Passing Beauty

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-02-19 02:22Z by Steven

Passing Beauty

Public Books
2014-07-01

Anne Anlin Cheng, Professor of English; Professor of African American Studies
Princeton University

How do you break a spell? How do you get over the grief of racial, gendered, and childhood injuries? Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Boy, Snow, Bird is not a black-and-white parable but a black-and-blue story. A bruising tale about miscegenation, passing, and beauty, this novel brings to life the idealization and wounding that haunt the American racial psyche, and suggests that the price we pay for this history is nothing less than our own reflection.

Imagine a collision (or a collusion) between Anne Sexton’s Transformations, Nella Larsen’s Passing, and Elizabeth Taylor’s striking and stricken face in the 1957 film Raintree County. The tortured hybrid that would result might resemble Helen Oyeyemi’s new novel Boy, Snow, Bird. What brings these three unlikely predecessors to mind is not simply Oyeyemi’s haunting fusion of passing narratives and fairy tales but also the way this Nigerian-born British novelist harnesses the sonic, the textual, and the cinematic to produce an uncanny world in which the quotidian tips effortlessly into the surreal and vice versa.

In Oyeyemi’s version, Snow is the beloved, glowing, blonde girl-child of a jewelry maker named Arturo Whitman, and Bird is her dark-skinned half sister, whose birth exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans who have been passing as white. The wicked queen is the young bride and new mother named Boy who marries into the Whitman family without knowing their secret and who herself is the victim of a horrendously abusive childhood. The narrative voice shifts between Boy, whose first-person narration opens and closes the book, and her biological daughter Bird, who offers us her point of view in the middle section of the book and who in a sense speaks for her missing sibling, as Snow’s voice comes to us through a series of letters between the half sisters recorded by Bird…

Read the entire review here.

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A True Story of Love, Race and Royalty Gets Crammed Into A United Kingdom

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, South Africa, United Kingdom on 2017-02-11 19:57Z by Steven

A True Story of Love, Race and Royalty Gets Crammed Into A United Kingdom

LA Weekly
2017-02-06

April Wolfe, Lead Film Critic


Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

In director Amma Asante’s epic political romance A United Kingdom, David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike star as Seretse and Ruth Khama, the interracial royal couple who stunned the world when they fought to rule the country that would become the Republic of Botswana. The story’s a wildly interesting history lesson on African poverty, the rise of apartheid in the late 1940s and Britain’s passive role in separating Botswana’s blacks from whites. But here all that complexity plays more Disney than drama, with a script from Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky) that turns love into a montage and politics into a trite cartoon of good vs. evil.

The couple lindy-hops through courtship and right into an engagement in the early scenes, which are set to an American jazz soundtrack. They first lock eyes at a dance in London, where he’s a law student and she’s an office worker. In real life, the two met secretly for a year before Seretse even got the nerve to ask, “Do you think you could love me?” But the script ramming right through the early romance and into the marriage leaves so many open questions about the characters’ love; as portrayed in the film, they barely know one another when Ruth decides she’s going to move to Africa to be Seretse’s queen.

Against the wishes of their families — and the British and South African governments — Seretse and Ruth marry and travel to Bechuanaland so that he can ascend the throne and use his education to help his people. Soon after their arrival comes one of the film’s most poignant moments: Seretse’s aunt Ella (Abena Ayivor), who’s the current queen, drills right into the thin white woman before her to ask if Ruth knows what it would mean to be a mother to the nation and its predominantly black citizens. Ella has a good point: At a time when white people are swarming into Bechuanaland to turn black citizens into servants, how good an idea is a white queen? Later, Ruth sits in her room, practicing British queen skills such as waving and smiling, while the tribe’s women break their backs outside to get food to their families. But A United Kingdom doesn’t fully explore this cultural distance; the film’s structure requires that Ruth be quickly accepted into the tribe, so the story can move on to Britain’s treachery…

Read the entire article here.

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Trevor Noah, Colorism and The Unexpected Role He Plays In Expanding the Divide

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa, United States on 2017-02-11 03:27Z by Steven

Trevor Noah, Colorism and The Unexpected Role He Plays In Expanding the Divide

Atlanta Black Star
2017-02-05

Jared Ball, Associate Professor of Communication Studies
Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland

“He’s out to neutralize, not to awaken.” – Willa Paskin

The leadership of our School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University has encouraged that professors like myself find ways this semester to incorporate into our work the new book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Noah is the South African-born, biracial, Colored comedian and host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Copies have been distributed to students and faculty alike and I anticipate there being a flurry of engagement for courses in media studies as Noah’s book has plenty to offer.

