The foreigner in Yoknapatawpha: rethinking race in Faulkner's "global South".
Plessy is a landmark case, one continually studied and cited today. Yet very few scholars examine or even know the reasoning behind Haflan's dissent, reasoning that is almost always excised from abstracted or condensed versions of Harlan's opinion. Harlan's dissent posits the Chinese as a separate group--one not accepted into citizenship--and contrasts them with citizens of all colors. His other judicial opinions consistently ruled against admitting even American-born Chinese to citizenship. (3) Part of his objection to "the statute in question" in the Plessy case was that it allowed "a Chinaman [to] ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black face [may not]." (4) With the intrusion of new colored races into legal consciousness in Plessy, defining the opposition of colored and white, citizen and noncitizen, had become more complicated. (5) No doubt this logic is expurgated partly as a nod to political correctness, but its omission erases the complex role that the Chinese played in Southern face relations, as well as the novel perspective that they offer.
Like the key legal decisions that shaped the racial dynamics of his era, Faulkner's fiction depicts the ongoing turmoil of segregation between black and white, but at moments leverages the existence of other races in Mississippi to illuminate the shifting ground of in-betweenness and miscegenation. (6) His work is part of a diverse history of the South, in which his depiction of racial mixture is borne out by the historical trajectory of the understudied Chinese. An acknowledgment of the Chinese presence in Mississippi appears in the short story "Delta Autumn," first published in 1942. In his rage at the people who have "denuded and derivered" the Delta for two generations, producing rich white and black men lording over impoverished farm laborers, Ike McCaslin conflates race and class issues, thinking, "Chinese and African and Aryan and Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which one is which nor cares," (7) Having just discovered that his family's rampant history of miscegenation is continuing into the next generation, Ike, in his racialized thinking, hysterically overstates the prevalence of miscegenation. Ike's description of the Delta economy stresses the black-white binary, one that he repeatedly learns is specious even within his own family. But his paranoid gaze extends outside his family history to acknowledge the presence of other minorities in the Delta.
This view of a miscegenated futurity in which racial difference will be invisible is rare in Faulkner's works, which chiefly revisit the past through a seemingly never-ending stream of mixed-race family stories. Indeed, only a character obsessed with the legacy he leaves to the future rather than the burden of the past, an Ike rather than a Quentin, can see outside the black-white binary. Some of Faulkner's characters are strangely undisturbed by third categories, while others confound foreignness with racial difference. Sutpen's first family's Haitianness and foreignness are supposedly not what disturbs him, but their black blood. When Sutpen and his slaves return to Mississippi, the locals view them within the black-white binary of American racial history, bur foreigners are quietly excluded as a matter of course from such family histories. In an "apparently bifurcated" world of white versus black and native versus immigrant, Edouard Glissant observes, contradictions and multiplicities arise, (8) As white and black (and the vanishing Indian) come together to comprise native, the immigrant becomes essential to the story of white versus black.
The rupture of national and regional identity caused by the Asian presence is a key marker of modernity in the history of the United States. David Palumbo-Liu, building on the work of historians such as Alexander Saxton, has powerfully theorized how the presence of Asians within the nation and the movement to bar further immigration, which was crystallized in the 1920s and '30s, shaped the United States' modern self-definition in relation to Asia and expansionist ambitions. (9) Faulkner, late in his life, repeated some of this yellow peril mentality in a more resigned tone, saying that the Chinese would one day "be the bosses." (10) The fear of Asian industrialization and militarization led to corresponding fears about Asians within the borders of the nation. Various writers, afraid of hybridity, claimed that Asian miscegenation would create a lower, almost imbecile population, a theme that arises over and over in other writings about Asians and Ike's words about "breeding and spawning" (11) The shifts in race and class of the 1920s, from immigration to the African American Great Migration, are fought by Faulkner's townsfolk and contemporaneous legal texts, like the landmark Supreme Court cases of Thind and Ozawa that defined whiteness as noninclusive of the Asian plaintiffs. Faulkner voices this mass of contradictions through Ike, who says in full: "This land which man has deswamped and denuded and derivered in two generations so that white men can own plantations and commute every night to Memphis and black men own plantations and ride in jim crow cars to Chicago to live in millionaires' mansions on Lakeshore Drive, where white men rent farms and live like niggers and niggers crop on shares and live like animals, where cotton is planted and grows man-tall in the very cracks of the sidewalks, and usury and mortgage and bankruptcy and measureless wealth, Chinese and African and Aryan and Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which one is which nor cares." (12) The crumble of the old social and racial order, which Faulkner revised continually to make more explicit, spills out uncontrollably beyond the limits of the Delta, linking the South to socioeconomic change on a national and global level.
The efforts to repress this social rupture shows in both legal and literary narratives. Even as the economic turmoil of emancipation and Reconstruction made the old plantation myth impossible to sustain, Faulkner's characters--like Ike and Quentin--unceasingly re-narrate their family histories, trying to find something to sustain their increasingly unstable white masculinity. But as John Matthews and other scholars have pointed out, the "inextricable compositeness" that Reverend Hightower sees in Light in August runs through a Southern society shot through with Mexicans, Huguenots, New Englanders, and vanishing Indians. (13) This compositeness, so long repressed by a narrative of white superiority and dominance, breaks up in the presence of race and class shifts as well as the newer presence of the Chinese. Caught within a relentlessly traditional binary world, Ike fails to find any way to use the modern presence of other parties to reconsider race relations, much as black-white miscegenation had failed to provide any such reformulation. Recuperating the small but pivotal presence of the Chinese in Faulkner's Mississippi therefore offers new ways of understanding the social and critical constructions that uphold a black-white binary, both magnifying and repressing miscegenation and mixture. Not even a clear third party like the Chinese could escape such classification, but their presence "upset and recreate[d] the social and cultural dualisms and the heart of" race, class, and nation. (14) Historically, the Mississippi Chinese brought a unique economic and social otherness to Southern society, which was eventually overwhelmed by the legal and journalistic emphasis on the racial binary. At the same time, revisiting this historical presence articulates other valences of race relations outside of appearance and blood: foreignness, language, citizenship, and socioeconomic status. The anxiety betrayed by literary depictions of indeterminate skin color across multiple races leads us to consider all these valences, rather than simply the sexual dimensions that have been emphasized in the politics of interracial crossing.
Faulkner's corpus has formed one of the keystones of literary criticism focusing on American racial conflict, in part because the complexity of his vision, fully historicized, uses a language of in-betweenness and anti-essentialism that challenges the rigid legal language of his day. Recently, efforts have been made to apply globalization and transnational theories to Southern studies and Faulkner criticism. For example, Richard Godden reconsiders Absalom, Absalom! in terms of the psychological stresses of Sutpen's international journey. Glissant, too, observes that "what surrounds the county assails it," no less in the way in which Glissant assails Faulkner via CEsaire and Coindreau than in the way that Haitian miscegenation assails Yoknapatawpha. The impact of these assaults is my focus here, as a polytextual study of racial indeterminacy and binarism as they played out in different arenas of representation in 1930s Mississippi offers new insights into what historian Moon-Ho Jung calls the "racial logic" of Southern society. (15)
In examining these representations of the Mississippi Chinese population, I do not intend to assert a generalized theory of triangulation, which would, in effect, reify the black-white binary. Rather, by contrasting two different types of texts, literary and legal, that explicitly try to conceive of the role that this new race could occupy in a highly segregated society, I hope to show that the role of the Chinese in race relations is part of a larger confrontation in which locals try to maintain self-definition in the face of foreignness and the other shifts betokened by modernity. The "global South" has recently come into new prominence as a critical axis for U.S. literature, heralded by several book collections and an American Literature special issue, as well as multiple publications and panels dealing with Faulkner as part of the global South. (16) Prompted by the growing importance of globalization studies, a range of scholars has pointed out not only the global ties of the modern South but the past ties among the colonial empires and international slave trade. Here, I link global Southern studies to the ethnic and critical race studies that are also exploring their transnational ties, not forgetting the state's importance in legislating racial and national privileges.
