Author Q&A: Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive on 2012-05-29 21:08Z by Steven

Author Q&A: Jessica Maria Tuccelli

The Washington Independent Review of Books

In the autumn of 1941, Amelia J. McGee, a young woman of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, and an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP, hastily sends her daughter, Ella, alone on a bus home to Georgia in the middle of the night — a desperate measure that proves calamitous when the child encounters two drifters and is left for dead on the side of the road. … Ella awakens in the homestead of Willie Mae Cotton, a root doctor and former slave, and her partner, Mary-Mary Freeborn, tucked deep in the Takatoka Forest. As Ella heals, the secrets of her lineage are revealed.
Jessica Maria Tuccelli spent three summers trekking through northeastern Georgia, soaking up its ghost stories and folklore. A graduate of MIT with a degree in anthropology, she lives in New York City with her husband and daughter. Glow is her first novel.

What sets this book apart is the way it is framed. You begin with the displacement of one of the main character’s daughter, and then you go backwards in time. What made you tell the story this way?
The story spilled out naturally, beginning in 1941 and working its way back to 1836 and then out again. As I wrote it, I had an image in mind of a Russian nesting doll, each figurine nestled inside the next one, and I thought of the structure of Glow in this manner. I was drawn to the idea of discovery, each step inward revealing a new secret within the story or insight into a character…

My great grandmother was white on one census, years later, mulatto, and white again a few years later. Why did you include the census instructions?
I have great interest in the personal versus public assignation of race and identity and its implications. Glow is told from the perspective of characters whose birth parents are of different backgrounds — African, African-American, Cherokee, and Scotch-Irish. “Mixed race” in our parlance. How the characters define themselves, however, is not necessarily how their society describes them. This causes internal and external conflict, something I experienced myself as a child.
I included the census instructions of 1850, 1920, and 1940 to call attention to the arbitrary nature of racial designations — race is a cultural concept, not a scientific or biological one — and to question the federal government’s utilization of “white” as an endowment of personhood and privilege, as reflected by the blood proportion guidelines in the census instructions and the process of electoral votes and congressional apportionment.
To quote the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, “Prior to 1870, the population base included the total free population of the states, three-fifths of the number of slaves, and excluded American Indians not taxed. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, removed the fractional count of the number of slaves from the procedure.”
So often, the characters don’t speak of their own race, their neighbors do. Maybe the census should have asked each neighbor to describe the other. Do you think the results would have been similar?
I imagine the results would be as varied as there are individuals. We have to ask ourselves what is our motive in inquiring about race, why is it so important that we identify our bloodlines or origins, will we as a nation ever be free of our obsession with race and should we be? My goal is not to create colorblindness, but rather to understand how Americans use the linguistics of race as a way of delineating, separating, or uniting one human or group from another. In 2008, when we elected Barack Obama as our president, George W. Bush hailed Obama’s journey as a triumph in the American story, a sentiment that resonated for me not only for the historical milestone it represented, but the opportunity it created to talk about race and identity in our country…

Read the entire interview here.

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Glow, A Novel

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels on 2012-05-29 21:02Z by Steven

Glow, A Novel

Viking (an imprint of Penguin Press)
336 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9780670023318
ePub eBook ISBN: 9781101560976
eBook Adobe Reader ISBN: 9781101557563

Jessica Maria Tuccelli

In the autumn of 1941, Amelia J. McGee, a young woman of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, and an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP, hastily sends her daughter, Ella, alone on a bus home to Georgia in the middle of the night—a desperate measure that proves calamitous when the child encounters two drifters and is left for dead on the side of the road.

Ella awakens in the homestead of Willie Mae Cotton, a wise root doctor and former slave, and her partner, Mary-Mary Freeborn, tucked deep in the Takatoka Forest. As Ella heals, the secrets of her lineage are revealed.

Shot through with Cherokee lore and hoodoo conjuring, Glow transports us from Washington, D.C., on the brink of World War II to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, from the parlors of antebellum manses to the plantation kitchens where girls are raised by women who stand in as mothers. As the land with all its promise and turmoil passes from one generation to the next, Ella’s ancestral home turns from safe haven to mayhem and back again.

Jessica Maria Tuccelli reveals deep insight into individual acts that can transform a community, and the ties that bind people together across immeasurable hardships and distances. Illuminating the tragedy of human frailty, the vitality of friendship and hope, and the fiercest of all bonds—mother love—the voices of Glow transcend their history with grace and splendor.

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The future of whiteness

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-29 20:31Z by Steven

The future of whiteness


Michael Lind

Both Republican and Democratic racial politics are doomed. How culture shifts will reshape American ideas on race

The Census Bureau has announced that a majority of new-born infants in the U.S. now belong to categories other than what the U.S. federal government calls “non-Hispanic white.”
While so-called “non-Hispanic whites” still account for 49.6 percent of American newborns, immigration has expanded the Hispanic and Asian categories, while the African-American or black share of the U.S. population has remained roughly constant. Whether they celebrate or dread it, progressive champions of the “rainbow coalition” and white conservative nativists at least agree on a fact:  in the future, whites in the U.S. will be a minority.
But what if both the multicultural left and the nativist right are wrong? Definitions of racial identity in the U.S. have changed over time. In the twentieth century, Americans with different degrees of African ancestry who in earlier generations would have been described as negroes, quadroons and octoroons were all lumped together in a single category as blacks. And in the nineteenth century, eminent American ethnologists debated the question of whether Irish-Americans belonged to the same race as Anglo-Americans.
In the 1970s, the federal government came up with the bizarre “non-Hispanic white” label, lumping together Arab-Americans, Norwegian-Americans and Irish-Americans into a single government-created pseudo-race. To compound the absurdity, at the same time the federal government invented a category of “Hispanics” who, as government forms invariably note, “may be of any race.” The artificial “Hispanic” category is even more preposterous than the “non-Hispanic white” category, including blond, blue-eyed South Americans of German descent as well as Mexican-American mestizos and Puerto Ricans of  predominantly African descent.
These government racial labels are increasingly out of touch with America’s fluid demographic reality.  But for the sake of argument, let us take America’s official racial classifications, all too reminiscent of Soviet nationality labels, at face value.  According to polls, a slight majority of Hispanics (or Latinos) identify themselves as “white.” Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of government-labeled Hispanics who identified as “other race” dropped in percentage from 42 to 37 while those who identified as white rose from 48 to 53 percent…

Read the entire opinion piece here.

