Meditation on President Obama’s Portrait

Posted in Articles, Arts, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-09-25 01:11Z by Steven

Meditation on President Obama’s Portrait

Lens Blog: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism
The New York Times
2014-07-25

Maurice Berger, Research Professor and Chief Curator
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Dawoud Bey’s photograph of the man who would soon be president was taken on a Sunday afternoon in early 2007, at Barack and Michelle Obama’s Hyde Park home in Chicago. The portrait is at once stately and informal. Mr. Obama’s hands are folded gracefully in his lap. He wears an elegant suit and white shirt, but no tie. He stares intensely into the camera.

The Museum of Contemporary Photography had commissioned Mr. Bey the year before to take a portrait of a notable Chicagoan. He had known the Obamas for several years and saw them periodically at social gatherings. Impressed with Mr. Obama’s keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, Mr. Bey sensed a “growing air of expectancy” about him.

“When I was asked who I wanted to photograph,” Mr. Bey said, “it took me but a second to decide that I wanted to photograph him.”

Mr. Bey posed Mr. Obama at the head of the dining room table, light reflecting off its polished surface, and photographed him from an angle. “I wanted an interesting animation of the body, and finally through camera positioning and having him turn himself slightly I figured it out,” Mr. Bey said…

…Mr. Obama’s race has rendered him particularly vulnerable to this kind of mythmaking. Right-wing extremists see him as an exemplar of what is wrong with America. He has become a symbol of a dark and foreign otherness, a threat to white supremacy and racial purity. To some, he is a Muslim conspirator, bent on dismantling American mores and traditions. To others, he is an angry black man covertly intent on avenging slavery and other historic injustices.

This mythmaking has not been limited to conservatives. A year after Mr. Bey photographed Mr. Obama, the candidate was rousing messianic fantasies on the left, stoked by the election’s most memorable image: Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster.

Distributed independently by the artist and later adopted by the Obama campaign, the poster was visually dynamic and politically effective. It radiated an aura of confidence and optimism. But Mr. Fairey’s schematic rendering of Mr. Obama — branded by a single, amorphous word — reduced the candidate to a cartoonlike, racially ambiguous cipher.

Raking across Mr. Obama’s face, in a picture devoid of the color brown, was a broad swath of off-white paint, a metaphoric blank screen onto which voters were invited to project their dreams and aspirations. The “Hope” poster visually transformed a man who unambiguously defined himself as black into an icon of the unthreatening “postracial” politician…

Read the entire article here.

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The Mixed-Race Marriage of Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-09-24 21:57Z by Steven

The Mixed-Race Marriage of Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray

Georgetown Law Journal of Modern Critical Race Perspectives
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
2013-12-08

Harris Davidson

On November 5, Bill de Blasio, New York City’s public advocate, was elected Mayor of New York City. De Blasio’s victory had been all but assured since he prevailed in the highly contested Democratic August primary. New York City voters, dissatisfied with the perceived shortcomings of the Bloomberg administration, voted into office the city’s first Democratic mayor in over 20 years.

From the time de Blasio won the hotly contested primary race up until his win on November 5, he held a commanding lead over his Republican opponent, Joseph Lhota. He defeated Lhota by an astounding margin of 49 percentage points. Though de Blasio cruised to an easy and expected victory, his rise to prominence has been unexpected and far from conventional…

…De Blasio and McCray, who has kept her maiden name, style themselves as a newer, more liberal, version of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Their mixed-race marriage and their two mixed race children add to their image as an urban, new-age, “this-is-what-the future-of-America-looks-like” family. Surprisingly, the campaign coverage of their relationship and family was almost entirely positive, and rather than being forced to defend themselves, de Blasio and McCray used their mixed-race marriage to their political advantage.

The most prominent example of how de Blasio’s mixed race marriage helped his campaign was with the television ad that is credited with helping secure his primary win: “Dante.” In the ad, a light skinned Black teenager with a large afro discusses de Blasio’s agenda and extols the candidate. The ad seems at first to be a normal campaign ad. The kicker comes at the end when the teenager tells the viewers he would be supporting de Blasio even if the candidate wasn’t his father. The viewer, realizing the teenager isn’t a paid actor, then sees the de Blasio walking down the road with the teenager, who turns out to be de Blasio’s son, Dante.

What does the effectiveness of the ad and lack of criticism about de Blasio’s marriage and family say about Americans’ changing attitudes towards mixed race families? For one, it shows that the doors to higher office are now fully open to politicians in mixed race marriages. More importantly, it signifies how much Americans’ racial tolerance has progressed since 1967 when, in Loving v. Virginia, 338 U.S. 1 (U.S. 1967), Virginia fought to uphold as constitutional its anti-miscegenation laws…

Read the entire article here.

