The Hypervisible Man: Obama as the First Black, Mixed-Race, Asian American and now Gay President

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-27 22:43Z by Steven

The Hypervisible Man: Obama as the First Black, Mixed-Race, Asian American and now Gay President

Mixed Dreams: towards a radical multiracial/ethnic movement

Nicole Asong Nfonoyim

“I have always sensed that he [Obama] intuitively understands gays and our predicament—because it so mirrors his own. And he knows how the love and sacrifice of marriage can heal, integrate, and rebuild a soul. The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves. This has been Obama’s life’s work. And he just enlarged the space in this world for so many others, trapped in different cages of identity, yearning to be released and returned to the families they love and the dignity they deserve.” −Andrew Sullivan, “The First Gay President,” Newsweek

I admit, I’ve missed quite a bit being oceans and continents away from the US of A. But one watershed moment managed to reach my little apartment in Udaipur last week as I was sipping my morning chai. Front page of the Times of India was Obama’s declaration of support for marriage equality. Between you and I, I was always of the camp that believed Obama’s previous stance was no more than a mere (albeit calculated and predictable) front to protect his political hide as the over-hyped newbie presidential candidate. Seems my sentiments were shared by Andrew Sullivan in his cover article in this week’s edition of Newsweek, which featured the above image and the headline “The First Gay President.”

Reading Sullivan’s article, I remembered a talk I attended at Oberlin College for Asian Pacific American Month in 2010 where the speaker’s last slide was entitled “The First Asian-American President” beneath two photographs of Obama, one as a child in Indonesia and one hugging his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng at his high school graduation in Hawaii. The speaker insisted that Obama’s early childhood spent in Indonesia with  his mother and stepfather, his youth spent in Hawaii, his identity as a hyphen American, and immigrant son made his experience akin to that of many Asian-Americans and thus earned him the title “First Asian-American President.” And in those terms it totally made sense. Obama could be Asian-American. Obama’s identity lends itself quite easily to repeated acts of reading and (re)interpretation. Though he’s self-identified as African-American, many still call him “The First Multiracial President.” Because it matters much less what Obama thinks of himself than what we the people think of him—what images we project onto his being.

In my course, I used Obama’s story, his identity as a tool to understand how multiraciality contains multitudes and how a multiracial critique could be instrumental in breaking down monolithic notions of identity. So I encouraged students to talk about multiraciality as part of black identities, as part of Asian-American identities, Latin@, Native, White, adoptee and queer identities. If anything multiraciality benefits a great deal from a queer critique—queering race. And there’s increasingly more out there in Academe that works at the rich intersection. That being said, I still found myself a bit surprised to see such a bold act of race queering on the cover of a mainstream American publication such as Newsweek

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Black White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Religion on 2012-05-27 22:06Z by Steven

Black White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self

Riverhead Press (an imprint of Penguin Press)
336 pages
5.23 x 8.03in
ISBN 9781573229074

Rebecca Walker

ALA Best Book for Young Adults

The Civil Rights movement brought author Alice Walker and lawyer Mel Leventhal together, and in 1969 their daughter, Rebecca, was born. Some saw this unusual copper-colored girl as an outrage or an oddity; others viewed her as a symbol of harmony, a triumph of love over hate. But after her parents divorced, leaving her a lonely only child ferrying between two worlds that only seemed to grow further apart, Rebecca was no longer sure what she represented. In this book, Rebecca Leventhal Walker attempts to define herself as a soul instead of a symbol—and offers a new look at the challenge of personal identity, in a story at once strikingly unique and truly universal.

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The Commoditization of Hybridity in the 1990s U.S. Fashion Advertising: Who Is cK one?

