Frederick Douglass, Refugee

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery on 2018-02-20 03:42Z by Steven

Frederick Douglass, Refugee

The Atlantic
2017-02-07

David Blight, Class of 1954 Professor of American History; Professor of African-American and American Studies; Director, Gilder Lehrman Center
Yale University


J.C. Buttre / Wikimedia

Throughout modern history, the millions forced to flee as refugees and beg for asylum have felt Douglass’s agony, and thought his thoughts.

Frederick Douglass, author, orator, editor, and most important African American leader of the 19th century, was a dangerous illegal immigrant. Well, in 1838 he escaped a thoroughly legal system of enslavement to the tenuous condition of fugitive resident of a northern state that had outlawed slavery, but could only protect his “freedom” outside of the law.

Douglass’s life and work serve as a striking symbol of one of the first major refugee crises in our history. From the 1830s through the 1850s, the many thousands of runaway slaves, like Douglass, who escaped into the North, into Canada, or Mexico put enormous pressure on those places’ political systems. The presence and contested status of fugitive slaves polarized voters in elections; they were the primary subject of major legislation such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as well as Supreme Court decisions such as Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857. They were at the heart of a politics of fear in the 1850s that led to disunion. Among the many legacies of Douglass’s life and writings alive today, one of the most potent is his role as an illegal migrant and very public abolitionist orator and journalist posing as a free black citizen in slaveholding America.

On February 1, 2017, President Donald J. Trump made some brief remarks on Black History Month. “Frederick Douglass,” he said, “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job, that is being recognized more and more, I notice.” That afternoon in one of the discussion sections of my lecture course at Yale on “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era,” my teaching fellow, Michael Hattem, reports that he read that quotation to the class. Students had just been assigned to read Douglass’s classic first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Michael says the class let out an audible collective groan, and one student declared: “My God, he doesn’t know who he was!”

…Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, his father likely his owner and his mother, Harriet, likely the owner’s slave, Douglass lived twenty years in bondage on Maryland’s eastern shore and in Baltimore. At age 18 he organized an escape plot with a small “band of brothers” among the slaves on a farm near St. Michaels, Maryland. Foiled and betrayed, he and his comrades were arrested, put in chains and marched several miles to the jail in Easton, the Talbot County seat. As great luck, Douglass’s owner, Thomas Auld, sent his slave back to Baltimore rather than selling him into obscurity in the deep South. Two years later, in a cunning and brave plot hatched with a few friends and with his intrepid fiancée, Anna Murray, Douglass escaped from slavery by train, steamer, and ferryboat to New York City, disguised as a sailor. His story is one of great drama and risk in the face of what he called a sense of “hopelessness” and “loneliness.” But in recollecting these events Douglass left the world an illegal refugee-immigrant’s language of fear and courage. His greatest power always resided in the written and spoken word…

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Grappling With the Memory of New Orleans

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2018-01-07 23:01Z by Steven

Grappling With the Memory of New Orleans

The Atlantic
2015-10-25

Mark Charles Roudané


Christian Senger / Flickr

A family’s story traces the roots of the eclectic city, the country’s first black daily newspaper, and the evolution of racial injustice.

My father is listed as white on his birth certificate. His great-grandfather was the founder of America’s first black daily newspaper. But when I tell the story of my family, inextricably linked to the narrative of New Orleans and, in fact, to the country, I do not start with either of them.

Aimée Potens, my third great-grandmother, stares at me. Holding a daguerreotype from the 1840s, I am transfixed by her eyes. I try to imagine what they had seen. Aimée’s eyes are my window to the world that made New Orleans, a world that seems impenetrable, lost somewhere in a gauzy historical memory of tangled white, free-black, and enslaved cultures…

…I was raised to be a white person in Jim Crow New Orleans. The past was hidden from me, and I grew up not knowing that this history was my history, too. When Reconstruction collapsed, the loss of hope for people of color was devastating. As I reflect on the ways the past has shaped the social construct of race and my own identity, I wonder what my story would be like had the Tribune’s crusade succeeded. Would my family have claimed its remarkable heritage instead of passing as white?…

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What We Lose: A Striking Novel About Filial Grief

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, South Africa, United States on 2017-11-27 02:58Z by Steven

What We Lose: A Striking Novel About Filial Grief

The Atlantic
2017-08-01

Amy Weiss-Meyer, Associate Editor


Zinzi Clemmons (Nina Subin)

Zinzi Clemmons’s debut tangles with familiar questions, using a propulsive experimentalism in lieu of linear narrative.

