Race & Its Categories in Historical Perspective

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Science on 2014-07-27 09:36Z by Steven

Race & Its Categories in Historical Perspective

Crossing Borders, Bridging Generatons
Brooklyn Historical Society
June 2014

Ann Morning, Associate Professor of Sociology
New York University

A native New Yorker, Ann Morning is an associate professor of sociology at New York University and the author of The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference (University of California Press, 2011). In this essay she explores race and its categories in historical perspective.

What Is “Race”? Academics Disagree

“Race” is a familiar, everyday word for Americans, one that we routinely come across when we open a newspaper or fill out a form. Yet there is no scientific consensus about what exactly the term denotes. As I report in The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference, even academics within the same discipline, like biology or anthropology, disagree on how best to define the concept of race.

The scholarly debate hinges on whether races are groupings that we human beings invent, influenced by our subjective cultural prejudices and hierarchies, or whether they are groups of people who objectively share certain physical characteristics, whether visible or invisible (e.g. genetic). Members of the former camp are often referred to as “constructivists” because of their insistence that racial categories are built or put together by human hands, while proponents of the latter perspective are often labelled “essentialists” due to their conviction that racial groupings reflect traits naturally embedded within individuals’ bodies (i.e. “essences”). To illustrate this scientific conflict with a concrete example, take the standard U.S. racial category “black.” To a constructivist, this classification has all the makings of a social construct: Over the nation’s history, there have been changing beliefs about who falls into this category (e.g. anybody with a black mother during colonial times, or anybody with any known African ancestry after the Civil War) and conflicting beliefs by region (e.g. Louisiana versus Virginia). Moreover, if we compare the United States to other countries, it is quickly apparent that someone who is considered “black” here might not be classified the same way in Latin America, Western Europe, the Middle East, or Africa. In other words, racial categorization depends a lot on the society that is doing the categorizing—which is exactly the point that constructivists wish to make. To an essentialist however, the biological sciences demonstrate that there are distinct subgroups—races—within the human species. In the past, biologists thought the telltale markers of racial type lay in such disparate physical features as skull size and shape, blood type, skin color, hair texture, eye shape, and so on. Today however the academic debate about race and biology takes place almost entirely on the terrain of genetics, where scholars argue whether DNA patterns do or do not map onto racial groupings…

Read the entire article here.

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At last, a home for black history

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2014-07-26 02:34Z by Steven

At last, a home for black history

The Guardian
2014-07-23

Paul Reid, Director
Black Cultural Archives

The launch of the Black Cultural Archives will show that our presence in the UK is measured in millennia, not decades

I remember the time I got caned at school. It was the 1970s, and during a history lesson I put my hand up and asked: “Sir, were there people in America before Christopher Columbus?” I wasn’t trying to be difficult, just trying to engage with some complicated questions. But my teacher saw it as some kind of act of subversion.

Like many black males at the time, I was trying to work out my place in British society. And there were no teachers to guide us through our journey of self-discovery. Through my later work as a community youth worker, I realise that today’s young people are still working through these identity issues.

If my teacher had told my class that the black presence in Britain could be measured in millennia, and that we were not just passing through or tagged on to the end of the colonial story, we might have had a different sense of belonging; I might have had a different idea of what was possible; I might have seen something to aspire to…

…In 1981, after the first of these, a group of concerned black people got together seeking a place where the presence and history of black people could be told positively and accurately. Not just the history of enslavement and of Windrush, but a history that goes as far back as the African Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who is buried in York, and tells the story of the continued presence of black people in the United Kingdom ever since. The idea of the Black Cultural Archives was born…

Read the entire article here.

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How Turbans Helped Some Blacks Go Incognito In The Jim Crow Era

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-07-23 01:10Z by Steven

How Turbans Helped Some Blacks Go Incognito In The Jim Crow Era

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio
2014-07-19

Tanvi Misra

There’s a weekly trial on the Internet about who may be stealing culture from whom. Earlier this week, the defendants were Iggy Azalea and white gay men. A while back, it was Macklemore and the Harlem Shakers.

Now, we have come across a story from the Jim Crow era about cultural mimicry between people of color.

In mid-20th century America, the turban was a tool that people of color used for “confounding the color lines,” writes Manan Desai, board member of the South Asian American Digital Archive.