Posted in Books, Chapter, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2012-05-27 20:10Z by Steven

The Commoditization of Hybridity in the 1990s U.S. Fashion Advertising: Who Is cK one?

in Beyond the Frame: Women of Color and Visual Representation
Palgrave MacMillan
September 2005
272 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4039-6533-2, ISBN10: 1-4039-6533-1

Edited by

Neferti X. M. Tadiar, Professor of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College, Columbia University

Angela Y. Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita
University of California, Santa Cruz

pages 31-47

Laura J. Kuo

…an important caveat follows for postcolonial practices,namely the risk that hybridity might be re-colonised by the apparatus of power as either compensation for our losses,or as the velvet glove of enjoyment that goes hand in hand with the iron fist of exclusion. —Kobena Mercer

How does a concept like hybridity travel within different economies—between the academy, activist arenas, and the media, for example—and what forms does it take on within these smart mutations? Is the adoption of a complex concept like hybridity by the media the simple appropriation of culture by capital? The usages, travels, and permutations of hybridity are more complex and elaborate than a blanket confiscation of its political value. After all, capital is culture (among other things) and hybridity is another sign within postmodern commodity systems. By engaging the structure of these systems we can begin to identify the ways in which hybridity operates within—and in the service of—the dominant logic of postmodern capitalist neoliberalism, and its massive contradictions. In this essay I investigate hybridity as a site of possible transgressions of fixed identities, and as a potentially productive space that has been recolonized by market multiculturalism—a space that views everyone as mixed and thus elides structural differences and persistent hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

Specifically within the context of advertising, hybridity becomes, atone level, a strategy that stabilizes discursive power relations within transnational capital. For example, there are complex relations between multinational corporations in the United States and U.S./Third World and gendered immigrant labor practices on the one hand, and the cooptation of political coalitional work on the other. At another level, images of hybridity in advertising generate value in a global world where these commodities circulate. Certainly, a racialized economic hegemony is stabilized through appropriations of racial diversity discourses within market multiculturalism. Yet it is too easy to declare that global capital exploits the labor of women of color in the Third World and in the United States, that advertising hides this exploitative relationship, and that the images therefore should be criticized and dismissed. Instead, I am interested in the way in which this practice of “hiding” constitutes a necessary vector of postmodern diference that enables the dominant logic of late capitalism, which inturn depends upon exploitation, appropriation, and difference. Advertising hybridity becomes complicitous with the act of hiding, yet at the same time images of hybridity open up new communities of possibilities for people who take up the ads within their specifics of home and place, looking toward new forms of identifications and affective communities withinc apitalism’s cultural logic.

The observations in this essay are based on the principal photograph of the cK one advertising campaign, which has been displayed prolifically on billboards and in magazines. This photo (see figure 2.1), which served as the prototype on which other early cK one ads were based, is called “Jenny, Kate & Company” in the Calvin Klein Cosmetics press packet. Using this ad as a sort of case study, I investigate how images of hybridity and multiculturalism in advertising serve to conflate race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, and culture within a totalizing logic of neoliberalism. I call the discursive practice of homogenizing race, class, nation, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, andculture—and the elision of the specificities of their individual locations and their intersections—commoditized hybridity. Commoditized hybridity is a manifestation of a particular practice of the relentless marketing of race. It is informed by processes of consumption of race within postmodern capitalism. Commoditized hybridity also can be represented under the guise of “multiculturalism.”…

…The cK one photos establish hybrid racial relations through biologistic portrayals of appearance. The staging of the models constructs whiteness as a racial essence cosmetically arranged with “other” racialessences in order to convey an impression of harmony/unity/solidarity. In this respect, cK one potentially closes off a space to discuss the different positions whites and people of color occupy in relation to practice,history, and social formations, and structures and relations of power.Through juxtapositions of differently racialized bodies in its ads—which are staged against a homologous black and white backdrop—cK one constructs a notion of multiraciality that postures as social diversity. The hybrid figures of 1990s fashion are bodies on which a racialized seamlessness/sameness is inscribed. The models in cK one photos are racially diverse, and when they are staged together they signify the currency of a multicultural decade. Their bodies are arranged together and “equalized” in a contrived dynamic through photographic distortion and a deliberate homogeneity of height, weight, pose, style, and expression that invokes a sense of cultural similarity, of oneness. The images are presented in black and white, creating a ground tone of similarity against which difference, as separation, is muted, and heterogeneity is emphasized. The models are always already in contact, integrated, and hybrid. They are aesthetically seductive—extremely cool, hip, and sexy—and they become part of the lure to cK one-ness. The models of color appear to be “one” with the white models, creating an illusion of common social and economic positions and cultural identifications. The commoditization of hybridity takes rich heterogeneous spaces of racial and cultural diversity and turns these spaces of promise against their potential, effectively disrupting their ability to spawn real social change. It recolonizes desirable and hopeful formulations of cultural hybridity and transforms them into weapons against the spectator. In short, these ads erase historical memory and social analysis, offering fragrance in return…

