The photographs remind us, repeatedly, that the racial delineations imposed by society are often arbitrary and flimsy, always fraught.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2018-08-10 02:48Z by Steven

The express ornaments of black culture that appear in some of [Genevieve] Gaignard’s images—braids and Afros, head wraps and African prints—like all surfaces, can be borrowed. The photographs remind us, repeatedly, that the racial delineations imposed by society are often arbitrary and flimsy, always fraught.

Katie Ryder, “An Artist’s Costumed Alter Egos Cross Racial Lines,” The New Yorker, July 17, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/an-artists-costumed-alter-egos-cross-racial-lines.

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An Artist’s Costumed Alter Egos Cross Racial Lines

Posted in Articles, Arts, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2018-08-10 02:41Z by Steven

An Artist’s Costumed Alter Egos Cross Racial Lines

The New Yorker
2018-07-17

Katie Ryder


“Synchronized,” 2018.Photographs by Genevieve Gaignard / Courtesy Shulamit Nazarian

Counterfeit Currency,” a show of self-portrait photography, installation, and collage by Genevieve Gaignard, at the FLAG Art Foundation, in Chelsea, opens with a large photo of the artist on a Florida beach at dusk. As in each of her pictures, Gaignard portrays a character of her own invention, here with long, blond hair and jet-black roots, outfitted in regional strip-mall kitsch. She is stretching a towel behind her, printed to resemble a huge hundred-dollar bill; concealing her torso is a trompe-l’oeil T-shirt showing a cartoon, bikini-clad body, whose peach-beige skin tone closely resembles that of her own.

Gaignard, a woman of mixed race (her father is black, her mother white), makes photographs that play with the outward signifiers and stereotypes of race, class, and femininity, combining and remixing them into sometimes exaggerated but steadily ambiguous costumes. From character to character, she undergoes significant but not quite Shermanian transformations, with no facial prosthetics and minimal makeup, and with each portrait hinging in part on Gaignard’s ability to cross legible boundaries…

Read the entire article here.

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Notes on a Lifetime of Passing

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Passing on 2017-09-27 04:20Z by Steven

Notes on a Lifetime of Passing

The New Yorker
2017-09-22

Trey Ellis, Associate Professor
Graduate School of the Arts
Columbia University, New York, New York


How do we remember how we crafted ourselves to an audience the last time we met? Luckily, I’ve had years of practice.
Photograph by Universal History Archive / UIG via Getty

Thanks to my parents transplanting me often from one ethnic mix to another, I’ve become something of a code-switching connoisseur.

I share the head of the table in the conference room in Columbia’s Faculty House with a distinguished professor from the University of Southern California. We are the featured guests for the latest Columbia University Seminar, a prestigious academic lecture series that has been running continuously since 1945. I am the invited “respondent/discussant” for the presentation of the Dartmouth professor Mark Williams’s paper “Passing for History: Humor and Early Television Historiography.” All the serious, eminent professors and doctoral candidates lining each side of the table nod and take notes when Williams references visual and televisual “indexicality.”

As soon as he finishes, we clap, and immediately the array of eyes home in on my own. Outwardly, I spend a lot of time thanking everyone who can possibly be thanked. Inwardly, I obsess about my lowly and decades-old B.A., my ignorance of the word “indexicality,” and how one of the assembled Illuminati at any moment, surely, in the middle of my talk, will burst to his feet and shout, like Congressman Joe Wilson at Barack Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address, “You lie!

See, I’m not a real professor, but I play one in arts school.

I was invited to respond that night because I’d written a screenplay about the period discussed, and because, thirty years earlier, soon after graduating college, I had written an essay called “The New Black Aesthetic,” which over the years has allowed me a back-door entrance into proper academic conferences such as this one. My actual job, teaching screenwriting as an associate professor of professional practice in the School of the Arts at Columbia University, is technically academic, but really arts-academic, which is to say academic-adjacent. Nevertheless, as I enter my tenth year of passing for a real professor, I find myself less and less inclined to correct those who mistakenly call me one.

You see, passing is like that. The real Harvard Business School professor and TED Talk rock star Amy Cuddy’s advice to “fake it till you become it” is a corollary to long-term passing. Or, as the veteran screenwriter William Goldman phrased it in the title of his second acidic Hollywood memoir, “Which Lie Did I Tell?”..