When Zinzi Clemmons was a graduate student at Columbia, at work on her MFA, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Clemmons had been writing a novel with a more or less linear narrative structure. She moved back home to Philadelphia and kept writing, but differently now, taking notes and collecting fragments of text as she cared for her mother. “The only time and energy I could muster resulted in that very short form,” she said recently. “I just ended up keeping those pieces and stitching them together, and a fictional narrative arose.” The novel she had been working on no longer felt worth her while; she’d been trying to use it, she said, to “avoid what was going on with my mom.”

The new novel that emerged, What We Lose, is a startling, poignant debut, released to no shortage of fanfare (Vogue called it “the debut novel of the year”). It tells a story based loosely on the author’s own. The protagonist is Thandi, who, like Clemmons herself, is the daughter of a “coloured” South African mother and an African American father. Thandi, like Clemmons, was raised in a wealthy, mostly white suburb of Philadelphia. Thandi’s self-proclaimed status as a “strange in-betweener”—she has “light skin and foreign roots,” and feels neither fully black American nor fully African—is a defining preoccupation of her young adulthood. Her relationship with her mother is loving but difficult. And in the wake of her death, as Thandi unexpectedly confronts the possibility of becoming a parent herself, she struggles to come to terms with what her mother’s life was, and what hers should be…

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Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-09-08 02:45Z by Steven

For Trump, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally. The insult intensified when Obama and Seth Meyers publicly humiliated him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. But the bloody heirloom ensures the last laugh. Replacing Obama is not enough—Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. “Race is an idea, not a fact,” the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a “white race” is the idea of not being a nigger. Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The First White President,” The Atlantic, October 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/.

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The First White President

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2017-09-08 01:17Z by Steven

The First White President

The Atlantic
October 2017

Ta-Nehisi Coates


Jesse Draxler; Photo: David Hume Kennerly / Getty

The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.

It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.

His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against “lazy” black employees. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” Trump was once quoted as saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced Barack Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump demanded the president’s college grades (offering $5 million in exchange for them), insisting that Obama was not intelligent enough to have gone to an Ivy League school, and that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers

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Within this context [of the failed policy of Eugenics], it becomes clear that the issues involved in Loving extended beyond its current popular understanding as a tribute to romance.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-06-14 17:58Z by Steven

Within this context [of the failed policy of eugenics], it becomes clear that the issues involved in Loving extended beyond its current popular understanding as a tribute to romance. Indeed, for a case heralded for being about the boundless nature of love, there is surprisingly little discussion about this in the Loving decision apart from the appellants’ surname and rather dry assertions that marriage is a civil right.

Osagie K. Obasogie, “Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love?,” The Atlantic, June 12, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/loving-v-virginia-marks-its-fiftieth-anniversary/529929/.

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Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love?

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2017-06-13 15:13Z by Steven

Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love?

The Atlantic
2017-06-12

Osagie K. Obasogie, Haas Distinguished Chair and Professor of Bioethics
University of California, Berkeley


J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning interracial marriage, but the issues involved in the case extended beyond its current popular understanding as a tribute to romance.

Interracial marriage is at a historic high. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, couples with different racial backgrounds made up one in six new marriages in 2015—a stark change from previous eras when even looking at someone across the color line with a hint of romance could be a matter of life or death. This radical shift is largely attributed to the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia, which marks its 50th anniversary on June 12. In Loving, the Court struck down state laws banning interracial marriage, holding that such restrictions are unconstitutional.

Loving is widely praised as a case about law ceding to the power of love in the face of astonishing harassment and bigotry endured by interracial couples. The redemptive trope coming out of the Loving decision that love conquers all has also influenced other social movements, such as those leading to Obergefell v. Hodges—the 2015 Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage.

