A Tale Which Must Never Be Told: A New Biography of George Herriman

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-19 14:32Z by Steven

A Tale Which Must Never Be Told: A New Biography of George Herriman

Los Angeles Review of Books
2017-03-18

Ben Schwartz

George Herriman, a Life in Black and White
By Michael Tisserand

Published 12.06.2016
Harper
560 Pages

ON MARCH 4, 1913, Woodrow Wilson took the oath of office and became our 28th president. While we remember Wilson for his internationalist foreign policy and progressive labor laws, he was also the first Southerner elected since the mid-19th century, and his racial policies reflected it. Wilson saw Jim Crow as the necessary remedy to the aftermath of the Civil War. As president, he normalized his revanchist views from the White House by expanding segregation of federal workers. Not surprisingly, 1913 also saw a rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. An excerpt from Wilson’s revisionist writings proclaiming the Klan “a veritable empire of the South” even appears in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a box-office smash which Wilson personally screened at the White House, the first American film ever shown there.

In that reactionary atmosphere, on October 28, 1913, in the New York Evening Journal, William Randolph Hearst debuted a new comic strip, Krazy Kat, by one of his favorite cartoonists, George Herriman. It starred Krazy, an androgynous cat in love with Ignatz, a brick-throwing, cat-chasing mouse. They lived in Coconino County, Arizona, desert mesa country, and Herriman shifted their backgrounds panel-by-panel — night to day, day to night, mountain to desert to town to river — with no rhyme or reason. They spoke in a patois of slang, Elizabethan English, Yiddish, Spanish, French, and tossed off literary allusions. When asked once about his basic upending of the natural order of cats, mice, dogs, time, and space, Herriman summed up his Weltanschauung: “To me it’s just as sensible as the way it is.”.

Krazy Kat’s whimsy caught on quickly in the Age of Wilson, and its large and devoted fan base ranged from high society to poets to school children to the president himself. What none of them knew then was that George Herriman was black. He passed for white most of his life. And what we can only see now, thanks to an authoritative new biography of Herriman by New Orleans historian Michael Tisserand, is that, as far removed from social commentary as Krazy Kat may appear, race was as much on George Herriman’s mind as the president’s…

Read the entire review here.

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A Good Fellow and a Wise Guy

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, United States on 2017-03-13 01:41Z by Steven

A Good Fellow and a Wise Guy

The New York Sun
2006-08-09

William Bryk

Book Review
A Pickpocket’s Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York
by Timothy J. Gilfoyle

George Washington Appo, the once notorious Asian-Irish-American petty criminal who flourished during the last quarter of the 19th century as a pickpocket and swindler, had pretty much faded into obscurity at his death in 1930, aged 73. Even the street where he lived, Donovan’s Lane (better known as Murderer’s Alley) is gone, buried with the infamous Five Points slum beneath the federal courthouses in Foley Square.

Appo resurfaced in Luc Sante’s 1991 best seller, “Low Life,” which briefly presents him as a buffoon, incompetent even as a crook. If Timothy J. Gilfoyle’sA Pickpocket’s Tale” (W.W. Norton, 460 pages,$27.95) serves any purpose, it corrects this slur on Appo’s reputation. Appo practiced pick-pocketing as others practice dentistry or law: He was a thorough professional who picked thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pockets during his career, usually making as much money in a day as the average workingman then made in a year. He was imprisoned four times for pickpocketing, all while still relatively young. He apparently accepted jail as an inevitable cost of doing business…

Read the entire review here.

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‘Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White’: A life as unorthodox as his comic strip

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-12 02:21Z by Steven

‘Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White’: A life as unorthodox as his comic strip

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
2017-02-19

Wayne Wise


Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White” by Michael Tisserand.

Ignatz Mouse: “Hey, this isn’t black coffee!!!”

Krazy Kat: “Sure it is. Look unda the milk.”

Krazy Kat,” created by George Herriman, is one of the most influential comic strips of all time. Centered around the iconic love triangle of Krazy, Ignatz Mouse and Offisa Pupp, the feature ran as a syndicated newspaper strip from 1913 to 1944. To a modern audience the strip can be difficult to understand, if not impenetrable. The pacing and sense of humor of 100 years ago feel foreign to current trends. There are references that were common at the time that are lost to us now. The language used is an idiosyncratic patois of nonsense poetry.

The backgrounds, while beautifully rendered, are a constantly changing surreal backdrop. Characters frequently broke the fourth wall, commenting directly on their status as cartoons. The title character, Krazy Kat, was of indeterminate gender, referred to with shifting pronouns, sometimes within the same sentence. As a whole, Krazy Kat was an ongoing challenge to the reader’s perception of definitions and boundaries.