Immediately we can start with critiques of false balance and Western politicized notions of objectivity, both of which were in play during Noah’s recent extended exchange with the aggressive right wing commentator Tomi Lahren. Many know of Noah’s nightly television work and it appears many more know him now after the straw woman performed her role in enhancing Noah’s credibility and right in time to coincide nicely with his book’s launch. What liberal aspirant to the throne of legitimacy wouldn’t want her as an interlocutor? Even in the silly film Pop Star Conner Friel (Andy Samberg) made sure his entourage consisted of a “perspective adjuster” whose sole function was to make the star look better by comparison. Muhammad Ali’s legend wasn’t born by his fights with Henry Cooper and Brian London. It were the fights with Liston, Frazier, Foreman and the federal government that told us he was the greatest.

We can also as a class ask, what is happening semiotically with the book’s cover? It read to me from the first like the perfect symbolic display of Noah’s entire political function as celebrity.  Noah’s beige face, askew, askance even – especially – with that grin, hand touching his head, painted on a tattered township wall, imposing, top-down upon a faceless Black African woman, almost saying, in an aloof, twisted version of the Old Spice commercial, “aww-shucks, look at me. Now look at you. Now look at me again. Now look at you. And back to me. I’ve made it and you can to? Never mind that. Look at me!” Its reminiscent of any billboard falsely advertising an exclusive lifestyle of which most onlookers can only dream…

Read the entire article here.

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The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts by Amber D. Moulton (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-02-09 02:01Z by Steven

The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts by Amber D. Moulton (review)

The Journal of the Civil War Era
Volume 6, Number 4, December 2016
pages 594-596
DOI: 10.1353/cwe.2016.0075

Tamika Y. Nunley, Assistant Professor of History
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts. By Amber D. Moulton. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. 288. Cloth, $45.00.)

The 1843 repeal of the ban on interracial marriage in Massachusetts was not a guaranteed victory in the antislavery North. As Amber Moulton’s research demonstrates, the repeal was the culmination of the persistent efforts launched by African Americans and radical abolitionist allies committed to interracial rights activism in the face of formidable antiamalgamation and antimiscegenation opposition. Elucidating the social and political significance of amalgamation, Moulton underscores the process of “advancing interracialism” to further understand the justifications and merging forces that worked for and against interracial marriage and eventually full social and political inclusion (6). Through a close reading of petitions initiated by African Americans, the rhetorical strategies of activists and legislators, popular literature, committee reports, and manuscripts, Moulton presents us with a regional study that broadens our understandings of antebellum debates about interracialism beyond the scope of marriage and into the arenas of racial equality, legitimacy, and citizenship.

The book begins with an overview of the origins of antiamalgamation views rooted in eighteenth-century racial science, white supremacist justifications for colonial slavery, and the work of writers such as Jerome B. Holgate. Even as popular sentiment emphasized interracial relations as either “salacity or tragedy,” antislavery activists such as Lydia Maria Child emerged with alternative, albeit romantic, narratives about interracial relationships (26). Pairing these with popular narratives and images and actual evidence of interracial marriages, Moulton contrasts antebellum ideas about amalgamation with explanations of case studies that show how interracial couples and their children were affected by the ban. Requests made to the overseers of the poor highlight local determinations of illegitimacy that many couples and offspring confronted in efforts to receive public aid. In the second chapter, Moulton examines local responses from another lens, particularly the activism of abolitionists and prominent African American orators. Here we see that African Americans were not marginally involved in the debate over interracial marriage, as the historical scholarship suggests, but instead contributed substantially and at times independently in local organizations, editorials, speeches offered at antislavery conventions, and petitions.

