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Crossed Lines in the Racialization Process: Race as a Border Concept

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Abstract The phenomenological approach to racialization needs to be supplemented by a hermeneutics that examines the history of the various categories in terms of which people see and have seen race. An investigation of this kind suggests that instead of the rigid essentialism that is normally associated with the history of racism, race predominantly operates as a border concept, that is to say, a dynamic fluid concept whose core lies not at the center but at its edges. I illustrate this by an examination of the history of the distinctions between the races as it is revealed in legal, scientific, and philosophical sources. I focus especially on racial distinctions in the United States and on the way that the impact of miscegenation was negotiated leading to the so-called one-drop rule.

1. FN11) For a review of the relevant literature, see Robert Bernasconi, “Critical Philosophy of Race,” in Routledge Companion to Phenomenology, ed. Sebastian Luft and Søren Øvergaard (New York: Routledge, 2011), 551–62. For a more detailed examination of the genre, that examines the work of Ludwig Ferdinand Clauss, a student of Edmund Husserl, who was the flawed forerunner of the genre, see Robert Bernasconi, “Ludwig Ferdinand Clauss and the Phenomenology of Racialization,” in The Continuing Impact of Husserl’s Ideen, ed. Thomas Nenon and Lester Embree, forthcoming. For a more recent example, see Linda Martin Alcoff, “Toward a Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment,” in Race, ed. Robert Bernasconi (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 267–83.
2. FN22) I am thinking, for example, of the way that the dominant campaign against racism over the last sixty years has been guided by the somewhat limited UNESCO strategy of denying race as a biological category. For a response to this strategy noted in phenomenology, see Robert Bernasconi, Nature, Culture, Race (Stockholm: Södertörn University Press, 2010). Reprinted in vol. 1 of The Philosophy of Race, ed. Paul Taylor (London: Routledge 2011), 41–56.
3. FN33) Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power. Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 144. See also “Racial Histories and their Regimes of Truth,” in Diane E. Davis, ed., Political Power and Social Theory, 11 (1997): 183–255.
4. FN44) Ariela J. Gross, What Blood Won’t Tell (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 11.
5. FN55) Ibid.
6. FN66) For example, Michelle Brattain, “Miscegenation and Competing Definitions of Race in Twentieth-Century Louisiana,” The Journal of Southern History 71, no. 3 (August 2005): 648.
7. FN77) Audrey Smedley, Race in North America Origin and Evolution of a Worldview (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), 109 and 264–65. See now, Audrey Smedley and Brian D. Smedley, Race in North America. Origin and Evolution of a World View (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2012), 118 and 262.
8. FN88) The main works of the American polygenist school have been reprinted in American Theories of Polygenesis, ed. Robert Bernasconi, 7 vols. (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2002).
9. FN99) Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, De generis humani varietate nativa (Göttingen: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 1795), 285; translated by Thomas Bendyshe as The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (London; Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), 264.
10. FN1010) Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, Handbuch der Naturgeschichte, vierte Auflage (Göttingen: Johann Christian Dieterich, 1791), 54.
11. FN1111) Mark S. Weiner, Americans Without Law. The Racial Boundaries of Citizenship (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 100–102.
12. FN1212) Jean Lamarck, Philosophie zoologique (Paris: Schleicher Fieres, 1907), 199–200, translated by Hugh Elliot as Zoological Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 113.
13. FN1313) [Clarence King], “Style and the Monument,” North American Review 141(November 1885): 443–44, On King, See Martha A. Sandweiss, Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception across the Color Line (New York: Penguin Press, 2009). See also Frederick Douglas, “The Future of the Colored Race,” North American Review 142 (May 1886): 639.
14. FN1414) Joseph-Arthur Comte de Gobineau, Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines, in vol. 1 of Oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 1983), 133–1166.
15. FN1515) Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrunderts (Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1899), 343; translated by John Lees as Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (London: John Lane, 1913), 354.
