Plessy and Ferguson unveil plaque today marking their ancestors’ actions

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive on 2011-05-31 02:25Z by Steven

Plessy and Ferguson unveil plaque today marking their ancestors’ actions

New Orleans Times-Picayune

Katy Reckdahl

Today, Plessy versus Ferguson becomes Plessy and Ferguson, when descendants of opposing parties in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court segregation case stand together to unveil a plaque at the former site of the Press Street Railroad Yards.

Standing behind Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson will be a large group of students, scholars, officials and activists who worked for years to honor the site where in 1892, Tremé shoemaker Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man, was arrested for sitting in a railway car reserved for white people.

People often think that his ancestor held some responsibility for the legalized segregation known as “separate but equal, ” said Keith Plessy, 52, a longtime New Orleans hotel bellman whose great-grandfather was Homer Plessy’s first cousin. In actuality, Homer Plessy boarded that train as part of a carefully orchestrated effort to create a civil-rights test case, to fight the proliferation of segregationist laws in the South…

…Plessy, born in 1863 on St. Patrick’s Day, grew up at a time when black people in New Orleans could marry whomever they chose, sit in any streetcar seat, and attend integrated schools, Medley said. But as an adult, those gains from the Reconstruction era eroded.
On any other day in 1892, Plessy could have ridden in the car restricted to white passengers without notice. According to the parlance of the time, he was classified “7/8 white.”
In order to pose a clear test to the state’s 1890 separate-car law, the Citizens’ Committee in advance notified the railroad—which had opposed the law because it required adding more cars to its trains.
On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a first-class ticket for the commuter train that ran to Covington, sat down in the car for white riders only and the conductor asked whether he was a colored man, Medley said. The committee also hired a private detective with arrest powers to take Plessy off the train at Press and Royal streets, to ensure that he was charged with violating the state’s separate-car law.
Everything the committee plotted went as planned—except for the final court decision, in 1896. By then the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court had gained a more segregationist tilt, and the committee knew it would likely lose. But it chose to press the cause anyway, Medley said. “It was a matter of honor for them, that they fight this to the very end.”…

…”You don’t know American history until you know Louisiana history, ” Plessy said…

Read the entire article here.

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Bill Moyers interview with Patricial Willilams and Melissa Harris-Lacewell

Posted in Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States, Videos, Women on 2011-05-31 01:25Z by Steven

Bill Moyers interview with Patricial Willilams and Melissa Harris-Lacewell

Bill Moyers Journal

Bill Moyers, Host

Patricia Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law
Columbia University

Melissa Harris-Lacewell (Harris-Perry), Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies
Princeton University

Bill Moyers sits down with Columbia law professor and Nation columnist Patricia Williams and Princeton politics and African American studies professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell about the significance of this milestone and what it means for the future.

BILL MOYERS: A year and a half ago Melissa Harris-Lacewell sat right here and told me she thought Barack Obama could not be elected president in 2008. This week she attended his inauguration. I’m eager to hear her reaction.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University. She’s the author of “Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought”.

Patricia Williams is back, too. She teaches law at Columbia University, writes “Diary of a Mad Law Professor” column in “The Nation” magazine, and is the author of “The Alchemy of Race and Rights”. It’s good to see you both back.


MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Thanks, great to be here.

BILL MOYERS: You did say, sitting right there — Obama can’t win.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I did. And probably the worst part was I suggested I thought he’d be a great vice president. And in my mind I was thinking John Edwards would be at the top of the ticket. So this is maybe more than anything why political scientists don’t run actual political campaigns. I mean, it has been quite an electoral season.

BILL MOYERS: So what were you thinking on Tuesday?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I suppose the greatest thought I was having as I was watching the inauguration of Barack Obama was my sense that I didn’t even know I wanted a black president. I wasn’t particularly attached to the idea of an African American in the White House. It seemed just sort of symbolic. And yet I was moved at a very profound level about how this made me feel connected to my country in a way that I’d never fully felt connected before. It was an astonishing feeling.

PATRICIA WILLIAMS: But I think this was a very particular, remarkable moment because it came on the tail end of a very freighted, complicated, and I think unhappy eight years. And so I think a lot of people who did not necessarily even support the Democratic Party voted for Obama or celebrated his inauguration because the joy in it was infectious. And the sense of improvement, the sense of an opportunity for global recognition, not just domestic recognition, was something that, just spread like wildfire…

…PATRICIA WILLIAMS: I do think that we need to quell some of the expectations that, now that he is president, you know, bluebirds have suddenly come into, you know, that butterflies are hatching all over the country. It is, we still have difficulty with, for example, the vocabulary of race that I think is still very much confining how we see Barack Obama. Now, again, that may change-

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

PATRICIA WILLIAMS: Well, I think that he is, on the one hand, our first African American president. And some people call him our first bi-racial president.


