Racial liminality and American constructions of race: negotiating, imagining, and creating color lines in the 1890s

Michael Pekarofski
<span title="">2021</span>
The decade of the 1890s was a period characterized by racial violence, the ongoing entrenchment of the Jim Crow state, and the legitimization of scientific racism. It was also a time when race and racial construction were in a considerable state of flux, formation, and development. Rather than constituting easily defined and clear-cut constructs, blackness, whiteness, and other categories often entailed complex, dynamic, and nuanced conversations and negotiations taking place in a variety of
more &raquo; ... tings, texts, and historical situations. More often than not, such discourse centered around the presence of racially liminal figures, individuals or groups who did not fit neatly into specific racial categories. This liminality stemmed from the fact that their physicality, background, and identity remained unfixed or open to question. However, it was also created by the fact that racial categories themselves were often in a considerable state of flux, uncertainty, and formation. Real or imagined, individual or collective, racially liminal figures, appeared white, though that whiteness was often questioned, contested, and subject to change over time and space. Playing a central role in the evolving racial discourse, the presence of racially liminal figures often challenged and expanded the nation's understanding of race and the nation's understanding of itself. By examining the widespread and sustained concern with such racial in-betweenness, this project examines how Americans came to terms with race in the 1890s. Moreover, this study hopes to establish the centrality of the racially liminal figure to the ongoing process of racial construction and the maintenance of racial caste during this period. In the 1890s, racial liminality problematized, confounded, and contested the steady rise of cultural and political narratives which promoted white supremacist, racial separatist, and scientific racist agendas. Though racially liminal people, racially liminal bodies, and racial liminality in the abstract were often used in the s [...]
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