The Trouble with Post-Blackness

Posted in Anthologies, Barack Obama, Books, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2016-08-25 21:25Z by Steven

The Trouble with Post-Blackness

Columbia University Press
February 2015
288 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9780231169356
Hardcover ISBN: 9780231169349
E-book ISBN: 9780231538503

Edited by:

Houston A. Baker, Distinguished University Professor
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

K. Merinda Simmons, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
University of Alabama

An America in which the color of one’s skin no longer matters would be unprecedented. With the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, that future suddenly seemed possible. Obama’s rise reflects a nation of fluid populations and fortunes, a society in which a biracial individual could be embraced as a leader by all. Yet complicating this vision are shifting demographics, rapid redefinitions of race, and the instant invention of brands, trends, and identities that determine how we think about ourselves and the place of others.

This collection of original essays confronts the premise, advanced by black intellectuals, that the Obama administration marked the start of a “post-racial” era in the United States. While the “transcendent” and post-racial black elite declare victory over America’s longstanding codes of racial exclusion and racist violence, their evidence relies largely on their own salaries and celebrity. These essays strike at the certainty of those who insist life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are now independent of skin color and race in America. They argue, signify, and testify that “post-blackness” is a problematic mythology masquerading as fact—a dangerous new “race science” motivated by black transcendentalist individualism. Through rigorous analysis, these essays expose the idea of a post-racial nation as a pleasurable entitlement for a black elite, enabling them to reject the ethics and urgency of improving the well-being of the black majority.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The Dubious Stage of Post-Blackness—Performing Otherness, Conserving Dominance, by K. Merinda Simmons
  • 1. What Was Is: The Time and Space of Entanglement Erased by Post-Blackness, by Margo Natalie Crawford
  • 2. Black Literary Writers and Post-Blackness, by Stephanie Li
  • 3. African Diasporic Blackness Out of Line: Trouble for “Post-Black” African Americanism, by Greg Thomas
  • 4. Fear of a Performative Planet: Troubling the Concept of “Post-Blackness”, by Rone Shavers
  • 5. E-Raced: #Touré, Twitter, and Trayvon, by Riché Richardson
  • 6. Post-Blackness and All of the Black Americas, by Heather D. Russell
  • 7. Embodying Africa: Roots-Seekers and the Politics of Blackness, by Bayo Holsey
  • 8. “The world is a ghetto”: Post-Racial America(s) and the Apocalypse, by Patrice Rankine
  • 9. The Long Road Home, by Erin Aubry Kaplan
  • 10. Half as Good, by John L. Jackson Jr.
  • 11. “Whither Now and Why”: Content Mastery and Pedagogy—a Critique and a Challenge, by Dana A. Williams
  • 12. Fallacies of the Post-Race Presidency, by Ishmael Reed
  • 13. Thirteen Ways of Looking at Post-Blackness (after Wallace Stevens), by Emily Raboteau
  • Conclusion: Why the Lega Mask Has Many Mouths and Multiple Eyes, by Houston A. Baker Jr.
  • List of Contributors
  • Index
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I Heart Obama

Posted in Barack Obama, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-02-12 19:40Z by Steven

I Heart Obama

University Press of New England
2016-02-09
256 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/2″
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-61168-536-7
Ebook IBSN: 978-1-61168-967-9

Erin Aubry Kaplan

A personal and cultural exploration of Barack Obama as black president, black icon, and black folk hero

In his nearly two terms as president, Barack Obama has solidified his status as something black people haven’t had for fifty years: a folk hero. The 1960s delivered Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, forever twinned as larger-than-life outsiders and truth tellers who took on racism and died in the process. Obama is different: Not an outsider but president, head of the most powerful state in the world; a centrist Democrat, not the face of a movement. Yet he is every bit a folk hero, doing battle with the beast of a system created to keep people like him on the margins. He is unique among presidents and entirely unique among black people, who never expected to have a president so soon.