16. FN1616) “Statement of Race. Paris, July 1950,” in Four Statements on the Race Question (Paris: UNESCO, 1969), 31.
17. FN1717) On structural racism, see for example, Angela Y. Davis, “Race and Criminalization,” in The House That Race Built, ed. Wahneema Lubiano (New York: Pantheon, 1997), 265 and 270–71. See also Robert Bernasconi, “Racism is a System: How Existentialism Became Dialectical in Fanon and Sartre,” The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism, ed. Steven Galt Crowell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
18. FN1818) Naomi Zack has argued that today the mixed race category could play the role of disrupting the black-white racial dichotomy (Race and Mixed Race [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993], 169). Similar claims have been made on the part of the concept of hybridity because it allegedly “breaks down the symmetry and duality of self/other, inside/outside” (Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture [London: Routledge, 1994], 116). Hybridity theory has been criticized on the grounds that its attempt at anti-essentialism, cannot escape its own essentialism, but I would argue that a historical perspective that recognizes the error of tying racism too tightly to essentialism sees the problem differently. The exploration of that different perspective is one main aim of the present essay.
19. FN1919) “Mulatto” was a category in the official census from 1850 to 1920, and in 1890 it was briefly joined by “quadroon” and “octoroon” (Martha Hodes, “Fractions and Fictions in the United States Census of 1890,” in Haunted by Empire, ed. Ann Laura Stoler [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006], 241). See also Jennifer L. Hochshild and Brenna M. Powell, “Racial Reorganization and the United States Census 1850–1930,” Studies in American Political Development 22, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 59–96.
20. FN2020) “Brown hybrid” was the preferred phrase of the colored author C. Ziervogel (Brown South Africa [Cape Town: Maskew Mille, (1938)], 19. For a discussion which also clarifies how members of the colored community conceive their identity today, see Mohamed Adhikari, Not White Enough, Not Black Enough (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005), 41–45.
21. FN2121) See Lauren L. Basson, White Enough to be American? Race Mixing, Indigenous People, and the Boundaries of State and Nation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 6.
22. FN2222) On the concept of reciprocity, see Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique, vol. one (Paris: Gallimard, 1985), 814–15; translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith as Critique of Dialectical Reason (London: NLB, 1976), 735–36.
23. FN2323) I am not using the term “borderlands” as Gloria Anzaldúa does, although there is evidently some overlap. She employs the notion of borderlands to describe not just contact between cultures, races and classes, but the space where two individuals share intimacy (Borderlands. La Frontera. The New Mestiza, 3rd ed. [San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2007], 19). In my usage the primary focus is the way racial categories are the fluid, divisive site where race is continually being produced and recreated.
24. FN2424) [François Bernier] “Nouvelle division de la Terre, par les differentes Espèces ou Races d’hommes qui l’habitent, envoyée par un fameux Voyageur à Monsieur * * * * * à peu près en ces termes” (Journal des Sçavans vol. 12 [Monday 24 April 1684]: 148–55; translated by T. Bendyshe as “A New Division of the Earth according to the different species or races of men who inhabit it, sent by a famous traveler to Mons. * * * * *, nearly in these terms,” in The Idea of Race, ed. Robert Bernasconi and Tommy L. Lott [Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000], 1–7).
25. FN2525) On Bernier, see Pierre H. Boulle, “François Bernier and the Origins of the Modern Concept of Race,” in The Color of Liberty, ed. Sue Peabody and Tyler Stovall (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 11–27.
26. FN2626) See Robert Bernasconi, “Proto-Racism. Carolina in Locke’s Mind,” in Racism and Modernity, ed. Iris Wigger and Sabine Ritter (Zürich: Litt, 2011), 68–82. The question of whether and to what degree a term like “Negro” is already a racial term prior to any clear understanding of race is too complex to be considered here.
27. FN2727) William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, vol. 1 (New York: R. and W. and G. Bartow, 1823), 146.
28. FN2828) Ibid., 3:87. At the same time, 1691, fines were imposed if “any English woman being free shall have a bastard child by any negro or mulatto.”
29. FN2929) “An Act for laying an Imposition upon Liquors and Slaves,” ibid., 3:252.
30. FN3030) Ibid., 2:184.
31. FN3131) Robert Bernasconi, “Kant as an Unfamiliar Source of Racism,” in Philosophers on Race, ed. Julie K. Ward and Tommy L. Lott (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 152–160.
