Race and Upward Mobility
Seeking, Gatekeeping, and Other Class Strategies in Postwar America
Elda María Román



A Case of Two Georges

Starring in their own network sitcoms almost thirty years apart, two American fathers named George depicted Black and Mexican American upward mobility and made it palatable to mass audiences. Though their ascents were different, George Jefferson on The Jeffersons (CBS, 1975–1985) and George Lopez on the George Lopez show (ABC, 2002–2007) played out aspirational narratives with dreams attained and conflicts assuaged. Formerly a janitor, Jefferson invests money he received from an automobile accident into a chain of dry-cleaning stores; by the time of the pilot episode, he and his family have landed in an Upper East Side New York high-rise.1 Also starting with the aftermath of ascension, Lopez’s series begins when he has just been promoted to manager of an airplane parts factory after sixteen years on the assembly line—a promotion with strings attached. The first episode, “Prototype,” features his dilemma as manager when his boss asks him to fire either his best friend or his own mother in order to cut costs.2 Rather than a firing, the conflict in the Jeffersons pilot, “A Friend in Need,” centers on a hiring, with Jefferson wanting a maid to help demonstrate his new wealth.3 His wife, Louise, opposes it; she would prefer to befriend the Black woman who cleans the other apartments in their building instead of being her employer. Coming from manual-labor backgrounds, the Georges want to prove they belong—Lopez as manager and Jefferson as building resident. But their new positions also lead them to accept or desire hierarchical relationships with coethnics, with Lopez forced to fire someone close to him and Jefferson pressuring Louise to hire her friend.

As a genre that predominantly depicts middle-class families and aspirational values—a genre once aptly described as “The Great Middle American Dream Machine”—sitcoms implicitly endorse upward mobility, and in these two pilot episodes, resolutions to potentially contentious issues come easily.4 It turns out Lopez’s boss was just testing his loyalty to the company and never meant for him really to go through with the firing. Lopez manages to make it up to his mother by getting his boss to agree to more vacation days and back pay. And Louise’s class angst at entering a hierarchical relationship gets reframed as helping a friend in need of a job. If these harmonious outcomes occur smoothly, it is only because these are not final solutions. Versions of these scenarios will be replayed over and over throughout both of these series, with the Georges striving for acceptance in work and social worlds that historically have treated them as inferior, and put in positions where their ethnic and working-class loyalties are continuously thrown into question.

The Georges’ dilemma exemplifies the class conflicts and crises of affiliation that ethnic upward mobility narratives take on. That the shows revolve around two dark-skinned protagonists who are the first in their families to be upwardly mobile—and the first in their ethnic groups to centralize this ascent on television—makes these tensions even more salient. The Georges’ economic rise does not entail assimilation into whiteness. Their racial otherness is conspicuously marked in majority-white middle- and upper-class contexts, while their class identity becomes marked around poorer coethnics. The two series consequently illustrate the dual negotiations that the Georges must make to achieve social mobility and mainstream appeal as part of racialized groups.5 Genre conventions and the Georges’ fresh entry into a field of power relations in which they are at the bottom of economic and social hierarchies dictate, to a large extent, their accommodation to the status quo. These are characters who are not rocking the boat to topple it. They are, however, navigating it off course to illustrate their ties to still-marginalized groups. When a childhood friend from Harlem surprises him with a visit, Jefferson worries about the dinner party he is hosting and making a poor impression on a business associate with class prejudices. He ultimately sides with his friend and kicks out the elitist associate.6 And when a corporation wants to buy the factory where Lopez works and offers him a bigger salary to help shut down the factory and relocate, he refuses the offer and instead joins the workers in a protest. Both series depict upward mobility as potentially threatening for ethnic and working-class affiliation. More money and resources can beckon a person away from a community of origin, or make others question that person’s commitment to the ethnic group. If the group in question is economically disadvantaged and socially marginalized, what prevents identification with one’s economic interests over that of the group in need? And what does ethnicity mean in the context of middle- or upper-middle-class experiences?

To understand these defining tensions in the contemporary U.S. experience, Race and Upward Mobility examines a wide range of African American and Mexican American texts that portray racialized subjects’ desires for financial solvency and social incorporation. Through cross-genre formal analyses, it identifies a typology of characters developed to stand in for competing visions of upward mobility, emblematic of a range of responses to the ideological and material effects of capitalism and white supremacy.7 I argue that these character types can be understood as allegorical pathways of social incorporation reflecting actual strategies to negotiate membership within and between groups. I trace the historical circumstances giving rise to these narrative patterns and demonstrate how these figures manifest across genres and over time. In television, film, novels, and drama, these character types help us understand not only how race affects upward mobility but also how upward mobility informs interpretations of race.

Staggered Mobility

Following World War II, the African American and Mexican American middle classes saw unprecedented growth rates due to economic development, civil rights legislation, and an expanded system of higher education.8 Historically associated with impoverished urban and rural spaces, Mexican Americans and African Americans by the turn of the millennium owned homes in suburban neighborhoods across the United States. Once relegated onscreen to playing mammies and maids, chauffeurs and gardeners, Black and Latina/o actors began to reflect a wider set of vocations by portraying white-collar professionals and people in high-status positions. And, once seemingly impossible, the ascension of Barack Obama to the presidency signaled an audacious hope that barriers to achievement no longer capped the possibilities for people of color.

But these markers of racialized upward mobility belied the persistent inequities. All the manicured lawns, professional titles, and shows by Shonda Rhimes could not discount the fact that in 2011 the net worth of a Black or Latina/o household was equal to only 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively, of a white household.9 Oprah’s wealth could not counter the downward mobility that occurred in 2006 for millions of Black and Latina/o families whose only equity was tied up in their homes. When the housing bubble burst, so did their dreams for intergenerational savings.10 All these trappings of apparent success also had little bearing on racial profiling policies such as “stop and frisk” in New York, “stand your ground” in Florida, and “show me your papers” in Arizona.11

With histories of ongoing racial profiling and criminalization, economic depression, and educational disparities, Blacks and Mexican Americans are two groups whose comparison offers a vital account of racialized class dynamics in the United States. They are the two largest racialized populations: in 2010, the Black population was 13.6 percent, while Latina/os were 16.3 percent of the population, with 63 percent of these identifying as Mexican or Mexican American.12 Both groups have also significantly influenced U.S. social life, from the transformation of cities into minority-majority spaces to the food, dress, and music consumption patterns of the American population at large. Yet their numbers and influence have historically also been sources of fear, and these groups continue to be stigmatized as part of a perpetual underclass—ridden with crime, having too many kids, and seeking too many social services.

Historically, images of racial groups as threatening have maintained social and economic hierarchies, influencing whose lives, labor, and bodies of knowledge get valued and devalued. In the United States, the amalgamation of capitalist expansion and white supremacy produced particular racial formations characterized broadly as five main racial groups: white, Native American, Black, Latino, and Asian American. U.S. policies ensured that members of nonwhite groups, seen as threats to white landownership, labor, and purity, were systemically barred from becoming citizens or accessing the full rights that citizenship entailed. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, alarmist discourse was directed at each racialized group. Native Americans were perceived in vacillating terms: admired and invoked for their “dignified nobility” but rendered threatening and undeserving of lands because of their “inhuman savagery,” the latter image justifying their slaughter, forced removal, and relegation to reservations.13 Expansion necessitated land and labor, and this equation for growth often relied on the labor of racialized groups. Racism against Blacks justified their designation as three-fifths of a person in the Constitution, and their status as property and a labor pool that could be exploited to maximize profit for an economically burgeoning America. In the post-emancipation period, images associated Blacks with rage and violence, suggesting Blacks needed further regulation and control.14 Seen as unassimilable foreigners, Asian Americans were ineligible for citizenship because they were designated as nonwhite and were excluded from many job sectors.15 Even those born in the United States with birthright citizenship could be stripped of their rights, as occurred during World War II with the internment of over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans out of political fears of possible disloyalty. Although Mexicans were classified as white and eligible for citizenship through the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the U.S.-Mexican War, Mexicans’ indigenous backgrounds were referenced in racializing them as nonwhite threats to the nation.16 A profitable labor source but undesired as people, Mexicans were like the other racialized groups, seen as inferior and expendable. All four groups have been feared as cultural and genetic contaminants, and scapegoated during times of economic and political crises.

By the late twentieth century, these alarmist narratives had undergone discursive shifts. Regarded as vanishing and outside of urban spaces and modernity, Native Americans were predominantly associated with the past, seen as dying out and nostalgically standing in for a preindustrial culture closer to nature and more authentic. Consequently, as Philip Deloria observes, by the latter half of the twentieth century, “Indian Others were imagined in almost exclusively positive terms—communitarianism, environmentally wise, spiritually insightful.”17 Another group that had been described as “heathen”—Asian Americans—was also viewed more favorably. Nineteenth-century images of Asians as heathens, part of a “yellow peril,” were replaced by a new stereotype—that of the “model minority.”18 While Native Americans became perceived as nonvisible unless imagined as part of a static, vanished culture, and Asian Americans became associated with high achievement, African Americans and Mexican Americans continued to be highly visible in the media as part of a stigmatized underclass.19 This book examines these two groups’ narrative traditions stemming from their discursive and economic positions in the racial order.

