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Tripping on the Color Line: A Review
By Baruti KMT
Sunday, 31 December 2006 - 12:00 PM

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Tripping on the Color Line: Black-White Multiracial Families In a Racially Divided World, by Heather Dalmage , Rutgers University Press, 2000, 200pp.

Tripping on the Color Line 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.

Providing 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 their lives.

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.

Chapter two "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.

In 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.

In 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.

© Copyright 2006 by Radical Scholar, Inc.

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