The Mulatto as Material/Sexual Site of Modernity’s Contacts and Exchanges

  • James A. Noel
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series (BRWT)


I briefly mentioned the “mulatto” in chapter two in relation to Cheryl Harris’s article “Whiteness as Property.” Both whiteness and blackness are forms of materiality that appear in modernity through the imagination of matter. It is through the imagination that blackness and whiteness assume ontological status. The mulatto category, however, poses a problem for this scheme of allotting entitlements based upon the opposition of these two materialities because of the porous nature of its boundaries. Although this category would seems to reflect some biological reality, it can just as well operate through cultural, linguistic, or religious markers since any such marker can be employed in the service of racialization. The question this category poses for us is that of determining the ultimate source of human value. This is the question that became acute when the West entered into the modern period that it comprehended as “secular.” We were discussing this matter in chapter two—how matter was valorized while Africans were dehumanized during the mercantilist exchanges occurring at modernity’s inception. For W. E. B. Du Bois the mulatto was a sight for reflecting on “the problem of the color line” that he had identified in Souls of Black Folks as the problem of the twentieth century.1 Du Bois’s selection of this peculiar site should not surprise us since we know that he disciplined himself not to think in binaries.


Racial Identity Supreme Court Decision Black Identity Black Folk Racial Purity 
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© James A. Noel 2009

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  • James A. Noel

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