In I Heart Obama, journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan offers an unapologetic appreciation of our highest-ranking “First” and what he means to black Americans. In the process, she explores the critiques of those in the black community who charge that he has not done enough, been present enough, been black enough to motivate real change in America. Racial antipathy cloaked as political antipathy has been the major conflict in Obama’s presidency. His impossible task as an individual and as a president is nothing less than this: to reform the entire racist culture of the country he leads. Black people know he can’t do it, but will support his effort anyway, as they have supported the efforts of many others. Obama’s is a noble and singular story we will tell for generations. I Heart Obama looks at the story so far.

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Obama the Folk Hero: What He Means to Us
  • Obama Represents
  • Obama Leads
  • Who Is This Guy?
  • Is Obama Bad for Us?
  • Epilogue: I Heart Obama
  • Bibliography
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Her Father’s People

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-01-27 18:56Z by Steven

Her Father’s People

Stanford Magazine
July/August 2009

Erin Aubry Kaplan


Antonin Kratochvil
WEDDED IDEALISM: Danzy Senna was the middle child born to Fanny Howe and Carl Senna.

For years, Danzy Senna thoughtfully explored issues of race and identity in fiction, including her novels Caucasia and Symptomatic. And then one day the author, walking through Harvard Square, found herself surrounded by signs, buildings and businesses bearing the names and images of Boston’s most prominent families. DeWolfe, Quincy, Howe—they were names of Senna’s forebears via her mother, poet and professor Fanny Howe.

The display reminded Senna, ’92, how much she had always known about her mother’s people—and how little she knew about her father’s. In 1968, Carl Senna, soon to become the youngest editor at Beacon Press, and Fanny Howe married—a commitment that was headily symbolic (personal but also political) in that Carl was black and from Southern poverty, while Fanny, ’62, was white and raised with Mayflower privilege. Their wedding photograph, Danzy Senna writes, showed “the ‘Negro of exceptional promise’ taking the hand of the descendant of slave traders.”

As Senna contemplated those names in Boston, she thought, “What about my father’s side?” After all, “he gave me both my first and last names. Yet I knew so little about him.” So begins her nonfiction book, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which seeks to bring some balance to her family history, and to a larger narrative that reflexively puts whites at the center of the American story and blacks at the margins…

Read the entire article here.

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Love Across the Color Line: Remembering Alan Kaplan

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, United States on 2015-09-11 19:02Z by Steven

Love Across the Color Line: Remembering Alan Kaplan

KCET TV
Burbank, California
2015-09-10

Erin Aubry Kaplan

Fourteen years ago I wrote an article for Salon.com published for Valentine’s Day about how I met my husband, Alan Kaplan. I ended the article on a cautionary note: our hugely improbable, racially romantic story did not mean that we’d solved the problems of the color line. Far from it. Strip away the circumstances that I was a reporter and he was the reluctant subject of an interview for a story I was writing at the time, and we were merely a black woman and a Jewish man from different parts of L.A. who shared the same politics and bottomless outrage about the historic effects of that color line. He taught about it–for 33 years at Hamilton High School’s humanities magnet– I wrote about it. That was the most obvious thing we shared in common, but there were other things too, ordinary couple things like a complicated love of the Dodgers, eating out (neither of one us cooked), movies, sifting through stories in the latest issue of the New Yorker or the Atlantic Monthly. A few years into the marriage we discovered that we both loved dogs, and rescuing dogs; we adopted one post-Hurricane Katrina and eventually accumulated a whole houseful.

And yet matters of the color line suffused all the small and wonderful–and not so wonderful–things that make a relationship. I don’t mean it smothered our marriage or tempered the joy. I mean that race was always present, like any other condition you might marry into. I know people prefer to think that intimacy is colorblind by definition; they assume that to be racially conscious of someone you love, especially your own spouse, must be the very antithesis of happiness. But that view is based on an ancient American fear of difference, not on reality. Alan and I knew that…

Read the entire article here.