32. FN3232) See Robert Bernasconi, “True Colors: Kant’s Distinction Between Nature and Artifice in Context,” in Klopffechterein—Missverständnisse—Widersprüche? Methodische und Methodologische Perpektiven auf die Kant-Forster Kontroverse, ed. Rainer Godel and Gideon Stiening (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, 2012), 191–207.
33. FN3333) On Kant’s role in the history of the conceptualization of race, see Robert Bernasconi, “Who Invented the Concept of Race?,” in Race, 11–36.
34. FN3434) Paul Finkelman, “The Crime of Color,” Tulane Law Review 67, no. 6 (1993): 2081–87. For the later period see, Robert Bernasconi, “The Policing of Race Mixing,” Bioethical Inquiry 7 (2010): 205–16.
35. FN3535) See “Prohibitions of Interracial Marriage and Cohabitation,” in Werner Sollors, Neither Black nor White yet Both (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 395–410.
36. FN3636) Thomas Jefferson to Francis C. Gray, 4 March 1815, in vol. 14 of The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1905), 268–71.
37. FN3737) Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997), 7–58. See also Frank W. Sweet, Legal History of the Color Line (Palm Coast, Florida: Backintyme, 2005), 153–56. Some contributions to the literature suggest that James Madison Hemings must have looked light enough to pass for white but this is far from clear: E. M. Halliday, Understanding Thomas Jefferson (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 178.
38. FN3838) Jefferson, Writings, 14: 270.
39. FN3939) Ibid.
40. FN4040) Duke de La Rochefoucault Liancourt, Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, in the years of 1795, 1796, and 1797, vol. 3 (London: R. Phillips, 1800), 161–62.
41. FN4141) “The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, Version of 21 July 1669,” in M. E. E. Parker, South Carolina Charters and Constitutions 1578–1698 (Raleigh: Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission, 1963), 164.
42. FN4242) A similar law had been passed in 1667 in Virginia in the sense that it was enacted that “the conferring of baptisme doth not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom” (Hening, Statutes at Large, 2: 260). However, no racial or ethnic terms were specified.
43. FN4343) Helen Tunnicliff Catterall, Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, vol. 2 (New York: Octagon Books, 1968), 269.
44. FN4444) Brattain, “Miscegenation and Competing Definitions of Race,” 650.
45. FN4545) Victoria E. Bynum, “ ‘White Negroes’ in Segregated Mississippi: Miscegenation, Racial Identity, and the Law,” The Journal of Southern History 64, no. 2 (May 1998): 247–76.
46. FN4646) H. T. Catterall, Judicial Cases, vol. 2, p. 264.
47. FN4747) See Robert Bernasconi, “The Logic of Whiteness,” Annals of Scholarship 14, no.1 (2000): 88n23.
48. FN4848) George M. Stroud, A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America, Philadelphia: Kimber and Sharplers, 1827, p. 12n.
49. FN4949) George M. Stroud, A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Henry Longstreth, 1856), 19–20n.
50. FN5050) Stroud, Sketch of the Laws (1856), p. 270.
51. FN5151) J. C. Nott, “The Mulatto a Hybrid—probable extermination of the two races if the Whites and Blacks are allowed to intermarry,” American Journal of the Medical Sciences 6 ( July 1843): 252. Reprinted in Race, Hybridity, and Miscegenation, ed. Robert Bernasconi and Kristie Dotson, 1: 6.
52. FN5252) For example, Sandweiss, Passing Strange, 187.
53. FN5353) The Act is reprinted and discussed in an Appendix to Earnest Sevier Cox, White America, Congress Edition (Richmond: White America Society, 1925), 323–25. Cox was one of the chief supporters of the Act. On the role of Mendel, see W. A. Plecker, “Virginia’s Attempt to Adjust the Color Problem,” American Journal of Public Health 15 (1925): 116. Also Gregory Michael Dorr, Segregation’s Science. Eugenics and Society in Virginia (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 1–10. Nevertheless there were counter voices that maintained that even while Mendelian inheritance applied in some cases, there could be “no reversion to the Negro type in the offspring of mixed parents” (E. A. Hooton, in Caroline Bond Day, A Study of Some Negro-White Families in the United States, vol. 10 of Harvard African Studies (Cambridge: Harvard University,1932), 107. See also Louis Wirth and Herbert Goldhammer, “The Hybrid and the Problem of Miscegenation,” in Characteristics of the American Negro, ed. Otto Klineberg (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1944), 329.