At the time, ideas of race in America were quite literally black and white. In some places, if you could pass yourself off as something other than black, you could circumvent some amount of discrimination. People of color — both foreigners and African-Americans — employed this to their advantage. Some did it just to get by in a racist society, some to make a political statement, and others — performers and businessmen — to gain access to fame and money they wouldn’t have otherwise had…

Read the entire article here.

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Researchers discuss origins of Melungeon heritage at annual event

Posted in Articles, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States, Videos, Virginia on 2014-07-14 05:41Z by Steven

Researchers discuss origins of Melungeon heritage at annual event

WCBY.com (News 5)
Brisol, Virginia
2014-06-28

Olivia Caridi

BIG STONE GAP, Va. - Wayne Winkler discovered he was a Melungeon at 12 years old. His grandmother is a Melungeon. His father is, too.

“I had never heard the word, so I asked my relatives what a Melungeon is. I asked what it was, and I’ve spent all this time since then trying to answer the question,” Winkler says.

For Winkler and others of mixed-ethnic groups, attending the 18th annual Melungeon Union on Saturday was a way to get some answers.

Melungeon’s were first documented in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee in the 19th century. “They are basically a mixed-ethnic group of a combination of Native American, European American and African American,” Winkler says.

Researchers have attempted to document the meaning of Melungeon identity for years. Lisa Alther, an author, wrote books exploring the history. “I always heard growing up that we were Anglo-Saxon and Celtic here in the mountains, so the most fascinating thing for me is realizing that we are here in the mountains really a melting pot of the entire world,” Alther says…

Read the article and watch the video here.

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Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference by Anne Pollock (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2014-07-11 06:52Z by Steven

Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference by Anne Pollock (review)

Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Volume 88, Number 2, Summer 2014
pages 393-395
DOI: 10.1353/bhm.2014.0025

Lundy Braun, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Africana Studies
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Anne Pollock, Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).

Science and technology studies (STS) scholar Anne Pollock’s Medicating Race uses the lens of “durable preoccupations” to explore the racialization of different categories of heart disease from the early twentieth century when cardiology emerged as a medical specialty. The book is a useful reminder that the intense and sometimes vitriolic debate over BiDil, a medication for heart failure and the first race-based drug, is but one moment—though a very public one—in a long history of the mobilization of race in cardiology. Drawing on rich and varied sources, including archival materials, scientific articles, interviews, and professional conferences, Pollock extends prior analyses of BiDil to examine the intersection of race with the numerous epistemological debates that characterize the history of heart disease. Why, Pollock asks, has race proved so resilient in the history of heart disease, despite relentless critique?

This deeply theorized account tracks “epistemologically eclectical” racial preoccupations as they travel among the social worlds of science, the clinic, and the pharmaceutical industry. Weaving together three main themes—the role of heart disease research in constituting Americanness, the persistence of racial categorization throughout this history, and the social and political dimensions of health disparities activism—Pollock argues that the durability of race in theories of heart disease is a dynamic biosocial process enmeshed in ambiguous and changing classifications of both disease and race and the persistence of unequal access to power, resources, and treatment. As Pollock writes, “Preoccupations with racial differences always exceed the data itself” (p. 19).

Beginning with early twentieth-century beliefs about infectious etiologies of heart disease, racial discourses shaped the emergence and professionalization of cardiology in complex ways. So deeply entrenched were ideas of syphilitic heart disease in blacks, for example, that Booker T. Washington’s death from arteriosclerosis in 1915 remained a matter of dispute until the 2000s. For African American physicians committed to providing medical care to their neglected communities, engagement with black heart disease also provided them with access to the modern technologies of scientific medicine, albeit limited. As others have shown with diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer, discourses of modernity, stress, and civilization were central to the whitening of coronary heart disease by midcentury.

Particularly fascinating is Pollock’s detailed examination of the complicated relationship between the famed Framingham Heart Study organized in 1948 and the Jackson Heart Study organized in 2000. Framingham researchers constructed their population as both white and normal through changing coding practices, categorizations, computerization, and data analysis, all of which cohered to produce hypertension as a distinct disease category. Modeled on Framingham, the Jackson Heart Study recruited only self-identified blacks, constructing a population that was simultaneously representative and different. Unlike the Framingham investigators, the Jackson investigators incorporated the social dimensions of health disparities, in addition to lifestyle and genetics, into the study design. In chapter 3, Pollock traces the complexity of social processes that produced African American hypertension as a distinctive disease category—and the consequent emergence of the category of African American itself as a risk factor for heart disease. Moving to “durable preoccupations” in contemporary race science in later chapters, Medicating Race analyzes the debates about the salt-slavery hypothesis of hypertension, thiazide diuretics, and BiDil.

