Le Mélange of Francophone Culture in William Wells Brown’s Clotel

Posted in Articles, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-05-07 21:36Z by Steven

Le Mélange of Francophone Culture in William Wells Brown’s Clotel

The Undergraduate Review
Volume 7, Issue 1 (2011)
pages 8-11

Sandra Andrade
Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Massachusetts

In Clotel; Or, The President’s Daughter, William Wells Brown argues that for fugitive African American slaves France represented freedom. This connection between African Americans and France that is familiar to many Americans in the twentieth century was existent at the time of Brown’s own escape. The Francophone culture became a major motivator in the author’s personal life and also in his writings. This project covers many themes, including the “tragic mulatta”, American identity, American freedom and slavery, and explores readings from Anna Brickhouse’s Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere, and Eve A. Raimon’s The Tragic Mulatta Revisited. Brown questions not only the impossibility of being accepted in the American society as a person of mixed race but argues that the French are better interpreters of the Declaration of Independence than the Americans. In France, Brown found a secure home among French elites and his positive experience with francophone culture helped shape his most well-known work of literature, the novel Clotel. In this sentimental novel, Brown creates a character whose hope for freedom is based upon the author’s experiences in France. Being the first western European nation to abolish slavery in its colonies, France provided hope to many African Americans.

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Indians and Diversity

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2012-05-07 21:18Z by Steven

Indians and Diversity

Indian Country Today Media Network

Steve Russell, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice
Indiana University

This term, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case about affirmative action in university admissions, where my alma mater is on the side of diversity for a change. Most observers agree diversity is likely to lose, but if that happens it does not mean Indians have to quit banging on the doors of higher education.
Indians know diversity, and knew it before Columbus got lost. My people, woodland hunters and farmers, traded with salt water fishermen on the coast and some copper ornaments smelted in Cherokee country turned up in Southwestern pueblos, where they grew the “three sisters” crops on dry land farms and built with stucco. When the Spanish proved unable to keep track of their livestock, many tribes took up the buffalo culture on the Great Plains. Athabascan speakers live in icy Alaska and desert Utah. We know diversity.
To the colonists, we are all “Indians,” one of the most exotic minorities in modern politics. We all have this experience at some point if we leave home: “Do you want to be called Indian or Native American?” Tribal identity requires explanation, and it does get tiresome.
African-Americans, by the tragedy they have endured, belong in any discussion of diversity in the United States. The Civil War was, much as the Confederates denied it afterward, about slavery…

Homer Plessy’s case was particularly ironic. Plessy was one-eighth African-American by blood quantum, and so considered himself a white man—but the Court found he was not white enough to sit where he pleased on public transportation. There things stood until Rosa Parks came along not claiming to be a white woman, but insisting she was a human being…

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Why genes don’t count (for racial differences in health)

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-05-07 20:14Z by Steven

Why genes don’t count (for racial differences in health)

American Journal of Public Health
Volume 90, Number 11 (November 2000)
pages 1699-1702
DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.90.11.1699

Alan H. Goodman, Professor of Biological Anthropology
Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts

There is a paradoxical relationship between “race” and genetics. Whereas genetic data were first used to prove the validity of race, since the early 1970s they have been used to illustrate the invalidity of biological races. Indeed, race does not account for human genetic variation, which is continuous, complexly structured, constantly changing, and predominantly within “races.” Despite the disproof of race-as-biology, genetic variation continues to be used to explain racial differences. Such explanations require the acceptance of 2 disproved assumptions: that genetic variation explains variation in disease and that genetic variation explains racial variation in disease. While the former is a form of geneticization, the notion that genes are the primary determinants of biology and behavior, the latter represents a form of racialization, an exaggeration of the salience of race. Using race as a proxy for genetic differences limits understandings of the complex interactions among political-economic processes, lived experiences, and human biologies. By moving beyond studies of racialized genetics, we can clarify the processes by which varied and interwoven forms of racialization and racism affect individuals “under the skin.”

…Professor Armelagos hinted at a powerful lesson: that scientific ideas can endure and be made to seem real if they have social and political–economic utility. An evolutionary framework that explained human variation had been established for more than a century, ever since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. In the 1940s, Montagu used the “new evolutionary synthesis” to explain clearly why race was a biological myth. Yet the idea of race as biology persists today in science and society.

