Coloring outside the line : traversing the boundaries of race in America

Goodman, Carol (2008) Coloring outside the line : traversing the boundaries of race in America. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

"Coloring Outside the Line: Traversing the Boundaries of Race in America" explores how mixed-race individuals who defy categorization disquiet America's racial footing by challenging the entire social system upon which it is based. In the United States, racial difference is cultivated on the socially constructed color line that separates blacks and whites. This line, however, is not indelible. The existence of mixed-race individuals who do not conform to the parameters of their race illustrates the elusive nature of racial identity and the slippage that occurs between supposedly distinct categories of race. Passing - whereby an individual crosses the color line segregating black from white - subverts notions of racial identity by calling into question the scientific, legal, and social systems upon which such narrow notions of race were founded. A prevalent theme in African-American literature, passing, through its interrogation of essentialism, challenges people's perceptions of race. Originating during slavery and persisting into the twenty-first century, passing unsettles prevailing assumptions about the determinacy of race. To this end, the phenomenon of passing proves a powerful lens through which to view the constructed nature of race. -- Part One of this dissertation is broadly historical in its examination of the epistemological roles of science and the law in the social construction of race. My first chapter charts the evolution of the concept of race from its inception in the sixteenth century to its current day usage. In my second chapter, I investigate the role of the courts in the perpetuation of the myth of human races. Part Two of this thesis offers an analysis of racial passing in several mixed-race autobiographies from slavery to the present. By virtue of their position on the color line, the autobiographers discussed in this dissertation accentuate the permeability of that line. My motivation for analyzing autobiographical rather than fictional narratives of passing in the second half of my thesis is threefold: to address a void in the scholarship, to provide empirical evidence of the variability of race, and to examine the ways in which mixed-race autobiographers explore the problematic nature of race in their own writings. The fact that almost seven million Americans now identify themselves as mixed race suggests that race is not an inevitable and unalterable entity. Rather, it is a product of human invention, a culturally constructed edifice that must be dismantled if we hope to combat intolerance and eradicate racism.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/9108
Item ID: 9108
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 242-259).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2008
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: United States
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Racially mixed people--United States--Biography--History and criticism; Racially mixed people--United States--History

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