While arguing throughout the book for careful attention to biology in any constructivist analysis, for this reader Pollock underestimates the consequences of genetic essentialism and market imperatives in medicine. Yet, in making explicit the tensions in democracy embedded in the historical debates over black heart disease, this book provides fresh insight into a key aspect of the dilemma of difference: when and how to use race in contemporary research. Despite at least a decade of careful social and scientific scrutiny, the academic and public debate about race and race science is not, nor can it be, settled as long as race remains such a salient marker of inequality in U.S. society.

This theoretically sophisticated book does an excellent job of making many familiar STS concepts relevant to medical history. Placing current arguments over race and heart disease in a broad historical context, Pollock adds valuable nuance to the historiography of race and heart disease and their material-semiotic natures. For all its semiotic ambiguity, heart…

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The racist face of Brazil’s miscegenation

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Social Science on 2014-07-10 16:33Z by Steven

The racist face of Brazil’s miscegenation

Black Women of Brazil: The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent
2013-05-22

Jarid Arraes
Cariri, Ceará, Brasil

The issue of miscegenation in Brazil is often oversimplified and romanticized. It is not uncommon to hear that Brazil is a mestiço (mixed race) and plural country and, consequently, all its inhabitants had their ethnicity inevitably mixed at some point in their ancestry. But under the axiom of a mixed country hides a violent and racist reality: the generalization of whiteness in a predominantly black country.

If all Brazilians are mixed and have black and Indian blood in their veins, why are many people reluctant to recognize their own ancestry?…

Read the entire article here.

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On the Mexican Mestizo

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2014-07-05 21:10Z by Steven

On the Mexican Mestizo

Latin American Research Review
Volume 14, Number 3 (1979)
pages 153-168

John K. Chance, Professor of Anthropology
Arizona State Univerisity

No one with even a passing acquaintance with the literature on Mexican society, not to mention the rest of Spanish America, can fail to be impressed by the frequent use of the term mestizo. Despite its ubiquity in the writings of social scientists, however, the concept of the mestizo is customarily employed in a vague fashion and usually left undefined. This is especially evident in the work of anthropologists, who for many years have been preoccupied with defining the Mexican Indian but have rarely focused their analytical powers on the mestizo. The term itself has been used rather loosely to refer to a certain group of people who presumably comprise a majority of the Mexican population, a cultural pattern shared by these people and other Latin Americans, and even a personality type.

Ethnographers frequently refer to the communities they study as being either Indian or mestizo, but rarely do they provide enough information to allow us to decide whether these are viable identities for the people themselves or distinct cultural configurations. Usually, when used as an adjective, “mestizo” is simply a shorthand descriptive term employed by the investigator. In this context, it is little more than a catch-all designation meaning non-Indian and non-Spanish, sometimes implying as well an identification with Mexican national culture. One wonders how social scientists concerned with Mexico and its people could ever get along without the term, despite the fact that it is only infrequently used by Mexicans themselves. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán remarks: “In all cases when [Mexicans] are explicitly asked if they consider themselves mestizos, only the educated ones, that is, the intellectuals or persons who have had contact with large urban centers, agree that they are; the ordinary person is not familiar with the term or gives it another meaning.”

It seems clear that the term rarely, if at all, refers to a viable ethnic identity in Mexico today. When called upon to distinguish themselves from people of indigenous background, Mexicans are more likely to call themselves gente de razon, gente decente, vecinos, catrines, correctos, or simply mexicanos. Yet it is obviously impossible to dismiss the concept of the mestizo altogether, for it has played an important part in the rise of Mexican nationalism, and the term itself appears frequently in historical documents, particularly those of the colonial period. This paper is not directly concerned with the current usage of the term among Mexicans themselves, nor will it deal with the concept as it is used by modern ethnographers. The goal is rather to clarify the place of the mestizo in Mexican history, particularly the colonial period. While most of the data presented pertain to a single city—Oaxaca, or Antequera in colonial times—it will be argued that a similar pattern probably existed in other cities of what was once known as New Spain. The basic contention is that the historical continuity assumed by many between the colonial and modern mestizo does not in fact exist if we pay close attention to how people were racially classified in Mexican cities during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries.

