Utopia Is in the Blood: The Bodily Utopias of Martin R. Delany and Pauline Hopkins

By Reid, Mandy A. | Utopian Studies, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Utopia Is in the Blood: The Bodily Utopias of Martin R. Delany and Pauline Hopkins


Reid, Mandy A., Utopian Studies


ABSTRACT

"Utopia Is in the Blood: The Bodily Utopias of Martin R. Delany and Pauline Hopkins" considers how Delany and Hopkins employ the discourse of racial science in order to construct their own racial utopias. Focusing on Hopkins" Of One Blood and Delany's Principia of Ethnology, Reid argues that the genre of utopian writing enables both authors to refute contemporary scientific claims at the same time that they use the discourse of science to establish the utopian past (and, Hopkins argues, the future) of Ethiopia. Both Delany and Hopkins reconfigure nineteenth-century and turn-of-the-century American racial science in their ethnological texts and reveal an epistemological (re)vision of the scientific meaning(s) of blackness through a utopian understanding of "black" blood.

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Throughout the evolution of racial science in nineteenth- and turn-of-the-century America, the scientific community classified Africans and African Americans as "lesser than" Anglos in intelligence, aptitude, physiognomy, and potential. Martin R. Delany, an African American scientist, journalist, doctor, and soldier, countered this understanding of black blood as inferior in his Principia of Ethnology published in 1879. Pauline Hopkins, a prolific but until recently largely ignored African American "race writer" in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, used the power of her pen and her periodical, the Colored American Magazine, in order to agitate for political change. It is particularly interesting that, given the virulent racism often generated by racial science in the nineteenth century, Martin Delany and Pauline Hopkins opted to employ the discourse of racial science in order to construct their own racial utopias.

It is the genre of utopian writing that enables both Delany and Hopkins to refute contemporary scientific claims at the same time that they use the discourse of science to establish the utopian past (and, Hopkins argues, the future) of Ethiopia. As Tom Moylan notes, "Utopian writing in its many manifestations is complex and contradictory. It is, at heart, rooted in the unfulfilled needs and wants of specific classes, groups, and individuals in their unique historical contexts.... [U]topia opposes the affirmative culture maintained by dominant ideology. Utopia negates the contradictions in a social system by forging visions of what is not yet realized either in theory or practice. In generating such figures of hope, utopia contributes to the open space of opposition" (1987, 1-2). Opposition to "real-world" racial politics and prejudice lies at the heart of Hopkins's work, and this is evident in her fourth novel, Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self (1902-3). The protagonist of this novel remarks that "the wonders of a material world cannot approach those of the undiscovered country within ourselves--the hidden self lying quiescent in every human soul" (Hopkins 1988, 448). (1) Political activists and race activists, Hopkins and Delany evince in their texts a commitment to recuperating a historical "undiscovered country" in African Americans" heritage and the ancient self-valuation of "blackness" as a marker of utopian civilization and cultural advancement. In Of One Blood Hopkins's theoretical positioning simultaneously racializes--and thus, for her, reconstructs as utopian--William James's metaphor of a psychological "hidden self" and contests the epistemology of contemporary racial science. Delany suggests that a biological racialized self--the "undiscovered country" of which James speaks--is not a metaphor but, rather, a visibly discernable component of blood, which he calls "rouge." Delany's black ethnology, through the discourses of blood and (re)visionary science, revises the "racial valuation" of blackness, as it was commonly codified in the "one-drop rule" and the color line it created. Delany's and Hopkins's black ethnology posits what I am calling a "(re)visionary" scientific epistemology, which functions in both senses of the term: as a new understanding of and as a particularly visual racial science. …

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