Race and Justice in Transnational Perspective: “From the Conservation of Races to the Cosmic Race”

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Live Events, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-10-16 03:30Z by Steven

Race and Justice in Transnational Perspective: “From the Conservation of Races to the Cosmic Race”

Seminar Series: Race and Justice in Transnational Perspective
University of California, Merced
California Room
5200 North Lake Rd.
Merced, California 95343
2013-10-23, 10:30 PDT (Local Time)

Juliet Hooker, Associate Professor of Government
University of Texas, Austin

The Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos [1882-1959] and the African American political thinker W.E.B. DuBois [1868-1963] are viewed as having developed conceptions of race and racial identity that are quintessentially Latin American and U.S. American respectively.  Vasconcelos is one of Latin America’s foremost advocates of mestizaje; his notion of the Cosmic Race is generally viewed as articulating a more complex approach to race that sought to dismantle specific racial group identities and reformulate hybrid subjectivities. This approach is often contrasted to the binary, static conceptions of race developed in the U.S., including by African-American thinkers. This paper analyzes this characterization of Latin American and African American political thought by comparing Vasconcelos and DuBois’ arguments about race, especially racial identity. In particular, I will analyze DuBois’ discussion of racial mixing in the U.S. and the motivations behind Vasconcelos’ account of mestizaje in order to complicate the comparison between supposedly static, biologically grounded accounts of race and flexible notions of race that are able to acknowledge processes of racial mixing.  The aim of this juxtaposition is to stage a hemispheric dialogue about race between these two towering American pensadores, in order to show the surprising points of convergence and divergence between U.S. and Latin American ideas about race.

The seminar series “Race and Justice in Transnational Perspective” is organized by Tanya Golash-Boza, Nigel Hatton, and David Torres-Rouff. The event is co-sponsored by the UC Center for New Racial Studies, Sociology, and SSHA.

For more information, click here.

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Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten’s Color Photographs of African Americans, 1939-1964

Posted in Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2012-09-17 23:57Z by Steven

Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten’s Color Photographs of African Americans, 1939-1964

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), photographer, promotor of literary talent, and critic of dance, theater, and opera, had an artistic vision rooted in the centrality of the talented person. He cherished accomplishment, whether in music, dance, theater, fine art, literature, sport, or advocacy. He began to make photographic portraits in 1932; in 1939 he discovered newly available color film. For a quarter century, he invited friends and acquaintances, well-known artists, fledgling entertainers, and public intellectuals to sit for him, often against backdrops reminiscent of the vivid colors and patterns of a Matisse painting. Among his subjects are a very young Diahann Carroll, Billie Holiday in tears, Paul Robeson as Othello, Althea Gibson swinging a tennis racquet, and a procession of opera stars, composers, authors, musicians, activists, educators, and journalists who made notable contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of the country. Also included are brilliant color images of notable and everyday places: Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee; the wedding of friends; pushcarts and street scenes of Harlem; children at play in a housing project’s yard.

