Is it time to unlearn race? Thomas Chatterton Williams says yes

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing on 2019-10-15 19:18Z by Steven

Is it time to unlearn race? Thomas Chatterton Williams says yes

The Guardian
2019-10-15

Summer Sewell, Assistant Editor of Features


Thomas Chatterton Williams: ‘I think you have to be an optimist.’ Photograph: Alex John Beck

The author and critic discusses why we should move away from race categories defined ‘using plantation logic’ – and suggests ‘retiring from race’

The American writer Thomas Chatterton Williams is racially ambiguous enough to be mistaken as Algerian in Paris, where he and his French wife are raising two children, their heads capped with airy blond curls.

It was the birth of his older child, Marlow, six years ago, that set off an instant panic in him. She can pass for Swedish, he says. So what did it mean that he, then a self-identified black man who had always accepted the black/white binary, had a child who would be perceived as white?

It meant, at first, he would apply camera filters to darken her skin – to make her belong, to him and to a race. Eventually, it meant asking questions complex enough to alter how he identifies himself now: what does it mean to belong to a race, part of which for black people can include “an allegiance to pain”? And why would passing that down to his daughter make her black?

In his second book, out Tuesday, Self-Portrait in Black and White, he calls for us to consider why we uphold race categories defined “using plantation logic” and encourages us to do away with the arbitrary nomenclature altogether. Not to be confused with the term “post-race”, he suggests “retiring from race”, “transcending race”, “unlearning race”. It’s a big ask, he admits.

Because both of us are mixed-race people who grew up with one black parent and one white parent, Chatterton Williams thinks he and I have a head start on dismissing the barriers of race. We both remember the first time we were “raced” by a stranger and simultaneously separated from our white parent, and setting out from then on to continually contemplate race in our respective lives. For him, this has come to mean examining the artificiality of it.

On the campus of Bard College, a private arts college upstate New York where he taught a four-week course, Can we retire from race?, this fall, we discussed the privilege of proximity to whiteness, whether it is asking too much of black people to let go of race while retaining the pride of an identity forged in the face of systematic oppression and, finally, why he’s optimistic norms can change…

Read the entire interview here.

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Anthony Ekundayo Lennon on being accused of ‘passing’ as a black man: ‘It felt like an assassination’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United Kingdom on 2019-09-09 00:36Z by Steven

Anthony Ekundayo Lennon on being accused of ‘passing’ as a black man: ‘It felt like an assassination’

The Guardian
2019-09-07

Simon Hattenstone

Head shot of actor and director Anthony Ekundayo Lennon against turquoise background
Anthony Ekundayo Lennon: ‘I didn’t think I had anything to answer.’ Photograph: David Vintiner/The Guardian

All his life, people have assumed the theatre director is mixed race – and he was happy to embrace that identity. Then he was accused of faking it

Anthony Ekundayo Lennon remembers the moment his life spun out of control. It was late morning, Friday 2 November 2018. The actor and director was giving a talk about the performing arts to university students, and his phone kept flashing. It was so incessant that the students suggested he’d better take a look. He told them it wouldn’t be anything important, turned the phone over and got on with his lecture. When the class broke for lunch, he saw missed calls from Talawa theatre company, where he had been working for the past year, as well as several unknown numbers and messages.

One text stood out. It was from a journalist at the Sunday Times, asking for a comment on a story the paper was preparing to run about Lennon’s place on a prestigious scheme – the artistic director leadership programme (ADLP) for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) theatre practitioners. Lennon had been awarded an 18-month residency with Talawa, Britain’s best-known black-led theatre company. He scrolled down the text…

Read the entire article here.

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Jackie Kay on putting her adoption on stage – and getting a pay rise for her successor

Posted in Articles, Arts, Autobiography, Interviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2019-08-25 02:02Z by Steven

Jackie Kay on putting her adoption on stage – and getting a pay rise for her successor

The Guardian
2019-08-07

Peter Ross


‘I think it’s really scandalous to pay your national poet five grand’ … Kay in Glasgow. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

When Scotland’s national poet travelled to Nigeria to ask her birth father if he ever thought of her, he said no. Does it hurt to put this on stage? And should the next ‘makar’ be on £30,000?

Before Jackie Kay was a writer, she was a character. “When you’re adopted,” she explains over lunch in a Glasgow cafe, “you come with a story.” Her adoptive mother Helen – fascinated by her possible origins – encouraged young Kay to speculate about her birth parents. It was known that her father was Nigerian, her mother a white woman from the Scottish Highlands. Were they, perhaps, torn apart by racial prejudice in 1960s Scotland?

