Blackness and Blood: Interpreting African American Identity

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2015-05-25 01:52Z by Steven

Blackness and Blood: Interpreting African American Identity

Philosophy & Public Affairs
Volume 32, Issue 2 (April 2004)
pages 171-192
DOI: 10.1111/j.1088-4963.2004.00010.x

Lionel K. McPherson, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts

Tommie Shelby, Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy
Harvard University

In his Tanner Lectures, “The State and the Shaping of Identity,” Kwame Anthony Appiah defends a version of liberalism that would give the state a substantial role in deliberately sustaining, reshaping, and even creating the social identities of its citizens—our identities as African American, women, Hispanic, gay, Jewish, and the like. He calls this role “soul-making,” which is “the political project of intervening in the process of interpretation through which each citizen develops an identity with the aim of increasing her chances of living an ethically successful life.”

Appiah believes that an ethically successful life is integral to an objectively good life. “A life has gone well,” he tells us, “if a person has mostly done for others what she owed them (and thus is morally successful) and has succeeded in creating things of significance and in fulfilling her ambitions (and is thus ethically successful).” He supports a liberal democratic, soul-making state that not only would seek to protect persons from harming themselves but also would seek to promote for citizens the kinds of lives that are good or valuable, perhaps even if these citizens failed to recognize how such governmental interventions would contribute to their objective well-being.

According to Appiah, our social identities can themselves be a major obstacle to our pursuit of an ethically successful life. This is likely to happen when a social identity is incoherent, when it has “a set of norms associated with it, such that, in the actual world, attempting to conform to some subset of those norms undermines one’s capacity to conform to others.” He believes that many existing social identities are incoherent in just this way. Further, he maintains that people who suffer from an incoherent social identity should want to be suitably informed about its incoherence, because social identities are among the tools with which we shape and give meaning to our lives. “The incoherence of a social identity,” he argues, “can lead to incoherence in individual identities: to someone’s having an identity that generates projects and ambitions that undermine one another.” In previous writings Appiah advocated tolerance, not state soul-making, for confused or incoherent social identities. But here he argues that, when ordinary dissemination of the relevant facts fails to reform faulty social identities, it may be legitimate for the state to intervene in order to increase the chances that citizens will attain their autonomous ethical aims…

…The case that Appiah makes to demonstrate the incoherence of African American racial identity proceeds as follows. He argues that the common-sense criteria for ascribing African American racial identity are inconsistent with the facts. This argument rests on the claim that many Americans, including most African Americans, accept the so-called one-drop rule for black racial designation: a person is black if and only if she has at least one traceable black ancestor. The rule has the peculiar consequence that some African Americans may be physically indistinguishable from whites….

…In trying to make sense of African American attitudes about their racial identity and its relation to their ethical aims, it may be more revealing to work from observed social practices to conceptual commitments, rather than the other way around. As a thought experiment, imagine a group of persons who regard themselves as belonging to the same race and who live within a larger multiracial society. Further suppose that within this racial community, call it the “black nation,” racial essentialism is both widely accepted and treated as practically important. We would expect the lives of such a people to be, in some significant respects, structured around this shared belief and joint practical concern. Within the black nation there would be sharply defined, public criteria for racial identity. Community leaders would seek to regulate carefully the criteria for proper racial ascription. Using these criteria, members of the community would closely track the racial lineage—for instance, at birth and marriage—of fellow members. There would probably be norms against both interracial marriage and interracial sex, given the latter’s propensity to produce hybrid offspring. Members of the black nation would not only contest any assertion or suggestion that blacks are naturally inferior but also would insist on the recognition of the natural, i.e., biologically based, virtues of blackness. There would be commercial enterprises whose business consisted in researching the racial ancestry of prospective political leaders, spouses, and in-laws. Terms such as “mulatto,” “quadroon,” and “octoroon” (or their functional equivalents) would be the standard nomenclature for referring to interracial progeny, rather than the more vague terms “mixed race” and “multiracial” that now have some currency; and these designations would not be understood as falling under the racial category “black,” as this would be a misnomer. Dissemination of the facts about the prevalence of passing and interracial reproduction would be cause for alarm, not merely surprise, within the black nation…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

The Psychological Advantages of Strongly Identifying As Biracial

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2015-05-24 18:38Z by Steven

The Psychological Advantages of Strongly Identifying As Biracial

New York Magazine
2015-05-22

Lisa Miller

As I reported in the most recent issue of New York, a new program at an elite private school in New York aims to combat racism by dividing young children, some as young as 8 years old, into “affinity groups” according to their race. The program has been controversial among parents, many of whom believe it is their job, and not the school’s, to impart racial identity to their kids. This feeling is particularly strong among parents who have multi-racial kids. Their identities, many of them say, don’t fit into any established racial category but instead live on the frontier of race.

