We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Racial Imperatives

Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection

Nadine Ehlers

Publication Year: 2012

Nadine Ehlers examines the constructions of blackness and whiteness cultivated in the U.S. imaginary and asks, how do individuals become racial subjects? She analyzes anti-miscegenation law, statutory definitions of race, and the rhetoric surrounding the phenomenon of racial passing to provide critical accounts of racial categorization and norms, the policing of racial behavior, and the regulation of racial bodies as they are underpinned by demarcations of sexuality, gender, and class. Ehlers places the work of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler's account of performativity, and theories of race into conversation to show how race is a form of discipline, that race is performative, and that all racial identity can be seen as performative racial passing. She tests these claims through an excavation of the 1925 "racial fraud" case of Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and concludes by considering the possibilities for racial agency, extending Foucault's later work on ethics and "technologies of the self" to explore the potential for racial transformation.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (95.6 KB)

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (46.0 KB)
pp. ix-x

This book would not have been possible without the support, friendship, and guidance of Joseph Pugliese (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia). I am extremely grateful for his unwavering encouragement and his political commitment to the urgency of academic writing, which has always challenged and...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (80.7 KB)
pp. 1-14

On November 9, 1925, proceedings began in a Westchester County, New York, courthouse, in the trial of Alice Rhinelander, née Jones. Alice’s husband, Leonard ‘‘Kip’’ Rhinelander, had filed for an annulment of their marriage one year earlier, only a month after the young couple’s wedding and at what seemed the...

read more

1. Racial Disciplinarity

pdf iconDownload PDF (92.0 KB)
pp. 15-31

In the age of Reconstruction America, where slavery had been abolished and a new era of racial politics supposedly embarked upon, the presiding Judge in Scott v. Georgia (1869) emphatically declared that ‘‘the laws of civilization demand that the races be kept apart in this country.’’ He recited, here, the insistent...

read more

2. Racial Knowledges: Securing the Body in Law

pdf iconDownload PDF (99.4 KB)
pp. 32-50

Racial distinctions based on supposed truths of color and blood were made from the earliest days of the North American colonies and confirmed in slavery, where blackness became synonymous with servitude and whiteness with freedom. In this chapter I trace the codification of these racial distinctions within...

read more

3. Passing through Racial Performatives

pdf iconDownload PDF (108.5 KB)
pp. 51-72

Race and the laws regulating it have been premised on a paradox, or what can be understood as an internal contradiction. For there has been a belief that race is at once in plain sight and is yet potentially hidden. Race is seen to be a ‘truth’ that the body of the subject announces; the body is viewed as a legible text upon...

read more

4. Domesticating Liminality: Somatic Defiance in Rhinelander v. Rhinelander

pdf iconDownload PDF (88.6 KB)
pp. 73-86

In 1924, the former laundress and nursemaid, Alice Jones, married Leonard Rhinelander, the scion of one of New York’s oldest and wealthiest families. In doing so, the New York Times (11 March 1925, 1) claimed, Alice ‘‘passe[d] over hundreds of persons on the fringes of society and [made] her debut therein...

read more

5. Passing Phantasms: Rhinelander and Ontological Insecurity

pdf iconDownload PDF (102.3 KB)
pp. 87-105

Within the rhetoric of dominant racial logic, the signifying power of white skin has always required the concomitant verification of a subcutaneous claim to whiteness—‘pure’ white lineage. And, while ‘looking white’ might have granted one possession of whiteness without legal title, in order to possess fair legal title...

read more

6. Imagining Racial Agency

pdf iconDownload PDF (96.3 KB)
pp. 106-123

Rhinelander seems to refuse the possibility that either Leonard or Alice might reimagine themselves, let alone the schematizations of race in early twentiethcentury America. Both are ostensibly recuperated in line with normalizing demands of race and the accompanying dictates of racial discipline. Both are...

read more

7. Practicing Problematization: Resignifying Race

pdf iconDownload PDF (99.3 KB)
pp. 124-142

Racial passing ‘unsettles’ because it challenges accepted beliefs that race is stable and fixed, transparent and visually embodied. The act of passing represents a dissonance between the external racial signification of skin and the supposed internal racial truth that is made to inhere in blood. To pass-as-white is to...


pdf iconDownload PDF (131.8 KB)
pp. 143-167


pdf iconDownload PDF (77.3 KB)
pp. 169-179


pdf iconDownload PDF (523.0 KB)
pp. 181-184

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (19.7 KB)

E-ISBN-13: 9780253005366
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253356567

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2012