There was tragic romance to that idea, and a fairytale quality in the notion that Kay, offspring of forbidden love, should come to live with John and Helen, two people who had plenty of love – not to mention songs and stories – to share. Little wonder that Kay has come to think of herself as a creature not only of genetics but of the imagination. As Scotland’s national poet writes in her beautiful memoir Red Dust Road, she is “part fable, part porridge”.

Red Dust Road, adapted for the stage by Tanika Gupta, is to be presented at the Edinburgh international festival. I catch some scenes in a National Theatre of Scotland rehearsal room: Stefan Adegbola and Sasha Frost are running through the moment when Kay, visiting Nigeria, meets her birth father Jonathan. “Did you ever think of me in all those years?” Frost asks. “No, of course not,” Adegbola replies. “Why would I? It was a long time ago.” This exchange feels brutal, but Kay looks on impassive. She lived it…

Read the entire interview here.

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They look white but say they’re black: a tiny town in Ohio wrestles with race

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-25 18:14Z by Steven

They look white but say they’re black: a tiny town in Ohio wrestles with race

The Guardian
2019-07-25

Khushbu Shah


Roberta Oiler, center, stands with her daughters Janelle Stanley and Jessica Keaton in East Jackson, Ohio Photograph: Maddie McGarvey/The Guardian

Many residents in East Jackson were raised to identify as black. But what dictates race: where you live, your DNA, the history you’re taught?

The stale, smoky air around Clarice Shreck heaves. She takes a long hit of oxygen from the tube under her nose. She leans forward, shifting in her armchair, before releasing her raspy smoker’s laugh, which is smudged out a second later by her smoker’s cough.

The pale woman with frizzy grey-streaked hair commands her on-and-off partner of over 20 years, Jimmy – who is from one of the few white families in East Jackson – to fetch her purse. He plops it on to her lap; she struggles to get at an old piece of paper folded up in her wallet. She slowly unfolds it to present her birth certificate.

“Negro”, it reads, next to each of her parents’ names. She looks up triumphantly, victory in her periwinkle eyes. “It’s a legal document,” she says.

The last known full-blooded black person in her family was her great-great-grandfather Thomas Byrd, her parents told her. Photos of them, who both look white, adorn the wooden walls on either side of Shreck’s chair. Their stares follow her throughout their former home. They are the ones who told her she was black…

Note from Steven F. Riley: See the State of the Re:Union podcast “Pike County, Ohio – As Black as We Wish to Be” from 2012-09-28.

Read the entire article here.

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Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri review – a voyage to empowerment

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2019-05-03 13:35Z by Steven

Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri review – a voyage to empowerment

The Guardian
2019-05-02

Colin Grant


Emma Dabiri records the external and internal pathologising of black hair as a chronic condition. Photograph: Silvana Trevale/The Guardian

Combs, braids and Bob Marley’s bad-hair days are explored in this richly researched cultural history

When Rita Anderson’s teenage boyfriend Bob was growing up in Jamaica’s Trenchtown ghetto, the fair-skinned future Rasta reggae star was so concerned to demonstrate his black heredity that he would get Rita to rub black shoe polish into his hair – so that, she says, it appeared “blacker, coarser and more African”. But after reading Emma Dabiri’s richly researched book, you wonder which model of African hair Bob Marley had in mind. For Dabiri shows that Africans have always paid close attention to the grooming and careful styling of hair, and in Yoruba the phrase for “dreadlocks” is irun were, which translates as “insane person’s hair-do”.

Like Marley, Dabiri also has black and white parents, and has wrestled with her identity. As a child in Ireland, people volunteered opinions about her hair that made her feel ashamed and “like an abomination”. But her personal story merely serves in the book as a jumping off point for an exploration of many subjects, among them colourism and self-worth.

Dabiri, who is a teaching fellow at SOAS, argues that the “desire to conform” to a European “aesthetic which values light skin and straight hair is the result of a propaganda campaign that has lasted more than 500 years”. European powers saw African culture as an impediment to productivity. “Idle husbands”, fumed one colonial administrator, wasted hours setting their wives the task of “braiding and fettishing out their woolly hair”…

Read the entire review here.

