Book review: The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Europe, Media Archive on 2013-11-29 15:26Z by Steven

Book review: The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television

Film Ireland
Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland

Sarah Griffin

Zélie Asava, The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television (Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien: Peter Lang, 2013)

Sarah Griffin welcomes Zélie Asava‘s book that applies divergent theoretical concepts of Irishness, whiteness, gender and the particular place of the ‘other’ to the ‘conceptual whiteness of Irishness itself’.

While the intricacies of white and non-white filmic representation has been a subject of much study, most particularly in relation to Hollywood’s output, there has been less focused investigation into the particular relationship Ireland has to its own ‘whiteness’ and how that translates on our big and little screens.  Zélie Asava does so here, bringing together theorists and researchers from disparate decades and tying their ideas to a particularly Irish situation—a country that has only begun to integrate the multicultural nature of a relatively recently expanded populace.  From Sigmund Freud’sreturn of the repressed’, Julie Kristeva’s abjection, Richard Dyer’s seminal contributions to the study of whiteness, and Judith Butler’s performativity, to the more recent work of Diane Negra on ‘off-white Hollywood’ and a compendium of Irish contributors, Asava blends theorists and personal experience (as an Irish/Kenyan actor) to position herself at the front line.  This book provides a welcome opportunity to apply divergent theoretical concepts of Irishness, whiteness, gender and the particular place of the ‘other’ to, as she calls it, “the conceptual whiteness of Irishness itself”…

Read the entire review here.

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Posted in Definitions on 2013-11-28 19:34Z by Steven

Blanqueamiento, or whitening, is a social, political, and economic practice used in many post-colonial countries to “improve the race” (mejorar la raza) towards a supposed ideal of whiteness. The term blanqueamiento is rooted in Latin America and is used more or less synonymous with racial whitening. However, blanqueamiento can be considered in both the symbolic and biological sense Symbolically, blanqueamiento represents an ideology that emerged out of legacies of European Colonialism, described by Anibal Quijano’s theory of Coloniality of power, which caters to white dominance in social hierarchies Biologically, blanqueamiento is the process of whitening by marrying a lighter skinned individual in order to produce lighter-skinned offspring.

Source: Wikipedia.

Changing Space, Making Race: Distance, Nostalgia, and the Folklorization of Blackness in Puerto Rico

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-11-28 19:12Z by Steven

Changing Space, Making Race: Distance, Nostalgia, and the Folklorization of Blackness in Puerto Rico

Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power
Volume 9,  Issue 3, 2002
pages 281-304
DOI: 10.1080/10702890213969

Isar Godreau
Institute of Interdisciplinary Research
University of Puerto Rico, Cayey

In this article, I critique some of the discursive terms in which blackness is folklorized and celebrated institutionally as part of the nation in Puerto Rico. I examine a government-sponsored housing project that meant to revitalize and stylize the community of San Antón, in Ponce, as a historic black site. Although government officials tried to preserve what they considered to be traditional aspects of this community, conflict arose because not all residents agreed with this preservationist agenda. I document the controversy, linking the government’s approach to racial discourses that represent blackness as a vanishing and distant component of Puerto Rico. I argue that this inclusion and celebration complements ideologies of blanqueamiento (whitening) and race-mixture that distance blackness to the margins of the nation and romanticize black communities as remnants of a past era. I link these dynamics to modernizing State agendas and discourses of authenticity that fuel cultural nationalism worldwide.

In March 1995, The San Juan Star, one of Puerto Rico’s leading newspapers, announced that “Puerto Ricans will ‘bleach away’ many of the physical traces of its African past by the year 2200, with the rest of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean following a few centuries later” (Bliss 1995:30). The article, which was written to commemorate the 122nd year anniversary of the abolition of slavery on the island, also seemed to be commemorating the future “abolition” of blackness itself, “in two centuries.” said one of the experts interviewed, “there will hardly be any blacks in Puerto Rico” (historian, Luis Diaz Soler, in Bliss 1995: 30).

