A Profound Documentary, Little White Lie Follows a Woman’s Search for Her Identify

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-11-28 21:47Z by Steven

A Profound Documentary, Little White Lie Follows a Woman’s Search for Her Identify

The Village Voice
New York, New York
2014-11-26

Diana Clarke

In Woodstock, New York, at the end of the 20th century, Lacey Schwartz was raised in an affluent Jewish household where something was slightly off. Darker-skinned than her mother and father, Schwartz fielded probing questions about her race from a young age, but refused to entertain the possibility that she was not the biological offspring of her two white parents. When Lacey was in high school, her parents’ marriage collapsed, and so did the veneer of her identity. Schwartz’s subsequent investigation resulted in this profound and engaging documentary

Read the entire review here.

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‘Dear White People’: A Mixed-Race Perspective

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-28 19:00Z by Steven

‘Dear White People’: A Mixed-Race Perspective

Pacific Citizen: Then National Newspaper of the JACL
Los Angeles, California
2014-11-19

Christine Munteanu, Assistant Program Director
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)

Last week, I watched a film called “Dear White People,” which follows the experiences of four black students at a predominately white, fictional Ivy League university. It was refreshing to see a movie that focused on the experiences of people of color, rather than the mainstream movies I usually watch that are almost exclusively about white people. Even though I know very little about black identity struggles specifically, as a person of color, there were many moments that I found relatable, familiar and funny.

I enjoyed the film overall, but as a mixed-race Japanese American, I was bothered by the portrayal of a biracial black character named Samantha White. Sam is the outspoken, radical leader of the Black Student Union’s protests against discriminatory university policies. She hosts a controversial campus radio show that speaks to the black experience, is well-versed in the history of civil rights and is the new head of an all-black residence hall.

The film follows Sam’s struggle with her identity as a biracial black woman. The fact that she is half-white is highlighted throughout the film as the reason she feels the need to “overcompensate” through her activism as a way to prove her blackness. Sam’s white boyfriend, Gabe, whom Sam repeatedly pushes away as she organizes protests and implements new policies in her residence hall, tells Sam that she is denying her true self by being so militant — after all, he knows she secretly listens to Taylor Swift. Meanwhile, Sam’s white father (literally, Mr. White) is suffering from health issues, adding a sense of urgency to Sam’s feeling that she must “choose a side.”…

Read the entire review here.

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Going to College and Learning You’re Black: The Moving Story of Little White Lie

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-11-28 18:30Z by Steven

Going to College and Learning You’re Black: The Moving Story of Little White Lie

Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair’s Hollywood
2014-11-25

Chase Quinn

“You boys are black, and don’t you forget that.”

From an early age I was taught that both my black identity and my white-Irish identity were important, and that I was never to relinquish either from my understanding of who I was. Watching Lacey Schwartz’s thought-provoking documentary Little White Lie— now in limited release and airing on PBS March 23—I was reminded of this formative experience, the wisdom of these seemingly competing messages and the diverse range of biracial narratives out there.

Little White Lie traces the story of Schwartz’s discovery of her mixed-race heritage after 18 years believing she was the product of two white, Jewish parents. After submitting a photo of herself with her undergraduate application to Georgetown and being contacted by their black student alliance, she begins to question the story she’s been told about who she is and that of her parents’ picture-perfect marriage. Ultimately she’s forced to confront her mother about a secret affair with Schwartz’s biological father, a black man and longtime family friend, and reexamine who she is as person…

Read the entire review here.

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Monday Murder Mystery: Everything I Never Told You

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-26 17:52Z by Steven

Monday Murder Mystery: Everything I Never Told You

Daily Kos
2014-11-24

Susan Grisby

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng; Published by Penguin Press; June 26th 2014. 297 pages

Families are probably the most mysterious strangers we will ever know. Sure, we know their names and that one is a brother or a father or sister or mother, but our image of them is one that we form very young and rarely re-evalutate.

