Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Posted in Books, Canada, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs on 2019-07-16 14:02Z by Steven

Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
2019-06-30
295 pages
6 x 1 x 9 inches
ISBN13: 978-1-77112-240-5

Michelle La Flamme, Professor of English
University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

Canada’s history is bicultural, Indigenous, and multilingual, and these characteristics have given risen to a number of strategies used by our writers to code racially mixed characters. This book examines contemporary Canadian literature and drama in order to tease out some of those strategies and the social and cultural factors that inform them.

Racially hybrid characters in literature have served a matrix of needs. They are used as shorthand for interracial desire, signifiers of taboo love, images of impurity, symbols of degeneration, and examples of beauty and genetic perfection. Their fates have been used to suggest the futility of marrying across racial lines, or the revelation of their “one drop” signals a climactic downfall. Other narratives suggest mixed-race bodies are foundational to colonization and signify contact between colonial and Indigenous bodies.

Author Michelle LaFlamme approaches racial hybridity with a cross-generic and cross-racial approach, unusual in the field of hybridity studies, by analyzing characters with different racial mixes in autobiographies, fiction, and drama. Her analysis privileges literary texts and the voices of artists rather than sociological explanations of the mixed-race experience. The book suggests that the hyper-visualization of mixed-race bodies in mono-racial contexts creates a scopophilic interest in how those bodies look and perform race.

La Flamme’s term “soma text” draws attention to the constructed, performative aspects of this form of embodiment. The writers she examines witness that living in a racially hybrid and ambiguous body is a complex engagement that involves reading and decoding the body in sophisticated ways, involving both the multiracial body and the racialized gaze of the onlooker.

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In Brazil, a New Rendering of a Literary Giant Makes Waves

Posted in Articles, Biography, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism on 2019-07-16 01:44Z by Steven

In Brazil, a New Rendering of a Literary Giant Makes Waves

The New York Times
2019-06-14

Shannon Sims

A widely known image of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, left, that appears on his books, compared with the one that has gone viral on Brazilian social media in recent months, right.
A widely known image of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, left, that appears on his books, compared with the one that has gone viral on Brazilian social media in recent months, right.
Left: Academia Brasileira de Letras

Machado de Assis Real, developed by a Brazilian university and an ad agency, shows the 19th-century writer in color, challenging some long-held ideas about him in the process.

RECIFE, Brazil — Throughout elementary and middle school, Ricardo Pavan Martins remembers reading Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, one of Brazil’s most famous writers.

So the 29-year-old, who lives in Bauru, was shocked to see a new image of Machado that has gone viral in the country. It shows him with chocolate-brown skin, considerably darker than how he appears in the black-and-white photograph that appears on virtually all of his books and hangs prominently in the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

“I always imagined him as white because this is the default image of most writers,” Martins said. “I am certain that if the skin color of an author so important was at the very least discussed during my experience at school, my black friends would have felt more represented.”

Among Brazilian writers, Machado, who lived from 1839 to 1908, inhabits a unique position. “Dom Casmurro,” his 1899 masterpiece about cuckoldry and jealousy, is required reading at some schools around the country. His name has been lent to streets and subway stops across Brazil. Susan Sontag called him “the greatest writer ever produced in Latin America,” and others have compared him to Flaubert, Kafka, Henry James and Alice Munro.

[“The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis,” one of the Times critics’ top books of 2018, “reveals the arc of Machado’s career, from the straightforward love stories to the cerebral and unpredictable later works.” ]

The traditional historical photo of him shows a man whose skin is nearly as light as his crisp white dress shirt. But a new project, developed by the São Paulo office of the advertising agency Grey and São Paulo’s University Zumbi dos Palmares, a predominantly black university, re-creates that photo in a way that the project’s leaders say more accurately reflects what Machado looked like.