These sorts of questions about racial identity are only going to become more prominent given ongoing demographic changes in the United States. Multi-racial births are soaring — to 7 percent of all births in the U.S., according to the last Census — a result of more inter-racial coupling and also a broader cultural acceptance of the tag “multi-racial.” (Only as recently as 2000 did the Census even offer a “multi-racial” category — for hundreds of years, stigma has compelled multi-racial people to choose one or the other of their parents’ racial identities, both on government forms and in society.).

But even as multi-racial people take prominent and visible places in all the nation’s hierarchies — golf, pop music, cinema, finance, and, of course, in the executive branch of the United States government — very little psychological research has been done on what it means to have a multi-racial identity, and how that identity is different from having a “mono-racial” one. Now a new literature review, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science by Sarah Gaither, a post-doc at the University of Chicago (who is herself biracial), assesses the psychological landscape of multi-racial identity and points to new directions for research.

Here are some of the key findings:…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

Expats Find Brazil’s Reputation For Race-Blindness Is Undone By Reality

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Audio, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2015-05-23 20:24Z by Steven

Expats Find Brazil’s Reputation For Race-Blindness Is Undone By Reality

Parallels: Many Stories, One World
National Public Radio
2015-05-22

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, South America Correspondent

There is a joke among Brazilians that a Brazilian passport is the most coveted on the black market because no matter what your background — Asian, African or European — you can fit in here. But the reality is very different.

I’m sitting in café with two women who don’t want their names used because of the sensitivity of the topic. One is from the Caribbean; her husband is an expat executive.

“I was expecting to be the average-looking Brazilian; Brazil as you see on the media is not what I experienced when I arrived,” she tells me.

As is the case for many people from the Caribbean basin, she self-identifies as multiracial. The island where she is from has a mixture of races and ethnicities, so she was excited to move to Brazil, which has been touted as one of the most racially harmonious places in the world.

“When I arrived, I was shocked to realize there is a big difference between races and colors, and what is expected — what is your role, basically — based on your skin color,” she says…

Read the entire article here. Download the story here. Read the transcript here.

Tags: , ,

Balancing a Japanese and Irish Heritage

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2015-05-23 20:07Z by Steven

Balancing a Japanese and Irish Heritage

Psychology Today
2015-05-22

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu Ed.D.

Learning to live with complexity and ambiguity

When I was growing up I thought I was American until someone would remind me I wasn’t. With kids it was a simple, “Jap” or “Chink” but with Mom it was more complicated. She would usually tell me I was American but sometimes would suddenly use funny expressions like ishin denshin, which she said means “to communicate the heart by means of the heart.” It implies that words are not necessary and Mom claimed that a Japanese child (me) should know ishin denshin. She would say this when I failed to understand something she had not said. My mother’s frustration was even greater with my American father.

A typical day in our home:

We’re sitting around the table at breakfast and Mom says, “The windows are dirty.”

Dad glances up from his newspaper and coffee and says, “Yeah.”

The kids go to school, mom goes to work and dad stays home.

At dinner that night mom is in a bad mood, banging the pots and pans as she cooks dinner for three hungry kids. Finally dad asks, “What’s wrong?”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: ,

Brazilian Racial Democracy: Reality or Myth?

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2015-05-23 19:19Z by Steven

Brazilian Racial Democracy: Reality or Myth?

Humboldt Journal of Social Relations
Volume 10, Number 1, (Fall/Winter 1982/83): Race & Ethnic Relations: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
pages 129-142

Carlos Hasenbalg, Professor of Sociology
Instituto Universitário de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro

Suellen Huntington
University of California, Berkeley

The Brazilian claim to “racial democracy” is examined historically. and in light of the 1976 Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios data on race. class. and social mobility in Brazil. Racism is seen as limiting upward mobility for all non-white Brazilians, pointing to a potential break in Brazil’s “color—class continuum.” The interlocking social mechanisms which maintain Brazilian faith in the existence of racial democracy are briefly analyzed.