The 1967 Loving decision therefore is often celebrated as an affirmation of love that made America a better and more progressive society. There’s just one problem.

Love is not what the case was really about…

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And it has been damaging to have Barack Obama, a black man speaking from the authoritative platform of the presidency, reinforce the widely held belief that racial inequality in the United States is, in large measure, the direct responsibility of black folk.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-12-23 01:33Z by Steven

I worried that it was possible for the symbolic and inspirational aspects of having a black president more than offset by the damages that could be done by the messages delivered by a black president. And it has been damaging to have Barack Obama, a black man speaking from the authoritative platform of the presidency, reinforce the widely held belief that racial inequality in the United States is, in large measure, the direct responsibility of black folk. This has been the deal breaker for me: not merely a silence on white physical and emotional violence directed against black Americans, but the denial of the centrality of American racism in explaining sustained black-white disparity.

William A. Darity, “How Barack Obama Failed Black Americans,” The Atlantic, December 22, 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/how-barack-obama-failed-black-americans/511358/.

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How Barack Obama Failed Black Americans

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Economics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-12-22 21:15Z by Steven

How Barack Obama Failed Black Americans

The Atlantic
2016-12-22

William A. Darity, Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics; Director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity
Duke University

The country’s first black president never pursued policies bold enough to close the racial wealth gap.

Born in 1953, I am a child of the waning years of legal segregation in the United States. My parents, on the other hand, spent about 40 years of their lives under Jim Crow, and all of my grandparents lived most of their lives under official American apartheid. At the time of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, my mother and all four of my grandparents were deceased. But my father was alive and well—and absolutely thrilled to have lived to see the election of a black man as president of the United States. Usually deeply cynical about American politics and politicians, my dad could not comprehend my deep reservations about Barack Obama’s leadership. Indeed, he viewed any criticism of Obama as bringing aid and comfort to white supremacists.

My father hardly was alone among black Americans, across all generations. The near complete unanimity of passionate black American admiration for Obama carried with it an absolute resistance to hearing any complaints about the black president. And, indeed, there was much to admire: an exceptional resume, an attractive family with a black wife who is his professional and intellectual equal, handsome and greying toward distinguished maturity, a strategically wise moderate progressive political position, and a place as the—sometimes self-professed—messianic fulfillment of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. For many black Americans, the ascent of Barack Obama to the presidency was equivalent to the moment of jubilee.

An extraordinarily disciplined individual, Barack Obama preempted the smallest hint of scandal by admitting that he had smoked pot during his youth. He even crafted a narrative of a rise from adversity—growing up successfully by the efforts of a single parent despite a missing father—albeit a white single mother with a Ph.D. whose own parents were affluent residents of Hawaii. With every drop of respectability in place, his somewhat icy intellect coupled with his enthusiasm for basketball and for black music across a half century of styles, he was an inordinately appealing candidate, with an ideal combination of the cool and the rational…

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The Problem With Obama’s Faith in White America

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2016-12-20 19:38Z by Steven

The Problem With Obama’s Faith in White America

The Atlantic
2016-12-13

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Virginia Commonwealth University

The president’s optimism about race blinded him to the pervasiveness and stubborn persistence of racism.

I screamed a lot while reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s My President Was Black. When I was done reading and screaming, I cried.

The last time I felt this far removed from this president was when I first worked so hard to elect him.

In 2007, the very idea of a President Barack Obama was ridiculous to me. I was and am southern, god bless. I am black. I come from black people who are southerners even when they were New Yorkers for a spell. We are the black American story of enslavement, rural migration, urban displacement, resistance, boostrapping, mobility, and class fragility. In this milieu we, as a friend once described it, know our whites. To know our whites is to understand the psychology of white people and the elasticity of whiteness. It is to be intimate with some white persons but to critically withhold faith in white people categorically. It is to anticipate white people’s emotions and fears and grievances because their issues are singularly our problem. To know our whites is to survive without letting bitterness rot your soul…

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