How America Bought and Sold Racism, and Why It Still Matters

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-10-25 20:06Z by Steven

How America Bought and Sold Racism, and Why It Still Matters

Collectors Weekly

Lisa Hix, Associated Editor

Today, very few white Americans openly celebrate the horrors of black enslavement—most refuse to recognize the brutal nature of the institution or actively seek to distance themselves from it. “The modern American sees slavery as a regrettable period when blacks worked without wages,” writes Dr. David Pilgrim, the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and a sociology professor at Ferris State University and the author of Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice, who has spent his life studying the artifacts that have perpetuated racist stereotypes.

The urge to forget this stain on our nation’s history is everywhere. In Texas, McGraw-Hill recently distributed a high-school geography textbook that refers to American slaves as immigrant workers. At Southern plantation museums that romanticize the idea of genteel antebellum culture, the bleak and violent reality of enslaved plantation life is whitewashed and glossed over. Discussions about how slavery led to modern-day racism are often met with white defensiveness. How many times have black people heard this line? “Slavery happened a long time ago. You need to get over it.”

The truth is when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, the economic subjugation of African Americans, and the terrorism used to maintain it, did not come to a grinding halt. The Jim Crow racial caste system that emerged 12 years after the Civil War ended in 1865 was just as violent and oppressive as slavery—and it lasted nearly a century. Up through Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, black people across the country, in Northern states as well as Southern ones, were routinely humiliated, menaced, tortured and beaten to death, and blocked from participating in business and public life. Thanks to smartphone and social-media technology, we’re seeing how such violence continues in 2015, 50 years after the height of the Civil Rights Movement

Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno played the “tragic mulatto” in the 1960 film “This Rebel Breed.”(From Understanding Jim Crow)

…Another caricature was inflicted upon mixed-race women: the “tragic mulatto,” which is based on the “one-drop rule” that says any African American blood in your lineage makes you a black person. In this story, the mixed-race woman grows up living as a privileged white person. When her white father dies, her black heritage is revealed, and she’s enslaved and subjected to violence by white men. Rejected by both racial groups, she’s often suicidal and alcoholic, and she in particular loathes her black side.

Reality, of course, tells a different story. In Understanding Jim Crow, Pilgrim says it’s true that in the days of slavery, mixed-race slaves (usually the illegitimate sons and daughters of their owners), sometimes sold for higher prices, and masters saw these women as particularly sexually desirable, claiming their beauty drove them to rape. Enslaved mixed-race women were also frequently sold into prostitution, and freeborn mixed-race women sometimes became the mistresses of white men under the “plaçage system.” Some people with “Negro blood” worked to “pass” as whites, which helped them get better education, pay, and homes. But throughout history, mixed-race people—who had the slur “mongrels” hurled at them by whites—have been well accepted in the black community: Take for example, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Mary Church Terrell, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Langston Hughes, and Billie Holiday

Read the entire article here.

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Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Posted in Books, Canada, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs on 2016-10-23 02:19Z by Steven

Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
October 2017
295 pages
ISBN13: 978-1-77112-240-5

Michelle La Flamme, Professor of English
University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

Canada’s history is bicultural, Indigenous, and multilingual, and these characteristics have given risen to a number of strategies used by our writers to code racially mixed characters. This book examines contemporary Canadian literature and drama in order to tease out some of those strategies and the social and cultural factors that inform them.

Racially hybrid characters in literature have served a matrix of needs. They are used as shorthand for interracial desire, signifiers of taboo love, images of impurity, symbols of degeneration, and examples of beauty and genetic perfection. Their fates have been used to suggest the futility of marrying across racial lines, or the revelation of their “one drop” signals a climactic downfall. Other narratives suggest mixed-race bodies are foundational to colonization and signify contact between colonial and Indigenous bodies.

Author Michelle LaFlamme approaches racial hybridity with a cross-generic and cross-racial approach, unusual in the field of hybridity studies, by analyzing characters with different racial mixes in autobiographies, fiction, and drama. Her analysis privileges literary texts and the voices of artists rather than sociological explanations of the mixed-race experience. The book suggests that the hyper-visualization of mixed-race bodies in mono-racial contexts creates a scopophilic interest in how those bodies look and perform race.

