A Novelist Dissects the Claustrophobic Evil of Jim Crow

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2021-09-23 04:01Z by Steven

A Novelist Dissects the Claustrophobic Evil of Jim Crow

The New York Times

Ayana Mathis

Melinda Beck

Eleanor Henderson, The Twelve-Mile Straight, A Novel (New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2017)

Every couple of decades the nation revisits, publicly and painfully, its oldest violence. The wounds of race — still open, still weeping over the course of 400 years — preoccupy our literature for a time. This is a good thing, given that the wages of silence are most certainly death. At its best, historical fiction isn’t a stump speech or a school lesson, but it sure does illuminate the past, give soul and body to our history so we can sojourn with it a while, in privacy and contemplation. As a useful byproduct, it gives us a fighting chance at recognizing the past’s reverberations in our present. And reverberate it does.

When plunging into the bloody abyss of the American racial past, as Eleanor Henderson does in her second novel, “The Twelve-Mile Straight,” the stakes are high. The novel is set in 1930 in Cotton County, Ga. In its opening pages a black man, Genus Jackson, is lynched for raping a young white woman named Elma Jesup: “Genus dropped, his neck snapping like a chicken’s, his body falling limp.”

We suspect that Genus is innocent, and indeed, he is. We hope his luridly described murder by lynching proves more than a mere point of departure for Henderson’s sprawling Southern Gothic family drama. Genus was a field hand on the farm that Elma Jesup sharecrops alongside her father, Juke, and a mute black girl, 14-year-old Nan Smith. The girls live like sisters and, at least when they are home on the farm, the racial lines that divide them are blurred by affection and proximity…

Read the entire review here.

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Why Did Two People So Poorly Matched Stay Together So Long?

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-09-21 14:12Z by Steven

Why Did Two People So Poorly Matched Stay Together So Long?

The New York Times

Eleanor Henderson

Christopher Sorrentino’s parents, Gilbert and Vicki, circa 1972. Sorrentino examines their confounding marriage in his memoir, “Now Beacon, Now Sea.” via Christopher Sorrentino

Christopher Sorrentino, Now Beacon, Now Sea: A Son’s Memoir (Catapult, 2021)

As I was reading Christopher Sorrentino’sNow Beacon, Now Sea,” I heard Rodrigo Garcia, son of Gabriel García Márquez, on the radio, talking about his new memoir, “A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes.” Garcia’s book is a loving chronicle of the last days of his larger-than-life father and loyal mother. Sorrentino’s book, too, is about his novelist father and his parents’ deaths. Both have the subtitle “A Son’s Memoir.” But “Now Beacon, Now Sea” is no tender tribute. Listening to Garcia speak, I realized that Sorrentino was working in a decidedly different genre: His “son’s memoir” is more autopsy than eulogy.

Sorrentino’s father, Gilbert, was an avant-gardist more prolific than famous, who died in an under-resourced hospital in Brooklyn as his son was en route; his wife, Vicki, who is the real subject of this book and a truly fascinating one, died under even grimmer circumstances. Her decaying body, discovered by her son in her Bay Ridge apartment, is the striking opening image of the book. An autopsy was never ordered…

Read the entire review here.

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Pauli Murray Should Be a Household Name. A New Film Shows Why.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Gay & Lesbian, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Women on 2021-09-20 16:49Z by Steven

Pauli Murray Should Be a Household Name. A New Film Shows Why.

The New York Times

Melena Ryzik

A scene from “My Name Is Pauli Murray.” The documentarian Betsy West, who made the film with Julie Cohen, said, “We just thought, why didn’t anybody teach us about this person?” Amazon Studios

The lawyer, activist and minister made prescient arguments on gender, race and equality that influenced Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

When the lawyer, activist, author and educator Pauli Murray died in 1985 at the age of 75, no obituary or commemoration could contain all of her pathbreaking accomplishments. A radical and brilliant legal strategist, Murray was named a deputy attorney general in California — the first Black person in that office — in 1946, just a year after passing the bar there. Murray was an organizer of sit-ins and participated in bus protests as far back as the 1940s, and co-founded the National Organization for Women. Murray was also the first Black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. In 2012, she was sainted.

Murray has been saluted in legal, academic and gender-studies circles, and in the L.G.B.T.Q. community. But her overarching impact on American life in the 20th and now 21st centuries has not been broadly acknowledged: the thinking and writing that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education; the consideration of intersectionality (she helped popularize the term “Jane Crow”); the enviable social circle, as she was a buddy of Langston Hughes and a pen pal of Eleanor Roosevelt, and worked on her first memoir alongside James Baldwin at the MacDowell Colony in the first year it allowed Black artists.