…So, at that Columbia seminar, despite my terror of being outed, the subject of the discussion was delicious to me. Thanks to Professor Williams’s work and exhaustive research by the rock critic R. J. Smith, I learned about Korla Pandit, a.k.a. Cactus Pandi, a.k.a. Juan Rolando, a.k.a. John Roland Redd. Pandit was a kitsch fixture of Los Angeles television in the nineteen-fifties, a mesmerizing, bejewelled-turbaned Indian swami in a sharp Western suit. For fifteen minutes every evening, first locally and then nationally, he wordlessly seduced the camera, swaying and staring, almost as unblinking as the lens, while effortlessly noodling on his Hammond organ or a piano, no sheet music, never looking down, as fluid Orientalist melodies undulated from the keyboards as if Pandit were about to conjure endless ranks of grinning, dancing cobras.

Housewives swooned before his image: exotically light-brown, crowned in his tight bejewelled turban, never, ever speaking. The ultimate mystery man, from 1948 to 1953 Pandit was becoming fabulously famous. Then, after a contract dispute with his syndicator, he was replaced by another keyboard player who went on to use the very same sets, only this guy was always smiling instead of cool and smoky, in a white tie and tails, a lit candelabra reflected in the black gloss of the grand piano’s lid. Pandit resented Liberace for the rest of his life.

Both of them were passing. Liberace as straight when he was gay, Korla as an Indian when he was a black St. Louisan, born John Roland Redd. Redd had moved to Hollywood in the nineteen-thirties, and, like all black musicians, had to scrounge for gigs, since he was barred from the union. He then simply changed his name to Juan Rolando and started playing all over town. A few years later, his identity crossed the South Pacific to become Korla Pandit, a New Delhi-born musical prodigy, classically trained at the University of Chicago. The prodigy part was true: he was a brilliant and sought-after pianist for radio and high-profile Hollywood gigs. In the nineteen-forties, he and his white, blond wife (they married in Tijuana, where interracial marriages were legal) regularly partied with Errol Flynn and Bob Hope

Read the entire essay here.

This essay appears in the forthcoming collection of essays “We Wear the Mask.”

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Danzy Senna’s New Black Woman

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-08-09 14:41Z by Steven

Danzy Senna’s New Black Woman

The New Yorker
2017-08-07

Doreen St. Félix


In Danzy Senna’s latest novel, “New People,” the ugliness of segregation has given way to a class of upwardly mobile light-skinned black people.
Agence Opale / Alamy Stock Photo

In an essay published in 2006, the novelist Paul Beatty recalled the first book he’d ever read by a black author. When the Los Angeles Unified School Board—“out of the graciousness of its repressive little heart”—sent him a copy of Maya Angelou’sI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” he made it through a few “maudlin” pages before he grew suspicious, he wrote. “I knew why they put a mirror in the parakeet’s cage: so he could wallow in his own misery.” Observing that the “defining characteristic of the African-American writer is sobriety,” Beatty described his own path toward a black literary insobriety, one that would lead to the satirical style of his novels “White Boy Shuffle” and “The Sellout.” Along the way, he discovered a select canon of literary black satire, including Zora Neale Hurston’s freewheeling story “The Book of Harlem” and Cecil Brown’sThe Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger.”

Danzy Senna, Beatty’s friend and fellow novelist, makes an appearance in that essay, smiling “wistfully” as she shows him “the cover of Fran Ross’s hilarious 1974 novel, ‘Oreo.’” As Senna later wrote in the foreword to the novel’s reissue, “Oreo,” about a biracial girl searching for her itinerant white father, manages to probe “the idea of falling from racial grace” while avoiding “mulatto sentimentalism.” Since her 1998 début novel, “Caucasia,” a stark story about two biracial sisters, Senna, like Ross before her, has developed her own kind of insobriety, one focussed on comically eviscerating the archetype of the “tragic mulatto”—that nineteenth-century invention who experiences an emotional anguish rooted in her warring, mixed bloods. Both beautiful and wretched, the mulatto was intended to arouse sympathy in white readers, who had magnificent difficulty relating to black people in literature (to say nothing of life). Senna, the daughter of the white Boston poet Fanny Howe and the black editor Carl Senna, grew up a member of the nineties Fort Greene “dreadlocked élite”; her light-skinned black characters, who dodge the constraints of post-segregation America, provide an excuse for incisive social satire. Thrillingly, blackness is not hallowed in Senna’s work, nor is it impervious to pathologies of ego. Senna particularly enjoys lampooning the search for racial authenticity. Her characters, and the clannish worlds they are often trying to escape, teeter on the brink of ruin and absurdity.

Senna’s latest novel, the slick and highly enjoyable “New People,” makes keen, icy farce of the affectations of the Brooklyn black faux-bohemia in which Maria, a distracted graduate student, lives with her fiancé among the new “Niggerati.” Maria and Khalil Mirsky—the latter’s name a droll amalgamation of his black and white Jewish parentage—are the “same shade of beige.”…

Read the entire review here.

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Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2017-07-18 19:52Z by Steven

Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies

The New Yorker
2017-07-17

Hua Hsu


Thirty years ago, many academics considered the study of popular culture beneath them. Stuart Hall helped change that. Photograph by Eamonn McCabe / Camera Press / Redux

In the summer of 1983, the Jamaican scholar Stuart Hall, who lived and taught in England, travelled to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to deliver a series of lectures on something called “Cultural Studies.” At the time, many academics still considered the serious study of popular culture beneath them; a much starker division existed, then, between what Hall termed the “authenticated, validated” tastes of the upper classes and the unrefined culture of the masses. But Hall did not regard this hierarchy as useful. Culture, he argued, does not consist of what the educated élites happen to fancy, such as classical music or the fine arts. It is, simply, “experience lived, experience interpreted, experience defined.” And it can tell us things about the world, he believed, that more traditional studies of politics or economics alone could not.

A masterful orator, Hall energized the audience in Illinois, a group of thinkers and writers from around the world who had gathered for a summer institute devoted to parsing Marxist approaches to cultural analysis. A young scholar named Jennifer Daryl Slack believed she was witnessing something special and decided to tape and transcribe the lectures. After more than a decade of coaxing, Hall finally agreed to edit these transcripts for publication, a process that took years. The result is “Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History,” which was published, last fall, as part of an ongoing Duke University Press series called “Stuart Hall: Selected Writings,” chronicling the career and influence of Hall, who died in 2014…

Read the entire article here.

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“We Are Not Used to People Thinking We Are Beautiful”

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico on 2017-06-08 00:49Z by Steven

“We Are Not Used to People Thinking We Are Beautiful”

The New Yorker
2017-06-02

Jonathan Blitzer


Photograph by Cécile Smetana Baudier

It was a toothache that brought the Franco-Danish photographer Cécile Smetana Baudier to Costa Chica, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. She was in Oaxaca at the time, for a project on women’s fashion, when she visited a dentist with a special reputation among cash-strapped local photographers. He accepted payment in the form of photographs. His waiting room, in Oaxaca City, was like a gallery, with framed images along the walls and piles of art books cascading over tables. There, just before getting a molar pulled, Baudier came across a series of photos of reedy men with fishing rods and nets, lolling in boats and along the banks of lagoons. She was surprised, given the fact that the men were black, to learn that the photographs had been taken in Mexico, in the remote southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. It was the first time she had ever seen images of Afro-Mexicans, and she decided to try to contribute some of her own. A few weeks later, she set out for El Azufre—a secluded coastal fishing village with a large Afro-Mexican population—where she spent five weeks living in a tent pitched on the front yard of an acquaintance’s house.

The African presence in Mexico dates back to the early sixteenth century, when Spanish conquistadors and colonialists arrived; with them came the slave trade. As many as two hundred and fifty thousand African slaves were transported Mexico, according to academic estimates*. At the turn of the nineteenth century, ten per cent of the population had African origins, but Mexican independence ignited a new national dialogue that downplayed race and elevated, instead, the idea of common citizenship. Even though some of the country’s most iconic freedom fighters and early politicians had African roots, their accomplishments fed a celebration of the broader mestizo culture. The history of Afro-Mexicans ever since has been one of erasure and marginalization. Today, there are 1.4 million citizens of African descent in Mexico, but the government did not recognize them officially until a 2015 census count…

Read the entire article here.

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The Many Lives Of Pauli Murray

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States, Women on 2017-04-11 19:27Z by Steven

The Many Lives Of Pauli Murray

The New Yorker
2017-04-17

Kathryn Schulz, Staff Writer


It was Pauli Murray’s fate to be both ahead of her time and behind the scenes.
CREDIT COURTESY SCHLESINGER LIBRARY / RADCLIFFE INSTITUTE / HARVARD UNIVERSITY

She was an architect of the civil-rights struggle—and the women’s movement. Why haven’t you heard of her?

The wager was ten dollars. It was 1944, and the law students of Howard University were discussing how best to bring an end to Jim Crow. In the half century since Plessy v. Ferguson, lawyers had been chipping away at segregation by questioning the “equal” part of the “separate but equal” doctrine—arguing that, say, a specific black school was not truly equivalent to its white counterpart. Fed up with the limited and incremental results, one student in the class proposed a radical alternative: why not challenge the “separate” part instead?

That student’s name was Pauli Murray. Her law-school peers were accustomed to being startled by her—she was the only woman among them and first in the class—but that day they laughed out loud. Her idea was both impractical and reckless, they told her; any challenge to Plessy would result in the Supreme Court affirming it instead. Undeterred, Murray told them they were wrong. Then, with the whole class as her witness, she made a bet with her professor, a man named Spottswood Robinson: ten bucks said Plessy would be overturned within twenty-five years.

Murray was right. Plessy was overturned in a decade—and, when it was, Robinson owed her a lot more than ten dollars. In her final law-school paper, Murray had formalized the idea she’d hatched in class that day, arguing that segregation violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Some years later, when Robinson joined with Thurgood Marshall and others to try to end Jim Crow, he remembered Murray’s paper, fished it out of his files, and presented it to his colleagues—the team that, in 1954, successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education

Read the entire article here.

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The Forgotten Work of Jessie Redmon Fauset

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-02-20 01:52Z by Steven

The Forgotten Work of Jessie Redmon Fauset

The New Yorker
2017-02-18

Morgan Jerkins

Among the events that helped to crystallize what would come to be known as the Harlem Renaissance was a dinner, in March, 1924, at the Civic Club, on West 12th Street. The idea for the dinner was initially hatched by Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the editor of Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League and, under Johnson, one of the leading outlets for young black writers. Johnson planned to invite twenty guests—a mix of white editors and publishers as well as black intellectuals and literary critics—to honor Jessie Redmon Fauset and the publication of “There Is Confusion,” her début novel, about a black middle-class family’s struggle for social equality. But when Johnson ran the idea by the writer and philosopher Alain Locke, who he hoped would serve as master of ceremonies, Locke said that the dinner should celebrate black writers in general, rather than just one in particular. So the purpose of the event changed, and the list of invitees grew; among those who ultimately attended were Countee Cullen, Gwendolyn Bennett, Langston Hughes, and W. E. B. Du Bois. That evening, attendees listened to a series of salutations, an address by Locke, and presentations by several black men. At the end of the dinner, Locke—who had praised “There Is Confusion” as what “the Negro intelligentsia has been clamoring for”—introduced Fauset. But though she was a guest of honor, she evidently felt like an afterthought. Years later, in 1933, she would write a scathing letter to Locke (who had just reviewed her most recent novel, about which he had some misgivings), declaring that he, with “consummate cleverness,” had managed, on that evening in 1924, to “keep speech and comment away from the person for whom the occasion was meant”—that is to say, her…

…“Initially, Fauset’s work was dismissed as sentimental and Victorian, primarily because she dealt with ‘women’s issues,’ centering on the marriage plot,” Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, said. Fauset’s second novel, “Plum Bun,” is probably her best, and it received the most attention when it was published, with reviews in The New Republic, the New York Times, and Saturday Review. Like “There Is Confusion,” it is a story about middle-class respectability. It centers on a mixed-race young woman named Angela Murray, who grows up in a posh black neighborhood in Philadelphia where each house looks just the same. All the residents know their neighbors’ names, and everyone goes to church on Sundays. Young women train to be teachers and young men do the same or strive to become post-office workers. Angela, tired of this bourgeois world, wants to become a famous painter, and believes that the only way to do so is to abandon her family, move to New York City, and pass for white. In New York, she meets a poor artist who falls in love with her and a wealthy white man she hopes to marry. At one point, she sees her sister at the train station in New York and pretends not to recognize her, so that she can keep up the charade that she is white. Later, however, in order to support a fellow art student, a black woman, she reveals her true identity. In a conversation with her sister, Angela says, “When I begin to delve into it, the matter of blood seems nothing compared with individuality, character, living. The truth of the matter is, the whole business was just making me fagged to death . . . You can’t fight and create at the same time.”…

Read the entire article here.

