S-Space Researcher Institutes (연구소) American Studies Institute (미국학연구소) 미국학 미국학 Volume 37 Number 1/2 (2014)
In Between : The Mississippi Chinese and the American Racial Structure
- Shin, Ji-Hye
- Issue Date
- 서울대학교 미국학연구소
- 미국학, Vol.37 No.2, pp. 81-109
- Mississippi Chinese; racial structure; racial triangulation; white/nonwhite divide; black/nonblack divide
- Through the example of the Mississippi Chinese, this essay explores the enduring power of the white dominant racial structure and the possibility of going beyond black and white in America. During Reconstruction, a small number of Chinese arrived in Mississippi as plantation laborers, replacing black sharecroppers. Soon, they found a niche in the market as grocers and succeeded in acquiring the status of white through their economic independence and cultural assimilation. Their racial transition from black to white reveals the in‐between position of Asian immigrants in the black‐white binary and the process by which they reproduced and maintained the American racial hierarchy. Triangulated (in Claire Jean Kim’s term) under the racial stratification that had no room for Asian immigrants, the Mississippi Chinese had to make a choice between black and white. Instead of challenging the American racial structure, the Chinese in the Delta emulated white cultural practices and distanced themselves from blacks to achieve an almost or near‐white status. Despite their small number, insulation from the influx of immigrants, and “middleman minority” position, their interactions with Mississippi whites and blacks in the first half of the twentieth century also shed light on the possibility of interracial solidarity and of changes in the black‐white racial binary. The continuing immigration from Asia, Latin America, and Africa and the increase in multiracial and multiethnic communities in America may bring about a shift in the color line from a white/nonwhite model to a black/nonblack divide with an expanding white category. Or, they may even present an opportunity to move beyond race and materialize the vision of a postracial America. What will become of the American racial structure, however, still remains to be seen.