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‘Do you ever think about me?’: the children sex tourists leave behind

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Women on 2019-03-03 01:54Z by Steven

‘Do you ever think about me?’: the children sex tourists leave behind

The Guardian
2019-03-02

Margaret Simons, Associate Professor of Journalism
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Brigette Sicat
Brigette Sicat knows that somewhere, far away, in a barely imaginable place called England, she has a father. Photograph: Dave Tacon

Their fathers visited the Philippines to buy sex: now a generation of children want to track them down

Brigette Sicat will not be going to school today. She sits, knees to chest, in a faded Winnie-the-Pooh T-shirt, on the double mattress that makes up half her home. At night, she curls up here with her grandmother and two cousins, beneath the leaky sheets of corrugated iron that pass for a roof. Today, the monsoon rain is constant and the floor has turned to mud.

Brigette, 10, and her 11-year-old cousin, Arianne, aren’t in school because they have a stomach bug. There is no toilet and no running water, and no means of cooking other than over an open fire. Even when she is well, Brigette is often too hungry to tackle the 10-minute walk to school. Brigette’s mother is a sex worker. And Brigette knows that somewhere, far away, in a barely imaginable but often-thought-of place called England, she has a father. She knows only his given name: Matthew.

Asked what she would say to him, were she able to send him a message, Brigette is at first stumped for words. Then she bursts out in Tagalog: “Who are you? Where are you? Do you ever think about me?” Her grandmother, Juana, her fingers swollen with arthritis and suffering from a lack of medication for her diabetes, sits by her side.

Juana, Arianne, Brigette and Arianne’s brother, Aris, survive on 200 pesos (£3) a day, contributed by Arianne and Aris’s father. (He drives a Jeepney – a public transport vehicle originally converted from Jeeps abandoned by the US military.) Juana, 61, tells me she thinks she may not live much longer. But she wants the girls to finish school, to keep them from working in the bars.

These are the slums of Angeles City in the Philippines, and the children here represent a United Nations of parentage. Their faces tell that story – fair skin, black skin, Korean features, caucasian. That’s because their fathers, like Brigette’s, are sex tourists

Read the entire article here.

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“I walked over to the white side of the room. It was, ironically, where I felt most at home – all my friends, my boyfriend, my flatmates, were white. But my fellow workers had other ideas and I found myself being beckoned over by people on the black side. With some hesitation I crossed the floor.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-02-15 21:09Z by Steven

After studying textiles at Middlesex Polytechnic, [Andrea] Levy worked briefly as a designer, a dresser and a receptionist. But it was not until she was 26 that a racial awareness session with colleagues at an Islington sex education project gave her a “rude awakening”.

“We were asked to split into two groups, black and white.” Levy wrote. “I walked over to the white side of the room. It was, ironically, where I felt most at home – all my friends, my boyfriend, my flatmates, were white. But my fellow workers had other ideas and I found myself being beckoned over by people on the black side. With some hesitation I crossed the floor.”

As someone who was “scared” to call herself a black person, the experience was shocking enough to send her to bed for a week. But the writing course she had begun part-time came to her rescue, sending her back to explore the shame and denial that had marked her childhood and to rediscover her Jamaican roots.

Richard Lea, “Andrea Levy, chronicler of the Windrush generation, dies aged 62,” The Guardian, February 15, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/15/andrea-levy-chronicler-of-the-windrush-generation-dies-aged-62.

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Andrea Levy, chronicler of the Windrush generation, dies aged 62

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2019-02-15 20:49Z by Steven

Andrea Levy, chronicler of the Windrush generation, dies aged 62

The Guardian
2019-02-15

Richard Lea


Andrea Levy, in Edinburgh in 2010: ‘My heritage is Britain’s story too.’ Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Award-winning author of Small Island and The Long Song had cancer

The writer Andrea Levy, who explored the experience of Jamaican British people in a series of novels over 20 years has died, aged 62, from cancer.

After starting to write as a hobby in her early 30s, Levy published three novels in the 1990s that brought her positive reviews and steady sales. But her fourth novel, Small Island, launched her into the literary big league, winning the 2004 Orange prize, the Whitbread book of the year and the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, selling more than 1m copies around the world and inspiring a 2009 BBC TV adaptation.

On Friday, authors including Candice Carty-Williams, Linda Grant and Malorie Blackman paid tribute, with Blackman remembering a “warm, funny and generous spirit.”…

…After studying textiles at Middlesex Polytechnic, Levy worked briefly as a designer, a dresser and a receptionist. But it was not until she was 26 that a racial awareness session with colleagues at an Islington sex education project gave her a “rude awakening”.

“We were asked to split into two groups, black and white.” Levy wrote. “I walked over to the white side of the room. It was, ironically, where I felt most at home – all my friends, my boyfriend, my flatmates, were white. But my fellow workers had other ideas and I found myself being beckoned over by people on the black side. With some hesitation I crossed the floor.”

