Dissertation Abstracts

Jennifer Declue
Specters of Miscegenation: Blood, Belonging, and the Reproduction of Blackness
Jennifer’s dissertation "Specters of Miscegenation: Blood, Belonging, and the Reproduction of Blackness" examines the manner in which antebellum anti-miscegenation laws surface in postbellum legislation and ideologies of blackness and whiteness by tuning in to the specter of black women’s reproduction in the making of the racialized U.S. body. By contextualizing literary and visual cultural texts that contend with anti-miscegenation violence, “mulatto” children’s rights of inheritance, interracial couple’s right to marry, and domestic spaces that merge black and white bodies with key legal cases and judicial history, this project establishes that a culture of miscegenation which both depends upon and erases black women’s reproductive bodies is central to the making of the U.S. national body. "Specters of Miscegenation" analyzes visual and literary representations of state and national legislative and judicial responses to the problematics of defining blackness, prohibiting miscegenation, and securing or refusing rights of black citizens during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era. This project hones in on the gray areas - the ambiguities of race, family, and community - that anti-miscegenation legislation and Jim Crow laws attempt to disentangle by defining epistemologies of blackness through symbolics of blood. I examine the shadow system of sexualized racial violence that produced “mulatto” children, allowed white vigilantism, and overlooked extralegal interracial couplings, which engender what I describe as a culture of miscegenation through laws, custom, and culture. The visual and literary texts examined in this project illustrate how generations of sexual violence, subsequent familial ties, and racially indistinct collectivities blur putatively immiscible bodies that often escapes dominant narratives of race within the U.S. "Specters of Miscegenation" examines the complex of secrecy, shame, and violence imposed upon the figure of the mulatto who threatens white supremacy’s claim to blood purity in the film "Pinky" (1949, the novel "Clotel" (1853) and Kara Walker’s "Bureau of Refugees" series (2008. This project also examines miscegenation by discussing collectivities of black and white people that together attain freedom by using the group to defy systemic racial and gendered violence in Sherley Anne Williams's novel "Dessa Rose"(1986) and Alfonso Cuaron's film "Children of Men"(2006). "Specters of Miscegenation" grounds analyses of literary and visual texts, which grapple with miscegenation and racial purity, by discussing the categorical obfuscation of black women’s reproduction in significant legal cases that shape ideologies of American blackness and whiteness, in order to support the contention that black women’s reproductive bodies haunt key civil rights decisions, the U.S. cultural imaginary of the antebellum and Jim Crow south, and the contradictory constitution of our supposed racially distinct national body.
  • Department of American Studies & Ethnicity
  • University of Southern California
  • 3620 South Vermont Avenue
  • Kaprielian Hall 462
  • Los Angeles, California 90089-2534