When Stuart Hall was White

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2020-02-10 15:22Z by Steven

When Stuart Hall was White

Public Books
2017-01-23

James Vernon, Professor of History
University of California, Berkeley


Dawoud Bey, Stuart Hall (1998)

I do not recall when I discovered that Stuart Hall was black. Growing up in Britain as neoliberalism first began to take shape under the rule of Margaret Thatcher, I found that Hall’s work helped me comprehend what was happening to the world around me. I think I began reading him with “The Great Moving Right Show,” an article published in Marxism Today, the ecumenical and “reform”-minded journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain, in January 1979. It is the piece now celebrated as having named “Thatcherism” as a new political formation. Thatcherism, he argued, represented a new type of politics, one that had mobilized a populist revolt to Make Britain Great Again by running it like a business and stopping immigration. It is strangely unnerving to read it again now. Later that year Hall became a professor of sociology at the Open University and began to appear regularly on its television programs designed (in the era before profit-seeking online classes) for their distance learning, nontraditional, students. It was probably on one of those superb programs, no doubt several years later, that I first saw and heard Stuart Hall.

In retrospect, it is not surprising that I had once assumed Hall was white. Growing up in the countryside as a white middle-class boy, people of color were almost completely absent from my life. I suspect that I was not the only person to imagine he was white. There has long been a way of narrating Hall’s life and work that erases his formation in Jamaica as a colonial subject and a black man. It is a narrative that claims him as part of the British canon, as probably the country’s most influential social and cultural theorist of the late 20th century. It is a narrative that was rehearsed in many of the obituaries that followed his death in 2014.

In this telling, Hall’s life begins when he arrives on the shores of Albion dressed like an English gentleman and goes up to Oxford University to study English literature. It continues with Hall, while writing a PhD on Henry James, beginning to forge, alongside other students there like Raphael Samuel and Charles Taylor, a New Left attuned to the changed social and cultural conditions of Britain in the 1950s. The big question for Britain’s New Left was if or how culture mattered in shaping the working class. For Hall and many of his comrades, the urtexts for thinking through this question were Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy (1957), Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society (1958), and E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1963)…

Read the entire article here.

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“Who Inherits?”: A Conversation Between Tao Leigh Goffe and Hazel V. Carby

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Interviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2020-02-04 20:22Z by Steven

“Who Inherits?”: A Conversation Between Tao Leigh Goffe and Hazel V. Carby

Public Books
2020-02-03

Tao Leigh Goffe, Assistant Professor of Literary Theory and Cultural History
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Over the decades of her transatlantic career, distinguished Yale University professor emerita of American and African American studies Hazel V. Carby has considered how one negotiates ancestral ties to two islands intimately entangled by empire, Britain and Jamaica. Her new book, Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands, is her answer to that question.

As Hazel explains in Imperial Intimacies, hers was an unlikely path to academia. She started out training as a ballerina and went on to teach at a secondary school in East London. When she moved to the West Midlands to pursue a master’s degree and then a PhD at the University of Birmingham, her life was altered forever by the influence of a mentor—Stuart Hall, esteemed professor and cofounder of the university’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies—who also negotiated a family history strung between Britain and Jamaica.

Hazel and I sat down to speak about the publication of Imperial Intimacies, a book that, she realized, she had been writing her whole life. We discussed the influence of books such as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Like Dana, the main character in Butler’s Afrofuturist novel—who finds herself teleported into the plantations of the antebellum past, meeting her black and white ancestors—Hazel traces her African and European Carby lineage. She does so through meticulous research on her ancestors in England, Wales, and Jamaica.

Hazel speculates on the subjectivity of one of her white forbears: an English man named Lilly Carby, who arrived in Jamaica in 1788 as a member of the British Army. What can Hazel possibly inherit from him, when her other ancestors were his property? Her experimental rendering in Imperial Intimacies presents the reader with a kaleidoscopic view of the ongoing coloniality of the present…

Read the entire interview here.

