Intro African American History


Why look at black/white mixing?

Barometer of race relations in US

Fears of and desire for the product of race mixing

Historically used as justification for slavery, immigration legislation


To understand Barak’s portrayal in the media – or more precisely, how he’s hailed, interpellated, produced (Althusser) – have to understand m-r in US






For example, How has Obama been described?


African American

Kenyan father, white mother







Note on the term “mulatto”

OED (Spanish and Portuguese etymology)

animalism: “mulatto young mule, hence one of mixed race”

sickness like “mulatto jack” meaning “a term for yellow fever”

“mulatto complexion”: unfortunately “tawny” in color

Antiquated term still in limited circulation

Is NOT considered a neutral descriptor


In popular circles “mulatto” has regained popularity and circulates throughout US culture. On the sitcom Will and Grace, a racist character is mocked for lamenting the existence of his “bastard mulatto grandson.” On the sitcom Scrubs, a white character JD is enticed by black and white Milano cookies, which he lovingly and mistakenly calls “mulattoes” before being reprimanded by his Black best friend, Turk, and Turk’s Latina wife Carla. On NPR the Asian American novelist Don Lee casually described his Black/white female character in Country of Origin (2004) as “a mulatto.”


Anti-Miscegenation Laws

Jamestown: “mulattoes” – “spurious issue” and “abominable mixture”

First anti-miscegenation laws in VA and MD in 1660s

First the laws criminalized marriages b/t whites and black indentured servants and slaves

then in 1690s b/t all whites and blacks, slave, free, or indentured. Based on RACE not servitude.

Justifications: religion, eugenics, economics

All states except CT, NH, NY, NJ, VT, DC, WI, MN, HI, AL


Loving V. Virginia, 1967

Ruled down centuries of anti-miscegenation laws

Cited civil rights advances to argue that “antimiscegenation laws unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of race in violation of equal protection and that they interfered with the fundamental right to marry under the due process clause”

Sixteen states had on books at time


One drop rule/hypodescent

Anyone with any amount of black blood is considered black

Aided chattel slavery (reproduction of more slaves), Jim Crow (clarification of segregation), and consolidation of white power and privilege

Can be seen as a positive thing because helped draw strength in numbers for Black Americans


1896, Plessy v. Ferguson

Homer Plessy (an “octoroon” could not ride in white railway car)

Separate but equal

One drop rule of hypodescent

Ratification of spatial segregation  legal enforcement of Jim Crow laws


1954, Brown v. Board of Education

“separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”

Actual desegregation occurred through Civil Rights Act of 1964 (title II)


Representation of the Tragic Mulatto



Overly emotional

Largely female (or feminized)



Prone to insanity

Seen throughout popular culture: some date to Lydia Marie Child’s novels The Quadroons (1842) and Slavery’s Pleasant Homes (1843)


Eugenics, scientific racism, and the mulatto

Mulattoes used to discern biological distance or proximity between blacks and whites

Civil war anthropometric studies (of virtually every body part): result that blacks inferior to whites and mulattoes inferior to both “parent” groups


Hybrid degeneracy theory

“mulattoes – like mules – tend to be barren…[as]…no species of animals in the natural world was known to have developed from the union of two separate species”

Part of biological determinism – different races are different species

Greatest popularity from late 1800s until around 1910


Edward Reuter, The Mulatto in the United States (1918)

“Psychologically the mulatto is an unstable type [because] between these two groups, one admiring and the other despising, stand the mixed bloods…They are uncertain of their own worth; conscious of their superiority to the native they are nowhere sure of their equality with the superior group.”

“narrative of tragedy”: “[mulattos] envy the white, aspire to equality with them, and are embittered when the realization of such ambition is denied them. They are a dissatisfied and an unhappy group.”



Everett Stonequist, The Marginal Man (1937)

“mixed blood’s” liminal position, being “torn between two courses of action,” results in a psychological dysfunction with a “nervous strain,” self-absorption, and hypersensitivity because of “racial disharmony,” “clash of blood” and an “unstable genetic constitution.”

Note the biological, and hence unchangeable, nature of this description.

Park celebrated marginal man as “modern” creation whose cosmopolitan nature allowed him to move between identity categories


Robert Park’s theory of taxonomically in-between “marginal man,” originally devised for Jews and other white ethnics

Extends to “racially hybridized people” (“Mulattoes of the United States,” “Eurasians/Anglo-Indians of India,” “Cape Coloured of South Africa,” “Coloured Peoples of Jamaica,” “Indo-Europeans of Java,” “Part Hawaiians,” “Metis of Brazil”)


Theories of Multiracial Exceptionalism

Proximity to whiteness gives value

Race mixture = progress

Novelist Charles Chestnutt (“The Future American,” House Behind the Cedars, 1900)


U.S. Census

First U.S. Census taken in 1790

Taken every 10 yrs; 22 taken

Enumerate population for congressional seats, government programs

Highly political, always contested

Census categories on race and ethnicity shift virtually every census

Census 2000:



EX: Changing Census Categories for “Black” individuals

1790: Slave (3/5 of a person)

1850: Black, Mulatto

1890: Black, Mulatto, Quadroon, Octoroon

1900: Negro

1910: Black, Mulatto

1930: Negro

2000: Check All That Apply


In the 1980s, civil rights gains spurred a conservative backlash

mixed-race bodies began to be celebrated and politically recognized


Multiracial Category (to Check all that apply): Census 2000

“What does race mean when so many Americans cannot fill out their census forms because they’re an amalgam of races?”

Newt Gingrich, May 21, 1997


2.4% of U.S. Pop “Check All”

Twice as many children under 18

Hawaii (21%), OK (5%), CA (5%)

63 combinations

White and some other race (32%)

White and American Indian (16%)

White and Asian (13%)

White and Black (12%)

Black and some other race (6%)


Marketing Multiracials as Commodities




Multicultural Utopias in Benneton


New Challenges to Civil Rights Legislation?