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Bessora: A Writer with a Thirty-Eight Shoe Size

Posted in Articles, Biography, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Women on 2012-05-27 05:00Z by Steven

Bessora: A Writer with a Thirty-Eight Shoe Size

Volume 24, Issue 2 (2009)
pages 60-65
DOI: 10.1080/02690050902771779

Adele King

The character of literary criticism combined with pedagogical strategies tends to categorise, moving one accepted orthodoxy forward by pushing another out of the way. Early approaches to European literature were to treat it as a body of work by white Europeans and Americans. New classifications of it are, of course, more varied, but still include such undifferentiated general categories as black, immigrant, mixed race etc. The problem is that such comparlmentalisatlons not only ignore the actual diversity of people and their social contexts but, by imposing a presumed political or cultural vision on something quite different including writing against such categorisation—can also obscure what writers are actually doing. I am not going to review the history of postcolonial criticism and pedagogy here, but want to introduce a very good author writing in French who not onfy does not fit reductive categories, but who also seems to be writing against them. Bessora’s work has been well received; in 2000 she won the prestigious Prix Félix-Fénéon, for a literary work by an author under thirty-five (previously awarded to Robbe-Grillet among others) for Les Tachts d’Encre [Ink Stains], and Cueillez-Moi Joiis Messieurs [Pick Me Nice Gentlemen] won the Grand Prix Litteraire d’Afnque Notre in 2007. Bessora’s work has not yet, however, received any extended literary attention.

In contrast to the UK, where a number of writers of mixed African-European parentage were born and work, there are few part-sub-Saharan African, part-European writers in France. Bessora (her full name is Sandrine Bessora Nan Ngueaia), who was born in Belgium in 1968, is part Swiss, part Gabonese. To my knowledge, the only other writers in French born in Europe to mixed European and sub-Saharan African parentage and living outside Africa are: Sylvie Kandé, a poet and university professor of French-Senegalese parentage, who now teaches in the United States; Binéka Lissoumba, of French-Congolese parentage, who now teaches in Canada; and Véronique Tadjo of French-Côte d’Ivoire parentage, who has taught at universities in Africa and lived in the United States, England and South Africa. Like Bessora, these writers are from social elites and are well educated, holding advanced degrees. They are less likely to have faced direct racial prejudice than to have encountered more nuanced occlusions, which come from not being identified with either white or black communities. They are not really representative of immigrant communities, unlike second generation writers of part North African origin (the beurs), who are a different, larger group, sometimes from poor immigrant families.

Bessora’s fiction is part of a change from the overly serious treatment of political themes of much earlier African writing. Among her contemporaries in the francophone world, her work has similarities with a few other writers—a younger generation who never lived under colonialism and who came to France when they were in their early twenties. While of African parentage, they are cultural hybrids, who usually write about individual problems rather than the community. Such works include Abdourahman Waberi’s comic anthropological treatment of Djibouti in Cobier nomade (1996); Alain Mabanckou’s satiric tales of life in Congo in Memoires de porc-epic (2006); Kangni Alem’s Cola Cola Jazz (2002), a book that often playfully refers to itself and that mocks Togolese society; and, from the previous generation. Boubacar Boris Diop’s Le temps de Tomango (1981), with its science fiction tales of wildly differing historical periods, from the era of slavery to the mid-twenty-first century. Bessora, however, as the only métisse [mixed race woman] of this group, is more concerned with the paradoxes that result from classifying people by skin colour and with questions of identity in Europe. She is also more amusing.

