Race is an absurdity, having long ago been discredited as a valid biological category and, in the Brown decision, a defensible legal one. Yet as a means of defining and separating people, it retains its power.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-01-05 01:54Z by Steven

Race is an absurdity, having long ago been discredited as a valid biological category and, in the Brown decision, a defensible legal one. Yet as a means of defining and separating people, it retains its power. That power can’t be undone simply by pretending it doesn’t exist, or even by telling African Americans that they should desist from “race-holding” as an excuse or crutch. How do we ignore the power of racialist thinking when we see it exploited by cynical politicians who ignore facts and try to convince white voters—often in coded ways—that their economic woes are largely attributable to blacks and other minorities who are getting more than their share in a zero-sum struggle for economic advancement and opportunities? “We make up selves from a tool kit of options made available by our culture and society,” writes the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah. “We do make choices, but we do not determine the options among which we choose.”4 For my part, I can’t help seeing the ways race played, and continues to play, a role in my life. Yet at the same time, I recognize how a racial identity can be limiting and burdensome, particularly when it is based on, and helps to perpetuate, hoary myths and outright lies.

W. Ralph Eubanks, “What Makes Me Black? What Makes You White?The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture, Volume 20, Number 2 (Summer 2018). https://iasc-culture.org/THR/THR_article_2018_Summer_Eubanks.php.

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What Makes Me Black? What Makes You White?

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2019-01-04 20:49Z by Steven

What Makes Me Black? What Makes You White?

The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture
Volume 20, Number 2 (Summer 2018)

W. Ralph Eubanks, Visiting professor of English and Southern Studies
University of Mississippi

The obelisk bearing the chiseled gray-granite face of a Confederate soldier enters my field of vision each morning as I stroll across campus. After forty years away from Mississippi, I returned last year to teach at my alma mater, Ole Miss. Having entered the University of Mississippi in 1974, only twelve years after James Meredith shattered the color barrier, I was one of about fifty black students in a freshman class of more than 800, African Americans then making up less than 5 percent of the entire student body.

During my time as a student at Ole Miss, the culture, heritage, and traditions of the university stood as obdurate barriers to a black person attempting to feel part of the university, much less at home in it. And though Ole Miss and the state of Mississippi more broadly have since made certain commendable strides in reckoning with the past, the statue is a reminder of how the forces of race and history remain in constant collision, and of how the misinterpretation of the past can sometimes overshadow historical reality.

“Most white Americans are obviously and often all too unconsciously committed to White Anglo-Saxon Protestant supremacy,” wrote the essayist and critic Albert Murray more than forty years ago in his enduring reflections on our nation’s “mulatto” culture, The Omni-Americans.1 What we are witnessing today, however, is quite conscious. I don’t mean here simply ugly and even violent displays, such as the now infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last summer, but something more insidious. This new iteration of racialized politics is one that dares not say its name. It even pretends that race-based discrimination and white supremacy are things of the past, issues well behind us. More brazenly—one might even say cynically—this new politics appropriates the language of the civil rights movement, and does so precisely to undercut some of the movement’s signal accomplishments (including voting rights), or at least to prevent some its goals (including equal as well as integrated schools) from being fully achieved…

Read the entire article here.

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Discussion on Race and Identity: One Year After Charlottesville

Posted in History, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, Social Science, United States, Videos on 2018-08-24 00:06Z by Steven

Discussion on Race and Identity: One Year After Charlottesville

C-SPAN
Mississippi Book Festival
Jackson, Mississippi
2018-08-18

Chris Goodwin, Introduction
Programs and Communication Division
Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi

W. Ralph Eubanks, Moderator and Visiting Professor of English & Southern Studies
University of Mississippi

Imani Perry, Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Sheryll Cashin, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Civil Rights and Social Justice
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Jabari Asim, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director for Creative Writing
Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts

Authors Imani Perry, Sheryll Cashin, and Jabari Asim discuss race and identity.

Watch the entire discussion (00:56:15) here.

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In my family, racial passing and the deception it involved was the ultimate taboo and betrayal.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-11-05 02:06Z by Steven

In my family, racial passing and the deception it involved was the ultimate taboo and betrayal. It was what the writer Nella Larsen called a hazardous business, “this breaking away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chance in another environment, not entirely strange, perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly.” The first time someone perceived me as white, it made me wonder if they thought I was passing or trying to pass. But unlike the character Clare in Larsen’s novel Passing, I did not become untethered or unhinged from my identity; I did not feel a desire to cross into whiteness. Instead I grabbed hold of my identity even tighter, as if somehow my blackness could slip away.

W. Ralph Eubanks, “Passing Strange,” The Common, November 4, 2016. http://www.thecommononline.org/features/passing-strange.

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Passing Strange

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Mississippi, Passing, United States on 2016-11-04 15:44Z by Steven

Passing Strange

The Common
2016-11-04

W. Ralph Eubanks

All thinking Southerners, at some point, find their minds at war with their hearts, a battle that often ends with the heart claiming victory. It is this triumph of the heart that landed me, a black expatriate Mississippian, back in my home state again. Yet returning to Mississippi after nearly forty years, albeit temporarily, as a visiting professor, has left me torn somewhere between acceptance and separateness. In some ways, the longer I am in the South, the less I try to maintain my distance from the place.

One way my divide from the South has been bridged is in the way I speak when I am here. When I left Mississippi I scrubbed away any outward sign that would mark me as a native son, even succeeding at losing my accent as well as the elongated vowels of my youth. But these days a decided twang has begun to creep into my voice. And rather than correcting my linguistic lapses, I’m reclaiming this part of my Southern background.

But there is one thing I have had difficulty accepting: people thinking I am a white man…

Read the entire article here.

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The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America [Review: Eubanks]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2011-07-30 05:39Z by Steven

The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America [Review: Eubanks]

The Washington Independent Review of Books
2011-07-04

W. Ralph Eubanks, Director of Publishing at the Library of Congress
Author of Ever Is a Long Time and The House at the End of the Road

Julie Winch, The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America, New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. pp. 424.

In spite of the prominent role of race in our culture, American society has spent more than 200 years trying to find a way to downplay the role of it—whether through proclaiming our society color blind or a melting pot—with varying levels of success. Consequently, there are numerous stories of how race manifests itself as America’s original sin, many involving families that crossed and bridged racial lines, including my own family’s story. Few of these stories are as complicated and fascinating as the one Julie Winch tells in The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America.
 
Through the life and times of one American family, the Clamorgans of St. Louis, Missouri, Winch traces the evolving role race has played in family life, the law and broader American society, from slavery to abolition, to Reconstruction and beyond. Today’s millennial generation would label the Clamorgans as multiracial. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, and well into the 20th century, the one-drop rule marked them with a taint of African ancestry, in spite of appearances to the contrary. Still, the Clamorgans challenged traditional notions of race and identity and carefully negotiated a way through society’s complicated racial maze. To do this, they used the same confusing twists and turns used to define them as a means of furthering their own interests. As the author notes, the Clamorgans’ story is one of money, land, power and race. But at its core this is the story of a family with a scrappy survival instinct that transcends race, which is why the reader gets drawn into this saga quickly….

…Money was a means of whitening, since “a dark-skinned individual with money often made the transition from ‘black’ to ‘mulatto.’ The Clamorgans and other mixed-race people took the next step, moving from ‘mulatto’ to ‘white.’ ” Sometimes it was for a reason, other times it was because the census takers were confused by a person’s appearance or last name. In St. Louis, some names were exclusively “colored,” while others were exclusively white. Certain names existed in both communities, making the census taker’s job more complicated…

Read the entire review here.

