineteenth​century.​In​The Birth of a Nation,​brute​sexuality​informs​white​fear​of​newly​freed​slaves​desirous​ of​miscegenation.​The​storylines​include​tales​of​an​attempted​rape​of​a​ young​white​girl​by​Gus,​an​animalistic​black​“buck,”​and​a​ventured​marriage​between​Silas​Lynch,​a​shameless,​rabble-​ ousing​mulatto,​and​Elsie​ r Stoneman,​a​pure​and​prominent​white​woman.​In​addition,​The Birth of a Nation​features​Lydia​Brown​(played​by​the​white​actress​Mary​Alden),​a​ passionate,​calculating,​and​slightly​insane​mulatta​who​is​having​two​affairs:​one​with​a​powerful​white​abolitionist​carpetbagger​and​the​other​ with​ a​ mulatto​ insurrectionist.​ Like​ all​ of​ the​ principal​ “black”​ actors,​ Lydia’s​character​performed​in​blackface​(brownface). ​ In​ the​ mulattoes’​ characterization,​ while​ both​ Silas​ and​ Lydia​ are​ shown​ as​ sexually​ driven​ and​ keenly​ intelligent,​ Silas​ organizes​ large​ numbers​of​Southern​blacks​while​Lydia​schemes​crazily​in​back​rooms.​ Silas’s​mixed​biology​allows​him​to​think​logically,​“like​a​white​man,”​but​ lust​after​white​women,​“like​a​black​man,”​whereas​Lydia’s​mixed​biology​ appears​to​drive​her​insane.​Lydia’s​invisible​whiteness​allows​her​to​be​ intelligent​and​attractive​and​her​visible​blackness​forces​her​to​be​conniving​and​hypersexual.​The​unstable​mix​creates​her​insanity​and​lust​for​ power.​Griffith​portrays​the​mulatta​character​of​Lydia​as​ruled​by​the​entwined​forces​of​sexual​desire,​mental​instability,​and​a​need​for​power.​ Lydia’s​clothes​always​appear​to​be​falling​off​her​body,​denoting​the​uncontrollable​combination​of​unbridled​sexual​energy​and​unstable​mental​condition.​Lydia’s​disheveled​appearance​can​also​reference​the​rape​ of​ her​ mother​ in​Lydia’s​ own​ conception.​ Her​ mixed-​ ace​ female​ body​ r is​unquestionably​outside​of​true​womanhood,​which​is​coded​as​white,​
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domestic,​and​middle​class​and​is​represented​in​the​film​by​young,​blond​ Lillian​Gish,​who​plays​Elsie.62​While​one​could​assert​that​Lydia​acquires​ power​through​her​sexuality,​she​never​directs​this​power​outward,​and​it​ instead​thrashes​within​her​body.​Superfluous​sexuality​defines​the​hyperfeminized​tragic​mulatta,​rendering​her​useless​outside​the​imagined​bedroom. ​ The​film’s​pathologization​of​the​mixed-​ ace​body​helped​a​so-​ alled​ r c white​ nation​ define​ itself​ against​ the​ mulatto,​ or​ helps​ define​ itself​ as​ pure.63​The​film​scholar​Daniel​Bernardi​writes,​“as​propaganda,​The Birth of a Nation​accomplished​the​significant​feat​of​transposing​the​national​ myth​ of​ the​ South​ into​ terms​ congruent​ with​ the​ mythology​ of​ white​ American​nationalism.”64​The​film’s​final​scenes​ultimately​allay​the​fears​ created​by​Lydia’s​mixed-​ ace​body​as​the​Ku​Klux​Klan​saves​the​South,​ r and​reconfirms​white​power.​During​the​time​the​film​was​released,​science​and​popular​culture​in​the​United​States​were​shifting​from​a​discourse​of​“radical​racism”​to,​in​historian​John​Mencke’s​words,​“the​more​ respectable​doctrine​of​eugenics.”​Whereas​the​former​was​demonstrated​ in​polemics​against​uncivilized,​brutish,​and​even​cannibalistic​blacks,​the​ latter​was​a​more​genteel,​but​perhaps​even​more​virulent​form​of​scientific​racism.65 ​ Popular​ culture​ in​ the​ United​ States​ illustrated​ that​ mulattoes​ such​ as​Lydia​had​greater​mental​capabilities​than​full-​ loods,​but​at​the​same​ b time​they​were​denigrated​for​their​“physical​degeneracy​and​moral​weaknesses.”66​As​products​of​imagined​sexual​impropriety,​they​were​naturally​ prone​to​sexual​wantonness,​and​as​scientific​ideas​of​animal​hybrids​at​the​ time​dictated,​they​were​physically​lesser​than​pure​breeds​(also​an​explanation​for​their​mental​instability).​A​mixed-​ ace​character​such​as​Lydia​ r serves​as​a​vehicle​to​both​express​and​explore​relations​between​blacks​ and​ whites.​ Lydia​ warns​ against​ the​ dangers​ of​miscegenation​ because​ she​results​from​such​pairings.​She​also​demonstrates​how​the​looming​ power​of​miscegenation​can​disrupt​the​nation’s​racial​boundaries​if​it​is​ not​contained​by​white​violence,​symbolized​here​by​the​Ku​Klux​Klan.​ Griffith’s​representation​of​licentious,​conniving,​and​uncontrolled​black​ bodies​circulated​contemporary​popular,​political,​and​scientific​myths​ about​the​danger​contained​within​African​Americans.​In​particular,​his​ representation​of​the​tragic​mulatta​Lydia​warned​the​public​of​the​danger​of​miscegenation​and​multiracial​black​women.​Despite,​or​perhaps​ because​of,​the​imagined​instability​of​Lydia’s​boiling​bloods,​Griffith​has​
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her​question​her​racial​alliance​as​“just​black”​by​seeking​partnership​with​ a​white​man. ​ The​filmic​image​of​the​tragic​mulatta​bore​so​much​power​because​of​ its​echoing​in​additional​cultural​spaces.​Just​three​years​after​The Birth of a Nation’s​release,​Edward​Reuter​published​The Mulatto in the United States​ (1918),​one​of​the​earliest​and​most​comprehensive​social​scientific​takes​ on​the​tragic-​ ulatto​myth:​“Psychologically​the​mulatto​is​an​unstable​ m type​ [because]​ between​ these​ two​ groups,​ one​ admiring​ and​ the​ other​ despising,​stand​the​mixed​bloods.​.​.​.​They​are​uncertain​of​their​own​ worth;​conscious​of​their​superiority​to​the​native​they​are​nowhere​sure​ of​their​equality​with​the​superior​group.”67​Reuter’s​denigration​of​the​ “uncertain”​and​“self-​ onscious”​mulatto​is​symptomatic​of​a​palpable​fear​ c of​white-​ ppearing​mixed-​ ace​bodies​infiltrating​white​America.​Where​ a r the​ hybrid-​ egeneracy​ theory​ expressed​ just​ twenty​ years​ earlier​ highd lighted​a​biological​pathology,​Reuter’s​narrative​of​tragedy​focused​upon​ psychological​dysfunction.68 ​ The​other​landmark​social​scientific​mulatto​book-​ ength​study,​Everett​ l Stonequist’s​The Marginal Man​(1937),​uses​the​sociologist​Robert​Park’s​ theory​of​the​taxonomically​in-​ etween​“marginal​man,”​originally​devised​ b for​Jews​and​other​white​ethnics,​and​extends​it​to​“racially​hybridized​ people.”69​But​while​Park​celebrated​his​marginal​man​as​a​more​modern​ creation​whose​cosmopolitan​nature​allowed​him​to​move​between​identity​categories,​Stonequist​asserts​that​the​mixed-​ lood’s​liminal​position,​ b being​“torn​between​two​courses​of​action,”​results​in​psychological​dysfunction​characterized​by​a​“nervous​strain,”​self-​ bsorption,​hypersena sitivity,​“racial​disharmony,”​a​“clash​of​blood,”​and​an​“unstable​genetic​ constitution.”70​The​biological,​and​hence​unchangeable,​nature​of​this​description​is​particularly​salient.​With​their​theories​of​hybrid​degeneracy​ and​the​marginal​man,​Stonequist’s​and​Reuter’s​books​have​been​regularly​referenced​in​scholarship​from​their​historical​moment​until​today,​ demonstrating​the​indelible​mark​of​tragedy​on​the​bodies​of​mixed-​ ace​ r African​Americans.71​While​Reuter​and​Stonequist​focus​their​sociological​studies​on​men​and​women,​the​representational​subject​of​mixed-​ ace​ r popular​culture​was​always​overwhelmingly​a​woman. ​ The​multitextual​narrative​Imitation of Life​further​defined​the​myth​of​ the​tragic​mulatta.​Imitation of Life,​initially​a​novel​published​in​1933​by​ Fannie​Hurst,​was​turned​into​two​melodrama​“weepies,”​a​film​by​John​ Stahl​in​1934​and​another​one​by​Douglas​Sirk​in​1959.​I​focus​on​the​more​
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widely​seen​version,​the​1959​film,​at​that​time​Universal​Pictures’s​biggest​moneymaker​ever.72​This​version​continues​to​be​rerun​on​television​ today,​exposing​new​generations​of​viewers,​for​example,​me​as​a​channel-​ surfing​elementary​school​kid​of​the​1980s,​to​the​late-​ 950s​version​of​the​ 1 tragic​mulatta.​Imitation of Life​can​be​situated​during​the​New​Deal​era​ when​the​novel​was​written,​the​post-​ ar​time​when​the​story​opens,​and​ w the​civil​rights​movement​when​the​film’s​narrative​ends​and​it​was​released.​Perhaps​most​significant​among​the​many​historical​changes​over​ these​years,​the​end​of​the​war​in​1945​also​marked​the​beginning​of​the​ civil​rights​movement.​But​Imitation of Life​deploys​mixed-​ ace​as​a​filmic​ r device​and​not​as​a​gaze​into​the​real-​ ife​racism,​acts​of​resistance,​or​ l political​activism​of​the​day.​Instead,​issues​of​artifice​run​through​nearly​ every​facet​of​the​film​as​the​plot​revolves​around​acting​as​both​profession​ and​lifestyle.​The​constant​performances​put​into​question​the​existence​ of​any​“real”​racialized​or​sexualized​body;​as​new​millennium​mulatta​ representations​of​multiraciality​itself,​all​is​mimicry​and​none​is​original. ​ Imitation of Life​features​Lana​Turner​as​Lora,​a​self-​ nterested​white​ i actress​and​the​mother​of​naive​and​neglected​Susie,​played​by​Sandra​Dee,​ a​teenager​who​at​the​time​earned​the​distinction​of​being​the​highest-​ paid​teen​model​for​her​image​of​the​all-​ merican​girl.​The​sweetly​subA missive​African​American​maid​Annie,​played​by​Juanita​Moore,​and​the​ fiercely​sexual​tragic​mulatta​Sara​Jane,​played​by​Susan​Kohner,​parallel​ the​white​mother​and​daughter​team.​Sara​Jane​is​portrayed​as​perpetually​angry,​precocious,​violent,​and​mean.​She​hurls​her​emotions​mercilessly​at​her​long-​ uffering​mother:​Sara​Jane​longs​to​be​white​and​blames​ s Annie​for​imbuing​her​with​an​imagined​stain​of​blackness,​instead​of,​ as​Lauren​Berlant​points​out,​lambasting​the​state​or​the​law.73​She​finds​ an​escape​from​this​stain​through​a​sexualized​flaunting​of​her​body:​she​ dates​ white​ boys​ and​ performs​ at​ a​ white​ burlesque​ club.​ Berlant​ also​ describes​ how​ Sara​ Jane​ “chooses​ a​ style​ of​ racial​ passing​ that​ negates​ her​mother’s​‘servile’​mentality​and​manner,​featuring​instead​libidinous,​ assertive​ physicality.”74​ However,​ Sara​ Jane​ is​ punished​ for​ this​ racial​ transgression​when​her​escape​to​whiteness​causes​her​mother​to​die​of​ a​broken​heart.​Nevertheless,​as​Judith​Butler​argues,​with​this​punishment​Sara​Jane​also​receives​her​long-​ esired​whiteness:​“Sara​Jane​takes​ d her​place​next​to​[Susie]​as​one​of​Lana’s​girls,​suggesting​that​she​finally​ achieves​the​great​white​mother​she​has​always​sought.”75​She​is​finally​ freed​from​her​mother,​the​visible​burden​of​her​blackness.​ In​Butler’s​
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reading,​the​tragic​mulatta​is​brutally​utilitarian​and​cruelly​ambitious​as​ she​uses​the​occasion​of​her​mother’s​death​to​move​up​in​social​status​ and​race. ​ Susan​Kohner,​the​daughter​of​a​white​American​film​agent​and​a​Mexican​film​star​and​who​plays​the​character​of​Sara​Jane,​was​described​consistently​as​“white”​by​the​film​studio’s​press​materials.​She​was​cast​in​ the​movie​in​the​aftermath​of​the​Hollywood​Motion​Picture​Production​ Code,​or​the​Hays​Code,​which​functioned​as​Hollywood’s​own​version​ of​an​antimiscegenation​law.​In​effect​from​1929​to​1952,​representations​ of​miscegenation​were​banned​in​Hollywood​along​with,​in​Linda​Williams’s​words,​“the​very​existence​of​a​mixed-​ ace​character​on​the​screen​ r .​ .​ .​ [because​ he​ or​ she​ demonstrated]​ problematic​ proof​ of​ the​ prior​ ‘crime’​of​miscegenation.”76​Exemplifying​the​multiple​levels​of​imitation​ or​performance​seen​throughout​Imitation of Life,​Kohner​is​a​so-​ alled​ c white​actress​performing​the​role​of​a​black​woman​who​imitates​a​white​ woman.​However,​there​are​clear​limits​to​the​boundaries​pushed​in​these​ portrayals;​the​film​is​only​an​imitation​of​border​breaking,​or,​as​Sirk​put​ it,​of​“social​criticism.”​Indeed,​Sirk​fell​short​of​his​stated​desire​to​make​ “social​criticism,”​and​instead​he​ended​up​producing​an​identity​film,​devoid​of​the​racialized​political​economy​of​the​New​Deal,​World​War​II,​ and​civil​rights​periods.77​But​these​issues​are​not​absent​from​the​film:​ instead​of​placing​his​action​and​all​of​his​characters​in​the​midst​of​these​ struggles,​Sirk​makes​the​tragic-​ ulatta​character​Sara​Jane​the​film’s​sole​ m bearer​of​social​consciousness.​In​the​end,​the​1950s-​ ra​mulatta​cannot​ e be​anything​but​tragic​because​to​empower​her​would​be​to​celebrate​miscegenation. ​ In​ pop​ culture​ and​ scholarship,​ the​ multiracial​ African​ American​ scripted​as​the​tragic​mulatta​largely​fell​out​of​vogue​in​the​civil​rights​ era.​ Discussions​ about​ antimiscegenation​ laws​ were​ often​ attached​ to​ issues​of​civil​rights.​However,​it​is​important​to​point​out​that​interracial​ marriage​and​not​interracial​sex​was​made​illegal.​While​the​institution​of​ marriage​dictates​the​handing​down​of​appreciable​commodities,​the​act​ of​sex​denotes​no​legal​legitimacy.​In​1945​the​sociologists​Horace​Cayton​ and​St.​Clair​Drake​discerned​this,​writing,​“many​whites​will​continue​to​ exploit​the​fear​of​intermarriage​as​a​means​of​retaining​economic​dominance.”78​More​recent​scholars​contend​that​in​addition​to​the​protection​ of​white​womanhood​and​the​prevention​of​the​miscegenated​body,​the​ root​of​fears​regarding​interracial​marriage​also​lay​in​the​guardianship​
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of​white​capital.79​In​other​words,​not​all​miscegenation​simply​elicits​an​ emotional​or​moral​response.​Instead,​the​legal​union​of​interracial​marriage​had​been​a​major​threat​to​an​institution​that​denotes​inheritance​ and​property.​Property​is​the​clear​benefit​of​whiteness:​an​asset​that​appreciates​in​value.80 ​ The​civil​rights​movement​did​not​articulate​antimiscegenation​as​a​ primary​issue,​because​leaders​did​not​want​it​to​appear​as​though​the​ true​aim​of​civil​rights​was​for​black​men​to​marry​white​women.81​Nonetheless,​the​Supreme​Court​case​of​Loving v. Virginia​(1967)​knocked​down​ centuries​of​antimiscegenation​laws​by​citing​civil​rights​advances,​arguing​that​“antimiscegenation​laws​unconstitutionally​discriminated​on​the​ basis​of​race​in​violation​of​equal​protection​and​that​they​interfered​with​ the​fundamental​right​to​marry​under​the​due​process​clause.”82​In​that​ same​time​period,​the​discourse​of​black​threat​flourished​throughout​U.S.​ culture;​perhaps​most​pervasively,​the​anthropologist​Oscar​Lewis’s​“culture​of​poverty”​thesis​resonated​even​into​liberal​policy​in​the​Moynihan​ Report​in​1965,​blaming​African​American​inequality​on​faulty​culture​instead​of​racist​institutions. ​ The​tragic-​ ulatta​genealogy​dictates​the​new​millennium​mulatta’s​itm eration​of​angry​and​sad​race​girl.​The​works​I​examine​in​the​first​part​of​ Transcending Blackness​channel​the​history​of​the​tragic​mulatta​by​demonstrating​how​mixed-​ ace​blackness​functions​in​the​throes​of​a​racialized​ r identity​crisis​(the​result​of​extreme​uncertainty​and​self-​ onsciousness​ c regarding​race)​spurred​on​by​a​cultural​context​dictating​that​one​must​ choose​ a​ singular​ identity​ category.​ To​ different​ degrees​ all​ the​ representations​in​Transcending Blackness​feature​protagonists​who​struggle​to​ define​themselves​in​any​one​category​and​remain​there​for​a​permanent​ amount​of​time.​Indeed,​the​exceptional​multiracial​figures​fight​so​much​ with​their​racialization​that​the​texts​have​them​metaphorically​transform​ races​in​order​to​escape​blackness.
The genealogy of the exceptional Multiracial

