Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic
Mulatto Devils and Multiracial Messiahs
Routledge – 2010 – 186 pages
This is the first book to place the self-fashioning of mixed-race individuals in the context of a Black Atlantic. Drawing on a wide range of sources and a diverse cast of characters – from the diaries, letters, novels and plays of femme fatales in Congo and the United States to the advertisements, dissertations, oral histories and political speeches of Black Power activists in Canada and the United Kingdom – it gives particular attention to the construction of mixed-race femininity and masculinity during the twentieth century. Its broad scope and historical approach provides readers with a timely rejoinder to academics, artists, journalists and politicians who only use the mixed-race label to depict prophets or delinquents as "new" national icons for the twenty-first century.
Within the burgeoning ‘mixed race studies’ field, the importance of socio-historical and geographical approaches to understanding racial mixing and mixedness have not always been foregrounded. McNeil excellently address this imbalance, highlighting both the specifics – as well as the commonalities – in the ways in which conceptualisations of the crossing of racial boundaries in the UK, USA and Canada are constructed and perceived. Drawing on a fascinating and eclectic range of literary, television and film resources alongside first-hand interviews with mixed race individuals, Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic takes a fresh and challenging look at what it means to be – and be seen to be – mixing or of mixed race in an Anglo-North American context. Distinctive in its subject matter and tone, McNeil’s book is a fantastic contribution to the existing literature on racial mixing and mixedness and will appeal to a readership looking for a refreshing and thought-provoking change of focus and debate in this field.
—Chamion Caballero, Senior Research Fellow, Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, London South Bank University
'McNeil illuminates harrowing accounts and insidious perceptions of mixed-race that exist across Canada, America and Britain. His monograph charts the transgression of the ‘colour-line’, exploring the subjectivity of those compelled to negotiate a mixed-race heritage while providing a critical intervention into the discourse of mixed-race as the contemporary cosmopolitan signifier of a post-racial future. These issues leap from the pages as he draws upon influential figures and popular culture ranging from Philippa Schuyler to Barack Obama … the study is fruitful in its exploration of how mixed-race has been and is perceived as a battlefield, without tip-toeing around sensitive issues …This book will be of primary relevance to academics and students who require a refreshing critical alternative to the lingering racist perceptions of the mixing of races, as well as the multiculturalist normalisation and the "post-racial" consumption of mixed-race identity.'
—Zaki Nahaboo, Runnymede Bulletin, Issue 365
"As a part of the Routledge Studies on African and Black Diaspora this book is a necessary and useful addition. The fact that it brings a lot of research and theory together makes it a good starting point for information on an important part of the Diaspora that is often overlooked, other than with curiosity or somewhat derogatory terms… McNeil has linked theories and philosophies to literature and contemporary TV/film in a way that provides the reader with understandable examples and brings the text to life. The writing is accessible and readable using language in a way that opens the book up from pure academia and puts it into the public sphere … Overall this book is a comprehensive look at the mixed race population bringing the debate right up to date and offering a fresh look at theories and philosophies by introducing creative expression into the forum."
"Lyrical, sophisticated and timely, acclaimed scholar Daniel McNeil’s book, Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic: Mulatto Devils and Multiracial Messiahs unearths the 'liberal lies' that so often surround the experience of multiraciality. What makes this book so spectacular is McNeil’s attention to detail as he traces the insights of Black Atlantic studies, asking how it pertains to the field of critical mixed race studies. McNeil deftly travels from Britain to North America and back again, asking important questions about how we understand the complex relationship between Blackness and multiracial identity. This is the first book to carefully unravel what McNeil smartly calls the 'self-fashioning' of mixed-race individuals, examining the mutually constituted vectors of race, class and gender in his analysis. The range of sources is impressive and eclectic. A dazzling contribution to the field of critical mixed race scholarship and a must-read for anyone working in the field."
—Minelle Mahtani, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Program in Journalism, University of Toronto
1. New People? 2. An Individualistic Age? 3. “Je suis métisse" 4. “I. Am. A Light Grey Canadian.” 5. “I’m Black. Not Mixed. Not Canadian. Not African. Just Black” 6. “Yes, We’re All Individuals!” “I’m Not.” Conclusion
Daniel McNeil teaches Media and Cultural Studies at Newcastle University and is an Honorary Fellow of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation.