Slippery Language and False Dilemmas: The Passing Novels of Child, Howells, and Harper

Slippery Language and False Dilemmas: The Passing Novels of Child, Howells, and Harper American Literature Despite its impetus, however, recent critical work on race often illustrates the degree to which the one-drop rule still has a toehold on American racial consciousness. ‘‘One drop’’ of ‘‘black blood’’ continues to imply a responsibility to blackness that academic deconstructions of race have not significantly altered. One goal of my essay is to investigate how continuing misconceptions about race as a biological imperative influence our readings of novels about racial passing, despite our acknowledgment that race is performative. The cause I identify here is twofold. First, the ideology of racial uplift and the tenacious persistence of the one-drop rule converge to influence our perceptions of race and our reading of passing novels. Racial uplift, with its debt of responsibility, has become a significant part of our racial ideology: if one’s family is African American, if one has any ‘‘drop’’ of black blood, then one has a responsibility to the race and should proclaim oneself black. That is, no matter how ‘‘white’’ one’s skin, we assume that passers are black and censure their attempts to live outside the bounds of that identity. This assumption evinces the tenacity of—and simultaneously reinforces—the one-drop rule. Second, in focusing almost http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Literature Duke University Press

Slippery Language and False Dilemmas: The Passing Novels of Child, Howells, and Harper

American Literature, Volume 75 (4) – Dec 1, 2003

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2003 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0002-9831
eISSN
1527-2117
DOI
10.1215/00029831-75-4-813
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

American Literature Despite its impetus, however, recent critical work on race often illustrates the degree to which the one-drop rule still has a toehold on American racial consciousness. ‘‘One drop’’ of ‘‘black blood’’ continues to imply a responsibility to blackness that academic deconstructions of race have not significantly altered. One goal of my essay is to investigate how continuing misconceptions about race as a biological imperative influence our readings of novels about racial passing, despite our acknowledgment that race is performative. The cause I identify here is twofold. First, the ideology of racial uplift and the tenacious persistence of the one-drop rule converge to influence our perceptions of race and our reading of passing novels. Racial uplift, with its debt of responsibility, has become a significant part of our racial ideology: if one’s family is African American, if one has any ‘‘drop’’ of black blood, then one has a responsibility to the race and should proclaim oneself black. That is, no matter how ‘‘white’’ one’s skin, we assume that passers are black and censure their attempts to live outside the bounds of that identity. This assumption evinces the tenacity of—and simultaneously reinforces—the one-drop rule. Second, in focusing almost

Journal

American LiteratureDuke University Press

Published: Dec 1, 2003

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