Kanye Collaborator Vanessa Beecroft Reveals A Common Misconception About Race

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-28 01:37Z by Steven

Kanye Collaborator Vanessa Beecroft Reveals A Common Misconception About Race


Tricia Tongco

Vanessa Beecroft is best known as the artist who has collaborated with Kanye West on several of the rapper’s most noteworthy visuals, from the “Runaway” mini-movie to the Yeezy Season 3 fashion show.

But thanks to a recently published profile in New York Magazine, Beecroft is gaining notoriety in her own right. In the piece, she makes several bizarre statements, but her first quote in the piece is probably the most questionable:

“I have divided my personality,” she says. “There is Vanessa Beecroft as a European white female, and then there is Vanessa Beecroft as Kanye, an African-American male.” Later she tells me, “I even did a DNA test thinking maybe I am black? I actually wasn’t. I was kind of disappointed, and I don’t want to believe it. I want to do it again, because when I work with Africans or African-Americans, I feel that I am autobiographical. If I don’t call myself white, maybe I am not.”…

…The mainstream belief in the scientific community is that race is a social construct without biological meaning, with research demonstrating that genetic differences are not fixed along racial lines.

By that logic, there’s nothing wrong with what Vanity Fair describes as Beecroft’s “choose-your-own-race views.”

However, as a white woman from Italy, Beecroft is able to propose that choice from a place of privilege, while her black collaborator Kanye cannot. Also, no matter what racial identity she “feels” or identifies with at any given moment, she still benefits from white privilege, because she looks white and others treat her as such…

Read the entire article here.

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All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Census/Demographics, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Social Science, United States on 2016-08-25 14:48Z by Steven

All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

Code Switch: Race And Identity, Remixed
National Public Radio

Leah Donnella

In a country where the share of multiracial children has multiplied tenfold in the past 50 years, it’s a good time to take stock of our shared vocabulary when it comes to describing Americans like me.
Jeannie Phan for NPR

It’s the summer of 1998 and I’m at the mall with my mom and my sister Anna, who has just turned 5. I’m 7. Anna and I are cranky from being too hot, then too cold, then too bored. We keep touching things we are not supposed to touch, and by the time Mom drags us to the register, the cashier seems a little on edge.

“They’re mixed, aren’t they?” she says. “I can tell by the hair.”

Mom doesn’t smile, and Mom always smiles. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.

Later, in the kitchen, there is a conversation…

‘Multiracial’ or ‘mixed’?

In light of Hall’s paper, “multiracial” was adopted by several advocacy groups springing up around the country, some of which felt the term neutralized the uncomfortable connotations of a competing term in use at that point: “mixed.”

In English, people have been using the word “mixed” to describe racial identity for at least 200 years, like this 1864 British study claiming that “no mixed races can subsist in humanity,” or this 1812 “Monthly Retrospect of Politics” that tallies the number of slaves — “either Africans or of a mixed race” — in a particular neighborhood.

Steven Riley, the curator of a multiracial research website, cites the year 1661 as the first “mixed-race milestone” in North America, when the Maryland colony forbade “racial admixture” between English women and Negro slaves.

But while “mixed” had an established pedigree by the mid-20th century, it wasn’t uncontroversial. To many, “mixed” invited associations like “mixed up,” “mixed company” and “mixed signals,” all of which reinforced existing stereotypes of “mixed” people as confused, untrustworthy or defective. It also had ties to animal breeding — “mixed” dogs and horses were the foil to pure-breeds and thoroughbreds.

Mixed “evokes identity crisis” to some, says Teresa Willams-León, author of The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed Heritage Asian Americans and a professor of Asian American Studies at California State University. “It becomes the antithesis to pure.”…

Read the entire article here.

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“Not a Moor exactly”: Shakespeare, Serial, and Modern Constructions of Race

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2016-08-23 00:13Z by Steven

“Not a Moor exactly”: Shakespeare, Serial, and Modern Constructions of Race

Shakespeare Quarterly
Volume 67, Number 1, 2016
pages 30-50
DOI: 10.1353/shq.2016.0009

Vanessa Corredera, Assistant Professor of English
Andrews University, Berrien Springs Michigan

