“Spectacular wickedness”: New Orleans, prostitution, and the politics of sex, 1897-1917

Posted in Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-05-16 22:47Z by Steven

“Spectacular wickedness”: New Orleans, prostitution, and the politics of sex, 1897-1917

Yale University
May 2005
274 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3168932
ISBN: 9780542049149

Emily Epstein Landau

A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Yale University in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation is a history of the construction, exploitation, fulfillment, and repression of desire when prostitution was legal in New Orleans in a red-light district called Storyville, from 1897 to 1917. Through a combination of social history and cultural analysis, I show how Storyville became a site for the articulation of race, gender, and sexual relationships at the turn of the twentieth century. Storyville offered its male patrons jazz music, “sporting” culture, and fraternal camaraderie, all organized around the sale of sex for cash.

Nineteenth-century New Orleans had a reputation as the wickedest city in America, notorious for promiscuous race mixing, interracial and illicit sex, and prostitution. It symbolized sexual excess and racial disorder. Yet this same city helped to define the moral and racial order for the twentieth century, since, as is well known, the Plessy v. Ferguson case began in New Orleans. Where Plessy v. Ferguson mandated racial separation, Storyville promoted the most intimate racial mixing: the district openly advertised “colored” and “octoroon” prostitutes. Scarcely a year after the Supreme Court denied Plessy his octoroon status and reclassified him as a “colored,” his native city began showcasing “octoroons” for the enjoyment of sexual pleasure-seekers.

How could Storyville openly promote “octoroon” prostitutes in the face of intensifying racial dualism? How could Storyville brazenly advertise interracial sex in an era of disenfranchisement and lynchings? My dissertation answers these questions through an analysis of Storyville’s transgressive culture within an increasingly rigid Jim Crow regime.

 Table of Contents

  • Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: The Quadroon Connexion
  • Chapter Two: The Promised Land of Harlotry
  • Chapter Three: Basin Street Blues
  • Chapter Four: Diamond Queen
  • Chapter Five: The Last Stronghold of the Old Regime
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Illustrations

  • Figure 1: Mug Shot of Storyville Prostitute
  • Figure 2: “Raleigh Rye,” by E.J. Bellocq
  • Figure 3: Map: Storyville and Environs
  • Figure 4: Storyville and the French Quarter
  • Figure 5: Architectural Drawing, following page
  • Figures 6-11: Architectural Drawings
  • Figure 12: “Basin Street: Down the Line”
  • Figure 12: “Basin Street: Down the Line”
  • Figure 13: “Crib Girl at Home/’ by E.J. Bellocq
  • Figure 14: Mug Shot of Storyville Prostitute
  • Figure 15: Diagram of Storyville
  • Figure 16: Mahogany Hall
  • Figure 17: Storyville Diagram (Mahogany Hall)

Introduction

This dissertation is a history of the construction, exploitation, fulfillment, and repression of desire when prostitution was legal in New Orleans in a red-light district called Storyville, from 1897 to 1917. Through a combination of social history and cultural analysis, I show how Storyville became a site for the articulation of race, gender, and sexual relationships at the turn of the twentieth century. Storyville offered its male patrons jazz music, “sporting” culture, and fraternal camaraderie, all organized around the sale of sex for cash.

Nineteenth-century New Orleans had a reputation as the wickedest city in America, notorious for promiscuous race mixing, interracial and illicit sex, and prostitution. It symbolized sexual excess and racial disorder. Yet this same city helped to define the moral and racial order for the twentieth century, since, as is well known, the Plessy v. Ferguson case began in New Orleans. Homer Plessy volunteered to test the constitutionality of segregation as part of an indigenous civil rights movement. He embodied the legacy of colonial Louisiana and the complex, multi-tiered racial system that long characterized the state: he was an “octoroon.” The test-case failed, the Court upheld racial segregation, and Plessy’s name thenceforth came to be associated with Jim Crow, the “one-drop rule,” and a biracial caste system. One year later, the New Orleans City Council created a red-light district under a special ordinance. Its authors desired to restrict prostitution in their city and to create a respectable New Orleans, quite apart from its reputation for sin. In the event, however, “Storyville,” as the red-light district was called (after City Councilman Sidney Story), became the most famous quasi-legalized vice district in the country and made prostitution and interracial sex in New Orleans more visible than ever. Where Plessy v. Ferguson mandated racial separation, Storyville promoted the most intimate racial mixing: the district openly advertised “colored” and “octoroon” prostitutes. Scarcely a year after the Supreme Court denied Plessy his octoroon status and reclassified him as a “colored,” his native city began showcasing “octoroons” for the enjoyment of sexual pleasure-seekers.