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An Unsung Hero in the Story of Interracial Marriage

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, History, Law, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2016-11-21 21:44Z by Steven

An Unsung Hero in the Story of Interracial Marriage

The New Yorker
2016-11-17

David Muto, Copy Editor/Senior Web Producer


Bill and Carol Muto on their wedding day, eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, struck down interracial-marriage bans.
COURTESY BILL AND CAROL MUTO

At my parents’ wedding, in Blacksburg, Virginia, my mom wore a floppy, wide-brimmed hat atop her feathered hair. My dad wore lightly flared pants and had sideburns that almost reached his jaw. Peter, Paul and Mary music played at their ceremony, and at the reception afterward they drank sherbet punch alongside friends and family members dressed in plaid and platform shoes. It was a fairly ordinary American wedding in 1975, save for one distinction: the bride was white, and the groom was Asian.

My dad, a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, and my mom, from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, had met in Michigan, in 1970, while he was in the Air Force and she was in college studying nursing. They eventually settled in Texas, where they raised my three siblings and me. As a gay man, I’ve often thought about how my parents’ timing was fortuitous. Just a few years earlier, their marriage may not have been legal in the state where they wed, Virginia. The new film “Loving,” directed by Jeff Nichols, tells the story of the couple who changed that: Mildred and Richard Loving, a black woman and a white man who were arrested in Virginia in 1958 and sentenced to prison there after marrying in Washington, D.C. The couple, played by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, toiled silently for years, unable to live openly together in their home state, until their case reached the Supreme Court—which, in a unanimous decision in 1967, struck down all interracial-marriage bans throughout the U.S.

The Lovings are the couple whose names we rightfully remember from the case, and they’re indeed the stars of the film. But, buried in the footnotes of the Lovings’ story, a little-known name caught my attention—that of a Japanese-American lawyer who gave Asian-Americans, and families like mine, a voice at a pivotal moment in constitutional history…

Read the entire article here.

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Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-11-21 21:23Z by Steven

Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency

The New Yorker
2016-11-28

David Remnick, Editor

Inside a stunned White House, the President considers his legacy and America’s future.

The morning after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, Barack Obama summoned staff members to the Oval Office. Some were fairly junior and had never been in the room before. They were sombre, hollowed out, some fighting tears, humiliated by the defeat, fearful of autocracy’s moving vans pulling up to the door. Although Obama and his people admit that the election results caught them completely by surprise—“We had no plan for this,” one told me—the President sought to be reassuring.

“This is not the apocalypse,” Obama said. History does not move in straight lines; sometimes it goes sideways, sometimes it goes backward. A couple of days later, when I asked the President about that consolation, he offered this: “I don’t believe in apocalyptic—until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.”

Obama’s insistence on hope felt more willed than audacious. It spoke to the civic duty he felt to prevent despair not only among the young people in the West Wing but also among countless Americans across the country. At the White House, as elsewhere, dread and dejection were compounded by shock. Administration officials recalled the collective sense of confidence about the election that had persisted for many months, the sense of balloons and confetti waiting to be released. Last January, on the eve of his final State of the Union address, Obama submitted to a breezy walk-and-talk interview in the White House with the “Today” show. Wry and self-possessed, he told Matt Lauer that no matter what happened in the election he was sure that “the overwhelming majority” of Americans would never submit to Donald Trump’s appeals to their fears, that they would see through his “simplistic solutions and scapegoating.”

“So when you stand and deliver that State of the Union address,” Lauer said, “in no part of your mind and brain can you imagine Donald Trump standing up one day and delivering the State of the Union address?”…

Obama chuckled. “Well,” he said, “I can imagine it in a ‘Saturday Night’ skit.”…

Read the entire article here.

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