At the turn of the century, news stories and popular culture still circulated images of Latina/os and Blacks as lawbreakers and social outsiders. In their contemporary, threatening incarnation, they were selling drugs through cartels and on the street, having anchor babies and living as welfare queens, stealing jobs and underperforming, and prone to violence and being oppositional. These images fed assessments of African Americans and Mexican Americans as not just poor, but culturally and criminally so. Political scientist Martin Gilens explains that until the late 1960s, the face of poverty was white. The racialization of poverty occurred in part through negative news stories of Black poverty.20 Scholarship in the 1950s and 1960s also played a role in shaping perceptions of poverty and people of color. Works by Oscar Lewis and Daniel Patrick Moynihan helped propagate the idea that Latina/os and Blacks suffer from what Lewis called a “culture of poverty,” and that their values and behavior kept them in a cycle of poverty.21 Pundits continue to ascribe cultural (or genetic) reasons for poverty and underachievement, ignoring the historical factors that prevented Blacks and Latina/os from accumulating the intergenerational wealth and resources that white families have and the institutionalized mechanisms by which people of color are barred from accessing these resources in the present.22 Further, the argument that poverty leads to dysfunctional communities, which leads to criminal behavior serves as ballast for policies targeting and further disenfranchising people of color, policies that entered a different phase in the post-1980s period, in the wake of the “war on drugs,” the militarization of the border, and the “war on terror.”23 All have resulted in increased funding to militarize the police and border security forces, with intensified focus on, as criminologist Peter B. Kraska puts it, “social problems amenable to actual security strategies and tactics, such as urban violence, illegal drugs, and illegal immigration.”24 The effect has been increased criminalization and incarceration of Blacks and Latina/os.25 Meanwhile, a history of dehumanizing language used to render Mexican immigrants into “wetbacks,” “illegals,” and “aliens” continues to make them into undeserving trespassers threatening the American way of life.26

In the context of a history of stigmatization and exclusion with lasting economic consequences, how one is identified and how one identifies became central concerns in African American and Mexican American cultural production. With disproportionate representation in institutions of power and uneven access to resources, these groups developed narrative traditions championing solidarity for social change. At the same time, the pressure to identify along racial-ethnic lines and within cultural boundaries has also prompted calls for more expansive understandings of identity and group composition. By examining portrayals of race and upward mobility together, we see how cultural producers have depicted socioeconomic realities along with shaping and questioning the phenomenon of racial and ethnic affiliation.

Ethnic Upward Mobility Narratives

Reflecting the economic and ideological heterogeneity that exists, postwar African American and Mexican American upward mobility narratives interpret the effects that perceptions and treatment of racialized groups have had on self-identification and communal action. Upward mobility narratives play a didactic function and tend to be consumed as bootstrapping stories about self-reliance and individual success, but Bruce Robbins has shown in Upward Mobility and the Common Good that they are actually very much concerned with the collective.27 Analyses of Black and Mexican American upward mobility narratives in particular allow us to see what kind of work these stories do in response to collective pressures and collective needs stemming from histories of racialization; how, for example, they deconflate race and class to acknowledge intragroup class disparities, or how they attempt to override class differences to reinforce a sense of group identity. We end up seeing continuous expansion and contraction—conceptualizations of the group expand to accommodate social mobility and group boundaries are policed for social and political purposes.

Upward mobility narratives are also interpreted as stories about super success, the rags-to-riches tales of high-profile people such as celebrities or CEOs. Those kinds of ascendant trajectories may make for television or box office hits, but usually upward mobility is portrayed with less glamour and in ways more representative of society at large. I analyze these latter kinds of representations—of class mobility achieved through various types of labor, such as factory or domestic work, or through law enforcement or artistic production, or small business ownership, or owning one’s own home—to get at the broader patterns of incorporation characteristic of these two groups.

Examining Mexican American and African American representations together allows us to more accurately understand the discursive and material effects of racialization as part of a larger system that structures socioeconomic relations in the United States, insights that cannot be applied to one group solely. Comparing them together also enables us to see both more sharply. We profit from understanding their overlaps and misalignments, their shared narrative strategies and their historical differences. There is, for example, a longer history of scholarly writings on class variation within the Black population. In a 1903 essay, W. E. B. Du Bois encouraged members of the “Talented Tenth” to serve as leaders in the cause for racial uplift.28 Several decades later another sociologist, E. Franklin Frazier, delivered a critical view of the Black middle class, arguing that the relationship its members had with whites led them to develop a deep inferiority complex and a pathological emulation of white bourgeois values.29 Perceptions of the Black middle class and Black elites as leaders working toward social progress or as status hungry and removed from the general Black population were part of an early framing that informed subsequent critical discussions.

Literary representations of the Black middle class are even more plentiful than the scholarship. From the mid-nineteenth century on, Black creative writers documented and interpreted the lives of those striving for “respectability” and elevated class status along with those who had attained it, often expressing, as Andreá N. Williams has argued, “fears over downward mobility, misclassification, and estrangement.”30 Sometimes they illustrated the limits to class privilege when epistemic and physical violence could strip someone of their dignity and property, as demonstrated in Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends (1857).31 Or they rendered the appeal of and fears associated with racial assimilation, as exemplified by the proliferation of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century passing novels. Portrayals of the Black middle class are integral to the upward mobility narrative tradition because they depict the social and economic disparities that can still exist even after class ascension has occurred.

In comparison, there are not only fewer scholarly engagements with and representations of the Mexican American middle class, there has been less published work from the Mexican American population in general. One contributing factor is that this is a more recent population. Consider that in 1870, the Black population in the United States was around five million.32 The Mexican American population did not attain those numbers until a hundred years later, in the 1970s, after which it grew steadily. In 2010, the Mexican American population was almost thirty-two million and the Black population was around forty-two million.33 Yet numbers alone do not explain the amount and content of writerly output. The two groups are now closer in numerical parity, but there is a significant historical difference regarding patterns of incorporation, which results in different narrative strategies and outcomes. For example, there is the issue of group identity. Among the group now labeled African American, the one-drop rule, virulent anti-Black racism, and segregation prompted the forging of group identity and affective bonds across classes. The group now labeled Mexican American has also comprised fractions negotiating identities in relation to the U.S. racial structure, but occupied positions within and external to whiteness; in addition, members negotiated their identities in relation to U.S. language and citizenship hierarchies. Until the 1940s, because of the scarcity and inequality of education, most Mexican American writers came from the upper classes, which informed the content and form of their writing.34 With a smaller population and in the absence of publishing avenues and patronage, the overall number of Mexican American authors was bound to be smaller.35 In factoring institutional history we can also take into account the contributions of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in serving Black communities and creating avenues of mobility. There are approximately one hundred HBCUs, all founded before 1964. Inspired by those institutions’ success in creating Black professionals, a similar vision underwrote the 1981 founding of the National Hispanic University, a Latina/o-oriented educational institution which has already closed down and whose establishment cannot be compared to institutions that appeared during de jure segregation.36

There are social and historical reasons for why class variation among Mexican Americans has not garnered as much scholarly and literary attention, but there is also an ideological factor—most Mexican American scholars and writers came through the university system during and in the post-1960s period, helping institutionalize Chicana/o studies around working-class studies.37 These generations rejected the writings of the 1930s–1940s generation, aspiring for collective upward mobility but doing so by distancing themselves ideologically from noncitizens and the Mexican poor. One effect of this is that there is a greater sense of betrayal linked with upward mobility in Chicana/o texts and scarce attention paid to intragroup class dynamics among Mexican Americans. Rather than treating Mexican Americans as a static population, which would obscure group heterogeneity, sociologists Tomás Jiménez, Jessica M. Vasquez, and Jody Agius Vallejo have asserted the importance of paying attention to a generational cohort, which indicates that Mexican Americans have achieved economic and social mobility over time.38 Recent scholarship by José Limón also prompts us to see an activist Mexican American middle class, while John Alba Cutler asks that we reconsider our understanding of “assimilation” when analyzing Chicana/o literature.39 My book joins the endeavor of reassessing the terms by which we understand Mexican American literature and puts them in conversation with analogous discursive changes in African American literature. Doing so furthers a comparative approach to ethnic literary studies, which in turn advances a more nuanced understanding of the class-based complexities of racial identity, and does so through one of the most ubiquitous of narrative arcs—the upward mobility narrative.

Symbolic Wages, Identity Taxes

To get at the heart of the theoretical framework of this book, I offer another example of ethnic upward mobility narratives representing class conflicts and crises of affiliation. Ayana Mathis’s critically acclaimed and widely translated 2012 novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie depicts the limits to a racialized middle-class identity under Jim Crow.40 In one of the novel’s chapters, set in 1954, Benny, a successful African American mortician, and his wife, Pearl, are making their way from Georgia to Philadelphia to pick up their niece from Pearl’s sister, Hattie, to raise her as their own because they have more resources. They stop by a Virginia roadside to eat the lunch that Pearl has prepared. Pearl is the kind of genteel woman who wears face powder, presses her hair, and packs a picnic basket lunch with “white china plates” and “white cloth napkins” (142). Their peaceful repast is interrupted, however, when four white men start harassing them. The biggest of them “took in Benny’s leather loafers and shining cuff links and his cotton shirt with the pressed collar” (144) and asks them if they are lost. He commands the couple to clear out, but forces them to leave their food behind, stating “Y’all done put yer stuff on white folks’ table and now you gon’ have to leave it here. It’s a tax” (146). The charge is levied to make them pay for being Black and displaying markers of wealth, a reminder that no matter their class standing, they still have lower status.

