Getting into Character: Racial Passing and the Limitations of Performativity and Performance in Britt Bennett’s The Vanishing Half

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-11-30 01:22Z by Steven

Getting into Character: Racial Passing and the Limitations of Performativity and Performance in Britt Bennett’s The Vanishing Half

Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Published online 2021-11-22
DOI: 10.1080/00111619.2021.2007838

Ohad Reznick, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel

Judith Butler’s notion of performativity has been criticized because of its overemphasis on the individual’s performance, while it remains questionable how it changes heteronormativity. In the same way that drag performance challenges the man/woman binary, racial passing challenges the White/Black binary. However, whether passing alters the societal perception of race remains debatable. Analyzing the tropes of acting and passing in Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, I argue that the novel delineates a tension between a liberal mind-set, according to which passing exemplifies the performativity of identity and a close-minded perspective, according to which one cannot choose one’s racial identity. While the novel unsettles the line between acting and being authentic, and, analogously, the line between an original racial identity and an adopted one, it depicts most of its characters as refusing to accept racial transformations. Likewise, the novel presents gender identity as performative, but not in the eyes of society.

Read or purchase the article here.

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The Day I Passed for White

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-11-29 22:27Z by Steven

The Day I Passed for White

TIME
2021-11-19

Kelly McWilliams


Illustration By Elizabeth Montero for TIME

Kelly McWilliams is the author of the upcoming Mirror Girls, a novel about sisterhood and passing.

As a light-skinned Black woman, I have purposefully passed for white only once in my life.

Which is not to say I haven’t passed unintentionally many times—especially as a young adult, away from home for the first time. When white folks around me vented their subterranean racism (“Black kids only get into college because of affirmative action, you know”), I liked to consider myself a warrior—a masked superspy. I always pushed back against this covert racism—the off-color jokes, the insider whispers. (“I would never date a Black man, they’re all on drugs.” “My roommate’s hair smells, you know, like them.”) Importantly, I always revealed my own racial identity as quickly as possible…

Read the entire article here.

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Dancer, singer … spy: France’s Panthéon to honour Josephine Baker

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Europe, History, Media Archive, Women on 2021-11-29 22:14Z by Steven

Dancer, singer … spy: France’s Panthéon to honour Josephine Baker

The Guardian
2021-11-28

Jon Henley

‘Resistance heroine’: Josephine Baker entertains the troops at a London victory party in 1945. Photograph: Jack Esten/Getty Images

The performer will be the first Black woman to enter the mausoleum, in recognition of her wartime work

In November 1940, two passengers boarded a train in Toulouse headed for Madrid, then onward to Lisbon. One was a striking Black woman in expensive furs; the other purportedly her secretary, a blonde Frenchman with moustache and thick glasses.

Josephine Baker, toast of Paris, the world’s first Black female superstar, one of its most photographed women and Europe’s highest-paid entertainer, was travelling, openly and in her habitual style, as herself – but she was playing a brand new role.

Her supposed assistant was Jacques Abtey, a French intelligence officer developing an underground counter-intelligence network to gather strategic information and funnel it to Charles de Gaulle’s London HQ, where the pair hoped to travel after Portugal.

Ostensibly, they were on their way to scout venues for Baker’s planned tour of the Iberian peninsula. In reality, they carried secret details of German troops in western France, including photos of landing craft the Nazis were lining up to invade Britain.

The information was mostly written on the singer’s musical scores in invisible ink, to be revealed with lemon juice. The photographs she had hidden in her underwear. The whole package was handed to British agents at the Lisbon embassy – who informed Abtey and Baker they would be far more valuable assets in France than in London.

So back to occupied France Baker duly went. “She was immensely brave, and utterly committed,” Hanna Diamond, a Cardiff university professor, said of Baker, who on Tuesday will become the first Black woman to enter the Panthéon in Paris, the mausoleum for France’s “great men”….

Read the entire article here.