Creator George Herriman was born in New Orleans in 1880. In the latter part of the 19th century his family moved to Los Angeles where his father worked as a tailor and George began his art career, eventually becoming one of the most famous and celebrated cartoonists in history. This is a distinction that would not have been possible if the truth of his life had been known at the time.

In 1971, while researching Mr. Herriman for an entry in the Dictionary of American Biography, professor Arthur Berger discovered a previously unknown fact. On his birth certificate Mr. Herriman was listed as “colored.” It had always been assumed that he was a white man. Mr. Herriman, to use the terminology of the time, “passed for white” his entire life, at a time when his color would have prevented him from many, if not all, of the achievements he is known for…

Read the entire article here.

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Lost Boundaries (1949)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-11 23:51Z by Steven

Lost Boundaries (1949)

Visual Parables: A leading resource for faith-and-film reviews and study guides
2014-05-24

Ed McNulty

Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 39 min.

Our content rating (1-10): V 0; L 1; S/N 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

Philip Roth’s novel and the film made from it, The Human Stain, were both very much on my mind when I came across at a Hollywood Video store the video of this 1949 film about a “Negro” man and his wife who pass for white for twenty years. Seeing that its producer also was the producer for Martin Luther, I felt that I was led to this discovery, and so purchased it. Turns out this is a good film, based on “a true story” from Reader’s Digest. Made in the same year as the other film exploring the same theme, Pinky, Lost Boundaries is not as well known, possibly because the former boasts a better-known director (Elia Kazan) than Alfred L. Werker and a far more star-studded cast (Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters and William Lundigan. The star of Lost Boundaries was the debut film of an actor who would go on to renown, Mel Ferrer. Like Jeanne Craine, Ferrer was a white playing a Negro, standard Hollywood procedure, even for major Asian roles, as in The Good Earth or Shangri La

Read the entire review here.

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Eric Nguyen Reviews Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith’s ‘The Land South of the Clouds’

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2017-03-09 02:53Z by Steven

Eric Nguyen Reviews Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith’s ‘The Land South of the Clouds’

diaCRITICS: Covering the arts, culture and politics of the Vietnamese at home and in the diaspora
2017-03-06

Eric Nguyen


Author Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith.

diaCRITIC Eric Nguyen reviews The Land South of the Clouds, Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith’s newest fiction novel.

Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith returns to familiar territory in his second book, The Land South of the Clouds. Readers of his previous book, The Land Baron’s Sun, will be acquainted with many of the subjects here: the Vietnam War, the loss of homeland, and even a character, Lý Loc, the elderly patriarch based on Smith’s grandfather who sees his old ways of life dramatically changed when the Communists come to power. But whereas Smith’s first book largely focused on life in Vietnam in the aftermath of war, The Land South of the Cloud explores what life is like for those who left.

The book opens up in Los Angeles. It is June 1979. The Iran hostage crisis is only a few months away and so is the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in American theaters and ten-year-old Long-Vanh is watching his mother, Vu-An, leave as her husband, Wil, sleeps. “You can tell them I’m dead,” she says before asking Long-Vanh to keep her departure a secret and boarding a cab. Torn between loyalties, Long-Vanh races to his sleeping father but is interrupted by the unexpected return of his mother. It was a practice run, she says, before telling him again, “Don’t tell your Dad.”…

The Land South of the Cloud is frank in its depiction of being biracial in a country that often sees only black and white when it comes to race. Like the nameless narrator of James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Long-Vanh isn’t so much as straddled between two worlds of race as alienated by them. Unlike Johnson’s narrator, though, Long-Vanh can’t pass as one race or the other. The result is an experience marked by both outsider status and shame. For Long-Vanh this means being treated as an anomaly at worst or an exotic object at best. As a child, he is called a “yellow nigger” by other Vietnamese kids. As an adult, Long-Vanh notes:

Women were always curious about my kind, and they wanted to know what it was like to sleep with someone like me.  To them, I was something of a curiosity, someone they could lay claim to, like a token, and say, “I’ve slept with one of them.”

Long-Vanh is never truly comfortable with who he is…

Read the entire review here.

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Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America by Sharony Green (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-03-08 01:41Z by Steven

Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America by Sharony Green (review)

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 115, Number 2, Spring 2017
pages 289-291

Elizabeth C. Neidenbach
Department of History & American Studies
University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia

Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America. By Sharony Green. (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2015. Pp. xiii, 199. $36.00 cloth; $24.95 paper)

Remember Me to Miss Louisa opens with an 1838 letter from Avenia White, a woman of African descent, to Rice Ballard, a successful slave-trader-turned-planter. Ballard had recently freed White, Susan Johnson, and both of the women’s children and settled them in Cincinnati. In the letter, White requested financial aid from her former master and the father of her children. She also sent him her love. How, author Sharony Green asks, do we understand this emotional tie between White and Ballard? How do we reconcile Ballard’s actions toward White and Johnson with the fact that he owned, bought, and sold hundreds of enslaved people? More broadly, how do we comprehend sexual relationships between white male slave owners and enslaved African American women and girls? In seeking to answer these questions, Green exposes the ways in which white men served as “hidden actors in the lives of many freed women and children” in the antebellum period (p. 14).