While​the​genealogy​of​the​new​millennium​mulatta​began​with​white​ racist​ condemnation​ of​ colonial-​ ra​ mixing,​ the​ genealogy​ of​ the​ exe ceptional​multiracial​begins​with​white​racist​“defense”​of​black​bodies​ through​abolitionism.​Arguments​for​abolitionism​flourished​in​popular​ culture,​putting​forward​an​exceptional​multiracial​as​the​other​face​of​ the​tragic​mulatta.​While​the​failure​of​the​mixed-​ ace​black​body​constir
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tutes​a​significant​portion​of​the​image​of​the​multiracial​African​American​body,​the​exceptional​multiracial,​the​focus​of​part​II​of​this​book,​ is​the​other​half​of​the​historic​image​of​mixed-​ ace​African​Americans.​ r Antislavery​fiction​posited​that​the​mulatto​or​mulatta​character​is​not​ only​damned​for​being​a​product​of​the​tragic​union​of​the​races,​but​he​or​ she​is​also​valuable​for​having​a​measure​of​whiteness.​Although​the​mulatto​has​been​demeaned​throughout​much​of​American​history,​there​has​ always​been​a​contingent​of​black​Americans​and​white​Americans​who​ have​celebrated​multiracial​exceptionalism.​In​the​exceptional​multiracial​ typology,​prizing​mixed-​ ace​blackness​over​“pure”​blackness,​just​as​denir grating​mixed-​ ace​blackness​over​“pure”​whiteness,​serves​the​purpose​ r of​valuing​whiteness​above​blackness.​In​short,​while​whites​sometimes​ feared​ mulattoes​ because​ of​ their​ proximity​ to​ whiteness,​ they​ valued​ them​for​this​very​reason. ​ In​abolitionist​literature​such​as​Harriet​Beecher​Stowe’s​Uncle Tom’s Cabin​ (1852),​ mulattoes​ were​ imagined​ to​ be​ imbued​ with​ greater​ humanity​than​full-​ lood​blacks.​Abolitionists​featured​mulatto​bodies​as​ b the​key​to​illustrating​the​inhumanity​of​slavery,83​and​particularly​beautiful​(read:​white-​ ooking)​young​mulattas​were​showcased​by​abolitionl ists​to​gain​support​for​their​cause.​For​example,​beginning​in​1848,​the​ white​preacher​from​New​York​City​and​brother​of​Harriet​Beecher​Stowe,​ Henry​Ward​Beecher,​held​so-​ alled​antislavery​auctions​where​he​would​ c parade​young,​near-​ hite-​ ooking​female​slaves​around​his​congregation​ w l in​order​to​raise​the​money​required​to​buy​their​freedom.84​Throughout​ the​years​of​these​auctions,​“the​girls​(all​of​them​Christian​and​attractive)​ grew​whiter​and​whiter,​until​in​1856​Beecher​found​and​‘auctioned’​one​ slave​who​was​completely​indistinguishable​from​one​of​his​parishioner’s​ fairest​daughters.”85 ​ As​passer​slaves​on​display​for​abolitionists,​exceptional​multiracials​ are​more​valuable​than​monoracial​African​Americans​because​they​are​ akin​to​these​“beautiful,”​safe​girls.​The​cause​of​the​new​millennium​is​not​ putting​an​end​to​chattel​slavery​(without​significant​change​to​racialized​ inequalities)​but​rather​putting​an​end​to​the​idea​of​race​(again,​without​ significant​change​to​racialized​inequalities).86​Jules​Zanger​notes​that​the​ tragic-​ ulatto​character​also​took​the​guise​of​a​passer​who​was​often​rem ferred​to​as​the​“‘tragic​octoroon[,]’​.​.​.​a​beautiful​young​girl​who​possesses​only​the​slightest​evidences​of​Negro​blood.”87​Her​beauty​is​central​ to​her​portrayal​and​her​ability​to​garner​sympathy​from​whites.​Thus,​the​
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mixed-​ ace​African​American​figure​continues​to​almost​always​be​genr dered​as​female​in​cultural​representations.88 ​ The​exceptional​multiracial,​a​figure​who,​unlike​the​new​millennium​ mulatta,​is​not​simply​a​rollout​of​an​old​controlling​image,​has​roots​in​ progressive​African​American​critiques​of​essentialism,​despite​the​neoconservative​ideologies​that​arise​from​her​contemporary​representation.​ Such​critiques​came​not​just​from​Du​Bois​but​also​from​other​scholars,​ including​early​black​feminist​scholars​like​Anna​Julia​Cooper.​In​an​essay​ from​1892​Cooper​critiqued​a​black​male​novelist​for​his​misrepresentations​and​singular​notions​of​the​black​community.​She​recoiled​at​“the​ intimation​that​there​is​a​‘black​voice,’​a​black​character,​easy,​irresponsible​and​fond​of​what​is​soft​and​pleasant,​a​black​ideal​of​art​and​a​black​ barbaric​taste​in​color,​a​black​affinity.”89​Almost​one​hundred​years​later,​ Stuart​ Hall​ describes​ “black”​ as​ a​ “politically​ and​ culturally​ constructed​ category.”​As​such,​the​category​should​recognize​“the​extraordinary​diversity​ of​ subjective​ positions,​ social​ experiences,​ and​ cultural​ identities.”90​The​legacy​of​the​exceptional​multiracial​is​also​of​this​critique.​ However,​the​exceptional​multiracial​goes​to​the​far​extreme​of​the​critique​of​authenticity.​The​exceptional​multiracial​figure​is​scripted​to​dismiss​“the​black​voice”​so​much​that​it​erases​blackness​entirely. ​ The​exceptional​multiracial​is​most​clearly​rooted​in​the​hope​promised​ through​the​decriminalization​of​interracial​marriage​in​Loving v. Virginia.​ The​plaintiffs​in​the​case—Mildred​Loving​(née​Jeter),​an​African​American​woman,​and​Richard​Loving,​a​white​man—married​in​Washington,​ D.C.,​in​1958,​where​interracial​marriage​was​legal.​The​Lovings​were​arrested​ when​ they​ returned​ to​ their​ home​ state​ of​ Virginia,​ where​ they​ were​charged​with​“cohabiting​as​man​and​wife,​against​the​peace​and​ dignity​of​the​Commonwealth.”​With​the​help​of​the​aCLu,​the​Lovings​ fought—and​defeated—the​ban​on​interracial​marriage.​In​a​unanimous​ vote​of​the​Supreme​Court,​led​by​Chief​Justice​Warren,​Virginia’s​Racial​ Integrity​ Act​ of​ 1924​ was​ overturned.​ To​ commemorate​ the​ decision,​ every​ June​ 12​ various​ groups​ around​ the​ country​ celebrate​ multiracial​ individuals​and​interracial​couples​through​the​Loving​Day​Celebration.91​ At​the​Loving​moment,​representations​of​multiracial​bodies​transitioned​ from​ discursively​ maligned​ intolerable​ creations​ to​ celebrated​ future​ bridges​to​a​color-​ lind​utopia.92​Catherine​Squires​describes​this​change​ b as​the​movement​from​“hybrid​degenerates”​to​“multiracial​families.”93​ Although​repercussions​of​three​hundred​years​of​marking​interracial​reIntroduction