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Who’s Black and Why? A Hidden Chapter from the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

Posted in Africa, Books, Europe, Forthcoming Media, History, Monographs, Slavery on 2021-11-29 03:10Z by Steven

Who’s Black and Why? A Hidden Chapter from the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

Harvard University Press
2022-03-22
320 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
21 photos, 1 table
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674244269

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alfonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor; Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Andrew S. Curran, William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

The first translation and publication of sixteen submissions to the notorious eighteenth-century Bordeaux essay contest on the cause of “black” skin—an indispensable chronicle of the rise of scientifically based, anti-Black racism.

In 1739 Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences announced a contest for the best essay on the sources of “blackness.” What is the physical cause of blackness and African hair, and what is the cause of Black degeneration, the contest announcement asked. Sixteen essays, written in French and Latin, were ultimately dispatched from all over Europe. The authors ranged from naturalists to physicians, theologians to amateur savants. Documented on each page are European ideas about who is Black and why.

Looming behind these essays is the fact that some four million Africans had been kidnapped and shipped across the Atlantic by the time the contest was announced. The essays themselves represent a broad range of opinions. Some affirm that Africans had fallen from God’s grace; others that blackness had resulted from a brutal climate; still others emphasized the anatomical specificity of Africans. All the submissions nonetheless circulate around a common theme: the search for a scientific understanding of the new concept of race. More important, they provide an indispensable record of the Enlightenment-era thinking that normalized the sale and enslavement of Black human beings.

These never previously published documents survived the centuries tucked away in Bordeaux’s municipal library. Translated into English and accompanied by a detailed introduction and headnotes written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Andrew Curran, each essay included in this volume lays bare the origins of anti-Black racism and colorism in the West.

Table of Contents

  • Preface: Who’s Black and Why?
  • Note on the Translations
  • I
    • Introduction: The 1741 Contest on the “Degeneration” of Black Skin and Hair
    • 1. Blackness through the Power of God
    • 2. Blackness through the Soul of the Father
    • 3. Blackness through the Maternal Imagination
    • 4. Blackness as a Moral Defect
    • 5. Blackness as a Result of the Torrid Zone
    • 6. Blackness as a Result of Divine Providence
    • 7. Blackness as a Result of Heat and Humidity
    • 8. Blackness as a Reversible Accident
    • 9. Blackness as a Result of Hot Air and Darkened Blood
    • 10. Blackness as a Result of a Darkened Humor
    • 11. Blackness as a Result of Blood Flow
    • 12. Blackness as an Extension of Optical Theory
    • 13. Blackness as a Result of an Original Sickness
    • 14. Blackness Degenerated
    • 15. Blackness Classified
    • 16. Blackness Dissected
  • II
    • Introduction: The 1772 Contest on “Preserving” Negroes
    • 1. A Slave Ship Surgeon on the Crossing
    • 2. A Parisian Humanitarian on the Slave Trade
    • 3. Louis Alphonse, Bordeaux Apothecary, on the Crossing
  • Select Chronology of the Representation of Africans and Race
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Credits
  • Index
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Inventing the Science of Race

Posted in Africa, Articles, Europe, History, Media Archive on 2021-11-29 02:53Z by Steven

Inventing the Science of Race

The New York Review
2021-12-16

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alfonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor; Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Andrew S. Curran, William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

Jean-Baptiste Oudry: Africa: A European Merchant Bartering with a Black Chief, from the Four Continents series, 1724

In 1741, Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences held an essay contest searching for the origin of “blackness.” The results help us see how Enlightenment thinkers justified chattel slavery.

In 1712 King Louis XIV of France signed the lettres patentes that formally established Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences, Belles Lettres, and Arts, a social club of intellectual inquiry and public edification. In contrast to the more conservative University of Bordeaux, whose primary objective was to educate the country’s priests, doctors, and lawyers through lessons compatible with Scripture, the Bordeaux Academy saw itself as “enlightened”: its objective was advancing scientific truth as part of a larger program intended to promote “mankind’s happiness.”