While the action and consciousness of Faulkner's work focuses on Yoknapatawpha, the transnational lives of these outsiders is often the catalyst for change or catastrophe, with Thomas Sutpen's migration to and from the Caribbean being the most disastrous. Faulkner sweeps all his characters together in a common tangle of race relations that acknowledges immigration from the North, the Caribbean, or China, with the exception of Native Americans who have always been in Yoknapatawpha. All (except perhaps Sam Fathers) are foreigners from this long-sighted historical perspective, Brown no less than Christmas, or the Snopeses no less than the unnamed Chinese laundryman. The mentions of Chinese in Faulkner are notable for their relative disregard of a diasporic or transnational location of these characters. There are indications--the repentant man in The Sound and the Fury who buys himself a missionary to China, for example--but, for the most part, they are used as third-party outsiders who highlight the difficulty of defining race. Foreignness also exacerbates race, as with the slaves that Sutpen brings back from Haiti.
Such elision on Faulkner's part did not indicate a lack of awareness of the small but growing Chinese population. Indeed, he could hardly be unaware of the slowly increasing connections between the U.S. and China, with his sweetheart and eventual wife, Estelle Franklin, living first in Hawaii and then in Shanghai (where her then-husband, Cornell Franklin, was working). She visited Oxford bringing a Chinese amah, or nanny, for her Chinese-nicknamed daughter Cho-Cho, the nannies appear to have gone back to Hawaii or China, rather than remaining, which would perhaps have been difficult under the immigration law of the time. Cho-Cho would also later return to China with her husband in 1940. As for more permanent dwellers, Faulkner would use and refigure Oxford's lone Chinese laundryman, Hum Wo, in The Town as Jefferson's lone Chinese laundryman, unthreatening but not overlooked, part of the town's tangled relationships. (17)
Faulkner focused on his imagined Mississippi county, but he did occasionally venture into confrontations between different nationalities as well as ethnicities. In his very early short story, "Yo Ho and Two Bottles of Rum" Faulkner offers an explicit and thoroughly stereotypical portrayal not only of Chinese but of race relations in an imperial context. It is a rather derivative work, a Joseph Conrad-style story, as Joseph Blotner notes, although it also owes something to Melville. However, the traces of interests that would arise later in his work are evident not only in the plot (the race against time to bury a stinking corpse is a motif that Faulkner would rework with darker humor in As I Lay Dying), but also in the confrontation with a mysterious and incomprehensible racial Other. In the story, a brutish British navy officer strikes and kills the Chinese cabin boy, and then is staggered when the Chinese crew silently but resolutely insist that the ship leave its course to go bury the boy on land. Faulkner makes race the main cause of these actions and confusions; the American assimilates, he says, but "the Britisher is still British, the lower he goes the more blatantly British he becomes." The third mate was "Eusian" (presumably a misspelling of "Eurasian") and "led or was led a dog's life in consequence, being neither one nor the other, yet having a sacred drop or two of British blood to saddle him with the white man's responsibilities while at the same time his lesser strain denied him the white man's pleasures." (18) While the story makes no efforts to break down the absolute barrier between the inscrutable Chinese and the British officers, it contains hints of the obsession with racial intermixture that surfaces in Faulkner's most famous work. His unfinished short story "Love;' in which a devoted young Indochinese soldier saves his American master from poisoning by the Italian maid, offers some of the same themes. (19) A Fable, one of Faulkner's few major works set outside Yoknapatawpha, also picks up on the themes of race relations under imperialism, noting with pity the colonial troops in the World War I trenches ("Senegalese and Moroccans and Kurds and Chinese and Malays and Indians" and more) and, in one astonishingly long-sighted passage, also reflecting on the consequences of a free global economy: "not your wives and children, but those of African savages and heathen Chinese will have the good roads and the schools and the cream separators and the automobiles." (20) While such issues are not explicitly raised in his other novels, it is clear that Faulkner understood that the plight of his Yoknapatawphans was part of global race relations and economics, including the shifts in migration that brought outsiders to Mississippi.
While most famously focusing on black-white relations, Faulkner interweaves his discussion of miscegenation with mention of Native Americans, Chinese, Mexicans, and others to acknowledge a gap between black and white filled not only with the children of mixed-race unions. Different notions of temporality contribute to this more imaginative portrayal. The legal decisions examined here, as well as the sociological studies, conform to a linear time line which must set out a past and legislate a future, creating a narrative endowed with moral significance. Hayden White writes, "but once we have been alerted to the intimate relationship that Hegel suggests exists between law, historicality, and narrativity, we cannot but be struck by the frequency with which narrativity, whether of the fictional or the factual sort, presupposes the existence of a legal system against which or on behalf of which the typical agents of a narrative account militate. And this raises the suspicion that narrative in general ... has to do with the topics of lave, legality, legitimacy, or, more generally, authority." (21) Faulkner uses his narrative to militate against the linear progression of legal decisions, which must set out a past and dictate a future, one which, in these cases of the pre-civil rights era, is kept as racially unmixed as possible. He instead turns to the static, almost stagnant quality of life in a small town and the iterative cycles of familial strife to imagine race relations that progress sometimes not at all, sometimes explosively.
Recent (re)examinations of Asian-American history, particularly the history of Chinese labor, have theorized how economic development ties into racial relations. Ruptured Faulknerian families led directly to the presence of a third quantity, historically speaking; Richard Godden has posited how the Hegelian master-slave dialectic can be used to understand the unease of white masters in Faulkner's South, most notably in Absalom, Absalom! Their desperate need of black labor to sustain their lifestyle, and the conscious or unconscious need to quell revolutionary tendencies (which Sutpen carries out with his bare hands) leads to a denial of paternity; the children of miscegenation are disowned as economic goods rather than family members, leading to the explosive confrontations of the Sutpen-Bon family. (22) This labor source, of course, is not only homegrown, but imported: in the past from Africa, in Sutpen's case from the Caribbean, and then, during Reconstruction, from China and Europe. Chinese labor thus implicitly offers an escape from at least the economic aspect of the black-white conflict depicted in Faulkner's novels, and it also formed part of American dreams of expansion to create a transcontinental and then transpacific continuum of transportation and industry. (23)
The society in which Faulkner was working constantly sought to shut down racial indefinition, beginning with terminology and description and extending to the legal decisions like Plessy that sought to legislate a clear division. Into this arrived the Chinese laborers of the South, who were explicitly imported to reaffirm white superiority by replacing the increasingly more rebellious ex-slave population, and there did not seem to be much fear that the Chinese would ever own the land. Powell Clayton, governor and then senator of Arkansas during Reconstruction, wrote: "Undoubtedly the underlying motive for this effort to bring in Chinese laborers was to punish the negro for having abandoned the control of his old master, and to regulate the conditions of his employment and the scale of wages to be paid him." (24) Writing on the plantation workers and the house servants surprisingly glossed over the possibility of Chinese-white miscegenation, though it was certainly discussed in California throughout the later nineteenth century. Many Southern newspapers, such as the New Orleans Times, Mobile Daily, and Mississippi's Vicksburg Times, were particularly vocal in supporting the importation idea in spite of continual debate on the national and even the local stage, (25) quite early in the Reconstruction period. Both Chinese and Italian laborers were imported to replace black labor. (26)
Throughout the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth, the Mississippi Delta had the largest Chinese population to be found in the South. The U.S. Census reported 364 Chinese in Mississippi in 1920 and 561 in 1930. (27) Jung's importation study and James Loewen's 1971 sociological study of the Chinese population in Mississippi are the most broad-ranging sources of information on their history. According to Loewen, the first report of Chinese workers in Mississippi appeared in 1870. (28) However, hopes of replacing, or even supplementing, black agricultural labor with Chinese immigrants were soon erased by the expense of importation and the rebellion of the Chinese, who often ran away, failed to live up to myths of Oriental diligence, or simply refused plantation work. The Jackson Clarion, reprinting the New Orleans Times, in 1873, reported that "over 200 Chinamen were brought from China to this state ... we think there are none left on the plantations at the present time." The rest of the article reports that "planters shot and killed or wounded workers who had become unruly; in another instance the labor gang was so enraged by the false promises that had been given them that when the Chinese agent who had initiated the transaction visited the plantation, they attempted to lynch him" presumably a reference to uprisings on the Millaudon plantation in Louisiana in 1870. (29) The failure of the venture must have been a sore disappointment to those who had characterized the Chinese as docile laborers; instead, they turned to other work, some forming "independent, itinerant labor gangs" similar to those of African Americans. (30)
In the Delta, the Chinese found an economic niche for themselves throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, setting up groceries to serve the low-income black population. Segregation had previously prevented most whites from lowering themselves by selling to blacks, while would-be black grocers could not gain the support of the white wholesale and banking institutions. The Chinese benefited from their image of foreigners laboring outside this dynamic in the beginning. As in their competition with blacks for field labor, the Mississippi Chinese escaped the "yellow peril" perception because they were competing only with white Mississippians who were too low in social capital to mount any effective action against them. (31)
These small groceries quickly formed not only economic bur social centers for black communities, providing goods and reading, writing, and even small banking services. More importantly, Loewen claims, "the Chinese stores became, in fact, the only integrated milieux in the Delta. Negroes and working-class whites could sit around, on separate but equal Coke cases to be sure, and drink beer. In Yazoo City and other towns, Chinese groceries provided the place where whites met and recruited Negro day-labor" (32) Though still a very small segment of the population, Loewen avers, the Chinese had rapidly become "middlemen" for the changing relationship between white and black--in more than simply an economic sense. However, they also found themselves forced into the binary when dealing with the more formal issues of schooling, hospitalization, or even segregated graveyards.