How could Storyville openly promote “octoroon” prostitutes in the face of intensifying racial dualism? How could Storyville brazenly advertise interracial sex in an era of disenfranchisement and lynchings? My dissertation analyzes the conjunction of Storyville’s transgressive culture with an increasingly rigid Jim Crow regime. Like much else in New Orleans’ history, Storyville has most often been treated as sui generis in the context of the dominant trends of the nation. In contrast, I show that Storyville can only be properly understood as part of the transitional period of the turn of the century. I argue that Storyville functioned as a deliberate archaism, a place of nostalgia for the antebellum South, by offering the slave planter’s sexual prerogatives to all white men regardless of class. Storyville fashioned the memory of the exclusive and patriarchal social order of the Old South into a New South sexual playground. There was something for everyone in Storyville: white, “French,” or “Jewess”; from street girls to handsome “octoroons” (women who were supposed to be one-eighth black), from “negro” cribs to grand mansions. In a demi-monde devoted to vice and pleasure, white men shed the strictures of middle-class morality and the imperatives of Jim Crow and drank, danced, gambled, and had sex. Only white men enjoyed the privilege of paying for these pleasures. The best bordellos, including those which featured women of color, barred black men. Thus, the district prescribed a sexualized racial hierarchy even as it seemed to defy all social order.

Historians have shown that a racial identity for American “whites” coalesced against the image of a “racial other” during the period of Storyville’s heyday. At the same time, indeed, as part of the same process, American sexual identity was thoroughly racialized through the constant cultural reference to sexual “others.” The evocation of alien and racialized sexualities, and the subsequent (often immediate) repression of them, describes the kind of dialectic of racial and sexual discourse in the years around the turn of the century. Following Michel Foucault, Ann Laura Stoler writes that “desire follows from, and is generated out of, the law, out of the powerladen discourses of sexuality where it is animated and addressed.” In other words, the very language and prohibitions rejecting certain sexual practices hosts the desire for those same practices. In the turn-the-century South, the miscegenation taboo, the disparagement of black female sexuality, the parody, infantalization, and violent repression of black male sexuality, all combined to produce white male sexual desire. Storyville provided an arena in which to act out and satisfy that desire. At the same time, the subordination of black bodies, in a fraternal atmosphere of manly “sport” and transgressive sex, “educated” whiteness for the New South. This dissertation shows how Storyville both subverted and supported the race and sex order of the New South. Finally, I argue that Storyville, like a concentrating lens, displays the often hidden linkages between sexual power and racial oppression in the development of Jim Crow and modern American identity.

Most historical studies of American prostitution focus on particular locales or the national scene and rely on a range of literatures: reform, “white slavery,” medicine, and venereal disease. This literature is enormously rich and evocative. Yet, when it comes to prostitution in the South, the national discourse is inadequate. Prostitution, though perhaps the oldest profession, manifests differently depending on its particular social organization. If, as Carole Pateman argues, prostitution is an expression of patriarchal right, then the specific terms of the patriarchy in question must be addressed in understanding prostitution. In the South, patriarchy was organized not solely around male power, but specifically around white male sexual power. Among the prerogatives of mastery was the implicit right to have sex with slaves. It is impossible to understand prostitution without an understanding of this legacy for white and black Southerners. In this dissertation, I show how Storyville reimagined the patriarchal relationships of the slave plantation and the slave market in a particularly modern way, offering all white men the sexual prerogatives of mastery for a cash fee. By doing this, Storyville exaggerated and burlesqued the emerging New South order. I argue that Storyville, through its highlighting of black women in the fulfillment of white male sexual desire, reveals, in extremis, trends present in dominant society. Thus my local history tells a national story. I show how the construction of desire, its regulation, and fulfillment were central to the formation of modern American culture, from Plessy v. Ferguson to Woodrow Wilson and World War I.

Storyville celebrated interracial sex and prostitution. In the first chapter, “The Quadroon Connexion,” I explore the foundations of Storyville’s transgressive culture in the history of the slave market, the Quadroon Balls, and the “fancy girl” auctions in New Orleans. I begin with a brief history of interracial concubinage, the development of Louisiana’s three-caste society, and then, in the years preceding the Civil War through the 1890s, the repression of free-born people of color and the establishment of Jim Crow. Having established the basic pattern of race relations in New Orleans, I then turn to a different set of reflections, those of nineteenth-century travelers to the city. Most visitors agreed that New Orleans was the center of commerce and cosmopolitanism in the Mississippi Valley, some believed in the whole North American continent. Through their individual impressions, published as early as 1825 and up to the Civil War, these travelers created an image of New Orleans as a world apart, a diorama populated by specific types, engaged in a frenzy of cosmopolitan activity.