Murray was devoted to feminism and the rights of women even as, it turned out, she privately battled lifelong gender identity issues. She should be a household name on par with Gloria Steinem or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom cited her work often. Instead Murray is an insider’s civil rights icon.

Now a documentary, “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” aims to introduce Murray to the masses. Made by the same Academy Award-nominated filmmakers behind the surprise hit “RBG,” it uses Murray’s own voice and words as narration, drawn from interviews, oral histories and the prolific writing — books, poems and a collection of argumentative, impassioned and romantic letters — that Murray meticulously filed away with an eye toward her legacy. And the film arrives at a moment when the tenacious activism of people of color, especially women, is being re-contextualized and newly acknowledged, at the same time that many of the battles they fought are still raging…

Read the entire article here.

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INGRID DINEEN-WIMBERLY. The Allure of Blackness among Mixed-Race Americans, 1862–1916.

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2021-09-12 21:54Z by Steven

INGRID DINEEN-WIMBERLY. The Allure of Blackness among Mixed-Race Americans, 1862–1916.

The American Historical Review
Volume 126, Issue 2 (June 2021)
pages 797–798
DOI: 10.1093/ahr/rhab307

Elizabeth M. Smith-Pryor, Associate Professor of History
Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly. The Allure of Blackness among Mixed-Race Americans, 1862–1916. (Borderlands and Transcultural Studies.) Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019. Pp. xxxi, 267.

Why were so many African American leaders in the Reconstruction era from mixed-race backgrounds? This is the question Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly’s The Allure of Blackness among Mixed-Race Americans, 1862–1916 sets out to answer. Dineen-Wimberly’s argument is encapsulated in her title, reflecting her contention that although many post–Civil War Black leaders could have chosen to pass as white they instead identified deliberately as Black. This choice, Dineen-Wimberly argues, rested on their ability as Black people to achieve political power or economic success. This ability to succeed because they were Black thus constituted the “allure” of Blackness. Dineen-Wimberly contends that her study pushes against a body of scholarship…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Posted in Anthologies, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Passing, United States on 2021-08-31 15:27Z by Steven

Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Peter Lang
366 pages
13 fig. b/w.
Paperback ISBN:978-2-8076-1625-7
ePUB ISBN:978-2-8076-1627-1 (DOI: 10.3726/b18256)

Edited by:

Hélène Charlery, Professor of English Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès

Aurélie Guillain, Professor of American Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès

Many recent studies of racial passing have emphasized the continuing, almost haunting power of racial segregation even in the post-segregation period in the US, or in the post-apartheid period in South Africa. This “present-ness” of racial passing, the fact that it has not really become “passé,” is noticeable in the great number of testimonies which have been published in the 2000s and 2010s by descendants of individuals who passed for white in the English-speaking world. The sheer number of publications suggest a continuing interest in the kind of relation to the personal and national past which is at stake in the long-delayed revelation of cases of racial passing.

This interest in family memoirs or in fictional works re-tracing the erasure of some relative’s racial identity is by no means limited to the United States: for instance, Zoë Wicomb in South Africa or Zadie Smith in the UK both use the passing novel to unravel the complex situation of mixed-race subjects in relation to their family past and to a national past marked by a history of racial inequality.

Yet, the vast majority of critical approaches to racial passing have so far remained largely focused on the United States and its specific history of race relations. The objective of this volume is twofold: it aims at shedding light on the way texts or films show the work of individual memory and collective recollection as they grapple with a racially divided past, struggling with its legacy or playing with its stereotypes. Our second objective has been to explore the great variety in the forms taken by racial passing depending on the context, which in turn leads to differences in the ways it is remembered. Focusing on how a previously erased racial identity may resurface in the present has enabled us to extend the scope of our study to other countries than the United States, so that this volume hopes to propose some new, transnational directions in the study of racial passing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction – Hélène Charlery and Aurélie Guillain
  • Part I: Memories of Racial Passing – Reconstructing Local and Personal Histories – From Homer Plessy to Paul Broyard
    • To Pass or Not to Pass in New Orleans – Nathalie Dessens
    • Racial Passing at New Orleans Mardi Gras; From Reconstruction to the Mid- Twentieth Century: Flight of Fancy or Masked Resistance? – Aurélie Godet
    • Passing through New Orleans, Atlanta, and New York City: The Dynamics of Racial Assignation in Walter White’s Flight (1926) – Aurélie Guillain
    • African American Women Activists and Racial Passing: Personal Journeys and Subversive Strategies (1880s– 1920s) – Élise Vallier-Mathieu
  • Part II: Memory, Consciousness and the Fantasy of Amnesia in Passing Novels
    • “What Irene Redfield Remembered”: Making It New in Nella Larsen’s Passing – M. Giulia Fabi
    • Between Fiction and Reality: Passing for Non- Jewish in Multicultural American Fiction – Ohad Reznick
    • Experiments in Passing: Racial Passing in George Schuyler’s Black No More and Arthur Miller’s Focus – Ochem G.l.a. Riesthuis
    • Passing to Disappearance: The Voice/ Body Dichotomy and the Problem of Identity in Richard Powers’s The Time of Our Singing (2004) – Anne-Catherine Bascoul
  • Part III: Memories of Racial Passing within and beyond the United States: Towards a Transnational Approach
    • “The Topsy-Turviness of Being in the Wrong Hemisphere” Transnationalizing the Racial Passing Narrative – Sinéad Moynihan
    • Passing, National Reconciliation and Adolescence in Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002) and The Wooden Camera (Ntshaveni Wa Luruli, 2003) – Delphine David and Annael Le Poullennec
    • Transnational Gendered Subjectivity in Passing across the Black Atlantic: Nella Larsen’s Passing, Michelle Cliff ’s Free Enterprise and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time – Kerry-Jane Wallart
  • About the Authors/ Editors
  • Index
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How the Myth of Barack Obama Overtook the Man (and the Politician)