The Collection

Color slides of Blacks.
1,884 color Kodachrome slides, 2 x 2 inches each

[Note from Steven F. Riley] Also includes photographs of: Peter Abrahams, Prince Etuka Okala Abutu, Armenta Adams, Adele Addison, Alvin Ailey, Betty Allen, Sanford Allen, Martina Arroyo, William Attaway, Ethel Ayler, Pearl Bailey, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Roy Thompson Beresford, Mary McLeod Bethune, Charles Blackwell, McHenry Boatwright, Margaret Allison Bonds, Paul Bontemps, William Stanley Braithwaite, Carol Brice, Jonathan Brice, Maurice Brooks, Anne Wiggins Brown, Debria Brown, Roscoe Lee Browne, Joyce Bryant, Ralph J. Bunche, Dan Burley, Miriam Burton, John Carlis, Thelma Carpenter, Diahann Carroll, John Carter, Shirley Verrett Carter, Horace Cayton, Omar Clay, Ladybird Cleveland, Leo Coleman, Durward B. Collins, Janet Collins, Zebedee Collins, Clayton Corbin, Edna Cordoza, Eldzier Corter, Robert Curtis, Jimmy Daniels, Ossie Davis, Gloria Davy, Ruby Dee, William Demby, Beauford Delaney, Inez Dickerson, Hugh Dilworth, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Owen Dodson, W. E. B. DuBois, Todd Duncan, Roy Eaton, Bobby Evans, Martha Flowers, Benny Garland, Althea Gibson, Richard Gibson, John Birks “Dizzie” Gillespie, Shirley Graham, Reri Grist, Nicolas Guillen, Juanita Hall, Bertha “Chippie” Hill, Ramon Blancos Habana, Frank Harriott, Afrika Hayes, Marion Hayes, Roland Hayes, Chester Eugene Haynes, Godfrey Headley, Bomar Himes, Geoffrey Holder, Leo Holder, Charlotte Holloman, Nora Holt, Marilyn Horne, Langston Hughes, Phillipa Husley, Earle Hyman, Ivie Jackman, Annette Jackson, Mahalia Jackson, Raymond Jackson, Louise E. Jefferson, Charles Johnson, Hal Johnson, Hylan “Dots” Johnson, Marie Johnson, (Everett) LeRoi Jones , James Earl Jones, Laurence Clifton Jones, Ulysses Kay, William Melvin Kelly, Eartha (Mae) Kitt, George Lamming, Carmen De Lavallade, Everett Lee, Henry Lewis, Powell Lindsay, James Lowe, Robert Keith McFerrin, Claudia McNeil, Geraldyn (Gerri) Hodges Major, Claude Marchant, William Marshall, Mabel Mercer, Lizzie Miles, Arthur Mitchell, Edgar Mittelholzer, Mollie Moon, Linwood Morris, Willard Motley, Lorenzo Newby, Maidie Norman, Godfrey Nurse, Frederick O’Neal, Leonard de Paur, Louise Parker, Louis Peterson, Julius Perkins Jr., Mildred Perkins, Charles Perry, Ann Petry, Evelyn La Rue Pittman, Leontyne Price, Bertice Reading, Guy Rodgers, Percy Rodriguez, Pearl Showers, Edith Spurlock Sampson, Diana Sands, Harold Scott, George Shirley, Bobby (Robert Waltrip) Short, Merton Simpson, Noble Sissle, Clarence Smith Jr., William Gardner Smith, Rawn Spearman, Melvin Stewart, William Grant Still, Billy Strayhorn, Howard Swanson, Archie Savage, Wesley Tann, Ellen Tarry, Dorothy Taylor, Claude Thompson, Veronica Tyler, Margaret Tynes, Henry Van Dyke, Elaine Vance, William Warfield, Dorothy West, Moran Weston, Clarence Cameron White, Josh White, Lindsay H. White, Roy Wilkins, Billy Dee Williams, Camilla Williams, John Alfred Williams, Maurice Williford, Ellis Wilson, John W. Work, and Dale Wright.

To view the collection, click here.

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The Absurdity of America: George S. Schuyler’s Black No More

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-02-26 03:52Z by Steven

The Absurdity of America: George S. Schuyler’s Black No More

EnterText: an interdisciplinary humanities e-journal
Volume 1, Number 1 (Winter 2000) Americas, Americans
pages 127-148

Joseph Mills, Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professor of the Humanities
North Carolina School of the Arts, Winston-Salem

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…. One ever feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro—two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled striving; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
– W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

What do we want?… We want to be Americans, full-fledged Americans, with all the rights of other American citizens. But is that all?… We who are dark can see America in a way that white Americans can not. And seeing our country thus, are we satisfied with its present goals and ideals?
– W. E. B. DuBois, “Criteria of Negro Art” (1921)

In 1931 George S. Schuyler published Black No More, a satire about Americans’ obsession with race. The book was controversial, in part, because Schuyler mocked African-American leaders. The novel contains parodies of Marcus Garvey, N.A.A.C.P. figures, and Tuskegee leaders. For example, Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard, a caricature of W.E. B. DuBois, writes ornate overblown editorials for The Dilemma, claims an “exotic” heritage, and “like most Negro leaders, he deified the black woman but abstained from employing aught save octoroons.” DuBois, himself, however, praised the book. He recognized that it would be “abundantly misunderstood,” because, “the writer of satire . . . is always misunderstood by the simple.” Although Black No More contained “scathing criticism of Negro leaders,” DuBois noted with admiration that the satire then “passes over and slaps the white people just as hard and unflinchingly straight in the face.” In many ways, Black No More demonstrates satire’s democratic potential. Mockery becomes the great leveller, and by ridiculing all, the novel calls into question racial and class hierarchies. In a letter to H. L. Mencken, Schuyler stated his intentions: “What I have tried to do in this novel is to laugh the color question out of school by showing up its ridiculousness and absurdity…I have tried… to portray the spectacle as a combination madhouse, burlesque show and Coney Island.”

