Surviving the White Gaze: A Memoir

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2021-10-28 16:54Z by Steven

Surviving the White Gaze: A Memoir

Washington Independent Review of Books
2021-02-05

Alice Stephens

A transracial adoptee reveals her struggle to build a Black identity in a world of white privilege.

Rebecca Carroll, Surviving the White Gaze, A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021)

In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) issued a position statement that took a “vehement stand against the placement of Black children in white homes for any reason.” The document eloquently and forcefully explains this stance as crucial to the child’s healthy formation of identity in a society intent on the erasure of Blackness.

Around that time, David and Laurette Carroll formally adopt Rebecca, whom they had been raising since infancy. Rebecca is the mixed-race child of Tess, a white high school student of David’s. Uninterested in Black life and culture, the Carrolls were likely unaware of NABSW’s stance. As Rebecca Carroll vividly reveals in her searing memoir, Surviving the White Gaze, her adoptive parents were woefully unprepared to raise a Black child, clueless to the challenges she faced as the only Black resident of their rural New Hampshire town.

Like many progressive people of that era who adopted outside of their race, the Carrolls, who already had two biological children of their own, “believed in Zero Population Growth, and so…didn’t want to bring another child into the world.”

They first thought of adopting a Native American child, no doubt influenced by the Indian Adoption Project, a federal program that was heralded as a beacon of enlightened adoption practices for placing brown babies with white families. But then, 16-year-old Tess offers the Carrolls the opportunity to adopt her baby, fathered by a Black man. As Tess is a friend of the family, the adoption is open…

Read the entire review here.

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Identity Crisis

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Judaism, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, United States on 2017-03-24 01:07Z by Steven

Identity Crisis

Washington Independent Review of Books
2017-03-10

Helene Meyers, Professor of English
Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas

The “white Jewish” question posed in The Human Stain.

Emma Green of the Atlantic started a firestorm recently with the article “Are Jews White?” Taking for granted that Ashkenazi Jews have assimilated to whiteness, Green used the white Jewish question to wonder whether the rise of the so-called “alt-right” (read racist, misogynist white supremacists) is upending Jewish security in the U.S.

Green’s provocative title question caused quite a bit of tumult on Twitter. Predictably and understandably, Jews of color replied, with much amusement and some angst, “No.” Some white Jews responded, “No,” as well, citing anti-Semitism and/or Jewish distinctiveness. For once, this group agreed with the likes of David Duke, who tweeted in all caps “NO — JEWS ARE NOT WHITE.” Some white Jews and blacks unequivocally replied, “Yes,” citing white privilege as decisive.

While the answers to Green’s question from Jewish-American literature are all over the map, Philip Roth’s The Human Stain brilliantly depicts the continuing effects of “so arbitrary a designation as race” on those who choose or are assigned the off-whiteness of Jewishness…

Read the entire essay here.

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The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era [Tejada Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2015-02-03 21:56Z by Steven

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era [Tejada Review]

Washington Independent Review of Books
2015-01-15

Susan Tejada

When a Crescent City toddler goes missing, the tensions of the post-Civil War South are exposed.

Ross, Michael A., The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)

The case was combustible. Two mixed-race women, abetted by the son of one of them, stood accused of kidnapping a blonde, blue-eyed white baby girl in New Orleans in 1870. How did it end? Author Michael Ross expertly keeps readers in suspense as he weaves this true tale of crime, culture, politics, and colorful Southern characters — including a riverboat captain, “mulatresses,” and a precedent-setting Afro-Creole detective.

The case began on the afternoon of June 9, 1870, when Bridgette Digby sent her 10-year-old son, Georgie, and toddler daughter Mollie outside to play under the supervision of a teenage babysitter. Two stylish, fair-skinned African-American women happened to be strolling by. As they stopped to admire Mollie, a fire broke out a few blocks away, and the excited babysitter asked Georgie to hold his sister while she ran to watch the fire.

“No bubby, I will take the baby,” one of the women said. The women asked Georgie to lead them to the home of a certain neighbor. Once there, they told Georgie it was the wrong house, and then sent him to the market to buy a treat for his sister. A heart-stopping shock awaited Georgie when he came out of the market. The women were gone, and so was his baby sister…

Read the entire review here.

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Author Q&A: Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive on 2012-05-29 21:08Z by Steven

Author Q&A: Jessica Maria Tuccelli

The Washington Independent Review of Books
2012-05-29

In the autumn of 1941, Amelia J. McGee, a young woman of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, and an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP, hastily sends her daughter, Ella, alone on a bus home to Georgia in the middle of the night — a desperate measure that proves calamitous when the child encounters two drifters and is left for dead on the side of the road. … Ella awakens in the homestead of Willie Mae Cotton, a root doctor and former slave, and her partner, Mary-Mary Freeborn, tucked deep in the Takatoka Forest. As Ella heals, the secrets of her lineage are revealed.
 
Jessica Maria Tuccelli spent three summers trekking through northeastern Georgia, soaking up its ghost stories and folklore. A graduate of MIT with a degree in anthropology, she lives in New York City with her husband and daughter. Glow is her first novel.

What sets this book apart is the way it is framed. You begin with the displacement of one of the main character’s daughter, and then you go backwards in time. What made you tell the story this way?
 
The story spilled out naturally, beginning in 1941 and working its way back to 1836 and then out again. As I wrote it, I had an image in mind of a Russian nesting doll, each figurine nestled inside the next one, and I thought of the structure of Glow in this manner. I was drawn to the idea of discovery, each step inward revealing a new secret within the story or insight into a character…

My great grandmother was white on one census, years later, mulatto, and white again a few years later. Why did you include the census instructions?
 
I have great interest in the personal versus public assignation of race and identity and its implications. Glow is told from the perspective of characters whose birth parents are of different backgrounds — African, African-American, Cherokee, and Scotch-Irish. “Mixed race” in our parlance. How the characters define themselves, however, is not necessarily how their society describes them. This causes internal and external conflict, something I experienced myself as a child.
 
I included the census instructions of 1850, 1920, and 1940 to call attention to the arbitrary nature of racial designations — race is a cultural concept, not a scientific or biological one — and to question the federal government’s utilization of “white” as an endowment of personhood and privilege, as reflected by the blood proportion guidelines in the census instructions and the process of electoral votes and congressional apportionment.
 
To quote the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, “Prior to 1870, the population base included the total free population of the states, three-fifths of the number of slaves, and excluded American Indians not taxed. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, removed the fractional count of the number of slaves from the procedure.”
 
So often, the characters don’t speak of their own race, their neighbors do. Maybe the census should have asked each neighbor to describe the other. Do you think the results would have been similar?
 
I imagine the results would be as varied as there are individuals. We have to ask ourselves what is our motive in inquiring about race, why is it so important that we identify our bloodlines or origins, will we as a nation ever be free of our obsession with race and should we be? My goal is not to create colorblindness, but rather to understand how Americans use the linguistics of race as a way of delineating, separating, or uniting one human or group from another. In 2008, when we elected Barack Obama as our president, George W. Bush hailed Obama’s journey as a triumph in the American story, a sentiment that resonated for me not only for the historical milestone it represented, but the opportunity it created to talk about race and identity in our country…

Read the entire interview here.

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