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Partly Colored

Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South

Leslie Bow
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Partly Colored
    Book Description:

    Arkansas, 1943. The Deep South during the heart of Jim Crow-era segregation. A Japanese-American person boards a bus, and immediately is faced with a dilemma. Not white. Not black. Where to sit?By elucidating the experience of interstitial ethnic groups such as Mexican, Asian, and Native Americans - groups that are held to be neither black nor white - Leslie Bow explores how the color line accommodated - or refused to accommodate - other ethnicities within a binary racial system. Analyzing pre- and post-1954 American literature, film, autobiography, government documents, ethnography, photographs, and popular culture, Bow investigates the ways in which racially in-between people and communities were brought to heel within the South's prevailing cultural logic, while locating the interstitial as a site of cultural anxiety and negotiation.Spanning the pre- to the post- segregation eras, Partly Colored traces the compelling history of third race individuals in the U.S. South, and in the process forces us to contend with the multiracial panorama that constitutes American culture and history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3912-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Thinking Interstitially
    (pp. 1-21)

    The Jim Crow era has produced a powerful visual iconography. Photographs of signs on public facilities demarcating the separation between “white” and “colored” enter our collective memory as potent reminders of past injustice. These signs of racial division in the Deep South make visible the contradictions embedded within democracy, the philosophical commitment to equality against its actuality.¹ The dismantling of the color line in the landmark decision,Brown v. Board of Education, became the putative boundary that separated our benighted past from an enlightened future, symbolically dividing past from present, then from now. For better or worse, we have granted...

  5. 1 Coloring between the Lines: Historiographies of Southern Anomaly
    (pp. 23-56)

    Images of segregation have become part of our historical conscience. They are reminders of past intolerance even as de facto segregation continues to permeate society. For better or worse, such images have also fixed our vision; we readily identify the “colored” signs over restroom doors or waiting rooms as literal signs of inequality. We also understand who they implicate; that is to say, we read the signs in black and white.

    But in what ways do these assumptions foreclose a complex understanding of the work of white supremacy, its scope, influence, or nuance? A case in point: how do we...

  6. 2 The Interstitial Indian: The Lumbee and Segregation’s Middle Caste
    (pp. 57-89)

    Karen Blu’s 1979 study of the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina,The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian People, introduces a chapter on tribal activism with this sentence: “Not being content with changing their status from ‘mulatto’ to ‘Indian’ and with establishing separate schools, the Indians of Robeson County have gone on incessantly, stubbornly, and apparently tirelessly seeking to better their lot” (1979, 66). Graffitied next to this sentence in my library’s copy of the book is a single word: “YUCK.”

    The distaste that this anonymous reviewer conveys could have been elicited by a number of things: resistance...

  7. 3 White Is and White Ain’t: Failed Approximation and Eruptions of Funk in Representations of the Chinese in the South
    (pp. 91-122)

    The Lumbee’s struggle for state and federal recognition was partly based on the segregation-era representation of the community’s upstanding qualities. The southern context exaggerated the connection between visibility and communal incorporation to produce an enduring narrative that continues to frame this ethnic community. They were “like” whites, which is to say, like those who shared American values of hard work and thrift. These efforts to reconcile anomaly to the national are likewise evident in the representation of Asian Americans in the South. Case in point: the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta. “[I]n the Delta, home of the blues and Muddy...

  8. 4 Anxieties of the ‘Partly Colored’
    (pp. 123-158)

    German sociologist Georg Simmel has noted that one characteristic of “the stranger” is a seeming lack of commitment to the social norms of the new group, a perhaps felicitous objectivity or dispassion (1950). For his student of the influential Chicago School, Robert E. Park, migration makes possible a new interpretive lens, the viewpoint of the “marginal man” whose distance from his home culture emancipates his vision, allowing him to “interrupt the routine of existing habit and break the cake of custom” (Park 1928, 885). For “strangers” setting up shop in host countries, remaining aloof from local culture is conducive to...

  9. 5 Productive Estrangement: Racial-Sexual Continuums in Asian American as Southern Literature
    (pp. 159-196)

    Sexuality is an overdetermined category in southern discourse. As Patti Duncan bluntly puts it, the perception is that “southerners have this really perverse, fucked up sexuality” (2001, 38). Donna Jo Smith asserts that the “termssouthernandqueerboth come laden with a host of stereotypes” so much so that “the termsouthern queeris redundant.” She asks, “Since the South is already an aberration, what is a southern queer but deviance multiplied? In other words, did Truman Capote really need to tell the world that he was a pervert? After all, he was from south Alabama” (1997, 370). Such...

  10. 6 Transracial/Transgender: Analogies of Difference in Mai’s America
    (pp. 197-228)

    While “colored” and “white” signs separating public facilities in the Jim Crow South have become infamously iconic reminders of past injustice, signs enforcing another social division remain. In the post–Civil Rights era, the battle over segregation continues to be waged in what is a historically laden site: the public restroom. As legal historian Mary Anne Case notes, “Very few spaces in our society remain divided by sex . . . There’s marriage and there’s toilets, and very little else.”¹ The division created by “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” signs over restroom doors does not immediately conjure up an analogy to race...

  11. Afterword: Continuums, Mobility, Places on the Train
    (pp. 229-238)

    In 2005, theNew York Times Magazinecarried two personal narratives about segregation, one a memoir about South African apartheid in its food section, and the other, a memoir about riding the so-called women’s car on the subway in Cairo in its “Lives” section.¹ The essays were not linked in any way other than their pointed address to an American audience and the fact that they appeared in the same issue on the same day. That they are thematically connected by a shared focus on social separation is no doubt a coincidence; moreover, they take opposing views on “segregation.” Consistent...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 239-260)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-284)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 285-286)