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lationships​as​illicit​did​not​vanish​overnight,​Loving​signifies​a​turning​ point​in​American​attitudes​toward​images​of​mixed-​ ace​people​and​in​ r the​numbers​of​those​people. ​ Civil​rights​legislation​also​helped​transform​mixed-​ ace​images​into​ r a​ multiracial​ “hope.”94​ The​ Southern​ historian​ Joel​ Williamson’s​ New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States​(1980),​taking​its​ name​from​a​phrase​in​the​novelist​Charles​Chesnutt’s​House behind the Cedars​(1900),​demonstrates​such​civil​rights–era​optimism.​In​refuting​ the​hybrid-​ egeneracy​theory,​Williamson​romanticizes​mixed-​ ace,​statd r ing​that​multiracials​will​heal​America’s​still-​ estering​race​wound.​Assumf ing​a​black-​ hite​paradigm,​Williamson​describes​mixed-​ ace​people​as​ w r “the​first​fully​evolved,​smoothly​functioning​model​of​a​people​who​have​ transcended​both​an​exclusive​whiteness​and​an​exclusive​blackness​and​ moved​into​a​world​in​which​they​accept​and​value​themselves​for​themselves​alone—as​new​and​unique,​as​indeed,​a​new​people​in​the​human​ universe.”95​As​representations​of​so-​ alled​new​people,​the​images​I​exc amine​both​express​and​critique​much​of​this​optimism,​longing​for​and​ lamenting​the​time​when​mixed-​ ace​individuals​will​be​“just​people”​and​ r not​“just​black.” ​ But​ in​ the​ 1980s,​ civil​ rights​ gains​ spurred​ a​ conservative​ backlash.​ Interestingly,​ instead​ of​ multiracial​ subjects​ feeling​ the​ conservative​ wrath​ along​ with​ other​ people​ of​ color,​ they​ found​ that​ conservatives​ “celebrated​and​politically​recognized”​them​as​model-​ inority​figures.​ m This​ political​ atmosphere​ of​ mixed-​ ace​ exceptionalism,​ which​ helped​ r elect​Barack​Obama​in​2008,​persists.​In​the​post–civil​rights​era,​celebratory​ mixed-​ ace​ images​ abound​ as​ multiracial​ people​ experience​ a​ r new​racialization​in​the​United​States.​Mixed-​ ace​African​Americans,​as​ r a​new​model​of​an​imagined-​ o-​ e​deracialized​population,​have​been​ent b visioned​as​racial​bridges​to​a​new​United​States.​They​are​the​sum​of​all​ races​and,​therefore,​no​race​at​all.​Neoconservative​and​neoliberal​Americans​deploy​images​of​mixed-​ ace​saviors​to​soothe​white​fears​of​allocatr ing​equal​authority​to​people​of​color.​And​yet,​as​Michael​Omi​suggests,​ “despite​legal​guarantees​of​formal​equality​and​access,​race​continues​to​ be​a​fundamental​organizing​principle​of​individual​identity​and​collective​ action.”96​In​other​words,​the​American​racialized​power​dynamic​has​not​ changed​with​a​so-​ alled​positive​shift​in​images​of​mixed-​ ace​people. c r ​ For​the​first​time,​most​of​the​authors​writing​on​multiraciality​from​ the​early​1990s​onward​explicitly​identified​themselves​in​their​texts​as​
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mixed-​ ace​or​monoracial​and​interracially​coupled.​A​proliferation​of​the​ r first​ generation​ of​ multiracial​ studies​ scholarship​ advanced​ the​ idea​ of​ multiracials​as​special​people.​Some​related​their​scholarship​to​their​personal​histories​and​staked​a​separate​space​for​multiracial​people​as​they​ spoke​back​to​prior​constructions​of​the​hybrid​degenerate​and​the​marginal​man.​The​most​influential​of​these​is​Maria​Root’s​Racially Mixed People in America​(1992),​which​the​sociologist​David​Brunsma​sums​up​as​ articulating​“a​burgeoning​movement​arguing​against​the​essentialism​and​ inheritability​of​race​.​.​.​while​at​the​same​time​reinscribing​essentialism​ and​immutability​onto​multiraciality​itself.”97​First-​ eneration​multiracial​ g scholarship​and​activism​largely​embraced​an​additive​race​model,​where​ mixed-​ ace​functioned​as​another​valid​category​to​tack​on,​instead​of​a​ r way​to​deconstruct​race​or​complicate​currently​existing​racialized​categories. ​ In​the​1990s​the​academic​side​of​the​multiracial​movement​was​frequently​intertwined​with​activism.98​While​these​early​works​broke​out​ of​the​black-​ hite​model​to​include​mixed-​ ace​people​of​various​backw r grounds,​many​of​the​authors​tended​to​essentialize​racial​identification,​ proclaiming​ that​ all​ mixed-​ ace​ people​ should​ identify​ under​ the​ new​ r racial​ rubric​ of​ “multiracial.”​ This​ divorcing​ of​ racialized​ identity​ from​ economic​and​social​contexts,​or​what​Brunsma​calls​“the​reinscribing​of​ essentialism​.​.​.​onto​multiraciality,”​ignored​the​fact​that,​in​the​words​ of​Siobhan​Somerville,​“the​discursive​constructions​of​race​are​inseparable​from​the​material​status​of​bodies.”99​Such​divorcing​resonated​uncomfortably​with​this​era​of​neoconservatism​and​neoliberalism,​both​of​ which​ arguably​ sought​ to​ keep​ racial​ borders​ intact​ through​ multicultural​policies​that​acknowledged​diversity​without​examining​relations​of​ power. ​ The​exceptional​figure​is​part​of​a​color-​ lind​discourse,​a​painful,​negab tive​downside​to​the​hope​that​the​civil​rights​movement​might​have​won.​ The​change​in​multiracial​imagery,​then,​accompanies​a​politicized​rationale​ that​ race​ no​ longer​ matters,​ even​ in​ material​ arenas,​ as​ the​ races​ are​ now​ mixed​ together.​ A​ multiracial​ agenda​ has​ also,​ at​ times,​ been​ embraced​by​neoconservative​and​neoliberal​figures​who​appear​to​see​ the​popularity​of​the​issue​of​mixed-​ ace​as​an​opportunity​to​argue​for​ r color​blindness​and​against​race-​ ased​measures.100​For​example,​Kim​M.​ b Williams​writes​that​in​the​mid​to​late​1990s,​Newt​Gingrich,​former​Republican​Speaker​of​the​House,​aligned​himself​with​a​so-​ alled​multic
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racial​cause,​supporting​such​measures​as​the​addition​of​a​“multiracial”​ category​on​the​2000​U.S.​Census​(this​was​defeated​in​lieu​of​a​“mark​ one​or​more”​option).101​Neoconservatives​in​the​post–civil​rights​era​of​ the​1990s​aligned​themselves​closely​with​“the​multiracial​cause,”​which​ somehow​ gave​ them​ license​ to​ deploy​ the​ language​ of​ the​ civil​ rights​ movement​in​a​manner​counter​to​the​movement’s​progressive​politics.​ Various​reactionary,​anti–affirmative​action​organizations​use​civil​rights​ language,​including​The​Campaign​for​Color​Blind​America​Legal​Defense​ and​Educational​Foundation​and​The​American​Civil​Rights​Coalition.102​ In​their​very​titles,​these​organizations​co-​ pt​contemporary​calls​for​dio versity,​multiculturalism,​and​color​blindness.103 ​ Arguments​against​applying​race-​ ased​measures​such​as​affirmative​ b action​surface​in​what​the​sociologist​Eduardo​Bonilla-​ ilva​describes​as​ S “color-​ lind​racism”​where​discourses​of​race​ignorance​effectively​work​ b to​ reinscribe​ racialized​ discrimination​ and​ safely​ insulate​ racists​ from​ allegations​of​racism.104​Some​celebrations​of​mixed-​ ace,​for​example,​in​ r the​exceptional​multiracial​formulation,​constitute​a​type​of​color-​ lind​ b racism​ where​ multiraciality​ is​ used​ to​ mean​ “no​ race”​ despite​ the​ persistence​ of​ structural​ racialized​ inequalities.​ This​ connection​ is​ illuminated​by​Catherine​Squires​in​the​mass​media​arena:​“In​most​mainstream​ media​accounts,​multiracial​identity​is​yet​another​vehicle​for​denying​the​ social​import​of​race​and​reinforcing​the​dominant​notion​that​race​is​a​ matter​of​individual​tastes​and​psychology,​not​structural​inequalities.”105 ​ In​ a​ stark​ example​ of​ Squires’s​ statement,​ Ward​ Connerly,​ the​ neoconservative​ideologue,​former​University​of​California​regent,​and​author​of​California’s​Proposition​209​(the​anti–affirmative​action​measure​ in​California​from​1996),​now​cloned​around​the​country,​uses​images​of​ rapidly​increasing​numbers​of​mixed-​ ace​people​as​the​example​of​why​ r race​no​longer​matters.​Such​an​assumption​is​based​on​the​notion​that​ interracial​marriage​and​multiracial​personhood​void​the​issue​of​race​in​ both​private​and​public​spheres.​Connerly​argues​that​race​should​be​made​ opaque​through​bills​such​as​the​proposed​and​failed​Racial​Privacy​Initiative​of​2003,​where​racial​and​ethnic​data​would​have​been​prohibited​ from​inclusion​on​state​forms.​However,​many​critics​of​these​efforts​have​ pointed​out​that​racialized​inequalities​and​not​race​itself​are​obscured​ through​erasures​of​race-​ ased​measures.106​In​other​words,​ignoring​race​ b fails​to​remove​it​from​its​intrinsic​tie​to​the​economic,​social,​cultural,​ and​historic​fabric​of​the​United​States.​As​part​of​this​effort,​multiracial​
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people​are​exalted​in​popular​culture​as​the​new​model​minority,​the​example​of​people​who​can​mythically​transcend​race.107​They​heroically​eschew​the​crutch​of​race​or​never​play​the​so-​ alled​race​card.​The​subtext​ c is​that​other​black​and​brown​people​who​cannot​get​over​their​racialization​are​lazily​choosing​not​to.​Transcending Blackness​contests​the​political​ tide​in​which​mixed-​ ace​African​Americans​are​used​as​a​deracialized​exr cuse,​deployed​against​other​people​of​color​as​the​solution​to​the​problem​ of​race.108 ​ Proponents​ of​ color​ blindness,​ an​ ideology​ linked​ to​ mixed-​ ace​ by​ r the​idea​that​mixing​races​makes​them​disappear,​proclaim​that​they​fail​ to​see​race.​Ruth​Frankenberg​breaks​through​the​veneer​of​color​blindness​to​link​it​to​essentialist​racism,​describing​them​as​“a​double​move​ towards​‘color​evasiveness’​and​‘power​evasiveness’”;​both​ideologies​are​ complicit​with​structural​and​institutional​racism.109​Color​blindness​is​a​ convenient​bait-​ nd-​ witch​trick​where​a​utopian​notion,​embodied​in​the​ a s figure​of​the​exceptional​multiracial,​is​used​as​the​bait​and​is​switched​ for​the​perpetuation​of​institutional​racism​against​people​of​color.​Some​ of​the​exceptional​multiracial’s​primary​characteristics​are​that​he​or​she​ is​ smarter,​ more​ attractive,​ and​ generally​ more​ redeemable​ because​ of​ the​residue​of​whiteness.​Mixedness​thus​enables​black​transcendence.​In​ the​post–civil​rights​era,​politicians​and​pundits​celebrate​an​image​of​the​ mixed-​ ace​individual,​like​Obama,​as​the​bridge​to​future​racial​utopia.​ r As​the​imagined​“sum​of​all​races,”​the​mixed-​ ace​African​American​has​ r somehow​magically​transcended​race;​the​logical​extension​of​this​idea​ is​that​race​no​longer​matters.​This​change​has​at​least​partially​occurred​ because​of​anger​and​resentment​over​minority​gains​in​the​civil​rights​ movement.​Celebrating​mixed-​ ace​is​a​way​to​value​whiteness​over​blackr ness​ and​ still​ safely​ engage​ with​ people​ of​ color.​ Therefore,​ the​ exceptional​multiracial​is​an​utterly​transformable​being​who​moves​from​old-​ school​passing​to​a​twenty-​ rst-​ entury​racial​masquerade.​ Mixed-​ ace​ fi c r African​American​subjects​as​the​exceptional​multiracial​are​represented​ in​late-​ wentieth-​and​early-​ wenty-​ rst-​ entury​popular​culture​as​flext t fi c ible​racialized​bodies,​the​ultimate​“floating​signifiers,”​to​use​the​words​ of​Claude​Lévi-​ trauss​and​Stuart​Hall,110​or​empty​vessels​who​can​conS veniently​be​filled​with​any​desired​racialized​image​from​hyperraced​or​ starkly​racist​(like​the​figure​of​the​tragic​mulatta)​to​de-​ aced​or​e-​ aced​ r r (like​the​figure​of​the​post-​ acial​healer).111 r ​ The​term​that​denotes​an​imagined​time​after​racism​and​racialized​
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identities​ themselves​ is​ “post-​ ace,”​ which​ stems​ from​ the​ ideology​ of​ r color​blindness.112​Similarly,​another​“post,”​post-​ eminism,​is​contingent​ f upon​the​assumption​that​the​second​wave​feminist​movement​eradicated​ sexism​to​the​extent​that​it​no​longer​exists,​so​issues​of​patriarchy​and​ gender​discrimination​are​simply​moot.113​Just​as​race​and​gender​intersect​in​the​stereotypes​under​consideration​here,​the​gambits​of​post-​ ace​ r and​post-​ eminism​inform​each​other. f ​ Susan​Koshy​writes​that​post-​ ace​is​a​metaphoric​expression​of​the​ r “future​perfect​tense,”​something​that​will​magically​happen​if​simply​described​ as​ coming​ to​ fruition.114​ Post-​ ace​ equates​ the​ power​ of​ people​ r of​color’s​racialization​with​white​racialization.​Mary​Waters​notes​that​ whites​see​their​ethnicity​as​“optional,”​a​voluntary​label.​For​many​whites,​ according​to​Waters,​“ethnicity​is​increasingly​a​personal​choice​of​whether​ to​be​ethnic​at​all,​and,​for​an​increasing​majority​of​people,​of​which​ethnicity​to​be.​An​ethnic​identity​is​something​that​does​not​affect​much​ in​everyday​life.”115​This​philosophy​becomes​dangerous​when​people​of​ color​are​assumed​to​have​this​same​flexibility,​or​the​same​ability​to​throw​ off​forces​of​racialized​ascription.​The​philosophy​of​“optional​ethnicity”​ can​ lead​ to​ “neo-​ acism,”​ in​ the​ words​ of​ philosopher​ Etienne​ Balibar,​ r which​is​a​“racism​without​races,”​produced​through​a​variety​of​sophisticated​practices,​discourses,​and​representations.116​Images​of​the​exceptional​multiracial​can​stand​in​as​politically​correct​neoracism,​a​celebration​of​whiteness​and​denigration​of​blackness.​The​best​evidence​about​ the​anti-​ lack​racism​that​constitutes​the​exceptional​multiracial​figure​is​ b the​way​in​which​a​conjuring​of​the​exceptional​multiracial​frequently​accompanies​political​moves​such​as​erasures​of​race-​ ased​initiatives​like​ b affirmative​action. ​ Because​racialized​discourses​are​undeniably​gendered,​and​gendered​ discourses​are​undeniably​raced,​Transcending Blackness​works​to​present​ an​imbricated​critique​of​race​and​gender,​which​in​the​case​of​the​exceptional​multiracial​is​also​a​critique​of​post-​ ace​and​post-​ eminism.​Post-​ r f feminism​capitalizes​upon​the​feminist​idea​of​choice.​Post-​ eminism​dicf tates​that​the​United​States​in​the​twenty-​ rst​century​no​longer​needs​ fi the​antiquated​ideals​of​1970s-​ ra​feminism​because​we​have​reached​a​ e state​of​gender​equity.​Susan​J.​Douglas​traces​the​term​“post-​ eminism”​ f to​ a​ New York Times Magazine​ article​ from​ October​ 1982,​ “Voices​ from​ the​Post-​ eminist​Generation.”117​Post-​ eminism​was​popularized​in​the​ F f 1990s​by​such​white​female​critics​as​Naomi​Wolf,​Camille​Paglia,​and​
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Katie​Roiphe.118​According​to​Wolf,​post-​ eminism​is​a​move​away​from​ f “victim​feminism,”​which​she​claims​“casts​women​as​sexually​pure​and​ mystically​nurturing,​and​stresses​the​evil​done​to​these​‘good’​women​as​a​ way​to​petition​for​their​rights”​and​toward​“power​feminism,”​which​“sees​ women​as​human​beings—sexual​[and]​individual.”119​Women​under​this​ ideal​use​performances​of​femininity​to​take​responsibility​for​themselves​ and​ gain​ liberal​ subjecthood.​ Post-​ eminism​ denotes​ a​ period​ of​ time​ f that​ comes​ after​ “traditional”​ second​ wave​ feminism.120​ Post-​ eminism​ f claims​that​the​source​of​women’s​power​is​their​sexuality.​The​paradoxical​images​of​post-​ eminism​are​most​evident​in​popular​culture​where,​ f for​example,​young​women​might​wear​skin-​ ight,​midriff-​ earing​“Girl​ t b Power”​ T-​ hirts.​ Post-​ eminism​ has​ also​ been​ characterized​ by​ critics,​ s f such​as​Ginia​Bellafante,​as​“fashion​spectacle,​paparazzi-​ammed​galas,​ j [and]​mindless​sex​talk”​and​emblematic​of​“a​popular​culture​insistent​on​ offering​images​of​grown​single​women​as​frazzled,​self-​ bsorbed​girls.”121​ a These​images​serve​to​erase​issues​of​power​and​privilege,​and​the​very​ real​social​and​economic​situations​that​affect​women’s​rights. ​ The​ideology​of​post-​ ace,​most​evident​in​the​figure​of​the​exceptional​ r multiracial,​ is​ facilitated​ through​ performances​ of​ post-​ eminism.​ In​ f other​words,​movement​beyond​race​occurs​by​deploying​certain​racialized​ performances​ of​ femininity.​ Premising​ a​ shared​ cultural​ value​ of​ “equality,”​both​ideologies​of​post-​ ace​and​post-​ eminism​focus​more​on​ r f individual​(or​micro)​experiences​as​opposed​to​institutional​(or​macro)​ analyses.​ Like​ the​ ideology​ of​ post-​ ace,​ the​ ideology​ of​ post-​ eminism​ r f largely​ ignores​ structural​ or​ historical​ boundaries.​ Post-​ ace​ and​ post-​ r feminism​are​dangerous​political​ideologies​because​they​provide​an​excuse​for​those​empowered​in​society​to​celebrate​and​not​challenge​their​ privilege.​ They​ are​ individualist​ philosophies​ where​ hard​ work​ earns​ gains,​laziness​merits​loss,​and​structural​inequalities​simply​do​not​exist.​ With​these​two​blinding​ideologies,​empowered​individuals​feel​justified​ in​their​continued​oppression​of​others.
why Mixed-race and why Mixed-race Blackness?