I was aware of the power of race as a worldview in 1973. But what I understood less was the idea’s ability to persist after it had been proven unscientific. If I had been asked in the 1970s whether race would survive as a way to think about human biological variation in 2000, I would have answered emphatically, “No!” I was naive to the durability of an economically useful idea.

Acceptance of the notion of race-as-biology declined in anthropology throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yet, during the past decade, racialized notions of biology have made a comeback. This is especially true in human genetics, a field that, paradoxically, once drove the last nail into the coffin of race-as biology. In this commentary, I explain why race should not be used as a proxy for genetic or biological variation. I then explain and illustrate the unfounded assumptions that are needed for an acceptance that racial differences in disease are due to genetic differences among races…

…The Double Error Inherent in Genetic Explanations of Racial Differences

Two errors—2 leaps of illogic—are necessary for acceptance of the idea that racial differences in disease are due to genetic differences among races. The first leap is a form of geneticization, the belief that most biology and behavior are located “in the genes.”

Genes, of course, are often a part of the complex web of disease causality, but they are almost always a minor, unstable, and insufficient cause. The presence of Gm allotype, for example, might correlate to increased rates of diabetes in Native Americans, but the causal link is unknown. In other cases, the gene is not expressed without some environmental context, and it may interact with environments and other genes in nonadditive and unpredictable ways.

The second necessary leap of illogic is a form of scientific racialism, the belief that races are real and useful constructs. Importantly, this leap propels one from explaining disease variation as caused by genetic variation to explaining that racial differences in disease are caused by genetic variation among races.To accept this logic, one needs to also accept that genetic variation occurs along racial divides: that is, most variation occurs among races. However, we know from Lewontin’s work that this assumption is false for simple genetic systems. For a disease of complex etiology, genetics is an illogical explanation for racial differences.

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Breaking the Bonds of Race and Genomics

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-05-07 19:41Z by Steven

Breaking the Bonds of Race and Genomics

Volume 25, Issue 1 (January-February, 2012): Genetics in 20 Years

Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology; Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights
University of Pennsylvania

Twenty years ago it appeared that mainstream science finally was abandoning the concept of biological human races. From 18th century typologists to 20th century eugenicists, scientists have always been instrumental in justifying the myth that the human species is naturally divided by race. But the rejection of eugenics after World War II and discoveries by human evolutionary biologists in subsequent decades brought hope that a new science of human genetic diversity would replace the old racial science. In 2000, the Human Genome Project, which mapped the entire human genetic code, confirmed the genetic unity of the human species and the futility of identifying discrete racial groups in the remaining genetic difference. Biologically, there is only one human race. Race applied to human beings is a social grouping; it is a system originally devised in the 1700s to support slavery and colonialism that classifies people into a social hierarchy based on invented biological, cultural, and legal demarcations.

But instead of hammering the last nail in the coffin of an obsolete system, the science that emerged from sequencing the human genome has been shaped by a resurgence of interest in race-based genetic variation. Some scientists claim that clusters of genetic similarity detected with novel genomic theories and computer technologies correspond to antiquated racial classifications and prove that human racial differences are real and significant. Others are searching for genetic differences between races that could explain staggering inequalities in health and disease as well as variations in drug response, with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries poised to convert the new racial science into race-specific products. As we wait for the promise of gene-tailored medicine to materialize, race has become an avenue for turning the vision of tomorrow’s personalized medicines into today’s profit making commodities. While uncritically importing antiquated racial categories into research, the emerging racial science has a new twist—it claims to measure biological distinctions across races and “admixed” populations with more accurate precision, and without social bias

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The idea that Hispanic is a coherent genetic category is just silly… The idea that it is genetically definable and distinct is just irresponsible.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2012-05-07 17:06Z by Steven

“The idea that Hispanic is a coherent genetic category is just silly,” [Jonathan] Kahn said in a telephone interview. “It’s one of the most diverse—genetically and culturally and historically—populations you can find. The idea that it is genetically definable and distinct is just irresponsible.”