The popular Brazilian ideology of racial democracy holds that there is no prejudice or discrimination against non-whites in Brazil. certainly not when compared to the United States. This paper examines that ideology in terms of the realities of race, class, and social mobility in contemporary Brazil. We begin by briefly describing the historical background of the ideology of racial democracy as it bears on race relations in Brazil. Second, we summarize and criticize three main theoretical approaches to race relations and their Brazilian variations. Third, we discuss racism as a causal variable in social stratification and compare the evidence of social mobility for white and non-white Brazilians. Finally, we analyze the social mechanisms supponing the Brazilian belief in racial democracy and their effects on equality of opportunity in Brazil. For perspective, we note the most pertinent comparisons to the United States.

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT

Brazil’s history helps explain the development of the ideology of racial democracy and its strong hold on the Brazilian popular mind. Brazil. colonized under the auspices of the Portuguese crown, remained subject to its strongly authoritarian, paternalistic, and monarchical traditions for three-hundred years. Unlike the United States where slavery was an issue from its very beginning and became a bitter point of contention in the Civil War. slavery was easily accepted by Brazil‘s Portuguese settlers whose long familiarity with slavery dates to the Moorish invasions. These differences of attitude influenced the racial compasition of their respective populations. In Brazil through the 1850, half the population was enslaved; in the United States, slaves were never more than fifteen percent of the population. The presence of this large slave population in Brazil, along with the relative absence of white women, prompted a high rate of miscegenation resulting in a large group of mixed race and mulatto slaves. In the United States, where miscegenation was both less common and illegal, all offspring of mixed unions were classified as negroes.

Brazil, the last country in the Western hemisphere to relinquish slavery, did so slowly, in a series of compromise reforms which sought to balance the needs of a plantation economy for cheap. plentiful labor against a sporadic, mostly non-violent, abolitionist movement and the force of international condemnation. When the national legislature passed an abolition law in 1888, most slaves in Brazil had been freed, partly by state legislatures acting independently, but also by county governments, by city governments, by city blocks, and by private citizens. Rather than a tumultuous emancipation, Brazilian slavery merely disintegrated. In the United States, the slavery issue was finally settled in 1865 with the Northern victory in the Civil War.

To solve the plantation labor crisis envisioned as the aftermath of abolition and to ease the transition to free labor, the Brazilian government instituted in 1885, a program promoting the importation of European workers. This program attracted 6,500 Italian laborers in 1886, 30,000 in 1887, and 90,000 in 1888, the year of offical emancipation. During the period of emancipation, immigrant labor worked side-by-side with ex-slaves, but most ex-slaves, unable to compete with the relatively more skilled, relatively more literate European workers, were soon relegated to the lowest positions—unskilled labor and domestic service, tenant farming and sharecroppingin the urban and rural workforce. In the United States, skilled black workers were replaced by whites in the post-Civil War South; in the North, they were systematically excluded from the skilled trades, from all but menial labor, and from union membership. In post-emancipation Brazil, however, the replacement of black ex-slaves by white immigrants resulted from hiring decisions by individual employers rather than from any systematic or organized opposition, thus tending to create class rather than racial antagonisms.

In addition, in the United States whites filled the intermediate positions in the occupational hierarchy, leaving blacks only the least desirable, worst paying positions. In Brazil the labor shortage, together with a prejudice in favor of light skin, caused these intermediate positions to be filled by mulattoes. This labor market preference for whites first, mulattoes second, and blacks last created a status and income continuum corresponding to the color continuum, in contrast to the caste-color line created in the United States…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , ,

I’m Black. I’m White. I’m Both. I’m Neither.

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, United States on 2015-05-23 00:23Z by Steven

I’m Black. I’m White. I’m Both. I’m Neither.

GPB Blogs: On Second Thought
Georgia Public Broadcasting
Atlanta, Georgia
2015-05-20

Celeste Headlee

I’m black.
My grandfather is William Grant Still, the “Dean of African-American composers.” His skin was the color of maple syrup. Mine is the color of café au lait. My grandfather suffered countless indignities and injustices because of his color. I remember them still, almost viscerally. They still feel personal to me.