This racial forecast and concomitant claims to the gradual disappearance of black cultural manifestations reinforces ideologies of blanqueamiento well known and thoroughly documented in Latin America (Burdick 1992; de la Fuente 2001; Lancaster 1991; Martinez-Echazabal 1999; Skidmore 1974; Stephan 1991; Wade 1993,1997; and Whitten and Torres 1992. among others). Scholars and activists have demonstrated that such notions of whitening often go hand in hand with…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Race in Biological and Biomedical Research

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2013-11-28 15:41Z by Steven

Race in Biological and Biomedical Research

Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine
Volume 3, Issue 11 (November 2013)
10 pages
DOI: 10.1101/cshperspect.a008573

Richard S. Cooper, Anthony B. Traub Professor of Community and Family Medicine
Loyola University Medical School

The concept of race has had a significant influence on research in human biology since the early 19th century. But race was given its meaning and social impact in the political sphere and subsequently intervened in science as a foreign concept, not grounded in the dominant empiricism of modern biology. The uses of race in science were therefore often disruptive and controversial; at times, science had to be retrofitted to accommodate race, and science in turn was often used to explain and justify race. This relationship was unstable in large part because race was about a phenomenon that could not be observed directly, being based on claims about the structure and function of genomic DNA. Over time, this relationship has been characterized by distinct phases, evolving from the inference of genetic effects based on the observed phenotype to the measurement of base-pair variation in DNA. Despite this fundamental advance in methodology, liabilities imposed by the dual political-empirical origins of race persist. On the one hand, an optimistic prediction can be made that just as geology made it possible to overturn the myth of the recent creation of the earth and evolution told us where the living world came from, molecular genetics will end the use of race in biology. At the same time, because race is fundamentally a political and not a scientific idea, it is possible that only a political intervention will relieve us of the burden of race.

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that he cannot close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris in front of him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Walter Benjamin
Theses on the Philosophy of History


We rarely appreciate the presence of history in our day-to-day experience. The quotidian is a mixture of the repetitive and the predictable, carried forward by habit and punctuated by random events that we regard as either good or bad fortune. But in a more reflective mood, we have to acknowledge the relentless force of history that holds us in its grasp and accept that it creates the possibilities we use to negotiate with the future. The imposition of racial categories on human populations has been one of the most enduring historical forces that sets limits on opportunity and thereby shapes our life trajectory. As a projection of the underlying power relationships onto individuals, racial categories are used to structure social inequality. These power relationships are manifested both in the belief system that rank orders intrinsic human qualities according to group membership and the social institutions that enforce this hierarchy by restricting access to wealth, education, and other social goods. This daily reality is central to the history of all modern societies.

The racial structuring of society also has pervasive influence on biological research and the patterns of health and disease. Enormous effort has been expended to describe human demographic history through reference to an ever-changing array of constructs and categories, all of which include a hierarchical arrangement—either explicit or implicit. In the United States, most prominently, public health has embraced racial/ethnic categories as fundamental structural elements. Clinical medicine has similarly evoked racial categories to explain causation and outcomes across the entire spectrum of diseases. At the same time, race has met some of the strongest challenges to its legitimacy in biology and biomedicine. All of biology is grounded in the theory of descent from a common ancestor. The belief in racial categories was one of the most powerful liabilities of pre-modern biology and lent credence to the established view of divine creation. Indeed, it has recently been argued that the challenge to race brought by the abolitionist movement was a key factor behind Darwin’s transformative insight that the biological world—on the evolutionary time scale—is a single indivisible whole (Desmond and Moore 2009). Biomedicine still grapples with the implications of that insight for our species, yet substantial progress—uneven, tentative, and ultimately disappointing—has been made. In the current era, genomic science has opened new vistas onto previously unobserved dimensions of biology, and that proportion of the concept of race that has been attributed to genetics can finally be subjected to empirical scrutiny. Integrating this new knowledge into practice and focusing the technology on socially productive work, as always, remains our most difficult challenge.

The narrative of race therefore wanders the border territory between what we call science and what we recognize as history and politics. In the pre-genomic era, there was no requirement—indeed, no opportunity—to validate the authority of race with molecular evidence; causal inferences were made on the basis of phenotype, in its broadest possible sense, from disease to accumulated material wealth to social graces. The primary purpose of the race concept was to serve as a shortcut, an organizing tool that allowed post-enlightenment Europe to explain—and thereby justify—how imperialism had reshaped the world. Consequently, for both the social and biological sciences, race felt like the rude cousin whose claim on our affection was based on obligation, not choice. In every historical period, an incremental struggle has been waged to overcome the disruption that this unwelcome intruder has caused within empirical scientific disciplines.