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Public Thinker: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein on Dark Matter and White Empiricism

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2019-09-18 18:59Z by Steven

Public Thinker: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein on Dark Matter and White Empiricism

Public Books
2019-09-17

Lawrence Ware, Co-director of the Africana Studies Program; Teaching Assistant Professor and Diversity Coordinator in the Department of Philosophy
Oklahoma State University


Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. Photograph by Lisa Longstaff

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is one of fewer than a hundred Black American women to earn a PhD from a department of physics. Being part of an all too rare group has given her a glimpse into the way the world of physics works—through not just equations and experiments but also human social interactions. The child of grassroots political organizers, Prescod-Weinstein is a theoretical physicist and a self-taught Black feminist philosopher and scholar of science, technology, and society studies. She is also vocal about social problems within science and the way science contributes to problems in the larger world. I caught up with Dr. Chanda, as she is known to many on Twitter (@IBJIYONGI), via Skype, and what follows is a discussion that goes from dark matter to how whiteness operates in physics.

Lawrence Ware (LW): Can I ask you to explain to me, almost like I’m an eight-year-old, what you do?

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (CP): I think about the origin of spacetime and the origin of everything inside of spacetime. It’s the question of how we get from the beginning of the universe to us sitting in the rooms that we are sitting in now. How do we get from point A to point B? And does the universe even have a beginning? What happened at the very beginning?

LW: But I am still very confused about what you do. Help me understand.

CP: I just do math all day.

LW: How do you bring your interest in race and gender into conversation with what you do with physics, then?

CP: When I was 10 years old, I began getting really excited about theoretical physics. And I was really excited about doing theoretical physics specifically because I thought it would get me away from human problems. My parents were both activists; I spent my entire childhood hearing about the ways the world is messed up. I think I saw theoretical physics as an exit from having to worry about the human condition.

Then, when I was in high school, I became aware that I might stand out in my classes, because my background was a little bit different from that of the typical physicist. I was aware that there weren’t a lot of Black women in physics. I had never heard of one. This generation might have a very different experience now, because of Hidden Figures, but there was nothing like that when I was in high school.

So I thought I would just stand out, but I didn’t really think much of it. I had no intention to go into college thinking about race or gender or anything like that. And then I started experiencing racism and sexism in physics environments and started trying to make sense of it. That was how it started to come together…

Read the entire interview here.

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Heroines of the Haitian Revolutions

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, Women on 2017-05-01 02:19Z by Steven

Heroines of the Haitian Revolutions

Public Books
2017-04-28

Laurent Dubois, Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

What is the role of an artist in the face of political repression? What is the place of culture in the midst of injustice and terror? Haitian writer Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1916–1973), author of powerful novels representing the experience of living under the Duvalier dictatorship, confronted such questions throughout her life.

One of Vieux-Chauvet’s earliest novels, Dance on the Volcano (1957), just published in a new English translation, does so by journeying back to the world of plantation slavery and of the Haitian Revolution. The novel is woven around the life of a real historical figure, Minette, a free woman of African descent who overcame the racial barriers of the time to become a star singer on the colonial stage. It focuses on Minette’s struggle to find both an artistic and a political voice, using her story as a crossroads through which to explore broader questions about art, sexuality, politics, and revolutionary change.

Because of her background, Minette’s presence onstage was always a risk, and her voice a weapon. Born in 1767, she was mentored by a white actress in Port-au-Prince, the colony’s capital. In 1780, Minette performed onstage for the first time. Vieux-Chauvet dramatizes the scene of her debut by imagining the terror the young girl must have felt as she stared out at the crowd: rows and rows of white faces looking up at her, expectantly. As the violin strikes its first chord, Minette opens her mouth but no sound comes out…

Read the entire article here.

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Miscegenation and passing provide the primal scenes of American racial anxiety.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-02-19 04:04Z by Steven

Miscegenation and passing provide the primal scenes of American racial anxiety. In Boy, Snow, Bird they become more than themes: miscegenation and passing also drive the novel’s fundamental imagination and its modes of narration. The novel is replete with sly passing metaphors. One character describes another as “seventy percent all right and thirty percent pain in the neck” as if the deep logic of hypodescent—the discriminatory assignment of racialized identities based on a pseudoscientific calculus of “blood percentages”—has been displaced onto a casual personality assessment. Passing appears in other forms as well: Bird, the sister who does not pass racially, nonetheless possesses a gift for vocal mimicry that allows her to pass sonically; a woman named Boy desperately tries to perform motherhood; and extraordinary violence, such as pulling the eyes out of captured animals for no apparent reason, or simply punching your child in the kidneys as you walk by, passes as quotidian practice.

