My dissertation, funded in part by a completion fellowship from the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, breaks new ground by examining the prehistory of officially recognized “multiracial” identities in the modern U.S. Historians now know a good deal about how courts and social norms regulated racial mixing in the era of Jim Crow, but I argue that biological and social scientists were also key players in constructing racial mixture and shaping its public meanings. This is especially true if we examine those racial “problems” that confounded the white-black divide. My dissertation therefore focuses on four “red-white-black” groups: the Monacan Indians of Virginia, the Ramapough Mountain Indians of New York, the Piscataway Indians of Maryland, and the Nanticoke Indians of Delaware. Each of these communities before the 1970s lacked formal recognition and other markers of identity commonly associated with federally recognized tribes. At various points, outsiders have dismissed these groups as “tri-racial isolates,” geographically isolated maroon communities wishing to use the “Native” category as a means of escaping the stigma of blackness. As even this dismissal indicates, the history of ea...
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...multiracial Americans, I argue, reveals the extent to which scientific theories and practices have shaped and continue to influence the production of racial categories and lived racial identities. My research treats scientists as key participants in the production of dominant racial classificatory schemes and systems of meaning. It also demonstrates that ethnologists, anthropologists, and geneticists were amongst the first in the modern U.S. to grapple with the existence and nature of multiracial populations. In the end, those investigators’ focus on racial outliers or “in between” people helped to produce new categories of racial identity alongside competing efforts to collapse racial differences into neat categories. In this way, the biological and social sciences open up new avenues for understanding both the racial formation and racial fluidity of modern America.
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