Deconstructing Pseudo-Scientific Anthropology: Anténor Firmin and the Reconceptualization of African Humanity

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive on 2015-03-23 01:41Z by Steven

Deconstructing Pseudo-Scientific Anthropology: Anténor Firmin and the Reconceptualization of African Humanity

The Journal of Pan African Studies
Volume 7, Number 2, August 2014
pages 9-33

Gershom Williams, Adjunct Professor of African-American History and African-American Studies
Mesa Community College, Mesa, Arizona

“The science of inequality is emphatically a science of White people. It is they who have invented it, and set it going, who have maintained, cherished and propagated it, thanks to their observations and their deductions.” –Jean Finot, Race Prejudice (1907)

“A preponderance of (fossil) and genetic evidence has revealed, virtually beyond a doubt, that the same Europeans who created the idea of race and White supremacy are the genetic progeny of the very Africans they devalued.” –Salim Muwakkil, Chicago Tribune


Euro-American ideas and assumptions regarding African innate inferiority and racial inequality are central to the pseudo-scientific ‘race myth’ of White supremacy. In their search to find an expedient explanation, rationalization and justification for the horrific holocaust of enslavement, Europeans and later White Americans developed the international thesis and concept of African biological and intellectual inferiority.

In this exploratory essay, I am endeavoring to present a critical review of the anti-racist, vindicationist tradition of African American and Haitian intellectuals who challenged, rejected and refuted the ‘scientific racism’ of Euro-American ethnologists, Egyptologists, anthropologists, historians, philosophers, and physicians.

In another essay that we discuss in the contents of this manuscript, anti-racist theorists Stepan and Gilman argue that those stigmatized and stereotyped by the ideology of ‘scientific racism’ published prolific counter narratives that remain obscured and unrecognized by the historians of mainstream science.

What did the men and women of African descent in the diaspora, categorized by the biological, medical and anthropological sciences as racially inferior have to say about the matter? How did they respond to the charges and claims made about them in the name of science? In seeking to provide credible answers to the latter questions, we are re-visiting the powerful and illuminating publications by Black American and Haitian writers of the pre-Antènor Firmin era which are viable proof of the vindicationist tradition inherent among diasporan Black intellectuals. This school or community of literate intellectuals boldly offers a passionate and consistent rhetoric of resistance to economic and psychological enslavement and the mis-education of their people.

This essay remembers and pays homage to those public intellectuals of the early and late nineteenth century who dared to disagree with popular opinion and proceeded to debate the dangerous discourse of race and the fallacy of White supremacy. Central to our narrative are the names and voices of David Walker, Lydia Maria Child, Frederick Douglass, Martin R. Delaney and George Washington Williams. All of the aforementioned writers preceded the publication of Haitian scholar and statesmen Joseph Antènor Firmin’s The Equality of the Human Races in 1885. Haitian anthropologist, Egyptologist, Pan-Africanist and politician J. Antènor Firmin did not rise out of an intellectual vacuum to conduct study and research for his massive and masterful manuscript.

As I attempt to demonstrate in this paper, there is a long standing pre and post Firmin intellectual tradition in the United States and Haiti during the early nineteenth and continuing throughout the twentieth century. Like many of the intellectuals already mentioned, Antènor Firmin (a descendant of the Haitian intellectual Maroons) obviously did not possess an inferiority complex. He was not intellectually intimidated by the dominant thinking and behavior of the advocates of racial ranking and hierarchy.

A bold and brilliant thinker, he re-envisioned and re-conceptualized the image and pre-colonial cultural heritage of African descended people. Lastly, my essential purpose in presenting this paper is to convey to the reader(s) that prior to the invention and propagation of the ‘race myth’, the concept and belief in Black inferiority was non-existent.