My older brother used to drive down from Northern California to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with us every year starting about fifteen years ago. For many years before that, we really did not like each other very much. Mostly because we were still clinging to the images that we had carried from childhood.

Strange how that works. Although I had allowed myself to change and grow, my family members always seemed static in my mind. I learned to break through those images to re-discover who these people are that I call my relatives as did my older brother. We became very close friends and I miss him every year around this time.

Having lived family drama, I wasn’t much interested in a mystery that focused on it, and so allowed this one to sit on my metaphorical nightstand for way too long before I finally picked it up and started reading.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.

And so begins one of the most remarkable debut novels that I have ever read for this series. A 16 year-old girl disappeared one morning in 1977. Later, her body is found in a nearby lake in the small Ohio town where the family lives. Accident, murder, or suicide?

Celeste Ng smoothly alternates points of view and switches back and forth between the fifties, sixties and seventies to introduce us to the main characters of the Lee family.

James Lee is a first generation Chinese American who was a teaching assistant at Harvard when he met Marilyn Walker, a Virginia student, studying to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor. They fall in love, she gets pregnant, they marry and move to Ohio where James takes a teaching position at Middlewood College and Marilyn, having put aside her own career ambitions, raises their three children, Nathan, Lydia and Hannah…

Read the entire review here.

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A Secret Falls From the Family Tree, and a Girl’s Identity Branches Out

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-11-25 16:48Z by Steven

A Secret Falls From the Family Tree, and a Girl’s Identity Branches Out

The New York Times
2014-11-23

Ben Kenigsberg, Film Critic

‘Little White Lie,’ a Personal Documentary About Race

The documentary “Little White Lie” would be provocative simply for what it says about race and identity. The director Lacey Schwartz grew up Jewish in Woodstock, N.Y., yet something seemed off. Her peers would ask if she was adopted. At Ms. Schwartz’s bat mitzvah, a member of her synagogue assumed she was an Ethiopian Jew. Her family attributed her darker skin to a Sicilian great-grandfather. Only gradually did Ms. Schwartz, now 37, begin to suspect what might seem obvious to an outsider: that her biological father was black.

“Little White Lie” is, in part, the story of Ms. Schwartz’s evolving view of her background. As a child, she thought of herself as white and even wished for a lighter complexion. College changed that: Although she didn’t declare a race on her application, she says Georgetown considered her a black student based on a photograph. She was welcomed by the Black Student Alliance and began to experience the influence that race has on everyday life.

That shift in perspective might be startling enough, but the movie goes one step further by charting the effect that Ms. Schwartz’s transformation has on her family members and the awkward sense in which her embrace of a biracial identity might be seen as a repudiation of them. The film is a searing portrait of collective denial — a diagnosis from which Ms. Schwartz doesn’t exempt herself…

Read the entire review here.

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Racial divide: It’s a social concept, not a scientific one

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-11-23 17:43Z by Steven

Racial divide: It’s a social concept, not a scientific one

The Washington Post
2014-11-03

Nancy Szokan

Most scientists agree that race is not a biological concept.

As Wikipedia defines it, in an extremely lengthy and extravagantly footnoted entry that surely has been edited and re-edited many times, “Race is a social concept used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation.”

Yet race undoubtedly affects government policies, pervades our social interactions, creates alliances and sets off wars.

We are asked to specify our race (or races) on census forms, medical questionnaires, job applications, college applications, opinion surveys and so on — and the very act of asking the question, sometimes to be answered by just checking a box, can seem to imply that there is a clearly definable, provable answer.

As Robert Wald Sussman puts it in “The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea,” many if not most people would be surprised to learn that race is a social rather than a scientific construct. In his new book, Sussman, a professor of physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, explores how race emerged as a modern social construct, tracing its origins to the Spanish Inquisition and its legacy as a justification for Western imperialism and slavery…

Read the entire review here.

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Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

Posted in Articles, Arts, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-23 17:08Z by Steven

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

The New York Times
2014-05-04

Ben Brantley, Chief Theater Critic

‘An Octoroon,’ a Slave-Era Tale at Soho Rep

Some people are paralyzed by self-consciousness. The playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is inspired, energized and perhaps even set free by it.

