Review: Atlantic Families, Race, and Empire

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United Kingdom on 2018-04-20 00:53Z by Steven

Review: Atlantic Families, Race, and Empire

The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History
2018-04-19

Casey Schmitt, Ph.D. Candidate in early American history
College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

Daniel Livesay, Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2018).

A central thread running through Daniel Livesay’s Children of Uncertain Fortune is deceptively simple: Atlantic families structured the development of ideologies surrounding race in the British empire during the long eighteenth century.1 Woven through the book, however, is a richly nuanced exploration of what terms like Atlantic, family, race, and empire meant and how understandings of those terms changed over a pivotal hundred-year period starting in the 1730s. Through institutional records and family papers produced on both sides of the Atlantic, Livesay identifies 360 mixed-race people from Jamaica and traces the lived experiences of a handful of them as they navigated their social and economic position within transatlantic kin networks. Those individual narratives reveal how Britons experienced empire through family ties in ways that shaped their perceptions of race, colonialism, and belonging…

Read the entire review here.

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How to Survive in a World that Doesn’t Want You: Catherine Johnson’s Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Women on 2018-04-01 02:33Z by Steven

How to Survive in a World that Doesn’t Want You: Catherine Johnson’s Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo

theracetoread: Children’s Literature and Issues of Race
2015-10-30

Karen Sands-O’Connor, Professor
English Department
Buffalo State, The State University of New York, Buffalo, New York


“Princess Caraboo” From an engraving by Henry Meyer, after a picture by Edward Bird[1]

If you Google “Caraboo” sometime, one of the sites that comes up is a hypertext edition of an 1817 account of the life of Mary Wilcocks Baker, also known as the Princess Caraboo (http://www.resologist.net/carabooa.htm#N_13_). The mysterious editor of the site (he goes by Mr. X) begins the hypertext with a stern condemnation of the “romantic fictions” that modern versions of Caraboo’s story have presented; and the 1817 account itself acts as a general warning to kind-hearted ladies who take in foreign-looking women. The 1817 version, by John Matthew Gutch, cannot help but admire Mary Wilcocks Baker’s skill at survival and ability to escape detection for so long. At one point he writes, “Cervantes himself could not have expected the realization of so fine a scene” (18). Mr. X, whose other interests include lake monsters in Canada, cannot share in Mr. Gutch’s admiration; he wants to unmask Caraboo as an “imposter”.

This is a copy of Mr. E. Bird’s portrait of “Caraboo” in the clothing that she made as part of her “native” costume. An engraving of this portrait was inserted into John Matthew Gutch’s version of Caraboo’s story, and it is also mentioned in Johnson’s version.

For Mr. X, the reasons why this young woman would have taken on a new identity are irrelevant. To imagine that criminals have honorable motives is nothing more than romantic fiction. But Mr. X—who, interestingly, has himself taken on an alternate identity— has never, if we can take him at “face” value, been a woman. Catherine Johnson, in her recent novel for the young adult audience, The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo, clearly does know what it is like to be a woman, and she shows in her eponymous character a vulnerable, poor, mixed race girl in Britain’s early 19th century who rises above the situation in which she finds herself to not only survive, but thrive…

Read the entire review here.

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Race Policy and [Multi]Racial Americans

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2018-03-18 03:27Z by Steven

Race Policy and [Multi]Racial Americans

David Marx: Book Reviews
2018-01-27

David Marx

Race Policy and [Multi]Racial Americans
Edited by Kathleen Odell Korgen
Policy Press – £18.39

[..] some argue that multiracial identity has the potential to undo race in the United States as long as it attends to social justice and does not present itself as a racially superior category, while other scholars contend that multiracial identity is supportive of White supremacy and is a throwback to earlier, simplistic, and racist conceptualizations of the American mulatto.

Rainier Spencer

I’m almost inclined to embark on this review with just one word: discuss.

The above is the nigh perfect examination question in relation to that of the book’s title, Race Policy and [Multi]Racial Americans, wherein it could be said that each of these twelve, exceedingly well-researched and seemingly provocative essays, act as differing answers.