PATRICIA WILLIAMS: Some people say that he is, or really consider him still much more acceptable because he has a white parent. I think that part of that internecine warfare within the black community based on skin color.

I think one of the freighted problems within the black community with hearing words like “bi-racial” is that, you know, African Americans have always been multi-racial. We are, I mean, you know, since slavery, at least bi-racial. And so that some of that vocabulary within the black community I think evokes images of half-breed, quadroon, mulatto, the kind of color coded, tragic mulatto conversation that induces a kind of hierarchy. And I think that that’s going to be part of a new American vocabulary in dealing with that unconscious level of distinction.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think about that?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, so for me I suppose the notion of Barack Obama as our first bi-racial president is troubling. And it’s troubling in part because, as you point out, African Americans have always been a multi-racial people, or at least for all of contemporary American history they have been a multi-racial people. But the other thing is that race is not simply about biology.

Race is, of course, socially and legally constructed. And at every point in American history Barack Obama would have been in the category of black. He would have been enslaveable under the slave codes. He would have been Jim Crowed in the context of the Jim Crow South.

Homer Plessy, who is the litigate in the Plessy v. Ferguson, which establishes separate but equal, the legal code that we think of the civil rights movement as finally breaking open, was so visibly or physiologically white that he had to go to the conductor on the train and tell him, “I’m passing the color line here. I’m breaking the color line. You need to arrest me.”

So all of the moments of American racial political history hinge right around a space where multi-racial, sometimes much more sort of in appearance white-black people, have been a part of the story. So it’s very hard for me to imagine that now, at the culmination of one part of the black political story, we would start to break that off and assign it to a group that simply does not exist as a matter of law, the bi-racial group.

I suppose what I find exciting about the upfrontness about Barack Obama’s patchwork, racial identity is that it allows him to be empowering to many different kinds of people. But at the same time, to take away that this is a particular moment of ordinary black folks on the ground who came to D.C. in numbers like nothing I’ve ever seen, who stood there in the cold.

That is the accomplishment and the achievement of ordinary black folks on the ground as voters, as those who survived the Jim Crow South. So I just can’t take Barack away from us. We need him…

Watch the video clip here. Read the transcript here.

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Race, Ethnicity, and Difference in a Contemporary Carioca Pop Music Scene

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2011-05-31 00:56Z by Steven

Race, Ethnicity, and Difference in a Contemporary Carioca Pop Music Scene

Diagonal: Journal of the Center for Iberian and Latin American Music
Volume 6 (2010) [Rethinking Race and Ethnicity in Brazilian Music (c1600-Present)]
16 pages

Frederick Moehn, Assistant Professor of Music; Affiliate, Latin American and Caribbean Studies Center Africana Studies
Stony Brook University, State University of New York

Parts of this paper are from my book-in-progress, tentatively titled “Chameleon in a Mirror: Essays on Sound and Society in a Brazilian Popular Music Scene”, for Duke University Press.

In my research on popular music making in Brazil, primarily in Rio de Janeiro and largely among middle-class subjects, one of the things I have sought to analyze is how individuals conceptualize mixture, understood on a variety of levels but always in relation to the dominant discourse of national identity in the country. As you all know, this is a discourse which holds that Brazil’s history of miscegenation corresponds to a natural facility with cultural mixing. Moreover, it is widely presumed that this purported capacity is most fabulously in evidence in the sphere of music making. There exists a comfortable fit between celebratory discourses of national identity as rooted in miscigenação, on the one hand, and the way many contemporary Brazilian musicians—not just in Rio de Janeiro but generally in urban areas—talk about their practice, on the other. Such talk, in turn, has real bearing on musical sound as mixture becomes almost an imperative in some scenes: to make “Brazilian” music, following this logic, is to mix (and not to mix risks seeming rather un-Brazilian, or at least overly traditionalist). What theoretical tools can we bring to bear on this naturalized and seemingly self-evident logic of cultural production, interpretation, and national identity? In this paper I will examine a variety of aspects of these dynamics in an effort to reflect on our central theme of rethinking race and ethnicity in Brazilian music…