Every year, the academy organized an essay contest that it publicized throughout Europe. In 1739 the members announced the subject of the competition for 1741: “Quelle est la cause physique de la couleur des nègres, de la qualité de leur cheveux, et de la dégénération de l’un et de l’autre?” (“What is the physical cause of the Negro’s color, the quality of [the Negro’s] hair, and the degeneration of both [Negro hair and skin]?”) Embedded in this question was the academy’s assumption that something had happened to “Negroes” that had caused them to degenerate, to turn black and grow unusual hair. In short, the academy wanted to know who is black, and why. It wanted to know, too, what being black signified. The winner was promised a gold medal worth three hundred livres, roughly the annual earnings of a common worker at the time.

The 1741 contest was only the latest iteration of non-Africans’ fascination with dark skin. When the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Arabic peoples first described the inhabitants of Africa, it was Africans’ color that struck them most. Over many centuries, African “blackness” grew into an all-encompassing signifier that substituted for the range of reddish, yellowish, and blackish-brown colors that the skins of Africans actually express. The color black also became synonymous with the land itself; many of the geographical names that outsiders assigned to sub-Saharan AfricaNiger, Nigritia, Sudan, Zanzibar—contain the etymological roots of the word “black.” The most telling example is the name Ethiopia. Derived from the Greek aitho (I burn) and ops (face), it became the most widespread label for the entire sub-Saharan portion of the continent until the late seventeenth century. It even hinted at the cause of blackness itself…

Read the entire article here.

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“Race is a social construct; it is not a biological determinant of health or disease,” he said.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-11-29 02:30Z by Steven

The initial move across the country to change the formula was initially sparked about five years ago by medical students who raised questions about using race in medical tests and the influence it can have on a patient’s treatment.

Paul Palevsky, president of the National Kidney Foundation, said the inclusion of race sends a “wrong message.”

“Race is a social construct; it is not a biological determinant of health or disease,” he said.

Ovetta Wiggins, “University of Maryland Medical System drops race-based algorithm officials say harms Black patients,” The Washington Post, November 17, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/maryland-hospital-black-diagnostic-test-kidneys/2021/11/17/e69edcfc-4711-11ec-b05d-3cb9d96eb495_story.html.

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The Impact of the Browning of America on Anti-Blackness

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States on 2021-11-29 02:24Z by Steven

The Impact of the Browning of America on Anti-Blackness

The New York Times
2021-11-14

Charles M. Blow

Ike Edeani for The New York Times

One of the things I often hear as a person who frequently writes about race, ethnicity and equality is that the browning of America — the coming shift of the country from mostly white to mostly nonwhite — is one of the greatest hopes in the fight against white supremacy and oppression.

But this argument always flies too high to pay attention to the details on the ground. For me, white supremacy is only one foot of the beast. The other is anti-Blackness. You have to fight both.

The sad reality is, however, that anti-Blackness — or anti-darkness, to remove the stricture of a single-race definition for the sake of this discussion — exists in societies around the world, including nonwhite ones.

In too many societies across the globe, where a difference in skin tone exists, the darker people are often assigned a lower caste.

Read the entire article here.

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“Passing,” Reviewed: Rebecca Hall’s Anguished Vision of Black Identity

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-11-28 17:12Z by Steven

“Passing,” Reviewed: Rebecca Hall’s Anguished Vision of Black Identity

The New Yorker
2021-11-08

Richard Brody

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson star in Rebecca Hall’sPassing,” a drama of images and self-images. Photograph courtesy Netflix

With a remarkable fusion of substance and style, Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel unfolds inner lives along with social crises.

