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Partly Colored

Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South

Leslie Bow

Publication Year: 2010

Arkansas, 1943. The Deep South during the heart of Jim Crow-era segregation. A Japanese-American person boards a bus, and immediately is faced with a dilemma. Not white. Not black. Where to sit?

By elucidating the experience of interstitial ethnic groups such as Mexican, Asian, and Native Americans—groups that are held to be neither black nor white—Leslie Bow explores how the color line accommodated—or refused to accommodate—“other” ethnicities within a binary racial system. Analyzing pre- and post-1954 American literature, film, autobiography, government documents, ethnography, photographs, and popular culture, Bow investigates the ways in which racially “in-between” people and communities were brought to heel within the South’s prevailing cultural logic, while locating the interstitial as a site of cultural anxiety and negotiation.

Spanning the pre- to the post- segregation eras, Partly Colored traces the compelling history of “third race” individuals in the U.S. South, and in the process forces us to contend with the multiracial panorama that constitutes American culture and history.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii


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pp. viii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I originally undertook this project in order to explore an omission. My Chinese American parents were raised in Arkansas during the Jim Crow era. How they negotiated the color line---not being invited into their white classmates' homes, not attending high school dances, for example---is not something they often talk about, nor is it a history...

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Introduction: Thinking Interstitially

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pp. 1-22

The Jim Crow era has produced a powerful visual iconography. Photographs of signs on public facilities demarcating the separation between "white" and "colored" enter our collective memory as potent reminders of past injustice. These signs of racial division in the Deep South make visible the contradictions embedded within democracy, the philosophical...

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Coloring between the Lines: Historiographies of Southern Anomaly

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pp. 23-56

Images of segregation have become part of our historical conscience. They are reminders of past intolerance even as de facto segregation continues to permeate society. For better or worse, such images have also fixed our vision; we readily identify the "colored" signs over restroom doors or waiting rooms as literal signs of inequality. We also understand who...

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The Interstitial Indian: The Lumbee and Segregation's Middle Caste

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pp. 57-90

Karen Blu's 1979 study of the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina, The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian People, introduces a chapter on tribal activism with this sentence: "Not being content with changing their status from 'mulatto' to 'Indian' and with establishing separate schools, the Indians of Robeson County have gone on incessantly...

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White Is and White Ain't: Failed Approximation and Eruptions of Funk in Representations of the Chinese in the South

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pp. 91-122

The Lumbee's struggle for state and federal recognition was partly based on the segregation-era representation of the community's upstanding qualities. The southern context exaggerated the connection between visibility and communal incorporation to produce an enduring narrative that continues to frame this ethnic community. They were "like" whites, which...

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Anxieties of the 'Partly Colored'

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pp. 123-158

German sociologist Georg Simmel has noted that one characteristic of "the stranger" is a seeming lack of commitment to the social norms of the new group, a perhaps felicitous objectivity or dispassion (1950). For his student of the influential Chicago School, Robert E. Park, migration makes possible a new interpretive lens, the viewpoint...

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Productive Estrangement: Racial-Sexual Continuums in Asian American as Southern Literature

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pp. 159-196

Sexuality is an overdetermined category in southern discourse. As Patti Duncan bluntly puts it, the perception is that "southerners have this really perverse, fucked up sexuality" (2001, 38). Donna Jo Smith asserts that the "terms southern and queer both come laden with a host of stereotypes" so much so that "the term southern queer...

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Transracial/Transgender: Analogies of Difference in Mai's America

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pp. 197-228

While "colored" and "white" signs separating public facilities in the Jim Crow South have become infamously iconic reminders of past injustice, signs enforcing another social division remain. In the post--Civil Rights era, the battle over segregation continues to be waged in what is a historically laden site: the public restroom. As legal historian Mary Anne...

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Afterword: Continuums, Mobility, Places on the Train

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pp. 229-238

In 2005, the New York Times Magazine carried two personal narratives about segregation, one a memoir about South African apartheid in its food section, and the other, a memoir about riding the so-called women's car on the subway in Cairo in its "Lives" section.1 The essays were not linked in any way other than their pointed address to an American audience...


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pp. 239-260

Works Cited

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pp. 261-272


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pp. 273-284

About the Author

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pp. 285-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780814739129
E-ISBN-10: 0814739121
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814791325
Print-ISBN-10: 0814791328

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 697174351
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Partly Colored

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Southern States -- Race relations.
  • Segregation -- Southern States.
  • Asian Americans -- Race identity -- Southern States.
  • Asian Americans -- Southern States.
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