We​ are​ in​ the​ midst​ of​ what​ scholars​ and​ critics​ have​ dubbed​ the​ “biracial​baby​boom.”122​The​swell​in​multiracial​births​has​been​well​documented​by​scholars,​activists,​and​federal​and​state​governments.123​Since​ the​1990s​the​topic​of​multiraciality​in​the​United​States​exploded​in​a​ variety​of​realms,​including​social​science​and​humanities​scholarship​and​
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films,​fiction,​and​television.​Mixed-​ ace​is​a​topic​of​interest​in​political​ r arenas​as​well.​From​the​early​1990s​until​the​announcement​in​1997​of​ the​“check​one​or​more”​category​on​the​2000​U.S.​Census,​public​debates​ on​mixed-​ ace​centered​on​the​counting​and​identification​of​multiracial​ r people. ​ Despite​their​overrepresentation​in​popular​culture,​multiracial​African​ Americans​ are​ not​ the​ largest​ or​ fastest-​ rowing​ of​ all​ multiracial​ g groups.​ In​ her​ analysis​ of​ the​ 2000​ U.S.​ Census,​ Ann​ Morning​ reports​ that​only​5​percent​of​all​African​American​respondents​marked​two​or​ more​races,​while,​by​comparison,​14​percent​of​Asian​Americans​did.124​ By​historical​comparison,​in​1918,​when​white​male​enumerators​and​not​ individuals​accounted​for​racialized​labels,​government​officials​estimated​ that​approximately​75​percent​of​all​African​Americans​had​some​nonblack​ancestry.​Comparing​the​1918​and​the​2000​figures,​we​can​also​surmise​that​people​who​claim​multiracial​blackness​are​usually​first​generation;​a​person​with​one​black​parent​and​one​parent​of​another​race​would​ be​more​likely​to​“mark​one​or​more”​than​an​African​American​person​ who​might​be​multigenerationally​mixed-​ ace​(e.g.,​someone​who​has​two​ r multiracial​parents). ​ Rising​mixed-​ ace​numbers,​while​dramatic,​do​not,​in​themselves,​rer veal​any​new​truths​about​how​race​operates.​Such​numbers,​produced​ today​through​self-​ dentification,​are​far​from​scientific​and​do​not​necesi sarily​reflect​the​numbers​of​multiply​raced​people​within​the​U.S.​population.​In​addition,​the​question​of​how​scholars​arrive​at​these​numbers,​ of​checking​boxes​and​counting​races,​is​highly​contested.​Census​statistics​are​hypervalued​in​scholarly​and​popular​realms​because​they​reveal​ the​changing​demographics​of​the​country.​However,​in​the​public​sphere,​ debate​rarely​moves​beyond​excitement​or​trepidation​over​the​mixing​of​ America​to​truly​question​what​such​changes​mean​for​life​chances.​The​ constant,​differential​rates​of​poverty,​by​comparison,​are​shown​far​less​ frequently,​and​the​dramatic​spike​in​income​inequality​is​not​fair​game.​ Indeed,​our​new​millennium​is​also​marked​by​the​persistence​of​racialized​inequality.​Despite​this​evidence,​some​cultural​workers​promote​the​ twenty-​ rst-​ entury​solution​to​the​problem​of​the​color​line,​to​tweak​ fi c Du​Bois’s​famous​phrase,​as​race​mixing.125 ​ The​ census​ is​ essentially​ another​ representation.​ Scholars​ who​ analyze​the​multiracial​numbers​from​the​2000​U.S.​Census​contend​that​debates​on​mixed-​ ace​are​really​about​multiracial​African​Americans,​even​ r
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though​they​do​not​constitute​the​largest​number​of​mixed-​ ace​Amerir cans.126​The​sociologist​Nathan​Glazer​argues​that​while​other​mixtures​ can​frequently​be​dismissed​as​nonissues,​the​“divide”​between​black​and​ white​lives​on​in​the​contestations​of​multiracial​black​Americans’​identification​as​mixed-​ ace​and​not​exclusively​African​American.127​Indeed,​ r according​to​the​popular​press,​the​loudest​complaints​against​including​ a​multiracial​category​in​the​2000​U.S.​Census​came​from​African​American​civil​rights​organizations​who​interpreted​the​inclusion​of​a​“check​ one​or​more”​option​as​leading​inevitably​to​a​decline​in​their​memberships.128 ​ While​individual​events,​such​as​9/11​or​the​immigration​“crisis,”​might​ temporarily​reorder​the​racial​hierarchy,​the​social​distance​between​African​Americans​and​white​Americans​remains​significant​and​ostensibly​ unsurpassable.​ This​ divide​ has​ traditionally​ given​ individuals​ who​ are​ racially​mixed​black​and​white​an​air​of​“impossibility,”​to​quote​the​literary​scholar​Jennifer​Brody.129​In​the​new​millennium​United​States,​nearly​ 150​years​after​the​end​of​chattel​slavery​and​more​than​fifty​years​after​ the​ end​ of​ de​ jure​ racial​ segregation,​ the​ black-​ hite​ divide​ continues​ w to​bear​real​and​symbolic​weight.​From​birth​weight​to​life​expectancy​ to​home​ownership​to​tenuring​rates,​white​Americans​outpace​African​ Americans,130​ and​ a​ divide​ rooted​ in​ structural,​ institutional,​ and​ material​inequality​is​obscured​while​African​Americans​are​blamed​for​so-​ called​faulty​culture,​spending​habits,​or​work​ethics.​This​obfuscation​is​ reflected​in​a​wide​range​of​representational​spaces.​Multiracial​African​ American​ representations​ in​ the​ late-​ wentieth-​ and​ early-​ wenty-​ rst-​ t t fi century​United​States​both​reflect​and​inform​the​material​and​the​social;​ they​influence​the​ways​in​which​census​numbers​are​read​and​defined.​ While​dramatic​numbers​might​illustrate​that​mixed-​ ace​is​a​viable​area​ r of​research,​I​am​interested​in​understanding​not​the​remarkable​multiracial​population​increase​but​the​discursive​meanings​behind​one​effect​ of​such​an​increase:​popular​representations​of​African​American​mixed-​ race. ​ Questions​of​anti-​ lack​racism​get​more​muddled​after​Loving,​as​issues​ b of​racial​fluidity​enter​the​picture.​The​question​becomes:​would​the​new​ millennium​mulatta​or​exceptional​multiracial​find​herself​in​the​same​ predicaments​as​the​tragic​mulatta?​Now​that​multiracial​people​are​doing​ the​creating,​by​writing,​acting,​directing,​and​exercising​greater​creative​ control,​might​there​be​a​chance​that​representations​will​come​closer​
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to​lived​experience?​The​answer​to​this​question​lies​in​the​scripting​of​ the​quintessential​post–civil​rights​subject,​personified​most​dramatically​ in​the​figure​of​Obama,​as​often​mixed-​ ace.​Hybridity​and​border​crossr ing,​ two​ qualities​ underscored​ as​ ideals​ in​ the​ post–civil​ rights​ United​ States,​are​constitutive​to​the​interracial​family​and​the​interracial​body,​ for​ whom​ navigating​ multiple​ identities​ is​ an​ everyday​ means​ of​ existence.​But​this​quality​does​not​make​multiracials​exceptional.​Trey​Ellis​ and​other​authors​assert​that​contemporary​monoracial​African​American​ artists​embody​a​hybridized​“New​Black​Aesthetic​.​.​.​[that]​shamelessly​ borrows​and​reassembles​across​both​race​and​class​lines.”​These​artists,​ deemed​“cultural​mulattoes”​by​Ellis,​“grew​up​feeling​misunderstood​by​ both​the​black​worlds​and​the​white.”131​Mixed-​ ace​representations​illur minate​how​race​is​a​construction,​and,​at​the​same​time,​how​the​forces​ of​racialization​and​the​historic​one-​ rop​rule​of​hypodescent,​temper​eled ments​of​personal​volition. ​ The​mixed-​ ace​African​American​representations​from​1998​to​2008​ r engage​issues​of​multiracial​black​racialization​and​sexualization,​tragedy,​ and​privilege.​I​chose​the​particular​works​examined​in​the​book​because​ they​feature​fictional​and​nonfictional​mixed-​ ace​African​Americans​self-​ r consciously​engaging​with​racialized,​gendered,​class,​sexuality,​and​color​ performances​and,​often,​crises.​These​particular​works​are​representative​of​this​particular​time​period​and​particular​subgenre​of​multiracial​ African​American​representations.​Not​surprisingly,​identity​is​very​much​ at​the​core​of​these​popularly​consumed​works​and​many​of​the​representations​are​both​about​and​by​“us,”​and​not​“them.”​In​part​I,​“The​New​ Millennium​Mulatta,”​I​investigate​late-​ wentieth-​and​early-​ wenty-​ rst-​ t t fi century​representations​of​the​reimagined​tragic​mulatta,​a​self-​ eflexive,​ r highly​sexualized,​and,​to​varying​degrees,​ultimately​angry​and​sad​figure​ whose​salvation​would​come​about​through​black​transcendence.​In​chapter​1​I​analyze​Jennifer​Beals’s​portrayal​of​Bette​Porter​on​the​popular​ television​drama​The L Word.​I​contend​that​Beals’s​performance​of​the​ angry​race​girl​Bette​is​mired​in​tragic-​ ulatta​misfortune;​haughty,​beaum tiful,​arrogant,​and​emotionally​volatile​Bette​is​continuously​punished,​ just​like​the​historic​trope​of​the​tragic​mulatta.​Bette​stands​out​because​ of​the​paucity​of​images​of​multiracial​black​women​on​television.​The​few​ representations​of​mixed-​ ace​African​American​and​white​women​exist​ r primarily​in​black​ensemble​casts,​such​as​the​sitcoms​The Jeffersons,​A Different World,​and​Girlfriends.132​Television​studies​scholars​note​that​teleReading Mixed-Race Representations