These early tourists to New Orleans focused their attentions most acutely on the city’s markets, including its traffic in light-skinned women, known as the “fancy trade,” so known because they represented the “fancies” of wealthy white men in the antebellum south who wanted concubines. Antebellum New Orleans hosted another market for concubines: Quadroon Balls. White men attended these Balls in order to select mistresses from the colored Creole population. The institution of white male-Creole female concubinage, known as placage outgrew the confines of the Quadroon Balls and settled into New Orleans culture. Visitors to the city assumed that all Creole of Color women served as concubines to wealthy white men, while asserting that all white men had their personal concubines. This was the “quadroon connexion,” in the words of Harriet Martineau. These two markets in women intrigued visitors to New Orleans and enraged abolitionists. Thus in this chapter I also look at the abolitionist literature of the “tragic octoroon” and how it anchored New Orleans in people’s minds as the North American capital for interracial sex. Storyville’s promoters exploited these associations flamboyantly. The best bordellos featured “octoroon” prostitutes, modern incarnations of antebellum “fancy” girls.

In the second chapter of the dissertation, ‘The Promised Land of Harlotry,” I trace the historical origins of Storyville in terms of New Orleans prostitution and reform. I argue that the reform administration that enacted the Storyville ordinance sought to modernize their city and to integrate it into the commercial and cultural mainstream of America. Their paramount concern was with appearances. Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, New Orleans was mired in economic depression. The city moreover suffered from a reputation of regional recalcitrance. By the late 1880s this image increasingly got in the way of business. The commercial elite behind the creation of Storyville wanted to free their city of its association with sin. Storyville, I argue, was part of a broader movement at the turn of the century to alter the appearance of New Orleans, to revive and repackage “dioramic” New Orleans for the Northern tourist, businessman, and investor in the city. Promotional pamphlets advertised New Orleans as the winter capital of the United States, an “Eden” in the Southwest; the city boosters emphasized the romantic old city, the French Quarter, emphasizing that New Orleans was at once the land of “Old Romance and New Opportunity.”

The municipal administration situated the red-light district called Storyville on the margins of old and new New Orleans, between the French Quarter and the American section. I argue that this was a strategic compromise, allowing them to disavow interracial and commercial sex, while still profiting from the city’s longstanding reputation for both. But in a fateful irony, the promoters of Storyville, too, recreated “dioramic” New Orleans in their own promotional guidebooks, reviving the discursive image of New Orleans from antebellum times but flamboyantly including “octoroons” as the primary attraction in the commercial sex district, reintegrating their services with the larger phenomenon of New Orleans.

The district reimagined the antebellum slave plantation and its patriarchal privileges for a new generation of American (and Southern) men. In chapter three, “Basin Street Blues,” I show just how “modern” the district was. Drawing on recent scholarship on the rise of popular, mass culture, I counterpose Storyville with its contemporary amusements. Historians have analyzed the varied entertainments at the turn of the twentieth century in terms of how the sites of that entertainment fostered racial solidarity among “whites,” often through the opposing figure of the “black other,” Through exclusion, ridicule, and, in some instances, pretensions to evolutionary science, white organizers of popular culture portrayed blacks as inferior biologically and socially in the scheme of western civilization and American industry.

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Multiracial Americans Ready To Claim Their Own Identity

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-16 22:07Z by Steven

Multiracial Americans Ready To Claim Their Own Identity

The New York Times
1996-07-20

Michel Marriott

For Alison Perry, being multiracial has meant moving through life as if she had a giant question mark drawn on her forehead. Strangers frequently approach and begin a vexing guessing game: “Are you Israeli?” “Are you a Latina?” “Where are you from?”

Yet for this slender, almond-colored woman with delicate features drawn from both her black-American father and her Italian-American mother, race is not what defines her.

“I definitely say that I’m interracial,” Ms. Perry said. “I do not identify myself as a black woman. I definitely don’t identify myself as a white woman, either.”

The very existence of multiracial people like Ms. Perry challenges this nation’s traditionally rigid notions of race…

…”People of mixed race in this country haven’t belonged anywhere,” said Charles Byrd, editor and publisher of Interracial Voice, an Internet news journal based in Queens that has backed the march. “The march will, in effect, allow people to come out and be themselves—not just be black, not just be white, but just be a human being.”…

…Forced Choices And No Choices

Increasingly, multiracial people are arguing—and many scientists agree—that race is a social construct, not a biological absolute. Many historians and social scientists, said Steven Gregory, a professor of anthropology and Africana studies at New York University, believe that the notion of race was largely invented as a way to assign social status and privilege.

