Tripping on the Color Line: Black-White Multiracial Families In a
Racially Divided World, by
, Rutgers University Press, 2000, 200pp.
Heather Dalmage discusses the "lived
experiences" of multiracial families and family members in America.
Having interviewed both members of multiracial households and children
of such unions, Dalmage has successfully shed light on an element of a
society centered on and rooted in the construct of race, but known only
to those involved in such relationships, marriages, and families.
both personal anecdotes and instances from her respondents, Dalmage has
provided a respectable read on how families and their members navigate
the racial waters of America. Of her work, she states, "three primary
themes run through this book: the hurtfulness (and, for whites, the
invisibility) of whiteness and racism; the lack of language available
to describe multiracial experiences in positive terms; and the
individual and institutional demands constantly placed on multiracial
family members to conform to a racially divided (and racist) system."
Inherent in her "themes," she points to the "borders" and "border
patrollers" with whom many multiracial family members come in contact
on a daily basis. In addressing this most important issue, Dalmage not
only puts the issue up for intense discussion and debate, she has also
removed it from the back burner of our social consciousness regarding
the fallacy of essentialism, and placed it on the table of consumption
for critical analysis.
Two chapters considered interesting by
this writer are "Discovering Racial Borders" and "Redlines and Color
Lines" chapters one and two respectively.
In chapter one,
Dalmage delves into the inner-workings of the "thought community" of
multiracial families and family members. By beginning the discussion of
the "borders" encountered by Americans choosing to date and marry
members not of their immediate "group," Dalmage lays the foundation for
readers to conceptualize what it means not only to be one who
"transgresses," but also what they encounter as the simply seek to live
Although these borders are socially constructed
(as she clearly states), they have very real physical and emotional
manifestations for all concerned: be they the family member or the one
levying a critique of the union. In beginning her work with this
chapter, she forces us to rethink our positions and the problems they
create. By doing so, she provides a voyeur's view of a world of which
many outsiders possess no concrete understanding.
"Redlines and Color Lines," discusses the challenges faced by
multiracial family members in their search to secure housing. Dalmage
shows that, despite legislation prohibiting denials of housing,
families still encounter such indecencies. With a brief history of the
legislation and sentiments surrounding its drafting, she provides a
good start for an inquiry by interested readers to begin an
enlightening trek into the world of housing and the practice of housing
discrimination. By doing so, her readers are sure to come away from
this chapter, coupled with some independent research, with a firm grasp
of both the laws and current efforts to address such inequalities.
Additionally, by supplying information on how realtors play a role in
creating pandemonium in a neighborhood, i.e. "block-busting," readers
not versed in the subject of race and real estate will come away with a
clearer understanding of several factors that produce lower property
values: race/phenotype not being among them.
Given my enjoyment
of the book, for personal reasons, finding areas that could have been
fleshed-out more is a truly daunting task. How does one find fault in
the seemingly faultless? Especially since Dalmage offers not only some
good personal and respondent experiences, but also the fact that she is
helping create a level of awareness among those walking by her book in
bookstores? That being said, I will attempt the somewhat impossible.
chapter three, "We Are the Nation's Racial Rorschach Tests," she
mentions how commercials and movies are becoming more sensitive to
their consumers, but she does not mention several recent and early
movies that dealt with the question of multiracial families and family
members seeking their way in the world of boundaries. Two such
groundbreaking films are Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Sidney
Poitier and Imitation of Life starring Lana Turner. These two movies,
for their time, addressed some heady themes and could have been
included in an analysis of how the media is, and has, worked to address
some of the pain and emotions experienced by members of multiracial
families. This is the only problem I find; then again, she may have
considered them but chose not to include them. Interestingly, her
daughter's name is Mahalia, which immediately made me think of Mahalia
Jackson and her song at the end of Imitation of Life. Also, given the
taxi driver's position in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and the
father's (Spencer Tracy) riveting and thought provoking "summation"
which ended the film, I was surprised not to see this film mentioned.
chapter four, "Communities, Politics, and Racial Thinking," Dalmage
provides good information on organizations seeking to help multiracial
families and members of society, but it could have been more inclusive.
Also, realizing the support from GIFT, despite the good information,
this chapter seemed like an advertisement of sorts for the organization
and a soapbox for its goals to help multiracial families and their
members; not that this such is inherently problematic, but it seemed
like a paid advertisement; and in a way, it was.That being said,
by closing her work and stating "the categories, the borders, and the
color line become a challenge for us all," Heather M. Dalmage has hit
the proverbial nail on the head. When it comes to the socially created
and maintained categories, borders, and lines that far too few are
willing to cross, those seeking to hold onto a sense of identity will
lash out at anything and anyone who challenges the status quo; for in
so challenging these areas, the lines are shown for what they really
are: in our minds.