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visual​representations​are​influential​in​the​creation​of​self.133​Televisual​ representations​also​function​as​powerful​means​of​control.134 ​ In​chapter​2​I​investigate​the​way​in​which​the​novelist​Danzy​Senna​ reformulates​ the​ passing​ narrative​ and​ reinterprets​ the​ tragic-​ ulatta​ m heroine​in​her​production​of​a​new​millennium​mulatta​representation​ in​ Caucasia.​ This​ text​ has​ quickly​ become​ a​ popular​ and​ scholarly​ darling;​it​populates​reading​lists​from​high​school​English​classes​to​college​ courses​on​mixed-​ ace.​Scholars​have​also​already​begun​to​write​extenr sively​about​the​novel,​and​Senna​herself​has​been​investigated​as​a​type​ of​twenty-​ rst-​ entury​multiracial​spokesperson.​Scholarship​and​cultural​ fi c productions​on​racial​passing​illustrate​that​race​is​far​from​stable​and​ monolithic,​ as​ the​ mixed-​ ace​ body​ can​ move​ from​ a​ “black​ race”​ to​ a​ r “white​race.”​Amy​Robinson​argues​that​the​“most​rudimentary​lesson​of​ passing​[is​that]​the​visible​is​never​easily​or​simply​a​guarantor​of​truth.”135​ The​reality​of​mixed-​ ace​bodies​encompassing​many​races​in​their​(inr visible)​ blood​ demonstrates​ just​ this.​ To​ differing​ degrees,​ a​ search​ for​ “racial​truths”​plagues​all​the​mixed-​ ace​African​American​representar tions​that​I​examine​in​Transcending Blackness;​the​characters​are​shown​to​ suffer​through​racial​and​sexual​performance​anxieties.​Although​Senna’s​ character​Birdie,​as​the​sad​race​girl,​bears​traces​of​the​old​tragic-​ ulatta​ m characters,​as​a​new​millennium​mulatta​she​also​functions​as​a​vehicle​to​ critique​the​tragic​mulatto​and​mulatta​and​the​exceptional​multiracial,​ post-​ acial,​post-​ eminist​ideology.​Senna’s​Birdie​also​has​echoes​of​the​ r f antiracism​that​scholars​such​as​Ann​duCille​point​out​is​always​central​ in​portrayals​of​tragic​mulattas;​duCille​writes​that​for​African​American​ writers​like​Pauline​Hopkins​and​Frances​Harper,​“the​use​of​the​mulatta​ figure​was​both​a​rhetorical​device​and​a​political​strategy​.​.​.​[that]​.​.​.​ allowed​black​writers​to​explore​the​proscribed​social​and​sexual​relations​ between​the​races.”136 ​ In​part​II,​I​deconstruct​the​figure​of​the​mixed-​ ace​transformer.​In​ r chapter​ 3​ I​ analyze​ the​ independent​ film​ Mixing Nia.​ The​ exceptional​ multiracial​Nia​experiences​an​identity​crisis​akin​to​the​new​millennium​ mulatta,​but​her​escape​from​blackness​produces​her​moment​of​liberation.​Chapter​4​investigates​an​episode​of​the​popular​reality​television​ show​ America’s Next Top Model​ in​ which​ the​ contestants​ are​ given​ the​ dictate​“switch​ethnicities”​to​sell​a​product.​While​a​mixed-​ ace​African​ r American​character’s​black-​ ranscending​(race-​ witching)​photograph​is​ t s the​lead​up​to​her​subsequent​victory​for​the​season,​all​of​the​contestants​
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engage​in​the​exceptional​multiracial​masquerade​by​trading​races.​My​ reading​reveals​the​clear​corporate​forces​colluding​to​sell​post-​ ace,​post-​ r feminism,​and​black​transcendence.​Notably,​these​representations​also​ reflect​1990s-​ ra​ideas​of​identity​fluidity​taken​to​incredible​extreme.​For​ e example,​Stuart​Hall​writes​that​while​it​might​be​surprising​to​some,​“the​ representative​modern​experience”​is​actually​one​of​being​“dispersed​and​ fragmented.”137​Hall​argues​that​identities​are​not​“armor-​ lated​against​ p other​identities”​and​are​“not​tied​to​fixed,​permanent,​unalterable​oppositions.”​He​thus​proposes​choosing​“identifications”​over​“identity”​because​“once​you’ve​got​identification,​you​can​decide​which​identities​are​ working​this​week.”138​However,​and​importantly,​exceptional​multiracial​ representations​ do​ not​ illustrate​ another​ vital​ part​ of​ Hall’s​ arguments​ about​identity:​while​they​might​be​fluid,​they​are​also​“historically​specific”​and​a​“set​of​practices.” ​ Whether​ in​ the​ guise​ of​ the​ new​ millennium​ mulatta​ or​ the​ exceptional​multiracial,​the​mixed-​ ace​African​American​body​is​still​tied​to​an​ r imagined,​excessive​sexuality.​As​post–civil​rights​subjects,​the​characters​ I​examine​receive​some​of​this​history,​but​both​the​new​millennium​mulatta​and​the​exceptional​multiracial​figures​resist,​to​different​extents,​the​ wholesale​marking​of​their​bodies​as​illicit​and​illegal.​At​the​same​time,​ mixed-​ ace​African​Americans​bear​the​marks​of​a​certain​degree​of​presr tige​because​they​have​historically​embodied​the​beauty​standard​within​ African​American​communities.​The​figures​I​examine​are​represented​as​ battling​with​the​forces​of​both​prestige​and​ostracism.​Sometimes​their​ perceived​ mixed-​ ace​ desirability​ grants​ privileges​ and​ sometimes​ this​ r privilege​prevents​them​from​understanding​themselves​outside​of​sexual​ relationships.​The​characters’​explicit​racial​border​crossing​demonstrates​ how​racialization​is​indeed​quite​malleable:​in​a​number​of​cases​the​characters​are​presented​as​trying​on​different​racial​and​sexual​personae​by​ altering​hair,​speech,​partners,​and​manner​of​dress.139 ​ Such​identity​play​illustrates​that​ideologies​are​not​absolute;​they​are​ not​sutured​shut.​I​strive​to​write​in​the​slippages​in​Transcending Blackness.​For​the​new​millennium​mulatta,​and​to​a​certain​extent​for​the​exceptional​multiracial,​the​problem​of​performing​“authentic”​race​is​solely​ the​purview​of​the​mixed-​ ace​African​American​character:​within​a​given​ r text,​the​mixed-​ ace​character​is​the​only​one​questioning​racial​alliances​ r or​attempting​to​perform​authentic​racialized​identities.​Questions​of​authenticity​are​thus​at​the​forefront​of​this​book.​The​texts​I​examine​are​not​
Reading Mixed-Race Representations


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isolated​representations​of​mixed-​ ace​African​Americans;​they​are​reprer sentative​texts​that​showcase​contemporary​American​tropes​of​the​tragic​ mulatta,​multiracial​exceptionalism,​and​black​transcendence.​The​representations​in​this​book​are​thoroughly​imbricated​with​the​social​and​political​landscape​of​race,​gender,​class,​color,​and​sexuality​in​the​twenty-​ first-​ entury​United​States​as​well​as​with​the​demographic​reality​of​a​ c burgeoning​multiracial​population,​and​a​multiracial​African​American​ president.​And​yet​they​miss​the​complexities​of​lived​mixed-​ ace​black​ r American​experiences. ​ The​multiracial​African​American​subjects,​as​new​model​minorities,​ are​envisioned​to​be​quintessential​“new​Americans”​because,​in​theory,​ they​coalesce​the​two​poles​of​ethnicity​that​have​historically​divided​the​ United​ States:​ they​ are​ proof​ that​ civil​ rights​ succeeded.​ At​ the​ same​ time​their​representations​are​unmistakably​tied​to​historic​stereotypes​ of​“mulattoes”:​they​are​proof​that​the​races​should​stay​apart.​Structuring​these​representations​are​the​new​millennium​ideologies​of​post-​ ace,​ r an​imagined​time​after​racialized​inequality,​and,​indeed,​race​itself,​and​ post-​ eminism,​ a​ fantasized​ moment​ after​ gender​ discrimination;​ both​ f ignore​ the​ reality​ that​ race​ and​ gender​ still​ dictate​ life​ chances​ in​ the​ twenty-​ rst-​ entury​ United​ States.​ Blackness​ is​ not​ seen​ as​ a​ positive​ fi c part​of​a​multiracial​identity​or​as​providing​access​to​community​or​cultural​support.​Representations​of​black-​ hite​mixed-​ ace,​communicating​ w r that​black​heritage​dooms​the​mixed-​ ace​figure​to​tragedy​and​that​black​ r transcendence​sets​up​the​mixed-​ ace​character​for​success,​proclaim​that​ r racism​and​sexism​are​antiquated​notions​in​our​new​millennium​and​that​ blackness​must​be​transcended.

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notes
–​ — ​– ​

preFace: FroM Biracial To MulTiracial

This​preface​is​an​extended​version​of​the​keynote​address​I​gave​at​the​Multiracial​ Heritage​Week​at​Brown​University​in​2009.​Five​years​earlier,​as​a​graduate​student​ finishing​up​my​dissertation,​I​had​also​given​the​keynote,​a​speech​where​I​flexed​my​ almost-​ h.D.​muscles.​My​talk​in​2004​was​purely​academic,​as​I​“impartially”​thought​ P through​what​it​meant​to​assert​a​multiracial​identity​in​the​shadow​of​the​2000​U.S.​ Census,​particularly​with​regards​to​the​contentious​history​of​naming​and​claiming​ mixed-​ ace.​But​for​the​fifteenth​anniversary​of​Multiracial​Heritage​Week​I​felt​comr fortable,​even​compelled,​to​reveal​my​own​multiracial​journey.​This​was​no​small​feat​ for​me.​Although​I​had​not​let​the​dismissal​of​scholarship​on​mixed-​ ace​as​“sellout​ r work”​(by​some​academics​from​my​own​graduate​field​of​ethnic​studies,​or​the​accusation​of​it​as​“me-​ tudy”​by​anti–ethnic​studies,​anti–feminist​studies,​and​anti–​ ritical​ s c studies​scholars)​scare​me​away​from​writing​about​the​topic,​I​had​only​wanted​to​engage​in​the​scholarly​and​political,​and​not​the​personal​and​emotional,​implications​ of​my​work.​As​I​prepared​for​my​talk​in​2009,​with​four​years​as​an​assistant​professor​under​my​belt,​I​realized​that​my​previous​refusal​to​talk​personally​was​not​just​a​ desire​not​to​be​self-​ ndulgent,​as​I​had​told​myself​previously.​Rather,​my​silence​operi ated​as​a​way​to​extricate​myself​from​the​identity-​ olitics​fire​that​surrounds​work​on​ p mixed-​ ace,​just​like​work​on​other​so-​ alled​inauthentic​racialized,​gendered,​sexur c alized,​or​classed​experiences.​In​this​personal​and​emotional​opening​prologue​to​my​ scholarly,​political​book​on​mixed-​ ace,​I​revisit​those​ideas.​This​preface​is​inspired​by​ r the​works​of​Mark​Anthony​Neal,​especially​New Black Man.​Neal’s​work​gave​me​permission​to​take​the​voice​I​do​here​(Mark​Anthony​Neal,​New Black Man). ​ 1.​Hall,​“Minimal​Selves,”​116. ​ 2.​I​am​grateful​to​Mike​Hurt,​one​of​the​founders​of​BomBs​and​my​peer​mentor,​ for​keeping​these​documents​for​all​of​these​years​and​sharing​them​with​me. ​ 3.​Spickard,​“Obama​Nation?” ​ 4.​Sachi​is​now​a​professional​documentarian​working​for​the​Los Angeles Times.​She​ continues​to​make​pieces​about​multiraciality,​among​many​other​topics. ​ 5.​Maria​Root,​“Bill​of​Rights​for​People​of​Mixed​Heritage,”​1993–1994,​http://www​ .drmariaroot.com/doc/BillOfRights.pdf​(accessed​December​10,​2008). ​ 6.​Hall,​“Cultural​Identity​and​Diaspora.”

