Seeing Race in Modern America

By Matthew Pratt Guterl | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Hybridity

The hybrid body, as Jean Toomer imagined it, is a racial ensemble, or platoon, in miniature, not easily categorized as a “mulatto” or “mestizo.” With its component features easily viewable, discrete, and engaged productively, this body is an anachronism, out of sync with national time and space, but a useful one, serving as a vehicle for conversations about the new world that is, in these representations, on the verge. It focuses our attention on the steely body— typically but not exclusively male—capable of toggling back and forth between one racial position and another. Born of a disharmonious blending, the racial expressions of this complicated figure sharpen the color lines within the body, allowing for parallel readings.

In our conceptions of these supposedly heroic mixed peoples, we historically set aside the white/black dyad, shaped by the onedrop rule and theories of hypodescent, in favor of mixture with the native, the indigenous, and the Asian. Hybridity and blackness are not easily related in racial sight. As a consequence, these figures are often understood positively, as fetishized attractions and not merely as objects of fear. These oversized archetypes of masculinity and mixture beg us to attend to the swirling, minute details on the surface, details that suggest the dynamic tension between the unmixed bloods beneath the skin. Overwhelmingly featured in visual media and often staged heroically, these hypermasculine bodies are, in the end, just as often suffused with a powerful melancholy and loneliness. As living indicators of some great and immediate transformation, they are offered as evidence of the simultaneity of racial problems and proof of racial solutions.

In his classic exposé of whiteness in visual culture, White, Richard Dyer suggests that “muscle heroes are not indigenous.” Tarzan, he continues, is “not of the jungle.”1 John Rambo, though of mixed

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Seeing Race in Modern America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Close-UPS the Devil in the Details 15
  • Chapter One - Profiles 19
  • Chapter Two - Silhouettes 46
  • Chapter Three - Bought and Sold 60
  • Part II - Group Portraits Looking for Contrast 81
  • Chapter Four - The Domestic Ensemble 85
  • Chapter Five - Platoon Harmonics 104
  • Part III - Multiple Exposures the Evidence of Things Not Easily Seen 125
  • Chapter Six - Hybridity 129
  • Chapter Seven - Masquerade 148
  • Chapter Eight - Passing 166
  • Chapter Nine - Ambiguity 182
  • Coda 200
  • Notes 211
  • Index 221
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