As classicist historian Frank M. Snowden Jr. writes in his iconic text, Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks, “…Nothing comparable to the virulent color prejudice of modern times existed in the ancient world. This is the view of most scholars who have examined the evidence and who have come to conclusions such as these: The ancients did not fall into the error of biological racism; Black skin color was not a sign of inferiority…” (Snowden 1983: 63) By confronting and deconstructing the multitude of racial myths and stereotypes fashioned by Euro-Americans centuries ago, Antènor Firmin and others who believed in liberty, equality and fraternity could dismantle and destroy the foundational pillars of scientific racism. It is indeed instructive to remember what anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits stated a half century ago. “…The myth of the Negro (African) past is one of the principal supports of race prejudice in this

Read the entire article here.

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Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes: “I Don’t Think About Color”

Posted in Articles, Arts, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-23 01:16Z by Steven

Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes: “I Don’t Think About Color”

Black Entertainment Television

Clay Cane

Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes: “I Don’t Think About Color”

If you haven’t heard of Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes, the 24-year-old is making jaws drop in the music industry. Armed with ferocious vocals, passionate lyrics and a dynamic presence — on and off stage — Howard as the front woman of the Alabama Shakes is bringing rock and blues back from the grave for a new generation.

On Sunday night at the Capital Theatre in Port Chester, NY, the Grammy-nominated Alabama Shakes performed to a sold-out show, performing music from their latest album Boys & Girls. Hours before hitting the stage, Brittany was prepping for her first one-on-one interview with

Just finishing a cigarette, Howard sat down to discuss her roots, music and fame. Although surprisingly reserved, the Athens, AL, native possessed a quiet strength. Interviews, celebrity and folks wanting to know your business is new for Brittany and the band who never strived be the next big thing in music: “It’s a miracle that we are sitting in Port Chester, New York doing an interview with BET. Like, what the hell?”

When did you first fall in love with rock music?
Sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, she always had solid golden oldies on the radio. The grittiest music, I was like, “That’s my s–t.”

You’re often compared to ’60’s rocker Janis Joplin. How do you feel about that comparison?
People hear a powerful female singer in a rock and roll band and they say, “Janis Joplin.” I think people just make that comparison because it’s easy. But I don’t think I sound like her at all. What do you think?…

…What is your racial background?
Mom is white, dad is Black.

Do you identify as Black, mixed — how do you see yourself?
I’m both. Everything and nothing…

Read the entire interview here.

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“General Heads,” Great Minds, and the Genesis of Scientific Racism

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2015-03-23 01:02Z by Steven

“General Heads,” Great Minds, and the Genesis of Scientific Racism

Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
Volume 15, Number 2, Spring 2015
pages 112-118

Robin Runia, Assistant Professor of English
Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, Louisiana

It is commonly presum’d that the Heat of the Climate wherein they live, is the reason, why so many Inhabitants of the Scorching Regions of Africa are Black; and there is this familiar Observation to Countenance this Conjecture, That we plainly see that Mowers, Reapers, and other Countrey-people, who spend the most part of the Hot Summer dayes expos’d to the Sun, have the skin of their Hands and Faces, which are the parts immediately Expos’d to the Sun and Air, made of a Darker Colour than before, and consequently tending to Blackness; And Contrarywise we observe that the Danes and some other people that Inhabit Cold Climates, and even the English who feel not so Rigorous a Cold, have usually Whiter faces than the Spaniards, Portugalls and other European Inhabitants of Hotter Climates. But this Argument I take to be far more Specious than Convincing. (153–54)

There is another Opinion concerning the Complexion of Negroes, that . . . the Blackness of Negroes [is] an effect of Noah’s Curse ratify’d by God’s, upon Cham; But though I think that even a Naturalist may without disparagement believe all the Miracles attested by the Holy Scriptures, yet in this case to flye to a Supernatural Cause, will, I fear, look like Shifting off the Difficulty, instead of Resolving it; for we enquire not the First and Universal, but the Proper, Immediate, and Physical Cause of the Jetty Colour of Negroes; And not only we do not find expressed in the Scripture, that the Curse meant by Noah to Cham, was the Blackness of his Posterity, but we do find plainly enough there that the Curse was quite another thing, namely that he should be a Servant of Servants, that is by an Ebraism, a very Abject Servant to his Brethren. . . . Nor is it evident that Blackness is a Curse, for Navigators tell us of Black Nations, who think so much otherwise of their own condition, that they paint the Devil White. Nor is Blackness inconsistent with Beauty, which even to our European Eyes consists not so much in Colour, as an Advantageous Stature, a Comely Symmetry of the parts of the Body, and Good Features in the Face. So that I see not why Blackness should be thought such a Curse to the Negroes, unless perhaps it be, that being wont to go Naked in those Hot Climates, the Colour of their Skin does probably, according to the Doctrine above deliver’d, make the Sunbeams more Scorching to them, than they would prove to a people of a White Complexion. (159–60)

