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Tragic No More

Mixed-Race Women and the Nexus of Sex and Celebrity

Caroline A. Streeter

Publication Year: 2012

This book examines popular representations of biracial women of black and white descent in the United States, focusing on novels, television, music, and film. Although the emphasis is on the 1990s, the historical arc of the study begins in the 1930s. Caroline A. Streeter explores the encounter between what she sees as two dominant narratives that frame the perception of mixed race in America. The first is based on the long-standing historical experience of white supremacy and black subjugation. The second is more recent and involves the post–Civil Rights expansion of interracial marriage and mixed-race identities. Streeter analyzes the collision of these two narratives, the cultural anxieties they have triggered, and the role of black/white women in the simultaneous creation and undoing of racial categories—a charged, ambiguous cycle in American culture. Streeter’s subjects include concert pianist Philippa Schuyler, Dorothy West’s novel The Wedding (in print and on screen), Danzy Senna’s novels Caucasia and Symptomatic, and celebrity performing artists Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, and Halle Berry. She opens with a chapter that examines the layered media response to Essie Mae Washington-Williams, Senator Strom Thurmond’s biracial daughter. Throughout the book, Streeter engages the work of feminist critics and others who have written on interracial sexuality and marriage, biracial identity, the multiracial movement, and mixed race in cultural studies.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

I would like to thank my colleagues in UCLA’s Department of English and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. I am especially grateful to Richard Yarborough, Kathleen McHugh, and Harryette Mullen for insightful readings of the manuscript in its early stages, and to Arthur Little and King-kok Cheung for unflagging support throughout...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-12

The year 2008’s historic spectacle of an African American man and a white woman running for President illuminates the ways in which the nation still contends with the difficult, unfinished business of a society configured through structural inequalities of race and gender. During the protracted primary campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham...

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1. Essie Mae Washington-Williams’s Secrets and Strom Thurmond’s Lies

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pp. 13-22

As the illegitimate daughter of late South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond, Essie Mae Washington-Williams has the proto-slavery mulatto/a experience of being the unacknowledged child of a white man from a powerful southern family and a young black woman working as a domestic servant in his household. Washington-Williams and a person ...

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2. The Wedding’s Black/White Women in Prime Time

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pp. 23-38

Dorothy West’s novel The Wedding’s movement into television media represents shifts in post–Civil Rights era politics. The changes include the nature of “positive” racial imagery, the politics of identifying with an elite class, and the repression of themes threatening contemporary investments in “racial authenticity.” The important differences between film ...

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3. Sex and Femininity in Danzy Senna’s Novels

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pp. 39-60

Danzy Senna’s novel Caucasia revises the classic mulatto/a dilemmas of passing and racial authenticity in the historical terrain of 1970s American culture, against the backdrop of Black Nationalism and antiestablishment political activism pursued by groups such as the Weather ...

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4. Faking the Funk? Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, and the Politics of Passing

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pp. 61-87

Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys are ideal figures through which to consider the post–Civil Rights era’s apparent rehabilitation and transformation of the mulatto/a into a biracial subject of representation. Representations of these women indicate the mulatto/a has not been displaced....

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5. From Tragedy to Triumph: Dorothy Dandridge, Halle Berry, and the Search for a Black Screen Goddess

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pp. 88-103

Wrenching tales of racism and sexism in Hollywood engender poignant examples of thwarted potential for film actors. Such is the case with Dorothy Dandridge, who at mid-century stood at an artistic tipping point in Hollywood. In 1955 Dandridge became the first woman of color nominated for an Academy Award, Best Actress. Her role in Otto...

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6. High (Mulatto) Hopes: The Rise and Fall of Philippa Schuyler

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pp. 104-126

The signposts of birth and death delimiting Philippa Schuyler’s short life seem predestined to make her an archetypal figure of the racial boundary. Born in 1931, the only child of African American journalist George Schuyler and his white wife Josephine Cogdell, Philippa began...

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Afterword

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pp. 127-128

For some readers it will be clear that the title of this book, Tragic No More, is a play on the title of George S. Schuyler’s novel Black No More, which was published in 1931, the year Philippa Schuyler was born. On the surface, the relationship between this study and Schuyler’s novel...

Notes

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pp. 129-152

Index

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pp. 153-160

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 161-BC


E-ISBN-13: 9781613762257
E-ISBN-10: 1613762259
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499843
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499849

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 6 illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 21st century -- History and criticism.
  • Race in literature.
  • Racially mixed women in literature.
  • Racially mixed people in motion pictures.
  • Racially mixed women -- Race identity -- United States.
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