By far the most influential work in English that is based on this assumption is the chapter entitled “The Power Seekers” of Eric Wolf’s classic Sons of the Shaking Earth. Because Wolf’s portrait of the genesis of the mestizo and his role in the making of modern Mexico has been so influential, I will use it as a foil at many points for the development of my argument. The criticism of Wolf’s account, however, is not intended to belittle what I regard as a masterly synthesis of Mesoamerican culture history. Indeed, though it was written twenty years ago, Sons of the Shaking Earth remains remarkably current in many respects. But some of the ideas could stand revision, and this paper will attempt to show that Wolf’s treatment of the mestizo now needs to be reformulated in view of recent evidence…

Read the entire article here.

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Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation

Posted in Books, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2014-06-30 21:06Z by Steven

Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation

University of North Carolina Press
May 2009
328 pages
36 illus., 5 tables, notes, bibl., index
6.125 x 9.25
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8078-5934-6

Samuel Kelton Roberts Jr., Associate Professor of History; Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences
Columbia University, New York

For most of the first half of the twentieth century, tuberculosis ranked among the top three causes of mortality among urban African Americans. Often afflicting an entire family or large segments of a neighborhood, the plague of TB was as mysterious as it was fatal. Samuel Kelton Roberts Jr. examines how individuals and institutions—black and white, public and private—responded to the challenges of tuberculosis in a segregated society.

Reactionary white politicians and health officials promoted “racial hygiene” and sought to control TB through Jim Crow quarantines, Roberts explains. African Americans, in turn, protested the segregated, overcrowded housing that was the true root of the tuberculosis problem. Moderate white and black political leadership reconfigured definitions of health and citizenship, extending some rights while constraining others. Meanwhile, those who suffered with the disease—as its victims or as family and neighbors—made the daily adjustments required by the devastating effects of the “white plague.”

Exploring the politics of race, reform, and public health, Infectious Fear uses the tuberculosis crisis to illuminate the limits of racialized medicine and the roots of modern health disparities. Ultimately, it reveals a disturbing picture of the United States’ health history while offering a vision of a more democratic future.

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The Morristown Festival of Books is Proud to Announce the Authors for September 26 and 27, 2014

Posted in Articles, Forthcoming Media, History, Live Events, Passing, United States on 2014-06-29 20:01Z by Steven

The Morristown Festival of Books is Proud to Announce the Authors for September 26 and 27, 2014

Morristown Festival of Books: Where Readers & Authors Meet
Morristown, New Jersey
2014-06-24

We are pleased to present our Friday night Keynote speaker and 21 authors appearing at the all-day Saturday Festival!

They will be sharing their perspectives on writing, on their book topics, answering audience questions, and signing copies of their recent releases. Choose some great summer reading and have fun trying to decide which authors you want to meet in the fall. The schedule and venues will be published early in September. Continue to check the website for updates and news throughout the summer…

…Coming in September, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life is the intriguing topic examined by Morristown High School graduate Allyson Hobbs, an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Stanford University. In the margins of historical accounts and the dusty corners of family archives, she uncovers stories long hidden.  A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard, and awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Hobbs has appeared on C-Span and National Public Radio

Read the entire announcement here.

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Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection by Nadine Ehlers [review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-06-19 20:57Z by Steven

Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection by Nadine Ehlers [review]

International Social Science Review
Volume 88, Issue 3 (2014)

Matt Campbell
Doctoral Student of History
University of Houston, Houston, Texas

Ehlers, Nadine. Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles against Subjection. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2012. x + 184 pages. Paper, $25.00.

Race theory is a discipline that has become increasingly useful in the social sciences in the past few decades. In Racial Imperatives, Nadine Ehlers, a scholar of women’s and gender studies, provides a welcome view of the often forgotten question of how whiteness and blackness are formed and how individuals “pass” as one or the other. Her work is brimming with interdisciplinary content, including philosophy, critical theory, race and gender studies, and history. In contrast to earlier works that have taken only a historical approach or only a philosophical approach to race, Ehlers builds on a broad range of scholarship, including such well known titles as the historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Figure in Black (1987), the philosopher George Yancy’s Black Bodies, White Gazes (2008), performance studies specialist E. Patrick Johnson’s Appropriating Blackness (2003), as well as a host of other works from scholars of slavery, post-Civil War racism, and African American studies. Ehlers also blends the work of French theorist Michel Foucault and the gender studies of Judith Butler to exhibit the “discipline” that exists in race and how through performativity, race is ultimately a game of passing…

Read the entire review  here.

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