Unlike sex, which is determined by the X or Y chromosome, there is no genetic marker for race. Indeed, a 1972 study by a Harvard University geneticist, Richard Lewontin, found that most genetic differences were within racial groups, not between them. He could trace only 6 percent of such differences to race.

Yet in the closing years of the 20th century, race remains a stubbornly resistant feature of this nation’s culture. Other societies, like those of some islands of the Caribbean and some South American countries, have a more fluid sense of racial identity. In Jamaica, for example, when people speak of color, they are referring to skin tone, not inalterable racial categories, said Cecile Ann Lawrence, a lawyer who was a government administrator in Jamaica.

But in the United States, race even divides multiracial people themselves. While some proudly claim their multiracial identity, others believe it is a sham, an effort to identify with the dominant, and privileged, white culture at the expense of a stigmatized minority.

“There is a tremendous amount of denial,” said Scott Minerbrook, whose father is black and whose mother white, but who considers himself black. Mr. Minerbrook, who is on the staff of Time magazine and lives in Islip, N.Y., says that many people “fall into the trap that they don’t want to be identified with failure; they think blackness equals failure.” But there is no escape, he argues; that is how the rest of the world labels multiracial children.

Some multiracial Americans believe, as Anthony Robert Hale, a graduate student in American literature at the University of California at Berkeley, said, that “in most cases, ‘mixed race’ means no race.”…

…Some Are Forging A Different Path

Regardless of society’s labels, many multiracial people are determined to set their own courses. Ms. Perry, who was an anthropology major at Wesleyan University, has learned to regard the American obsession with race with a degree of detachment, even tolerance. But she herself still defies categorization.

At Wesleyan, she was drawn to other interracial students, a well-organized and relatively large group on campus. She said she never felt part of the black community there.

Nonetheless, she joined a West African dance troupe at Wesleyan and traveled with it to Ghana. In Africa, she recalled with a chuckle, she was considered white. She also began dating one of the dance troupe’s drummers, who is white and Jewish….

Read the entire article here.

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EWS [Ethnic & Women’s Studies] 450(4) Course ID:003122: Multiracial and Hybrid Identities

Posted in Course Offerings, Media Archive, United States on 2012-05-16 21:05Z by Steven

EWS [Ethnic & Women’s Studies] 450(4) Course ID:003122: Multiracial and Hybrid Identities

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
2010-09-22

Interdisciplinary exploration of the development, meaning, and sociopolitical implications of hybridity in constructing racial, ethnic and gender identities in the U.S. Status and experience of hybrid people, e.g. biracial/multiracials examined through synthesis of anthropology, arts, history, literature, sociology,
ethnic and gender studies.

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PHIL 3830. Philosophy and Race

Posted in Course Offerings, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2012-05-16 17:35Z by Steven

PHIL 3830. Philosophy and Race

University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Cross-listed as AFRS 3830.  This course both examines the role of the concept of race in the Western philosophical canon, and uses current philosophical texts and methods to examine Western discourses of race and racism.  Issues such as whiteness, double consciousness, the black/white binary, Latino identity and race, ethnicity, mixed-race identity, and the intersection of race with gender and class will also be examined.  (Alternate years)

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Fetishes and Monuments: Afro-Brazilian Art and Culture in the 20th Century

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Monographs, Religion on 2012-05-16 16:01Z by Steven

Fetishes and Monuments: Afro-Brazilian Art and Culture in the 20th Century

Berghahn Books
2007
224 pages
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84545-363-3
Paberback ISBN: ISBN 978-1-84545-711-2

Roger Sansi, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology
Goldsmith’s College, London

One hundred years ago in Brazil the rituals of Candomblé were feared as sorcery and persecuted as crime. Its cult objects were fearsome fetishes. Nowadays, they are Afro-Brazilian cultural works of art, objects of museum display and public monuments. Focusing on the particular histories of objects, images, spaces and persons who embodied it, this book portrays the historical journey from weapons of sorcery looted by the police, to hidden living stones, to public works of art attacked by religious fanatics that see them as images of the Devil, former sorcerers who have become artists, writers, and philosophers. Addressing this history as a journey of objectification and appropriation, the author offers a fresh, unconventional, and illuminating look at questions of syncretism, hybridity and cultural resistance in Brazil and in the Black Atlantic in general.

Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Culture and Objectification in the Black Rome
  • 1. ‘Making the Saint’: Spirits, Shrines and Syncretism in CandomblĂ©
  • 2. From Sorcery to Civilisation: The Objectification of Afro-Brazilian Culture
  • 3. From Informants to Scholars: Appropriating Afro-Brazilian Culture
  • 4. From Weapons of Crime to Jewels of the Crown: CandomblĂ© in Museums
  • 5. From the Shanties to the Mansions: CandomblĂ© as National Heritage
  • 6. Modern Art and Afro-Brazilian Culture in Bahia
  • 7. Authenticity and Commodification in Afro-Brazilian Art
  • 8. CandomblĂ© as Public Art: The OrixĂĄs of TororĂł
  • 9. Re-appropriations of Afro-Brazilian Culture
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Introduction

Salvador da Bahia, once the colonial capital of Brazil, is nowadays the capital of Afro-Brazilian culture. Some tourist brochures call it the ‘Black Rome’, ‘the biggest inheritor of African traditions out of Africa’, and ‘Cradle and home of African descendent traditions (including samba, capoeira and CandomblĂ©)’. CandomblĂ© in particular is often presented as the heart of this Afro-Brazilian culture.

The origin of the term ‘CandomblĂ© is unknown, it seems to have appeared in Bahia in the first half of the nineteenth century in reference to parties of slaves and freed slaves (sometimes in the plural, CandomblĂ©s), and also in connection with the practice of sorcery (feitigaria). Some sources presumed that these activities had an African origin; the newspapers often complained about the noise of drums at CandomblĂ© parties, and the charlatanism of the sorcerers; but from very early on, people of all social groups, origins and races came to the parties and made use of sorcery. For the editor of a newspaper in 1868, ‘these absurd CandomblĂ©s are so rooted, that I do no longer admire seeing Black people involved, when White people are the more passionate devotees of the cause’.

Of course, few among the white or almost white upper classes would publicly acknowledge their participation: to do so would be an embarrassment. Now and then the police disbanded the CandomblĂ©s and the sorcerers were put on trial, their instruments confiscated as ‘weapons of sorcery’. Nonetheless, it seems that CandomblĂ© was never just an exclusive, secretive and resistant African affair: the sorcerers often had powerful patrons, people from across Bahian society took part in it. In fact, the sorcery of CandomblĂ© was seen by many as the hidden force dominating the city, and writers like Marques or Joao do Rio affirm that ‘we are all ruled by the sorcerer’.

But when newspapers today talk about CandomblĂ©, they do not denounce evil sorcery and outrageous parties. Instead, CandomblĂ© is praised as African religion and cultural heritage. The objects of CandomblĂ© are presented in museums as works of art. Participating in CandomblĂ© is not an indignity, but something to be proud of. Intellectuals and politicians make their attendance at and even their participation in its rituals, both public and official. Gilberto Gil, musician and Minister of Culture, is also a ‘lord’ (ogan) in a CandomblĂ© house.

How did CandomblĂ© go from Sorcery to National Heritage? How did CandomblĂ© become ‘Culture’? This question has not been properly addressed until now. Since its very origin, the literature on CandomblĂ© has been obsessed with demonstrating the African origins and continuities of its rituals and myths. This tradition of studies, what I will call ‘Afro-Brazilianism’, has built an image of CandomblĂ© as a ‘microcosmic Africa’ (Bastide 1978c), where the philosophical and artistic essences of the continent are preserved.

In recent decades Afro-Brazilianism has been severely criticised by social scientists interested in racial politics, who have argued that Afro-Brazilian culture is an ‘invented tradition’, and Afro-Brazilianist discourse a form of domination by the Brazilian elites over the black populations of Brazil. In transforming CandomblĂ© into folklore, Afro-Brazilianism has imposed a ‘culturalism1 more concerned with the protection of an objectified cultural heritage than with racial politics. In Hanchard’s terms Afro-Brazilian culture has been ‘reified’: ‘culture becomes a thing, not a deeply political process.’

This book starts trom a different point: the question is not if this culture is ‘authentic’ or a ‘fiction’, but how CandomblĂ© has become Afro-Brazilian culture. Encompassing these two discourses, we will see how Afro-Brazilian culture is neither a repressed essence nor an invention, but the outcome of a dialectical process of exchange between the leaders of CandomblĂ© and a cultural elite of writers, artists and anthropologists in Bahia. In this dialectical process the cultural and artistic values of national and international anthropologists, intellectuals and artists have been synthesised with the religious values of CandomblĂ©, generating an unprecedented objectification: ‘Afro-Brazilian culture’. At the same time, the leaders of CandomblĂ© have recognised their own practice as ‘Culture’, and have become the subjects of their own objectification.