…Hybridity theory and difference

Let me return for a moment to the question of mixture and its association with racial contact. In Brazil, of course, we also encounter the influential modernist theory of cultural cannibalism, or anthropophagy, as a specifically artistic discourse about difference, appropriation and recombination, arising around the same time as race mixture begins to be positively valued in debates over national identity; that is, the 1920s and 30s. These modernist tendencies predate the emergence of the hybridity theory that arose in the postmodern postcolonialism of the 1980s and 1990s. As Joshua Lund has written, the resurgence of hybridity in the human sciences during these later decades “was met with the incredulous response in Latin Americanist circles that can be summed up by the question ‘So what else is new?’“ Hybridity, suddenly the fashionable cultural theory, “had always been a generic mark of Latin America’s geocultural singularity.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Petitioning subjects: miscegenation in Okinawa from 1945 to 1952 and the crisis of sovereignty

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2011-05-30 19:46Z by Steven

Petitioning subjects: miscegenation in Okinawa from 1945 to 1952 and the crisis of sovereignty

Inter-Asia Cultural Studies
Volume 11, Issue 3 (2010)
pages 355-374
DOI: 10.1080/14649373.2010.484172

Annmaria Shimabuku, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature
University of California, Riverside

This paper tells a story about miscegenation between US military personnel and Okinawan women from 1945-1952, which includes sexual violence, the establishment of ‘entertainment districts,’ and the emergence of international marriage. Whereas this history has been mobilized by leftists as a truth-weapon in the struggle for political sovereignty from the US military, this paper takes an explicitly genealogical approach. Drawing on Foucault’s work on biopower, this paper shows how Okinawans were transformed into ‘petitioning subject’—subjects that negotiated the sexual exploitation of their bodies in tandem with the radically changing relationship between their bodies and the territory.

Read or purchase the article here.

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For the first time, blacks outnumber whites in Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, New Media, Social Science on 2011-05-30 02:38Z by Steven

For the first time, blacks outnumber whites in Brazil

Miami Herald

Taylor Barnes, Special to the Miami Herald

Brazilians are no longer reluctant to admit being black or ‘pardo,’ experts said.

RIO DE JANEIRO—In the past decade, famously mixed-race Brazilians either became prouder of their African roots, savvier with public policies benefiting people of color or are simply more often darker skinned , depending on how you read the much-debated new analysis of the census here.

A recently released 2010 survey showed that Brazil became for the first time a “majority minority” nation, meaning less than half the population now identifies as white.
Every minority racial group—officially, “black,” “pardo” (mixed), “yellow” and “indigenous”—grew in absolute numbers since 2000. “White” was the only group that shrank in both absolute numbers and percentage, becoming 48 percent of the population from 53 percent 10 years ago.

Experts say the shift reflects a growing comfort in not calling oneself white in order to prosper in Brazil and underscores the growing influence of popular culture. Paula Miranda-Ribeiro, a demographer at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said another factor was the increase in bi-racial unions with mixed-race kids.

While Americans look at race as a question of origin, Brazilians largely go by appearance, so much so that the children of the same parents could mark different census categories, she said…

…Activists and artists here say they’ve seen a greater mobilization for mixed-race Brazilians to call themselves black or pardo in recent years.

“The phenomenon I perceive are people getting out of that pressure to whiten themselves, and assuming their blackness,” says visual artist Rosana Paulino, whose doctoral work at the University of São Paulo focused on the representation of blacks in the arts.
She sees a rising self-esteem on the part of mixed-race Brazilians who stop using middle-ground terms like “moreninho” (“a little tan”) or “marrom-bombom” (“brown chocolate”) and simply call themselves black…

Read the entire article here.

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Hidden in plain sight: defying juridical racialization in Rhinelander v. Rhinelander

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2011-05-30 02:10Z by Steven

Hidden in plain sight: defying juridical racialization in Rhinelander v. Rhinelander

Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies
Volume 1, Issue 4 (2004)
Pages 313-334
DOI: 10.1080/1479142042000270458

Nadine Ehlers, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Georgetown University

This article examines the intersectionality of law and race to argue that law, in its broadest understanding, has played a pivotal role in the performative constitution of racial subjects. This disciplinary regulation, which has operated to “fix” an individual within a racial status under law, has augmented the production of the individual as a raced subject. An analysis of Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, however, illuminates that a defiance of racial performative dictates can render “race” hidden in plain sight. This rendering represents an escape from the regulatory mechanisms of law, posing a counter-power that threatens to disturb hegemonic whiteness.

