Cloth ISBN: 9780804727747
Paper ISBN: 9780804727754
Digital ISBN: 9780804764964
Inquiries into the meaning and force of race in American culture have largely focused on questions of identity and difference—What does it mean to have a racial identity? What constitutes racial difference? Such questions assume the basic principle of racial division, which todays seems to be becoming an increasingly bitter and seemingly irreparable chasm between black and white.
This book confronts this contemporary problem by shifting the focus of analysis from understanding differences to analyzing division. It provides a historical context for the recent resurgence of racial division by tracing the path of the color line as it appears in the narrative writings of African-Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In readings of slave narratives, "passing novels," and the writings of Charles Chesnutt and Zora Neale Hurston, the author asks: What is the work of division? How does division work?
The history of the color line in the United States is coeval with that of the nation. The author suggests that throughout this history, the color line has not functioned simply to name biological or cultural difference, but more important, it has served as a principle of division, classification, and order. In this way, the color line marks the inseparability of knowledge and power in a racially demarcated society. The author shows how, from the time of slavery to today, the color line has figured as the locus of such central tenets of American political life as citizenship, subjectivity, community, law, freedom, and justice.
This book seeks not only to understand, but also to bring critical pressure on the interpretations, practices, and assumptions that correspond to and buttress representations of racial difference. The work of dislocating the color line lies in uncovering the uncertainty, the incoherency, and the discontinuity that the common sense of the color line masks, while at the same time elucidating the pressures that transform the contingent relations of the color line into common sense.
About the author
Samira Kawash is Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers University.