Greater probability there is, That the Principal Cause (for I would not exclude all concurrent ones) of the Blackness of Negroes is some Peculiar and Seminal Impression. (161)

—Robert Boyle, Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours (1664)

The above extracts present Robert Boyle’s delineation of racialized difference, as produced and evaluated by the Royal Society; this delineation, production, and evaluation is the lifeblood of Cristina Malcolmson’s Studies of Skin Color in the Royal Society. Exploring the development of the modern notion of race within the context of colonialism, Malcolmson argues that “the attention to skin color in the Royal Society allowed racialization to develop and eventually flourish within the practices of the new science” (7). Specifically, attention to the imbrication of this process within institutional and economic commitments to British imperial dominance helps to fill in the gaps between an attention to skin color, consideration of its causes, and the dehumanization and subjugation of non-European individuals. Malcolmson’s focus on the Royal Society’s activities and publications and on Margaret Cavendish’s and Jonathan Swift’s reactions to them provides an important and nuanced contribution to the recent scholarship in this area as well as a call for additional work to be done.

The value of this volume lies in Malcolmson’s thorough presentation of compelling evidence and insightful close readings that expose the Royal Society’s complicity in the spread of racialized discourse and racist thought. In addition, Malcomson’s original contributions to scholarship on the historical construction of race include her critique of polygenesis as inherently racist and her methodical…

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6 things I wish people understood about being biracial

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-23 00:48Z by Steven

6 things I wish people understood about being biracial


Jenée Desmond-Harris, Race, Law, and Politics Reporter

According to the results of a DNA test I took recently, my ancestors on my father’s side are mostly from West Africa (via Arkansas), and the ones on my mom’s side come from Europe. When strangers inquire about my racial background, I tend to try to de-escalate their interest. I say things like, “I’m just your run-of-the-mill mixed person with a white mom and a black dad.” In other words: nothing super exotic. Nothing to see here.

Why am I so dismissive? I’m a little self-conscious about engaging in excessive navel-gazing regarding my racial identity. It hasn’t been particularly difficult for me to manage. If anything, it may have made life easier for me and meant I’ve encountered less racism than people who have two parents who identify as black. I definitely don’t consider myself a “tragic mulatto.”

And with 9 million Americans selecting more than one race on the last Census — not to mention a president who has a white mother and a black father — it’s hard to argue that being “mixed,” “multiracial,” or “mulatto” (I’ve been called all of those) in 2015 is really all that unusual.

But I can’t deny that as long as race and racism are hot topics in our culture, biracial and multiracial people will continue to be a source of curiosity and fascination. Confession: even I find myself looking a little longer at mixed-race families on the streets of Washington, DC, craning my head to see which parent the children resemble most and wondering how they’ll see themselves. As a writer, I’ve been amazed by the way articles about interracial couples, families, or biracial children intrigue readers every single time. My guess is that it’s because these stories provide fodder for people to grapple with the nuances of their own identities and push the limits of racial categories, which is itself sort of fascinating.

So there’s nothing wrong with the continued curiosity about the experience of biracial people — whether their parents identify as black and white or some other combination society sees as interesting — but there are a few things I’d like people to know about those of us who are living it…

Read the entire article here.