Rob Stein, “Race reemerges in debate over ‘personalized medicine’,” The Washington Post, July 31, 2011.

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A race-based detour to personalized medicine

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-05-07 16:46Z by Steven

A race-based detour to personalized medicine

Canadian Medical Association Journal
Volume 184, Number 7 (2012-03-12)
DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.109-4133

Roger Collier, News Staff

Few experts in medical genetics would argue that June 23, 2005 wasn’t an important day. Consensus on whether it was a good or bad day is another matter. Some claim a major step on the long road to personalized medical care was taken. Others are far less convinced, suggesting it was the day the United States government decided, unwisely, to push the field of medical genetics into the heated realm of racial politics.

On that date, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, for the first time, a drug for a specific race, to wit, the fixed-dose combination drug isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine (BiDil) for use as a heart disease medication within the black population, who have a much higher risk of heart failure than whites…

…The licensing of isosorbide dinitrate/hydralazine thus became a turning point in discussions on the merits of race-based medicine, a debate that continues to rage. Critics of race-specific therapies argue that focusing on genetics rather than on social and economic inequalities will not reduce disparities in health outcomes and access to care among different ethnic groups. Furthermore, they say, race is a social, rather than a biological, construct.

Using race is a bad proxy for genetic ancestry,” says Althea Grant, chief of the Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, Division of Blood Disorders, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This opinion is shared by one of the world’s most famous geneticists: Craig Venter, the genetics pioneer who led the team that first sequenced the human genome in 2001. He has referred to the use of race and ethnicity in medical genetics as a crude tool and a personal pet peeve, suggesting that it will no longer be necessary once the price of sequencing genomes falls to an amount that would make it reasonable to sequence everybody’s genome, a figure he pegged at US$1000…

…The first problem with using race in medical genetics is determining which races constitute a part of someone’s background. Few people have extensive knowledge of their ancestral lineage, and skin colour and other external markers don’t tell the full story. Even people who are aware of their mixed heritage often place themselves in one camp — or are put there by others. Prominent examples include US President Barack Obama and professional golfer Tiger Woods, who are often referred to as black even though the former has a white mother and the latter’s mother hails from Thailand.

“People tend to self-identify with a particular race more than another even if there is a mix,” says Grant. “They might not even know all the ancestries that are in the mix.”

In some areas of medicine, using race as a screening tool has already been shown to create problems, both practical and ethical. That’s why states abandoned the practice of screening only black newborns for hemoglobinopathies, such as sickle cell disease, Grant and colleagues concluded (Ethn Health 2011;16:377–88). The state of Georgia, the last holdout for ethnicity-based newborn screening, discontinued its use in 1998…

“If we go back to its origins, we find that BiDil did not begin as an ethnic drug. Rather it became ethnic over time and through a complex array of legal, commercial, and medical interventions, that transformed the drug’s identity,” wrote Jonathan Kahn, a law professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota (www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/pageDocuments/PLMVM6FTAO.pdf). Unlike “racialized medicine, which treats race as genetic, the use of race in medical practice has many legitimate and important places. Collecting broad-based epidemiological data is perhaps foremost among these. Only by using social categories of race is it possible to identify and track racial disparities in health, health care access and outcomes.”

Read the entire article here.

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Nineteenth-Century New Orleans and a Carnival of Women

Posted in Anthropology, Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-05-07 03:10Z by Steven

Nineteenth-Century New Orleans and a Carnival of Women

University of Florida
72 pages

Ragan Wicker

A Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

The Carnival in New Orleans is historically the largest and longest annual public ritual in the country. Celebrated often for months at a time throughout the city since the eighteenth century, the Carnival serves as an essential part of New Orleans’s cultural heritage. Unlike other civic rituals celebrated around the United States, the traditions at the heart of the Carnival historically provided an atmosphere to explore normally off-limit behaviors, such as easy social and sexual mixing between races and classes, and a “topsy-turvy” inversion of social roles, ultimately providing a leveling tool among the people that had lasting effects well after the celebration ended. During the city’s colonial and antebellum periods, all women benefited from the loosened social restrictions and role inversions experienced through masquerading by their active participation in social events on an equal footing with men.