​ 7.​See​Williams,​Mark One or More,​12. ​ 8.​Ibid.
inTroducTion: reading Mixed- race represenTaTions

​ 1.​S.​Brown,​“Negro​Character​as​Seen​by​White​Authors,”​280. ​ 2.​A​number​of​authors​are​beginning​to​write​about​the​metaphor​of​race​transcendence​(although​I​have​yet​to​see​“black”​combined​with​“transcend”).​See,​for​ example,​V.​Smith,​“From​‘Race’​to​Race​Transcendence”;​Mirza,​“Transcendence​ over​Diversity”;​Post,​“Cultural​Inversion​and​the​One-​ rop​Rule.” D ​ 3.​V.​Smith,​Not Just Race, Not Just Gender,​38. ​ 4.​Hall,​“The​Work​of​Representation,”​15. ​ 5.​Hall,​“What​Is​This​‘Black’​in​Black​Popular​Culture?,”​474. ​ 6.​Hammonds,​“New​Technologies​of​Race,”​108. ​ 7.​Hall,​“The​Work​of​Representation,”​1. ​ 8.​Omi​and​Winant,​Racial Formation in the United States,​68. ​ 9.​Through​ culture​ the​ hybrid​ nature​ of​ identity,​ described​ by​ James​ Clifford,​ is​ “mixed,​ relational,​ and​ inventive”​ (Clifford,​ The Predicament of Culture,​ 10).​ In​ addition,​through​examining​a​wide​variety​of​nontraditional​“hidden​histories​of​ resistance,”​Robin​Kelley​gets​us​“to​pay​attention​to​cultural​hybridity”​(Kelley,​ Race Rebels,​15​and​13).​Tricia​Rose​writes​about​the​syncretic​nature​of​hip-​ op​ h culture​“as​an​experimental​and​collective​space​where​contemporary​issues​and​ ancestral​forces​are​worked​through​simultaneously”​(Rose,​Black Noise,​59). ​ 10.​Almaguer,​Racial Fault Lines,​3. ​ 11.​My​ “new​ millennium​ mulatta”​ is​ a​ play​ off​ of​ Danzy​ Senna’s​ brilliant​ phrase​ (Senna,​“The​Mulatto​Millennium,”​12). ​ 12.​Kawai​builds​off​the​work​of​Homi​Bhabha​and​Stuart​Hall​here.​Kawai,​“Stereotyping​Asian​Americans,”​118. ​ 13.​Crenshaw,​“Mapping​the​Margins.” ​ 14.​Beech,​“Eurasian​Invasion.” ​ 15.​See​Nagle,​American Indian Ethnic Renewal.​This​idea​becomes​important​when​ considering​another​set​of​statistics:​this​millennium​is​marked​by​more​interracially​married​African​Americans​in​the​United​States​than​ever​before:​9​percent​of​black​men​and​4​percent​of​black​women.​This​number​is​low​when​compared​to​the​intermarriage​rates​of​all​other​groups​of​color,​but​relatively​high​ when​compared​to​the​3​to​4​percent​interracial​marriage​rate​for​both​sexes​of​ “non-​ ispanic​whites.”​To​put​this​another​way,​from​the​2000​U.S.​Census​numH bers,​96.5​percent​of​all​white​Americans​are​married​to​other​white​Americans​ (U.S.​Bureau​of​the​Census,​“Hispanic​Race​and​Origin​of​Coupled​Households,”​ Census​2000,​http://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/briefs/phc-​ 19/ t index.html).​Another​study​from​2003​shows​that​the​number​of​interracial​marriages​of​all​groups​is​even​higher​than​the​census​data,​with​whites​intermarrying​ at​a​rate​of​5.8​percent,​African​Americans​at​10.2​percent,​Asian​Americans​at​ 27.2​percent,​Latinos​at​28.4​percent​(Bean​and​Stevens,​“Interracial​Marriage​by​ Racial​Group​and​Race​of​Partner”;​also​cited​in​DaCosta,​Making Multiracials,​9).

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​ 16.​DaCosta,​Making Multiracials,​4;​and​Ibrahim,​“Toward​Black​and​Multiracial​‘Kinship’​after​1997,”​23. ​ 17.​One​additional​note​on​years:​I​use​the​phrase​“new​millennium”​throughout​the​ book,​even​though​I​start​my​study​in​1998.​Representations​of​multiracial​African​ Americans​in​the​late​1990s​name​“new​millennium”​phenomena​even​before​the​ advent​of​the​new​millennium. ​ 18.​I​use​the​phrase​“anti-​ lack​racism”​as​opposed​to​“racism”​or​“prejudice”​not​just​ b to​signal​discriminatory​feelings​of​whites​toward​people​of​color,​but​to​also​signify​the​institutional,​structural,​and​cultural​forces​that​foment​the​inequality​of​ people​of​African​descent​in​our​society. ​ 19.​Susan​Saulny,​“Black?​White?​Asian?” ​ 20.​See​Berlin,​Slaves without Masters;​and​Blassingame,​Black New Orleans. ​ 21.​See​ Streeter,​ “The​ Hazards​ of​ Visibility”;​ and​ Foreman,​ “Who’s​ Your​ Mama?”​ Foreman​notes,​“the​term​[mulatta]​seems​to​be​enjoying​a​vernacular​and​critical​currency​that,​I​fear,​both​expresses​a​current​racial​anxiety​and​reproduces​ the​politics​of​exceptionalism.​Today,​people​ask​their​peers​and​professors,​clients​ and​customers,​‘are​you​a​mulatto?’​with​little​sense​of​meaning​or​manners,​while​ publishers​clamor​for​novels,​autobiographies,​and​anthologies​about​living​on​the​ color​line”​(531). ​ 22.​Alex​Leo​and​Nico​Pitney,​“Wanda​Sykes​Kills​at​House​Correspondents’​Dinner​ (Video),”​Huffington Post,​May​5,​2009,​http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/ 09/wanda-​ ykes-​ ideo-​ f-​ hit_n_201280.html​(see​minute​1:40​to​2:15).​Sykes​ s v o w also​performed​a​closely​related​version​of​this​joke​in​her​comedy​show​“I’ma​Be​ Me,”​which​aired​October​10,​2009,​on​hBo. ​ 23.​Parker,​ Sawyer,​ Towler,​ “A​ Black​ Man​ in​ the​ White​ House?,​ 193–217.​ See​ also​ Kinder​and​Dale-​ iddle,​The End of Race;​and​Tesler​and​Sears,​Obama’s Race. R ​ 24.​Tesler​and​Sears,​Obama’s Race,​4. ​ 25.​Wyatt,​“Wanda​Sykes​Has​a​Show​(or​So​They​Tell​Her),”​C1. ​ 26.​Will and Grace,​“Back​Up,​Dancer,”​episode​no.​142,​first​broadcast​September​26,​ 2004,​ by​ nBC,​ directed​ by​ James​ Burrows​ and​ written​ by​ David​ Kohan,​ Max​ Mutchnick,​Tracy​Poust,​and​Jon​Kinnally;​Scrubs,​“My​Common​Enemy,”​episode​ no.​75,​first​broadcast​October​19,​2004,​by​nBC,​directed​by​Joanna​Kerns​and​ written​by​Bill​Lawrence​and​Bill​Callahan.​I​have​been​surprised​that​the​term​is​ also​used​as​a​so-​ alled​neutral​descriptor,​since​its​history​makes​it​verboten​for​ c me​to​use​neutrally.​I​have​very​rarely​heard​it​used​by​multiracial​African​Americans​in​a​reclaiming​manner;​when​used,​as​by​Sykes,​it​has​an​ironic​or​comedic​ tinge.​However,​I​have​come​across​a​surprising​number​of​non-​ ixed-​ ace​Afrim r can​Americans​who​use​“mulatto”​as​a​race​label,​from​undergraduate​students​ and​senior​citizen​learners​to​the​Asian​American​novelist​Don​Lee’s​casual​reference​to​his​black-​ hite​female​character​in​Country of Origin​(2004)​as​“a​mulatto.” w ​ 27.​And​yet,​“hapa”​is​not​totally​noncontentious.​See​Kauanui,​Hawaiian Blood;​and​ Nishime,​“Guilty​Pleasures.” ​ 28.​Parker​and​Song,​Rethinking Mixed Race. ​ 29.​Omi​and​Winant,​Racial Formation in the United States.