Admittedly, some may home in more than others, simply due to having been written from a different perspective by an assortment of very fine scholars. But all twelve are undoubtedly designed to make one think, perhaps ponder and no doubt deliberate…

Read the entire review here.

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A Brutal Heritage Finally Revealed

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, United States on 2018-03-18 01:00Z by Steven

A Brutal Heritage Finally Revealed

Book Review
The New York Times
2018-03-16

Sheila A. Kohler


Krystal A. Sital
Elwira Katarzyna Maciejewski

SECRETS WE KEPT: Three Women of Trinidad
By Krystal A. Sital
337 pp. W. W. Norton & Company. $25.95.

When Krystal Sital’s grandfather Shiva Singh suffers a cerebral hemorrhage, her grandmother Rebecca, after 53 years of marriage, reacts with calm indifference. Sital, who reveres her tall, strong and generous grandfather, with his white hair and “skin the color of a sapphire sky,” spends much of her suspenseful memoir, “Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad,” elucidating this response.

With the family patriarch debilitated, Sital’s grandmother and her mother are safe for the first time, able to share their secrets with Sital, who listens, her blood pumping to a “chant I cannot forget.” These vivid memories attack us as they do her, “in waves.”…

…The Trinidad depicted here is rife with prejudice and hate. Hostility persists between the Africans, brought as slaves, and the Indians, who arrived as indentured servants. Those of mixed race are called “mulatto,” “dougla” and “cocopanyol” — “the words are hissed and spat at my family: My grandmother is mixed, my Indian grandfather is not.”…

Read the entire review here.

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Broken identity

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, United Kingdom on 2018-02-26 23:01Z by Steven

Broken identity

The Times Literary Supplement
2018-01-31

Bernardine Evaristo


Afua Hirsch ©Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging (London: Jonathan Cape, 2018)

People of colour raised in the openly racist Britain of the 1960s and 70s often put an identity quest at the heart of their fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction. Joan Riley’s novel about an alienated girl, The Unbelonging (1985), and Caryl Phillips’s pan-European travelogue, The European Tribe (1988), provide powerful early examples. Hanif Kureishi’s first novel, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), opens with the mixed-race protagonist declaring, “My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost”. In her play Talking in Tongues (1991), Winsome Pinnock wrote about an Afro-Caribbean woman who sought to reassemble her fragmented identity back in her parents’ Jamaica. In my own verse novel, Lara (1997), the mixed-race protagonist journeys to her father’s Nigeria to see if she can belong there. Back then, writing in this genre spoke of the dilemma of not feeling accepted in Britain; to the children of immigrants, the seemingly harmless question, “Where do you really come from?”, was seen as a challenge to their British birthright. Jackie Kay’s memorable poem “In My Country” encapsulates one response: “Where do you come from? / Here, I said, Here, these parts” (Other Lovers, 1993).

It is a question I haven’t been asked in decades; I hoped it had died out along with the idea that Black and British was an oxymoron. Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish), however, finds it still tripping out of people’s mouths, as the most “persistent reminder of that sense of not belonging”. The book digs deep into the reasons for this enduring question, skilfully blending memoir, history and social commentary around race, culture and identity. Hirsch writes with an incisive honesty that disproves the idea that privilege can be easily reduced to racial binaries. She fully acknowledges the exclusive pedigree of her own background as a lighter-skinned woman of mixed parentage in a colourist society, who enjoyed a comfortable middle-class suburban childhood with her Ghanaian-born mother and English Jewish father. Her education was private all the way to Oxford University, and led to a first career as a barrister. Ten years ago she became a journalist. Hirsch is ostensibly the successful embodiment of Britain’s multicultural project, but her privileged status has not immunized her from the perniciousness of racism…

Read the entire book review here.

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Latina heroine or black radical? The complicated story of Lucy Parsons.

Posted in Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2018-02-20 00:16Z by Steven

Latina heroine or black radical? The complicated story of Lucy Parsons.

