With a methodology not unlike Ferguson’s queer of color analytical lens, Somerville critically peruses sexology and scientific literature, the early American cinematic production of A Florida Enchantment, Pauline E. Hopkin’s novels Contending Forces and Winona, James Weldon’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, and Jean Toomer’s Cane so as to reveal the ways in which sexuality was conceptualized through a reliance on racial ideologies. While Ferguson’s articulation of queer of color critique advances questions regarding how the intersections of gender, class, and sexuality coalesce with racial and national formations under the current historical context of capitalist production, Somerville’s project looks back to the racially segregated Jim Crow era in order to challenge previous understandings of the development of racial and sexual categories. Queering the Color Line, thus, embarks on a simultaneous historicization and denaturalization of the interconnections between discourses of race and sexuality.
Reading Queering the Color Line after Ferguson’s Aberrations in Black brings up important questions on methodology and interdisciplinarity. Both texts insist on an approach that unravels the seemingly disparate constructions of race and sexuality. While each text favors a methodology that examines the ways in which identities are constructed in relation to one another, Queering the Color Line and Aberrations in Black each diverge from one another in crucial ways. Ferguson’s Aberrations in Black opts for an ardent disidentification with sociology while Somerville’s Queering the Color Line is more concerned with the historical construction of identity categories. Both scholars engage in literary analysis but within different historical contexts and with different intentions; where Ferguson aims to reveal the interconnection between minority identity and capital, Somerville establishes the inextricability of race and sexuality.
In the Introduction to Queering the Color Line, Somerville acknowledges that one of her project’s limitations is an analysis of race confined to the black/white racial dichotomy. Because the project examines a specific time period in American history, a moment in which dominant discourses of racial segregation employed a black/white bifurcation, Queering the Color Line is unable to capture the entirety of American racial and sexual history during the Jim Crow era; “Significant and urgent questions remain about how those who identified as neither “white” nor “black” were situated in relation to the emergence of a discourse of homo- and heterosexuality”” (13).
My own questions on mixed-race embodiment in the neoliberal era can take note of key claims in Somerville’s text. Interestingly, the mixed-race body was considered prominently throughout the text. In her first chapter, “Scientific Racism and the Invention of the Homosexual Body”, Somerville shows how discourses surrounding the hybrid mulatto subject resembled those on sexual inversion and the intersex body. In her reading of Pauline E. Hopkin’s fiction, Somerville’s third chapter looks at how the traditional tragic mulatta figure marshals a female homoeroticism; “Inverting the Tragic Mulatta Tradition” ultimately exposes how interracial homoeroticism was, in fact, more imaginable and favorable than interracial heterosexuality. In the chapter “Double Lives on the Color Line”, Somerville engages in a deep reading of James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man with the intention of presenting the intricate way the hybrid subject is both racialized black/white and gendered male/female as well as how the ex-coloured man’s narrative is laced with storylines on passing and marrying white.
As I think through the contemporary connection between queerness and multiraciality I’ll do so in a way similar to Somerville, one that regards race and sexuality not in an analogous fashion but in a sense that stresses their inextricability.