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2021-08-18 23:27Z by Steven

How the Myth of Barack Obama Overtook the Man (and the Politician)


Justine Smith
Montreal, Quebec

From Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union (2021), dir. Peter Kunhardt (image courtesy HBO)

A new HBO film introduces a level of nuance to its depiction of the president that’s been sorely lacking in most portrayals.

What is “home” in the American imagination? Politicians often cite this ideal. Will our “doors” be open or closed? What do our “neighbors” look like? In the introduction to The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff describes the home as “where we know and where we are known, where we love and are loved. Home is mastery, voice, relationship, and sanctuary: part freedom, part flourishing … part refuge, part prospect.” Barack Obama promised this image of home, preaching that the United States could pursue unity and love for all. His very presence as a Black man on the world stage signaled a cultural shift that made it seem, if only briefly, that a tide was turning and the US was ready to grapple with its racism. For many, he was a symbol of progress. To others, he was a conniving invader, a covert socialist/communist/terrorist, or even the antichrist. Both images leave his actual humanity behind. What happens when a person becomes a symbol?

The new HBO film Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union looks at his life and work with a level of nuance that’s rare for a mainstream documentary. Still, like most Obama movies, the focus remains firmly on his social and cultural impact rather than his policy. “People underestimate the value of symbols,” Ta-Nehisi Coates argues at one point. Undeniably, Obama himself catered to and was well aware of his symbolic importance. And most films about him, made by a sympathetic media — By the People, The Final Year, The Way I See It, etc. — cater to his image as a historic groundbreaker. Even the Michelle Obama biography Becoming portrays the former first family as beacons of hope in a dark time…

Read the entire article here.

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Robin DiAngelo and the Problem With Anti-racist Self-Help

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2021-08-09 21:21Z by Steven

Robin DiAngelo and the Problem With Anti-racist Self-Help

The Atlantic
September 2021 (Published online 2021-08-03)

Danzy Senna, Associate Professor of English
University of Southern California

Illustration by Vahram Muradyan; images by Les Byerley / Shutterstock; QuartoMundo / CGTrader

What two new books reveal about the white progressive pursuit of racial virtue

Last March, just before we knew the pandemic had arrived, my husband and I enrolled our son in a progressive private school in Pasadena, California. He was 14 and, except for a year abroad, had been attending public schools his whole life. Private was my idea, the gentle kind of hippie school I’d sometimes wished I could attend during my ragtag childhood in Boston-area public schools amid the desegregation turmoil of the 1970s and ’80s. I wanted smaller class sizes, a more nurturing environment for my artsy, bookish child. I did notice that—despite having diversity in its mission statement—the school was extremely white. My son noticed too. As he gushed about the school after his visit, he mentioned that he hadn’t seen a single other kid of African descent. He brushed it off. It didn’t matter.

I did worry that we might be making a mistake. But I figured we could make up for the lack; after all, not a day went by in our household that we didn’t discuss race, joke about race, fume about race. My child knew he was Black and he knew his history and … he’d be fine.