You could say that he transforms self-consciousness into art, except then you have to ask what art is, as Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins surely would. How about into entertainment, then? No, that sounds too unequivocally pleasurable and guilt free. Well, let’s just say that Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins turns self-consciousness into theater, and that this is a lot more stimulating than it sounds.

Some degree of self-consciousness is inevitable for any latter-day dramatist taking on Dion Boucicault’sThe Octoroon,” which is what Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins is doing in the exhilarating, booby-trapped production called “An Octoroon” (those articles make a difference!) that opened at Soho Rep on Sunday night. Though a huge hit in this country in the mid-19th century, “The Octoroon” would appear approachable on today’s stages only with a set of very long, sterilized tongs.

It is, first of all, an unabashed melodrama, with all the handkerchief wringing and mustache twirling that term implies. The story it relates is an incident-crammed weepy of forbidden love in the slaveholding South, where social status is measured in drops of blood. (Octoroon refers to someone who is one-eighth black.)…

…The basic plot of this “Octoroon” is Boucicault’s, more or less. Its title character is the beauteous Zoe (Amber Gray of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”), the daughter of a slave and a recently deceased plantation owner. Zoe is beloved both by the plantation’s worldly and gentlemanly new owner, George (Mr. Myers), and by its former overseer, the evil M’Closkey (Mr. Myers again), who wants to buy the place for himself.

That’s Plot A (or most of it; I didn’t mention the local rich girl, played in high burlesque style by Zoë Winters, loves George, too). There’s a Plot B, but I won’t go into detail about that one, except to say that it involves a lovable rapscallion of a slave boy (Ben Horner, in blackface) and his pal, an American Indian, I mean Native American or … heck, I’m all tongue-tied now. Anyway, he’s played by Mr. Wolohan, in redface.

Oh, relax. It’s only a play, isn’t it? Except one of Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins’s points is that nothing that deals with race in this racially conflicted country can ever be reduced to an easy showbiz formula, whether satirical or uplifting. His “Octoroon” invites us to laugh loudly and easily at how naïve the old stereotypes now seem, until suddenly nothing seems funny at all…

Read the entire review here.

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‘A Chosen Exile,’ by Allyson Hobbs [Senna Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-11-22 03:00Z by Steven

‘A Chosen Exile,’ by Allyson Hobbs [Senna Review]

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review
2014-11-21

Danzy Senna

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life By Allyson Hobbs; Illustrated. 382 pp. Harvard University Press. $29.95.

One of the best birthday presents anybody ever gave me was a “calling card” by the conceptual artist Adrian Piper. I was in college at the time, and it felt like the ultimate inside joke handed from one racially ambiguous person to another.

Slim and innocuous as a business card, it reads: “Dear Friend, I am black. I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark. In the past I have attempted to alert people to my identity in advance. . . . I regret any discomfort my presence is causing you, just as I’m sure you regret the discomfort your racism is causing me.”

To be black but to be perceived as white is to find yourself, at times, in a racial no man’s land. It is to feel like an embodiment of W. E. B. Du Bois’s double consciousness — that sense of being in two places at the same time. It is also to be perpetually aware of both the primacy of race and the “bankruptcy of the race idea,” as Allyson Hobbs, an assistant professor of history at Stanford University, puts it in her incisive new cultural history, “A Chosen Exile.”

Hobbs is interested in the stories of individuals who chose to cross the color line — black to white — from the late 1800s up through the 1950s. It’s a story we’ve of course read and seen before in fictional accounts — numerous novels and films that have generally portrayed mixed-race characters in the sorriest of terms. Like gay characters, mulattoes always pay for their existence dearly in the end. Joe Christmas, the tormented drifter in William Faulkner’sLight in August,” considers his blackness evidence of original sin (a.k.a. miscegenation) and ends up castrated and murdered. Sarah Jane, a character in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of the film “Imitation of Life,” denies her black mother in her attempt to be seen as white. Her tragedy once again feels like mixed fate. As her long-suffering mother puts it, “How do you tell a child that she was born to be hurt?”…

Read the entire review here.

