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Tragic No More

Tragic No More: MixedRace Women and the Nexus of Sex and Celebrity

Caroline A. Streeter
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 176
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk893
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  • Book Info
    Tragic No More
    Book Description:

    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 longstanding historical experience of white supremacy and black subjugation. The second is more recent and involves the post–Civil Rights expansion of interracial marriage and mixedrace 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 WashingtonWilliams, 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-225-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (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 Clinton, many aspects of public discourse became consumed by the troubling history of white-black interracial sexuality and the charged politics of black/white mixed-race identity.

    Tragic No Moretakes up the compulsive attention to racial boundaries in the United States and explores why female figures are so often...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Essie Mae Washington-Williams’s Secrets and Strom Thurmond’s Lies
    (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 such as President Obama represent, as individuals, the historical continuum of mixed race in the twentieth-century United States. This trajectory begins in the secrecy and disavowal of the slave era. President Obama is an example of black/white mixed race in the first post-Lovinggeneration, leaping conventional boundaries and forging connections...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Wedding’s Black/White Women in Prime Time
    (pp. 23-38)

    Dorothy West’s novelThe 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 adaptation and the literary text include how they work through themes of racial passing, intra-racial prejudice and the politics of racial visibility more generally. I analyze the book with the miniseries to build an argument about the politics of translation across fields and genres. What are the stakes of adapting...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Sex and Femininity in Danzy Senna’s Novels
    (pp. 39-60)

    Danzy Senna’s novelCaucasiarevises 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 anti-establishment political activism pursued by groups such as the Weather Underground.Caucasia’s narrative depicts how interracial marriages and mixed-race children fare in socially progressive environments, parsing contradictions in radical ideologies. Movements for social justice are not exempt from conventional racial polarization. Interracial couples and mixed-race children can be marginalized, albeit along a different ideological rationale. Racial valorization in Black Nationalism and Afrocentrism emphasize a return to idealized traditional masculinities, femininities, and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Faking the Funk? Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, and the Politics of Passing
    (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. Rather, s/he embodies a racialized dichotomy that has morphed to accommodate new historical conditions. The compelling rise of black popular culture in the 1980s and 1990s virtually inverted the racial imperative that historically confronted the mulatto/a. Whereas the socioeconomic advantages of whiteness have not changed dramatically, blackness as cultural capital has achieved a status of desirability that, though comparable...

  9. CHAPTER 5 From Tragedy to Triumph: Dorothy Dandridge, Halle Berry, and the Search for a Black Screen Goddess
    (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 Preminger’s filmCarmen Jonespositioned her to become a genuine leading lady. The nomination gave Dandridge international acclaim, but could not compensate for the very few roles available for black women in dramatic leads. Even when Dandridge was cast, industry production codes and cultural mores...

  10. CHAPTER 6 High (Mulatto) Hopes: The Rise and Fall of Philippa Schuyler
    (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 her life in the public eye. Her birth appeared in leading African American newspapers, including theNew York Amsterdam Newsand theBaltimore African American,which ran the announcement on the first page. Schuyler’s parents were part of the intellectual and artistic world of Harlem. Carl Van Vechten, noted patron of the Harlem Renaissance and photographer of...

  11. Afterword
    (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 novelBlack 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 does not extend far beyond the title’s wink and nod. That said, a number of intertextual themes link the two works.

    To summarize the novel in broad strokes,Black No Moreis about the invention of a “horrible machine akin to an electric chair” which transforms black people...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 129-152)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 153-160)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-164)