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Scattered Belongings: Cultural Paradoxes of Race, Nation and Gender Paperback – 14 Jan 1999

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"This inventive contribution to the growing literature on 'hybridity' is sure to be welcomed on both sides of the Atlantic. Ifekwunigwe writes at a brisk theoretical pace, combining her critical race theory of "metissage with poignant interviews of English-African Metis women. The result opens and strengthens a worldview that will engage anthropologists and historians as well as literary students of race."-Naomi Zack, SUNY Albany

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
at the edge of the mix 18 Oct. 2005
By Chris Fung - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is not a book for the faint of heart. Jayne Ifekwunigwe's pioneering work on mixed race identity, gender and belonging is in many ways as fierce as it is lyrical and that may be why some people do not like it as much as some of the other books on mixed race identity that are out there.

Ifekwunigwe traces the complex emotional and intellectual terrain for young women of mixed black and white heritages. The narratives are drawn from work she has done in the U.K. so some of the terrain may be a little unfamiliar to US readers, but it is precisely because of this difference that I would recommend this book to US readers.

There's a distressing tendency on the part of many people to privilege their own experience to the exclusion of others. For those of us who are hybrids of one sort or another, this leads to the ironic situation where we are so committed to asserting our specific individual life experience that we lose sight of the ways in which we are inextricably bound to those several others who make us what we are.

Ifekwunigwe introduces several important ideas in her book. Firstly she acknowledges the problem of naming: how does one identify one's self without "taking sides"? Her initial answer to this problem, the use of the term metisse, is an interesting one, although not without its own issues. However, as she points out, the term has one huge advantage over labels such as "mixed race", "multiracial" or "biracial" which is that it focusses the attention on a person's mixedness rather than his or her racedness.

A second key idea, is the interrogation of the importance of gender role models in the racial identity of mixed race children. Her discussion of the ways in which white mothers or mother figures are forced to engage (or deliberately disengage) with the blackness of their daughters is eye-opening for both its candor and its refusal to wallow in "experience". Ifekwunigwe forces her readers to do some tough thinking on the ways in which parents must sometimes move into areas in which their own childhoods are not the sole - or even the most desirable - blueprints for their own parenting. Scary stuff in the best of situations, but in the arena of race, particularly I think for white people in countries where white people are the majority, a real Old Forest (in the Tolkienian sense).

Ifekwunigwe also points to the way that many of her metisse informants were forced to make their own way in terms of creating their own identity. However, she also notes that in many cases, these young women were helped by older black women to create a Black self often through a process which Ifekwunigwe labels "additive blackness".

This concept struck me when I first encountered it as a really powerful way of identifying a pretty complex process which helps young mixed people engage with the way in which society sees them.

This, for me is one of the most exciting areas of the book. For mixed race people, as with culturally hybrid people, at least in places like the UK and the US, the issue of cultural and biological reproduction is, I think, quite different at least in terms of its basic propositions, than it is for individuals who are identified as "pure". Kinship, formerly the mechanism for transmission of pure identity is now the mechanism for hetereogeneity. As one of my students pointed out to me, unless you choose someone with exactly the same background as yourself to be the other parent of your children, they WILL be different from you. The question is, how will the both of you (well, minimally I would guess it would actually be all three of you) deal with that fact?

In my opinion, Ifekwunigwe goes powerfully beyond the kind of first-level narratives that many books on mixed folks tend to be. She actually shies away from providing the kind of triumphal testimonials or self-help style affirmations that seem to be the feature of at least some authors works. In this, I believe, she points us in far more productive directions than the simple "I am just me" position of many of the advocates of the "multiracial" category on the US census.

One may not agree with all that she has to say (though I personally, don't have much of an argument with her positions), but at the very least, she forces her readers to think pretty hard about where they themselves are coming from. And that, is worth a bunch, just on its own.
an okay mixed-race book 27 Sept. 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
The author is a woman of English and African descent (kinda like Sade). She spent years in America as well. This book was different in that it seemed to rely heavily on anthropology rather than ethnic studies or literary studies like most books on multiracials. There are better mixed-race books out there and her experience may be more reflective of Europe than the US. Still, it was a decent book.
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