While no utopian grocery stores exist in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha, he fully displays the dilemmas of racialization in ways that illuminate the issues faced by outsiders who fit no preconceived racialized socioeconomic niches. Like the Ghinese immigrants, Faulkner's indeterminate mixed-race characters (including Joe Christmas, Charles Bon, and the woman of "Delta Autumn") appear without a known history and must be normalized through their appearance and behavior. Ultimately, many of these characters reveal a personal history that is intertwined with that of other characters, a situation that did not apply to the initial Chinese population and their separate cultural history. However, Faulkner's deft portrayal of the gaps of history in Absalom, Absalom! and Light in August demonstrate that familial ties are far from sufficient to create a society without unease. The rebellious actions of Charles Bon's octoroon son, who marries the blackest woman he can find, exemplify how socialization defined face as much as vice versa.
Light in August provides a frightening fictional portrait of what might happen to a man caught between black and white, a situation that was all too real for the Chinese and other minority communities in the Delta. Legal and sociological documents demonstrate the gradual constraint of their socialization to either black or white, rather than Faulkner's briefly imagined miscegenated future or the unthreatening single Chinese of Jefferson in The Town. (33) Rereading racial ambiguities through the historical and literary Chinese presence offers a richer understanding of what it meant to live between the white and black color lines, whether as a possible mixed-blood figure or a member of another race. The attempt to categorize them definitively with the black race in legal parlance signaled more than simple majority oppression; it removed the presence that induces new ways of talking about race and community. While it is unproductive to pronounce on whether Joe Christmas's unknown father was ultimately black or white, Mexican or Chinese, it is certain that the confusion about Joe equally applies to the initial status of Chinese laborers in Mississippi.
Joe's reception into Jefferson society shows the peculiar way in which the inhabitants operate in and around the suppressed idea that there are other races to consider. Already a confusing figure, with his soiled city clothes and his "darkly contemptuous" face, his name throws the sawmill workers further into chaos:
"His name is what?'
"Christmas" [the foreman answers].
"Is he a foreigner?"
"Did you ever hear of a white man named Christmas?"
"I never heard of nobody a-tall named it," the other said.
What is remarkable in this short dialogue is that the possibility of Joe's blackness never explicitly arises, though one could say that African-American surnames are inherently included in consideration because they are historically taken from a subset of white surnames. Instead, the worker asks, "Is he a foreigner?"--a category that the foreman immediately contrasts with the category of "white" men. (Bobbie, Joe's first lover, had also comfortably thought of him as a foreigner, based on his skin and hair.) Though the worker replies in protest that he has "never heard of nobody a-tall" named Christmas, the town leaves Christmas classified in the more or less comforting category of "foreigner"--but not white--until Brown bursts their bubble scornfully: "Calling him a foreigner for three years, when soon as I watched him three days I knew he wasn't no more a foreigner than I am." (34)
This, then, is the unforgivable sin: the inhabitants of Jefferson classify Christmas as a foreigner but somehow suppress the possibility of his non-whiteness; in their outrage at finding out that he is not white, they insist that he must be its absolute opposite, a "nigger." Yet he "never acted like either a nigger or a white man. That was it. That was what made the folks so mad.
For him to be a murderer and all dressed up and walking the town like he dared them to touch him, when he ought to have been skulking and hiding in the woods, muddy and dirty and running. It was like he never even knew he was a murderer, let alone a nigger too" (LA, 331). Joe's unwillingness to "act" properly as--not look like--one race or the other, white or black, makes his existence impossible; race is not appearance, but actions. What has happened to the category of foreigner? It has ceased to exist.
Joe is finally killed by Percy Grimm, an unabashed white supremacist but one who acknowledges a hierarchy, rather than a simple binary; he lives in the "belief that the white race is superior to any and all other races and that the American is superior to all other white races" (LA, 426, my emphasis). While not specifically mentioning the yellow peril, Grimm's militaristic antagonism towards all other races implies a world beyond the black-and-white conflict of Jefferson. The world of Light in August may chiefly operate through a binary, but the suspicion of Joe's "Mexican" or "wop" heritage and the ambiguity of racial description hint at new possibilities. Underneath the surface of this insular little town obsessed with the color line is a growing awareness of "other races" coming from unknown places.
Ultimately, what prevents the townspeople from actually reading Joe Christmas as mulatto or Chinese--only one of a multitude of possibilities--is not his appearance, but the inability of most of Faulkner's characters to admit new elements into society--that is, the South steeped in its own incestuous past. Nor is he alone excluded; Joanna Burden also lives apart from the rest of the town, daughter of intrusive carpetbaggers, and Burch/Brown, who arrives around the same time as Joe, is not particularly welcome. In The Town, also set in Jefferson, one of Faulkner's most intriguing mentions of the Chinese in Mississippi takes the form of a single man living outside of normal society. "Ours was a town founded by Aryan Baptists and Methodists, for Aryan Baptists and Methodists. We had a Chinese laundryman and two Jews, brothers with their families, who ran two clothing stores." These outliers attend the Methodist church, which helps to render them acceptable. Charles Mallison quite straightforwardly recounts the nuances of racialization, saying that the Jews were "in our eyes merely non-white people, not actually colored," perhaps saved from colored status by their high levels of education as well as their appearance. The lone Chinese man, on the other hand, is safe because of his loneness, not his Chineseness. "And although the Chinese was definitely a colored man even if not a Negro, he was only he, single peculiar and barren; not just kinless but even kindless, half the world or anyway half the continent (we all knew about San Francisco's Chinatown) sundered from his like and therefore as threatless as a mule." Faulkner might in fact be describing his perception of Oxford's lone Chinese laundryman, bound by class and face into his isolation. (35)
Like Joe Christmas, this nameless Chinese has found a unique economic niche, albeit a highly legal and domestic one, and remains unthreatening as a single person, rather than bringing in a whole Chinatown community that might threaten the balance of races in the town. Yet the nonchalant mention of "San Francisco's Chinatown" as well as the Jewish brothers and their families, suggests that an appropriately segregated minority is unthreatening. More puzzling is the Chineses "peculiar and barren" status as a single person. It makes no logical sense that because he is without his own kind he is therefore barren, but there is surprisingly little fear of miscegenation reported here. His comparison to a mule, implying sterility, also carries echoes of the (decidedly nonsterile) mulatto, not kinless but with too much kin. As long as the Chinese is willing to remain temporally locked as single and barren, he is safe. In The Town, a novel of complicated relationships and extramarital affairs among whites of all classes, the artificial loneness of the Chinese is all the more striking.