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​ 30.​Bobo,​Black Women as Cultural Readers,​35. ​ 31.​Hodes,​White Women, Black Men. ​ 32.​Frankenberg,​White Women, Race Matters,​71–74.​For​more​detailed​information​on​ antimiscegenation​laws,​see​Rachel​F.​Moran’s​Interracial Intimacy. ​ 33.​Gossett,​Race,​30–31. ​ 34.​Genovese,​Roll, Jordan, Roll,​461. ​ 35.​Winters,​“More​Desultory​and​Unconnected​Than​Any​Other,”​469. ​ 36.​Frankenberg,​White Women, Race Matters,​73. ​ 37.​Collins,​Black Feminist Thought,​50–51. ​ 38.​White,​Aren’t I a Woman?,​29. ​ 39.​Genovese,​Roll, Jordan, Roll,​416. ​ 40.​Ibid.,​430. ​ 41.​E.​White,​Dark Continent of Our Bodies,​33. ​ 42.​Davis,​Who Is Black?,​37. ​ 43.​Additionally,​the​history​of​mixed-​ ace​people​in​slavery​has​been​described​as​an​ r attempted​dissociation​with​blackness​and​association​with​whiteness.​While​historians​such​as​Joel​Williamson​and​John​Mencke​argue​that​there​was​a​separate​ mulatto​class​during​slavery,​Genovese​asserts​that​“mulattoes​did​not​constitute​a​ separate​caste​in​the​Old​South​except​among​the​well-​ o-​ o​free​Negroes​of​a​few​ t d cities.​Blacks​and​mulattoes​worked​side​by​side​in​the​plantation​Big​House​and​ in​the​fields.​Those​mulattoes​who​received​special​treatment​usually​were​kin​to​ their​white​folks,​and​the​special​treatment​was​not​always​favorable”​(Genovese,​ Roll, Jordan, Roll,​429).​Nevertheless,​as​Genovese​illustrates​in​his​discussion​of​ “fancy​girls,”​distinctions​between​gradations​of​mixed-​ ace​blacks​were​also​arr ticulated​on​the​auction​block.​At​the​same​time,​it​was​also​sometimes​financially​beneficial​to​ignore​the​issue​of​mixture.​Writing​about​early​descriptions​of​ “mulattos​as​black,”​Winthrop​Jordan​asserts​that​“by​classifying​the​mulatto​as​a​ Negro​[a​slave​auctioneer]​was​in​effect​denying​that​intermixture​had​occurred​ at​all”​(W.​Jordan,​White over Black,​178).​For​more​on​this​topic,​see​Williamson,​ New People;​and​Mencke,​Mulattoes and Race Mixture.​There​has​also​been​debate​ among​scholars​ of​African​ American​ history​as​to​whether​ mixed-​ ace​ African​ r Americans​were​part​of​a​two-​ rong​black-​ hite​system​(where​their​allegiances​ p w solely​lay​with​the​black​community),​or​a​three-​ rong​“mulatto​elite”​system​like​ p that​of​the​Caribbean. ​ 44.​This​myth​works​itself​out​in​the​legal​arena​of​State v. Scott​(1869)​where​the​ mixed-​ ace​person​is​described​as​“sickly​and​effeminate,”​“inferior​in​physical​ r development​and​strength,”​and​finally,​“productive​of​evil,​and​evil​only,​without​ any​corresponding​good”​(Saks,​“Representing​Miscegenation​Law”). ​ 45.​Gossett,​Race,​49,​61. ​ 46.​Mencke,​Mulattoes and Race Mixture,​9. ​ 47.​Ibid.,​39. ​ 48.​In​an​interesting​comparison,​showing​that​interracial​sex​was​a​scapegoat​issue​in​ anti-​ mmigration​and​antimiscegenation​laws,​Tomás​Almaguer​notes​that​Anglo​ i justification​for​anti-​ hinese​immigration​was​the​lascivious​nature​of​the​ChiC nese,​or​that​“like​Chinese​women,​Chinese​men​also​were​perceived​as​a​threat​
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to​ the​ moral​ well-​ eing​ of​ the​ white​ population,​ and​ most​ especially​ to​ white​ b women”​(Almaguer,​Racial Fault Lines,​160).​The​looming​menace​of​race​mixing​ and​mixed-​ ace​bodies​sparked​white​fear,​halted​Chinese​immigration,​and​prer vented​Chinese​competition​with​white​workers;​in​essence,​images​of​mixed-​ race​helped​consolidate​white​privilege.​Examining​anti-​ mmigration​laws​alongi side​anti-​ iscegenation​laws,​it​becomes​clear​that​the​U.S.​government​desired​ m Chinese​bodies​solely​for​labor,​and​then​hoped​they​would​disappear.​Fear​of​ miscegenation​and​multiracial​bodies​provided​a​rationale​for​racist​legislation.​ In​American​history,​for​people​of​color​and​interracial​families,​the​ostensibly​ private​space​of​the​family​has​been​torn​violently​open​to​make​their​intimacies​ public.​It​is​interesting​to​note​that​white​hysteria​focused​much​more​intensely​ around​Asian​immigration​and​race​mixing​and​not​nearly​as​much​around​actual​ mixed-​ ace​Asian​and​white​children.​I​am​hard​pressed​to​even​find​names​for​ r such​children​at​that​time​as​“hapa”​is​a​Hawaiian​import​and​“Eurasian”​comes​ from​U.S.​military​intervention​in​Asian​countries.​In​contrast,​much​of​the​focus​ of​white​hysteria​about​black​and​white​intermixture​was​indeed​about​the​formation​of​mixed-​ ace​bodies.​There​have​been​very​precise​terms​documenting​ r mixed-​ ace​black​and​white​children​from​“mulatto”​to​“quadroon,”​“octoroon,”​ r and​so​on. ​ 49.​Quoted​in​White,​Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability,​33. ​ 50.​Mencke,​Mulattoes and Race Mixture,​77. ​ 51.​Davis,​Who Is Black?: One Nation’s Definition,​29. ​ 52.​Moran,​Interracial Intimacy,​54. ​ 53.​Indeed,​through​some​estimations,​even​greater​white​fear​comes​from​invisible​ infiltration​from​“black”​bodies​as,​for​example,​St.​Clair​Drake​and​Horace​Cayton​ thoroughly​documented​Great​Depression–era​white​fear​in​Chicago​of​“black”​ people​“passing”​as​“white”​(Drake​and​Cayton,​Black Metropolis,​159–73). ​ 54.​Grossman,​“A​Chance​to​Make​Good,”​361. ​ 55.​Moran,​Interracial​Intimacy,​54. ​ 56.​Engaging​the​science​of​his​time,​in​The Health and Physique of the Negro American​ (1906)​Du​Bois​argues,​“All​the​great​peoples​of​the​world​are​the​result​of​a​mixture​of​races”​(37).​See​also​Squires,​African Americans and the Media. ​ 57.​Du​Bois,​The Health and Physique of the Negro American,​16. ​ 58.​Bost,​Mulattas and Mestizas,​68.​In​addition,​while​an​undergraduate​at​Stanford​ University,​Danzy​Senna​wrote​her​honors​thesis​“Hiding​in​the​Light:​Representations​of​‘Passing’​in​African-​ merican​Fiction,​1890​to​1930”​(Arias,​“An​InterA view​with​Danzy​Senna”). ​ 59.​Locke,​“American​Literary​Tradition​and​the​Negro,”​271. ​ 60.​Grossman,​“A​Chance​to​Make​Good,”​357. ​ 61.​In​“The​Reaction​of​the​Negro​to​the​Motion​Picture​Birth of a Nation,”​Thomas​R.​ Cripps​describes​Thomas​Dixon​as​“a​sometimes​preacher,​a​professional​Southerner,​and​a​fretful​Negrophobe”​(111)​who​loved​to​launch​diatribes​against​the​ dangers​of​miscegenation. ​ 62.​Gish,​“The​Making​of​The Birth of a Nation,”​44.
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​ 63.​While​Brody​explains​how​the​United​Kingdom​and​its​citizens​were​never​“pure,”​ but​ rather​ a​ compilation​ of​ various​ peoples​ and​ cultures,​ performances​ of​ hybridity​help​construct​its​very​opposite​state,​a​mythical​purity.​In​other​words,​ performances​of​hybridity​somehow​make​the​English​“purely”​white​(Brody,​Impossible Purities). ​ 64.​Bernardi,​The Birth of Whiteness,​20. ​ 65.​Mencke,​Mulattoes and Race Mixture,​122. ​ 66.​Ibid.,​125. ​ 67.​Reuter,​The Mulatto in the United States,​88. ​ 68.​Using​history​and​sociology​and​drawing​heavily​upon​census​data,​Reuter​articulates​a​pseudo-​ cientific​“narrative​of​tragedy”:​“[mulattoes]​envy​the​white,​aspire​ s to​equality​with​them,​and​are​embittered​when​the​realization​of​such​ambition​is​ denied​them.​They​are​a​dissatisfied​and​an​unhappy​group”​(Reuter,​The Mulatto in the United States,​88). ​ 69.​This​includes​the​“Eurasians/Anglo-​ ndians​of​India,”​the​“Cape​Coloured​of​South​ I Africa,”​the​“Coloured​Peoples​of​Jamaica,”​the​“Indo-​ uropeans​of​Java,”​the​“Part​ E Hawaiians,”​and​the​“Metis​of​Brazil.” ​ 70.​Stonequist,​The Marginal Man,​145–55. ​ 71.​Some​contemporary​texts​also​combine​staid,​early-​ wentieth-​ entury​notions​of​ t c marginality​with​contemporary​ideas​of​multiracial​“specialness.”​For​example,​in​ From Black to Biracial​(1998),​the​sociologist​Kathleen​Korgen​argues​that​mixed-​ race​ people​ must​ make​ a​ lateral​ move​ from​ one​ singular​ identity​ to​ the​ next,​ choosing,​in​her​view,​one​essentially​defined​ethnicity,​“biracial,”​over​another,​ “black,”​to​aid​in​the​problem​that​“biracial​persons​lack​a​sense​of​belonging.”​ Korgen​also​propagates​“positive”​stereotypes​as​she​describes​a​multiracial​African​American​“gift​of​objectivity”​and​“cosmopolitan”​worldview.​Korgen​illustrates​the​persistence​of​Reuter’s​and​Stonequist’s​ideas​in​our​age​of​late​multiculturalism,​where​identities​are​not​historically​situated​but​imagined​to​be​tried​ on​and​off​like​outfits.​Korgen,​From Black to Biracial,​76–77. ​ 72.​In​“‘What’s​the​Matter​with​Sarah​Jane?,’”​Marina​Heung​states​that​this​film​was​ “one​of​Universal’s​highest​grossing​films​in​history”​(303).​Mulvey​and​Halliday,​ Douglas Sirk,​109. ​ 73.​Berlant,​“National​Brands/National​Body,”​197. ​ 74.​Ibid. ​ 75.​Butler,​“Lana’s​‘Imitation,’”​15. ​ 76.​Williams,​Playing the Race Card,​181. ​ 77.​Stern,​“Imitation of Life,”​284. ​ 78.​Drake​and​Cayton,​Black Metropolis,​173. ​ 79.​See​Saks,​“Representing​Miscegenation​Law”;​and​Pascoe,​“Race,​Gender,​and​the​ Privileges​of​Property.” ​ 80.​Harris,​“Whiteness​as​Property,”​279;​Lipsitz,​The Possessive Investment in Whiteness. ​ 81.​See​Moran,​Interracial Intimacy;​and​Kennedy,​Interracial Intimacies. ​ 82.​Moran,​Interracial Intimacy,​6–7,​12–13. ​ 83.​P.​Gabrielle​Foreman​notes​that​a​number​of​critics​have​observed​similar​pheNotes to Introduction

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nomena​“that​the​white​skin​of​some​slaves​acted​as​a​visibly​clear​symbol​of​the​ wrongs​of​slavery​argument”​(“Who’s​Your​Mama?,”​522). ​ 84.​Talty,​Mulatto America at the Crossroads of Black and White Culture,​3–6. ​ 85.​Ibid.,​6. ​ 86.​Bullock,​“The​Mulatto​in​American​Fiction.” ​ 87.​Zanger,​“The​‘Tragic​Octoroon’​in​Pre-​ ivil​War​Fiction.” C ​ 88.​In​addition,​just​like​the​tragic​mulatta,​the​tragic​octoroon​plays​political​purposes:​ this​ character​ “flattered​ the​ Northern​ audience​ in​ its​ sense​ of​ self-​ righteousness,​confirming​its​belief​in​the​moral​inferiority​of​the​South”​(ibid.,​ 287). ​ 89.​Cooper,​“The​Negro​as​Presented​in​American​Literature,”​150. ​ 90.​Hall,​“New​Ethnicities,”​166. ​ 91.​Tucker,​“Loving​Day​Recalls​a​Time​When​the​Union​of​a​Man​and​a​Woman​Was​ Banned.” ​ 92.​Mixed-​ ace,​however,​was​not​the​focus​of​attention​in​the​United​States​during​ r the​years​of​the​civil​rights​movement,​which,​in​Manning​Marable’s​phrase,​was​ the​“Second​Reconstruction,”​the​time​period​from​1945​to​1976​when​there​were​ “a​series​of​massive​confrontations​concerning​the​status​of​the​African-​ merican​ A and​other​national​minorities​.​.​.​in​the​nation’s​economic,​social​and​political​ institutions”​(Marable,​Race, Reform, and Rebellion,​3–4). ​ 93.​Squires,​Dispatches from the Color Line,​29,​53. ​ 94.​What​mixed-​ ace​also​owes​to​civil​rights​is​a​type​of​mythology​of​race​and​racial​ r equality.​Nikhil​Pal​Singh​describes​how,​in​the​creation​of​the​mythology​of​the​ civil​rights​era,​Dr.​Martin​Luther​King​Jr.​has​become​a​particularly​central​figure.​ King​“has​come​to​stand​for​the​idea​of​an​America​in​which​racial​equality​has​ already​been​achieved”​(Singh,​Black Is a Country,​5).​Singh​argues​that​King​has​ been​ successfully​ appropriated​ as​ “a​ figure​ affirming​ the​ accomplishments​ of​ color-​ lind​nationalism”​(17).​The​myth​of​civil​rights​in​the​United​States​has​ b been​recast​as​a​utopian​meritocracy​where​racial​injustice​was​quickly​put​to​an​ end​in​the​civil​rights​movement.​This​is​what​Singh​calls​“reshaping​the​boundaries​of​nation,”​which​“has​also​involved​rearticulations​of​race”​(21).​In​the​post– civil​rights​era,​the​reshaping​of​racialization​by​the​United​States​has​come​about​ through​neoconservative​celebrations​of​mixed-​ ace. r ​ 95.​Williamson,​New People,​195. ​ 96.​Omi,​“Racialization​in​the​Post–Civil​Rights​Era,”​179. ​ 97.​Brunsma,​Mixed Messages,​2–3​(emphasis​in​the​original).​Along​with​Root’s​first​ anthology,​I​would​include​Paul​Spickard’s​Mixed Blood,​Maria​Root’s​The Multiracial Experience,​Lise​Funderburg’s​Black, White, Other,​and​Naomi​Zack’s​American Mixed Race. ​ 98.​The​ multiracial​ movement​ denies​ the​ existence​ of​ racialization​ in​ its​ myopic​ desire​to​create​a​reified​multiracial​category.​Instead​of​embracing​liminality,​syncretism,​and​hybridity,​the​Multiracial​Movement​seizes​hold​of​its​new​“racial”​ category,​ denying​ the​ reality​ of​ multiple​ allegiances​ and​ seemingly​ contradictory​identifications.​In​“A​Critique​of​‘Our​Constitution​Is​Color-​ lind,’”​the​legal​ B scholar​Neil​Gotanda​argues​that​“racial​categories​themselves,​with​their​metaNotes to Introduction