When analyzing the Carnival through the paradigmatic lens of the public versus private distinction often associated with gender studies, it becomes clear that gender had less to do with a person’s social parameters than did class and race. While it is often asserted by modern scholars that nineteenth-century women were passive spectators during public events, this paper argues the opposite in the case of the New Orleans Carnival. Not only did women participate in the many activities transpiring over the long Carnival season, they were essential to their success. Until 1857, the year that officially transformed the Carnival into what it is today, a woman was never forbidden to attend a parade, fete, or casual gathering because of her sex; it was only because of her class or race. The same was true for men. Legally sanctioned privatization of Carnival groups and events did not occur until after the Civil War, and even then, the restrictions did not affect the masses, but rather the elites of society whose men privately wanted to control the social currents of the city by controlling the influential Carnival.




All the mischief of the city is alive and wide awake in active operation . . . Men, boys, women, and girls, bond and free, white and black, yellow and brown, exert themselves to invent and appear in grotesque, quizzical, diabolical, horrible, strange masks and disguises. —Major James Creecy, 1835

Throughout the history of New Orleans, women always have openly participated in the customs associated with the Carnival season. Due to the unique colonial history of the city which was ruled under French and Spanish crowns for over one hundred years before the Louisiana Purchase, the involvement of its citizens in cultural and socio-political matters naturally differed greatly from the rest of the nation. The women of New Orleans have always played direct and integral roles in maintaining the true essence of the celebratory Carnival festivities. The popular and historic public ritual, still much alive in New Orleans today, would not be possible without women’s direct contributions.

The one hundred years of history that this paper is based on provides a compelling argument that the public versus private distinction often utilized in academic gender studies applies more to race and class, rather than gender, in the analysis of New Orleans Carnival rituals. In other words, participatory options available to women during the long Carnival season had much more to do with their race and socio-cultural status than their gender. A man could find himself as easily included in or ostracized from any particular event as a woman. Gender counted for much less than class and race when accounting for an individual’s, or often a group’s, social calendar…


From the founding of New Orleans until after the Civil War, in the minds of the Creoles, the free people of color were potential social agitators and a threat to the slaveholder mentality and power, yet the Creoles could not help but interact with them in intimate ways. There had always been free blacks in New Orleans due to the favorable French and Spanish laws concerning the rights of slaves. According to the African American Resource Center, part of the New Orleans Public Library, during the Spanish period, “slaves could buy their freedom, be loaned money to purchase their freedom, have their freedom purchased by a relative or friend or be given their freedom,” regardless of their master’s disapproval, allowing the free black population to grow in size and importance, often holding positions as skilled laborers, merchants, land owners, and even slave owners themselves. Free people of color existed as a class of their own; too free and often too socially significant to be grouped together with the slaves, but unable to vote or find a niche in white society. Their strong presence, combined with their monetary and business success, made their middling existence a threat to the southern slave ideology that clung to the concept that all blacks should be subjugated to whites. Miscegenation was a common occurrence in New Orleans, as evidenced by the large number of mulattos born each year, adding to the already numerically significant class of people more free than slaves, yet less free than whites, with internal social stratifications all their own. The census records for Louisiana in the nineteenth century do not distinguish between whites and free people of color in the category of births. However, in 1850, free people of color in Orleans Parish made up ten percent of the overall population. There were approximately twice as many free women of color than men, and twice as many white men as women.

Karen Leathem posits that, in the 1850s, “gender became the overarching rubric for unofficial masking regulations.” More likely, all previous masking regulations, whether official or not, had existed for the same white, fear-based reasons. Ease of association among all races of residents, combined with an unequal ratio of men to women, ironically made room for and implicitly encouraged the generally frowned-upon practice of interracial sexual intercourse. Late historian Kimberly Hanger wrote in her 1991 PhD dissertation concerning free people of color in Spanish New Orleans that “with few exceptions . . . persons of all colors and classes worked and played together by choice and necessity.” She continued by stating, “New Orleans refused to function in accord with any strict social stratifications based on race, class, or legal status.” Alecia Long relates several historical cases of “sex across the color line,” using them as aids to explain how the city went from having a dubious reputation for decadence and racial diversity before the Civil War to exploiting that decadence by creating a tourist market around the sex trade that encouraged indulgence in prostitution, including miscegenation, for government profit after the war. In 1898, the notorious Storyville district was born, composed of several city blocks set aside by local officials for the sole purpose of enticing tourists to luxuriate in a sanctioned erotic environment of sex and, later, local jazz music.