Weeks after we sent in our tuition deposit, the pandemic hit, followed by the summer of George Floyd. The school where my son was headed was no exception to the grand awakening of white America that followed, the confrontation with the absurd lie of post-racial America. The head of school scrambled to address an anonymous forum on Instagram recounting “experiences with the racism dominating our school,” as what one administrator called its racial reckoning began. Over the summer, my son was assigned Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. When the fall semester began, no ordinary clubs like chess and debate awaited; my son’s sole opportunity to get to know other students was in affinity groups. That meant Zooming with the catchall category of BIPOC students on Fridays to talk about their racial trauma in the majority-white school he hadn’t yet set foot inside. (BIPOC, or “Black, Indigenous, and people of color,” was unfamiliar to my son; in his public school, he had described his peers by specific ethnic backgrounds—Korean, Iranian, Jewish, Mexican, Black.)…

Read the entire review of the books here.

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J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-17 00:53Z by Steven

J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.

The Christian Science Monitor

Heller McAlpin, Correspondent

Library of Congress
Belle da Costa Greene, shown in 1929, curated rare books for mogul J.P. Morgan. She was the first director of the Morgan Library.

Some books leave you wondering why the author has chosen to tell this particular story, and why now. This is emphatically not the case with “The Personal Librarian,” a novel about the woman who helped shape the Morgan Library’s spectacular collection of rare books and art more than a century ago. It quickly becomes clear why two popular authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, have teamed up to tell this important, inspirational story.

Belle da Costa Greene’s success in the almost exclusively male world of art and rare book dealers was an unusual feat for a woman in the early 20th century. But what makes it even more extraordinary – and such rich material for historical fiction – is the secret she harbored throughout her long career: She hailed from a prominent, light-skinned Black family, many of whose members had chosen to pass as white.

“The Personal Librarian” reminds readers that this decision was not made lightly. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act in 1883 – a ruling that ushered in Jim Crow segregation and gave white supremacy and racial discrimination legal cover, the ramifications of which are felt to this day – few opportunities were open to anyone classified as nonwhite…

Read the entire book review here.

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Book Review: A Cosmologist Throws Light on a Universe of Bias

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2021-06-03 19:02Z by Steven

Book Review: A Cosmologist Throws Light on a Universe of Bias


Joshua Roebke

Top: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an award-winning physicist,⁠ feminist, activist, and the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in the field of theoretical cosmology. Visual: Courtesy Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

In “The Disordered Cosmos,” Chanda Prescod-Weinstein contemplates the exclusionary culture of physics.

EVERY COMMUNITY GUARDS a creation story, a theory of cosmic origins. In much of sub-Saharan West Africa, for the past few thousand years, itinerant storytellers known as griots have communicated these and other tales through song. Cosmologists also intone a theory of cosmic origins, known as the Big Bang, albeit through journal articles and math.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is a cosmologist who is adept with both equations and “the keeper of a deeply human impulse” to understand our universe. In her first book, “The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred⁠,” Prescod-Weinstein also admits she is a griot, one who knows the music of the cosmos but sings of earthbound concerns. She is an award-winning physicist,⁠ feminist, and activist who is not only, as she says, the first Jewish “queer agender Black woman⁠” to become a theoretical cosmologist, she is the first Black woman ever to earn a Ph.D. in the subject.

Prescod-Weinstein is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and a core faculty member in the department of women’s and gender studies at the University of New Hampshire. She thus enjoys a unique frame of reference from which to appraise science and her fellow scientists. She is an insider whom others nonetheless cast as an outsider, because of her identity, orientation, and the tint of her skin. From the outside, however, she admits a fuller view of her field. She perceives the “structures that were invisible to people,”⁠ and reveals them…

Read the entire review here.

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Why You Should Read “Swirl Girl, The Coming Of Race In The USA”, By TaRessa Stovall

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2021-05-25 01:31Z by Steven

Why You Should Read “Swirl Girl, The Coming Of Race In The USA”, By TaRessa Stovall

Girl Talk HQ: The Global Headquarters of Female Empowerment Stories & Voices

Nancy Burke

Swirl Girl, the Coming of Race in the USA” by TaRessa Stovall is your first step in learning what it is like to walk through the world as a child, teen and woman whose ethnic identity is not immediately discernible; to live with the relentless scrutiny of your skin, hair and features by just about anyone you meet; and to be continuously subjected to the question, What are you?

Stovall’s father was a Black man. Her mother, a Jewish woman. In Stovall’s memoir, “Swirl Girl,” she describes the different perspectives each of her parents had regarding how their mixed-race children should navigate the wider world. Stovall and her brother internalize the two views they learned from their parents, and as life goes on, each embraces what works for them and sheds those attitudes that do not serve. Stovall’s loving but conflicted response to each parent’s belief about who she should be and which sides of herself she should put front and center are beautifully rendered with the inherent complexity involved in her coming of age…

Read the entire book review here.

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