The impasse between affirmative and critical views on Afro-Brazilian culture is a result of their rigid and incompatible notions of ‘culture’. For the Afro-Brazilianist tradition, African culture is an original, unchanging ‘system of representations’ that has resisted slavery, and which is ritually re-enacted in CandomblĂ©. For its critics, this notion of ‘culture’ is a fixed image, a false projection of imperialist reason: Afro-Brazilian culture is just a masquerade that hides the racial inequalities of Brazil.

But a culture is neither a fixed ‘system of representations’ nor a rigid ideological projection. Cultures are always in construction: they are not immanent and self-contained, but transient and relative historical formations. And yet, this does not mean that they are just artificial and false constructions. After all, what is the problem with ‘culture becoming a thing’? Cultures are indeed the result of histories of objectification—processes of recognition of identity and alterity. But processes of objectification cannot be reduced to reification. Objectification does not preclude politics, but in many ways it is the precondition of any meaningful social action: it is precisely because culture is objectified that it can be discussed, used and appropriated by social actors.

This book will describe this process neither as resistance nor masquerade, but as a historical transformation of practices, values and discourses: a cultural history. On the one hand, it is unquestionable that many African traditions are present in CandomblĂ©; nevertheless it is also true that its ritual practices have incorporated the history of Brazil in what has been called ‘syncretism’. On the other hand, intellectuals have objectified CandomblĂ© as Afro-Brazilian culture. But this objectification is not just an ideological fixed image, a reification: it has been actively appropriated by the people of CandomblĂ©, who have assumed the discourses and practices of Afro-Brazilian culture as their own. This process of appropriation can be understood in very similar terms to religious syncretism; in a way it has been a ‘syncretism of Culture’.

Before going any further, I will explain in more detail what I mean by ‘Culture’ and ‘objectification’, and how the Afro-Brazilian case can offer a particular perspective on a more universal cultural process of our time: the appropriation of ‘Culture’…

…The solution to the ‘Negro problem’ for this elite was the ‘whitening’ of Brazil (Skidmore 1995). Deploying in a very particular way the eugenic theories of their time, they thought that by increasing European immigration Brazil would progressively eliminate its majority of Black people (Moritz-Schwartz 1993). Blacks and mulattos, as degenerate races, would inevitably die out, unless they improved their ‘weak’ blood with the powerful new ‘stocks’ of Europeans that were arriving en masse in Brazil. But in Bahia there was no significant influx of European immigrants. There was no work for them: nourishing agriculture, and later industry, were concentrated in the south, around Sao Paulo. Bahia remained poor and Black, lost in its past, with a dormant economy, a provincial life and a small population until the 1940s. This is the period that Gil and Riserio (1988) have called a ‘hundred years of solitude’, beginning with the end of the slave trade. In this ‘decadent’ context, after three brilliant centuries of international exchange of people and things, Bahians were left to themselves: there was no substantial immigration or change in Bahia’s population, and a very specific local culture progressively took hold. Bahian society was extremely traditional, and marked by the cultural history of its overwhelming majority of African descendants…

Read the entire Introduction here.

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New group aims to create a space for biracial students

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Media Archive, United States on 2012-05-16 16:00Z by Steven

New group aims to create a space for biracial students

Kansas State Collegian
2012-02-14

Jakki Thompson, Assistant News Editor

K-State recently welcomed The Association of Multiracial Biracial Students, an organization for students of mixed races and ethnicities, to campus. AMBS is the first organization of its kind on campus and was founded by Clayton Patrick, freshman in hotel and restaurant management and president of AMBS.
 
“I basically got the idea from my personal story,” Patrick said. “I was adopted and I found out my biological mother was African-American, Native American and Caucasian. I had an obsession from then on with mixed races and the biological differences between races.”
 
Patrick said he read about a multiracial student organization that was started at the University of Maryland in an article printed in The New York Times. He also said he noticed there are many biracial groups at California universities…

Read the entire article here.

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How Culture and Science Make Race “Genetic”: Motives and Strategies for Discrete Categorization of the Continuous and Heterogeneous

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2012-05-16 03:43Z by Steven

How Culture and Science Make Race “Genetic”: Motives and Strategies for Discrete Categorization of the Continuous and Heterogeneous

Literature and Medicine
Volume 26, Number 1 (Spring 2007)
pages 240–268
DOI: 10.1353/lm.2008.0000

Celeste Condit, Distinguished Research Professor
University of Georgia

Scientists, medical personnel, and others have recently re-asserted the equivalence of human genetic variation and social categories of “race”. This essay identifies strong cultural and scientific motives for creating, defending, and deploying that equivalence. However, the essay employs visual depictions of human genetic variation and critical analysis of scientific and lay vocabularies to show that human genetic variation has a complex structure that cannot be directly fit into a simple category set of race terms. The essay suggests that efforts to equate patterns of human genetic variation and social terms for “race” rely on the rhetorical strategies of casuistic stretching and the deployment of a mediating term through a two-step argumentative structure. The essay closes by discussing the difficulties involved in implementing social policies based on this procrustean category system, utilizing the case of the “race-based” heart disease drug Bi-Dil.