The Washington Post
2018-01-12

Tera W. Hunter, Professor of History and African American Studies
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Lucy Parsons occupies an unusual position in American history: a prominent woman noted as much for her acts of brilliance and bravery as for her evasiveness and contradictions.

Parsons spent most of her life in Chicago, where a park named in her honor calls her the first “Chicana socialist labor organizer.” Born circa 1853, Parsons said she was of Mexican and Indian descent and from Texas — an Aztec genealogy dating before Columbus. Elsewhere she’s been recognized as “the first Black woman to play a prominent role in the American Left.”

These differing narratives are indicative of a life that defies easy categorization and has challenged assessments of Parsons’s legacy…

…With “Goddess of Anarchy,” prize-winning historian Jacqueline Jones has written the first critical, comprehensive biography of Parsons that seeks to peel back the layers of her complex life. Jones amassed an incredible body of records — local, state and federal government documents; prolific newspapers; organizational and personal correspondence; and Lucy and husband Albert Parsons’s extant writings. Through these documents Jones uncovered evidence that Parsons was not of Mexican or Indian ancestry. Her research shows, too, that Parsons was not, as many have thought, born Lucia Eldine Gonzalez but as Lucia Carter in Virginia in 1851. Her mother was black, and her father was white (and probably her slave owner). Her family moved to Waco, Tex., during the Civil War, where Lucia worked as a cook and seamstress in the homes of white families. As a teenager, she married an older, formerly enslaved man, Oliver Benton, a.k.a. Oliver Gathings, and had a child who died as an infant…

Read the entire review here.

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Passing and Being Passed Over in the United States

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-01-30 01:27Z by Steven

Passing and Being Passed Over in the United States

Los Angeles Review of Books
2017-12-15

Kavita Das

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America
By Brando Skyhorse, Lisa Page
Published 10.10.2017
Beacon Press
216 Pages

IN THE YEARS preceding the 2016 presidential election, the “birther” movement that had dogged Barack Obama during his initial run for president raised its ugly head once again, revived by Donald Trump, a bombastic businessman/reality-show celebrity, and one of Obama’s most outspoken critics. Using the platform afforded to him as a rich and powerful white man, Trump made claims that Obama was not an American citizen, calling for him to prove otherwise by producing his birth certificate. This claim was made — and repeated often — despite the abundance of unassailable proof to the contrary.

Trump — and the rest of the “birther” movement — essentially accused President Obama of passing as an American citizen. According to Brando Skyhorse, co-editor of the new anthology We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, passing is the “knowing decision about hiding or omitting one’s background to obtain acceptance into a community.” Skyhorse knows whereof he speaks since he acknowledges engaging in the practice himself. The phenomenon of passing is neither new nor unique to the United States. Age-old fairy tales like “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid” depict young women who pass as something other than their true selves in order to meet their Prince Charmings. Despite our country’s founding documents declaring that “all men are created equal,” endowed with rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” entrenched inequalities and stigmas associated with race, class, and sexuality have helped contribute to a long history of passing in the United States: African Americans and other people of color passing as white, poor people passing as affluent, LGBTQ individuals passing as straight…

Read the entire review here.

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Jefferson’s Three Daughters — Two Free, One Enslaved

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2018-01-29 20:24Z by Steven

Jefferson’s Three Daughters — Two Free, One Enslaved

Book Review
The New York Times
2018-01-26

Mary Beth Norton, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History History
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

JEFFERSON’S DAUGHTERS
Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America
By Catherine Kerrison
Illustrated. 425 pp. Ballantine Books. $28.


Martha Jefferson Randolph
Credit Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Fawn Brodie would be astonished — and gratified. In 1974, her biography “Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History” contended that the third president had fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings. For this, Catherine Kerrison, a professor of American history at Villanova University, accurately notes, Brodie was “excoriated by a cadre of Jefferson experts.” A lot has changed, and largely because of the work of Annette Gordon-Reed, who took seriously Hemings family stories and, bolstered by a DNA study, convinced nearly all scholars, including Kerrison, that Brodie was correct. “Jefferson’s Daughters,” Kerrison’s beautifully written book, takes the relationship’s existence as a given.