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A Family Rooted in Two Realms

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-24 20:45Z by Steven

A Family Rooted in Two Realms

The New York Times
2014-09-23

Neil Genzlinger, Television Critic


In “black-ish,” Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross lead a family wrestling with racial issues. From left, Marsai Martin, Marcus Scribner, Yara Shahidi and Miles Brown as their children.
ADAM TAYLOR / ABC

‘black-ish,’ a New ABC Comedy, Taps Racial Issues

A lot of people in the television business are said to be curious to see how “black-ish,” ABC’s new comedy, is received when it has its premiere on Wednesday night. What they should really be curious about, though, is where the series goes after its funny but talking-point-heavy first episode.

The sitcom centers on a black family in Los Angeles, the Johnsons, struggling with prosperity. Andre (Anthony Anderson) works at an advertising agency; in the premiere, he’s on the verge of a major promotion. Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is an anesthesiologist. Their four children are smart and adorable.

If this puts you in mind of the Huxtables of “The Cosby Show,” that’s no accident. But more than the Huxtables ever were, the Johnsons are wrestling with whether their comfortable lives are causing them to forget that they’re black…

…At home, he tells his lighter-skinned wife — a “pigment-challenged mixed-race woman,” he calls her — that she’s not black enough. He is dismayed that his older son is trying out for field hockey instead of basketball. The dinner table discussion (yes, we’ve found the last family in America that still eats together around a dinner table) focuses on whether the children know that Barack Obama is the first black president. Even fried chicken comes in for scrutiny, although not from Andre, but from his father, winningly played by Laurence Fishburne.

It’s all gentle as can be. “Black-ish” may be full of racial themes, but it’s working a gimmick that transcends race: Dad as buffoon…

Read the entire review here.

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At Least We Talk About Race in the USA: Zadie Smith on Writing, Race and Color

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2014-09-24 20:13Z by Steven

At Least We Talk About Race in the USA: Zadie Smith on Writing, Race and Color

My American Meltingpot: A Multi-Culti Mix of Identity Politics, Parenting & Pop Culture
2014-09-22

Lori L. Tharps, Assistant Professor of Journalism
Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

…Last week Wednesday I skipped out of work as early as possible so I could get a front row seat at the University of Pennsylvania’s Speaker’s Series on Color featuring one of my all-time favorite authors, Zadie Smith. I’ve read (and own) almost all of Smith’s fiction, but I am also a big fan of her critical essays, especially those dealing with race and culture. I like her writing and I love her mind.

So, my biggest takeaway from the almost sold-out event, is that not only is Zadie Smith absolutely brilliant (and gorgeous, and taller than I expected), she’s also got a terrific sense of humor. Rather than present a formal reading of her work, Smith sat “in conversation,” (which is clearly a thing now.) with Penn English professor, Jed Esty who peppered her with questions about her books, her upbringing as a Mixed child in London and her process as a writer. She answered every query with honesty and held none of her opinions back, even when they may have insulted the vast majority of the mostly White audience.

I found myself nodding in agreement with so much of what Smith said regarding the difference between being Black in the USA vs, the UK…

Read the entire article here.

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Articulate While Black. Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.: H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman, Oxford University Press, New York, 2012, 224 pp., ISBN: 9780199812967, $ 99.00 (hardcover)

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-09-24 19:54Z by Steven

Articulate While Black. Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.: H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman, Oxford University Press, New York, 2012, 224 pp., ISBN: 9780199812967, $ 99.00 (hardcover)

Journal of Pragmatics
Volume 71, September 2014
pages 148-150
DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2014.08.010

Marta Degani, Assistant Professor
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
University of Verona, Verona, Italy

Alim and Smitherman’s Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. is an engaging new book that sheds light on the intricacies of race relations in present-day America while highlighting how intertwined the politics of race and that of language are. The scale, however, is tipped in favor of language to show “how ‘language matters’ to the national conversation on race” (p. 4). Obama’s rhetoric is at the core of the investigation, and it is analyzed with great accuracy and a keen ability for uncovering peculiarities of its “Blackness”. In particular, the book emphasizes Obama’s ability to successfully communicate with different types of audiences and establish rapport with them. On a larger scale, it also shows how Obama’s shifting communicative styles and strategies in using both verbal and non-verbal communication have had an impact on the politics of language and race in the US. Overall, the analyses of Obama’s different usages of political language offer a good example of how audience-centered style-shifting can be skillfully used as a pragmatic tool to convince the audience of one’s political persona. From a pragma-sociolinguistic perspective, Obama’s ability to adjust his speech and gestures to his different audiences falls in line with the postulates of Communication Accommodation Theory (Giles et al., 1991).

