The Musings of a Wannabe Intellectual

Month: September, 2012

The Complexity of Racial Identity in The Jefferson’s

The episode focuses on the mixed-race children of the Jefferson’s neighbours. Their son has just returned from Europe and their daughter is hostile to him.

The son, Allan, had passed for white throughout college and went to Europe to escape the restraints of the colour line.

This is probably one of the few times I have seen this aspect of ‘passing’ discussed in popular culture. Typically, the passer in popular culture ‘passes’ for some kind of social or economic gain. Instead, this scene highlights the friction ‘passing’ causes within a family, and the the inner conflict experienced by the passer – am I white or black?

I like it because it adds an emotional dimension to a topic typically presented in a logical and analytical light.

The Jefferson’s, Season 1, Episode 13 Jenny’s Low (1975)

Expanding on the “West Indian” post

I see similarities between the West Indies and Australia because of their assimilation approach. In Australia, between the 1860s and 1960s, Aboriginal children with fair skin were removed from their families in the hopes of “breeding out” the blackness and were “assimilated” into white culture through domestic work, etc. (also known as the Stolen Generation). Whereas, in the US, in the same period, hypo-descent (or, one-drop rule) was the preferred method of racial categorization.

The West Indies approach, to me, reads more like the assimilation process rather than the hypo-descent process. This suggests that racial categorization is a much deeper, institutional concept based on colonial practices, rather than geography.

Note:I wrote this comment in response to a question about the West Indian post but will post it here as well in order to clarify that post.

Breeding out ‘Aboriginal blood’; Or, the World According to A. O. Neville

This illustration from Australia’s Coloured Minority (1947) highlights Australian government member A. O. Neville’s belief that  ‘Aboriginal blood’ could be bred out through miscegenation.

West Indian solution to the “negro problem”

According to W. E. B. Du Bois (1923), the West Indian experience was vastly different to the African American experience.

The mulattoes are virtually regarded and treated as whites, with the assumption that they will, by continued white intermarriage, bleach out their color as soon as possible. There survive, therefore, few white colonials, save new‐comers, who are not of negro descent in some more or less remote ancestor. Mulattoes intermarry, then, largely with the whites, and the so‐called disappearance of the color‐line is the disappearance of the line between the whites and mulattoes, and not between the whites and the blacks or even between the mulattoes and the blacks.

The process described above reads more like the experience of the Indigenous people of Australia than the African American people (the group they have been more closely associated with; because of emigration, no doubt). I became interested in the topic because different approaches to ‘race problems’ led to the same outcome. It makes me think about deeper structural issues… Do you see the theme here dear readers?

(Source: Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt, 1868‐1963, Back to Africa In Century Magazine 150 no. 4:539‐548 (February 1923). (New York, NY: Century Co., 1923). pp. 539‐548)


The U. S. Census & the dilemmas of racial categories

I recognise this as a dreadfully shameful thing to admit but I am a bit obsessed with the census at the moment. I have been looking at the use of racial categories in the U. S. census; it is fascinating to see the correlation between the census and its historical context.

In 1850, prior to the emancipation of the slaves, the ‘mulatto’ was an acceptable racial category, however, by the 1890 census scientific racism had peaked in popularity and blood quantum briefly entered the census. In 1890 one could identify (note: this means the census taker could assess the racial identity based on physical appearance of the individual and their parents etc) as white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, chinese, japanese or indian.

Despite this newfound love of blood quantums within ten years even the term ‘mulatto’ was removed from the census. They fluffed about with these terms until the 1930s when it was agreed; you could be black or you could be white. A single drop of black blood, obviously, made you black though. This monoracial theme continued until 2000 when it was finally acceptable to identity as having one/ two or more races.

This has led me to the conclusion, which seems so prevalent in today’ society, that ambiguity is scary and things hard to define are typicall left undefined (or incorrectly defined by too narrow terms). What do you think, dear reader?

The frustration of the mixed-race historian

I am finding the multiple terms used to describe the one historical events increasingly frustrating. For instance, dear readers, did you know that the term ‘miscegenation’ was used in the propaganda of Democratic propagandists because the term ‘amalgamation’ had “too many positive connotations”? Any historian will know the essential nature of keywords in research, however, consistent terms remain elusive to me…

Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible (Trailer)

“Drinking the Kool-Aid”

“Drinking the Kool-Aid” is a metaphor commonly used in the United States and Canada that refers to a person or group’s unquestioning belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination. The phrase typically carries a negative connotation when applied to an individual or group.

The basis of the term is a reference to the November 1978 Rev. Jim Jones Jonestown Massacre, where members of the Peoples Temple were said to have committed suicide by drinking Flavor Aid (not actually Kool-Aid) drink laced with cyanide.

(Source: Wikipedia)

What does “whiteness kool aid” even mean?

I recently discovered the term “whiteness kool aid”; it seems to be predominantly used on social networking sites like tumblr and twitter. I found it particularly striking because it is, in my opinion, a more aggressive term for ‘racial passing’, or ‘race traitor’. From what I can tell it is being used to describe an assimilation process in which black people side with white people in debates, or when black people favour ‘white’ culture. But it has the added level of disguised poison. Essentially, the bloggers argue whiteness* is a sweet and unassuming poison.

My concern with this term is that it is alienating. I do not, nor would I ever, deny the negative impacts that assimilation policies and colonialism have had on racial minorities but what about biracial/multiracial people? What about people who have assessed particular terms and conditions and come to their own conclusion? Why are these people demanding that individuals choose a racial category? Is it really impossible for someone to embody facets of both white and black culture? And why is it focused solely on a narrow black/white dichotomy?

These questions have been driving me crazy all week (hence the lack of posts).

*Note: There is a difference between ‘whiteness’ and ‘white’. Barbara Fields writes about this; I might go into it a bit later.