In its origins, race was a “label of convenience” that biologists used interchangeably with the construct of “varieties” as they tried to create taxonomic categories below the level of the species (Cooper 1984). Writers from across the intellectual spectrum of literature and politics also felt free to make use of the idea. Thus, Baudelaire spoke of the “race of Abel” and the “race of Cain” when describing the polarization of 19th-century French society, and Marx characterized the English working class as a “race of peculiar commodity owners” (Baudelaire 1857; Marx 1957) (“Hence the sum of the means of subsistence necessary for the production of labour-power must include the means necessary for the labourer’s substitutes, i.e., his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners may perpetuate its appearance in the market.” [p. 172]). Malleability continues to be an essential quality of race, although it is now primarily used as a label for the temporary and often random aggregation of population subgroups, usually tied in some rough way to the perceived continent of origin (Kaufman and Cooper 1996). In its contemporary sense, biological race has now come to signify the inherited qualities of a population group hidden inside the DNA molecule…

Read the entire article here.

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American Identity in the Age of Obama

Posted in Anthologies, Barack Obama, Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Latino Studies, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2013-11-27 23:36Z by Steven

American Identity in the Age of Obama

250 pages
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-415-72201-8

Edited by:

Amílcar Antonio Barreto, Associate Professor of Political Science
Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts

Richard L. O’Bryant, Assistant Professor of Political Science; Director of the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute
Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States has opened a new chapter in the country’s long and often tortured history of inter-racial and inter-ethnic relations. Many relished in the inauguration of the country’s first African American president — an event foreseen by another White House aspirant, Senator Robert Kennedy, four decades earlier. What could have only been categorized as a dream in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education was now a reality. Some dared to contemplate a post-racial America. Still, soon after Obama’s election a small but persistent faction questioned his eligibility to hold office; they insisted that Obama was foreign-born. Following the Civil Rights battles of the 20th century hate speech, at least in public, is no longer as free flowing as it had been. Perhaps xenophobia, in a land of immigrants, is the new rhetorical device to assail what which is non-white and hence un-American. Furthermore, recent debates about immigration and racial profiling in Arizona along with the battle over rewriting of history and civics textbooks in Texas suggest that a post-racial America is a long way off.

What roles do race, ethnicity, ancestry, immigration status, locus of birth play in the public and private conversations that defy and reinforce existing conceptions of what it means to be American?

This book exposes the changing and persistent notions of American identity in the age of Obama. Amílcar Antonio Barreto, Richard L. O’Bryant, and an outstanding line up of contributors examine Obama’s election and reelection as watershed phenomena that will be exploited by the president’s supporters and detractors to engage in different forms of narrating the American national saga. Despite the potential for major changes in rhetorical mythmaking, they question whether American society has changed substantively.


  • Introduction: The Age of Obama and American Identity; Amílcar Antonio Barreto and Richard L. O’Bryant
  • 1. Obama and Enduring Notions of American National Identity; Amílcar Antonio Barreto
  • 2. Racial Identification in a Post Obama Era: Multiracialism, Identity Choice and Candidate Evaluation; Natalie Masuoka
  • 3. The Son of a Black Man from Kenya and a White Woman from Kansas: Immigration and Racial Neoliberalism in the Age of Obama; Josue David Cisneros
  • 4. Immigrant Resentment and American Identity in the Twenty-First Century; Deborah J. Schildkraut
  • 5. Browning our way to Post-Race: Identity, Identification, and Securitization of Brown; Kumarini Silva
  • 6. White Masculinities in the Age of Obama: Rebuilding or Reloading?; Steven D. Farough
  • 7. “Exceptionally Distinctive: President Obama’s Complicated Articulation of American Exceptionalism; Joseph M. Valenzano and Jason A. Edwards
  • 8. Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy Leadership: Renewing America’s Image; Mark A. Menaldo
  • 9. The First Black President?: Cross-Racial Perceptions of Barack Obama’s Race; David Wilson and Matthew Hunt
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Regardless of what our senses seem to tell us, race is not a biologically coherent story about human variation…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-11-27 23:30Z by Steven