When he was going to Oberlin College to accept an honorary degree, he drove from Los Angeles with his family. He couldn’t stay at the white hotels because he was black; he couldn’t stay at the black hotels because his wife was white. So he drove 2,300 miles without stopping. In photos of the event, he’s stooping; he looks exhausted. I’ve heard that story dozens of times, and yet, my cheeks feel hot thinking about it even now. It still makes me angry.

My grandparents had to get married in Tijuana because their marriage was illegal in the US. That’s personal. He had to build a six-foot fence around his home to protect my mother and her brother from violence. It was the 1940s and people were dragging mixed-race families out of their beds, beating them, sometimes setting their homes on fire. I look at my mother sometimes and think about how lucky I am.

I have the same amount of black ancestry as Sally Hemings, slave to Thomas Jefferson and mother to six of his children. (Side note: three of those children lived their adult lives as white. They passed.)

I was the second-darkest kid in my school in Mission Viejo, California. Everyone expected me to be best friends with Shawna, the only African-American girl. Kids called me a “nigger” sometimes. I punched one of them in the eye and was sent to the principal’s office. The principal told me that if someone called me that name, I should punch them again.

I’m white…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Obama’s Twitter Debut, @POTUS, Attracts Hate-Filled Posts

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-05-22 01:36Z by Steven

Obama’s Twitter Debut, @POTUS, Attracts Hate-Filled Posts

The New York Times
2015-05-21

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — When President Obama sent his inaugural Twitter post from the Oval Office on Monday, the White House heralded the event with fanfare, posting a photograph of him perched on his desk tapping out his message on an iPhone.

The @POTUS account — named for the in-house acronym derived from “President of the United States” — would “serve as a new way for President Obama to engage directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him,” a White House aide wrote that day.

But it took only a few minutes for Mr. Obama’s account to attract racist, hate-filled posts and replies. They addressed him with racial slurs and called him a monkey. One had an image of the president with his neck in a noose.

The posts reflected the racial hostility toward the nation’s first black president that has long been expressed in stark terms on the Internet, where conspiracy theories thrive and prejudices find ready outlets. But the racist Twitter posts are different because now that Mr. Obama has his own account, the slurs are addressed directly to him, for all to see.

Within minutes of Mr. Obama’s first, cheerful post — “Hello, Twitter! It’s Barack. Really!” it began — Twitter users lashed out in sometimes profanity-laced replies that included exhortations for the president to kill himself and worse.

One person posted a doctored image of Mr. Obama’s famous campaign poster, instead showing the president with his head in a noose, his eyes closed and his neck appearing broken as if he had been lynched. Instead of the word “HOPE” in capital letters as it appeared on the campaign poster, the doctored image had the words “ROPE.”…

…Top advisers to Mr. Obama, who pioneered the use of technology in his campaigns, regard such hate speech as a relatively minor price to pay for the opportunity Twitter and other platforms provide to reach voters directly. Twitter, which has been criticized for not cracking down on so-called trolls who post abusive or inappropriate comments on the social networking platform, does not police individual users or initiate its own action against them…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

This Mocha-Caramel-Honey Post-Racial Fantasy Is Making Me Sick

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Social Work, United States, Women on 2015-05-21 16:53Z by Steven

This Mocha-Caramel-Honey Post-Racial Fantasy Is Making Me Sick

BuzzFeed
2015-05-21

Sharon Chang, BuzzFeed Contributor


Illustration by Judith Kim for BuzzFeed

As a mixed-race woman, the defining question of my life has not been “Who am I?” but “What are you?” I get it everywhere, from all races. Recently it’s been mostly from Asian immigrants. You Chinese? Last month a black guy walked up to me while I was pumping gas. Man! How do you people do that international thing?

It’s an invasive line of questioning, under the guise of a friendly compliment. “You know how you could look more Asian?” my white boss once asked as I clocked out of work. “If you cut your bangs like this and did your makeup like this…” My acupuncturist, meanwhile, thinks I look more Asian in a ponytail.