As someone who was “scared” to call herself a black person, the experience was shocking enough to send her to bed for a week. But the writing course she had begun part-time came to her rescue, sending her back to explore the shame and denial that had marked her childhood and to rediscover her Jamaican roots…

Read the entire article here.

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Lynette Linton: ‘Why are we not marching in the streets?’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United Kingdom on 2019-01-12 03:28Z by Steven

Lynette Linton: ‘Why are we not marching in the streets?’

The Guardian
2019-01-02

Bridget Minamore


Lynette Linton, incoming artistic director of the Bush Theatre in London, photographed during rehearsals for Sweat. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Fuelled by passion and outrage, the playwright and director is shaking up theatre with works about Windrush to an all-women-of-colour Richard II – and now she’s taking over the Bush in London

Lynette Linton is known for her deep love of Michael Jackson. The director and playwright has said that, in a parallel universe, her ideal job would be the King of Pop’s backup dancer. When I ask her why she loves him so much, she replies as though the answer is obvious. Jackson, she says, was a theatremaker. “If you watch his performances, that’s a show, it’s an experience. Everything from his toe to his eyebrow was activated, and you want your audiences to faint like they did when they saw him.” Does she want the audience for Sweat, her current production at the Donmar Warehouse in London, to faint in the aisles? Linton laughs, and points out that Sweat’s playwright, Lynn Nottage, has signed on to write the book for a forthcoming Broadway musical about Jackson. Everything, it seems, is connected.

To many in British theatre, Linton is one of the industry’s friendliest and most exciting figures. As an assistant director she has worked with Kwame Kwei-Armah and Michael Grandage; she has been an associate director of the Gate in Notting Hill, and she has written for both Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Arcola in east London, her plays exploring mixed-race identity (2017’s Hashtag Lightie), queerness (2013’s Step) and inner-city London’s chicken shops (2015’s Chicken Palace)…

…Much of Linton’s work has touched on who she is and where she comes from, with her forthcoming Windrush films a tribute to her mixed British Caribbean heritage. “My dad is from Guyana, and he sat me and my brother down [as children] and was like, ‘You are black, the world will see you as black.’” The Windrush scandal is something that has affected her deeply. “I spoke to theatre people, saying, ‘Why are we not responding to this? Why are we not in the streets marching?’ They’re sending families home. It makes me feel sick.” Linton’s voice shakes a little. “Even now, it chokes me. The people they’re targeting are elders, man. People are having heart attacks and have died because of this.” Still, her films – which are to be screened at the Royal Court in London – will have “a massive celebration at the core. It was really important to me that we took over a building and celebrated West Indian culture.”…

Read the entire interview here.

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Will it be a black woman who turfs Trump out of the White House?

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Women on 2019-01-07 01:20Z by Steven

Will it be a black woman who turfs Trump out of the White House?

The Guardian
2019-01-06

Richard Wolfe


Harris in California, 2018. ‘The key primary test for all candidates will be who can best take the fight to Trump while still talking to voters beyond the reach of his tweets.’ Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Democrat Kamala Harris embodies the driving force behind the party’s electoral surge. She may be their best bet for 2020

Life, as Donald Trump has known it for the last two years, has just changed forever. Quagmired in a government shutdown of his own making, Trump’s ability to manipulate his world is already severely constrained in this very new year. The more he struggles against his new surroundings, the more he sinks.

Last week the president could only watch his beloved cable news channels as a bystander to the biggest tectonic shifts, as the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and Senator Elizabeth Warren became the first candidate to officially emerge to run against him next year. And it won’t be long before the House launches several investigations into corruption and incompetence, while the Mueller investigation continues to tighten several nooses around all things Trumpian…

…But one likely candidate particularly intrigues. Kamala Harris embodies the driving force pushing Democrats to record turnouts in non-presidential contests over the last two years: women of colour. The California senator has served just two years in Congress – like the last freshman senator to win the Democratic nomination, in 2008. But unlike Barack Obama, Harris has a very significant record of public service in her pre-Senate career, serving as her state’s attorney general for six years and as San Francisco’s district attorney for seven years.

While all the Democratic candidates can appeal beyond their own demographics, personal perspectives can and do influence political character. There’s no mystery about why Trump performs so well with older white men. And there should be no surprise that Harris – the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants – has already won the overwhelming support and respect of influential women of colour who will help shape the Democratic primaries…

Read the entire article here.

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