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Neither Fish, Flesh, nor Fowl: Race and Region in the Writings of Charles W. Chesnutt

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-05-29 17:56Z by Steven

Neither Fish, Flesh, nor Fowl: Race and Region in the Writings of Charles W. Chesnutt

African American Review
Volume 34, Number 3 (Autumn, 2000)
pages 461-473

Anne Fleischmann

The Supreme Court’s decision in The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case is notorious for having sewn racial segregation into the fabric of American society. One of the decision’s less obvious results was that it gave official sanction to the “one-drop” rule. That is, the Plessy ruling held that individual states could decide whether and how to classify citizens by race, and states which were so inclined could assert that any person with one black ancestor counted as black and was therefore subject to second-class citizenship. At its root, the Plessy decision was concerned with racial “purity”; between the Emancipation and 1896 the legal hierarchy that had elevated masters over slaves during slavery had been obliterated, and the “composite” race and attendant worries about “invisible blackness” threatened the South’s de facto caste system, which elevated whites over blacks. The supremacist Plessy holding put mixed-race citizens back “in their place.” Though biracial identity had long been used by whites and blacks alike as the basis for local discriminations, Plessy defined for the nation a way of conceiving race that has persisted to this day.

Ironically, the Plessy legacy has, up to now, affected the ways in which we have read and interpreted African American literature. In spite of our awareness of its absurdity, the one-drop rule has saturated our readings of African American authors and has contributed a nagging ahistorical quality to the project. In other words, we have been reading turn-of-the-century African American texts as if “race” has always been defined as it was by the justices who defined whiteness as inherently different and separate from blackness when they ruled on Plessy. The Court’s dichotomizing move might be explained by Abdul R. JanMohamed, who has argued that “colonialist fiction is generated predominantly by the ideological machinery of the manichean allegory” (JanMohamed 102), the impermeable dichotomy between blackness and whiteness which spawns the racial stereotypes that make possible ideologies like “separate but equal.” Recent post-colonial theoretical formulations can help us consider what biracial identity meant to the culture upon which the Plessy verdict was leveled; indeed, it is clear that we must reexamine racial classification as a problem to which turn-of-the-century authors, like Charles Chesnutt, were responding.

Virtually all of Chesnutt’s works involve characters of mixed racial ancestry. While he was by no means the only author of his day to speculate on biracial existence, Chesnutt’s ethnographic profiles of biracial communities invite us to consider the mixed-race character in an original light, as a new term in the discussion of African American literature. Previous interpretations of Chesnutt’s work have largely misread the significance of his…

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The Emotional Tug of Obama

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-05-29 00:13Z by Steven

The Emotional Tug of Obama

The New York Times


Frank Bruni

FORGET your political affiliation. Never mind your assessment of his time in office so far. If you have any kind of heart, you’re struck by it: the photograph of Barack Obama bent down so that a young black boy can touch his head and see if the president’s hair is indeed like his own. It moves you. It also speaks to a way in which Obama and Mitt Romney, whose campaigns are picking up the pace just as polls show them neck and neck, are profoundly mismatched.

Pete Sousa/White House

In a story that quickly went viral, The Times’s Jackie Calmes wrote last week about the photograph, which was taken three years ago when the boy, then 5, visited the White House. It has hung there ever since, left on the wall even as other pictures were swapped out, as is the custom, for newer, fresher ones.

David Axelrod, one of the chief architects of Obama’s political career, told Calmes: “It doesn’t take a big leap to think that child could be thinking, ‘Maybe I could be here someday.’ This can be such a cynical business, and then there are moments like that that just remind you that it’s worth it.”

Axelrod’s words, meanwhile, are a reminder that more than three and a half years after Obama made history as the first black man elected to the presidency, he still presents more than a résumé and an agenda. He still personifies the hope, to borrow a noun that he has used, that we really might evolve into the colorblind, fair-minded country that many of us want. His own saga taps into the larger story of this country’s fitful, unfinished progress toward its stated ideal of equal opportunity.

And that gives many voters an emotional connection to him that they simply don’t have to most other politicians, including Romney, a privileged and intensely private man whose strengths don’t include the easy ability to humanize himself. There’s a Mitt-versus-myth element to the 2012 campaign, and it influences the manner in which Romney’s supporters and Romney himself engage the president and make their pitch. They must and do emphasize job-creation numbers over personal narrative, the technocratic over the touchy-feely.

Obama and his advisers don’t exactly tack in the opposite direction. Understandably concerned about longstanding prejudices, they don’t invoke his racial identity all that frequently.

But when they do, it’s powerful. The photograph released last week instantly reminded me of one taken in mid-April, when Obama visited a museum in Dearborn, Mich. It showed him seated in the bus that Rosa Parks made famous. And it, too, pinged fast and far around the Web…

Obama aboard the Rosa Parks bus in Dearborn’s Henry Ford Museum, April 18, 2012. (Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Read the entire opinion piece here.

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