As scholars of early modern literature know, Renaissance constructions of alterity were inconsistent and varied. This critical consensus regarding the fluidity of early modern conceptions of otherness has produced a dichotomy between “then” and “now” with which early modern race scholars in particular must grapple, and one that challenges all scholars and teachers of Shakespeare who engage with race in the classroom—if we concede we can talk about “race” at all. In the quest for responsible historical contextualization of early modern race, scholars have vigilantly attended to the differences between Renaissance culture and our own, leading to the assertion that early moderns conceived of race in a more protean way than our modern scientific, phenotypical, stable approach. In doing so, however, they enact a different methodological pitfall—imposing an assumed set of views about race upon moderns. This approach blinds us to the reality of our own racial discourses, which, I suggest, likewise depend on and perpetuate a fluid understanding of race. In turning to a specific example—the nexus of issues raised by a Shakespearean reference to Othello in season 1 of the hit NPR podcast Serial—we find that myriad factors like language, religion, and descent play pivotal roles in modern constructions of race. By recognizing this multiplicity, we can more effectively use nuanced understandings of early modern race to help us uncover the complexities of contemporary racial ideology. And just as significantly, we can employ current conversations about racial identity as a fresh way of reconsidering canonical Renaissance texts.

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Race And Radicalism In Puerto Rico: An Interview With Carlos Alamo-Pastrana

Posted in Articles, History, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2016-08-19 01:11Z by Steven

Race And Radicalism In Puerto Rico: An Interview With Carlos Alamo-Pastrana

African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)

Devyn Spence Benson, Assistant Professor of History and African and African American Studies
Louisiana State University

This month I interviewed Dr. Carlos Alamo-Pastrana about his new book, Seams of Empire: Race and Radicalism in Puerto Rico and the United States (University Press of Florida, 2016). Tracing cultural and political exchanges between African Americans, U.S. white liberals, and Puerto Ricans, this timely work highlights how activists and politicians in both spaces understood race, empire, and colonialism in the 20th century. Alamo-Pastrana illuminates the potential for fruitful multiracial alliances by uncovering the archive of a sub-group of Puerto Rican independentistas called the Proyecto Piloto. Led by Puerto Rican doctor Ana Livia Cordero, who had been married to Julian Mayfield, this group identified Puerto Rico as a black nation, worked to provide education and social services in poor barrios, and sought links with U.S. black radicals. Seams of Empire is a must read for scholars of transnational and diaspora history as well as anyone trying to build black and brown alliances in today’s antiracist movements.

Dr. Carlos Alamo-Pastrana is currently Associate Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources at Vassar College where he is also Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latina/o Studies. His research and teaching interests focus on comparative racial formations, Latino/a Studies, Afro-Latina/o intellectual history, popular culture, and prison studies.

Seams of Empire follows cultural workers and politicians in Puerto Rico and the United States to tell a story about racism, colonialism, and activism. What led you to focus the book on these exchanges?

Alamo-Pastrana: That is such a great question because it really gets at the heart of the book. As someone who studies race in the Americas, I have always found the conversations about race in Puerto Rico a bit limiting. These are in many instances reduced to the realm of popular culture especially music, film, etc. Even more, they are framed in very insular ways that really limit the scope of how we should think about race in broader contexts to include different national, racial, and political movements and groups. This is significant because it helps to produce and circulate some of the troubling forms of racial exceptionalism that I discuss in the book. Even I fell into this trap in some of my earlier research projects on Afro-Puerto Rican folk music.

But, for this book, I felt that I needed to push the analysis beyond the nation-state framework to see the more dynamic ways that people and ideologies travel across different spaces. The book tries to use cultural production and actors in larger global circuits in order to see how race is being (re)configured and used to explain certain political dilemmas…

…In the Introduction, you make a point of saying that you want Puerto Rican Studies scholars to “banish” la gran familia puertorriqueña as an analytical lens for looking at the island (11). What is the grand Puerto Rican family and what dangers (or challenges) does it present to the type of work you do?

Alamo-Pastrana: La gran familia puertorriqueña is one of the foundational state myths that asserts that Puerto Rico is somehow a racially heterogeneous (mestizo), inclusive, and equal nation. It is this, the argument goes, that makes Puerto Rico so much more different than its racist colonizer to the North. Well, you don’t have to look around much in Puerto Rico to see how untrue this is…

Read the entire interview here.

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Seams of Empire: Race and Radicalism in Puerto Rico and the United States

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2016-08-19 00:59Z by Steven

Seams of Empire: Race and Radicalism in Puerto Rico and the United States

University Press of Florida
232 pages
Hardcover ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-6256-3

Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latina/o Studies
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the United States and its history of intermixture of native, African, and Spanish inhabitants has prompted inconsistent narratives about race and power in the colonial territory. Departing from these accounts, early twentieth-century writers, journalists, and activists scrutinized both Puerto Rico’s and the United States’s institutionalized racism and colonialism in an attempt to spur reform, leaving an archive of oft-overlooked political writings.