Rebecca Hall’s directorial début, “Passing,” based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name, is one of the rare book adaptations that brings a literary style to the screen. The film’s sense of style is more than mere ornament; it embodies the confrontation with circumstances—practical, emotional, historical—at the heart of the story. “Passing” (coming to Netflix on Wednesday) is a period piece, set in Harlem during Prohibition, just before the Depression. The movie achieves an ample, resonant reconstruction of that era, but it doesn’t feature colossal sets or give the sense that entire neighborhoods were transformed for the purpose of shooting. Instead, Hall uses sharply defined locations imaginatively and conjures the time through her original way with light, texture, and gesture, all redolent of a storied yet troubled past. The result is an emotional immediacy that’s all the sharper for its subtlety, all the more intense for its contemplative refinement, and that, above all, gives apt expression to the film’s mighty and agonized subject.

The movie stars Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield, a woman of about thirty who lives in a Harlem town house with her husband—Brian (André Holland), a doctor—and their two sons, one a child and the other on the cusp of puberty. She’s an activist who works as a volunteer for a (fictitious) charitable organization called the Negro League while also running the household. A light-skinned Black woman, she’s taken for white by white people in the course of her errands outside Harlem on a hot summer day. At a hotel café, Irene encounters Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga), a friend from high school whom she hasn’t seen in a dozen years. Clare, too, has light skin—but, unlike Irene, she intentionally passes for white. She’s married to a wealthy white banker named John (Alexander Skarsgård) and lives her entire life amid white society. Clare’s reunion with Irene (whom she calls Reenie) awakens a long-suppressed desire to exist among Black people, to affirm her own identity without shame or fear. Clare imposes herself on the Redfield household, befriends Brian and the boys, takes part in Negro League social events run by Irene—and, in doing so, knowingly confronts the grave risk that John will find out that she’s Black…

Read the entire review here.

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The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price

Posted in Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Videos, Women on 2021-11-28 03:06Z by Steven

The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price

University of Arkansas Press
September 2015
Produced by James Greeson
Associate Producer – Dale Carpenter
Narrated by Julia Sampson
Running Time: 00:57:00
DVD ISBN: 978-1-68226-006-7

Born in 1887 in Little Rock, Arkansas to extraordinary parents, Florence B. Price became the first African-American woman to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra when the Chicago Symphony premiered her Symphony at the 1933 World’s Fair. Price’s remarkable achievements during the racist “Jim Crow” era were a testament to her gifts. This is the inspiring story of one woman’s triumph over prejudice and preconceptions.

In addition to the 57 minute feature film it includes six bonus features of fine performances of recently discovered Florence Price compositions and a commentary about the recent discovery of Price materials which are part of the Florence Price collection at the University of Arkansas.

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Imperial Educación: Race and Republican Motherhood in the Nineteenth-Century Americas

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2021-11-28 02:42Z by Steven

Imperial Educación: Race and Republican Motherhood in the Nineteenth-Century Americas

University of Virginia Press
August 2021
342 pages
Cloth ISBN: 9780813946238
Paper ISBN: 9780813946238
eBook ISBN: 9780813946238

Thomas Genova, Associate Professor of Spanish
University of Minnesota, Morris

In the long nineteenth century, Argentine and Cuban reformers invited white women from the United States to train teachers as replacements for their countries’ supposedly unfit mothers. Imperial Educación examines representations of mixed-race Afro-descended mothers in literary and educational texts from the Americas during an era in which governing elites were invested in reproducing European cultural values in their countries’ citizens.

Thomas Genova analyzes the racialized figure of the republican mother in nineteenth-century literary texts in North and South America and the Caribbean, highlighting the ways in which these works question the capacity of Afro-descended women to raise good republican citizens for the newly formed New World nation-states. Considering the work of canonical and noncanonical authors alike, Genova asks how the allegory of the national family—omnipresent in the nationalist discourses of the Americas—reconciles itself to the race hierarchies upon which New World slave and postslavery societies are built. This innovative study is the first book to consider the hemispheric relations between race, republican motherhood, and public education by triangulating the nation-building processes of Cuba and Argentina through U.S. empire.

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