Moulton builds the third chapter around a critical medium of antebellum political engagement—petitioning. The petitioning efforts of local abolitionists—particularly white women—generated controversy at a time when women’s rights, abolitionism, and sectionalism converged onto the antebellum political theater. The legislative response targeted the virtue of white female petitioners and underscored the belief that the women who signed petitions from towns like Lynn, Brookfield, Dorchester, and Plymouth inappropriately supported the repeal of the ban on interracial marriage. White women’s vocal support for repeal implicated them in sexualized discourses of interracial relationships and provoked direct attacks upon their own moral virtue. Moral reformers such as Mary P. Ryan, Eliza Ann Vinal, Maria Weston Chapman, and Lucy N. Dodge defended their activism and their political participation in debates about interracial marriage. They framed their support of the initiative as an effort to curb licentiousness, to promote the moral imperatives of marriage, and to protect the legal interests of mothers and children deserted by men. From the perspective of moralists, the lack of marital rights could only lead to immoral behavior, abandonment, and illegitimacy.

A major obstacle to the repeal effort was convincing poor whites committed to white supremacy in the North that interracial marriage should be legalized. In the fourth chapter, Moulton argues that resistance to a ramped-up fugitive slave law, and the George Latimer incident in particular, generated heightened political fervor against southern slaveholders. Latimer was a fugitive slave who fled from Virginia to Boston, where he was arrested, tried, and eventually manumitted. The case resulted in public uproar and inspired politically charged petition drives that called for an end to policies that required state authorities to detain suspected fugitives. Accordingly, the South’s imposition of the Fugitive Slave Law threatened the rights and freedoms enjoyed by white northerners, thus energizing the political momentum necessary not only to defend antislavery measures but to repeal the interracial marriage ban with the support of unlikely white citizens…

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Four Queer Black Canadian Women Writers You Should Be Reading for Black History Month

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Canada, Gay & Lesbian, Media Archive, Women on 2017-02-06 16:38Z by Steven

Four Queer Black Canadian Women Writers You Should Be Reading for Black History Month

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian: A Queer Canadian Book Blog: News and Reviews of Queer Canadian Writers and Books
2017-02-03

Casey Stepaniuk

It’s February, and that means it’s Black History Month! Check out these four queer Black Canadian women authors whose books you should definitely have on your shelves.

Suzette Mayr

I only recently read my first book by Calgary fiction writer and academic Suzette Mayr, who’s got mixed Afro-Caribbean and German background. Venous Hum is a satire set in Calgary full of wacky stuff like vegetarian vampires, extramarital affairs, and high school reunions, while the African-Canadian mixed race lesbian main character Lai Fun (named because her father loves the Chinese noodle of the same name) stumbles through her late thirties. It’s weird, and really funny. Mayr’s most recent novel is Monocerous, which has won and been nominated for lots of awards like the 2012 ReLit Award, the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Award, and more! It’s a tragicomic story about the aftermath of the suicide of a 17-year-old bullied gay boy and how his death affects everyone around him. Her previous novels are The Widows and Moon Honey—don’t you just love her unique, inventive book titles?—are about topics as diverse as three older women deciding to go over Niagara Falls in a bright orange space-age barrel and white lovers magically waking up Black. Hers is fiction to read if you are looking for a new take on magical realism and are bored of all the same-old, same-old tales about lesbian relationships. Her next book is due out later this year, and is called Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall

Read the entire article here.

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Shaken Out of Time: Black Bodies and Movement in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2017-01-18 21:30Z by Steven

Shaken Out of Time: Black Bodies and Movement in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Virginia Quarterly Review
Volume 93, Number 1, Winter 2017
pages 196-199

Kaitlyn Greenidge
Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont

Swing Time By Zadie Smith, Penguin, 2016, 464p. HB, $27.

Midway through Zadie Smith’s new novel, Swing Time, the unnamed narrator watches two girls walk “hand in hand” down a dusty road in an anonymous, fictionalized African country. “They looked like best friends,” she notes—that “looked” suggesting the mysteries of friendship that the novel has been dedicated to up until that point. “They were out at the edge of the world, or of the world I knew, and watching them, I realized it was…almost impossible for me to imagine what time felt like for them, out here.” The girls inevitably remind the narrator of her own lost, best friend, Tracey, who angrily haunts the novel, forever resisting the narrator’s attempts to regulate her to incorporeality. Of their friendship, she notes, “We thought we were products of a particular moment, because as well as our old musicals, we liked things like Ghostbusters and Dallas. We felt we had our place in time. What person on earth doesn’t feel this way?” But the narrator is unable to place the two girls before her in any time. “When I waved at those two girls…I couldn’t rid myself of the idea that they were timeless symbols of girlhood…I knew it couldn’t possibly be the case but I had no other way of thinking of them.”

