Racial Imperatives

Racial Imperatives

Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection
Nadine Ehlers
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 05/18/2012
ISBN: 978-0-253-00536-6
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Nadine Ehlers examines the constructions of blackness and whiteness cultivated in the U.S. imaginary and asks, how do individuals become racial subjects? She analyzes anti-miscegenation law, statutory definitions of race, and the rhetoric surrounding the phenomenon of racial passing to provide critical accounts of racial categorization and norms, the policing of racial behavior, and the regulation of racial bodies as they are underpinned by demarcations of sexuality, gender, and class. Ehlers places the work of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler’s account of performativity, and theories of race into conversation to show how race is a form of discipline, that race is performative, and that all racial identity can be seen as performative racial passing. She tests these claims through an excavation of the 1925 "racial fraud" case of Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and concludes by considering the possibilities for racial agency, extending Foucault’s later work on ethics and "technologies of the self" to explore the potential for racial transformation.

Author Bio

Nadine Ehlers is Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Georgetown University.


“This in-depth analysis examines the constructions of blackness and whiteness cultivated in the U.S. imagination and explores how individuals become racial subjects. ”

“In Racial Imperatives, Nadine Ehlers . . . provides a welcome view of the often forgotten question of how whiteness and blackness are formed and how individuals 'pass' as one or the other. Her work is brimming with interdisciplinary content, including philosophy, critical theory, race and gender studies, and history. . . . [T]his is an eye opening study that deserves reading by scholars of many fields, especially those who study African American history.”
 — International Social Science Review

“In Racial Imperatives Nadine Ehlers explores the idea that racial identity is a construct both performed by individuals and maintained by the law. . . [Raises] interesting ideas, particularly that 'all identity is a form of passing,' and that all subjects . . . must continually enact their racial identities.June 2015”
 — Journal of American History

“[T]his project fills a major gap in both Critical Race and Foucault studies. It will undoubtedly be cited and engaged for years to come.”
 — Critical Philosophy of Race

“Racial Imperatives . . . is a thoughtful and provocative contribution to the literature of discipline, performativity, and agency as they relate to race.”
 — Foucault Studies

“Racial Imperatives is a strong tome with a great deal of value across disciplines. Building on her previous scholarly investigations and relying on a robust scholarship to push intellectual boundaries, Ehlers's work is insightful and thought provoking. . . . Scholars that study race in any academic discipline would benefit from the ideas and analysis in this book. ”
 — Spectrum

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Table of Contents

1. Racial Disciplinarity
2. Racial Knowledges: Securing the Body in Law
3. Passing through Racial Performatives
4. Domesticating Liminality: Somatic Defiance in Rhinelander v. Rhinelander
5. Passing Phantasms: Rhinelander and Ontological Insecurity
6. Imagining Racial Agency
7. Practicing Problematization: Resignifying Race