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EXCLUSIVE: Michelle Obama’s mother was worried about her daughter marrying a biracial man

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Biography, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-23 00:36Z by Steven

EXCLUSIVE: Michelle Obama’s mother was worried about her daughter marrying a biracial man

The New York Daily News

Celeste Katz

Long before Michelle Obama became First Lady, her mother had misgivings about her marrying a young man named Barack Obama — because he was biracial.

In a Chicago TV interview that aired during Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate campaign — and newly resurrected by Michelle Obama biographer Peter Slevin in a book due out next monthMarion [Marian] Robinson confessed to being “a little bit” wary about her future son-in-law being the product of a white mom and black dad.

But it could’ve been worse, according to Robinson…

Read the entire article here.

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Fifteen Projects Selected for Tribeca Film Institute All Access Grants

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-22 20:53Z by Steven

Fifteen Projects Selected for Tribeca Film Institute All Access Grants


Scott Macaulay, Editor-in-chief

Fifteen works — scripted, documentary and interactive — were selected today for the Tribeca Film Institute‘s All Access program, which offers grant monies and other non-monetary support to projects by creators from statistically underrepresented communities. The projects were chosen from a submission pool of 710 entries. In addition to the 15 projects, two filmmakers from the LGBT community were chosen to take part in TFI Network Market, a one-on-one industry meeting forum, with their feature films. They are Ingrid Jungermann, a 25 New Face appearing with her project Women Who Kill, and Hernando Bansuelo, with Martinez, CA.

The complete list of selected projects, from the press release, is below…

So Young So Pretty So White: Directed by Chanelle Aponte Pearson and Terence Nance; produced by Yaba Blay and Michelle Serieux. Weaving together the lives of several compelling men and women from across the globe, the film is a window into the world of skin bleaching, unveiling what drives people to lighten their skin and the complex factors that make it difficult to stop…

Read the entire article here.

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Scholar’s debut novel ties black, Native-American history

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, United States, Women on 2015-03-22 18:43Z by Steven

Scholar’s debut novel ties black, Native-American history

The Detroit Free Press

Cassandra Spratling

Tiya Miles got it honest.

Straight from her grandmother’s garden. That knack for telling stories that pull at your heartstrings.

“I’m one of those people who had a storytelling grandma,” says Miles. “We’d be in the garden or snapping peas on the porch and my grandma would be telling stories, about life in Mississippi, about how the family lost their farm to a white man, about how they came up North on a train. Those stories riveted me and they shaped me.

“If my grandmother had had my life, she would have won three MacArthur Fellowships,” Miles says of her grandmother, the late Alice King.

But it was Miles, 45, who was granted a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2011, and it was that award that gave her the shot of confidence she needed to up her game and write her first novel, which will be released next month.

Friends and coworkers at the University of Michigan are hosting a book launch party for “the Cherokee Rose” (John F. Blair, $26.95) Tuesday…

…Not that she doesn’t greatly appreciate the fellowship that annually doles out a ton of money to selected people in a variety of areas so that they can pursue their areas of interest, unencumbered by money woes.

Without it, she doubts she would have completed “the Cherokee Rose,” a novel that uses three modern day women to take readers on a haunting, sometimes horrific, but redemptive journey to a little-known past on a Southern plantation where Native-American and African-American lives were intertwined. In the process, the women make unexpected connections to one another and others…

Read the entire article here.

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Miss Universe Japan — spectacle, race, and dreams

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive on 2015-03-22 01:34Z by Steven

Miss Universe Japan — spectacle, race, and dreams

Grits and Sushi: my musings on okinawa, race, militarization, and blackness

Mitzi Uehara Carter

The newly crowned Miss Universe Japan is Blackanese. No, she’s Japanese. No, she’s Haafu. Multiracial? Mixed? Japanese enough to represent Japan in a silly beauty contest? Ariana Miyamoto is from Nagasaki, Japan and her win has whipped up both excitement and disdain. The issue of representation has emerged yet again for those anxious about the nation’s performance on the global beauty stage. National beauty pageants are always a site where race and gender intersect in messy ways and the spectacle of “national authentic beauty” in international pageants can be even more convoluted. Miyamoto’s racial difference has sparked a series of interesting questions about how to identify “Japaneseness” through the body of women.

