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Crossing Black

Mixed-Race Identity in Modern American Fiction and Culture

Sika A. Dagbovie-Mullins

Publication Year: 2013

The past two decades have seen a growing influx of biracial discourse in fiction, memoir, and theory, and since the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the presidency, debates over whether America has entered a “post-racial” phase have set the media abuzz. In this penetrating and provocative study, Sika A. Dagbovie-Mullins adds a new dimension to this dialogue as she investigates the ways in which various mixed-race writers and public figures have redefined both “blackness” and “whiteness” by invoking multiple racial identities.
    Focusing on several key novels—Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928), Lucinda Roy’s Lady Moses (1998), and Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (1998)—as well as memoirs by Obama, James McBride, and Rebecca Walker and the personae of singer Mariah Carey and actress Halle Berry, Dagbovie-Mullins challenges conventional claims about biracial identification with a concept she calls “black-sentient mixed-race identity.” Whereas some multiracial organizations can diminish blackness by, for example, championing the inclusion of multiple-race options on census forms and similar documents, a black-sentient consciousness stresses a perception rooted in blackness—“a connection to a black consciousness,” writes the author, “that does not overdetermine but still plays a large role in one’s racial identification.” By examining the nuances of this concept through close readings of fiction, memoir, and the public images of mixed-race celebrities, Dagbovie-Mullins demonstrates how a “black-sentient mixed-race identity reconciles the widening separation between black/white mixed race and blackness that has been encouraged by contemporary mixed-race politics and popular culture.”
    A book that promises to spark new debate and thoughtful reconsiderations of an especially timely topic, Crossing B(l)ack recognizes and investigates assertions of a black-centered mixed-race identity that does not divorce a premodern racial identity from a postmodern racial fluidity.

SIKA A. DAGBOVIE-MULLINS is associate professor in the Department of English at Florida Atlantic University. Her articles have appeared in African American Review, the Journal of Popular Culture, and other publications.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. 8-9

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school occurred in some fourth grade festivities. Toward the end of the game “Red Rover,” instead of calling out individual students’ names, the teacher began calling students by various descriptors. As one of the last members of our team, I was excited when I heard...

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1. What’s Old Is New Again, or the Brand New Fetish: Black/White Bodies in American Racial Discourse

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pp. 1-25

Americans have long been fascinated with racial crossings, imagining multiple freedoms associated with blurring racial boundaries. In the fashion world, fashionistas call new styles, particularly new color trends, the “new black,” establishing black as vogue, at once classic and chic. In popular culture, especially since the 1990s, mixed race has...

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2. From Naxos to Copenhagen: Helga Crane’s Mixed-Race Aspirations in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

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pp. 27-50

In a 2008 National Public Radio (NPR) News & Views segment called “In Character: Who Would You Talk to?” one internet post proposes Quicksand’s protagonist, Helga Crane, in response to the question posed by the program’s title. The post then asks, “Do Helga’s perceptions of racial identity presage our post-modern, anti-essentialist notions...

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3. Homeward Bound: Negotiating Borders in Lucinda Roy’s Lady Moses and Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

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pp. 51-76

Even when Quicksand’s Helga thinks she has found a home, she is profoundly aware of the fact that “[s]he, Helga Crane, . . . had no home” (Larsen 30). Helga’s feelings of non-belonging and unsettlement, largely because of her racial background, are also markers of the black experience in America. In...

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4. “This Is How Memory Works”: Boundary Crossing, Belonging, and Blackness in Mixed-Race Autobiographies

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pp. 77-103

“I am at once no one of the races and I am all of them. I belong to no one of them and I belong to all” (“The Crock of Problems” 58). Jean Toomer’s declaration intimates the difficulties of racial classification and allegiance for most Americans whose racial heritage is undeniably complicated and mixed. Toomer, who claimed many “racial and...

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5. B(l)ack to Last Drop? Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, and the Complexities of Racial Identity in Popular Culture

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pp. 105-120

In December 2009, comedian and talk-show host George Lopez posed the question “What color are you?” to Mariah Carey when she appeared on Lopez Tonight. Her response—“In this country, black”—connects Carey to another mixed-race star, Halle Berry, who has also identified herself by evoking the historical one-drop system of...

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Conclusion

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pp. 121-127

In 2008, Freakonomics author Steven Levitt, along with three coauthors, wrote a paper titled “The Plight of Mixed Race Adolescents.” In addition to finding mixed-race adolescents more attractive than their white or black peers, the study argued that “mixed-race kids manage to be as bad as whites on the white behaviors and as bad as blacks on...

Notes

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pp. 129-139

Bibliography

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pp. 141-159

Index

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pp. 161-171


E-ISBN-13: 9781572339774
E-ISBN-10: 1572339772
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572339323
Print-ISBN-10: 1572339322

Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 21st century -- History and criticism.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • Racially mixed people in literature.
  • Racially mixed people -- Race identity -- United States.
  • Passing (Identity) in literature.
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