La Flamme’s term “soma text” draws attention to the constructed, performative aspects of this form of embodiment. The writers she examines witness that living in a racially hybrid and ambiguous body is a complex engagement that involves reading and decoding the body in sophisticated ways, involving both the multiracial body and the racialized gaze of the onlooker.

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Postcolonial Palimpsests: Entwined Colonialisms and the Conflicted Representation of Charles Bon in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2016-10-22 23:33Z by Steven

Postcolonial Palimpsests: Entwined Colonialisms and the Conflicted Representation of Charles Bon in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

ariel: A Review of International English Literature
Volume 47, Number 4, October 2016
pages 1-23
DOI: 10.1353/ari.2016.0044

Jenna Grace Sciuto, Assistant Professor, English/Communications
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

This essay argues that Charles Bon in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936) embodies a fluidity that confronts the hierarchies of race, gender, class, and sexuality on which colonialism and neocolonialism depend for coherence and meaning. The biracial, sexually fluid Bon and his contradictory depiction by competing narrators reveal entwined colonialisms in the United States South that complicate the divide between the colonial and neo-colonial periods employed in linear surface narratives: Bon is portrayed as living multiple stories of colonialism simultaneously in the novel. With an awareness of the narrators’ divergent colonial mindsets, I show how Faulkner uses Bon’s métissage, or blending of cultural, racial, and sexual categories, to confront the resilient colonial mentalities that persist in the twentieth-century American South through imagining an alternative: the acceptance of this fluidity.

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Reaping Something New: African American Transformations of Victorian Literature

Posted in Books, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs on 2016-10-10 00:49Z by Steven

Reaping Something New: African American Transformations of Victorian Literature

Princeton University Press
November 2016
304 pages
6 x 9
12 line illus.
Hardcover ISBN: 9780691169453
eBook ISBN: 9781400883745

Daniel Hack, Associate Professor of English
University of Michigan

Tackling fraught but fascinating issues of cultural borrowing and appropriation, this groundbreaking book reveals that Victorian literature was put to use in African American literature and print culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in much more intricate, sustained, and imaginative ways than previously suspected. From reprinting and reframing “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in an antislavery newspaper to reimagining David Copperfield and Jane Eyre as mixed-race youths in the antebellum South, writers and editors transposed and transformed works by the leading British writers of the day to depict the lives of African Americans and advance their causes. Central figures in African American literary and intellectual history—including Frederick Douglass, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins, and W.E.B. Du Bois—leveraged Victorian literature and this history of engagement itself to claim a distinctive voice and construct their own literary tradition.

In bringing these transatlantic transfigurations to light, this book also provides strikingly new perspectives on both canonical and little-read works by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and other Victorian authors. The recovery of these works’ African American afterlives illuminates their formal practices and ideological commitments, and forces a reassessment of their cultural impact and political potential. Bridging the gap between African American and Victorian literary studies, Reaping Something New changes our understanding of both fields and rewrites an important chapter of literary history.

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Racial awareness lacks “One Drop of Love”

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-10-07 20:32Z by Steven

Racial awareness lacks “One Drop of Love”

The Current
St. Petersburg, Florida

Mereysa Taylor, Co-Opinion Editor

Cox DiGiovanni artfully narrates her own education about being mixed race in America in efforts to start a larger national dialogue.
photo by Jeff Lorch

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni graced Eckerd with her one-woman performance about how race was constructed in the U.S. and the ways in which it affects our most intimate relationships on Sept. 15.

“People lived with the rule, that one drop of black blood, deemed you black in a national census,” she said, remarking on the history of our national census and the notorious “one drop rule.”

Her performance, called “One Drop of Love,” barely filled Miller Auditorium; more senior citizens of the surrounding St. Petersburg area attended than Eckerd students did. Shame on us.

Cox DiGiovanni tours around the country, performing her wildly entertaining, educational and autobiographical piece on race, justice, truth and love. A mixed race woman herself, she found her passion in acting and storytelling, and what began as a thesis project for her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in 2013 bore an influential piece of performance art. She has since then used her platform and creative license to educate and empathize with the plight of racial minorities in this country, including those of mix race.

At this school, this is a particular conversation that nobody really wants to have — it’s too awkward, too uncomfortable to face the fact that there may be something wrong with the way race is handled at Eckerd– whether that be in the classroom, on tours or with Eckerd brochures that like to depict a rainbow of color in our predominantly white student body…

Read the entire article here.

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Meta-Melodrama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-25 23:16Z by Steven

Meta-Melodrama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon

Modern Drama
Volume 59, Number 3, Fall 2016
pages 285-305

Verna A. Foster, Professor of English
Loyola University Chicago

In adapting the nineteenth-century melodrama The Octoroon, Jacobs-Jenkins both satirizes Boucicault’s racial assumptions and emulates his aesthetic principles to produce a meta-melodrama, a play that at once celebrates and critiques its own form while providing a stinging indictment of racial attitudes in the twenty-first century. This essay draws on both the published script and audience responses to Soho Repertory Theatre’s two stagings of the play in 2014 and 2015 gleaned from reviews, blogs, and interviews. The contemporary context and cross-racial casting of An Octoroon ironize and adapt the meaning of Boucicault’s play, making it appropriate for the twenty-first century. Through his use of italicization, Brechtian quotation, the new contemporary dialogue he writes for the slave characters, and his shocking updated sensation scene, Jacobs-Jenkins induces his audience to question their own and each other’s racial reactions even as they are caught up in the play.

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T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator: A Collection of Writings, 1880-1928

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-25 21:22Z by Steven

T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator: A Collection of Writings, 1880-1928

University Press of Florida
342 pages
6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-3232-0
Paper ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-3548-2

Shawn Leigh Alexander, Associate Professor of African-American Studies
University of Kansas

Born into slavery, T. Thomas Fortune was known as the dean of African American journalism by the time of his death in the early twentieth century. The editorship of three prominent black newspapers–the New York Globe, New York Freeman, and New York Age–provided Fortune with a platform to speak against racism and injustice.

For nearly five decades his was one of the most powerful voices in the press. Contemporaries such as Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington considered him an equal, if not a superior, in social and political thought. Today’s histories often pass over his writings, in part because they are so voluminous and have rarely been reprinted. Shawn Leigh Alexander’s anthology will go a long way toward rectifying that situation, demonstrating the breadth of Fortune’s contribution to black political thought at a key period in American history.

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The Ambiguous and the Mundane: Racial Performance and Asian Americans

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-25 02:23Z by Steven

The Ambiguous and the Mundane: Racial Performance and Asian Americans

Contemporary Literature
Volume 57, Number 2, Summer 2016
pages 292-300

Josephine D. Lee, Professor of English and Asian American
University of Minnesota

Jennifer Ann Ho, Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2015. xi + 215 pp. $90.00 cloth; $31.95 paper.

Ju Yon Kim, The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday. New York: New York University Press, 2015. x + 286 pp. $90.00 cloth; $28.00 paper.

Asian American studies scholars such as Karen Shimakawa (National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage), Leslie Bow (Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women’s Literature), Tina Chen (Double Agency: Acts of Impersonation in Asian American Literature and Culture), Joshua Chambers-Letson (A Race So Different: Performance and Law in Asian America), and myself have drawn attention to the theatrical nature of Asian American racialization—the assumed incompatibility between Asian bodies and American loyalties that undergirds racial stereotypes such as the perpetual foreigner or the wartime enemy. The Asian American is imagined as a potential traitor or an economic threat whose essential nature is inherently at odds with American identity and whose apparently successful cultural assimilation is inherently untrustworthy. Throughout their long history, Asian Americans have been subject to the material and psychological consequences of this endgame, whether in the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans or in outlandish expectations for the “model minority.”

Two recent books—Ju Yon Kim’s The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday and Jennifer Ann Ho’s Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture—also envision Asian American racialization as a shifting and dynamic social performance, unpacking what “Asian American” does, rather than just assuming what it is. Both directly challenge fixed notions of racial epistemology as well as provide insightful, original commentary on historical and contemporary Asian American literature and culture.

Grounded in the theories of theatrical phenomenology and Asian American studies, Kim’s Racial Mundane specifically looks at the juxtaposition of Asian American culture (especially Asian American theater) and “everyday” life. Theater is often considered the realm of imaginative pretense as contrasted with the authentic world offstage. But as Kim points out, both theater and life are mainly constituted by repetitive habits and behaviors that define self and action. What Kim calls “the mundane” is the “fusion of the corporeal and the quotidian,” or as she eloquently puts it, “the slice of the everyday carried—and carried out—by the body” (3). For Asian Americans, these ordinary bodily practices are charged with racial significance. Asian exclusion and marginalization was founded on the premise that Asian immigrants and their descendants would never fully assimilate. Kim takes up different instances of this perceived gap between Asian body and American behavior; for instance, she reads the myth of the “model minority” in Justin Lin’s 2002 film Better Luck Tomorrow and Lauren Yee’s biting 2014 satire Ching Chong Chinaman as demonstrative of this racial slippage, whereby Asian American achievement is interpreted both as proof of a successful transition into Americanness and as accentuating a racial difference that belies assimilation.

Though Kim’s examples are largely contemporary, she opens with an analysis of a play that premiered in 1912. Now mostly forgotten, Harry Benrimo and George C. Hazelton Jr.’s The Yellow Jacket was praised in touring productions as well as Broadway revivals, drawing attention for its novel adaptation of the stage devices of Chinese opera as well as Chinese settings and characters. Kim juxtaposes the success of this play’s version of Chineseness with the uncertainty and suspicion with which Chinese immigrants were treated. If the “heathen Chinee” (as Bret Harte called the Chinese immigrant in his popular 1870 poem) was so reviled in early twentieth-century America, how do we explain the popularity of the Chinese characters (played by white actors) in The Yellow Jacket? Key to this contradiction was Benrimo and Hazelton’s inclusion of a “Property Man,” a character who manages the stage set and props while doing ordinary things such as eating, smoking, and reading a newspaper. This novel stage device may well have influenced Thornton Wilder’s creation of the Stage Manager for his…

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The canary in the post-racial coal mine

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-21 19:47Z by Steven

The canary in the post-racial coal mine

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
35 pages
DOI: 10.7282/T30Z71WG

Roxanne Huertas

A Capstone Project submitted to the Graduate School-Camden Rutgers-The State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

The American mulatto has been employed by writers over time to provide commentary on American race relations. We can look to antebellum writers like Lydia Maria Child or William Wells Brown as an example of the state of the black-white dynamic prior to or just following the Civil War. Examining Nella Larsen’s Passing can give insight into the status of race relations during the Harlem Renaissance. But as America has evolved into a so-called post-racial society, does the mulatto still serve as a vehicle for commentary on American race relations? Through a brief examination of earlier examples of literature with these biracial characters coupled with an in depth analysis of two contemporary novels, Danzy Senna’s Caucasia and Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, this paper will show several of the ways in which the mulatto does provide a model in which to gauge American race relations, for better or for worse.

Read the entire project here.

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Herriman: Cartoonist who equalled Cervantes

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-09 19:56Z by Steven

Herriman: Cartoonist who equalled Cervantes

The Telegraph

Sarah Boxer

Sarah Boxer marvels at the world of George Herriman, the creator of the ludicrously imaginative comic strip Krazy Kat

We call him “Cat,” We call him “Crazy” yet is he neither. – George Herriman on the title character of Krazy Kat

There is no comic strip simpler, on the face of it, than Krazy Kat. In its 31-year run (from 1913 to 1944) the plot never changed much. Ignatz Mouse, sadist supreme, aims to bean the beribboned Krazy Kat, soulful innocent, with a brick, and usually succeeds. Krazy Kat takes the brick, even seeks it out, as a missile of love. And Krazy’s secret admirer, the police dog Offissa Bull Pupp, throws the errant mouse in jail. All’s well.

Yet despite the repetition, Krazy Kat is endlessly perplexing, energetic, deep and playful.

In Krazy Kat, George Herriman made everything indeterminate. He set the strip among the rocky outcroppings of Monument Valley, opening up the funnies to vast, abstract spaces. (Yes, he beat John Ford there.) He made the trees, rocks and moons shift shape from frame to frame for no apparent reason. His free-floating page design, with its mad array of wheels, zigzags and frames within frames, kept changing…

…In 1971, however, the Krazy world changed. While researching an article on Herriman for the Dictionary of American Biography, the sociologist Arthur Asa Berger got a copy of Herriman’s birth certificate. Although Herriman died Caucasian, in Los Angeles in 1944, the very same George Herriman, the son of two mulatto parents, was born “colored” in New Orleans in 1880…

Read the entire article here.

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