Relative Races

Genealogies of Interracial Kinship in Nineteenth-Century America

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 25 illustrations Published: October 2020

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Gender and Sexuality

In Relative Races, Brigitte Fielder presents an alternative theory of how race is ascribed. Contrary to notions of genealogies by which race is transmitted from parents to children, the examples Fielder discusses from nineteenth-century literature, history, and popular culture show how race can follow other directions: Desdemona becomes less than fully white when she is smudged with Othello's blackface, a white woman becomes Native American when she is adopted by a Seneca family, and a mixed-race baby casts doubt on the whiteness of his mother. Fielder shows that the genealogies of race are especially visible in the racialization of white women, whose whiteness often depends on their ability to reproduce white family and white supremacy. Using black feminist and queer theories, Fielder presents readings of personal narratives, novels, plays, stories, poems, and images to illustrate how interracial kinship follows non-heteronormative, non-biological, and non-patrilineal models of inheritance in nineteenth-century literary culture.


“In Relative Races, Brigitte Fielder enriches our understanding of the cultural landscape of the long nineteenth century. Demonstrating boldness, analytical clarity, and scholarly creativity, Fielder gives us language for the processes of racialization that clearly shape American realities but that we have often failed to name because we lacked a theoretical framework.” — Koritha Mitchell, author of From Slave Cabins to the White House: Homemade Citizenship in African American Culture

“Brigitte Fielder makes the bold claim that racialization entails neither the annihilation of kin ties nor the simple linearity of descent. Instead, ‘race,’ and blackness in particular, travels unpredictably, transferred from skin to skin, from child to mother, across literary genres, through adoption, via residency, and through sibling relations. In essence, Fielder retheorizes race as the making and breaking of kin ties. After Relative Races, we will not be able to think about race and racialization, kinship, and queer theories of temporality separately again.” — Elizabeth Freeman, author of Beside You in Time: Sense Methods and Queer Sociabilities in the American Nineteenth Century


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Brigitte Fielder is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and coeditor of Against a Sharp White Background: Infrastructures of African American Print.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Genealogies of Interracial Kinship  1
Part I. Romance. Sexual Kinship
1. Blackface Desdemona, or, the White Woman "Begrimed"  29
2. "Almost Eliza": Reading and Racialization  55
Part II. Reproduction. Genealogies of (Re)racialization
3. Mothers and Mammies: Racial Maternity and Matriliny  85
4. Kinfullness: Mama's Baby, Racial Futures  119
Part III. Residency Domestic. Racial Relations
5. Mary Jemison's Cabin: Domestic Spaces of Racialization  161
6. Racial (Re)Construction: Interracial Kinship and the Interracial Nation  195
Conclusion. "Minus Bloodlines": White Womanhood and Failures of Interracial Kinship  229
Notes  245
Bibliography  283
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1115-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1010-4