Here, Mathis invokes the idea of the “Black tax,” which refers, colloquially, to the “cost of being Black.” It is a phrase that has been used in different contexts to evoke the history of racial discrimination toward African Americans in various forms, including the paying of higher mortgage and auto insurance interest rates, being denied housing or work opportunities, and having to work twice as hard as whites to get the same benefits.41 Imani Perry has theorized Black taxes as part of a “social economy of race,” in which the value of people, spaces, and practices are “shaped by the degree to which those things are associated with, come from, or are controlled by or proximate to a given racial group.”42 The scholarly conversation linking race with economics has roots in Du Bois’s observation that whiteness grants a “public and psychological wage” and has been extended in David Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness, Cheryl Harris’s “Whiteness as Property,” and George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, all focusing on whiteness as a form of currency in a history of transactions that have historically enabled whites to own more property than people of color, acquire greater wealth, and assert an elevated social status.43 The Black tax fits into this schema as a concept that conveys that while there are benefits associated with whiteness, there is a price to pay for one’s nonwhite racial identity.

It becomes clear that paying a racial tax implies that there is a wage of some sort—otherwise the taxation metaphor would not obtain. Following Pierre Bourdieu’s distinction between symbolic and economic capital, and emphasizing the aspect of continuous labor (social, discursive, and so on) involved in accruing these types of capital, we can shift metaphors to highlight the kinds of acts that earn material and symbolic wages. In Mathis’s novel, for example, Pearl earns symbolic wages through her class performance, since her habits help her situate herself as part of a genteel Black society in Georgia. These symbolic wages are underwritten by the material earnings of her husband’s profitable business. That image is forcefully disrupted during their picnic encounter. After the men leave, Pearl expresses her anger at Benny for furthering their denigration, for responding to the white man’s questions with “Nossuh” and “Yessuh” even though she “had never heard Benny talk that way” (144). Pearl exclaims, “You didn’t have to stoop so low. You could have kept your dignity! I’ve never been so humiliated” (147). Benny stands by his actions, replying, “Oh, Yes you have. Yes, you have and you know it. You’ve been in the house with your afternoon teas and garden club so long you think you can pretend we’re not who we are, but you know just as well as I do that my dignity, my goddamned dignity, would have had us swinging from a tree” (147). The difference between coping and surviving get played out through Pearl and Benny’s distinct class identity performances. Pearl’s way of coping—relying on the symbolic wages of class—is framed as a retreat from reality, which Benny suggests would have had dangerous repercussions for them both, had he followed suit. Ethnic upward mobility narratives often depict some form of this moment, dramatizing how the symbolic wages that come from racial and ethnic minorities’ elevated class identity are enticing in that they enable cognitive and social distancing from others who remain marginalized. But this tends to be represented as deep naïveté and threatening to community solidarity.44

In short, if upward mobility grants wages, it also imposes a tax. This tax reveals the impossibility of straight-line assimilation into a white mainstream. It registers the factors that make racial identities salient and which have led to the social, political, and narrative strategies that individuals and groups have developed to work within and against the socioeconomic status quo. Ethnic upward mobility narratives participate in these endeavors, reflecting how the tax has also produced aesthetic translations of the contradictions inherent in a stratified society. The “sellout narrative” can be seen as one manifestation of this tax in discursive terms, another example of how economic language informs how we think about identity. Fears that individuals would identify with a privileged class group as opposed to a minority ethnic group find their literary expression in these kinds of narratives. “Selling out” conveys that an individual is hawking or exchanging his or her communal identity, or the community itself, for membership in the dominant group. In sellout narratives, characters may pass for white, act subservient to whites, Anglicize their names, define themselves in opposition to the racialized or immigrant working class, and deny their cultural heritage—all in an attempt to improve their socioeconomic status. These status seeking characters are vilified for leaving their communities behind or, even worse, for selling out “their people” for individual gain. Think of the eponymous protagonist in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, who passes as white to accrue the social and economic advantages of whiteness; George Washington Gómez in Américo Paredes’s novel by the same name, who turns his back on his Mexican American community once he goes off to college and comes back as a border spy; and Dr. Bledsoe in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, who would rather see Blacks remain powerless than give up his own higher status, one that he maintains by catering to whites.45 Sellout narratives expose how the symbolic wages accrued through assimilation can turn into material wages for racialized subjects striving to override racial and ethnic markers and/or who want to leave affiliation behind. In other words, they dramatize the profitability of normativity, of the social and financial value that one can earn when one is not stigmatized by difference. The twin economic metaphors of symbolic wages and identity taxes log the value and cost of identity resulting from relations of economic, social, and narrative exchange.

While symbolic wages come from class markers, they can also come from ethnic group membership. Individuals convey the cultural codes that mark them as group insiders, part of a community with shared cultural practices, linguistic codes, and values. This, in turn, can have personal and collective benefits, enabling an affirmative identity and serving as a way for a community to pool its resources for social action.46 Black and Chicano cultural nationalism helped cohere a sense of group identities affirming racial and ethnic difference. Taking more oppositional stances toward the mainstream than had previous generations in the fight for civil rights, the 1960s and 1970s generations rallied around Black and Chicana/o identity, allied with the working class, and claimed roots in Africa and Aztlán—outside the current nation-state. The creation of these collective identities enabled disparate groups of people to fight for social equality under shared political visions. Part of the political legacy of nationalist movements, these identities are still used to mobilize social justice efforts in grassroots activism and in institutional arenas. This politicization also produced a rich body of cultural and academic work, though that community coherence necessitated some omissions, which feminists and queer critiques have sought to rectify. What still has not received enough attention is the mixed-class component of these movements. José Limón has argued, for example, that “productive as [the Chicano] movement was . . . it generated a less than comprehensive, less than complex view of Mexican-America as it largely overlooked the middle class.”47 Candice M. Jenkins similarly remarks that Black nationalism’s “greatest misstep [was the way in which it] collapsed intraracial differences, particularly class differences, and represented all African Americans as essentially the same.”48

In the postnationalist (1980s–present), multiculturalist era, we increasingly see attempts to reconcile the symbolic wages of class with those of ethnicity, to convey middle-class identity and ethnic affiliation. A precursor to this shift, Trey Ellis’s 1989 essay “The New Black Aesthetic,” announced the proliferation of Black artists and intellectuals—largely second-generation middle class—who, as “cultural mulattos,” were moving between Black and white worlds to produce avant-garde art “that shamelessly borrows and reassembles across both race and class lines.”49 Continuing the project of describing expansive Black identities, the journalist Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now moves beyond the realm of aesthetics.50 The coining of the term post-Black is attributed to Thelma Golden, curator of the 2001 Studio Museum in Harlem exhibit “Freestyle,” along with artist Glenn Ligon, who used it to describe varied expressions of Blackness in a postnationalist era. Touré applies post-Black to describe artists, but also media celebrities, politicians, academics, and other elites like Oprah and Obama, who are not “leaving Blackness behind” but rather “leaving behind the vision of Blackness as something narrowly definable and [are] embracing every conception of Blackness as legitimate.”51 Touré’s book wants to legitimize middle- and upper-class Black identity in particular. As he explains, post-Blackness accommodates markers of class and social mobility, so that a Black person who plays tennis, goes to an elite school, and has an interracial relationship would not be seen as inauthentic. Touré calls for an end to the assessment of Blackness according to a “hierarchy of authenticity” that is

based on proximity to the ghetto experience, as if that were the sun around which Blackness revolves. The further the planet you live on is from the ghetto the less authentically Black you are. I reject the idea that the ’hood is the center of Blackness and that Blackness is somehow lost the further you go up the class ladder, like milk moving toward spoilage as it sits longer and longer outside the fridge. To suggest that underclass Blackness is authentic and middle-class is not self-destructive thinking. It suggests that Blackness requires us to stay poor in order for it to survive and it dies as more of us become economically successful.52

In order to deconflate race and class, Touré flips the connotations of the ghetto and the middle class. The ghetto is not the site of marginalization but the sun around which Blackness revolves, and not a place where fresh food is hard to find but where Blackness is the freshest, and death is divorced from actual bodies and refers here to a loss of authenticity. Touré rewrites the relationship between the ghetto and the middle class as one of inverse privilege. But these metaphorical turns can only be intelligible in an era when the authenticity of ethnicity has high symbolic value, when there is a desire to assert not only middle-classness but also ethnic affiliation.

Ultimately, Touré wants an end to a policing of Black identity in order to expand the boundaries of Black community. Legal scholars Randall Kennedy and Brando Simeo Starkey assert, however, that in order to have Black solidarity, policing rhetoric is unavoidable.53 Starkey distinguishes between the policing of constructive and destructive norms. Constructive norms “help build black solidarity by penalizing individuals for consciously promoting the interests of antiblack entities, for exhibiting inexcusable meekness in the face of racism, or for lacking concern for the race.”54 The use of destructive norms, in contrast, are attempts to police cultural Blackness, which Starkey argues is unproductive and creates divisions instead of solidarity.55 Policing markers of class would fall under destructive norms, since doing so can exclude and limit allies and strategies for collective action.

Terms like post-Black and the similar post-Chicano represent attempts to capture the varied sense of ethnic identity resulting from increased understandings of heterogeneity in both groups. Like the concept of post-Black, post-Chicano originated in the arts world and designates a historical marker. Implying “post-Chicano movement,” it can refer to artists completely disidentifying with Chicana/o ideology and themes—artists who eschew identity labels, for example. But it has also been used to refer to artists who identify as Chicana/o but who, like many post-Black artists, display playful irreverence toward the cultural nationalist era. Or to those who extend Chicano movement themes and imagery by mixing “high” and “low” culture or by incorporating global references. First used in 1990 by Max Benavidez and Liz Lerma Bowerman, curators of the Post-Chicano Generation in Art: Breaking Boundaries exhibit at the Phoenix art cooperative Movimiento Artístico del Río Salado, the term was meant to describe artists like the conceptual and public performance group ASCO, who were not following, according to Benavidez, the path of cultural glorification characteristic of Chicano movement art but were instead drawing from mixed-cultural contexts and reveling in contradiction and ambiguity.56 In marking the mixed cultural influence visible in post-Chicano art, Benavidez parallels Trey Ellis’s announcement of a new generation of Black artists. All identity movements have their developments, and the posts signify ethnic traditions undergoing redefinition.

Representing ethnic identities with mixed-cultural influences and less oppositional relationships to the mainstream is one way connotations of the group expand. But this is occurring even while cultural producers reinforce a sense of ethnic identity with continuities from the past. The post- identity prefixes are ambiguous enough that they can designate a distancing not just from a homogeneous sense of identity but also from the politics that led to a communal identity in the first place. Taking issue with this latter interpretation, Chicana artist Melanie Cervantes, one half of the Bay Area printmaking duo Dignidad Rebelde, declared that the term post-Chicano

eclipses the art that’s still happening that’s within the tradition. . . . It’s not the dominant art for arts sake. . . . we fit into that trajectory of artists that were seen as Chicana/Chicano movement artists in that we believe in being artists connected to a community and that there’s this emancipatory space that’s built out of the work we’re creating. And creating the art and marching in the streets and doing civil disobedience like all of that works toward the same goals. . . . post-Chicano triggers me to think, wow that totally negates the reality that I live. . . . we’re marching in the rain May 1st, 2009, every year folks are coming out and determined because there’s still police checkpoints happening. And there’s still raids happening and people are having their doors knocked on and being asked about whether they’re documented or not. Those issues are still relevant to young Chicanos . . . 57

The label is relevant to Cervantes because it still describes her community-based organizing and art production. Her critique aligns with Greg Thomas’s assessment of “posts”: “The ‘post’ is never meant for ‘some’; it’s supposed to be for ‘all.’ It is never a questionable desire; it is a supposedly unquestionable reality. It is class elite-led yet presented as a supposed cure for the masses.”58 With a Berkeley degree, Cervantes is one example of many who marshal their educational capital on behalf of ethnic communities, see their ethnic identities as still salient, and participate in mediating efforts that help reinforce a sense of ethnic community for political purposes. My analysis of ethnic upward mobility narratives draws out what is implied in these identity and aesthetic debates: that cultural producers are grappling with the simultaneous expansion and contraction of group boundaries, and a relationship to the mainstream and class identity are often sources of tension around which this fluctuation occurs.59

The Identity Tax and the Minority Culture of Mobility

The identity tax encompasses how individuals navigate their cultural economies when there is both a need to acculturate and also a desire to maintain ties to the ethnic community. In fleshing out these dual negotiations, this book analyzes the aesthetic strategies used to capture what sociologists have called the “minority culture of mobility.” The idea of cultural producers maintaining ethnic affiliation even after achieving social mobility correlates with more recent assimilation theories, with the Black and Mexican American middle classes countering older theoretical models. Previous studies by sociologists Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou explained that immigrants and their children could follow three assimilation pathways: into the white middle class (the concern of the sellout narrative), into a racialized underclass, or into a middle class that preserves elements from the immigrant community.60 Sociologists Kathryn M. Neckerman, Prudence Carter, and Jennifer Lee expand on this latter path to propose that African Americans might offer immigrants a model of how to gain access to resources while retaining ethnic affiliation through the development of a “minority culture of mobility.”61 Defining the minority culture of mobility as the “cultural elements provid[ing] strategies for economic mobility in the context of discrimination and group disadvantage,” they argue that it arises out of contact with whites and also from the interclass distinctions within the minority community.62 The minority culture of mobility encompasses speech patterns and interactional styles to communicate with the white middle class and with other coethnics: ways of dealing with loneliness, isolation, and discrimination in white-dominant spaces, and managing relations with poor family and community members.63

Perhaps Barack Obama is the most visible example of the deployment of the minority culture of mobility. Linguists H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman found through survey research that because Obama demonstrated a facility with cultural codes from both the mainstream and his ethnic community, he drew the kind of mass appeal needed to win a national election.64 Testing whether the minority culture of mobility applies to Mexican Americans, Jody Agius Vallejo found that, in contrast to beliefs that Mexican Americans continue to live in poverty generations after they have immigrated to the United States, or to the belief that they assimilate into the white middle class, a sizable contingent is entering the middle class while retaining their ethnic identity.65 What needs more elaboration, however, is the role cultural texts play in representing and mediating inter- and intra-ethnic class differences. Neckerman and colleagues state that the minority culture of mobility includes knowledge and behavioral strategies, but it also “draws on available symbols, idioms and practices to respond to distinctive problems of being middle class and minority.”66 Building on this work, my book analyzes the symbolic elements of ethnic-affiliated upward mobility narratives, showing how they illustrate a minority culture of mobility and also contribute to it. The minority culture of mobility stems from tensions that lead to narrative and behavioral strategies. In similar terms, the metaphorical wages of upward mobility (material and symbolic) are mitigated by the need to develop a culture to deal with marginality and inequality. Portraying class and racial conflict, ethnic cultural production serves both as a product of this tax and as payment of the social and aesthetic dues given to both the mainstream and the ethnic community.

The consequences of paying that tax are still in question. If we think of the social function that taxes serve, they can be seen as impositions (because there’s no choice involved), but they can also be seen as contributions (because they address collective social need). If the group purpose to which the taxes are put maintains the status quo and its accompanying social hierarchies, the tax is decidedly not in the interest of the racialized ethnic group. But the history of Blacks and Latina/os in the United States shows us that oppressive and alienating conditions have also manifested cultural responses contributing to a sense of distinct collective identities constructed for social action. In these terms, an identity tax has cross-ethnic applicability. It marks the social and economic impositions that make racial and ethnic identity salient and the interpretive response to those impositions. It is, therefore, analogous to the process by which ethnic literature is produced.

One way of interpreting ethnic literature is that it is a positive made out of a negative, a reaction to racism and marginalization that leads to the creation of literary difference. Writing about Sandra Cisneros’s alienating experience as an ethnic and economic outsider in the prestigious University of Iowa Writing Workshop, Mark McGurl characterizes those experiences as an “enabling disablement” that led to the writing of The House on Mango Street.67 Kenneth Warren gives the equivalent assessment about African American literature as a whole when he argues for its periodization under Jim Crow:

One cannot treat African American literature as a literature apart from the necessary conditions that made it a literature. Absent white suspicions of, or commitment to imposing, black inferiority, African American literature would not have existed as a literature. Writers of African descent would have certainly emerged and written novels, plays, and poems that merited critical attention, but the imperative to produce and to consider their literature as a corporate enterprise would not have obtained.68

But seeing ethnic literature as just a reaction to white racism leads to an inevitable question that Warren poses in What Was African American Literature?: What happens when the external conditions that led to its fruition are no longer there? Jim Crow treated all Blacks the same regardless of class; with its end, argues Warren, African American literature lost its justification as a collective enterprise.

Consequently, Warren argues that in the post–Jim Crow era, we have narratives about middle-class Blacks that try to convince us that the bourgeois concerns of protagonists matter to Blacks as a whole. In his reading of Michael Thomas’s novel Man Gone Down (2009), Warren demonstrates the means by which the narrative correlates the protagonist’s dilemma—how to raise thousands of dollars in four days so he can send his kids to private school—with the fate of the race. It occurs through a scene on a country club golf course; the protagonist is participating in a tournament and is about to swing when he conjures up the voices of Black people rooting for him. As Warren puts it,

He needs to believe, perhaps despite himself, that what he does matters to someone other than him and his immediate family. To put the matter in broader terms, the idea that sustains the possibility of an African American literature is a belief that the welfare of the race as a whole depends on the success of black writers and those who are depicted in their texts.69

His analysis cautions us to avoid ignoring class dynamics under the umbrella of race. Walter Benn Michaels has advanced this argument as well, agreeing with Warren that literature expresses “nostalgia for racism. What we like about racism is precisely the fact that its victims are the victims of discrimination rather than [economic] exploitation.”70 By focusing on racism as the dominant issue, in other words, texts and critics can rally around wanting racial identities affirmed rather than addressing class inequities.

But this interpretation of ethnic literature assumes that texts do not portray the compounded effects of inequality and exclusion. William Darity’s work in stratification economics offers empirically based accounts of how racial hierarchies have perpetuated material advantages over generations.71 In a similar vein, legal scholar Daria Roithmayr has analogized white supremacy to a monopoly that got rid of its nonwhite economic competitors during Jim Crow, resulting in white advantage becoming “institutionally locked in” and vast economic racial disparities persisting to this day.72 These effects we see in ethnic literature along with characters who exhibit a range of strategies for dealing with socioeconomic realities. We see, for example, characters who strive for status symbols to show signs of worth, or who have internalized the value system that sees poor racialized subjects as lesser and do their most to distance themselves from that group, while other characters in similar positions attempt to address inequities through legal channels, anarchy, institutional reform, or artistic means. As Lawrence Buell puts it, “the ethnic turn in American up-from stories of aspirant youth, far from giving acquisitive individualism a free pass, has tended—with exceptions of course—to bring issues of social justice more robustly to the fore than in earlier novels of aspiration. At least in part, that’s because the condition of marked ethnicity conduces to even greater like-it-or-not self-consciousness of the (un)fairness of social arrangements across the board.”73 In contrast to interpretations of ethnic literature that subsume class concerns, or see the work as endorsing a politics of recognition while not challenging economic inequality, I demonstrate that ethnic upward mobility narratives are cultural sites showing the tactics—manifesting as allegorical pathways of social incorporation—developed to deal with economic and social stratification.

