The Monstrous Mulatta: A Feminist Genealogy of a Peculiar Invention Restricted; Files Only

Harrell, Haylee (Spring 2021)

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This dissertation is a feminist genealogy of how the mulatta haunts black women in our present. The mulatta—a term used to describe women of half-white, half-black parentage—died at the end of the nineteenth century. This project returns to the mulatta to demonstrate how the figure re-emerges today as a ghost. The ghost of the mulatta is a reminder of W.E.B. Du Bois’s problem of the color line defined as “the relation of the darker to the lighter races” Specifically, this genealogy addresses the persistence of the mulatta in the lived experiences and artistic works of three modern black women: the author, Nella Larsen, artist-philosopher Adrian Piper, and contemporary writer Danzy Senna. Ultimately, this project studies the figure of the mulatta to show how black women’s sexuality is disciplined by the politics of the color line. 

Table of Contents

A Note on Method: On the Theatricality of Genealogy.....1

Prologue: A Feminist Genealogy in Three Acts........7

Act I: The Mulatta as a Ghost of the Color Line.........32

Act II: Nella Larsen, the Lingering Ghost.........74

Act III: On Genealogical Excursion.................109

Epilogue: The Heaves, a Final Monologue........142



Figure 1: Thwarted Projects, Dashed Hopes, A Moment of Embarrassment, 2012......118

Figure 2: Political Self-Portrait #2 (race) 1978........120

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