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The Amalgamation Waltz

Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory

2009
Author:

Tavia Nyong’o

The Amalgamation Waltz

Does racial hybridity offer a future beyond racial difference?

At a time when the idea of a postracial society has entered public discourse, Tavia Nyong’o investigates the practices that conjoined blackness and whiteness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A timely rebuttal to our contemporary fascination with racial hybridity, The Amalgamation Waltz questions the vision of a national future without racial difference or conflict.

In The Amalgamation Waltz, Tavia Nyong’o provides a fresh take on the seemingly simple but in fact profound questions of ‘who can separate us?’ and ‘who can bring us together?’ This vital work helps to explain our obsession with amalgamation and does a fine job of theorizing the politics and poetics of race as they are performed in American culture from the birth of the nation to the election of Barack Obama.

Jennifer DeVere Brody, Duke University

At a time when the idea of a postracial society has entered public discourse, The Amalgamation Waltz investigates the practices that conjoined blackness and whiteness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Scrutinizing widely diverse texts—archival, musical, visual, and theatrical—Tavia Nyong’o traces the genealogy of racial hybridity, analyzing how key events in the nineteenth century spawned a debate about interracialism that lives on today.

Deeply interested in how discussions of racial hybridity have portrayed the hybrid as the recurring hope for a distant raceless future, Nyong’o is concerned with the ways this discourse deploys the figure of the racial hybrid as an alibi for a nationalism that reinvents the racist logics it claims to have broken with. As Nyong’o demonstrates, the rise of a pervasive image of racially anomalous bodies responded to the appearance of an independent black public sphere and organized politics of black uplift. This newfound mobility was apprehended in the political imaginary as a bodily and sexual scandal, and the resultant amalgamation discourse, he argues, must be recognized as one of the earliest and most enduring national dialogues on sex and sexuality.

Nyong’o tracks the emergence of the concept of the racial hybrid as an ideological modernization of the older concept of the mongrel and shows how this revision brought race-thinking in line with new understandings of sex and gender, providing a racial context for the shift toward modern heterosexuality, the discourse on which postracial metaphors so frequently rely. A timely rebuttal to our contemporary fascination with racial hybridity, The Amalgamation Waltz questions the vision of a national future without racial difference or conflict.

The Amalgamation Waltz

Tavia Nyong’o is a cultural historian currently teaching in the Department of Performance Studies, New York University. His research interests include black performance, visual culture, and gender and sexuality studies. His writing has appeared in the Yale Journal of Criticism, Radical History Review, Social Text, and the Nation. He can be reached at http.//www.tavianyongo.com.

The Amalgamation Waltz

In The Amalgamation Waltz, Tavia Nyong’o provides a fresh take on the seemingly simple but in fact profound questions of ‘who can separate us?’ and ‘who can bring us together?’ This vital work helps to explain our obsession with amalgamation and does a fine job of theorizing the politics and poetics of race as they are performed in American culture from the birth of the nation to the election of Barack Obama.

Jennifer DeVere Brody, Duke University

Tavia Nyong’o’s deft and fluid analytical focus shifts with ease from the oratorical texts of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln to hip hop artists Missy Elliott and Public Enemy, from contemporary visual art (the ‘Mining the Museum’ and ‘Legacies’ exhibitions) to the theatre of Suzan-Lori Parks and John Sims’ film ‘Recoloration Proclamation.’ The Amalgamation Waltz is as beautifully written as it is cogent.

Daphne Brooks, Princeton University

The Amalgamation Waltz performs an important hybridization of critical race and queer theory.

Contemporary Theatre Review

In his stunning new book The Amalgamation Waltz, Nyong’o compels us to confront the problematics of this particular dialectic—namely, the nascent talk of racial transcendence alongside the entrenchment of white supremacy and racialized slavery.

Theatre Journal

Nyong’o’s work is full of . . . insights, which reflect current thinking. The original and provocative element of the book is his critique of the idea of the hybrid person—understood here as a mixed-race offspring of a heterosexual marriage even if perhaps the married state is sometimes absent—as the cure for race relations from the colonial period to the present.

Early American Literature

The Amalgamation Waltz is well argued and engaging. Nyong’o’s impressive scholarship and deft rhetorical circumventions are compelling, and his conclusions will prove valuable to scholars from a wide range of disciplines.

African American Review

The Amalgamation Waltz

Contents

Introduction: Antebellum Genealogies of the Hybrid Future

1. The Mirror of Liberty: Constituent Power and the American Mongrel
2. In Night’s Eye: Amalgamation, Respectability, and Shame
3. Minstrel Trouble: Racial Travesty in the Circum-Atlantic Fold
4. Carnivalizing Time: Decoding the Racial Past in Art and Installation

Conclusion: Mongrel Pasts, Hybrid Futures

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography

Index