The artificiality of face as purely physical category is a prominent feature in Light in August, but it also runs subtly through Faulkner's other work. White men change color in the tropics, a familiar trope in imperialist British literature; Henry Sutpen, when he comes home to die at the dose of Absalom, Absalom!, is deathly ill, and his "wasted yellow face" appears to Quentin Compson above yellow sheets. (36) His yellowness, though it brings to mind his family's miscegenation, also evokes the concept of yellow fever and foreignness, perhaps contracted during his years of wandering. This motif surfaces in Faulkner's descriptions of Thomas Sutpen, whose time in Haiti had given his flesh "the appearance of pottery, of having been colored by that oven's fever either of soul or environment, deeper than sun alone beneath a dead impervious surface as of glazed clay" (AA, 36). In "Yo Ho" the white sailors, "coarsened, surfeited with undisputed domination" turn red-faced, sweaty, and altogether misfit in Asia. (37) The historical fear of the white man's deterioration in the tropics, both physical and moral, creates a mutability of color within which neither Chinese nor mixed-blood characters could be precisely defined by appearance, nor does there seem to be an absolute need to so define them.
Faulkner's description of Joe Christmas leaves as much as possible to the imagination. Christmas's racial ambiguity has been extensively discussed by critics, particularly in Regina Fadiman's study of how Faulkner deliberately revised Light in August to make Joe as indeterminate as possible. Faulkner excised descriptions of Joe's "rust-colored hair" and "hazel eyes," leaving us instead with a few references to his skin color. (38) Joe's coloring is compared to "parchment" a "smooth rich pallor" that tells us nothing, particularly when juxtaposed with Brown's "dark complected" face and Hightower's "putty-colored flesh" (LA, 141, 50, 370). Examining Faulkner's racial description across novels makes Joe's status even more uncertain. Many mixed-race characters share this strange pallor; in Absalom, Absalom!, Charles Bons Haitian grandmother shares Joe Christmas's parchment-colored skin, while the nameless young woman in "Delta Autumn" has skin that looks "queerly colorless but not ill" (doubly "queer;' since the woman appears dressed in men's clothing). Unlike Joe's oxymoronic "smooth rich pallor," this woman has a "dead and toneless pallor;' which nevertheless looks to Ike "anything but dead, but young and incredibly and even ineradicably alive." (39) More to the point, her skin looks white to Ike until the revelation that she takes in washing betrays her blackness (a social marker that she shares, of course, with the Chinese in California). Is Joe's rich pallor darker? lighter? more or less white at first glance? During his childhood, the woman at the orphanage privately gloats that at the colored orphanage he will look like a "pea in a pan of coffee beans" (LA, 122). But Clytie, the illegitimate half-white Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom!, is also constantly described as coffee-colored. It is Joe's contrast with the coffee color that makes him so confusing.
Like mulatto characters in Faulkner's fiction, Asian and Asian American subjects were described elsewhere with a multiplicity of adjectives accentuating their racial fluidity, particularly in dime novels or the popular Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan series. (40) Some authors explicitly defined the appearance of Asian otherness by confounding it with the more familiar mixed-blood appearance. In 1902, Nellie Blessing Eyster described a handsome Chinese male character in A Chinese Quaker: An Unfictitious Novel by the somewhat dubious device of comparing him to a mixed-race female, "a face ... as beautiful as an octoroon girl's." This passage, which William F. Wu dryly observes may be the first "complimentary physical description [of an] adult Chinese immigrant male in American fiction" not only confuses the genders (recalling the stereotype of effeminacy) but familiarizes the Chinese man by comparing him to the octoroon, personification and site of racial struggle. (41)
When the Chinese arrived in the South in 1870, their appearance and dress were the focus of many fascinated reports. The first shipment (literally) of Chinese workers was divided between Mississippi and Arkansas; the Daily Arkansas Gazette noted that many descriptions had already been printed bur unapologetically added its own, saying, the foreman "is what we would call a cross between an African and an Indian--not so black or stalwart in form as the negro, nor quite as light or straight as the Indian" His skin was deemed "copper-colored," and his black queue was his distinguishing feature. A Southern woman's account of Chinese coolies in Cuba compared them to "quiet" women, with their lack of beards and loose clothing, but sexualized them as male when they rebelled, "swarthy bodies glistening in the hot sun." (42) Such use of race- and gender-crossing to describe the Chinese betrayed the confusion produced by their unfamiliar coloring and dress.
Entering into this confused landscape of skin color, the racialization and socialization of the Chinese proved to rest on a complicated set of criteria, here roughly summarized as labor, social participation (in schools, churches, and other such institutions), and miscegenation or intermarriage. The Mississippi Chinese, though marked by language, country of origin, and the comfortably public discussion of local and national newspapers, were blurred by confused racial descriptions and growing fears of miscegenation that their relatively low levels of intermarriage with other races did nothing to allay. (43) Elsewhere in the United States, particularly in California, they were the subject of violent racial fantasies inextricably intertwined with the economic fear of the yellow peril. Arguably, at the time of Light in August, the Chinese had not participated in the sheer number of generations of miscegenation and incest that explode in betrayal and loss in Faulkner's novels. But as Sundquist describes, the state of society in Light in August is a "climate of fantasy in which the evidence [of miscegenation], whichever way it may point, counts for little beside the suspicion that overwhelms and submerges it, repressing and distorting it at the same time. Light in August is an extended meditation on this fantasy, extended by Faulkner's desire to work out every conceivable variation, on every level he could imagine, within the limits of one sustained narrative." (44) Ike's explosive words crystallize this collision of concepts; it is fear and suspicion that allow the Chinese to join his world, not Loewen's positive (if temporary) mediation through grocery stores.
The socialization of the Chinese did little to remove the confusion caused by racialized description. Loewen claims that the Chinese initially held a status equal to (though separate from) that of the black population. (45) Religion and language clearly differentiated them, but their place in society shifted significantly over rime. Three of the main studies of the Mississippi Chinese, written by Robert W. O'Brien in 1940, Loewen in 1971, and Robert Seto Quan in 1982, focus on the place of the Chinese in relation to the black-white binary. Each creates a remarkably different narrative for the racial status of the Chinese, so that the "facts" of the history are almost completely obscured. What becomes evident instead are the shifting racial politics that have kept this third party out of the bulk of scholarly consideration. Loewen critiques O'Brien, whose research he (justifiably) considers somewhat slipshod and third party, but the main point of critique is O'Brien's perfunctory concluding prediction that the Chinese will "inescapably" become identified with the Negroes of the South, a prediction which Loewen says was "disproved in record time" O'Brien's prediction is based on what Loewen concedes is an accurate portrayal of race relations in the Delta up until 1940, the article's date of publication. (46)
Participation in public institutions, miscegenation, and cultural identification becomes the standard for these sociologists' hierarchical placement. Loewen, as already noted, asserts equality between Chinese and black comunities. (47) Most lived above their stores, which meant of course that they lived in the black communities that they served, and there were no Chinatowns or tongs in Mississippi. O'Brien, looking at a different standard for social equality in the same time period, claims that "the Chinese were not the victims of organized prejudice and segregation until recently. Before 1925 Chinese attended the same schools and churches as members of the dominant white group." (48) O'Brien thus sets up an initial equality with the white 'caste' (his preferred terminology) which he sees slowly eroding, citing the cases of children being ejected from white schools. Equal, of course, does not mean alike; Quan's study of the generation he calls the Old People, who were alive during this time (the time of Light in August) shows that they continued to have great pride in familiar markers of Chinese culture, from cuisine to ancestral worship. (49)
Quan also has a somewhat confused definition of blackness and whiteness. By the 1930s, he claims that the Chinese had begun to attempt to distance themselves from their black clientele by becoming Christians, learning English, and changing their living patterns. (50) However, it seems fairly obvious that the black clientele would primarily also be Christians who spoke English, which leaves the living patterns as the most obvious differentiation. According to oral histories, the bones of the dead in Greenville, Mississippi, were shipped back to China until 1928, when the war in Asia interfered with shipping. As the Chinese were not allowed to bury their dead in the white cemetery, they started their own in 1928--a move that Quan seems to read as a sort of solidification of the community, but that Loewen interprets as a desire to keep themselves from the Negro cemetery, overgrown with weeds. (51) Loewen and Quan contradict each other in their accounts of Chinese property management. "Stores, store living quarters, and houses are not renovated. The Chinese fear that the Caucasians will resent property improvement and that the blacks will regard it as a sign of wealth," claims Quan, while Loewen claims that the Chinese painted and bricked up facades in order to keep up with the white Joneses. (52)
Loewen's review of Quan's book reveals some of both of their politics of identity; he comments, "the few young Chinese professionals who have stayed in Mississippi are seen [by Quan] as 'proud of their ethnicity.' This is too bland--many of them have never read a single book about China and are deeply ambivalent about endogamy." (53) Reading books about China is obviously a specious lowest common denominator of racial/ethnic identification, but the combination in this sentence with endogamy is both telling and disturbing. How or why interracial marriage should even be put in the same sentence with reading books is frankly baffling, particularly since Loewen's own work emphasizes the endogamy. On the other hand, Loewen is quite reasonable in stating that Quan's categorization of "proud" is nebulous at best, leaving the assertion so loose as to reflect the sociologist rather than the subject. Nor, since he focuses more on the younger generations, does he take into account the transnational aspects of the Old People, particularly issues like the shipping of bones back to China.