In an interview in T: The New York Times Style Magazine this past fall, Smith noted, “It just seemed to me that what was done to black people, historically, was to take them out of the time of their life. That’s what fundamentally happened. We had a life in one place and it would have continued and who knows what would have happened—nobody knows. But it would’ve gone a certain way, and we were removed from that timeline, placed somewhere entirely different, and radically disrupted. And the consequences of that are pretty much unending. Every people have their trauma. It’s not a competition of traumas. But they’re different in nature. And this one is about having been removed from time.” Swing Time is a novel that is fundamentally concerned with this question. What do we do, how do we respond, when we are violently shaken out of time, when we lose the thread of our own lives, when we are so certain of the narrative of our life and then are suddenly, jarringly, shaken loose? How do we reconcile, what are the lies and myths we tell ourselves, to try and reclaim our time? And when do those lies hurt us and when do they help us find our footing again?

When we meet the narrator of Swing Time, she is deep in the midst of mysterious disgrace, briefly infamous worldwide for a perceived wrong she’s committed against a Madonna-like global superstar who goes by the single name of Aimee. The narrator is Aimee’s assistant: She has worked tirelessly for the past decade helping Aimee, a white woman, set up a school for girls in that unidentified African country. Aimee is a woman who has created her own myth for herself, using sex and youth and pop music to forge a destiny that would not have been available to any woman a generation before her. The narrator meets her by chance, devotes her life to her, and finds herself unmarried and childless, a cog in the superstar celebrity machine of Aimee’s life. But it becomes clear, even though the narrator has spent her adult life serving Aimee, it’s not the pop star who holds her attention. Instead, she exists in a kind of suspended dream state, reliving her brief friendship with Tracey, the only other mixed-race girl in the narrator’s neighborhood in the early 1980s. The narrator’s parents are genteelly poor, and her mother, in particular, is ambitious: She reads postcolonial theory and takes courses on Marxism, ruthlessly forging her identity as a poor, black woman in Britain into a professional activist and self-conscious, self…

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Invisibly Black: A Life of George Herriman, Creator of ‘Krazy Kat’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-01-16 21:16Z by Steven

Invisibly Black: A Life of George Herriman, Creator of ‘Krazy Kat’

The New York Times
2017-01-12

Nelson George

KRAZY: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White
By Michael Tisserand
Illustrated. 545 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $35.

In our superficially more enlightened age, the phrase “mixed race” has become the accepted term to describe people with parents of different races. In fact the phrase has become a tool of marketers and brand-conscious celebrities to suggest whatever they’re selling is all-inclusive, a living embodiment of diversity. Many take great care in, for example, their Instagram biographies to list their hyphenated backgrounds.

But there are limits to the term’s utility, especially for people with African ancestry. Barack Obama was America’s first mixed-race president. His father was Kenyan and his mother a white woman from Kansas. Yet the tawdry racial history of this Republic demanded that he claim blackness as his primary identity because one drop of black blood has always decided your fate in this country. “Mixed race” notwithstanding, an African heritage in America is never just a cool exotic spice; one taste and it becomes all anyone remembers of the meal.

This rigid attitude toward race is often enforced by black Americans as fiercely as whites. For them the “mixed race” label, when employed by black people with a nonblack parent or grandparents, seems more a transparent attempt to dodge racial pigeonholing than a heartfelt assertion of identity. Jim Crow, which ended officially in the 1960s, has never been completely dismantled. So attempts to escape its grip, while understandable, create resentment in those unable to slip across the racial boundaries.

All of which makes Michael Tisserand’sKrazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White” a fascinating and frustrating biography. Though Herriman’sKrazy Kat” comic strip was admired in his lifetime, it wasn’t until years after his death in 1944 that his vast influence received widespread critical respect. Herriman’s depiction of the tangled relationships among the black cat Krazy, his white mouse tormentor and sometime love interest Ignatz and the bulldog Officer Pupp, set against a desert backdrop in fictional Coconino County (taken from a real area of Arizona), inspired several generations of cartoonists. Charles M. Schulz’sPeanuts,” Ralph Bakshi’sFritz the Cat” and Art Spiegelman’sMaus” all owe a debt to Herriman’s draftsmanship and poetic sense…

Read the entire review here.

