The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium

The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium

The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium

The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium

Synopsis

The Souls of Mixed Folk examines representations of mixed race in literature and the arts that redefine new millennial aesthetics and politics. Focusing on black-white mixes, Elam analyzes expressive works- novels, drama, graphic narrative, late-night television, art installations- as artistic rejoinders to the perception that post-Civil Rights politics are bereft and post-Black art is apolitical. Reorienting attention to the cultural invention of mixed race from the social sciences to the humanities, Elam considers the creative work of Lezley Saar, Aaron McGruder, Nate Creekmore, Danzy Senna, Colson Whitehead, Emily Raboteau, Carl Hancock Rux, and Dave Chappelle. All these writers and artists address mixed race as both an aesthetic challenge and a social concern, and together, they gesture toward a poetics of social justice for the "mulatto millennium."

The Souls of Mixed Folk seeks a middle way between competing hagiographic and apocalyptic impulses in mixed race scholarship, between those who proselytize mixed race as the great hallelujah to the "race problem" and those who can only hear the alarmist bells of civil rights destruction. Both approaches can obscure some of the more critically astute engagements with new millennial iterations of mixed race by the multi-generic cohort of contemporary writers, artists, and performers discussed in this book. The Souls of Mixed Folk offers case studies of their creative work in an effort to expand the contemporary idiom about mixed race in the so-called post-race moment, asking how might new millennial expressive forms suggest an aesthetics of mixed race? And how might such an aesthetics productively reimagine the relations between race, art, and social equity in the twenty-first century?

Excerpt

“BABY HALFIE BROWN HEAD” appears as part of Lezley Saar’s art installation titled Mulatto Nation, first exhibited at the List Gallery at Swarthmore College in 2003 (See Fig. C.1). The baby doll’s bifurcated, manufactured body draws attention to many of the most heated cultural debates over what mixed race reality is (or is not) and represents a new generation of critical aesthetic and political provocation that is the focus of The Souls of Mixed Folk. Perhaps most strikingly, Baby Halfie’s brown head and white body are unreconciled racial parts. Politically incorrect in an age seeking to answer ever more earnestly the philosophical and democratic problem of “the one and the many,” its body will not deliver the desired whole. Baby Halfie is not tastefully merged into sepia consistency nor pleasantly rainbowed into an image of multiethnic unity. Nor does Baby Halfie aspire to representational accuracy; the doll is not an effort to capture how a person of mixed black and white descent might actually appear in the flesh. Rather, the matte skin colors are the generic commercial version of black and white. Retro 1950s, the skin tones evoke a time when peach “flesh-colored” Band-Aids and Crayola crayons caused no stir, when racial types and their placement in the social order were taken for granted. The doll’s molded and articulated limbs, despite its folds of newborn fat, call attention to the fact that Baby Halfie is plastic, without personhood or personality. The racial parts are stiff, constructed, interchangeable; in fact, its exhibition mate, “Baby Halfie White Head,” models its physical reverse, suggesting that Baby Halfie is host to no unique identity, no character so special that it cannot be replaced with a twist-off part. The doll is an intentionally soulless representative of mixed race in direct contrast with ethnically correct, anatomically correct, or “reborn” baby-doll realism. In fact, because its exposed but erased crotch leaves its gender unassigned, it appears not just asocial but asexual as well.

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