Once again, miscegenation forms the obsessive battleground of race. Loewen continues, "and while choosing not to study the Chinese who are still associated with black families, perhaps a defensible research tactic, Quan implies that they are an unknown, unknowable, and hardly existent category; in reality they are available for interviews in the towns where he worked." (54) Loewen himself had offered considerable information on miscegenation. Institutional and informal pressures were heavily against Chinese-black intermarriage (via schools, hospitals, and the informal organizations of both communities), a point on which Quan and Loewen agree. As the status of mixed-blood Chinese-black people became increasingly troubled, intermarriage became so infrequent that since 1940, Loewen's 1971 study had found no new cases of Chinese-black marriage at all. Even at its height, miscegenation was estimated to involve at most 20 percent of Chinese men. (55)
Why, then, Loewen should so persistently wish miscegenation to be studied, and Quan should so strictly desire to keep his research sample racially pure, brings us back to Faulkner, or at least to the black-white and Freudian critical framework perpetuated by the focus on miscegenation in the South. For that matter, why the evidence of Chinese-black miscegenation should have to be either so clear or so prominent implies a kind of newness and difference, and also a dependence on the proof of miscegenation rather than serious consideration of Ike-like fears or fantasies. Christine Choy's 1984 documentary Mississippi Triangle offers the testimony of Delta inhabitants whose Chinese ancestors have passed into legend, much like those African Americans who have oral histories rather than legal documentation of a white ancestor. (56)
Local discussion of the arrival of Chinese workers, like Charles Mallison's blithe description of his laundryman, had surprisingly ignored the fear of miscegenation between Chinese and whites, though nineteenth-century discussion of the Chinese (primarily in California, where they were far more numerous) had characterized them as dangerously lustful. (57) An 1871 feature article in the Vicksburg Times even retold a story from the New York Star about a young lady of high society who had fallen in love with her father's Chinese servant as a humorous tale, rather than as a cautionary one, as if such a thing could never possibly happen or be consummated. (The servant was paid off and sent back to China, and the young lady was sent to watchful relatives.) (58) But only twenty years later, the Mississippi Code of 1892, restated as late as 1942, mandated ten years in prison as the penalty for intermarriage between a white person and "a negro or mulatto or person who shall have one-eighth or more of negro blood, or with a Mongolian or a person who shall have one-eighth or more of Mongolian blood," or for such an intermarriage out of state. (59) In spite of the vast difference in population, both of these races were equally legislated against for fear of miscegenation. Even public advocacy of intermarriage was punishable by a maximum $500 tine and six months in prison. No mention is made here of Native Americans or the suspected Mexican father of Joe Christmas, only the negroes and their attempted replacements. However, the lave did not prohibit "any marriage or social relations between the negro and Mongolian races, and they are left free to maintain such social, including marriage, relations as they see proper to enter into," an omission that was to be later used to justify the classification of black and Chinese as equally inferior, both in legal decisions and sociological studies. (60)
The racialization of Joe Christmas presages what happens when a foreign presence is not content to remain "peculiar and barren," instead nudging its way into the community life and relationships. Christmas breaks the bounds in which the town is content to leave him. Sleeping with a white woman while living in her plantation's negro cabins, he leaves the safe category of foreigner, somehow "non-white, not actually colored" like the Jews or "colored [but] not a Negro," and no longer threatless as a mule. These categories could only last while not being scrutinized by society, while nobody notices (in Light in August), or until the establishment of laws interdicting intermarriage or integrated schooling. Faulkner's depiction of the process of racialization and a violent ending to this temporary niche as a foreigner uncannily presages the historical process that eventually enveloped the Chinese in real life.
Krister Friday argues that "miscegenation in Faulkner acquires a broader valence, coming to represent not just pivotal events to be denied or rued bur the very process of historical change and genealogical transmission." Miscegenation may be seen as the process of change or perhaps as its lack (an unchanging process doomed to repetition--the same "old fears" again, as Sundquist says), but the "genealogical transmission" occurs in what we might term a closed gene pool. Confined to this pool, the chief in-between racial figures in Faulkner are the mixed-race children of such unions. However, as Friday notes, Light in August presents miscegenation as a "threatening possibility" that "allows Faulkner to depict race as a temporal condition" one which changes not only over an individual's lifetime but as society's attitudes towards race were shaped (by Plessy v. Ferguson, for example). (61) Southern attitudes towards race quickly drew in the Chinese from their newness and difference, making use of Chinese miscegenation and socialization to confine them within the binary. Just as the unfamiliar appearance of the Chinese had sent authors scrambling for typically mulatto and mixed-blood descriptions, the attitude of racial inferiority was expressed through the familiar language of miscegenation. Indeed, the pressure that they eventually underwent to identify as black or white (or rather, not-black) mirrors the process of Joe Christmas's identification as black in Light in August.
Joe Christmas's uneasy existence as a foreigner defies Jefferson's conventions; as a foreigner, he takes the place of "negro" labor at the sawmill only temporarily. He seeks out a better economic niche, creating a space of integration by dragging his customers out to the cabins of the Burden plantation. It is the unease of both sides that ultimately ends what Sundquist aptly labels the "strange career" of Joe Christmas. What the black workers of Light in August actually do in Jefferson is difficult to determine, but they do not work at the mill. (62) The mill workers' snappishness when Brown calls them "slaving bastards" (LA, 41) betrays their uneasiness at having to do traditionally "negro" work; they wait for Christmas and Brown to fail at their unbound, unclassed bootlegging. And fail they do, spectacularly; Joe's economic self-differentiation is overwhelmed by the expectations for a "negro" man, both from Joanna Burden's enthusiasm and the town's racism.
In his refusal to fit into proper categories of labor, Joe escapes the imposition of racial hierarchy in much the same way that the Mississippi Chinese did. White and black hierarchies are confused already without the insertion of a third category. Sawmill workers, who are white in Light in August, are dominated, exploited black men in "Pantaloon in Black," which also features a white bootlegger who sells to customers of both races from his dingy but integrated hut. (63) Treated like a white man, yet laboring at his "negros job" (LA, 31) at the sawmill, Christmas, the foreigner, fits neither model. He finds an economic niche in between, selling whiskey and living in the negro cabin at the Burden plantation. It seems possible that he and Brown sell only to white men, as the town is so segregated and the interrogated black characters disavow all knowledge of the white men after the fact. Even supposing that they sell to both races, there is probably no integration of the clientele. But while Christmas is bootlegging alone, before Brown starts selling out of his shirtfront in dark alleys, his customers are forced to come to the back of the Burden plantation, on the grounds of a family of "nigger lovers" into whose house no other white person has entered for twenty years, next to a row of negro cabins. By dragging white Southern men onto this dubious ground, he subverts their segregation and racism--which is then reasserted when the whole town rushes out to the burning Burden house and claims the murder and the fire as a crusade for white supremacy.
Sharing in Ike's paranoia, the townspeople stamp out the man who will not conform to categories of white or black. However, Christmas's initial existence in Jefferson and the Chinese laundryman's equally strange career in The Town offer an unusually positive light on the stagnation of the South, steeped in its own history and family ties too long. The inability to escape the past goes hand in hand with a willingness to sustain outliers who do not disturb the status quo of race relations. This delicate balance, also described in Loewen's sociological study, could not last long. The divide between black and white races that Christmas transgresses in his refusal to "act like either one" was changing in the legal world at the time of Faulkner's work. Unable to sustain an undefined category of foreigner, the courts had to decide where and how to classify new third parties. Though parties such as the Italian farmers of the Delta were also involved in a struggle for status as locals or even white, legally they were well defined as such. As the Chinese became more numerous and visible, they formed the legal battleground in which racial hierarchy was defined.