54. FN5454) George B. Tindall, “The Question of Race in the South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1895,” The Journal of Negro History 37, no. 3 (July 1952): 299.
55. FN5555) Plecker, “Virginia’s Attempt,” 116.
56. FN5656) J. Douglas Smith, “The Campaign for Racial Purity and the Erosion of Paternalism in Virginia 1922–1930,” The Journal of Southern History 68, no.1 (February 2002): 95.
57. FN5757) Plecker, “Virginia’s Attempt,” 114–15.
58. FN5858) Smith, “The Campaign for Racial Purity,” 85–87.
59. FN5959) John H. Burma, “The Measurement of Negro ‘Passing’ ” American Journal of Sociology 52, no.1 (July 1948): 20–21. The figure of twenty-five thousand was supplied by Hornell Hart in 1921, in Selective Migration as a Factor in Child Welfare in the United States (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1921), and referred to the 1890s. The lower figures were the more recent figures.
60. FN6060) Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma, New York: Harper, 1944, vol. 1, p. 683. For a remarkable case, where a white man lived a double life as a Black husband, see Sandweiss, Passing Strange.
61. FN6161) The 1930 census tried to institute a Mexican race, or at least include these in “people of other races,” but this idea was dropped by 1940, following pressure from the League of United Latin American Citizens (Gross, What Blood Won’t Tell, 217, 257, and 267).
62. FN6262) Ibid., 259 and 262. On the task of a conception of whiteness among some Mexicans, see ibid., 263.
63. FN6363) Victor Clark, et al., Porto Rico and Its Problems (New York: Brookings Institute, 1930), 546; quoted in Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire. Race, Sex, Science and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 88, but the page number is mistakenly cited as 576.
64. FN6464) Bailey W. and Justine Whitfield Diffie, Porto Rico: A Broken Pledge (New York: The Vanguard Press, 1931), 8.
65. FN6565) On boundary shifting in Puerto Rico, see Mara Loveman and Jeronimo O. Muniz, “How Puerto Rico Became White: Boundary Dynamics and Intercensus Racial Reclassification,” American Sociological Review 72 (2007): 915–39.
66. FN6666) See Ruth Pike, Linajudos and Conversos in Seville (New York: Peter Lang, 2000). On the place of the purity of blood statutes in the history of racism, see Richard Popkin, “The Philosophical Basis of Modern Racism,” in The High Road to Pyrrhonism, ed. Richard A Watson and James E. Force (San Diego: Austin Hill Press, 1980), 79–80.
67. FN6767) Murriel Horrell, “Race Classification in South Africa—Its Effect on Human Beings,” Fact Paper no. 2 (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1958), 9.
68. FN6868) Ibid., 6–7.
69. FN6969) For an American example of the chaos created in the courts by the appeal to experts and non-experts for their attempt to determine race on the basis of appearance, see the report on the 1939 trial of Marie Antoinette Monks, in Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America,” The Journal of American History 83, no.1 (June 1996), 56–57. The immigration authorities in the early twentieth century decided that while the discussions between the major races could be made on the basis of appearances, the people into which they were divided could best be approached reliably by immigration authorities only on the basis of language. This decision was explained in this way by the Immigration Commission under the chairmanship of Senator William Dillingham, in Dictionary of Races or Peoples (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1911), 4.
70. FN7070) See J. Douglas Smith, Managing White Supremacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 89–106. There were similar problems in Louisiana where the term “colored” became synonymous with “Negro” only in the post-Civil War era, according to Sunseri v. Cassagne, 191 La. at 214; cited by Michelle Brattain, “Miscegenation and Competing Definitions of Race in Twentieth-Century Louisiana,” 646.
71. FN7171) Basson, White Enough to be American?, 177.
72. FN7272) Robert Bernasconi, “Can Race Be Rethought in Terms of Facticity? A Reconsideration of Sartre’s and Fanon’s Existential Theories of Race,” in Rethinking Facticity, ed. François Raffoul and Eric Nelson (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008), 195–213.

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