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But by forcing blacks of all complexions and blood percentages into the same boat, the law ironically laid a foundation of black unity that remains in place today.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2012-09-08 00:42Z by Steven

Now, I have always believed that what is now widely considered one of slavery’s worst legacies—the Southern “one-drop” rule that indicted anyone with black blood as a nigger and cleaved American society into black and white with a single stroke—was also slavery’s only upside. Of course I deplore the motive behind the law, which was rooted not only in white paranoia about miscegenation, but in a more practical need to maintain social order by keeping privilege and property in the hands of whites. But by forcing blacks of all complexions and blood percentages into the same boat, the law ironically laid a foundation of black unity that remains in place today. It’s a foundation that allows us to talk abstractly about a ” black community” as concretely as we talk about a black community in Harlem or Chicago or L.A.’s South Central (a liberty that’s often abused or lazily applied in modern discussions of race). And it gives the lightest-skinned among us the assurance of identity that everybody needs to feel grounded and psychologically whole—even whites, whose public non-ethnicity is really ethnicity writ so large and influential it needs no name. Being black may still not be the most advantageous thing in the world, but being nothing or being neutral—the rallying cry of modern-day multiculturalists—has never made any emotional or real-world sense. Color marks you, but your membership in black society also gives you an indestructible house to live in and a bed to rest on. I can’t imagine growing up any other way.

Erin Aubry Kaplan, Black Talk, Blue Thoughts, and Walking the Color Line: Dispatches from a Black Journalista,  (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2011), 16.

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Black Talk, Blue Thoughts, and Walking the Color Line: Dispatches from a Black Journalista

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2012-09-06 01:19Z by Steven

Black Talk, Blue Thoughts, and Walking the Color Line: Dispatches from a Black Journalista

Northeastern University Press (University Press of New England)
2011
304 pages
6 x 9 1/4″
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-55553-754-8
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-55553-766-1

Erin Aubry Kaplan

Forward by:

Michael Eric Dyson

This lively and thoughtful book explores what it means to be black in an allegedly postracial America

Los Angeles has had a ringside seat during the long last century of racial struggle in America. The bouts have been over money and jobs and police brutality, over politics and poetry and rap and basketball. Minimizing blackness itself has been touted as the logical and ideal solution to the struggle, but in Black Talk, Blue Thoughts, and Walking the Color Line Erin Aubry Kaplan begs to differ. With eloquence, wit, and high prose style she crafts a series of compelling arguments against black eclipse.

Here are thirty-three insightful and wide-ranging pieces of literary, cultural, political, and personal reporting on the contemporary black American experience. Drawn from the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Salon.com, and elsewhere, this collection also features major new articles on President Barack Obama, black and Hispanic conflicts, and clinical depression. In each, Kaplan argues with meticulous observation, razor-sharp intelligence, and sparkling prose against the trend of black erasure, and for the expansion of horizons of the black American story.

Table of Contents (An asterisk (*) indicates previously unpublished works)

  • Foreword – Michael Eric Dyson
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • GENERATION I
  • STATE OF A NATION
    • Barack Obama: Mile Traveled, Miles to Go*
    • Losing New Orleans
    • Thoroughly Modern Mammy: Of Coons, Pickaninnies and Gold Dust Twins: Why Do Black Curios Stay Chic?
    • Behind the American-History Curtain: Washington, D.C., and the Lessons of Memory
    • They’re Going Crazy Out There
  • STARRING:
    • The Accidental Populist: Magic Johnson Gives Some Back
    • The Empress’s New Clothes: Serena, to the Dismay of Many, Makes the Scene
    • Falling for Tiger Woods
    • Homeboys in Outer Space and Other Transgressions: TV in Black and White
    • White Man with Attitude: How Randy Newman Went from Pop Music’s Reigning Schlub to Movie-Music Royalty
  • STOMPING GROUNDS
    • Welcome to Inglewood—Leave Your Aspirations Behind! Why Coming Home Has Been a Labor of Tough Love
    • Rags to Richard*
    • The Eastside Boys
    • The King of Compton: Mayor Omar Bradley and His Reign of Chaos
    • Wearing the Shirt*
    • Lost Soul: A Lament for Black Los Angeles
  • MOTHERS AND FATHERS
    • The Last Campaign
    • Mother Roux
    • Mother, Unconceived
  • TEACH ON THAT
    • Held Back: The State of Black Education
    • Man and Superwoman
    • The Glamorous Life*
    • The Boy of Summer
    • Unsocial Studies: The Real Lessons of Hamilton High
  • POST SCRIPT
    • The Color of Love
    • Married People Live Longer than Single People