The legal inferiority of Chinese in Mississippi, or, for that matter, in the entire United States, was legally settled by the Supreme Court case of Gong Lum v. Rice, heard in 1927. The case centered on Martha Lum, an American-born citizen of Chinese descent. Her father, Gong Lum, was a "merchant with considerable standing in the white community" of Rosedale, Mississippi. (64) When Martha was sent home from the white public school (she had previously attended white Sunday schools) after the first day of classes, Gong Lum filed suit rather than send her to the colored school of Rosedale, which was, incidentally, separate but far from equal--it had a shorter school year and vastly inferior facilities. (65) His lawyers claimed that no separate and equal facilities were provided for her race, an argument which was accepted by the circuit court that originally heard the case, but overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Their judgment ruled that the Chinese belonged to the "colored races," and therefore had to attend the colored school. Lum's lawyers, taking the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, argued that white children were being protected from the Negroes by separate education, and that Martha Lum deserved equal protection. "If there is danger in the association, it is a danger from which one race is entitled to protection just the same as another ... The white race creates for itself a privilege that it denies to other races; exposes the children of other races to risks and dangers to which it would not expose its own children. This is discrimination." (66)
The court addressed this novel argument, noting that the difficulty stemmed from the obvious fact that Martha Luto was "not a member of the colored face, nor is she of mixed blood" (my emphasis)--an odd distinction, as if to imply that those of mixed blood were treated differently in the matter of public education from those of a pure "colored race." However, the court suddenly widened the issue outside of white race versus colored race, writing, "the question is here whether a Chinese citizen of the United States is denied equal protection of the laws when he is classed among the colored races ... we think that it is the same question which has been many rimes decided to be within the constitutional power of the state Legislature" (my emphasis). The court then fell back on a peculiar tautological reasoning, citing the Plessy decision's citation of segregated schools as a precedent for segregation on trains. Quoting Plessy, it repeated, "the most common instance of [segregation laws] is connected with the establishment of separate schools for white and colored children, which has been held to be a valid exercise of the legislative power even by courts of states where the political rights of the colored face have been longest and most earnestly enforced" (my emphasis). (67)
In smoothly transferring the concept of the colored face to the colored races, the courts ran over the fine distinctions of Charles Mallison between "colored" and "Negro" Plessy was a case ostensibly about colored versus white, in which the Chinese were considered only as a legal aside, allowed to sit with whites; the colored race was conflated with blackness. But Gong Luto suddenly mandated that what applied to one colored face applied to all. "Brown, yellow and black," as the court called them, were all to be educated together and allowed to spawn together, but the desperate defense of white purity--a purity which Percy Gritam spends his life defending, and which Ike despairs of regaining--continued.
The postscript to the Lum v. Rice case was the much less famous case which reached the Supreme Court in 1929 as Lun v. Bond. In this case, Martha Lum's lawyers argued the case for a boy named Joe Tin Lun, who had also been ejected from white schools in Dublin, Mississippi. This time, however, they took the opposite tactic from the American born, white Sunday-school-attending Martha, explicitly invoking Joe's non-American status. They rested their argument on the fact that Joe Tin Lun was a Chinese national and therefore protected by the most-favored-nation status granted China by the Burlingame treaty. This argument failed, as the Supreme Court of Mississippi delivered the opinion in 1927 that "separate but equal" facilities were all that was constitutionally mandated, and indeed that Chinese nationals were thereby being treated just as American citizens of the Negro or other colored races. The court also noted that the Burlingame treaty did not apply to the school system and was therefore irrelevant. By the time the appeal reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1929, the case was moot (Joe had presumably grown up by then, since he was fourteen years old when the case was first filed). Robert O'Brien uses the Lun case (but never mentions the Lum case) as support for his theory that the Chinese would become socially identified with the Negro race, but ignores the issue here of citizenship and foreign status. Barred from white schools, some Chinese students were homeschooled or sent to live with relatives in Memphis or other cities that would admit them to white schools; most who remained in the Delta had to attend "colored" schools until well into the 1940s and '50s, with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas finally breaking down the last legal barriers. (68) Though Brown's enforcement did include other faces, the decision itself dealt solely with the segregation of the Negro plaintiffs. (69) Even in a victory for equality, the Chinese (and other races) had been forgotten, rather than treated as a group with a complex history intertwined with black-white racial segregation.
As the Chinese failed to disappear, instead entrenching themselves as storekeepers, some negative language finally emerges in the literature as well as in the law. Loewen cites William Alexander Percy, poet and lawyer most famous for his memoir Lanterns on the Levee, who wrote in 1941, "small Chinese storekeepers are almost as ubiquitous as in the South Seas. Barred from social intercourse with the whites, they smuggle through wives from China or, more frequently, breed lawfully or otherwise with the Negro. They are not numerous enough to present a problem--except to the small white storekeeper--but in so far as I can judge, they serve no useful purpose in community life: what wisdom they may inherit from Lao-tse and Confucius they fail to impart" instead developing tongs and wreaking violence among themselves. (70) Percy's clear disappointment by the dearth of promised docility and wisdom from this labor source--a possible longing for a new third party as the South struggled with the aftermath of Reconstruction--translates into a denigration of the Chinese, who "breed" like animals with their only social contacts. The very next year would bring Ike McCaslin's paranoid observation of the Chinese breeding and spawning throughout the Delta, as well.
His words are repeated in another Faulkner work, Intruder in the Dust (1948), when a narrator engaging in a similar internal monologue rants about the prevalence of "ignorant people who fear the color of any skin or shape of nose save their own and who will grasp this opportunity to vent on Sambo the whole sum of their ancestral horror and scorn and fear of Indian and Chinese and Mexican and Carib and Jew" in any city or region of the United States. (71) Like Ike's sudden ability to see black-white miscegenation as symptomatic of a larger racial mixture, sixteen-year-old Charles Mallison sees the more prominent strife between black and white as a symptom of "ancestral" white hatred--one-sided--of the colored faces. From Native Americans (and presumably African American descendants of slaves) to newcomers like the Chinese, Mexicans, Jews, and "Caribs," probably either Indian or black or both, this list offers a range of color that encompasses the firmly native and the foreigner, the dispossessed and the potentially dispossessing. Their classification together implies not only a common "horror and scorn and fear" but a common disenfranchisement symbolized by "Sambo" here a black adult male who holds the central role in the drama of a murder case and possible lynching.