Green uses the story of Ballard, White, and Johnson as one of three case studies to argue that even as sectional tensions over slavery intensified, some white masters made “different kinds of investments in human capital” (p. 6). Such investments were often financial—emancipation, money for resettlement in a free state, or school tuition—but they were also emotional. Without denying the sexual exploitation of enslaved women at the hands of their white masters, Green indicates how “intimacy” with white men provided some enslaved black women with opportunities for freedom and financial support for themselves and their children. Recognition of such gendered paths to freedom is not new, but Green also demonstrates how “emotional and physical closeness” with white men instilled confidence and assertiveness in enslaved women, which helped them navigate new lives as free people, particularly in urban places like Cincinnati (p. 8).

Green contributes to scholarship on gender and slavery through close readings and a creative use of new sources. Her work addresses questions on the prevalence and nature of sexual relations between white masters and enslaved black women that have long interested scholars. Yet, finding evidence to adequately answer these inquiries has proved challenging. Previous studies have relied heavily on public documents, especially court records, and thus often focus on interracial couples in relation to the law. Green, however, looks to personal papers to reveal the voices of the various actors affected by white men’s investment in black women and children.

In addition to the letters between White and Ballard, Green analyzes the memoir of Louisa Picquet, a mixed-race woman purchased at age fourteen by John Williams to be his sexual partner. Upon Williams’s death, Picquet and her children gained their freedom and relocated to Cincinnati. Picquet’s memoir illuminates intimate relations with white masters from the point of view of enslaved women “who maneuvered strategically to survive and maximize the possibility of their circumstances” (p. 64). Green also investigates the experiences of mixed-race children through a study of the ten children of wealthy Alabama planter Samuel Townsend. Using the Townsend siblings’ correspondence with one another and white patrons who assisted them in gaining their inheritance, Green extends her story beyond the Civil War. In doing so, she demonstrates both the privileges provided by Samuel Townsend’s investment in his children and the limits of that privilege in a nation that continued to oppress people of African descent.

Green’s careful analysis of firsthand accounts provides a multilayered perspective on intimate relations between white male slaveholders and enslaved black women and girls. Her attention to Cincinnati shifts the focus on this phenomenon from the South to the Midwest. At the same time, Green often looks to New Orleans for comparison due to the city’s large free people of color population and notoriety for interracial relationships. It is, therefore, surprising that she does not draw on new scholarship by Emily Clark, Kenneth Aslakson, and Emily Landau that has gone far in detangling the…

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Get Out Perfectly Captures the Terrifying Truth About White Women

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2017-03-06 01:52Z by Steven

Get Out Perfectly Captures the Terrifying Truth About White Women

Cosmopolitan
2017-02-28

Kendra James
New York, New York


Blumhouse Productions

There are many scary things about the movie, but scariest of all is its realistic depiction of racism.

Major spoilers ahead.

In Get Out, writer-director Jordan Peele takes 90 minutes to meditate on a lesson Kim Kardashian once spelled out for America via snake emojis and Taylor Swift: White women are not to be trusted.

I’ll let you decide how offended you want to be by that thesis while I spoil the hell out of this movie.

Get Out draws on the terrifying elements you might expect to find in your typical February horror movie release. There’s hypnotism, multiple jump-scares, a Deliverance-style redneck, and an illicit basement surgery where a doctor operates on people’s brains without their consent. As scary as any of these things are, they’re tropes we can all recognize as pure fiction, for the most part. They’re things we’re still more likely to run into in film, books, or television rather than in our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, the horrors of racism and white womanhood aren’t confined to imagination and pop culture. In using both realities in his movie, Peele brings Get Out to a higher level of horror, at least for any person of color in the audience. We’re all keenly aware of how possible it is…

…Jordan Peele is married to and expecting a child with a white woman, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Chelsea Peretti. He’s also biracial; his mother is white. But as he reaffirms in his latest Nerdist interview with Chris Hardwick, Peele sees himself — and experiences the world — as a black man. American history is littered with the bodies of black men jailed, beaten, and killed due to the simple words of white women. “A few months later… two negro boys, ages 8 and 9 were arrested, tried, and sent to reform school for allegedly kissing or allowing themselves to be kissed by a neighborhood playmate, a 7-year-old white girl!” Langston Hughes wrote in 1962. ..

Read the entire review here.

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30 Books #9: Colette Bancroft on Michael Tisserand’s ‘Krazy’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-02 03:07Z by Steven

30 Books #9: Colette Bancroft on Michael Tisserand’s ‘Krazy’

critical mass: The blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors
2017-02-23

Colette Bancroft

In the 30 Books in 30 Days series leading up to the March 16 announcement of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle award winners, NBCC board members review the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Colette Bancroft offers an appreciation of biography finalist Michael Tisserand’s Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White (Harper Collins).

