During the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth, the tragic mulatto/a figured prominently in American fiction, only to recede after the Harlem Renaissance when African-American writers called for "race pride" and racial solidarity and to disappear entirely in the late 1960s after the Black Power movement ushered in racially conscious concepts such as "Black Is Beautiful." Since 1990, however, the mixed black-white character has made a significant comeback in American fiction. Contemporary representations suggest that choosing one's racial identity is only slightly less difficult than it used to be because of American society's conflation of skin color and identity. Senna's Birdie looks white but identifies as black, Rosellen Brown's Ronnee looks black but wants to explore her "white side" (Brown 200:249), and John Gregory Brown's Meredith looks and identifies white but fears revealing her biracial ancestry. For a while, each young woman lets her body speak for her, accepting socially ascribed definitions of her racial identity, but each is eventually called on to negotiate the conflicting racial realities of her life. Senna, who is biracial, Rosellen Brown, who is white, and Jewish, and John Gregory Brown, who is white, all poignantly illustrate that "a racialized subjectivity has everything and nothing to do with the body" (Boudreau 2002:59).

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Copyright © 2008 Routledge. This chapter first appeared in American Fiction of the 1990s.

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