Anne Anlin Cheng, “Passing Beauty,” Public Books, July 1, 2014. http://www.publicbooks.org/passing-beauty/.

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Passing Beauty

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-02-19 02:22Z by Steven

Passing Beauty

Public Books
2014-07-01

Anne Anlin Cheng, Professor of English; Professor of African American Studies
Princeton University

How do you break a spell? How do you get over the grief of racial, gendered, and childhood injuries? Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Boy, Snow, Bird is not a black-and-white parable but a black-and-blue story. A bruising tale about miscegenation, passing, and beauty, this novel brings to life the idealization and wounding that haunt the American racial psyche, and suggests that the price we pay for this history is nothing less than our own reflection.

Imagine a collision (or a collusion) between Anne Sexton’s Transformations, Nella Larsen’s Passing, and Elizabeth Taylor’s striking and stricken face in the 1957 film Raintree County. The tortured hybrid that would result might resemble Helen Oyeyemi’s new novel Boy, Snow, Bird. What brings these three unlikely predecessors to mind is not simply Oyeyemi’s haunting fusion of passing narratives and fairy tales but also the way this Nigerian-born British novelist harnesses the sonic, the textual, and the cinematic to produce an uncanny world in which the quotidian tips effortlessly into the surreal and vice versa.

In Oyeyemi’s version, Snow is the beloved, glowing, blonde girl-child of a jewelry maker named Arturo Whitman, and Bird is her dark-skinned half sister, whose birth exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans who have been passing as white. The wicked queen is the young bride and new mother named Boy who marries into the Whitman family without knowing their secret and who herself is the victim of a horrendously abusive childhood. The narrative voice shifts between Boy, whose first-person narration opens and closes the book, and her biological daughter Bird, who offers us her point of view in the middle section of the book and who in a sense speaks for her missing sibling, as Snow’s voice comes to us through a series of letters between the half sisters recorded by Bird…

Read the entire review here.

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@X: Making America White 200 Years Ago

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2017-02-19 02:06Z by Steven

@X: Making America White 200 Years Ago

Public Books
2017-02-17

Brandon R. Byrd, Assistant Professor of History
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

In the latest edition of our anniversaries series, Brandon Byrd examines resistance to the American Colonization Society’s attempts to remove free blacks from the US.

In January 1817, more than three thousand African Americans gathered in Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Philadelphia, PA. Skilled artisans, domestic workers, and underpaid manual laborers filled the pews. So did black elites including Richard Allen, the founder and first bishop of the AME Church; Absalom Jones, Allen’s friend and cofounder of the Free African Society, the leading black mutual aid society in Philadelphia; and James Forten, a wealthy sailmaker and outspoken abolitionist. As historian Benjamin Quarles noted, there was only one cause that could bring together a gathering of that size and diversity. Weeks earlier, some of the most influential white men in the United States had formed the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization whose official title—the Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America—made clearer its goal of removing free blacks from the United States. Now, as the ACS began its work, black Philadelphians gathered to respond as one to the proposition that their futures lay not in what was for many their country of birth but in Africa.

Standing behind a platform at the front of the church, Forten brought the meeting to order. The well-to-do businessman, born free in Philadelphia, first called for all in favor of colonization to respond with an “aye.” Nobody said a word. He then asked for those who opposed colonization to respond with a “no.” The response was thunderous. Unambiguous. Unanimous. In fact, Forten later wrote that it seemed as if the outcry “would bring down the walls of the building.”1

One year later, the ACS gathered in the chamber of the US House of Representatives for its first annual meeting. Participating members included Francis Scott Key, the slaveholding author of what became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a prominent Washington, DC–based attorney who later demanded in court that his fellow white men not “abandon your country; to permit it to be taken from you by the Abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the Negro.”2 Henry Clay was there too. The US congressman who would bring about the Missouri Compromise was also a Kentucky slaveowner who believed that “amalgamation”—interracial socializing or sex—was “impossible” because the “God of nature by the difference of color & of physical constitution, has decreed against it.”3 He was, put simply, a man who admired the racial thought of Thomas Jefferson, the exalted Founding Father whose antislavery views coexisted with his slaveholding and his “suspicion . . . that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” He, too, wanted them removed from his country.4

Read the entire article here.

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