In Seams of Empire, Carlos Alamo-Pastrana uses racial imbrication as a framework for reading this archive of little-known Puerto Rican, African American, and white American radicals and progressives, both on the island and the continental United States. By addressing the concealed power relations responsible for national, gendered, and class differences, this method of textual analysis reveals key symbolic and material connections between marginalized groups in both national spaces and traces the complexity of race, racism, and conflict on the edges of empire.


  • List of Figures
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Puerto Rican Blueprint
  • 2. Dispatches from the Colonial Outpost
  • 3. The Living Negro in Latin America
  • 4. The Republic of the Penniless
  • 5. You Are Here to Listen
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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“If You Is White, You’s Alright. . . .” Stories About Colorism in America

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Law, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-16 01:30Z by Steven

“If You Is White, You’s Alright. . . .” Stories About Colorism in America

Washington University Global Studies Law Review
Volume 14, Issue 4: Global Perspectives on Colorism (Symposium Edition) (2015)
pages 585-607

Kimberly Jade Norwood, Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law; Professor of African & African American Studies
Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri

Colorism, a term believed to be first coined in 1982 by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, was defined by her to mean the “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” It is not racism although there is a clear relationship. A clear example of racism would involve a business that refuses to hire black people. Colorism would not preclude the hiring of a black person, but there would be a preference for a black person with a lighter skin tone than a darker skinned person. From this example one can see too that colorism can not only occur within same-raced peoples but also across races. Colorism also is often gendered. Because of its unique relationship to who and what is beautiful, it has a tendency, although not exclusively, to affect and infect women more than men.

Although my first experience with colorism occurred very early in life, it never went away or otherwise resolved itself. Rather, it grew with me. And in many ways, I grew to understand that the color hierarchy was simply the way of the world. I would eventually marry and have children of my own. And through those children, I would again see colorism grow and sting. I knew that, some day, one day when I had time, I would spend time discussing, highlighting and helping to eradicate colorism. This paper offers some of my experiences with colorism and my continued growth in understanding its complexities.

Read the entire article here.

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The Heart of Whiteness: Interracial Marriage and White Masculinity in American Fiction, 1830-1905

Posted in Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-08-16 00:58Z by Steven

The Heart of Whiteness: Interracial Marriage and White Masculinity in American Fiction, 1830-1905

Washington University in St. Louis
August 2015
201 pages

Lauren M. W. Barbeau

A dissertation presented to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences of Washington University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Building on whiteness scholars’ notion that whiteness can be gained, my dissertation argues that a property in whiteness, and its attendant privileges, can be lost. By examining representations of interracial marriage in American literature between 1830 and 1905, I identify marriage across the color line as one of the primary modes through which white men can lose their privilege. Interracial marriage violates what I term the marriage contract, a tri-party agreement between man, woman, and nation that guaranteed democratic rights to white men and privileges to their dependents in return for white-white marriage. Men who violated this contract by marrying exogamously suffered the loss of their property in whiteness. Literary depictions of interracial marriage occur most frequently within a genre of fiction critics have termed “tragic mulatta” plots. While these plots have served as important sites for exploring black femininity in the nineteenth century, I call attention to the presence of the white male characters, or white suitors, who court the mulattas and play key roles in making the narrative tragedy possible. The white suitor faces his own tragedy as his involvement with a black lover leads to his identity crisis and subsequent loss of privilege. Antebellum and postbellum, black and white, egalitarian and racist authors alike shared an interest in how interracial marriage affects white masculinity. I conclude that this topic interested authors during the nineteenth century because the white suitor and his tragedy provided a proxy through which to contemplate the nation’s own identity crisis as it approached, survived, and recovered from a civil war that questioned the United States’ self-identification as “a white man’s country.”