By giving us a window into a fictional character’s interiority, cultural production shows us how class is experienced on a day-to-day basis. It captures interpretations of class by representing status. The characters parsed in this book are either socially and economically mobile or middle class, identified as such by their position in the middle of rather than at the bottom of economic and social hierarchies. Max Weber famously distinguished class as one’s position in an economic hierarchy, and status as how one is perceived in that hierarchy.74 An attention to status illuminates how a class position acquires meaning through social relations and also provides an explanation for why members of the minority middle class would still identify with the minority group as opposed to their class group. Weber argued that individuals were more likely to form communities as a result of sharing similar social statuses than they would with those sharing the same class positioning. Seeing ethnic groups as status groups, as Weber does, helps clarify why individuals would work across class lines for collective social action to improve the opportunities for and perception of their status group as a whole. It also explicates why some characters would want to improve their social status by distancing themselves from the racialized poor. The inclusion of a Black or Mexican lower class and an elite class (white or ethnic) against which fictional figures define themselves or are defined allows their in-between status to become a key component of their characterization.

Four Faces of Upward Mobility Narratives

Despite temporal and generational differences, Mexican American and African American cultural productions now pose common questions: What does group identity mean today? And how do you represent and analyze its diversity? The traditional ethnic studies method has been to locate signs of resistance in texts and to focus on particular figures: Elizabeth McHenry argues that this has led to seeing slaves and the African American working class as the sole and most authentic sites of resistance, which then “artificially diminishes the complexity of the black community and advances the notion of a monolithic black culture that is unsupported by historical fact.”75 Ralph Rodriguez has also urged Chicana/o studies to move beyond the familiar; he provocatively asks, “could it now be time to move away from the propensity to analyze the oppositional quality of Mexican-American cultural production? If this model is inadequate, it is not because the warrior hero has disappeared from Mexican-American culture, but precisely the opposite. When a figure of opposition is well represented and firmly entrenched in contemporary novels, films, music, do we really need an act of exegesis to explain its presence, or even its necessity?”76 Since African American and Chicana/o literature is often read as resistant, working class, and about the disenfranchised, how do we read character types that do not entirely fit these expectations? What do we make of the figures whose class movement is a key feature of their relationship to other coethnics and to a broader U.S. population? Since upwardly mobile characters are in the middle of social and economic hierarchies, I argue that authors can employ them to theorize the fluctuation of group boundaries. Their in-between status also offers us the opportunity to reflect on the pressures that inform the way characters deal with class and race, which cannot always be reduced to assessments of resistance or selling out if we understand that texts exhibit a range of strategies to respond to social and economic inequalities. What Viet Thanh Nguyen has argued about Asian American texts applies cross-ethnically: “resistance and accommodation are actually limited, polarizing options that do not sufficiently demonstrate the flexible strategies often chosen by authors and characters to navigate their political and ethical situations.”77 Looking beyond the trope of the resistant or sellout figure so that we can parse out the flexible strategies employed in ethnic upward mobility narratives, this book focuses on African American and Mexican American texts developed to depict a central contradiction understood in theorizations of intersectionality—that racialized minorities can be simultaneously inside and outside positions of privilege. In doing so, we see that there are other figural types common to both groups’ narrative traditions, and that they open windows onto other strategies for negotiating race, ethnicity, and class.

I find that there are four reoccurring character types, symbolic of actual social and vocational positions, that appear in ethnic upward mobility narratives to model competing strategies for negotiating race and class. Status seekers are characters who desire increased status; they may buy into the correlation between material worth and social worth and/or strive for mainstream approval. As a result, they may distance themselves from poorer coethnics and markers of difference. Conflicted artists are often juxtaposed with status seekers; these characters channel the ethical critique and offer an alternative to material accumulation and status seeking. They may be conflicted because they come from poor communities where being an artist is not seen as a viable path or a profitable one, their communities need immediate representation in forms other than art, or they chafe against representing for a group.78 Mediators are characters who use their new class positions to work on behalf of poorer coethnics. They represent a desire to see upward mobility routed into a politically conscious path. Antithetical to mediators, gatekeepers use their class positions to keep other coethnics from accessing resources they themselves enjoy. Gatekeepers can also be characters that police ethnic allegiances through markers that designate those inside and outside the group. To appreciate these figures, we must apprehend them in the representational worlds they inhabit and the narratives in which they are entwined. We must also understand that there can be movement between figures, with texts transforming gatekeepers and status seekers into mediators or artists, or illustrating how individuals can embody multiple types. In Hunger of Memory, for example, Richard Rodriguez narrates both his aspirational drive toward mainstream approval and the pain that comes with it, rendering him a status seeker who is also a conflicted artist. I am not arguing that these figures do not appear in non-African American or non-Mexican American cultural production. In this book, I am demonstrating how they function in these particular traditions to work through social and political issues inflected by both race and class. As heuristics, these figures reveal how a text concretizes sociopolitical strategies and help us chart continuities and changes over time.

In selecting sites—cultural productions—for analysis, I sought representations that exemplify how these figures appear in a variety of genres. Literary works such as Paule Marshall’s novel Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959), for example, can be more critical about upward mobility than can a mass-market pitched sitcom like the show George Lopez. Yet they both advance arguments about hierarchies of power and economic pressures, and revolve around crises of self-identification and communal membership. And while the sincere portrayals of migrant suffering depicted in the films The Gatekeeper (2002) and Sleep Dealer (2008) might bear little resemblance to the ironic and comic portrayal of a public relation rep’s identity crisis in Lynn Nottage’s play Fabulation (2004), they are all about middle-class ethnic characters who end up realigning with the working poor. The novels, television programs, films, and dramas I analyze reveal patterns across genres—helping us understand the overarching genre of the ethnic upward mobility narrative—as recurring figural types and plot trajectories appear to unfold inter- and intra-ethnic class tensions. The spectrum of Mexican American and African American upward mobility narratives showcases complementary and conflicting responses to social and economic pressures ranging from the self-interested to the collectively oriented, but all giving us a fuller scope of their sociopolitical qualities in depicting race and class under capitalism.

Outline of the Book

This book is organized conceptually and loosely chronologically in spanning from the 1940s to the 2000s to demonstrate how texts employ the figural types to engage with histories of exclusion and inequality. In most chapters I discuss patterns in both African American and Mexican American texts to illuminate the narrative strategies they employ to treat shared concerns, while in two chapters (Chapters 3 and 5) I focus on a single group to attune to the particularities of that group’s narrative traditions while still contextualizing within a comparative framework. An engagement with these two groups necessitates that we look at them together and also separately to account for their distinct patterns of incorporation and institutional histories.

Chapter 1 analyzes representations of home ownership. Desires to own a home are not bound to any one racial or ethnic group, and property attainment is tied to the “American Dream” and ideas about “making it.” However, racist housing policies have historically affected African Americans the most, and Black writers have represented this history to explore its effects on individuals and communities. Dorothy West’s The Living Is Easy, Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones, and Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills 79 are novels working out ways to be sympathetic to and critical of the pursuit of status symbols, which gets concretized in these novels in the form of houses in certain neighborhoods. These novels create status seeking characters who desire houses to differentiate themselves from others who are racialized and hope subsequent generations will keep up the monetary, cognitive, and social payments required to maintain or increase their status, which include keeping poorer coethnics at a distance and pursuing only profitable professions. Status seekers thus act as the initial investors in a hierarchical and ownership-oriented value system, and latter generations can either accept or refuse this ideological inheritance and reinterpret the end goal of mobility. The artist figures in these novels reject materialist pursuits for more creative paths, but do so at the cost of communal support. Demonstrating the means by which these novels represent the ideological effects of racial capitalism manifesting in consumption habits and communal identification, this chapter draws out narrative patterns integral to the subsequent texts under discussion.

As the chapters will illustrate, sometimes the figural types emerge out of compromise: they question and express dissatisfaction with a system that creates social and economic hierarchies, but they still work within it. Then there are the characters who as mediators between disenfranchised people and oppressive institutions want to tear the system down altogether. In Chapter 2, I analyze Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door, John A. Williams’s Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light, and Oscar Zeta Acosta’s The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and The Revolt of the Cockroach People to discuss how they imagined characters willing to give up middle-class jobs and commit what Amílcar Cabral called “class suicide,” in order to implement radical politics informed by Black Power and Chicano movement ideology.80 These texts grapple with the question of what kind of relationship middle-class minority activists could or should have with historically exclusionary institutions such as the government or academia. Written in the nationalist era—when liberation movements were closely linked with working-class politics—these novels construct characters wholeheartedly embracing the revolutionary route or wavering between revolution and institutional reform to envision ways to work for cross-class social change.

