Dissertation: Impurely Raced // Purely Erased
This dissertation won NCA's 2009 and 2010 Outstanding Dissertation Awards.
In Chapter One I introduce the rhetorical, cultural, and conceptual significances of passing based on a review of the literature. I introduce the central argument of the project by proposing a theory of (bi)racial passing that considers the problems and possibilities of mixed race representation and mobility as a bridge between Platonic episteme and Sophistic doxa as well as between the material and symbolic components of biracial categorization. Chapter Two considers the historical narrative of Ellen Craft at the intersection of synecdoche and irony to highlight and transgress real and imagined borders that stretch beyond a simple consideration of race. Taking up the issue of appropriation through a detailed critique of the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, my third chapter considers passing as an antecedent form of identity theft and as a form of resistance. In contrast to the cases examined in these chapters, my fourth chapter explores Harper’s Iola Leroy, as a fictional account of passing that ties synecdoche to eloquence, articulating the tension between the threat of passing contained in the Plessy ruling and its relation to contemporary attempts at measuring discrimination at the intersection of race, class, and gender.
My fifth chapter takes a turn by exploring the literary and cinematic versions of The Human Stain, as contemporary narratives of passing based on tragedy and synecdoche in the context of minstrel performance and Jim and Jane Crow segregation. My last chapter fleshes out the theory introduced in the first, working toward a theory of (bi)racial passing that rethinks inadequate dichotomies of episteme vs. doxa as well as white vs. black. Then, blending the critical race theory of intersectionality with rhetorical personae I explain the significances of synecdoche, metonymy, irony, appropriation, eloquence, and tragedy in the various instances of passing explored. At a theoretical level, I rethink the inadequate dichotomies of episteme vs. doxa as well as white vs. black. I conclude with a rhetorical theory of passing based on the fourth persona and 6 original passwords that present opportunities for future research.