Weather you’re a pageant supporter or not, you can’t ignore how potent the social commentary these kinds of wins can be in everyday discourse. A careful analysis can tell us more about the framing of race in mainstream Japanese and transnational media circuits. While people outside Japan seem to be generally fascinated by the fact that this Japanese woman with her obvious African ancestry has been named “Ms. Universe Japan,” the commentary in Japanese social media is a bit more varied and well, echoes some made in the US, when a New Yorker of Indian descent, Nina Davaluri, won the Ms. America pageant in 2013…

Read the entire article here.

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Chicago’s Jazz Age still lives in Archibald Motley’s art

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-21 23:43Z by Steven

Chicago’s Jazz Age still lives in Archibald Motley’s art

The Chicago Tribune

Howard Reich

Where does Chicago’s Jazz Age still live? In the paintings of Archibald Motley, on view in a new exhibition

Trumpets blared, saxophones thundered, singers belted and dancers swayed from nighttime to past sunup.

Walk along “the Stroll” — a very hot stretch of State Street from 31st to 35th streets — and you could hear and feel the music without so much as stepping inside any of the clubs, saloons, cafes, cabarets, theaters and whatnot. Nearby boulevards shook with the music, as well, for no place on Earth swung harder than the South Side of Chicago during the Jazz Age.

Roughly speaking, the epoch when Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Joe “King” Oliver and other jazz immortals lit up Chicago began in 1910, when Morton arrived from New Orleans, and extended into the 1950s.

Few of us around today were there in the Roaring ’20s heyday, but we’re fortunate that Archibald John Motley Jr. walked “the Stroll,” heard the music, ogled the dancers, treasured the proceedings and captured the scene for all time — on canvas. That glorious fact radiates from every corner of a newly opened exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” (curated by Richard J. Powell and running through Aug. 31)…

…And though the subject is music, the theme surely is the meaning of race.

“In all my paintings where you see a group of people you’ll notice that they’re all a little different color,” Motley once said in an oral history interview. “They’re not all the same color, they’re not all black, they’re not as they used to say years ago, high yellow, they’re not all brown. I try to give each of them character as individuals.”

That respect for humanity issues from all of Motley’s jazz paintings and, of course, from the music itself. Like the range of complexions in Motley’s work, jazz emerged at the turn of the previous century as a heady mix of African-American and Creole cultures in New Orleans, these societies rubbing up against one another in church, in street parades and in the city’s Storyville vice district. The shuttering of that collection of brothels and other nightspots in 1917 drove Crescent City musicians north to Chicago, where Motley — who similarly was born in New Orleans and came to Chicago in his youth — was ready to see and hear them…

Read the entire article here.

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The Tragic Immigrant: Duality, Hybridity and the Discovery of Blackness in Mark Twain and James Weldon Johnson

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-20 20:13Z by Steven

The Tragic Immigrant: Duality, Hybridity and the Discovery of Blackness in Mark Twain and James Weldon Johnson

Volume 82, Number 1, Spring 2015
pages 211-249
DOI: 10.1353/elh.2015.0001

Richard Hardack

Around the turn of the twentieth-century, a number of American writers imagined that European culture could help them develop an external perspective with which to reinterpret racial double-consciousness in the United States. In Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, European culture winds affirmed the binaries of race in the American South; but in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, published eighteen years later, European culture helps foster ideas of cultural and racial hybridity, though they cannot be transferred entirely to America. I explore the “discovery” of blackness and final rejection of European identity common to Twain’s and Johnson’s novels. In Twain’s novel, the familiar figure of “the tragic mulatto” is juxtaposed with, and temporarily supplanted by, the more unexpected figure of the tragic immigrant, an outsider who can never become an assimilated American. Johnson then recalibrates Twain’s configuration of racial duality by turning the external conflict between African American mulatto and European immigrant twins into an internal struggle of double consciousness.

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