Machado was known to be the descendant of freed slaves, but the new rendering, which shows him as a black man, has shaken Brazilians, prompting some to reconsider how they previously read his work and angering others who feel his legacy had been whitewashed…

…It isn’t clear how or why Machado’s image was lightened. Machado scholars like G. Reginald Daniel, a sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said that in 19th-century Brazil, Machado’s publishers “would have totally wanted him white to sell. For people to see this great author as of African descent would have been very troubling for many.”…

“He was celebrated during a period of Brazilian society where to be recognized and valued you had to be white,” Matos said. “He would have never been taken seriously, and never achieved commercial success, if people had known his true racial identity. He would have been a failure if he had been known as black.”

But some of those most familiar with Machado’s life are ambivalent about the push to identify him as black. Daniel, who wrote a book exploring Machado’s mixed-race identity, said that while he commended the efforts to “re-racialize” him, “the real Machado de Assis was not a black man but mixed. Portraying him otherwise misses the duality and in-between experience he had as a biracial man.”…

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Lil’ Kim’s Lighter, Whiter Skin Is a Sad Indictment of Racism

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2019-07-14 01:20Z by Steven

Lil’ Kim’s Lighter, Whiter Skin Is a Sad Indictment of Racism

The Daily Beast
2016-04-26

Yaba Blay


Handout; Instagram

Why has Lil’ Kim seemingly lightened her skin? Because of the absurd, but very present, social advantage for black people that comes with having lighter skin.

There was a time when Lil’ Kim represented a brand of unapologetic self-love for black women. The kind that announced that we are sexual beings without shame or fear. She reflected what it might look like to be at once a woman, black, and sexually free. Visually, her body was a site for pleasure, most importantly her own.

Sonically, her lyrics offered us permission to explore our own bodies and our own pleasure. Lil’ Kim was our champion.

I’m not sure what she’s now championing. In a series of pictures she posted on Instagram, she is virtually unrecognizable.

While we have debated whether other celebrities like Beyoncé and Rihanna have actually lightened their skin or if the magazines that featured their images had photoshopped their complexions, with Kim, there surely can be little question.

It looks as though she has lightened her once black-girl-brown complexion to one that’s not so brown at all. Her hair is longer, straighter, blonder. Her once round nose now thin. Even her eyes sit differently on her face. She’s changed, in ways that words can’t even begin to capture. And it hurts…

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Black Judas: William Hannibal Thomas and “The American Negro”

Posted in Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, United States on 2019-07-12 17:44Z by Steven

Black Judas: William Hannibal Thomas and “The American Negro”

University of Georgia Press
2019-11-15
416 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9-780-8203-5626-6

John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History
University of North Carolina, Charlotte

The classic biography of the infamous black Negrophobe William Hannibal Thomas, with a new preface by the author

William Hannibal Thomas (1843-1935) served with distinction in the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War (in which he lost an arm) and was a preacher, teacher, lawyer, state legislator, and journalist following Appomattox. In many publications up through the 1890s, Thomas espoused a critical though optimistic black nationalist ideology. After his mid-twenties, however, Thomas began exhibiting a self-destructive personality, one that kept him in constant trouble with authorities and always on the run. His book The American Negro (1901) was his final self-destructive act.

Attacking African Americans in gross and insulting language in this utterly pessimistic book, Thomas blamed them for the contemporary “Negro problem” and argued that the race required radical redemption based on improved “character,” not changed “color.” Vague in his recommendations, Thomas implied that blacks should model themselves after certain mulattoes, most notably William Hannibal Thomas.

Black Judas is a biography of Thomas, a publishing history of The American Negro, and an analysis of that book’s significance to American racial thought. The book is based on fifteen years of research, including research in postamputation trauma and psychoanalytic theory on self-hatred, to assess Thomas’s metamorphosis from a constructive race critic to a black Negrophobe. John David Smith argues that his radical shift resulted from key emotional and physical traumas that mirrored Thomas’s life history of exposure to white racism and intense physical pain.