The free people of color in New Orleans were not subjected to the same social etiquette that the French and Spanish Creole elites enforced. The free colored people had their own set of social standards and, for those women deemed quadroons and octoroons, persons one-fourth and one-eighth black respectively, they had standards that both seduced and appalled Creole men and incensed many Creole women. To illustrate, in 1810 a woman named Lucinda Sparkle published a letter addressed to the City Council in the Louisiana Gazette. Her concern clearly shows just how important the Carnival season was for women of her era, and just what a threat the Creole women considered the female quadroons. She petitioned for the following:

[that a] suitable genteel, tree-shaded promenade be established to foster “the best female society” who were losing out to the quadroons who promenaded the levees and ensnared the eligible gentlemen of the city. During the Carnival, when our young gentlemen from custom and the pleasures of dancing are frequently in the company with our belles, feelings of the most pure and tender nature are often excited; but, time passes, the Carnival ends, and the period of female seclusion again returns, and there remains nothing to counteract the baneful voices complained of by your petitioner. [She envisioned that a proper public promenade would be a place where] the favorable and honorable impressions made during the Carnival might be renewed and new conquests might be made.

Historically, in New Orleans quadroon women were distinguished for their exemplary educations and financial solvency, qualities often thought of as unusual for women of their time. Due to the promise of limited legal rights extended to free people of color, the quadroon women benefited as legal landowners and merchants, and were often socially independent. Grace King left behind her a wealth of information about New Orleans and its distinctive local culture in the many books she wrote, including a reproduction of an unpublished manuscript written in the mid-nineteenth century by Charles Gayarre, the grandson of Etienne de Borre, New Orleans’s first mayor, and a lawyer and fellow-writer friend of King. Gayarre’s manuscript resounds with respect for the free colored women. He pleasantly reminisces about the comfortable living quadroon women afforded white men by catering to their every need, their affability, and their “proverbial” honesty, yet in the same breath he complains that the women “monopolized the renting, at high prices, of furnished rooms to white gentlemen,” sounding more like he had a personal gripe than was stating an absolute fact. In contrast, King’s opinions are much more severe than Gayarre’s. In regard to family peace and purity, she considers the women “the most insidious and the deadliest of foes a community ever possessed.” Given the contents of this quote, it is tempting to imagine the name Lucinda Sparkle serving as a pen name for King if the latter had been alive in 1810. The respective contrasting opinions of Gayarre and King echo the stereotypical responses held by white men and white women, respectively, in response to the unusual social position quadroon women occupied. After all, white men tended to benefit from the unusual social position of the quadroon women, while white women did not. More importantly, however, the opinions of King and Gayarre reflect the quandary in which the free women of color found themselves and dealt with daily, living in a reality somewhere between freedom and servitude, and in a world between the white and black cultures, a world often fraught with hostility.

One of the most noted reasons for the quadroon women’s independence, financial solvency, and resented position in society sprang from the peculiar, yet common placage system, borrowed from the French West Indies. In the placage system, the mother of a free young quadroon woman would offer her as the mistress of a socially desirable young and unmarried white man. When a suitable match was made, the women became known as a “placee.” The legendary quadroon Carnival balls that occurred in New Orleans from some time in the 1700s until the Civil War, documented in the countless travelogues left by North American and European travelers, involved more than just dancing the French quadrille until dawn. First and foremost, for the love of music and Carnival, free colored people held balls where technically no whites were allowed to attend. However, the quadroon balls represented a glaring double standard. Quadroon mothers, acting as brokers and often placees themselves, would accompany their daughter to the quadroon balls in attempt to strike a bargain with an interested white man in attendance in order to place their daughter in that man’s care for life. These balls were well known and in operation specifically for the purpose of inter-racial relations. They served as the courting ground of young white men of means looking for exotic darker skinned mistresses…

Read the entire thesis here.

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