And so, to a nuanced study of Jefferson’s two white daughters, Martha (born 1772) and Maria (born 1778), she innovatively adds a discussion of his only enslaved daughter, Harriet Hemings (born 1801). The result is a stunning if unavoidably imbalanced book, combining detailed treatments of Martha’s and Maria’s experiences with imaginative attempts to reconstruct Harriet’s life…

Read the entire review here.

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A Long Way from Home review – Peter Carey’s best novel in decades

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Oceania, Passing on 2018-01-25 04:32Z by Steven

A Long Way from Home review – Peter Carey’s best novel in decades

The Guardian
2018-01-15

Alex Preston

The acclaimed writer’s 14th novel is a nuanced story of racial identity set in postwar Australia

Writers are by nature chameleons, with each new character a new disguise to take on, a fresh skin to inhabit. It shouldn’t surprise, then, that racial passing has such a rich literary history. Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, Passing, is a near-forgotten classic, telling of two mixed-race women, Clare and Irene, who identify as white and black respectively. More recently, we’ve had Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, in which the African American Coleman Silk attempts to pass for a Jewish academic. Then there’s Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill, whose concluding revelation about one of the characters’ racial identities does what all good end-of-book twists ought to, shedding new light on the entire novel.

A Long Way from Home, Peter Carey’s 14th novel, uses the story of a light-skinned Indigenous Australian who has been brought up white to address the country’s brutal history of racism. It seems strange at first that Carey – surely Australia’s greatest living novelist, even if he hasn’t dwelled there for decades – has taken so long to get around to the subject. In a recent interview in the Australian, he said that he’d always felt that it was not the place of a white writer to tell this tale. Then something changed: “You can’t be a white Australian writer and spend your whole life ignoring the greatest, most important aspect of our history, and that is that we – I – have been the beneficiaries of a genocide.”…

Read the entire review here.

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The Ineradicable Color-Line: Danzy Senna’s “New People”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-01-23 03:57Z by Steven

The Ineradicable Color-Line: Danzy Senna’s “New People”

Los Angeles Review of Books
2017-08-01

Gabrielle Bellot, Staff Writer
Literary Hub

Danzy Senna, New People, A Novel (New York: Riverhead, 2017)

IN LONDON IN JULY, at the dawn of a new century, W. E. B. Du Bois spoke in front the Pan-African Conference about the challenges of the era to come. “[T]he problem of the Twentieth Century,” he said, in a statement that would later appear in and come to define his epochal collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, “is the problem of the color-line.” The idea of describing American antiblack racial segregation by the simple, if not even deceptively charming, term color-line, had appeared two decades earlier in the title of Frederick Douglass’s 1881 essay, “The Color Line,” but it would come to be associated particularly with The Souls of Black Folk. So seductive was the phrase for Du Bois that he used it two more times to bookend an essay in the book, “Of the Dawn of Freedom,” but it was, of course, more than a memorable line. The color-line was as explicit as it was psychic, delineated in signs, denials, and public executions as much as it was in one’s choice of path, one’s footfalls, one’s bones and dreams. Racism is merely obvious when it becomes visible; its potential existence follows us, invisibly and phantasmally, when we’ve come to expect it…

The problem of the 21st century in the United States is still the color-line, a line that extends back into prior centuries. This is the age of identity — as all ages have been, really, but the very notions of what it means to have an identity or to be something are now, more than ever, at the fore. But even as we have blurred racial lines in ways scarcely imaginable when The Souls of Black Folk appeared in 1903, we still have our clear-cut demarcations. And in many ways, lines of color, alongside the complexities of what it means to pass as one thing or another, may be what best defines Danzy Senna’s epochal — in its most literal sense — new novel, New People. Du Bois is not an explicit presence in the novel, yet his thematic and political concerns — updated, as it were, for this new era — haunt New People. These themes of passing and racial demarcations informed Senna’s first novel, Caucasia, as well. New People also explores an idea common in Percival Everett’s fiction — the two, incidentally, are married — of reclaiming and repackaging racial stereotypes as a person of color…

Read the entire review here.

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