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American Literature 75.4 (2003) 888-890
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"Think outside the Bun" was the slogan of a $200 million advertising campaign unleashed in September 2001 by Taco Bell. Despite its 1980s corporate-speak, playfully updated, the slogan's animating sentiment is the spirit of our postmodern racial moment, in which the seemingly perdurable white-black binary has come under sustained attack from advocates of interracial marriage, bi- and multiracial activists, and their academic fellow travelers. While the so-called one-drop rule attaching the identifier black to any American with one known black ancestor still has African American defenders who argue, as Jonathan Brennan notes in Mixed Race Literature (2002), that "[black] communities cannot afford to lose additional members in the face of centuries of sustained genocide" (2), the 2000 U.S. Census with its check-all-that-apply racial categories nevertheless represents a tipping point, a marker of what David Parker and Miri Song have called the shift "from pathologisation to celebration" of miscegenation and mixed-race identity (Rethinking Mixed Race, 2001). The stain—or prideful ethnic claim—of blackness has been transmuted into the cool and delicious chocolate-and-vanilla swirl of biracialism. Recent work in this celebratory vein includes Maria P. P. Root's Love's Revolution: Interracial Marriage (2001), Monika Kaup and Debra J. Rosenthal's Mixing Race, Mixing Culture (2001), Stephen Talty's Mulatto America (2003), and Randall Kennedy's Interracial Intimacies (2003). Shrugging off the tragic mulatto(a) script, refusing either to hide in the shadows offered by "passing" identities or to be bound by the strictures of DuBois's color line, hapa subjectivities at the millennium are demanding recognition and acceptance as neither black nor white but both, and more than both. "People with attitude towards us had better get used to us being around," insists one of Parker and Song's multiracial English informants: "[T]he way the world is integrating, mixed race people will run the world" (3). Tiger Woods, self-identified as a Caucasian-Black-Asian "Cablinasian" (thinking outside the bun and profiting handsomely with Nike's help), pretty much already does.
Life along the color line wasn't always this sweet. The negative social "attitude[s]" hinted at by the mixed-race individual quoted in Parker and Song were the habitus within which several distinct subsets of pathologized black-and-white Americans investigated by the two books under review were forced to make their way during the years of slavery and segregation. Charles Martin's primary subject in The White African American Body is the so-called "white Negro"—not the black-identified, Beat-era hipster of Norman Mailer's celebrated essay but, rather, a series of highly publicized African American [End Page 888] men, women, and children suffering from vitiligo and albinism. Passive objects of fascinated white attentions more often than self-determined actors, such white Negroes—grotesquely splotched in the former case, eerily too white in the latter—haunted American culture from the early colonial period through the Civil War and beyond, troubling the white racial imaginary, casting into doubt both the immutability of racial difference and the rightness of race-based slavery. White Negroes such as Eko and Iko (the dreadlocked albino "Ambassadors from Mars"), Spotted Child, and, in our own day, Michael Jackson, forced skeptical American audiences to think outside the bun, as it were, of essentialized whiteness and blackness. Paraded about in taverns and saloons, exhibited alongside the more familiar sort of norm-reinforcing "freaks," subjected to the scrutiny (and scalpels) of medical professionals as evidence for racialist theories, the white Negro has been, Martin argues convincingly, "a central cultural figure, one produced out of our continuing struggles to contend...