What is also remarkable about the book is that the authors mirror Obama’s strategy of style-shifting to engage a large readership and communicate an authentic message. In the book, they alternate academic prose with a style of writing that mirrors African American English (AAE). The nature of this successful linguistic alternation is already evident in the table of contents, which includes chapter titles such as “‘Nah, We Straight”: Black Language and America’s First Black President’ or ‘Making a Way Outta No Way: the “Race Speech” and Obama’s Rhetorical Remix’. Apart from the table of contents, the reader will also find instances of “non-standard” English (e.g. “to be sure, hittin that small sweet spot ain’t easy” p. 23) scattered throughout the main text.

At the beginning of the book, in chapter 1, the authors briefly introduce their work and its aim. As they suggest, the novelty of their approach consists in looking at race from the perspective of language, a practice they call “languaging race”. This concept is applied to Obama’s use of language and the authors claim that it was crucial for his victory. In this chapter, Alim and Smitherman present interesting findings from their sociolinguistic research on Obama’s Black language use and its perception. Data from conversations with young people (mostly aged between 18 and 24) reveal how Obama is unanimously considered an excellent and gifted communicator. Most significantly, findings show that Black respondents are more sensitive than White respondents to Obama’s ability in style-shifting, which is characterized by the use of different lexical variants (e.g. nah and no), shifting pronunciations (e.g. wit mah Bahble for with my Bible) and variance in grammatical constructions (opting at times for zero copula construction) to connect to a multiracial audience. Obama is also praised for his ability to master the Black cultural mode of discourse known as “signifying”. Obama’s recourse to a “Baptist preacher style” is yet another feature that chiefly strikes Black American participants in the survey. The Black preacher style is detected in the cadence, rhythm, pausing, use of repetition, metaphors and storytelling that characterize some of Obama’s speeches. The President is also charged with using a deep Black communicative style of “call and response” that breaks down barriers between addresser and addressee when engaging with a predominantly Black audience. His capacity to shift from White “standard” English to Black modes of communication is presented by Alim and Smitherman as the key for understanding his success. This linguistic flexibility is seen by the authors not only as a reflection of his multicultural and multilingual upbringing but also as a conscious rhetorical strategy.

Chapter 2 starts out with a metalinguistic analysis. The focus is on semantically loaded use of language. The authors refer to “exceptionalizing” racist discourses and provide the example of White politicians who employ terms like “articulate” to describe Obama’s eloquence. According to the authors, exceptionalizing discourse means that what on a surface level might appear as a praise is indeed a racist judgment based on the covert assumption that non-White people are unintelligent and illiterate. The label “articulate” makes Obama ‘exceptional’ in the sense that he sticks out qua Black…

Read or purchase the article here.

 

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Black Fathers, Present and Accountable

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-24 16:38Z by Steven

Black Fathers, Present and Accountable

Lens Blog: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism
The New York Times
2014-09-19

Maurice Berger, Research Professor and Chief Curator
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

An anxious little girl hugs her father as a shark swims overhead in an aquarium. A man feeds his baby as he keeps a mindful eye on his three other rambunctious children. A single father reveals the tattoo on his forearm that depicts him as his son’s guardian angel. A young man poses proudly with the teacher he sees as a father figure.

While these photographs depict everyday situations, they are in one sense unusual: Their subjects are black and counter mainstream media that typically depict African-American fatherhood as a wasteland of dysfunction and irresponsibility. These images appear in a groundbreaking new book, “Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood” (Ceiba), by Zun Lee, a photographer and physician based in Toronto. A reception and book signing to mark its release will take place Friday night at the Bronx Documentary Center.

In 2011, Mr. Lee began photographing black men and their children from New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Toronto, Newark and other cities. He relied on friends and social media to find his subjects. Intent on creating a nuanced and affirmative view of these families, Mr. Lee spent weeks at a time getting to know them.

“Out of the hundreds of fathers I came across, the ones I ended up photographing were right for this project for very simple reasons,” Mr. Lee, 45, wrote in his book. “Not only did we develop a trust that allowed me into the inner sanctum of their private lives, but something about these fathers’ interaction with their kids resonated in ways that redeemed my own story.”