In a surreal desert landscape, a tiny white mouse throws a brick at the head of a black cat. On impact, the cat lifts lightly off the ground, hearts floating in the air above its lovestruck head.

That image, and the story it suggests, might sound slight. But it was the heart and soul of Krazy Kat, a tremendously influential comic strip that ran for more than 30 years at a time when newspaper comic strips were among the most popular American art forms.

Its creator is the subject of Michael Tisserand’s engaging, revealing biography, Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

…In exploring the artist’s life story, Tisserand reveals something that adds even more depth and complexity to the strip: Herriman came from a mixed-race New Orleans family that moved to California during his childhood and ever after passed as white

Read the entire review here.

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A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs (review) [King]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-02-24 01:04Z by Steven

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs (review)

Journal of Southern History
Volume 82, Number 2, May 2016
pages 465-466
DOI: 10.1353/soh.2016.0107

Wilma King, Professor Emerita of History
University of Missouri

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. By Allyson Hobbs. (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. [xii], 382. $29.95, ISBN 978-0-674-36810-1.)

An insightful introduction prepares readers for five deeply researched chapters and an epilogue constituting what Allyson Hobbs describes as a history of racial passing in American life. Two well-developed themes in the text add to its significance. First, Hobbs argues that the perceived need for racial passing changed over time. Before the Civil War, slaves passed to escape bondage, not blackness. Later, the promises of Reconstruction encouraged blacks to believe treatment equal to that enjoyed by whites was imminent. Instead, political disenfranchisement, social intimidation, and economic deprivation followed. Racial passing was a viable option to escape those circumstances. However, during the 1920s the Harlem Renaissance expanded conceptions of racial identity and offered alternatives to passing. The elimination of some racial barriers after World War II rendered racial passing passé. Second, the author calls attention to both the intended and unintended consequences of blacks passing as whites. On one hand, passing offered opportunities for economic gains, but on the other hand, there were social losses associated with leaving families and friends behind. “Once one circumvented the law, fooled coworkers, deceived neighbors, tricked friends, and sometimes even duped children and spouses,” writes Hobbs, “there were enormous costs to pay” (p. 5).

The author contends “the core issue of passing is not becoming what you pass for, but losing what you pass away from” (p. 18). Passing, a performative, subversive, and tactical exercise, required constant vigilance to protect a newly crafted identity from exposure. Eventually, those who passed, temporarily or permanently, faced questions about gains and losses. A variety of historical and literary sources, supplemented by materials from popular and mixed media, make A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life come to life as readers are introduced to racially ambiguous women and men, including Ellen Craft, Henry Bibb, John H. Rapier, and descendants of Sally Hemings and Sarah Martha Sanders, all of whom were interested in acquiring equal opportunities, suffrage, and citizenship, more so than in actually becoming white…

Read the entire review here.

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Passing Beauty

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-02-19 02:22Z by Steven

Passing Beauty

Public Books
2014-07-01

Anne Anlin Cheng, Professor of English; Professor of African American Studies
Princeton University

How do you break a spell? How do you get over the grief of racial, gendered, and childhood injuries? Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Boy, Snow, Bird is not a black-and-white parable but a black-and-blue story. A bruising tale about miscegenation, passing, and beauty, this novel brings to life the idealization and wounding that haunt the American racial psyche, and suggests that the price we pay for this history is nothing less than our own reflection.

Imagine a collision (or a collusion) between Anne Sexton’s Transformations, Nella Larsen’s Passing, and Elizabeth Taylor’s striking and stricken face in the 1957 film Raintree County. The tortured hybrid that would result might resemble Helen Oyeyemi’s new novel Boy, Snow, Bird. What brings these three unlikely predecessors to mind is not simply Oyeyemi’s haunting fusion of passing narratives and fairy tales but also the way this Nigerian-born British novelist harnesses the sonic, the textual, and the cinematic to produce an uncanny world in which the quotidian tips effortlessly into the surreal and vice versa.

In Oyeyemi’s version, Snow is the beloved, glowing, blonde girl-child of a jewelry maker named Arturo Whitman, and Bird is her dark-skinned half sister, whose birth exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans who have been passing as white. The wicked queen is the young bride and new mother named Boy who marries into the Whitman family without knowing their secret and who herself is the victim of a horrendously abusive childhood. The narrative voice shifts between Boy, whose first-person narration opens and closes the book, and her biological daughter Bird, who offers us her point of view in the middle section of the book and who in a sense speaks for her missing sibling, as Snow’s voice comes to us through a series of letters between the half sisters recorded by Bird…

Read the entire review here.

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