Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection

Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection

Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection

Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection

Synopsis

Nadine Ehlers examines the constructions of blackness and whiteness cultivated in the U.S. imaginary and asks, how do individuals become racial subjects? She analyzes anti-miscegenation law, statutory definitions of race, and the rhetoric surrounding the phenomenon of racial passing to provide critical accounts of racial categorization and norms, the policing of racial behavior, and the regulation of racial bodies as they are underpinned by demarcations of sexuality, gender, and class. Ehlers places the work of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler's account of performativity, and theories of race into conversation to show how race is a form of discipline, that race is performative, and that all racial identity can be seen as performative racial passing. She tests these claims through an excavation of the 1925 "racial fraud" case of Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and concludes by considering the possibilities for racial agency, extending Foucault's later work on ethics and "technologies of the self" to explore the potential for racial transformation.

Excerpt

It is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated,
repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the
individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a
whole technique of forces and bodies.

—Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish

Norms are continually haunted by their own inefficacy;
hence, the anxiously repeated effort to install and
augment their jurisdiction.

—Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter

Criticism—understood as analysis of the historical conditions
which bear on the creation of links to truth, to rules, and to
the self—does not mark out impassable boundaries or
describe closed systems; it brings to light
transformable singularities.

—Foucault, preface to The History of Sexuality, Volume 2

On November 9, 1925, proceedings began in a Westchester County, New York, courthouse, in the trial of Alice Rhinelander, née Jones. Alice’s husband, Leonard “Kip” Rhinelander, had filed for an annulment of their marriage one year earlier, only a month after the young couple’s wedding and at what seemed the insistence of his family. Their marriage could have been romanticized as a fairytale union across class lines, for Leonard was the scion of one of New York’s oldest and wealthiest families, descended from the French Huguenots, while Alice was the working-class daughter of immigrants. in the legal complaint that initiated the trial of Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, however, Leonard charged Alice . . .

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