Racial Situations: Nationalist Vindication and Radical Deconstructionism

Peer Reviewed

From the essay

“A dominant idea has been that in the United States, people are socialized into a two-tier view of race relations rooted in institutionalized segregation (the 'one-drop rule'). This contrasts with a supposedly more 'fluid,' common sense notion of race in Latin America as well as with the more obvious acceptance of class-color correlations that one associates with the West Indies. However, both poles of this 'common sense' are not immutably true. In the United States, there has also been a longstanding sensibility (and tension) regarding the relationships between color and class, and intermediate racial categories (like mulato,quadroon,octoroon) were recognized on the census prior to the 1920s (Simmons 2009). And in Latin America and the West Indies, racial identification as 'black' has also been a vector of both sociopolitical mobilization and everyday understandings of marginalization and inequality. Despite these similarities of experience, however, many still understand models of racial subjectivity and subjectification throughout the Americas in polar terms.”  

Editorial Footnotes   

Cultural Anthropology has published numerous essays on race, including, Deborah A. Thomas’s previous publication in CA “Democratizing Dance: Institutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica” (2002); Helen A. Regis’s “Second Lines, Minstrelsy, and the Contested Landscapes of New Orleans Afro-Creole Festivals” (1999); and Jacqueline Nassy Brown’s “Black Liverpool, Black America, and the Gendering of Diasporic Space” (1998).  

Cultural Anthropology has also published articles about the Caribbean. See, for example, Charles V. Carnegie's "The Dundus and the Nation" (1996); Richard Price and Sally Price's "Shadowboxing in the Mangrove" (1997); and Yarimar Bonilla's "The Past is Made by Walking: Labor Activism and Historical Production in Postcolonial Guadeloupe" (2011).

About the Author

Deborah A. Thomas received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from New York University 2000, and is currently Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies, and Chair of the Graduate Group in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds a secondary appointment with the Graduate School of Education, and she is a member of the graduate groups of Africana Studies and English. Prior to her appointment at Penn, she spent two years as a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for the Americas at Wesleyan University, and four years teaching in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. She is the author of Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica, Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and The Politics of Culture in Jamaica, and is co-editor of Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness (with Kamari Clarke). Thomas also co-edited a special issue of the journal Identities titled “Caribbeanist Anthropologies at the Crossroads” (2007) with Karla Slocum, and a special issue of Feminist Review called “Gendering Diaspora” (2008) with Tina M. Campt. Prior to her life as an academic, Thomas was a professional dancer with the New York-based Urban Bush Women, a company that is committed to using art as a means of addressing issues of social justice and encouraging civic engagement, and that brings the untold stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora community. For more on Professor Thomas’s work visit her faculty page.

More from Deborah A. Thomas  


Bad Friday: Rastafari After Coral Gardens, 2011


Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production Of Blackness. Edited with Kamari Clarke. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.


“Violence.” Oxford Bibliographies Online (2012).

“The Violence of Diaspora: Governmentality, Class Cultures, and Circulations.” Radical History Review 103 (2009):83–104.

“Caribbean Studies, Anthropology, and U.S. Academic Realignments,” with Karla Slocum. Souls 10, no. 2 (2008):123–137.

“Gendering Diaspora: Transnational Feminisms, Diaspora, and its Hegemonies, with Tina M. Campt, Introduction to Special Issue of Feminist Review, “Gendering Diaspora,” 90 (2008):1–8.

“Walmart, ‘Katrina,’ and Other Ideological Tricks: Jamaican Hotel Workers in Michigan.” Special Issue of Feminist Review, co-edited with Tina M. Campt), “Gendering Diaspora,” 90 (2008):68–86.

“Locality in Today’s Global Caribbean: Shifting Economies of Nation, Race, and Development,” with Karla Slocum, Introduction to Special Issue of Identities, “Caribbeanist Anthropologies at the Crossroads: Revisiting Themes, Revising Concepts,” 14, no. 1–2 (2007) :1–18.

“Blackness Across Borders: Jamaican Diasporas and New Politics of Citizenship.” Identities 14, no. 1–2 (2007):111–133.

“Public Bodies: Virginity Testing, Redemption Songs, and Racial Respect in Jamaica.” Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 11, no. 1 (2006):1–31.

“Rethinking Global and Area Studies: Insights from Caribbeanist Anthropology.” American Anthropologist 105, no. 3 (2003): 553–565, with Karla Slocum.

“Democratizing Dance: Institutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica.” Cultural Anthropology 17, no. 4 (2002): 512–550.  

Further Reading

Baker, Lee D. From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896–1954. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Brathwaite, E. Kamau. Folk Culture of the Slaves in Jamaica. London: New Beacon Books, 1971.

de la Cadena, M. Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Carnegie, Charles. Postnationalism Prefigured: Caribbean Borderlands. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Du Bois, W.E.B. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880. New York: Free Press, 1999.

Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Family in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939 [1966].

Graham, Richard (Ed.) The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870–1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.

Herskovits, Melville. The Myth of the Negro Past. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941.

Holt, Thomas. The Problem of Race in the 21st Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

James, C.L.R. Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Ortiz, Fernando. Cuban Counterpoint. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.

Palmi´e, Stephan. Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

Price Mars, Jean. So Spoke the Uncle. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press. [First published in 1928 as Ainsi parla l’oncle], 1983.

Simmons, Kimberly. Reconstructing Racial Identity and the African Past in the Dominican Republic. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.

Smith, Faith L. Creole Recitations: John Jacob Thomas and Colonial Formations in the Late Nineteenth-Century Caribbean. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Trouillot, Michel Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon, 1995.

Wade, Peter. Race and Ethnicity in Latin America. Chicago: Pluto Press, 1997.

Whitten, Norman. “The Longue Dur´ee of Racial Fixity and the Transformative Conjunctures of Racial Blending.” Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 12(2) (2007):356–383.

Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Wynter, Sylvia. “Jonkonnu in Jamaica: Towards the Interpretation of Folk Dance as a Cultural Process.” Jamaica Journal 4, no. 2 (1970): 34–48.

Post a Comment

Please log in or register to comment