One of the most contentious issues in contemporary genetics is the status of the concept of “race.” Critics of the research program in human genomics regularly cite the historical and contemporary associations between racism and genetics as a reason to be suspicious or non-supportive of genetic research. These criticisms operate on varying underlying assumptions about the nature of science and its relationship to culture. The predominant account, however, holds that science is the handmaiden of the dominant forces in the culture. In this account, because genetic science is a tool of the dominant forces in society, which are structured in a racist fashion, genetic science is predetermined to support racism. Substantial research in science studies has complicated the account of the relationship between science and culture, but the topic of racism and genetics has only recently begun to receive similarly sophisticated attention. I wish to contribute to this on-going exploration by analyzing the processes by which and the motives for which race terms are fit to the patterns of human genetic variation by scientists and medical research personnel.

My essay presumes and shows that human genetic variation has a complex structure that cannot be directly fit into a simple category set of race terms. Nevertheless, the essay identifies strong cultural and scientific motives for creating, defending, and deploying such a set of terms to describe that variation. Given the tension between the nature of human genetic variation and the scientific vocabularies proposed to define it, the essay reveals two specific rhetorical strategies used by scientific proponents of such categorization: casuistic stretching and the deployment of a mediating term through a two-step argumentative structure.

The essay proceeds in five movements. The first briefly overviews the historical trajectory of the naming of race in the U.S. The second enumerates the diverse motive structures that drive the contemporary categorization of human genetic variation into “race” groups, focusing particularly on the work of Neil Risch and his colleagues. The next provides a conceptually- and visually-based depiction of the nature of human genetic variation that highlights its clinal and brecciated character.  The essay then offers an analysis of the rhetorical strategies by which these heterogeneous and continuous materials are organized into simple, discrete categories by the scientific proponents of a biological foundation for “race.” In the final movement, the essay discusses the difficulties involved in implementing social policies based on this procrustean category system. It examines the case of the “race-based” heart disease drug BiDil to suggest that the inherent slippages in the category system make proposed programs of race-based medicine unworkable, but that they will also mask the failures of such initiatives…

…This inherent variability suggests that programs in race-based medicine are doomed to failure, at least to the extent that they are presumed to be based on underlying genetics. Figures 1–3 remind us that genetic heterogeneity among people who have relatively recent African ancestry is greater than anywhere in the world. Although this heterogeneity may have been reduced in African Americans by geographically selective and forced migration, it is re-enhanced by admixture. The “Black” population in the U.S. is also continually diversifying, as recent migrants come from other parts of Africa or from the Carribbean, where different patterns of migration and admixture have existed. Consequently, it is not reasonable to expect that dark skinned people as a group will respond to a particular drug more uniformly than the broader population, based on their skin color alone. If BiDil really does work better for African Americans (in the narrow range of parts of the country where it has been systematically tested) its beneficial effects will more likely result from shared experience of social discrimination than from shared genes. But BiDil’s success will be used as evidence to support what everybody believes—or fears—that Black people are genetically different from White people, in ways that truly matter.

BiDil’s failures will also be masked by the ambiguities of language. Doctors will not know to which patients they should prescribe BiDil. How dark should your skin be before you are a candidate for this medicine? If you have brown skin, but self-identify as “African American,” do you get the drug? What if you are dark skinned, but self-identify as Caribbean? What if your grandfather was from Ireland but your other relatives were from Sierra Leone? What if you are a recent immigrant from Ethiopia? The genetic ambiguities are blackwashed with a simple label: “Black” (or is it “African American”?). The promoters of the idea that people can be grouped into genetically discrete piles called “races” will never have to face the fact that these clinical problems invalidate their views. Whether a drug does or does not work for an “African American” with an Irish grandparent will not be attributed to the fact that the labels don’t work. It will be dismissed as irrelevant on the grounds that no medication works all the time, even for a targeted group. Only if BiDil proves to have a relatively high rate of fatal or serious side effects will it face real scrutiny. Only then will the spectre of the Tuskegee Syphilis study return. Even its return, however, will probably further reify “Black” against “White” rather than call into question the underlying assumptions that human beings can be placed into discrete genetic categories and treated based on those categories instead of the unique genetic constellation that each person represents….

Read the entire article here.