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‘Empire of Sin,’ by Gary Krist

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-19 20:25Z by Steven

‘Empire of Sin,’ by Gary Krist

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review
2014-11-06

Walter Isaacson, President and CEO
Aspen Institute

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans By Gary Krist; Illustrated. 416 pp. Crown Publishers. $26.

When Tom Anderson’s saloon opened in 1901, at the entrance to the recently designated sin district known as Storyville on the edge of New Orleans’s French Quarter, people from all over town came to marvel at its opulence. Its cherrywood bar stretched half a block and was lit by a hundred electric lights. With Anderson’s encouragement, high-class brothels were soon flourishing down Basin Street. Josie Arlington, his business partner, had a four-story Victorian mansion with a domed cupola, mirrored parlor and Oriental statues. The exotic, mixed-race Lulu White built a brick palace that specialized in interracial sex and featured the jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton at the piano. Another octoroon (the appellation given to people considered to be one-eighth black), Willie V. Piazza, passed herself off as a countess and sported both a monocle and a diamond choker. Anderson, whose civic spirit earned him the title “the Mayor of Storyville,” published a Blue Book that contained photos and descriptions of the area’s better prostitutes, annotated with symbols (“w” for white, “c” for colored, “J” for Jewish and “oct.” for octoroon). It was all a vivid expression of the city’s tolerance and diversity…

…Through much of the 19th century, New Orleans had been racially progressive, especially for Creoles of color, most of them French-speaking Roman Catholics descended from families that had intermarried with Europeans. From the early 1870s onward, blacks could vote and serve on juries; marriage between different races was legal; and schools, lakefront beach areas and many neighborhoods were integrated. But the advent of Jim Crow laws after Reconstruction created a new dynamic. The reformers of the city’s elite took the lead in passing segregation laws as well as in cracking down on prostitution. In 1908, the State Legislature passed a bill that barred musical performances in saloons, prohibited blacks and whites from being served in the same establishment and excluded women from bars…

Read the entire review here.

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‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-18 19:41Z by Steven

‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review
2014-11-14

Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita
Princeton University

Greenspan, Ezra, William Wells Brown: An African American Life (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014)

If the publishing industry reflects the American zeitgeist, things have changed when it comes to black American historical figures. As a graduate student at Harvard decades ago, I came across William Wells Brown, the fugitive slave, abolitionist, lecturer, travelogue writer, novelist and performer whose wide-ranging intelligence turned a gaze on white people (for a change). Back then he was to be found in only one full-length biography, William Edward Farrison’s “William Wells Brown: Author and Reformer” (1969). Published by the University of Chicago Press in the twilight of the “second Reconstruction” and at the dawning of African-American studies, it depicted Brown as a representative black American. In the absence of the biographical scholarship coming after 1969, Brown’s colleagues remained ill defined. Farrison’s biography was reviewed only in publishing trade papers and a couple of history journals. What was the problem?

It wasn’t Brown’s lack of an interesting life: more on that momentarily. The main problem was that 20th-century American culture accommodated only one 19th-­century black man, a spot already taken by the monumental, best-selling Frederick Douglass. Another problem was theoretical: Farrison published his biography before the flowering of two other fields crucial to a full appreciation of Brown’s public life — the history of the book and performance art…

…The child who would be William Wells Brown was born enslaved in Kentucky, in about 1814, the son of his owner’s cousin. In St. Louis, given the job of tending a young charge also called William, his name was changed to Sandford with the carelessness characteristic of slave naming. As Sandford he worked in his owner’s medical office and on the Mississippi River’s ships and docks. After several unsuccessful attempts at escape, one with his mother, he finally fled St. Louis at about age 19. He retook his own name William and added Wells Brown in honor of the Quaker who had rescued him from starving and freezing in Ohio

Read the entire review here.

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