Broadening Perspectives

Broadening Perspectives    

Keepin’ It Real: School Success Beyond
Black and White
By Prudence L. Carter
Oxford University Press, 2005
256 pp., $29.95, cloth, ISBN: 0-19-516862-3

Why do so many African-American and Latino students perform worse than their Asian and White peers in classes and on exams? Common wisdom holds that racial stratification leads African-American and Latino students to rebel against “acting White,” thus dooming themselves to lower levels of scholastic, economic and social achievement.

But is this true? Do minority students reject certain practices, such as excelling in school, and thus their own mobility, because they fear that peers will accuse them of forsaking their own racial and ethnic identities?

Drawing on survey fieldwork and interview data from low-income Latino and African-American youth in New York, Prudence Carter here shows that resistance to “acting White” indicates a rejection only of the generic American, “White,” middle-class styles of interaction, speech, dress and musical tastes. Carter further demonstrates why some African-American and Latino students thrive academically, and others do not. The most successful negotiators of our school systems are not necessarily those who assimilate into the dominant White mainstream, but rather those most adept at crossing the cultural divide. These students, who are potentially what she terms multicultural navigators, do not “act White” or “act Black.” Rather, these culturally savvy teens harvest resources from multiple traditions — whether it is knowledge of hip-hop or of classical music — to strategically negotiate different expectations and achieve their high ambitions.

Dr. Prudence L. Carter is an assistant professor in the department of sociology at Harvard University.

Mulattas and Mestizas: Representing Mixed Identities in the Americas, 1850-2000
By Suzanne Bost
University of Georgia Press, 2005
280 pp., $22.95 paper, ISBN: 0-8203-2781

In this broadly conceived exploration of how people represent identity in the Americas, Suzanne Bost argues that mixture has been central to the definition of race in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean since the 19th century. Her study is particularly relevant in an era that promotes mixed-race musicians, actors, sports heroes and supermodels as icons of a “new” America. Bost challenges the popular media’s notion that a new millennium has ushered in a radical transformation of American ethnicity. In fact, she argues, the “changing” face of the nation extends throughout American history.

Working from literary and historical accounts of mulattas, mestizas and creoles, Bost analyzes a tradition, dating from the 19th century, of theorizing identity in terms of racial and sexual mixture. She ultimately reveals how the fascination with mixture often corresponds to racial segregation, sciences of purity and White supremacy.

Mulattas and Mestizas measures contemporary representations of mixed-race identity in the United States against the history of mixed-race identity in the Americas. It warns us to be cautious of the current, millennial celebration of mixture in popular culture and identity studies, which may, contrary to all appearances, mask persistent racism and nostalgia for purity.

Dr. Suzanne Bost is an assistant professor of English at Southern Methodist University.

Women Writing Africa
Volume 2: West Africa and the Sahel 
By Esi Southerland-Addy and Aminata Diaw
The Feminist Press, 2005
560 pp., $75.00 cloth, ISBN: 55861-500-8; $29.95 paper, ISBN: 55861-501-6
 
The groundbreaking regional anthologies in the Women Writing Africa Project, notes Booklist, “Opens up worlds too often excluded from the history books.” Each volume reveals the historical and cultural legacy of African women in their own words.

Volume 2: West Africa and the Sahel covers the territory from which most African-Americans trace their roots, representing 20 languages and 12 countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The collection presents an epic cultural history of the region through the voices of women. Beginning in the African kingdoms centuries before the advent of 19th century colonialism and 20th century liberation movements, the volume captures the lives of hundreds of African women in stories, songs, letters, drama, oral history, diaries and historical documents. More than 200 texts appear, each with a readable authoritative head note explaining its cultural and historical contexts.

Dr. Aminata Diaw is a professor of philosophy at the Universitié Cheikh Anta Kiop in Dakar, Senegal. Dr. Esi Sutherland-Addy is senior research fellow and head of the language, literature and drama section at the Institute for African studies and associate director of the African Humanities Institute Program at the University of Ghana.



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