Most women are accustomed to having their physical appearance treated like public property up for consumption. But when it comes to mixed-race women, our looks are quantified, measured and divvied up, all the way back to conception. How we were cooked up, what our ingredients are, and why we taste so good — people are entitled to know all of it…

…If 2050 is the year that 400 years of racism ends in one fell, photogenic swoop, then sure, I can’t wait. But forgive me if our collective crushes on Rashida Jones, Lolo Jones, and Norah Jones don’t inspire hope. Beauty is a cultural value whose definition has changed dramatically over time. But science and society have a long history of justifying our shifting tastes when it comes to race. White supremacy has been bolstered through race-based compulsory sterilization, anti-miscegenation laws, and likening people of color to animals…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

The Great American Mulatto: Mat Johnson Talks Identity and Facing Ghosts

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive on 2015-05-21 01:43Z by Steven

The Great American Mulatto: Mat Johnson Talks Identity and Facing Ghosts

Gawker Review of Books
2015-05-20

Victor LaValle

Mat Johnson and I have been friends since we published our first books fifteen years ago. In that time we’ve spent an untold number of hours bullshitting about writing, parenting, and sundry nonsense. Mat’s new novel, Loving Day—which will be released by Spiegel & Grau on May 26—is the story of a mixed-race comic book artist who returns from Wales to his native Philadelphia to discover a daughter he never knew he’d fathered, a mixed-race cult that hopes to recruit him, and a pair of ghosts haunting his father’s home. Our conversation appears below.

Victor LaValle: Germantown’s Finest, what’s going on?

Mat Johnson: I’m sweating my ass of in Houston Fucking Texas is what’s going on. It’s like Philly in July but for six months down here.

VL: That’s going to ruin your image as a writer. Your Twitter profile photo makes you look like an elegant leg breaker, not a sweating goon.

MJ: Breaking legs builds moisture in your arm pits. I am rugged fiction writer man. I make my own paper from the pulp I chew off trees, man…

VL: Art versus entertainment makes sense as a kind of push/pull in lit fiction, but in the new book you’ve added a third ingredient. Outrage. Some motherfuckers are going to be outraged by what you’ve put in this book. Black, white, mixed. It’s possible you’ve even defamed ghosts with one of the subplots.

MJ: I like being scared when I’m writing. I enjoy building to the moment where I’m like, I can’t believe I’m putting this on the page. All of Loving Day was like this. Growing up mulatto, looking white but being black. In the black community I never talked about being mixed. I was too busy overcompensating to fit in.

Writing this book I kept thinking, black people are going to hate that I’m even talking about this, mixed people are going to be annoyed about the way I’m talking about it, and white people aren’t going to know what the hell it is I’m even talking about. Shit, I’m still scared…

 

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , ,

Who is Ismael Ozanne, Wisconsin’s prosecutor in Tony Robinson’s death?

Posted in Articles, Biography, Law, United States on 2015-05-20 21:52Z by Steven

Who is Ismael Ozanne, Wisconsin’s prosecutor in Tony Robinson’s death?

Cable News Network (CNN)
2015-05-12

Michael Martinez, Newsdesk Editor & Writer

(CNN) Ismael Ozanne wiped a handkerchief across his forehead, nervously tapped a stack of papers on the podium and slowly cleared his throat.

It wasn’t the first time he’d made history; that happened in 2010 when he became Wisconsin’s first black district attorney.

Still, the Dane County district attorney seemed acutely aware of his role on the national stage Tuesday as the man who would decide whether an officer should be charged for the March 6 shooting death of an unarmed biracial man, 19-year-old Tony Robinson.

Eventually, Ozanne told reporters that he’d cleared Matt Kenny of the Madison Police Department, declaring that the officer’s gunfire was “a lawful use of deadly police force.”

But before he revealed his long-awaited decision Tuesday, the prosecutor also made it a point to talk about his past…

…Wisconsin’s first black DA

Ozanne became the first African-American district attorney in Wisconsin history in August 2010, when former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, appointed him as Dane County district attorney.

Ozanne’s appointment filled a vacancy created when the prior DA was elected as a Court of Appeals judge…

…Ozanne’s grandfather, Robert Ozanne, was a high school teacher, a labor organizer, an author and a professor of economics at University of Wisconsin at Madison in the 1950s, according to Ismael Ozanne’s biography.

His parents are also teachers: His father taught at Tuskegee University in Alabama and in Madison public schools, and as of last year, his mother was still in the classroom, teaching reading at a middle school.

Ozanne describes himself as biracial.

“I’m a person of color from a biracial marriage. … I am the son of a black woman who still worries about my safety from the bias and privilege and violence that accompanies it,” he said Tuesday…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,