Intruder in the Dust is, in many plot aspects, Light in August in a more legal framework. Lucas Beauchamp, the accused murderer, is Joe Christmas without the bodily indeterminacy, but with the same refusal to "act like a nigger." Beauchamp's personal dignity, his refusal to call white men "sir," his black suit, hat, watch on a chain, and most of all his gold toothpick enrage Charles Mallison, white shopkeepers (again, no integrated Chinese grocery), and even well-meaning folk like Gavin Stevens, the familiar lawyer of Jefferson and Charles's uncle. Charles, humiliated by this refusal but strangely drawn to Beauchamp, sets out to clear him when he is jailed for shooting a white man. Beauchamp is indisputably black, unlike Christmas; his family's history is well known, with cousins and former slaves of the Edmonds now living on a patch of land that interrupts and integrates the old estate. But in spite of the Beauchamps's place in Yoknapatawpha, their family history and their knowable race, Lucas quickly turns into "Sambo," not only a stereotype of blackness but also a scapegoat for all minorities. His strange clothing and behavior can all be forgotten when he conveniently makes himself into that familiar figure, a black murderer of white men. Stevens, in one of his frequent long monologues, says to his nephew:
"Someday Lucas Beauchamp can shoot a white man in the back with the same impunity to lynch-rope or gasoline as a white man; in time be will vote any when and anywhere a white man can and send his children to the same school anywhere the white man's children go and travel anywhere the white man travels as the white man does it....Yet people in the North believe it can be compelled ... by the simple ratification by votes of a printed paragraph: who have forgotten that although a long quarter-century ago Lucas Beauchamp's freedom was made an article in our constitution ... yet only three short generations later they are faced once more with the necessity of passing legislation to set Lucas Beauchamp free:." (72)
Stevens, a prisoner of his own prejudices who never listens to Beauchamp long enough to hear about his innocence, articulares an absolute divide here between the ideal of freedom and the reality of the law, from equal protection of the laws to segregated trains and schools. This division is not nearly as absolute as Stevens declares, shown by Beauchamp's own life as a non-subservient black man, but also by the other class and race blurring that we have already observed in Yoknapatawpha and nonfictional Mississippi. Ticien Marie Sassoubre discusses how Intruder depicts the need for an extralegal social framework, outside of not simply the federal laws that Stevens decries as useless but also the local legal apparatus of sheriff and jail that require the detective work of the more open-minded (because less empowered) women and children, as in Charles's help, as well as the eventual cooperation of black men, as with Beauchamp's explanation of how and why and by whom the murder was committed. (73) This extralegal imagining of race relations comes closer to equality than anything the legal apparatus can force. Beauchamp can save a white teenager's life and exchange gifts with him, but within the legal system is nearly lynched for a crime he did not commit before anyone even bothers to examine the body. As a scapegoat, Beauchamp turned Sambo is a target for all racial hatred; Charles's words can extend the legislation that affects Beauchamp (however little) to set other minorities free as well. The will to make this division absolute between black and white in school, train, or polling place was tested by Beauchamp's dignity, bur also by the slow appearance of Mexican, Chinese, Carib, and Jew, and their potential for climbing through windows and fathering unrecognizable figures like Joe Christmas.
The oddly mixed reception offered to foreigners, a wary tolerance of small quantities in Jefferson, or even a welcoming (if exoticizing) hand like Percy's on the eve of World War II also serves to connect the revised histories of the Civil War and Reconstruction with other scholarship on foreigners in the South in the second half of the century, and into today's global South of foreign investment and new immigration trends. Japanese Americans forcibly relocated to the South during World War II found themselves, to their great confusion, criminalized and segregated by their national government, then locally allowed to drink from water fountains and sit at the front of the bus--and then in turn disliked as they arrived in great numbers for incarceration and military training. (74) Today, the well-established presence of Asian Americans in the region, particularly in niche businesses much as the Chinese small storekeeper once operated, contrasts further with the increasing presence of Asian businessmen and their families, and the potential strife between the interests of foreign nationals in making a temporary home and participating in local schools and society, versus the interests of their large corporations in defeating unions of local workers. (75) Looking at the foreigner-native or foreigner-citizen dichotomy highlights the clash between global movement and national and regional identity as ethnic groups move into and around the United States.
More modern accounts of the Mississippi Chinese, including Loewen's, subscribe to a variety of narratives about the Chinese and their white/ black status. Leslie Bow surveys a number of modern depictions, ranging from film to newspaper articles, pointing out the incompleteness and ambivalence of these narratives, which can never fully close or conceal the gap between black and white. (76) While it would be ridiculous to ignore the importance of the historical division and strife between black and white, particularly in the American South, it is equally critical that new scholarship should complicate rather than rearticulate that framework. (77) Faulkner's work, far from even attempting to close the gap or classify its characters, complicates whiteness and blackness by introducing newcomers who force townsfolk to think about their society more closely. His careful examination of the figures who fall outside the categories of black and white destabilizes these categories. The inclusion of the small Chinese population at key moments acts as a counterpoint to this binary model, clearly crumbling even as witnesses comfort themselves that things will stay as they are forever. The currents of history will erase them, Ike's fantasy suggests, as no man will either know or care--a lack of care astonishing not only to the aged Ike but to a reader confronted with the bitterness of a county obsessed with preserving a clean whiteness and blackness. Though he thinks in negative terms, his vision of racial unrecognizability and economic inequality anticipates modern principles and dilemmas of multi- and postraciality. One such example was the heavily discussed 1993 Time magazine cover that featured a computer-generated multiracial woman as "The New Face of America," ignoring the prejudices and inequities that would need to be erased in order to produce her, but celebrating her certain coming as proof that they would have been erased. The discourse of postraciality after the election of Barack Obama both designates an era (if not our own) in which race is recognizable but irrelevant and implies a time in which the importance of minority oppression to the formation of U.S. national identity has been happily erased by a current equality of economic and political opportunity. If Faulkner's novels show anything, it is that the past cannot be erased so easily. Ike's vision of a miscegenated future, referencing "jim crow cars" and a new class structure, sees legal and economic obstacles that unrecognizability cannot eliminate. (78)
Dealing with the familiar issues of labor, social structures, and family, Faulkner's work illuminates not only the tenuous position of mixed-race characters but also the Chinese and other outsiders, who pose similar threats to the status quo of face relations. In each character's action or speech, like Gavin Stevens's convoluted explanation of Joe Christmas's fate based on his warring "bloods" rather than a failure of his own legal system to define and separate the indefinable and inseparable, Faulkner's work highlights the artificiality of race as the main division in society--an idea fostered by the legalities laid out to define the place of race in Mississippi. Like the early Mississippi Chinese, Joe Christmas defines himself through the processes of socialization and miscegenation, seeking others who will define his status by their reaction to his race. Whether, in the face of new immigration trends and historically grounded studies like this one, third parties will continue to be regarded as between black and white in the South, is an open question. Ike's vision of a miscegenated future, contrasted with the careful segregation of the past, may be words of a peculiar optimism after all.
University of North Carolina at Chapa Hill
My thanks to many faculty and friends at Northwestern University, too numerous to list, for their thoughtful commentary on several versions of this article, as well as to the anonymous reviewers.
(1) Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
(2) Eric J. Sundquist, The House Divided (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1983), 68-69.
(3) See Gabriel J. Chin, "The Plessy Myth: Justice Harlan and the Chinese Cases," Iowa Law Review 82 (1996-97).
(4) Justice Henry Brown's opinion for the court mentioned the Chinese in key comparative instances, first while dismissing the argument that the Louisiana statute conflicted with the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, which also "equally forbade Mexican peonage or the Chinese coolie trade, when they amounted to slavery or involuntary servitude." The court also ruled that the Louisiana statute qualified as a law for the "public good" rather than for the "annoyance or oppression of a particular class." The example Brown cited here was the case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886), in which the Supreme Court ruled that Chinese launderers in San Francisco had been unfairly discriminated against in the enforcement of local ordinances. Harlan had concurred in this case (it was a unanimous verdict), but in Plessy, a case dealing with citizenship rights, his views on the Chinese were far different.
(5) For example, in the citizenship case of Takao Ozawa v. United States, 260 U.S. 178 (1922), Ozawa was denied citizenship because the court ruled that although light-skinned, he was not Caucasian. The next year, in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Thind was denied citizenship on the grounds that although perhaps racially "Caucasian" Indians did not fit the popular understanding of "white."
(6) There are exceptions, of course. Among the most well known, Sam Fathers, a silent Native American character, makes his appearance in Go Down, Moses; his ancestor Ikkemotubbe is cited as well.
(7) William Faulkner, "Delta Autumn," Go Down, Moses (New York: Vintage, 1973), 364.
(8) Edouard Glissant, Faulkner, Mississippi, trans. Barbara B. Lewis and Thomas C. Spear (U. of Chicago Press, 2000), 249.
(9) David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (Stanford U. Press, 1999). Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (U. of California Press, 1971).
(10) Joseph Blotner, Faulkner: A Biography (New York: Random, 1974), 2:1776.
(11) Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American, 149-56.
(12) Faulkner, Go Down, Moses, 364. Earlier versions of this passage were less detailed: "white men can own plantations and commute every night to Memphis and black men can own plantations and keep their town houses in Chicago"; see William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses: Typescripts and Miscellaneous Typescript Pages, ed. Joseph Blotner, Thomas L. McHaney, Michael Millgate, and Noel Polk, 2 vols. (New York: Garland, 1987), 1:236.
(13) John T. Matthews, "This Race Which Is Not One: The 'More Inextricable Compositeness' of William Faulkner's South;' Look Away!: The U.S. South in New World Studies, ed. Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn (Duke U. Press, 2004), 214-15.