Black Like I Thought I Was: Race, DNA, and the Man Who Knows Too Much

October 2003

Wayne Joseph is a fifty-one-year-old high school principal in Chino whose family emigrated from the segregated parishes of Louisiana to central Los Angeles in the 1950s, as did mine. Like me, he is of Creole stock and is therefore on the lighter end of the black color spectrum, a common enough circumstance in the South that predates the multicultural movement by centuries. And like most other black folk, Joseph grew up with an unequivocal sense of his heritage and of himself; he tends toward black advocacy and has published thoughtful opinion pieces on racial issues in magazines like Newsweek. When Joseph decided on a whim to take a new ethnic DNA test he saw described on a 60 Minutes segment last year, it was only to indulge a casual curiosity about the exact percentage of his black blood; virtually all black Americans are mixed with something, he knew, but he figured it would be interesting to make himself a guinea pig for this new testing process, which is offered by a Florida-based company called DNA Print Genomics Inc. The experience would at least be fodder for another essay for Newsweek. He got his kit in the mail, swabbed his mouth per the instructions, and sent off the DNA samples for analysis.

Now, I have always believed that what is now widely considered one of slavery’s worst legacies—the Southern “one-drop” rule that indicted anyone with black blood as a nigger and cleaved American society into black and white with a single stroke—was also slavery’s only upside. Of course I deplore the motive behind the law, which was rooted not only in white paranoia about miscegenation, but in a more practical need to maintain social order by keeping privilege and property in the hands of whites. But by forcing blacks of all complexions and blood percentages into the same boat, the law ironically laid a foundation of black unity that remains in place today. It’s a foundation that allows us to talk abstractly about a ” black community” as concretely as we talk about a black community in Harlem or Chicago or L.A.’s South Central (a liberty that’s often abused or lazily applied in modern discussions of race). And it gives the lightest-skinned among us the assurance of identity that everybody needs to feel grounded and psychologically whole—even whites, whose public non-ethnicity is really ethnicity writ so large and influential it needs no name. Being black may still not be the most advantageous thing in the world, but being nothing or being neutral—the rallying cry of modern-day multiculturalists—has never made any emotional or real-world sense. Color marks you, but your membership in black society also gives you an indestructible house to live in and a bed to rest on. I can’t imagine growing up any other way.

Wayne Joseph can’t either. But when the results of his DNA test came back, he found himself staggered by the idea that though he still qualified as a person of color, it was not the color he was raised to think he was, one with a distinct culture and definitive place in the American struggle for social equality that he’d taken for granted. Here was the unexpected and rather unwelcome truth: Joseph was 57 percent Indo-European, 39 percent Native American, 4 percent East Asian—and 0 percent African. After a lifetime of assuming blackness, he was now being told that he lacked even a single drop of black blood to qualify. “My son was flabbergasted by the results,” says Joseph. “He said, Dad, you mean for fifty years you’ve been passing for black?'” Joseph admits that, strictly speaking, he has. But he’s not sure if he can or wants to do anything about that at this point. For all the lingering effects of institutional racism, he’s been perfectly content being a black man; it’s shaped his worldview and the course of his life in ways that cannot, and probably should not, be altered. Yet Joseph struggles to balance the intellectual dishonesty of saying he’s black with the unimpeachable honesty of a lifelong experience of being black. “What do I do with this information?” he says, sounding more than a little exasperated. “It was like finding out you’re adopted. I don’t want to be disingenuous with myself. But I can’t conceive of living any other way. It’s a question of what’s logical and what’s visceral.”