One of the outcomes of the Black Power and Chicano movements was the affirmation of markers of difference as the basis of identities formed for collective social action. In addition to enabling empowered subjectivities, this discourse also contributed to the essentialization of racialized groups as having particular cultures. While scholarship has engaged with sellout discourse and portrayals of the middle class in African American culture, these phenomena have been sparsely examined in Chicana/o cultural production. Chapter 3 focuses on how Chicana/o texts responded to the threat of ideological divisions stemming from economic heterogeneity. Since upward mobility is associated with assimilation, individualism, and materialism, ideals that Chicano nationalism labored to counter, upward mobility and middle-class status have been largely maligned or overlooked in Chicana/o studies even as desires to get out of poverty resonate across texts. After demonstrating how Chicana/o class politics informs texts even in the postnationalist period through a reading of the film My Family / Mi Familia (1995), I segue into an analysis of Helena María Viramontes’s novel Under the Feet of Jesus as another text produced in the mid-1990s that reinforces Chicana/o working-class collectivity.81 The novel, however, is imbued with figurative language expressing an ethos of class mobility and ends with a scene of a mediator’s ascension through physical and mental labor. It does not represent changes in class but encodes a desire for it that would result in a politically conscious upward path. By depicting upward mobility allegorically, the novel reconciles Chicano movement concerns in a postnationalist context, when the Mexican American population was becoming more economically heterogeneous.

Viramontes’s novel depicts the potential for and outcome of upward mobility obliquely, but the next two chapters analyze texts representing it explicitly. In Chapter 4, I analyze mass-market depictions of a racialized ethnic middle class.82 Countering perceptions of Mexican Americans and Blacks as poor and the middle class as white, Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory, the sitcom George Lopez, Michele Serros’s Honey Blonde Chica, and the sitcom black-ish depict the social tensions that accompany this dual endeavor.83 In the process, these works centralize racial, ethnic, and class conflicts and expand upon what C. Wright Mills termed “status panic.” I argue that mainstream depictions of ethnic status panic since the 1980s correlate with the visibility of people of color in white-collar occupations and in mainstream representations, the effects of and backlash toward affirmative action, and the use of authenticity discourse in reinforcing and policing ethnic identity.

Critiques of the conflation of race with class also inform two satiric texts analyzed in Chapter 5 that offer contrasting perspectives on the association of Blackness with poverty. Percival Everett’s novel Erasure and Lynn Nottage’s play Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine are works featuring characters striving to be seen as individuals rather than part of an overdetermined racial group.84 The class performances depicted in Erasure and Fabulation suggest that the conflation of race and class, in which whiteness is associated with wealth and Blackness with poverty, is so strong a frame of reference that their protagonists cannot disrupt it with their individual performative acts. Erasure ends in cynicism over an artist’s inability to contest, to modify George Lipsitz’s phrase, the possessive investment in blackness, through which individuals and industries profit from representing Blackness as poverty-stricken and pathological. Fabulation, meanwhile, depicts a protagonist who has bought into the possessive investment in blackness and has denied her working-class origins in order to gain status, but by the end of the play is realigned with her working-class community, a realignment representative of texts trying to counter intra-ethnic class divisions.

Attempts to imagine working-class unity as occurs in Fabulation can be seen as nostalgic in the sense they gesture back to a previous state of group identity associated with wholeness and authenticity. Such imaginings can also emerge in response to pressing political issues in the present. Chapter 6 focuses on three immigration films that take up this task to counter anti-immigrant sentiment. The Gatekeeper, Sleep Dealer, and Machete are films that initially thematize ethnic betrayal through Mexican American Border Patrol agents who have distanced themselves professionally and ideologically from Mexican migrants in order to accrue the advantages of assimilation.85 These films disrupt the fantasy that upward mobility is solely a domestic issue by tying the border agents’ class mobility to U.S. power and privilege maintained through military efforts and class exploitation transnationally. By depicting gatekeepers becoming mediators, they also imagine scenarios whereby threatening outliers gain awareness of the exploitive effects of neoliberal economic policies and get reintegrated into an affective community for political purposes. This chapter concludes by demonstrating that while Mexican American law enforcement figures can get redeemed in Latina/o films, if we look at correlating Black characters in film—Black police officers depicted as sellouts—the option of redemption gets foreclosed.

These dramas, while fictional, develop the very real tensions inherent in a racially and economically stratified society. Representing intragroup class differences is no easy task, and ethnic cultural producers have addressed the formal and ideological challenges of doing so through a range of strategies. These aesthetic choices reveal how these narratives work to expand ethnic identity to include socially mobile or middle-class experiences or how they work to strengthen group cohesiveness by countering class divisions. Race and Upward Mobility delineates those strategies and theorizes the signification of race and ethnicity once assumptions about class homogeneity break down, foregrounding the social and aesthetic dues integral to the processes of self- and communal identification.


1. The Jeffersons was a spin-off of the show All in the Family (CBS 1971–1979). The Jeffersons were the neighbors of the white, working-class Bunkers from All in the Family.

2. “Prototype,” George Lopez, ABC, aired on March 27, 2002. On this episode, George says he worked sixteen years on the assembly line, but in the episode “Token of Unappreciation,” discussed in Chapter 4, he says it was fifteen.

3. “A Friend in Need,” The Jeffersons, CBS, aired on January 18, 1975.

4. Lynn M. Berk, “The Great Middle American Dream Machine,” Journal of Communication 27, no. 3 (1977): 27–31. In his analysis of the first fifty years of sitcom production, Richard Butsch found that two-thirds of sitcoms depicted middle-class families and, like Berk, argued that working-class characters tend to be depicted as inept, dysfunctional, and buffoonish. Richard Butsch, “A Half Century of Class and Gender in American TV Domestic Sitcoms,” Cercles 8 (2003): 16–34.

5. In my employment of race and ethnicity, I refer to the distinction made by social psychologist Hazel Markus and literary scholar Paula Moya in Doing Race. While both terms refer to processes of categorization, ideas about race historically have been imposed on groups, sorting people “according to perceived physical and behavioral human characteristics that are often imagined to be negative, innate, and shared” (21), while ethnicity can refer to the cultural markers and practices coming from the group itself, enabling “people to identify, or be identified, with groupings of people on the basis of presumed, and usually claimed, commonalities, including several of the following: language, history, nation or region of origin, customs, religion, names, physical appearance and/or ancestry” (22). What is useful about this distinction is that it enables us to understand how “African American,” “Black,” “Mexican American” and “Chicano” operate as ethnic labels, with much discursive work occurring to reinforce them as sociopolitical groups in order to counter the negative effects of racialization. Hazel Rose Markus and Paula M. L. Moya, eds., Doing Race: 21 Essays for the 21st Century. (New York: Norton, 2010). My thinking about the dual and multiple negotiations racialized subjects make in navigating different class and ethnic contexts has been informed by scholarship on the “minority culture of mobility,” particularly the work of sociologist Jody Agius Vallejo in Barrio to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican American Middle Class (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012).

6. “Former Neighbors,” The Jeffersons, CBS, aired on March 29, 1975.

7. White supremacy is a worldwide ideological system with roots in colonialism. In the United States, racial hierarchies were institutionalized in the first three centuries of its history through laws, social policies, and cultural practices that have had lasting effects. These effects are economic, in that institutionalized racism justified the takeover of land and resources, sanctioned the exploitation of people, and prevented the accumulation and transfer of wealth over generations, and these effects are social, in that white supremacy still affects how people see and treat others, and see and treat themselves. It is important to understand how white supremacy can be internalized and reinforced by people who are racialized as nonwhite. The fiction writer Junot Díaz has said, “There’s that old saying: the devil’s greatest trick is that he convinced people that he doesn’t exist. Well, white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.” Junot Díaz and Paula M. L. Moya, “The Search for Decolonial Love: An Interview with Junot Díaz,” Boston Review, last modified on June 26, 2012, http://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/paula-ml-moya-decolonial-love-interview-junot-d%C3%ADaz.

8. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act is also correlated to the increase of the Mexican American middle class. See Vallejo, Barrio to Burbs, 186.

9. “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities,” Pew Research Center, last modified August 22, 2013, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/08/22/chapter-3-demographic-economic-data-by-race.

10. Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry, and Paul Taylor, “Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics: Twenty-to-One,” Pew Social Trends, last modified July 26, 2011, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics.

11. The “stop and frisk” law enables police officers to stop individuals in order to interrogate and frisk them for weapons. Disproportionally targeting Black and Latino males (in 2012, 87 percent of the stops were of Blacks or Latinos and 9 percent were of whites), the policy has contributed to the continued criminalization and mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos. See Owen Brown Jr., “The Legal Murder of Trayvon Martin and New York City Stop-and-Frisk Law: America’s War Against Black Males Rages On,” Western Journal of Black Studies 37, no. 4 (2013): 258–71. The “stand your ground” law sanctions deadly force in the service of self-defense. Looking at FBI homicide data from 2005–2010 submitted by twenty-three states that had such laws, John K. Roman found that “white-on-black homicides were most likely to be ruled justified (11.4 percent), and black-on-white homicides were least likely to be ruled justified (1.2 percent).” John K. Roman, “Race, Justifiable Homicide, and Stand Your Ground Laws: Analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Report Data,” Urban Institute, last modified July 26, 2013, http://www.urban.org/research/publication/race-justifiable-homicide-and-stand-your-ground-laws. The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, also known as the “show me your papers” law or SB1070, was a state Senate bill signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer in 2010. It enables law enforcement to stop anyone suspected of being undocumented to ask for documents proving legal U.S. residency. See “SB 1070 at the Supreme Court: What’s at Stake,” American Civil Liberties Union, accessed January 4, 2016, https://www.aclu.org/infographic/infographic-whats-stake-sb-1070-supreme-court?redirect=immigrants-rights/whats-stake-sb-1070-supreme-court-infographic.