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Chan, poetry by Hannah Lowe

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2017-01-16 20:20Z by Steven

Chan, poetry by Hannah Lowe

The Asian Review of Books
2017-01-08

Theophilus Kwek

From the gangplank of a pre-war steamship to the present, via the jazz underground of 1960s London, Hannah Lowe’s rewarding second collection revels in the company of an unlikely crew of voices and personalities. Chan takes its name from the poet’s father (nicknamed, in turn, after the Polish card magician Chan Canasta) but does not shy away from the older resonances of the word, tracing these back into her Hakka heritage and the journeys of a global diaspora. Along the way, the poems investigate lives that intersect with Lowe’s personal history, no matter how brief the acquaintance: from the magnetic jazz saxophonist Joe Harriott, her father’s first cousin, to the travellers and stowaways who join Gilbert Lowe on the SS Ormonde in 1947 as it sails from Kingston to Liverpool

Read the entire review here.

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Britain’s black history has been shamefully whitewashed

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2017-01-16 02:11Z by Steven

Britain’s black history has been shamefully whitewashed

The Spectator
2017-01-14

Hakim Adi, Professor of the History of Africa and the African Diaspora
University of Chichester, Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom


Author David Olusoga (Photo: Getty)

I have been researching and writing about black British history for over 30 years but never before have I been fortunate enough to review a 600-page book on the subject, published to accompany a recent major BBC documentary. The book and the four-part series give some indication of the extent of a history which David Olusoga presents as ‘forgotten’: the subject, he argues, has been largely excluded from the mainstream narrative of British history. Why it should be forgotten, and who might have forgotten it should give us all pause for reflection, since the denial of black British history by those who should know better could be considered tantamount to racism.

Olusoga reminds us that Britain’s ‘island story’ cannot be understood in isolation from the rest of the world and certainly not from Africa and other parts of what was once the British empire. He also demonstrates that Africans were often a central part of Britain’s history centuries before the empire, going back to the Roman period and beyond. Indeed, he argues that black British history is not just about black people but about encounters between blacks and whites, including intermarriage or the ‘mixed relationships’ that have been commented on since Elizabethan times.

The latest archaeological techniques and historical research show that in Roman Britain there were many individuals of African heritage of all classes. We are now becoming more familiar with the fourth-century ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’ of York and ‘The Beachy Head Lady’ from sub-Saharan Africa, thought to have lived in East Sussex c. 200 AD. It seems likely that soon we will have more conclusive evidence that Africans were travelling to Britain long before the arrival of the Romans

Read the entire review here.

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The World of Zadie Smith: Mixed-Race People and Polychromatic Dreams

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2017-01-12 03:42Z by Steven

The World of Zadie Smith: Mixed-Race People and Polychromatic Dreams

The Wire
2017-01-11

Radhika Oberoi

Swing Time like its predecessors is intensely curious about race, but it is also curious about so much more than race, such as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Ali Baba Goes to Town and Michael Jackson.

Cool Britannia, slickly marketed by Tony Blair’s Labour government, was hardly a monochromatic one. The London of Alexander McQueen, Oasis, Blur, Damien Hurst and the Spice Girls was a pastiche of the preceding Conservative regimes and a variegated motif of multiculturalism. White Teeth, that rollicking sketch of the post-colonial migrant experience, that comical world of inter-locking narratives – a genre that James Wood compellingly defined as ‘hysterical realism’ – landed amidst the boisterous icons of Cool Britannia in 2000, announcing the arrival of Zadie Smith – young, black, British, freckled, high cheek-boned.

White Teeth, an ostensibly hilarious examination of the vagaries of racially mixed friendships, is perhaps the loudest testimony to what Smith does best – bring the Joneses, the Iqbals and the Chalfens together in the hybrid topography of Willesden in north-west London. The book is, as described by Smith herself, in an interview, “…a kind of mishmash, as first novels tend to be”. Swing Time, Smith’s newest fiction, published in November 2016, is an evocation of that very universe – a hotchpotch of people and places, a medley of sights and sounds and smells. It is also a deeper and somewhat quieter rumination on race…

Read the entire review here.

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