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Archives of Conjure: Stories of the Dead in Afrolatinx Cultures

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Forthcoming Media, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Religion on 2019-07-12 17:30Z by Steven

Archives of Conjure: Stories of the Dead in Afrolatinx Cultures

Columbia University Press
March 2020
272 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9780231194334
Hardcover ISBN: 9780231194327
E-book ISBN: 9780231550765

Solimar Otero, Professor of Folklore
Indiana University, Bloomington

Archives of Conjure

In Afrolatinx religious practices such as Cuban Espiritismo, Puerto Rican Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé, the dead tell stories. Communicating with and through mediums’ bodies, they give advice, make requests, and propose future rituals, creating a living archive that is coproduced by the dead. In this book, Solimar Otero explores how Afrolatinx spirits guide collaborative spiritual-scholarly activist work through rituals and the creation of material culture. By examining spirit mediumship through a Caribbean cross-cultural poetics, she shows how divinities and ancestors serve as active agents in shaping the experiences of gender, sexuality, and race.

Otero argues that what she calls archives of conjure are produced through residual transcriptions or reverberations of the stories of the dead whose archives are stitched, beaded, smoked, and washed into official and unofficial repositories. She investigates how sites like the ocean, rivers, and institutional archives create connected contexts for unlocking the spatial activation of residual transcriptions. Drawing on over ten years of archival research and fieldwork in Cuba, Otero centers the storytelling practices of Afrolatinx women and LGBTQ spiritual practitioners alongside Caribbean literature and performance. Archives of Conjure offers vital new perspectives on ephemerality, temporality, and material culture, unraveling undertheorized questions about how spirits shape communities of practice, ethnography, literature, and history and revealing the deeply connected nature of art, scholarship, and worship.

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ASRC 3310 Afro-Asia: Futurism and Feminisms

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Asian Diaspora, Course Offerings, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, United States on 2019-07-04 22:43Z by Steven

ASRC 3310 Afro-Asia: Futurism and Feminisms

Cornell University, Ithaca New York
Fall 2019

Tao Goffe, Assistant Professor, Africana Studies, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Crosslisted as: ASRC 3310, COML 3310, F688 3310 Semester

This course explores cultural representations of Afro-Asian intimacies and coalition in novels, songs, films, paintings, and poems. What affinities, loves and thefts, and tensions are present in cultural forms such as anime, jazz, kung fu, and K-pop? Students will consider the intersections and overlap between African and Asian diasporic cultures in global cities such as New York, Chicago, Havana, Lahore, Kingston, and Hong Kong to ask the question: when did Africa and Asia first encounter each other? This will be contextualized through a political and historical lens of the formation of a proto-Global South in the early twentieth, Afro-futurism, women of color feminisms, and Third World solidarity and internationalism. Tackling issues of race, gender, sexuality, and resistance, this seminar also reckons with the intertwined legacies of the institutions of African enslavement and Asian indenture by reading the novels of Patricia Powell and the paintings of Kehinde Wiley, for instance. Students will work in groups to produce Afro-Asia DJ visual soundtracks as part of the final project.

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“Black Wimmin Who Pass, Pass into Damnation”: Race, Gender, and the Passing Tradition in Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life and Douglas Sirk’s Film Adaptation

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2019-06-21 20:07Z by Steven

“Black Wimmin Who Pass, Pass into Damnation”: Race, Gender, and the Passing Tradition in Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life and Douglas Sirk’s Film Adaptation

Journal of Narrative Theory
Volume 49, Number 1, Winter 2019
pages 27-54
DOI: 10.1353/jnt.2019.0001

Lauren Kuryloski, Assistant Professor of Teaching
State University of New York, Buffalo

Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel Imitation of Life is ostensibly the story of Bea Pullman, an entrepreneurial, white, single mother who establishes a successful waffle-house restaurant chain with the help of her black maid and friend, Delilah. It is also a story of ‘passing,’ and Hurst’s only novel explicitly dealing with issues of race. The novel was later adapted into two films, with Douglas Sirk’s 1959 version the adaptation discussed here. While both Hurst’s and Sirk’s versions of Imitation of Life were met with widespread commercial success, each treatment illustrates the narratological challenges of working with the passing trope, particularly when attempting to represent the relationship between black and white characters and acts of gender and race passing. Hurst’s and Sirk’s depictions of passing, and more specifically their employment of the ‘white passing’ narrative, reveals the irresolvable paradox of all such acts. To pass is to both subvert notions of fixed identity categories and cement them, a reality elucidated by the complicated representation of gender and race passing in novel and film.