…By prohibiting inter-racial sex and marriage, and generating and enforcing racial classification based on fractions of “blood,” racial purity laws served to chart and maintain racial boundaries in order to “keep” whiteness “pure.” Peggy Pascoe has noted that this racial separation was established and maintained through recourse to an alleged “truth” that could be established in “[g]enealogy, appearance, [social]claims to identity, or that mystical quality ‘blood’.” All such efforts, however, positioned the body as that which articulated this racial ontology. As more than merely the mapping of racial peripheries, I argue that these laws provided two primary mechanisms that operated in tandem to discipline and, subsequently, racialize bodies. These efforts worked at one level to regulate the production of race in that these attempted to patrol what kinds of racial subjects were produced (in a literal capacity) through discursive definition. On a second level, these laws have sought to regulate the take-up of race; that is, they have governed the manner in which racial subjects can come to operate in the world. Put another way, law can be seen to generate “knowledge” pertaining to the meaning of supposedly disparate bodies and,in attaching this meaning to the corporeal, has contributed (1) to what kinds of racial subjectivities emerge and (2) to the regulation of “appropriate” articulations of racial subjectivity based on the designation of racial status. Ultimately, this juridical policing of “racial borders” has rendered “race” a literal and figurative vehicle of containment. This containment has been executed through constraining the possible interpretations and articulations of racial subject-hood—constraints that have functioned to call into being or produce the very racial subjects that legislation and legal judgments have claimed only to classify and keep separate…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Barack Obama as the post-racial candidate for a post-racial America: perspectives from Asian America and Hawai’i

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-05-30 02:02Z by Steven

Barack Obama as the post-racial candidate for a post-racial America: perspectives from Asian America and Hawai’i

Patterns of Prejudice
Volume 45, Issue 1 & 2  (Special Issue: Obama and Race) (2011)
Pages 133-153
DOI: 110.1080/0031322X.2011.563159

Jonathan Y. Okamura, Professor of Ethnic Studies
University of Hawai’i

Okamura reviews the 2008 US presidential campaign and the election of Barack Obama as a ‘post-racial candidate’ in terms of two different meanings of ‘post-racialism’, namely, colour blindness and multiculturalism. He also discusses his campaign and election from the perspective of Asian America and Hawai’i given that Obama has been claimed as ‘the first Asian American president’ and as a ‘local’ person from Hawai’i where he was born and spent most of his youth. In both cases, Obama has been accorded these racialized identities primarily because of particular cultural values he espouses and cultural practices he engages in that facilitate his seeming transcendence of racial boundaries and categories generally demarcated by phenotype and ancestry. Okamura contends that proclaiming Obama as an honorary Asian American and as a local from Hawai’i inadvertently lends support to the post-racial America thesis and its false assertion of the declining significance of race: first, by reinforcing the ‘model minority’ stereotype of Asian Americans and, second, by affirming the widespread view of Hawai’i as a model of multiculturalism.

Read or purchase the article here.

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‘Black Is’ and ‘Black Ain’t’: Performative Revisions of Racial ‘Crisis’

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Philosophy on 2011-05-30 01:43Z by Steven

‘Black Is’ and ‘Black Ain’t’: Performative Revisions of Racial ‘Crisis’

Culture, Theory and Critique
Volume 47, Issue 2 (2006)
Pages 149-163
DOI: 10.1080/14735780600961619

Nadine Ehlers, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Georgetown University

Race is rigorously policed through, and predicated on, a crisis of maintaining a claim to supposed racial ontology. The language of crisis pervades race; yet crisis is only brought into focus—shows itself—when racial ontology is called into question or threatened as an axiomatic reality. This essay argues, however, that it is crisis, in the form of the imperative regulatory call to race or the intricate operations of racialising discipline that constitutes raced subjects. The crisis is one of belonging or of successfully representing a ‘racial truth’. The objective of this analysis is to demonstrate that it is when race is viewed as performative that crisis becomes evident as the ever-present condition of racial identity formation. From this vantage point, the concept of crisis as a point of danger can be revised to be seen as a turning point when an important change can take place: then, crisis might be envisaged as a positive means through which to imagine and realise new enactments of racial being.

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Retroactive phantasies: discourse, discipline, and the production of race

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2011-05-29 20:58Z by Steven

Retroactive phantasies: discourse, discipline, and the production of race

Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture
Volume 14, Issue 3 (2008)
Pages 333-347
DOI: 10.1080/13504630802088219

Nadine Ehlers, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Georgetown University

The present inquiry considers how the practice and notion of race can be figured as a type of discipline that functions to achieve the subjection of the individual—to form the individual as a racial subject. Focusing on the constructions of blackness and whiteness within US racial rhetoric, and engaging the work of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, I propose that racial identity is a retroactive phantasy that is always conditional on the subject enacting the very power that marks them: the formation and maintenance of subjectivity is premised on the individual being formed and forming themselves in relation to a normalized identity site and is, thus, always an action. Precisely due to this necessity to act, and to the incoherence of power, innovative acts of anti-discipline re-negotiate the ways in which racial subjectivity is lived and realized.