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DNA Is Only One Way to Spell Identity

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2011-01-11 03:02Z by Steven

DNA Is Only One Way to Spell Identity

The Washington Post
2006-01-01

W. Ralph Eubanks

Every year,” I once overheard my father say jokingly to a friend, “thousands of Negroes disappear.” I remember my 8-year-old imagination going into overdrive, picturing people zapped from their homes in the middle of the night. It was only as I grew older that I realized that the people my father was talking about were choosing to disappear, running away from their families, not being taken from them. They were light-skinned blacks who could move into the white world undetected, denying their blackness and the exclusion they suffered in a white-dominated America.

I’ve been thinking of my father’s joke a lot recently. It came back to me last month when scientists reported the discovery of a genetic mutation that led to the first appearance of white skin in humans. Reading about it, I wondered how it is that a minor mutation—just one letter of DNA code out of 3.1 billion letters in the human genome—is so highly prized that it has led scores of people to turn their backs on their families and has served to divide people for generations. Discovery of this mutation, combined with recent findings that all people are more than 99.9 percent genetically identical, has reinforced my belief that race is almost entirely a social demarcation, not a biological one…

…Although my ethnic identity is strongly African American, I’ve always had an awareness of my mixed racial heritage. I learned as a teenager that my maternal grandfather was white. To build a life with my grandmother, who was black, my grandfather, Jim Richardson, cast his whiteness aside and lived in Prestwick, Ala., an African American community near Mobile, from around 1920 through the 1950s. Even after my grandmother died in 1936, he continued to raise his children with a strong black identity and to live among the black people who accepted him as one of their own. During her short life, my grandmother, Edna Howell Richardson, accepted Jim completely as he was, faults and all. Perhaps that’s why she never even pointed out his whiteness to his children. It wasn’t until my grandfather was hurt in a logging accident and someone called him a white man in the presence of my mother, who was then 6 years old, that she realized he wasn’t black…

Read the entire article here.

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Writing in 2010 about the Idea of Racial Identity

Posted in Arts, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2010-01-21 04:23Z by Steven

Writing in 2010 about the Idea of Racial Identity

The 17th Annual Oxford Conference for the Book (2010-03-04 through 2010-03-06)
2010-03-05, 13:30 – 15:00 EST (Local Time)
Overby Center for Southern Journalism
University of Mississippi
Oxford, Mississippi

Ted Ownby, Professor History and Southern Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture
University of Mississippi

Bliss Broyard

W. Ralph Eubanks

Danzy Senna

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The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South

Posted in Books, Family/Parenting, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2009-10-21 19:43Z by Steven

The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South

HarperCollins
Imprint: Smithsonian
2009-05-19
224 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9780061375736; ISBN10: 006137573X
On Sale: 2009-05-19

W. Ralph Eubanks, Bernard Schwartz Fellow
New America Foundation

In 1914, in defiance of his middle-class landowning family, a young white man named James Morgan Richardson married a light-skinned black woman named Edna Howell. Over more than twenty years of marriage, they formed a strong family and built a house at the end of a winding sandy road in South Alabama, a place where their safety from the hostile world around them was assured, and where they developed a unique racial and cultural identity. Jim and Edna Richardson were Ralph Eubanks’s grandparents.

Part personal journey, part cultural biography, The House at the End of the Road examines a little-known piece of this country’s past: interracial families that survived and prevailed despite Jim Crow laws, including those prohibiting mixed-race marriage. As he did in his acclaimed 2003 memoir, Ever Is a Long Time, Eubanks uses interviews, oral history, and archival research to tell a story about race in American life that few readers have experienced. Using the Richardson family as a microcosm of American views on race and identity, The House at the End of the Road examines why ideas about racial identity rooted in the eighteenth century persist today. In lyrical, evocative prose, this extraordinary book pierces the heart of issues of race and racial identity, leaving us ultimately hopeful about the world as our children might see it.

Browse the contents of the book here.

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