Bessora’s life, places of abode and education have been international. Her father is a Gabonese diplomat. Her mother is Swiss, of German and Polish origin, the daughter of a pastry chef. Her father had four children by his first wife, as well as two children, Bessora and a brother, by his second. As a child she lived in Switzerland, France, Austria and Washington, D.C. during her father’s career as a diplomat, as well as in Gabon. She studied business management and applied economics at a prestigious HEC—Hautes Etudes Commerciales—in Switzerland. Later, when she came to France, she studied anthropology and wrote a doctoral thesis on the myths and legends of the oil business in Gabon. This…

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Cuban surrealist Wifredo Lam fetches record price

Posted in Articles, Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, United States on 2012-05-27 04:16Z by Steven

Cuban surrealist Wifredo Lam fetches record price

BBC News

A painting by Cuban surrealist artist Wifredo Lam fetched a record personal price at a Latin American art sale at auctioneers Sotheby’s in New York.

An unnamed South American collector paid $4.5m (£2.9m) for Lam’s 1944 Idol (Oya/Divinite de l’Air et de la mort), well above the $2m-3m guide price…

…But Diego Rivera’s 1939 painting Girl in Blue and White, considered the main attraction, remained unsold.

The work by the Mexican artist had been expected to sell at a price between $4m and $6m.

In contrast, Lam’s piece, which had been in private hands since 1947, sold for more than double the previous top price for his paintings.

An Afro-Cuban, Lam died in 1982 and was heavily influenced both by surrealism and by santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion based on Yorùbá and Roman Catholic beliefs…

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Obama’s election changed racial identity of black students

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Campus Life, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2012-05-27 02:43Z by Steven

Obama’s election changed racial identity of black students

Chronicle Online
Cornell University

Karene Booker, Extension Support Specialist
Department of Human Development

Barack Obama’s historic election in 2008 stimulated individual and national reflection on race and changed African-American college students’ perceptions of being black, reports a new Cornell study published in Developmental Psychology (47:6).

But how these changes will shape public discourse as the 2012 presidential campaign unfolds or whether the 2012 election outcome will generate similar changes in racial identity is still unknown, say the researchers.

“Obama’s election triggered deep explorations or ‘encounter experiences’ in which these African-Americans [in our study] were challenged to think through the importance and positive value that can be associated with being black,” said Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, co-author of the study with Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development at Cornell, and lead author Thomas Fuller-Rowell, Ph.D. ’10, now a Robert Wood Johnson postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison…

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Changes in racial identity among African American college students following the election of Barack Obama

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Campus Life, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2012-05-27 02:36Z by Steven

Changes in racial identity among African American college students following the election of Barack Obama

Developmental Psychology
Volume 47, Number 6 (November 2011)
pages 1608-1618
DOI: 10.1037/a0025284

Thomas E. Fuller-Rowell, Robert Wood Johnson Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Anthony L. Burrow, Assistant Professor of Human Development
Cornell University

Anthony D. Ong, Associate Professor of Human Development
Cornell University

The current study considered the influence of the 2008 presidential election on the racial identity of African American college students (Mage = 19.3 years; 26.3% male). The design of the study consisted of 2 components: longitudinal and daily. The longitudinal component assessed 3 dimensions of racial identity (centrality, private regard, and public regard) 2 weeks before and 5 months after the election, and the daily diary component assessed racial identity and identity exploration on the days immediately before and after the election. Daily items measuring identity exploration focused on how much individuals thought about issues relating to their race. Analyses considered the immediate effects of the election on identity exploration and the extent to which changes in exploration were shaped by racial identity measured prior to the election. We also considered immediate and longer term changes in racial identity following the election and the extent to which longer term changes were conditioned by identity exploration. Findings suggest that the election served as an “encounter” experience (Cross, 1991, 1995, pp. 60–61), which led to increases in identity exploration. Moreover, analyses confirmed that changes in identity exploration were most pronounced among those with higher levels of racial centrality. Results also suggest that the election had both an immediate and a longer term influence on racial identity, which in some instances was conditioned by identity exploration.

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