Unfortunately, as DuBois anticipated, the novel has been misunderstood. In a 1971 introduction to the book, Charles Larson states, “It would be easy—and some people would perhaps say better—to ignore Schuyler’s first novel,” and Margaret Perry’s comment that “we cannot dismiss [Black No More] entirely” reveals a desire to do just that. In fact, for decades Schuyler’s work overall has been denigrated or overlooked. To give only one example, in Cary Wintz’s Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance, a table of “Year-by-Year Publication of Major Works of the Harlem Renaissance, 1922-1935” has almost fifty titles but does not include Schuyler’s books. In the 1990s, however, Robert A. Hill and R. Kent Rasmussen recovered a significant amount of Schuyler’s pulp fiction, and, in doing so, they demonstrated the need to re-evaluate Schuyler’s work. In particular, Black No More, Schuyler’s major literary achievement, needs to be reassessed. Considered by Arthur Davis to be “the best work of prose satire to come from the New Negro Movement,” and one of the few works of the time to use satire, the novel makes an important contribution to the discourse of race and national identity…

…The book’s most damning indictment of this “urge towards whiteness” is a shocking lynching scene. Southern aristocrat Arthur Snobbcraft, the head of an elitist Anglo-Saxon association, joins forces with the Knights of Nordica to run a presidential campaign. Snobbcraft organizes a massive genealogy project to determine how much of the population has Negro blood. He intends to use the results to whip up national hysteria over the dangers of miscegenation; however, the plan backfires when his chief researcher, Dr. Buggerie, discovers that at least fifty million people who are considered “white” have a mixed heritage, including Buggerie, Knights of Nordica leader Givens, and Snobbcraft himself. After his opponents steal the information and give it to the newspapers, Snobbcraft tries to flee the country, but his plane runs out of gas and has to land in Mississippi. Snobbcraft and Buggerie decide to disguise themselves with shoe-polish blackface, but they run into members of the True Love Christ Lover’s Church, a group which has been praying for one last Negro to lynch. When they wipe off their blackface, they are accepted as Caucasians until one of the few church members who can read sees a newspaper article detailing their mixed ancestry. Snobbcraft and Buggerie are then mutilated, tortured and killed in an orgiastic frenzy…

…There occur two dynamics in Black No More: a whitening at the level of skin and a blackening at the level of blood. Although the process of Black No More, Inc. “whitens,” the genealogical research of Buggerie “blackens” at least half of the population by revealing their mixed ancestry. When he learns of the research, Givens acknowledges, “I guess we’re all niggers now;” his comment echoes one made earlier by one of the owners of Black No More who noted that “Everything that looks white ain’t white in this man’s country.” In fact, almost nothing is white in the country. Schuyler dedicates Black No More to “all Caucasians in the great republic who can trace their ancestry back ten generations and confidently assert that there are no Black leaves, twigs, limbs of branches on their family trees.” The tone conveys his doubt that anyone can do this. Schuyler believed that America refused to admit that it consisted of a mulatto culture. In this sense, when he states in “The Negro-Art Hokum” that “the American Negro is just plain American,” he is insisting not only on the “Americanness” of the Negro, but also on the “Negroness” of America…

Read the entire article here.

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Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-13 00:09Z by Steven

Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction

University of North Carolina Press
December 2004
416 pages
6.125 x 9.25, 22 illus., notes, bibl., index
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8078-2902-8
Paper ISBN  978-0-8078-5567-6

Michele Mitchell, Associate Professor of History
New York University

Between 1877 and 1930–years rife with tensions over citizenship, suffrage, immigration, and “the Negro problem”–African American activists promoted an array of strategies for progress and power built around “racial destiny,” the idea that black Americans formed a collective whose future existence would be determined by the actions of its members. In Righteous Propagation, Michele Mitchell examines the reproductive implications of racial destiny, demonstrating how it forcefully linked particular visions of gender, conduct, and sexuality to collective well-being.