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Prologue: the riddle of race

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-05-29 18:24Z by Steven

Prologue: the riddle of race

Patterns of Prejudice
Volume 45, Issue 1 & 2 (Special Issue: Obama and Race) (2011)
Pages 4-14
DOI: 10.1080/0031322X.2011.563141

Emily Bernard, Associate Professor of English and ALANA [African Americans, Latinos/as, Asian Americans and Native Americans] US Ethnic Studies
University of Vermont

James Vellacott, ‘President Obama shakes the hand of PC Michael Zamora on the way into Number 10’, London, 1 April 2009. Credit: Mirrorpix.

Bernard explores the myth of racelessness as it is currently circulating in American social discourse. The election of the first black American president has unleashed the term across the cultural landscape, from the mainstream media to the classrooms in which she teaches African American literature. Students use the term as a twenty-first-century incarnation of the civil rights-era concept of colour blindness. But racelessness does not represent an aspiration for equality as much as it represents an ambition to turn away from the realities of difference. It is code for a common ambition to avoid the realities of institutional racial inequalities, as well as personal experiences of cultural difference. The myth of racelessness intersects uncomfortably with current academic discourse that promotes the view of race as a social construction. Scientifically proven and irrefutably true, this discourse does not allow any room for the social experience of race and racial difference as it is lived by everyone every day, whether we like it or not. The election of President Barack Obama is a portal on to this current confusion about the concept of race, specifically, and blackness, in particular. Many pundits have speculated that Obama would not have been electable if he had had dark skin, if he were irrefutably black, in colour and culture. The fact that he himself has elected to call himself ‘black’ serves as the platform of Bernard’s essay on the case of race in the United States.

Post black

A classroom at an Ivy League university. A black professor at the helm. The audience, a palette of skin colours. Black, white and brown bodies have come here for answers: answers to the puzzle of race.

The professor calls herself African American but she was born in Italy, not in the United States, and has she never been to Africa. Her racial identity is born of a sense of affinity; it is, essentially, a choice. Because her skin is brown, no one questions this choice. Everyone in this room, in fact, equates this affinity with authority, which is why her lecture on the meaning of race goes unchallenged.

Today, the professor is not really talking about race, but not-race. She tells us, her multicoloured audience, that race no longer holds meaning, that it never held meaning, that it is a fiction or, in academic language, a construction.

Most of us, including me, nod our heads. That is, except for one young woman, a student at the law school, who raises her hand and waits to be recognized.

‘Look, I don’t really understand what you mean when you say that “race is a construction”. Race is real, and I know what it is. I’m black. It’s where I’m from and how I live.’

The professor turns to address the woman directly. Her tone is agreeable and her gestures are sympathetic, but her language does not change. She continues to speak in the artful theoretical vocabulary that has brought her to international prominence. She seems as frustrated as the young woman that her words cannot bridge the gulf between them. In the academic world in which I was trained, we were taught to view lived experience with suspicion, and to dismiss emotion as a meaningful category of analysis. Time is up. People stand to speak to the professor, to thank her for her insights and congratulate her on her work, except for the law student, who heads directly for the door.

Such dramas are being played out in classrooms around the country these days, including my own…

…Race is a fiction. When we use it to narrate our experience in the world, we take the easy way out, and neglect other factors that name and place us. The easy way out is a one-way street; our real lives are lived at the intersections, where race meets class meets gender and so on. Inextricably intertwined is what we are; the boundaries to which we pledge ourselves do not exist. Underneath the umbrella of race, categories like gender, sexuality, class, even geography, are also invisibly huddled. Each of these categories contains its own story, a story that intersects with the story of race, but a story that race alone cannot encompass. In other words, a different kind of blackness—a different story—is lived in, say, Northern California than in rural Mississippi. To be gay, black and rich—or straight, white and poor—in these respective places adds more meaning to the experience of race than the term ‘race’ can communicate. Identity honours no borders, neither in language nor in life.

But the fact that race is a fiction does not rob it of meaning. Certainly, race is an invention, but that doesn’t make it untrue…

Read the entire article here.

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