Race, of course, has always been a far more visceral matter than a logical one. We now know that there is no such thing as race, that humans are biologically one species; we know that an African is likely to have more in common genetically with a European thousands of miles away than with a neighboring African. Yet this knowledge has not deterred the racism many Europeans continue to harbor toward Africans, nor the wariness Africans harbor toward Europeans. Such feelings may never be deterred. And despite all the loud assertions to the contrary, race is still America’s bane, and its fascination; Philip Roth’s widely acclaimed novel set in the 1990s, The Human Stain, features a Faustian protagonist whose great moral failing is that he’s a black man who’s been passing most of his life for white (the book was made into a movie that was released in 2003).

Joseph recognizes this, and while he argues for a more rational and less emotional view of race for the sake of equity, he also recognizes that rationality is not the same thing as fact. As much as he might want to, he can’t simply refute his black past and declare himself white or Native American. He can acknowledge the truth but can’t quite apply it, which makes it pretty much useless to other, older members of his family. An aunt whom he told about the test results only said that she wasn’t surprised. “When I told my mother about the test, she said to me, Tm too old and too tired to be anything else,'” recalls Joseph. “It makes no difference to her. It’s an easy issue.”

After recovering from the initial shock, Joseph began questioning his mother about their lineage. He discovered that, unbeknownst to him, his grandparents had made a conscious decision back in Louisiana to not be white, claiming they didn’t want to side with a people who were known oppressors. Joseph says there was another, more practical consideration: some men in the family routinely courted black women, and they didn’t want the very public hassle such a pairing entailed in the South, which included everything from dirty looks to the ignominy of a couple having to separate on buses and streetcars and in restaurants per the Jim Crow laws. I know that the laws also pointedly separated mothers from sons, uncles from nephews, simply because one happened to be lighter than the other or have straighter hair. Determinations of race were entirely subjective and imposed from without, and the one-drop rule was enforced to such divisive and schizophrenic effects that Joseph’s family—and mine—fled Louisiana for the presumably less boundary-obsessed West. But we didn’t flee ourselves, and didn’t expect to; we simply set up a new home in Los Angeles. The South was wrong about to; we simply set up a new home in Los Angeles. The South was wrong about its policies but it was right about our color. It had to be.

Joseph remains tortured by the possibility that maybe nobody is right. The essay he thought the DNA test experience would prompt became a book that he’s already 150 pages into. He doesn’t seem to know how it’ll end. He’s in a kind of limbo that he doesn’t want and that I frankly wouldn’t wish on anyone; when I wonder aloud about taking the $600 DNA test myself, Joseph flatly advises against it. “You don’t want to know,” he says. “It’s like a genie coming out of a bottle. You can’t put it back in.” He has more empathy for the colorblind crowd than he had before, but isn’t inclined to believe that the Ward Connerlys and other professed racial conservatives of the world have the best interests of colored people at heart. “I see their point, but race does matter, especially with things like medical research and other social trends,” he says of Connerly’s Proposition 54, the much-derided state measure that sought to outlaw the collection of ethnic data. “Problems like that can’t just go away.” For the moment, Joseph is compelled to try to judge individually what he knows has always been judged broadly, to reconcile two famously opposed viewpoints of race not for the sake of political argument — he’s made those — but for his own peace of mind. He’s wrestling with a riddle that will likely outlive him, though he doesn’t worry that it will be passed on to the next generation—his ex-wife is black, enough to give his children the firm ethnic identity he had and that he embraced for most of his life. “The question ultimately is, are you who you say you are, or are you who you are genetically?” he muses. The logical — and visceral — answer is that it’s not black and white.

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