Mitchell argues that while African Americans did not agree on specific ways to bolster their collective prospects, ideas about racial destiny and progress generally shifted from outward-looking remedies such as emigration to inward-focused debates about intraracial relationships, thereby politicizing the most private aspects of black life and spurring race activists to calcify gender roles, monitor intraracial sexual practices, and promote moral purity. Examining the ideas of well-known elite reformers such as Mary Church Terrell and W. E. B. DuBois, as well as unknown members of the working and aspiring classes, such as James Dubose and Josie Briggs Hall, Mitchell reinterprets black protest and politics and recasts the way we think about black sexuality and progress after Reconstruction.

Read the prologue here.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes on Usage and Terminology
  • Prologue. To Better Our Condition One Way or Another: African Americans and the Concept of Racial Destiny
  • 1. A Great, Grand & All Important Question: African American Emigration to Liberia
  • 2. A Black Man’s Burden: Imperialism and Racial Manhood
  • 3. The Strongest, Most Intimate Hope of the Race: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Afro-American Vitality
  • 4. The Righteous Propagation of the Nation: Conduct, Conflict and Sexuality
  • 5. Making the Home Life Measure Up: Environment, Class and The Healthy Race Household
  • 6. The Colored Doll Is a Live One: Material Culture, Black Consciousness, and Cultivation of Interracial Desire
  • 7. A Burden of Responsibility: Gender, “Miscegenation,” and Race Type
  • 8. What a Pure, Healthy, Unified Race Can Accomplish: Collection Reproduction and the Sexual Politics of Black Nationalism
  • Epilogue. The Crossroads of Destiny
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture

Posted in Arts, Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2009-11-24 19:27Z by Steven

Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture

Duke University Press
July 2000
272 pages
12 b&w photographs
Cloth ISBN: 0-8223-2479-2, ISBN13: 978-0-8223-2479-9
Paperback ISBN: 0-8223-2515-2, ISBN13: 978-0-8223-2515-4

Gayle Wald, Professor of English
George Washington University

As W. E. B. DuBois famously prophesied in The Souls of Black Folk, the fiction of the color line has been of urgent concern in defining a certain twentieth-century U.S. racial “order.” Yet the very arbitrariness of this line also gives rise to opportunities for racial “passing,” a practice through which subjects appropriate the terms of racial discourse. To erode race’s authority, Gayle Wald argues, we must understand how race defines and yet fails to represent identity. She thus uses cultural narratives of passing to illuminate both the contradictions of race and the deployment of such contradictions for a variety of needs, interests, and desires.

Wald begins her reading of twentieth-century passing narratives by analyzing works by African American writers James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen, showing how they use the “passing plot” to explore the negotiation of identity, agency, and freedom within the context of their protagonists’ restricted choices. She then examines the 1946 autobiography Really the Blues, which details the transformation of Milton Mesirow, middle-class son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, into Mezz Mezzrow, jazz musician and self-described “voluntary Negro.” Turning to the 1949 films Pinky and Lost Boundaries, which imagine African American citizenship within class-specific protocols of race and gender, she interrogates the complicated representation of racial passing in a visual medium. Her investigation of “post-passing” testimonials in postwar African American magazines, which strove to foster black consumerism while constructing “positive” images of black achievement and affluence in the postwar years, focuses on neglected texts within the archives of black popular culture. Finally, after a look at liberal contradictions of John Howard Griffin’s 1961 auto-ethnography Black Like Me, Wald concludes with an epilogue that considers the idea of passing in the context of the recent discourse of “color blindness.”

Wald’s analysis of the moral, political, and theoretical dimensions of racial passing makes Crossing the Line important reading as we approach the twenty-first century. Her engaging and dynamic book will be of particular interest to scholars of American studies, African American studies, cultural studies, and literary criticism.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Race, Passing, and Cultural Representation
  • 1. Home Again: Racial Negotiations in Modernist African American Passing Narratives
  • 2. Mezz Mezzrow and the Voluntary Negro Blues
  • 3. Boundaries Lost and Found: Racial Passing and Cinematic Representation, circa 1949
  • 4. “I’m Through with Passing”: Postpassing Narratives in Black Popular Literary Culture
  • 5. “A Most Disagreeable Mirror”: Reflections on White Identity in Black Like Me
  • Epilogue: Passing, “Color Blindness,” and Contemporary Discourses of Race and Identity
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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