Both literary and cinematic versions of Imitation of Life interrogate passing and its potential to destabilize existing social hierarchies. Although Sirk exercises significant artistic license in his adaptation, both versions of the story adhere to the same essential narrative arc. In each text the central white female protagonist, known as Bea in the novel and Lora in the film, accomplishes a gender pass, moving into the masculinized public sphere to secure financial stability for her family. Similarly, each version of the narrative features the light-skinned black daughter of the protagonist’s maid, known as Peola in the novel and Sarah Jane in the film, who performs the traditional racial pass in an attempt to enjoy the financial and social privileges associated with whiteness. Through the depiction of these double acts of passing, the narratives construct a commentary on the very real limitations that white and black female characters face in an unequal society. Moreover, the characters’ abilities to pass into different identities suggests the inherently performative nature of all identity categories, deconstructing essentialist notions of race and gender and revealing the subversive promise such performances hold. The passing trope’s allure resides in this ability to upend static conceptions of selfhood.

Yet despite the progressive potential to disrupt normative identity codes that passing appears to offer, Hurst’s and Sirk’s texts demonstrate the inherent internal conflict of all such narratives, as passing is often suggestive of subversion while in fact reifying the very same systems it purports to undermine. Although the passer may transgress established social boundaries and upset notions of fixed-identity categories, the move across identity lines simultaneously grants authority to binary constructions of identity. This paradox is at the heart of any act of passing and serves as the primary conflict in both novel and film. The characters in Imitation of Life may achieve varying degrees of financial or material success by passing, but their success is fleeting and mitigated by the system of narrative punishment that is doled out for their actions. While the texts toy with depicting race and gender identity as social constructions to be both challenged and performed at will, both the novel and film conclude that such performances are but imitations of real life, even when ‘real life’ is simply an adherence to essentialist race and gender roles. My work offers an analysis of this punishment and (occasional) reward system through a study of the way in which acts of racial passing are used in the service of moving the white female protagonist toward either her ultimate narrative chastisement (in the novel) or her redemption (in the film), demonstrating that passing relies on the maintenance of normative social hierarchies.

Both Hurst’s and Sirk’s versions of Imitation of Life have received significant critical attention, and the genre of passing has itself been the subject of sustained scholarly debate. However, while both the novel and film…

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Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin’s “Youth’s Companion” Stories

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Monographs, United States on 2019-06-03 17:58Z by Steven

Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin’s “Youth’s Companion” Stories

University of Iowa Press
2003
168 pages
7 drawings, references, index
Cloth ISBN: 9780877458289
eBook ISBN: 9781587294280

Bonnie James Shaker, Assistant Professor of English
Kent State University Geauga, Burton, Ohio

Coloring Locals examines how the late nineteenth-century politics of gender, class, race, and ethnicity influenced Kate Chopin’s writing for the major family periodical of her time.

Chopin’s canonical status as a feminist rebel and reformer conflicts with the fact that one of her most supportive publishers throughout her life was the Youth’s Companion, a juvenile periodical whose thoroughly orthodox “family values” contributed to its success as the longest-running and, at one time, most widely circulating periodical in nineteenth-century America. Not surprisingly, Chopin’s Youth’s Companion stories differ from her canonical texts in that they embrace and advance ideals of orthodox white femininity and masculinity. Rather than viewing these two representations as being at odds with each other, Bonnie Shaker asserts that Chopin’s endorsement of conventional gender norms is done in the service of a second political agenda beyond her feminism, one that can help the reader appreciate nuances of identity construction previously misunderstood or overlooked in the body of her work.

Shaker articulates this second agenda as “the discursive act of coloring locals,” the narrative construction of racial difference for Louisiana peoples of African American, Native American, and French American ancestry. For Chopin, “coloring locals” meant transforming non-Louisianans’ general understanding of the Creole and Cajun as mixed-race people into “purely” white folks, this designation of whiteness being one that conferred not only social preferment but also political protections and enfranchisement in one of the most racially violent decades of U.S. history. Thus, when Chopin is concerned with coloring her beloved Louisiana Creoles and Cajuns “white,” she strategically deploys conventional femininity for the benefits it affords as a sign of middle-class respectability and belonging.