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phorical​themes​of​white​racial​purity​and​nonwhite​contamination,​have​different​meanings​for​blacks​[or​all​people​of​color]​and​whites”​(267–68).​Thus,​the​ Multiracial​Movement’s​desiring​“multiracial”​as​yet​another​category​links​to​the​ same​history​that​reifies​white​power​and​sees​race​as​a​distinct,​biological​reality.​ In​addition,​Gotanda​states​that​not​grounding​decisions​about​racial​categorization​in​the​history​of​U.S.​racism​“supports​racial​subordination​.​.​.​by​treating​ racial​categories​as​if​they​were​stable​and​immutable”​(259).​Multiracial​activists’​desire​for​the​“multiracial”​category​demonstrates​how​they​see​a​“solution”​ to​the​“problem”​of​mixed-​ ace​as​inclusion​into​the​political​marketplace.​They​ r thus​seek​to​mimic​the​hegemonic​structures​of​monoraciality​and​cannot​think​ outside​the​monoracial​box. ​ 99.​Somerville,​Queering the Color Line,​167. ​ 00.​K.​Williams,​Mark One or More. 1 ​101.​Ibid. ​102.​The​Campaign​for​Color​Blind​America​Legal​Defense​and​Educational​Foundation’s​ website​ was​ www.equalrights.com;​ there​ they​ described​ themselves​ as​ a​ “not-​ or-​ rofit​organization​designed​to​challenge​race-​ ased​public​policies​and​ f p b educate​the​public​about​the​injustices​of​racial​preferences.”​The​American​Civil​ Rights​Coalition’s​website​is​http://www.acrc1.0rg/index.htm;​there,​above​a​big​ picture​of​Ward​Connerly​deep​in​work,​the​organization​states​that​it​“works​with​ grassroots​supporters​and​leaders​on​the​local,​state​and​federal​level​to​end​racial​ and​gender​preferences​and​classifications.” ​103.​Critiquing​this​phenomenon​in​the​anthology​Mapping Multiculturalism,​the​contributors​struggle​with​the​multiple​meanings​of​“multiculturalism,”​including​its​ conservative​incarnations​as​an​ideology​that​“renewed​demands​for​assimilation​ in​disguise,”​“avoided​race​.​.​.​and​left​the​impression​that​any​discussion​of​cultural​diversity​would​render​racism​insignificant,”​and​“often​played​into​the​view​ that​became​backlash​orthodoxy”​(Gordon​and​Newfield,​“Introduction,”​1,​3,​4). ​104.​Bonilla-​ ilva,​Racism without Racists,​2. S ​105.​Squires,​Dispatches from the Color Line,​2. ​106.​In​ addition​ to​ white​ authors​ such​ as​ Hollinger​ and​ George​ Will,​ men​ of​ color​ such​as​Ward​Connerly,​Dinesh​D’Souza,​and​Richard​Rodriguez​also​articulate​a​ post-​ thnic​point​of​view.​These​neoconservative​men​of​color​use​themselves​as​ e “authentic”​role​models​who​can​testify​to​the​existence​of​color​blindness.​See​ Dinesh​D’Souza’s​The End of Racism;​Richard​Rodriguez’s​Brown,​Days of Obligation,​and​Hunger of Memory;​and​George​Will’s​syndicated​newspaper​column. ​107.​Squires,​Dispatches from the Color Line,​2. ​108.​For​some​neoconservatives,​a​desire​for​the​erasure​of​the​color​line,​or​the​blurring​of​racial​distinctions,​results​in​an​imagined​color-​ lind​state​of​post-​ thnicity​ b e as​described​by​the​historian​David​Hollinger​in​Postethnic America.​Proponents​ of​a​post-​ thnic​ideology,​who​can​be​both​conservatives​and​liberals,​state​that​ e twenty-​ rst-​ entury​America​no​longer​needs​to​hold​on​to​issues​of​race​since​ fi c racism​ no​longer​ plays​ a​substantial​ role​in​“our”​lives.​ Post-​ ace​ also​signifies​ r post–civil​rights,​or​that​the​goals​of​the​civil​rights​movement​have​been​fully​ met;​post-​ ace​functions​as​an​antidote​to​race-​ ased​programs​such​as​affirmar b
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tive​action.​Failing​to​acknowledge​the​existence​of​continually​racially​stratified​ inequalities,​Hollinger​writes,​“a​post-​ thnic​perspective​seeks​to​test​more​syse tematically​the​limits​of​the​epistemic​‘we’​and​to​stretch​its​circle​as​widely​as​ the​capacities​of​nature​and​its​knowers​will​allow”​(111).​While​utopian​sounding​ in​premise,​the​application​of​“voluntary​identity,”​to​use​a​Hollinger​phrase,​is​ far​from​racial​utopia​producing​(129).​While​a​post-​ thnic​America​strikes​many​ e as​nearly​utopian​in​the​abstract,​the​reality​is​that​merely​removing​“the​ethno-​ racial​component​in​identity,”​perhaps​an​impossible​notion​in​itself,​fails​to​eliminate​racism​on​either​a​personal​or​structural​level​in​the​racially​hierarchized​ United​States​and​perhaps​even​stokes​institutional​racism. ​109.​Frankenberg,​White Women, Race Matters,​14,​143. ​110.​Lévi-​ trauss,​Introduction to Marcel Mauss,​63–64;​and​Race: The Floating Signifier,​ S produced​and​directed​by​Sut​Jhally​(Northhampton,​MA:​Media​Education​Foundation,​1996),​videocassette,​62​minutes. ​ 111.​However,​as​the​communication​scholars​Kent​Ono​and​Derek​Buescher​illustrate​ in​their​discussion​of​how​Disney’s​Pocahontas​functions​as​a​cipher,​the​cipher​ figure​is​not​merely​“an​empty​shell​of​meaning​prior​to​being​imported​into​mainstream​U.S.​commodity​culture”​(Ono​and​Buescher,​“Deciphering​Pocahontas,”​ 25). ​112.​Elsewhere​ I​ have​ noted:​ “A​ wide​ array​ of​ scholars​ have​ interrogated​ post-​ ace​ r using​a​variety​of​related​terms,​including​‘colorblindness,’​used​by​legal​scholars​ such​as​Lani​Guinier​and​Gerald​Torres​(2002),​‘colorblind​racism,’​utilized​by​ sociologist​Eduardo​Bonilla-​ ilva​(2003),​‘colormute,’​coined​by​anthropologist​ S Mica​Pollock​(2005),​‘racial​apathy,’​deployed​by​sociologists​Tyrone​Forman​and​ Amanda​Lewis​(2006),​and​‘post–civil​rights,’​applied​by​journalists,​critics,​and​ academics​alike.​One​of​the​more​strident​embraces​of​post-​ ace​comes​from​Paul​ r Gilroy​(2000),​who​challenges​the​‘crisis​of​raciology,’​claiming​that​holding​onto​ ‘race​thinking,’​even,​or​perhaps​especially,​by​anti-​ acist​activists​and​critical​race​ r scholars,​fosters​‘specious​ontologies’​and​‘lazy​essentialisms’​(Gilroy​53).​These​ are​terms​chosen​by​authors​to​denote​or​critique​some​moment​after​the​importance​of​race.​I​favor​the​term​‘post-​ ace’​because​it​highlights​the​continued​cenr trality​of​race​in​this​ideology​where​race​is​ostensibly​immaterial.​I​contend​that​ in​its​very​denial​of​the​uses​of​race,​post-​ aciality​remains​embroiled​in​precisely​ r what​it​claims​not​to​be.​In​other​words,​‘post-​ ace​is​an​ideology​that​cannot​esr cape​racialization,​complete​with​controlling​images​or​racialized​stereotypes”​ (R.​Joseph,​“Tyra​Banks​Is​Fat,”​239–40). ​113.​Elsewhere​I​have​noted:​“Media​studies​scholars​from​Angela​McRobbie​(2004,​ 2008)​to​Sarah​Banet-​ eiser​(1999,​2007),​Susan​Douglas​and​Meredith​Michaels​ W (2004),​Charlotte​Brunsdon​(2005),​and​Yvonne​Tasker​and​Diane​Negra​(2007)​ are​producing​critiques​of​post-​ eminism,​which​is​also​popularly​known​as​girl-​ f power​feminism​and​anti-​ eminism.​While​scholarship​critiquing​post-​ eminism​ f f often​makes​the​effort​to​mention​race,​noting,​for​example,​that​post-​ eminist​ f scholarship​largely​focuses​on​white​women—there​has​been​less​attention​paid​ to​women​of​color​and​fewer​sustained​critiques​of​post-​ ace​and​post-​ eminism​ r f in​tandem.​.​.​.​While​I​am​focusing​here​on​the​parallels​between​the​two​ideNotes to Introduction

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ologies​of​post-​ eminism​and​post-​ ace,​I​want​to​be​clear​that​there​are​also​a​ f r number​of​differences​between​these​two​post-​ deologies.​One​of​the​biggest​difi ferences​is​that​similarities​abound​between​the​power-​ vasive​ideas​of​post-​ ace​ e r and​post-​ eminism,​not​post-​ ace​and​post-​ ender,​or​a​Butlerian-​ nspired​effort​ f r g i to​deconstruct​gender​roles,​behaviors,​performances,​and​ideals​(Butler,​1990,​ 1993)”​(R.​Joseph,​“Tyra​Banks​Is​Fat,​240).​(See​McRobbie,​“Postfeminism​and​ Popular​Culture,”​and​The Uses of Cultural Studies;​Banet-​ eiser,​The Most Beautiful W Girl in the World,​and​Kids Rule!;​Douglas​and​Michaels,​The Mommy Myth;​Brunsdon,​“Feminism,​Postfeminism,​Martha,​Martha,​and​Nigella”;​Negra​and​Tasker,​ Interrogating Postfeminism.) ​114.​Koshy,​“Race​in​the​Future​Perfect​Tense.” ​115.​Waters,​Ethnic Options,​147. ​116.​Balibar,​“Is​There​a​‘Neo-​ acism?,’”​21,​17. R ​117.​Douglas,​“Manufacturing​Postfeminism.” ​118.​See​Camille​Paglia’s​Sexual Personae;​Katie​Roiphe’s​The Morning After;​and​Naomi​ Wolf’s​Fire with Fire​and​Promiscuities. ​119.​Wolf,​Fire with Fire,​xvii. ​120.​Douglas,​“Manufacturing​Postfeminism.” ​121.​Bellafante,​“Feminism,”​54,​55. ​122.​I​have​heard​this​phrase​in​numerous​popular​and​academic​settings,​including​ Root,​“The​Biracial​Baby​Boom.” ​123.​With​the​new​way​of​counting​multiply​raced​individuals,​the​2000​U.S.​Census​ revealed​that​nationwide​2.4​percent​of​the​population​identify​with​two​or​more​ races​(U.S.​Bureau​of​the​Census,​“Profile​of​General​Demographic​Characteristics:​2000,​Geographic​Area:​United​States,”​Census​2000,​http://censtats.census​ .gov/data/US/01000.pdf).​These​numbers​were​higher​on​the​West​Coast,​totaling​4.7​percent​in​California;​in​addition,​in​2000,​17​percent​of​births​in​California​were​to​interracial​couples​(U.S.​Bureau​of​the​Census.​“Profile​of​General​ Demographic​Characteristics:​2000,​Geographic​Area:​California,”​Census​2000,​ http://censtats.census.gov/data/CA/04006.pdf).​Almost​seven​million​Americans​ self-​ dentified​with​multiple​groups,​thus​earning​the​label​of​“mixed-​ ace.”​To​put​ i r this​number​in​perspective,​while​the​births​of​multiracial​babies​in​the​United​ States​increased​260​percent​since​the​1970s,​the​births​of​monoracial​babies​have​ increased​15​percent​(Wardel,​“Helping​Multiracial​and​Multiethnic​Children​Escape​No​Man’s​Land”). ​124.​Morning,​“Multiracial​Classification​on​the​United​States​Census.” ​125.​Du​Bois,​The Souls of Black Folk,​359. ​126.​Perlmann​and​Waters,​The New Race Question,​16–17. ​127.​See​Glazer,​“Reflections​on​Race,​Hispanicity,​and​Ancestry​in​the​U.S.​Census.” ​128.​Kimberly​Williams,​“Boxed​In:​The​United​States​Multiracial​Movement,”​job​talk,​ University​of​California,​San​Diego,​January​14,​2000. ​129.​Brody,​Impossible Purities. ​130.​National​Urban​League,​“African​Americans’​Status​Is​73%​of​Whites​Says​New​ ‘State​of​Black​America’​2004​Report,”​March​24,​2004.

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​131.​Ellis,​ “The​ New​ Black​ Aesthetic,”​ 234.​ Similarly,​ Asian​ Americans’​ interstitial​ racialization​has​long​been​noted​by​scholars​such​as​Frank​Wu​and​Yen​Le​Espiritu. ​132.​These​include​the​CBs​sitcom​The Jeffersons,​where​Belinda​Tolbert​played​Jenny-​ Willis​Jefferson​(in​sixty-​ ight​episodes​from​1975​to​1985);​the​nBC​Cosby Show​ e spinoff,​ A Different World,​ in​ which​ Cree​ Summers​ played​ Freddie​ Brooks​ (in​ eighty-​ even​episodes​from​1988​to​1993;​the​show​aired​from​1987​to​1993);​the​ s wB​and​then​Cw​networks’​Girlfriends,​which​featured​the​supporting​actress​Persia​White​as​Lynn​Searcy​from​2000​to​2007;​and​the​Showtime​drama​Queer as Folk​in​which​Makyla​Smith​played​Daphne​Chanders​(in​thirty-​ hree​episodes,​ t which​aired​from​2000​to​2005).​In​the​realm​of​historical​miniseries,​the​CBs​ miniseries​Queen​starred​Halle​Berry​(1993),​and​the​Showtime​miniseries​Feast of All Saints​(2001)​featured​a​host​of​multiracial​characters,​including​Nicole​Lynn​ as​Marie​Ste.​Marie,​Jennifer​Beals​as​Dolly​Rose,​Rachel​Luttrell​as​Lissette,​and​ Jasmine​Guy​as​Juliete​Mercer.​Characters​explicitly​written​as​mixed-​ ace​African​ r American​men​are​harder​to​spot​in​television.​They​include​Giancarlo​Esposito​in​ the​nBC​drama​Homicide: Life on the Street​as​Mike​Giardello​(in​twenty-​ wo​epit sodes​from​1998–1999;​the​show​aired​from​1993​to​1999)​and​Ernest​Waddell​in​ the​Cw​teen​drama​One Tree Hill​as​Derek​Sommers​(in​four​episodes​in​2006;​the​ show​first​aired​in​2003​and​is​still​running). ​133.​Casey​et​al.,​Television Studies,​vii. ​134.​Miller,​ Cultural Citizenship,​ 12.​ Television​ studies​ is​ a​ methodologically​ diverse​ field​that,​Horace​Newcomb​notes,​draws​upon​American​“literary​studies​that​ redirected​ critical​ analysis​ toward​ the​ study​ of​ popular​ entertainment​ forms.”​ Such​critical​analysis​includes​the​Birmingham​School,​the​Frankfurt​School,​film​ studies,​and​feminist​criticism​(Newcomb,​“Television​and​the​Present​Climate​ of​Criticism,”​2).​The​groundbreaking​work​in​black​television​studies​of​scholars​ such​as​Herman​Gray,​Krystal​Brent​Zook,​Robin​Means-​ oleman,​and​Beretta​ C Smith-​ homade​brings​to​the​fore​the​manner​in​which​public​symbolism​funcS tions​with​regard​to​African​American​bodies​on​television. ​135.​Robinson,​“It​Takes​One​to​Know​One,”​719. ​136.​duCille,​The Coupling Convention,​7–8. ​137.​Hall,​“Minimal​Selves,”​114. ​138.​Hall,​“Subjects​in​History,”​292. ​139.​In​“Mixed-​ ace​Women,”​Maria​Root​describes​this​phenomenon​as​mixed-​ ace​ R r women​having​“flexible​looks”​(163).
chapTer 1: Televising The Bad race girl

​ 1.​Odenwald,​“Girls​on​Film”;​J.​Thomas,​“Women’s​Work.” ​ 2.​Dunn,​“Baad Bitches” and Sassy Supermamas;​See​the​entries​on​the​Internet​Movie​ Database​website​(www.imdb.com)​for​Jennifer​Beals​and​Pam​Grier. ​ 3.​See​the​entries​on​the​Internet​Movie​Database​website​(www.imdb.com)​for​The Bride,​Vampire’s Kiss,​Troubled Waters,​The Book of Eli,​Devil in a Blue Dress,​A House Divided,​and​Feast of All Saints.

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