“It is important to begin by talking about what race is not. Regardless of what our senses seem to tell us, race is not a biologically coherent story about human variation simply because the races we recognize and name are not biologically coherent populations. There is as much genetic variation within racial groups as there is between them. Now this does not mean that race is not real psychologically or sociologically. It is obvious that race is real in both these senses. People believe in races and they use this belief to organize important dimensions of social, economic, and political life. But this does not make race a real thing biologically.” —Lawrence A. Hirschfeld, University of Michigan Professor of Anthropology and Psychology

John Woodford, “A New Look at an Old Notion: Lawrence Hirchfeld Discusses Race in Society,” Michigan Today, (June 1996).

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[Yaba] Blay’s work is also an excellent example of how one can be both a scholar and an activists at the same time and be successful at both.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-11-27 23:11Z by Steven

Scholars are sometimes (inappropriately) criticized for being activist at the same time they are scholars. More and more often it is accepted and embraced they not only can we be both but that we should be both: that being passionate about what we write about makes for better scholarship. [Yaba] Blay’s work is also an excellent example of how one can be both a scholar and an activists at the same time and be successful at both.

Andrew Joseph Pegoda, “(1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race: A Review and Reflection,” Andrew Joseph Pegoda, A.B.D., (November 23, 2013).

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Revolutionizing Romance: Interracial Couples in Contemporary Cuba [Williams Review]

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-11-27 17:34Z by Steven

Revolutionizing Romance: Interracial Couples in Contemporary Cuba [Williams Review]

Association for Feminist Anthropology
Book Reviews

Erica Lorraine Williams, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia

Nadine T. Fernandez, Revolutionizing Romance: Interracial Couples in Contemporary Cuba (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010)

In this insightful and well-written ethnography, Nadine Fernandez explores a central paradox: if mestizaje (racial mixing) is the “essence” of the Cuban nation, then why are interracial couples, the purported “engines of mestizaje” (184), still perceived with disdain? Why are interracial couplings – particularly those between black and white Cubans – so infrequent and often met with resistance? A deeply historical and ethnographic account, Revolutionizing Romance advances the compelling argument that “nowhere is race more salient than in romance” (50). Moreover, Fernandez argues that the conflicts surrounding interracial relationships actually highlight “the ideological aspects of racism at work” (53).

This important and timely book documents the shifting meanings of interracial relationships over time in Cuba. The first half of the ethnography provides the historical and conceptual background that sets the stage for the rest of the book by unpacking the history of whitening ideologies and the ideological construction of Cuba as a mestizo nation. Fernandez analyzes how the “revolution’s ideological insistence on ‘racelessness’…provided a sociocultural and ideological space for interracial couples” (68). For instance, Sofia, a mulata engineer and Fernando, a white art historian, are an interracial couple who were both born in the early 1950s and who met while studying in the former Soviet Union. Their families supported their relationship in part because of the color-blind ideology that the revolution had fostered. Interestingly, while race scholars are often dismissive of the concept of color-blindness (rightly so, I might add), Fernandez points out that in the context of Cuba, this concept has some redeeming qualities…

Read the entire review here.

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A Racial Paradise? Race and Race Mixture in Henry Louis Gates’ Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-11-27 14:45Z by Steven

A Racial Paradise? Race and Race Mixture in Henry Louis Gates’ Brazil

Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies
Volume 8,  Issue 1, 2013
pages 88-91
DOI: 10.1080/17442222.2013.768464

Chinyere Osuji, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

In this documentary, Henry Louis Gates explores the extent to which the notion of being a racial paradise applies to Brazil. He introduces Brazil’s contradictions of being the last country to abolish slavery’ in the New World in 1888, yet the first to declare that it was free of racism. He explores a variety of cities in Brazil in order to understand the history of early race mixture, contemporary valorization of Blackness, and attempts to address racial inequality. As a viewer, we watch how Gates’ fascination with the Brazil’s African heritage and race mixture at the beginning of the film turns into a questioning of the myth of racial democracy.