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: The Un-Making of a White Man: The Marriage Contract and Intermarriage
  • Chapter 1: “We are All Intermingled, without Regard to Colour”: Amalgamation Debates, White Privilege, and the Rise of Interracial Marriage Plots in the 1830s and ’40s
  • Chapter 2: “Manhood Rights” and Marriage Rites: Whiteness as Property in Clotel and The Garies and Their Friends
  • Chapter 3: “The Perfection of the Individual is the Sure Way to Regenerate the Mass”: Reconstructing White Masculinity in A Romance of the Republic
  • Chapter 4: Caught in a Bad Romance: Interracial Marriage and the White Male Identity Crisis in The Chamber over the Gate and The Clansman
  • Coda: “An Insurmountable Barrier between Us”: The Decline of Interracial Marriage Plots and the Rise of Passing
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Barack Obama and Immigrant Blackness: A Catalyst for Structural Change

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-15 20:18Z by Steven

Barack Obama and Immigrant Blackness: A Catalyst for Structural Change

The International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations: Annual Review
Volume 12 (2012)
pages 33-42

Kirin Wachter-Grene, Acting Instructor of Literature
New York University

This essay builds upon an argument I make in my article “Beyond the Binary: Obama’s Hybridity and Post-Racialization” to read Barack Obama through post-colonial scholar Homi Bhabha’s theory of “hybridity” to advance “post-bichromatic racialization.” Obama’s cultural identity is more complex than the limited bichromatic (black/white) ways—such as “multiracial” or “African American”—it is imagined to be. He can be read as a hybrid individual, understood in a multiplicity of ways including as non-bichromaticly multiracial in which his blackness is derivative of African, not African-American heritage, and as a second-generation immigrant. Hybridity values difference without trying to systematize it into hierarchical classifications, thus it suggests potential for structural change to the concept of black racialization. Some may regard the complexity of Obama’s cultural identity to be a moot point due to a consideration that in 2013 his public persona is no longer capable of being discursively manipulated regarding race. However it is crucial to remember that cultural understandings of powerful public figures are never static concepts. All subjects remain full of discursively transformative possibilities. This article therefore seeks to advance a discourse that may eventually complicate the predominant manner in which subjects are categorized as black in the United States.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Escaping Whiteness

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-08-07 03:10Z by Steven

Escaping Whiteness

The Huffington Post

Jennifer Delton, Professor of History
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York

The exposure of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman passing for black, was just a blip in a year of more urgent stories about race in the United States. Indeed, many expressed annoyance that the story was given so much play, in light of more serious injustices. But the interest in Dolezal’s story was not just crass sensationalism. The issues it raises should concern anyone who has tried to understand what exactly constitutes “race” in the United States and, more specifically, whether one can escape or overcome the race one was born into.

The question asked over and over about Dolezal’s deception was: Why would anyone want to be black??? Why would someone give up the privileges of being white in America and willingly embrace the disadvantages that come with being black? People asked this as if it were truly perplexing, but why on earth would anyone want to be identified with a race that practiced a brutal form of slavery for over two hundred years, then set up a system of segregation and discrimination bolstered by white terrorism and an ideology of white supremacy, the effects of which still linger today despite legislative attempts to overcome them? Who wants that as their “racial heritage?” Who wouldn’t give up their privilege if they could escape that burden?…

Read the entire article here.

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Obama, America, and the Legacy of James Alan McPherson

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-08-02 02:05Z by Steven

Obama, America, and the Legacy of James Alan McPherson

Literary Hub

Whitney Terrell

Whitney Terrell Remembers His Friend and Mentor

The title story of James Alan McPherson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Elbow Room opens with an italicized passage:

Narrator is unmanageable. Demonstrates a disregard for form bordering on the paranoid . . . When pressed for reasons, narrator became shrill in insistence that “borders,” “structures,” “frames,” “order,” and even “form” itself are regarded by him with the highest suspicion. Insists on unevenness as a virtue.

I thought of this last week when I heard that McPherson had died. I was also listening to President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. “My grandparents knew these values weren’t reserved for one race,” Obama said. “They could be passed down to a half-Kenyan grandson, or a half-Asian granddaughter. In fact, they were the same values Michelle’s parents, the descendants of slaves, taught their own kids, living in a bungalow on the South Side of Chicago.”

It sounded like an innocuous statement: “These values weren’t reserved for one race.” But Obama was talking about his mother’s family. Scotch Irish whites in Kansas. I live a few blocks from Kansas. It’s not the most hospitable place for, say, half-Kenyans. Or Mexican-Americans. Or Democrats generally.

Then he asserted that the values of these white Kansans were the same as the values of the descendants of slaves.

A turn like that engages what McPherson referred to as the “function at the junction.” It’s an unexpected operation that causes fixed categories and settled identities to change. Borders and frames disappear.

Obama’s move was ok. But McPherson’s were better…

Read the entire article here.

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