12. Sonya Rastogi, Tallesse D. Johnson, Elizabeth M. Hoeffel, and Malcolm P. Drewery Jr., “The Black Population: 2010,” U.S. Census Bureau, last modified September 2011, http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-06.pdf; Sharon R. Ennis, Merarys Rios-Vargas, and Nora G. Albert, “The Hispanic Population: 2010,” U.S. Census Bureau, last modified May 2011, http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-04.pdf.

13. Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 20. If Native Americans assimilated and accepted individual parcels of land that helped weaken communal land structures, they were given the chance to become citizens in 1887 through the General Allotment Act. It was a policy that Alan Trachtenberg describes as seeking “the making of Americans by the unmaking of Indians.” Alan Trachtenberg, Shades of Hiawatha: Staging Indians, Making Americans, 1880–1930 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 30. All Native Americans received citizenship in 1924, but they continued to face voting rights obstructions from some states until the middle of the twentieth century.

14. Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, 3rd ed. (New York: Continuum, 1994). The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted African Americans citizenship, yet Jim Crow laws continued to sanction discrimination and violence toward Black people and prevented the accumulation of wealth on the same level as whites. Benjamin P. Bowser, The Black Middle Class: Social Mobility and Vulnerability (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2007).

15. Ronald T. Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (1989. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998). Anti-Asian racism led to immigration restrictions such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; the 1907–8 Gentleman’s Agreement between the United States and Japan; and parts of the Immigration Act of 1924, more explicitly barring Japanese immigration and limiting East Asian and Indian immigration.

16. Natalia Molina, How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014).

17. Deloria, Playing Indian, 174. These images elide the outcomes of centuries of disenfranchisement: that a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty, and that health disparities endure. Jens Manuel Krogstad, “One-in-Four Native Americans and Alaska Natives Are Living in Poverty,” Pew Research Center, last modified June 13, 2014, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/13/1-in-4-native-americans-and-alaska-natives-are-living-in-poverty; David S. Jones, “The Persistence of American Indian Health Disparities,” American Journal of Public Health 96, no. 12 (2006): 2122–34.

18. Robert G. Lee explicates how U.S. sentiments toward Asia and Asian Americans began to change as a result of international and internal pressures stemming from the Cold War and the civil rights movement. In countering the spread of communism and developing itself as a global economic power, the United States had an incentive to ally with Asian countries as trading partners. Amid nationwide protests during the 1960s by people of color demanding economic and social change, news outlets also started disseminating stories of high academically achieving Asian Americans, shaping a discourse of “triumphant ethnic assimilation,” in contrast with underachieving and oppositional racial minorities (149). Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 145–79. The Immigration Act of 1965 also contributed to the narrative of Asian American success; it opened up greater Asian immigration to the United States, but with certain stipulations, giving preference toward immediate family members and those with professional backgrounds and technical skills, which led to new generations of Asian immigrants with higher education and class backgrounds than previously. Ronald T. Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (1989; Boston: Little, Brown, 1998). While ostensibly a positive relabeling, the term model minority obscures the variation that exists in educational attainment and economic backgrounds, as well as experiences of social marginality within the Asian American population. Rosalind S. Chou and Joe R. Feagin, The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); Samuel D. Museus and Peter N. Kiang, “Deconstructing the Model Minority Myth and How It Contributes to the Invisible Minority Reality in Higher Education Research,” New Directions for Institutional Research 142 (2009): 5–15.

19. After 9/11, Muslims also came to be perceived as threatening racial others.

20. Martin Gilens, “How the Poor Became Black: The Racialization of American Poverty in the Mass Media,” in Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform, ed. Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss, and Richard C. Fording (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 101–30.

21. Oscar Lewis, Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty (New York: Basic, 1959); Daniel P. Moynihan, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (1965)” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office).

22. Charles Murray is a famous scholarly example whose books, Losing Ground (1984) and The Bell Curve (1994), correlated poverty with culture, race, and genetics. Inspired by Murray’s arguments about the Black/white IQ gap, Jason Richwine, a former senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, argued in his Harvard dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy” (2009) that there existed a Latino/white IQ gap, explained by genetics. Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld argue in Triple Package (2014) that the success of certain ethnic groups over others is due to cultural traits. Bill Cosby reiterated culture of pathology sentiment in his 2004 NAACP address, known as the “Pound Cake Speech,” in which he encouraged Black self-help and attributed poverty, incarceration, and school drop-out rates to Black people’s bad parenting, use of vernacular speech, and dress and consumption habits (http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~schochet/101/Cosby_Speech.htm). In contrast to these arguments, Darrick Hamilton and William Darity Jr. and their colleagues argue that academic and financial achievement gaps can better be explained by disparities in intergenerational wealth transfers: Darrick Hamilton, William Darity Jr., Anne E. Price, Vishnu Sridharan, and Rebecca Tippett, “Umbrellas Don’t Make It Rain: Why Studying and Working Hard Isn’t Enough for Black Americans,” last modified April 2015, http://www.insightcced.org.

23. Peter B. Kraska has explained the rise in martial crime rhetoric since the 1960s by demonstrating how leaders have used it to rally support: “What is at stake for politicians and bureaucrats who frame the crime problem in martial terms is the legitimacy and security of the state itself . . . that we risk our ‘national security’ by not waging war.” Peter B. Kraska, “Crime Control as Warfare: Language Matters” in Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and the Police, ed. Peter B. Kraska (Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press, 2001), 20. For an overview of how the police became increasingly militarized as a result of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, see Matthew Harwood, “How Did America’s Police Get So Militarized?” Mother Jones, August 14, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/america-police-military-swat-ferguson-westcott-tampa.

24. Kraska, “Crime Control as Warfare: Language Matters,” 22.

25. Data in the 2010 census report that Latinos compose 16 percent of the country’s population and 19 percent of the prison population, while Blacks compose 13 percent of the country’s population and 40 percent of the prison population. Leah Sakala, “Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity,” Prison Policy, May 28, 2014, http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/rates.html. See also Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010); David Manuel Hernández, “Pursuant to Deportation: Latinos and Immigrant Detention,” Latino Studies 6, no. 1 (2008): 35–63; Suzanne Oboler, ed. Behind Bars: Latino/as and Prison in the United States (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); and Victor M. Rios, Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys (New York: New York University Press, 2011).

26. Leo R. Chavez, The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

27. It is through representations of benefactors and patrons, Robbins argues, that early European and American novels imagined a relationship between a class aspirant and social force that would enable the protagonist’s upward rise, the force serving “as a sort of catalyst inciting or supervising the passage from origin to destination without entering into the end product.” The role of benefactor would later be played by welfare state institutions, which help individuals rise by distributing resources and giving employment, and through the latter also offer a way for individuals to contribute to the common good themselves. Bruce Robbins, Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 13.

28. W. E. B. Du Bois, “Talented Tenth,” in The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative American Negroes of To-day, ed. Booker T. Washington (New York: James Pott, 1903) 33–75. Du Bois’s views endorsing integration and liberal arts education contrasted with Booker T. Washington’s vision for racial progress through segregation and vocational training as expressed in Washington’s 1895 Atlanta Exposition Address. Even though Washington and Du Bois had distinct views on how to move forward, they contributed to the post-Reconstruction political ideology of “racial uplift,” a morality-based discourse that emphasized internal class differentiations and respectability politics as a way to counter the negative status and treatment of Blacks. See Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996). For a literary analysis of fiction and criticism expressing uplift ideology, see Gene Andrew Jarrett, Representing the Race: A New Political History of African American Literature (New York: New York University Press, 2011): 73–99. For an overview of the scholarship on the Black middle class, see Bart Landry and Kris Marsh, “The Evolution of the New Black Middle Class,” Annual Review of Sociology 37 (2011): 373–94. Landry and Marsh observe that Frazier was possibly the first to explicitly refer to a “Black middle class” (374–75).

29. E. Franklin Frazier, Black Bourgeoisie (New York: Free Press, 1957). In 1948, influenced by Marxism, Du Bois issued a revision to his “Talented Tenth” thesis that would be more akin to Frazier’s thinking. In “The Talented Tenth: Memorial Address,” he critiqued his past views for promoting an aristocratic view of leadership and urged a more expansive and ethical leadership program, one that would be more than one-tenth of the population, would be committed to sacrifice on behalf of the Black masses, would work toward an economic redistribution of wealth, and would make alliances with global efforts for equality. W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth: Memorial Address,” 1948, https://www.sigmapiphi.org/home/the-talented-tenth.php. Joy James traces the evolution of Du Bois’s ideas about the Talented Tenth in Transcending the Talented Tenth: Black Leaders and American Intellectuals (New York: Routledge, 1997) 15–33.

30. Andreá N. Williams, Dividing Lines: Class Anxiety and Postbellum Black Fiction (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), 24. Williams is referring to fears of downward economic mobility, of being grouped with the lower class, and of being estranged “from the people, places, or values often associated with the imagined black community” (19).

31. Frank J. Webb, The Garies and Their Friends (1857. New York: Arno, 1969).

32. In 1870, the Black population was 4,880,009. In 1970, the Mexican-origin population was 4,532,435. See Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, “Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals by Race, 1790 to 1990, and by Hispanic Origin 1970 to 1990, for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States,” last modified September 2002, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2002/demo/POP-twps0056.pdf.