Making significant contributions both to the scholarship on Kate Chopin and on race and gender construction, this sophisticated study will be of great interest to scholars and students of nineteenth-century ethnic and cultural studies as well as Chopin scholars.

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Rethinking Transracialism: Ariana Grande and Racial Ambiguity

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2019-06-03 17:34Z by Steven

Rethinking Transracialism: Ariana Grande and Racial Ambiguity

Cult Plastic: Dance And Culture In The Plastic Age
2019-02-19

Anh Vo


Ariana Grande from the 2018 Billboard Woman of the Year Cover Shoot

This article revisits, revises, and expands on the arguments I make in Blackface and Pop Princesses: A Brief Genealogy. Previously, I wrote three brief paragraphs on Ariana Grande, trying to position her donning of black and brown visuality (i.e. blackface/brownface) alongside similar practices of other pop princesses such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Miley Cyrus. However, I no longer think blackface as a phenomenon can quite account for how Grande is manipulating the racial ambiguity of her image. Even though she certainly inherits the history of pop princesses borrowing the cultural signification of blackness/brownness to shed their young and innocent facades and sell their more sexually dangerous personas, Grande also departs from this “tradition” radically. She does not borrow; she becomes black, becomes brown, becomes something not quite black or brown, yet not quite white either. She becomes transracial.

At stake here is not the matter of people simply being confused about Grande’s racial identity. Confusion is almost always inevitable when it comes to race, because the colonial fantasy of racial purity, and even of race itself, always falls apart as it tries to categorize the unruliness of the body to create a hierarchy of humanity (with whiteness at its apex). What so disturbing, then, is the fact that Grande successfully mobilizes, amplifies, and capitalizes on this (trans)racial confusion, and gets away with crossing into non-whiteness the way Rachel Dolezal cannot. My goals in writing this essay are two-fold: (1) to articulate Ariana Grande’s image transformation not as an act of racial passing, but as a gradual racial transitioning from whiteness into ambiguity (2) to redirect the discourse on transracialism away from the monopoly of Dolezal, who, together with her transracial “identity” of blackness, has been too easily brushed off as a joke, a lie, or at best an individual anomaly…

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Black Achilles

Posted in Articles, Europe, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2019-06-01 23:57Z by Steven

Black Achilles

Aeon
2018-05-09

Tim Whitmarsh, A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture
University of Cambridge


Achilles slaying Penthesilea. Detail from an amphora, 530-525 BCE. Photo courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum

The Greeks didn’t have modern ideas of race. Did they see themselves as white, black – or as something else altogether?

Few issues provoke such controversy as the skin-colour of the Ancient Greeks. Last year in an article published in Forbes, the Classics scholar Sarah Bond at the University of Iowa caused a storm by pointing out that many of the Greek statues that seem white to us now were in antiquity painted in colour. This is an uncontroversial position, and demonstrably correct, but Bond received a shower of online abuse for daring to suggest that the reason why some like to think of their Greek statues as marble-white might just have something to do with their politics. This year, it was the turn of BBC’s new television series Troy: Fall of a City (2018-) to attract ire, which cast black actors in the roles of Achilles, Patroclus, Zeus, Aeneas and others (as if using anglophone northern European actors were any less anachronistic).

The idea of the Greeks as paragons of whiteness is deeply rooted in Western society. As Donna Zuckerberg shows in her book Not All Dead White Men (2018), this agenda has been promoted with gusto by sections of the alt-Right who see themselves as heirs to (a supposed) European warrior masculinity. Racism is emotional, not rational; I don’t want to dignify online armies of anonymous trolls by responding in detail to their assertions. My aim in this essay, rather, is to consider how the Greeks themselves viewed differences in skin colour. The differences are instructive – and, indeed, clearly point up the oddity of the modern, western obsession with classification by pigmentation…

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