The film is useful in terms of providing a primer on race in Brazil for novices on race in Latin America. Geared towards the general public, this is a film that could be used in an introductory course for undergraduates about race in Brazil or Latin America more broadly. Its strengths are in illuminating the nature of slavery and race mixture in Brazil’s history while introducing the racial ideologies of whitening and racial democracy. Gates introduces scholars such as Manoel Querino and the more renowned Gilberto Freyre to discuss their scholarship on black contributions to Brazilian society. Gates’ film also has vibrant images of Carnaval, capoeira, and a Candomblé ceremony, providing opportunities for students to gain exposure to these African-influenced cultural practices.

This film is somewhat problematic in terms of illuminating racial and color categories in contemporary Brazil. Gates indirectly cites a 1976 Brazilian National Household Survey study that found people used over 100 terms to describe their color. Gates says: ‘In the U.S., a person with any African ancestry is legally defined as black. In Brazil, racial categories are on steroids.’ However, this perspective has been discredited by scholars who argue that most Brazilians only use a handful of terms to describe themselves. In fact, re-examinations of the same 1976 survey found that 95 percent of Brazilians used only six terms to describe themselves: branco, moreno, pardo, moreno-claro, preto and negro (Silva, 1987; Telles, 2004). The 10 most common terms were the aforementioned as well as amarela, mulata, clara, and morena-escura. All together, these 10 terms account for how 99 percent of all Brazilians think of their race/color. These findings have been replicated using more national survey data (Petruccelli, 2001; Telles, 2004). However, the myth of the hundreds of racial and color terms that Brazilians use to identify themselves will not die, and now Gates aids in perpetuating it…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Carlton Mackey: Conversations beyond color

Posted in Articles, Arts, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2013-11-26 22:16Z by Steven

Carlton Mackey: Conversations beyond color

Emory Profile
Emory News Center

Kimber Williams

As director of Emory’s Ethics and the Arts program — and a lifelong photographer and filmmaker — Carlton Mackey is used to exploring the questions that intrigue him through an artist’s lens. 

So as he prepared to become a father for the first time, questions of skin tone and identity, beauty and culture came to captivate him as never before: Will this child identify as biracial? Will he identify as black? What is blackness? What does skin tone mean in the search for identity?

His response was to embark upon a deeply personal exploration of the topic, which has resulted in “50 Shades of Black” (self-published, 2013), a multi-disciplinary art project funded, in part, by a grant from Emory’s Center for Creativity & Arts, that investigates the intersection of skin tone and sexuality in shaping identity through both a book, a website and traveling art exhibit…

Emory Report caught up with Mackey to discuss the evolution of “50 Shades of Black,” which will be the focus of a public exhibition at the Center for Ethics next February. 

Where does your story as an artist begin?

My roots go back to Southern Georgia. I was born in Jesup, Georgia, and raised by a mom (Burnell Mackey) and dad (Carl Mackey) who loved me dearly. When I was 4 years old, my mom passed away after battling cancer. After that, I moved to Blackshear, Georgia, to live with my grandmother, Pearl Taylor — the single most important female figure in my life, outside of my mom, who spent my formative years rearing, shaping and molding me. 

As an adult, I have a new set of eyes for understanding how she influenced me as an artist. But it doesn’t look like painting or drawing or making films. She got as far as the sixth grade and worked hard her entire life — so no, not a lot of art in that sense. But I’ve come to understand some of the key ingredients for being a successful artist are thinking outside the box, being resourceful. Creativity can flourish more when there are limitations than when there is excess, I think. That’s what she showed me day after day. I use that as an artist…

…How did you come up with the idea for the “50 Shades of Black” project?

Before I had my son Isaiah, I’d never dated anyone who didn’t look like me. But I fell in love with my wife (Kari, who is white). When I was going to become a father, I started having these questions: What is this kid going to look like? Is he going to identify with me? Am I going to identify with him? Is he going to be black? What is blackness? 

When I saw him, all that went out the window, didn’t even matter. But the root of those questions are very real and continue to be very real, not only for parents, but for children who look like him, historically, who will go through life with people asking, “What are you? Where are you from?”…

Read the entire interview here.

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