33. Sharon R. Ennis et al, “The Hispanic Population: 2010”; Rastogi et al, “The Black Population: 2010.”

34. Raymund A. Paredes, “Special Feature: The Evolution of Chicano Literature.” MELUS 2 (1978): 88. Paredes observes that pre-1940 writers tended to avoid writing about the present in order to play up an idealized Spanish heritage uninfluenced by outside forces and surmises that this was an accomodationist response to the pejorative connotation of “Mexican” in the United States (87). Paredes also points out that most writers wrote in forms other than the novel, such as diaries, journals, poetry, and Spanish language newspapers (81). Rather than upward mobility narratives, the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw some downward mobility narratives in the form of novels about landed elites, such as María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s The Squatter and the Don (1885), or Jovita González and Eve Raleigh’s Caballero (1930s/1996), which depicted the dispossession of land that occurred among upper-class Californios after the U.S.-Mexican War.

35. Before the 1960s, few from this group were able to get published, especially given the stigma against Mexican-origin people based in ideas about race and national inclusion. Also, most of this writing was written in Spanish. The Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, founded in the 1990s, has enabled the translation and publication of pre-1960s Latina/o writing.

36. Joe Rodriguez, “San Jose’s National Hispanic University Will Close by 2015,” San Jose Mercury News, accessed March 19, 2014, http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_25379797/san-joses-national-hispanic-university-will-no-longer.

37. In the 1970s, there was a concerted effort to increase publishing opportunities for scholarship and literature by Mexican Americans. The political activism of the Chicano movement entailed a cultural component to combat the stereotypical images of Mexican Americans and empower a marginalized population of people around a collective consciousness. Journals such as El Grito, founded in 1967, and Aztlán, in 1970, along with Quinto Sol Publications, which published four Chicana/o novels it also honored through its literary prize in the early 1970s, as well as the founding of the presses Bilingual Press in 1973 and Arte Público Press in 1979 played a crucial role in creating and disseminating an identity for Chicana/o literature and culture (Lomelí, 86–96; Tatum, 64–65). Francisco A. Lomelí, “Contemporary Chicano Literature, 1959–1990,” Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Literature and Art 1 (1993): 86–108. Charles M. Tatum, Chicano and Chicana Literature: Otra voz del pueblo (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2006).

38. Tomás R. Jiménez, Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Jessica M. Vasquez, Mexican Americans Across Generations: Immigrant Families, Racial Realities (New York: NYU Press, 2011); Vallejo, Barrio to Burbs.

39. José E. Limón, “Transnational Triangulation: Mexico, the United States, and the Emergence of a Mexican American Middle Class,” in Mexico and Mexicans in the Making of the United States, ed. John Tutino (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012), 236–256; John Alba Cutler, Ends of Assimilation: The Formation of Chicano Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

40. Ayana Mathis, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (New York: Vintage, 2013).

41. The same principle underlies the idea of the “respectability tax,” which “refers to the extra lengths that some African Americans, and other people of color go to, in order to telegraph that they are middle-class, successful, and respectable.” Noel King, “Do Non-White Americans Pay a ‘Respectability Tax’?” Frost Illustrated, last modified August 13, 2013, http://www.frostillustrated.com/2013/do-non-white-americans-pay-a-respectability-tax.

42. Imani Perry, More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 163.

43. W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880 (1935; New York: Free Press, 1998), 700-701; David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Makings of the American Working Class (London: Verso: 1991); Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (1993): 1707–91; George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998).

44. I do not take community, as a given, and use this term to reference the group formation denoted by the text. In order to convey a sense of betrayal that is not just personal, a text imparts that the betrayal affects more than just an individual.

45. James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (Boston: Sherman, French, 1912); Américo Paredes, George Washington Gómez (1930s; Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1990); Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952; New York: Vintage, 1995).

46. Ethnic and racial identities are lucrative for commercial purposes as well. Arlene Davíla shows, for example, how companies and marketing firms profit from creating a homogenous pan-Latino identity in order to sell products. See her Latinos Inc.: Marketing and the Making of a People (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

47. Limón, “Transnational Triangulation,” 236.

48. Candice M. Jenkins, “A Kind of End to Blackness: Reginald McKnight’s He Sleeps and the Body Politics of Race and Class,” in From Bourgeois to Boojie: Black Middle-Class Performances, ed. Vershawn Ashanti Young and Bridget Harris Tsemo (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011), 262.

49. Trey Ellis, “The New Black Aesthetic,” Callaloo 38 (Winter 1989): 234.

50. Touré, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now (2011; New York: Atria, 2014).

51. Ibid., 12.

52. Ibid., 153.

53. Randall Kennedy, Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal (New York: Pantheon, 2008); Brando Simeo Starkey, In Defense of Uncle Tom (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

54. Starkey, In Defense of Uncle Tom, 3-4.

55. Ibid., 21.

56. Benavidez describes post-Chicano movement art as follows: “The Post-Chicano artists often work within an ethnically-mixed context. They seem willing to more than accept and tolerate cultural ambiguity and contradiction. They seem interested in promoting it. Where contemporary Chicano art typically avoids visual confusion in favor of political correctness, Post-Chicano art thrives at the complex and sometimes off-balanced intersection of Western European avant-garde, world culture and Chicano art.” Max Benavidez, “The Post-Chicano Aesthetic: Making Sense of the World,” in Post-Chicano Generation in Art: Breaking Boundaries (Phoenix: MARS Artspace, 1990), 4.

57. “Melanie Cervantes on Post Chicano Art,” YouTube video, 4:52, July 6, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3h2VOA26t4.

58. Greg Thomas, “African Diasporic Blackness Out of Line: Trouble for ‘Post-Black’ African Americanism,” in The Trouble with Post-Blackness, ed. Houston A. Baker Jr. and K. Merinda Simmons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 62.

59. While they share similarities, there are key distinctions between post-Black and post-Chicano, as well as between these terms and one sometimes used interchangeably with post-Black: post-Soul. Post-Black has received more critical appraisals than the term post-Soul because the former has the connotation of being sympathetic to the idea of “post-race,” while the latter is used more often to refer to aesthetic strategies in a post–Civil Rights era. To use the label post-Chicano, one is not necessarily conveying that one is past a racial or ethnic identity since “Chicano” is a label used predominantly to describe a specific identity under the broader category of Mexican American, one that is politicized and used mostly in activism, academia, and artistic spaces. Arguably, to be post-Chicano or not-Chicano (not wanting to identify with Chicano ideology), one could identify as “Mexican American,” “Mexican,” “Hispanic,” or “Latino.” In this sense, post-Chicano would be more akin to post-Soul in signifying a relationship to a historicized set of aesthetic practices, in this case associated with the Chicano movement. For an overview of the post-Soul aesthetic, see Bertram D. Ashe, “Theorizing the Post-Soul Aesthetic: An Introduction,” African American Review 41, no. 4 (2007): 609–23.

60. Alejandro A. Portes and Min Zhou, “The New Second Generation: Segmented Assimilation and Its Variants,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 533 (1993): 74–96.

61. Kathryn M. Neckerman, Prudence Carter, and Jennifer Lee, “Segmented Assimilation and Minority Cultures of Mobility,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 22, no. 6 (1999): 945–65.

62. Ibid., 946.

63. Ibid., 950–51.

64. H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman, Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

65. Vallejo, Barrio to Burbs.

66. Neckerman, Carter, and Lee, “Segmented Assimilation,” 949.

67. Mark McGurl, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 336.

68. Kenneth W. Warren, What Was African American Literature? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 18.

69. Ibid., 139.

70. Walter Benn Michaels, “Plots Against America: Neoliberalism and Antiracism,” American Literary History 18, no. 2 (2006): 297.

71. William Darity Jr., “Stratification Economics: The Role of Intergroup Inequality,” Journal of Ecoomics and Finance 29, no. 2 (2005): 144–53.

72. Daria Roithmayr, Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage (New York, NYU Press, 2014), 6.

73. Lawrence Buell, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 214.

74. Max Weber, “Class, Party, Status,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946): 180–95.

75. Elizabeth McHenry, Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 16.

76. Ralph E. Rodriguez, “Chicano Studies and the Need to Not Know,” American Literary History 22, no. 1 (2009): 180.

77. Viet Thanh Nguyen, Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 4.

78. All the character types are employed to depict contradictions, but since the other terms—status seeker, mediator, and gatekeeper—designate actions, my choice of calling the fourth type the “conflicted artist” is to draw attention to the often unresolved tensions that emerge because of the artist’s symbolic and structural position between groups.

79. Dorothy West, The Living Is Easy (1948; New York: Feminist Press, 1982); Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959; New York: Feminist Press, 1996); Gloria Naylor, Linden Hills (1985; New York: Penguin, 1986).

80. Sam Greenlee, The Spook Who Sat by the Door: A Novel (1969; Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990); John A. Williams, Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light: A Novel of Some Probability (1969; Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999); Oscar Zeta Acosta, The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo (1972; New York: Vintage, 1989); and The Revolt of the Cockroach People (1973; New York: Vintage, 1989).

81. My Family / Mi Familia, directed by Gregory Nava (New Line, 1995; Helena María Viramontes, Under the Feet of Jesus (1995; New York: Plume, 1996).

82. The other texts in this chapter might be more evidently mass-market, but Hunger of Memory was first published by David R. Godine in 1982, with an edition by Bantam Books coming out in 1983 and is now published through Random House.

83. Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982; New York: Random House, 2004); George Lopez, first broadcast March 27, 2002, by ABC; Michele Serros, Honey Blonde Chica (New York: Simon Pulse, 2006); black-ish, first broadcast September 24, 2014, by ABC.

84. Percival Everett, Erasure (New York: Hyperion, 2001); Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel / Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2006; the latter first performed in 2004).

85. Machete, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis (Twentieth Century Fox, 2010); Sleep Dealer, directed by Alex Rivera (Maya Entertainment, 2008); The Gatekeeper, directed by John Carlos Frey (Screen Media, 2002).