Mr. Lee’s personal history informs the project in complex and surprising ways. When he was in his 30s, his Korean mother confessed to him that his biological father was a black man with whom she had a brief affair. This knowledge, combined with the physical and verbal abuse he endured from the Korean father who raised him, stoked anger and confusion. Mr. Lee wondered why his biological father abandoned his mother, why he had made no effort to reconnect with his son, and whether his childhood would have been better had he been raised by both of his biological parents…

Read the entire article here.

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For the first time, Marina Silva makes reference to the race factor in her campaign

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2014-09-23 15:27Z by Steven

For the first time, Marina Silva makes reference to the race factor in her campaign

Black Women of Brazil: The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Courtesy of Brasil 247, “Pela primeira vez, Marina usa fator racial na campanha” (2014-09-19)

“Let’s elect the first black woman president of Brazil,” said the PSB candidate on Friday, September 19, during a rally in São Bernardo do Campo, the birthplace of unionism and the city where the ex-president Lula da Silva began his political life.

For the first time in this presidential campaign, the PSB candidate, Marina Silva, used the racial factor to garner support from voters. “Let’s elect the first black woman president of Brazil,” said the presidential hopeful, during a rally in São Bernardo do Campo, in the São Paulo ABC metropolitan region.

The candidate spoke for a few minutes under a strong drizzle in the main square, downtown, the same place where, two weeks ago, former President Lula met with President Dilma Rousseff in a PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores/Workers’ Party) rally. On the occasion, PT militants filled the square. Today, the event attracted about 200 people, a good part of militants paid by candidates for deputy…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Hapa-palooza’ Celebrates Canada’s Mixed-Heritage Residents

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Canada, Media Archive on 2014-09-23 15:06Z by Steven

‘Hapa-palooza’ Celebrates Canada’s Mixed-Heritage Residents

NBC News
2014-09-22

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Vancouver is gearing up for the Hapa-palooza Festival, the world’s largest celebration of mixed heritage and hybrid identity, to be held at locations throughout the city this month. The word “hapa” usually means a person who is part Asian or Pacific Islander, but festival organizers are taking a much more expansive view to include “mixed heritage and hybrid cultural identity.”

“Growing up there was little to no awareness about the experiences of being mixed,” says festival co-founder Zarah Martz. “Canada prides itself on being a multicultural country, and Hapa-palooza explores the blending of various cultures and backgrounds.”

Read the entire article here.

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One Drop of Love: A Must See Show

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-22 21:34Z by Steven

One Drop of Love: A Must See Show

A Life with Subtitles
2014-09-22

Sarah Quezada

Last week I was out of town bowling and doing improv with my co-workers. It was super fun, but my time away from Atlanta meant I was gone on the birthday of my dear friend, Katie. (You may remember her as my co-conspirator during the World Cup.)

After returning, we celebrated by going to the Fox Theater to see One Drop of Love. It’s a multimedia solo performance produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and the show’s writer/performer Fanshen Cox DiGivanni. It. Was. Phenomenal.

Fanshen tells her family’s story as an exploration into her own racial identity. She reenacts experiences from conversations with her Jamaican grandmother to her travels in Africa to childhood memories with her white mother to her marriage to her Italian husband…

Read the entire review here.

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Here’s Why Louis CK’s Kids Are White But Their Mother Is Black In ‘Louie’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-22 21:28Z by Steven

Here’s Why Louis CK’s Kids Are White But Their Mother Is Black In ‘Louie’

Business Insider
2014-09-18

Aly Weisman, Senior Editor

There’s one mystery on FX show “Louie” that has never really been addressed.

While Louie’s ex-wife “Janet” is played by black, Jamaican actress Susan Kelechi Watson, his two daughters are very white, very blonde little girls.

Despite leaving viewers guessing about the backstory of the relationships, the race issue has never been fully explained on the show — and that’s intentional.

“We play around with ethnicities. Janet is African-American, but both of their kids are white and Louie’s white so how does that work? Look, it probably doesn’t make sense but Louie wanted to cast someone to play his on-screen ex-wife who was unlike his real ex-wife,” casting director Gayle Keller tells Business Insider. “He didn’t want that much reality in this show.”

But the race of the actress wasn’t necessarily a premeditated decision, Louis just thought Watson was the best person for the part.

“We auditioned people who were African-American and white, we auditioned both,” explains Keller. “We didn’t limit ourselves to someone who was just Caucasian. Louis just felt that the woman who we cast [Watson] was best for the part and she happened to be African-American and he didn’t care about that. He didn’t feel like he had to explain that in any way and have two Caucasian children and an African-American wife.”…

Read the entire article here.

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