(14) Moon-Ho Jung, Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2006), 9.
(15) Richard Godden, Fictions of Labor: William Faulkner and the South's Long Revolution (Cambridge U. Press, 1997); Glissant, Faulkner, Mississippi, 88.
(16) Two of the most useful collections for my research were James C. Cobb and William Stueck, eds., Globalization and the American South (Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press, 2005), and Smith and Cohn, Look Away!
(17) Biographical details are from Blotner, Faulkner: A Biography.
(18) Both quotes from William Faulkner, "Yo Ho and Two Bottles of Rum," New Orleans Sketches (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U. Press, 1958), 213.
(19) Blotner, Faulkner, 322-23.
(20) William Faulkner, "A Fable" William Faulkner: Novels 1942-1954, ed. Noel Polk and Joseph Blotner (New York: Library of America, 1994), 959, 837.
(21) Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1987), 13.
(22) Richard Godden, Fictions of Labor: William Faulkner and the South's Long Revolution (Cambridge U. Press, 1997). See chap. 2, Absalom, Absalom!
(23) Jung, Coolies and Cane, 97.
(24) James L. Loewen, The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White (Harvard U. Press, 1971), 23.
(25) Quoted in Jung, Coolies and Cane, 78, and Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 22. National debate is discussed in several places in Jung, much of it in the chapter "Domesticating Labor."
(26) D.C. Young and Stephen Young, "Ethnic Mississippi 1992" Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi, ed. Barbara Carpenter (Jackson: U. Press of Mississippi, 1992), 170. The authors note that the Italian population, for the most part, stayed with farm labor and eventually became the chief landowners of the Mississippi Delta farmlands, an interesting contrast with the Chinese.
(27) United States Census Bureau, Population, vol. 3 of Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1932), 1265. As Loewen points out, the total was probably somewhat higher (due to simple error and the mobility of Chinese peddlers), and children of mixed blood would be classified as colored during this time period. This is, of course, a small percentage of the total population of Mississippi, which in 1930 was reported as 2,009,821 (996,856 as white and 1,009,718 as Negro). Other than the white and Negro categories, the largest group was Indians, reported as 1,458. Remember, however, that the Chinese were concentrated in the Delta counties.
(28) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 23.
(29) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 31; Jung, Coolies and Cane, 185-90.
(30) Jung, Coolies and Cane, 205.
(31) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 56.
(32) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 60-61 (emphasis mine).
(33) Their predicament was largely ignored; elsewhere (in California, in particular), the Chinese minority had more of a literary presence, in standard "yellow peril" descriptions and other famous stereotypes like Bret Harte's "heathen Chinee." While such depictions certainly reached the South, Southern writers for the most part failed to capitalize on the new race among them to reconsider the "threatened economy" and racial conflict that formed the core of so many novels.
(34) William Faulkner, Light in August (New York: Modern Library, 1968), 28, 29, 91. This text henceforth is cited parenthetically as LA.
(35) William Faulkner, The Town (New York: Vintage, 1957), 306.
(36) William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (New York: Vintage, 1986), 464. This text henceforth is cited parenthetically as AA.
(37) Faulkner, New Orleans Sketches, 126.
(38) Regina K. Fadiman, Faulkner's "Light in August": A Description and Interpretation of the Revisions (Charlottesville: U. of Virginia Press, 1975), 11-16.
(39) Faulkner, "Delta Autumn," 357, 359-60.
(40) See Sax Rohmer, The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu (New York: McKinlay, Stone & Mackenzie, 1913), and Earl Derr Biggers, "The House without a Key," Charlie Chan: Five Complete Novels (New York: Avenel, 1981).
(41) William F. Wu, The Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American Fiction 1850-1940 (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1982), 116.
(42) From the Little Rock Daily Arkansas Gazette (19 June 1870); quoted in Lucy M. Cohen, Chinese in the Post-Civil War South: A People without a History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U. Press, 1984), 78-79. The Cuban description is quoted in Jung, Coolies and Cane, 89.
(43) For example, some scholars have asserted that Luto v. Rice was sparked by fears of miscegenation, which seems logical, though I have found no citations of explicit writings.
(44) Sundquist, House Divided, 68.
(45) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 59.
(46) Such "facts" as I could glean from the occasional agreements among the sociologists are offered in the description of the Chinese earlier in this article; Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 59.
(47) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 59.
(48) Robert W. O'Brien, "Status of Chinese in the Mississippi Delta," Social Forces 19 (1941): 387.
(49) Robert Seto Quan, Lotus among the Magnolias: The Mississippi Chinese (Jackson: U. Press of Mississippi, 1982), 15-18.
(50) Quan, Lotus Among the Magnolias, 36.
(51) Quan, Lotus Among the Magnolias, 38; Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 59.
(52) Quan, Lotus Among the Magnolias, 13-14; Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 81. There may have been some changes in the rime between the two studies, but neither addresses a shift in practice.
(53) James L. Loewen, review of Lotus Among the Magnolias: The Mississippi Chinese by Robert Seto Quan, Contemporary Sociology 12 (1983): 711.
(54) Loewen, review of Lotus Among the Magnolias, 711.
(55) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 75-76. I imagine that the sample size would be small enough by 1980 that Quan would have had difficulty finding participants in these pre-1940 mixed marriages, though Loewen is correct that Quan certainly could have looked for descendants.
(56) Mississippi Triangle, VHS, directed by Christine Choy (New York: Third World, 1984). A good summary of the film is given in Nathan Grant, "Delta Scalene: A Passage through Mississippi Triangle" Black American Literature Forum 25 (1991): 409-16.
(57) Ronald T. Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Knopf, 1979), 216-18, and Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New York: Penguin, 1990), 101.
(58) "Fancy of a Fashionable Belle for a Heathen Chinee" Vicksburg Times and Republican (16 July 1871): 3.
(59) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 63, 207 n13.
(60) From the Supreme Court of Mississippi decision in Lurn v. Rice. Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 207 n8.
(61) Krister Friday, "Miscegenated Time: The Spectral Body, Race, and Temporality in Light in August" Faulkner Journal 16 (2000): 41, 43-44.
(62) It seems probable that the black population of Jefferson works in domestic service at least, since Hightower tries and fails to keep a domestic of either sex (which implies availability, if nothing else).
(63) William Faulkner, "Pantaloon in Black" Go Down, Moses (New York: Vintage, 1973).
(64) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 67.
(65) Franklin Odo, ed., The Columbia Documentary History of the Asian American Experience (Columbia U. Press, 2002), 211.
(66) Gong Lum et al. v. Rice et al. 275 U.S. 78 (1927).
(67) Lum v. Rice, 81, 86-87.
(68) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 68.
(69) Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al., 347 U.S. 483 (1954). In Earl Warren's opinion for the court, the terms "Negro race" and "colored race" are used interchangeably, so the term "colored" seems intended only to mean "Negro." But the mandate applies to "others similarly situated" (495).
(70) Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, 59.
(71) William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (New York: Vintage, 1948), 216.
(72) Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust, 155.
(73) Ticien Marie Sassoubre, "Avoiding Adjudication in William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses and Intruder in the Dust" Criticism 49 (2007): 202-5.
(74) For more information, see Jason Morgan Ward, "No Jap Crow': Japanese Americans Encounter the World War II South," Journal of Southern History 73 (2007): 75-104.
(75) Sayuri Guthrie-Shimuzu, "From Southeast Asia to the American Southeast: Japanese Business," Globalization and the American South, ed. James C. Cobb and William Stueck (Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press, 2005), 154.
(76) See Leslie Bow, Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (New York U. Press, 2010), 104-22.
(77) For example, an important essay on Asians in the South quotes Loewen's "between black and white" framework: see David M. Reimers, "Asian Immigrants in the South" Globalization and the American South, ed. James C. Cobb and William Stueck (Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press, 2005).
(78) The famous computer-generated cover image is from Time (18 November 1993), and accompanies an article entitled "The New Face of America: How Immigrants Are Shaping the World's First Multicultural Society." I am indebted to Devon Carbado's discussion of race in the Obama era at the American Studies Association meeting in 2009 for elucidating some of my own thinking on racial mixture versus racial indifference.
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|Title Annotation:||William Faulkner|
|Author:||Kim, Heidi Kathleen|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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