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A Medical Humanities Perspective On Racial Borderlands

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-16 02:47Z by Steven

A Medical Humanities Perspective On Racial Borderlands

Literature, Arts and Medicine Blog
2008-06-30

Felice Aull, Ph.D., M.A., Associate Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience; Editor in Chief, Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database
New York University School of Medicine

I have long been interested in the metaphor of borderlands as a tool for exploring areas of ambiguity in medicine and in society. Courses that I teach (to medical students) consider ambiguous boundaries between student and professional, patient and physician, personal life and professional life, disease and health, and the cultural confusion that derives from migration and dislocation. I address those issues using theory from the social sciences and humanities in addition to fiction, memoir, poetry, and art. One of the topics that we consider is the ambiguity inherent in concepts of race. This has become a topic of recent interest (and controversy) because race, medical research and practice, and health policy are being linked with the genomics revolution. And since all of these endeavors take place in a sociopolitical context, recent events and discussions in the national political scene cannot help but play a role in our thinking about these topics. With this as background, I offer some thoughts triggered by a recent confluence of events.

The events

  1. The presumptive nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic Party’s choice for president.
  2. The March, 2008, announcement that the National Institutes of Health established the Intramural Center for Genomics and Health Disparities, whose priority is to “understand how we can use the tools of genomics to address some of the issues we see with health disparities.”
  3. Publication in the journal, Literature and Medicine, of “How Culture and Science Make Race ‘Genetic’: Motives and Strategies for Discrete Categorization of the Continuous and Heterogeneous,” by Celeste Condit. (26/1, Spring 2007 pp.240-268).

What is race?

Because Barack Obama was chosen to be the presidential candidate of a major political party, much has been made of the advances this country has made in racial tolerance and acceptance. Yet the fact that so much attention is being given to the racial component of the upcoming election emphasizes that race and color are still important in the national narrative. Obama personifies the contradictions and fallacies of the way we traditionally think about race. Born in Hawaii to a “white” American woman and a “black” man from the African country of Kenya, Obama is identified by virtually everyone as “African American” and black, although he is culturally atypical in that he is not descended from US slaves. He himself for the most part accepts that designation but he has consistently sought to move beyond race and has even been described as “post-racial.” In this country Obama is virtually forced to identify as African American because he is so identified by almost anyone who notices the color of his skin. Mr. Obama could not identify himself publicly as a white American or as “Caucasian,” even though his ancestry is as much white as it is black. He could not “pass” as white, simply because we tend to equate skin color and other physical characteristics with something that many call “race.”…

…Race-based medicine…

In my teaching I used the recent penetrating article by Celeste Condit in Literature and Medicine (event #3 above) to consider concepts of race and race-based medicine. Condit lays out the background for the current interest in race-based medicine and then proceeds systematically to demonstrate that the complexity of human genetic variation can not be fit into discrete categories like race or what is more often now discussed as continent of origin and gene clusters. She marshals the evidence that “there are no discrete boundaries among groups; instead there are slowly changing [gene] flows” (p. 253). And here is why this essay appeared in a journal of literature and medicine: Condit asserts that language “is always predisposed toward discreteness and binarity” and that we cannot wrap our minds around “any single word or visual map that could capture the 3 million different patterns of difference [in the 3 million base pairs in the human genome that vary]” (250). In addition, Condit argues that the notion that “human genetic variation partitions people into ‘races’ ” is a two-step [probably unconscious] rhetorical strategy that claims (1) gene clustering coincides with continental boundaries and (2) continents coincide with five historically designated racial categories(254). She shows how verbal manipulation is involved in mapping genetic clusters with five continental groupings and then enumerates the many ways that racial designations fluctuate and do not consistently correspond with the five groupings or with genetic clusters…

Read the entire essay here.

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An educational defense for multiracial identity

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-05-16 02:34Z by Steven

An educational defense for multiracial identity

San Francisco Chronicle
2001-07-25

Kimberly Cooper-Plaszewski

Celebrate rather than assimilate biracial heritages

U.S. CENSUS 2000 marked the first time in history that multiracial people were given the “option” to specify more than one race to describe their racial identity.
 
On the surface, this alternative may give the impression that people choosing to identify with more than one race on their census forms are endangering the plight of many civil rights activists and organizations with regard to civil rights appropriations.
 
Yet, contrary to this grossly widespread misconception, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has determined that while racial data will be collected offering multiple race responses, those responses that combine one minority race and white will be allocated to the minority race for use in civil rights monitoring and enforcement…
 
…Rather than focusing indefinitely on what racial groups are supposedly losing from these changes to the census, let us, for the moment, focus on the fundamental gains for all racial and ethnic groups…
 
Read the entire opinion piece here.

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