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, 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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‘Everything I Never Told You’ is Amazon’s book of the year

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-11 18:16Z by Steven

‘Everything I Never Told You’ is Amazon’s book of the year

Reuters
2014-11-08

Patricia Reaney
New York

Nov 8 (Reuters) – “Everything I Never Told You,” the debut novel by author Celeste Ng about a teenage girl growing up in a mixed race family in the American Midwest in the 1970s, was named Amazon’s best book of 2014 on Saturday.

It topped the list of 100 good reads, which included fiction and non-fiction works, selected by editors at the online retailer.

“It is a beautiful book about a family,” Sara Nelson, editorial director of books and Kindle at Amazon.com, said about the novel. “The characterizations are moving. The people are very interesting.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Review: Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-09 23:22Z by Steven

Review: Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture

Slant
2014-02-03

Clayton Dillard, Staff Critic

In 2003, The New York Times published an article entitled “Generation E.A.” which discussed the emergent role of multiracial people in advertising campaigns and concluded by suggesting that they’re an emerging racial category and a stepping-stone key to a race-free future. According to Leilani Nishime, such a notion has become dominant among popular media outlets, which awaits an “inevitable end to race.” For Nishime, these inclinations aren’t only misguided, but a constituent for racial oppression, since “color blindness is not the opposite of racial hierarchies; it is its enabling fiction.” These concerns form the bulk of Nishime’s focus in Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture, an exciting new addition to the canon of critical race studies, which marks the first book-length examination of media images of multiracial Asian Americans.

Nishime’s scope extends across cinema, reality TV, episodic TV drama, advertising campaigns, sports figures, and art installations to offer a comprehensive sense of the representational landscape. Thus, she devotes two chapters to Keanu Reeves, both as a celebrity persona in the 1990s and for his role as Neo in The Matrix trilogy. Within media discussions of both Reeves’s ethnicity and sexuality, Nishime finds that “writers often revert to the queer rhetoric of closeting instead of summoning the racially inflected language of passing to describe Reeves racially.”…

Read the entire review here.

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‘A Chosen Exile,’ by Allyson Hobbs: review

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-11-07 17:24Z by Steven

‘A Chosen Exile,’ by Allyson Hobbs: review

San Francisco Chronicle
2014-11-01

Imani Perry, Professor, Center for African American Studies
Princeton University

Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: History of Racial Passing in American Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014)

Family across the color line: It is now a popular enough theme that it qualifies as a subgenre of memoir. This contemporary motif has a companion in American literary history. Fiction writers beginning in the 19th century took up the phenomenon of black people so light-skinned that they chose to cross over into whiteness permanently. Passing narratives are what such stories are called. In those works, it was an almost universally tragic choice, marking an essential loss of identity.

Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs’ book “A Chosen Exile” lies between those two genres and yet is something else altogether. It is a book that is at once literary, cultural, archival and social, crossing the borders of various approaches to the study of history in order to create a collage of a fascinating yet elusive phenomenon. Intrigued by the story of a distant relative who crosses the color line, Hobbs has followed this interest to explore the practice of passing with detail and rigor. Her writing is elegant, bubbling with curiosity even as it is authoritative and revelatory.

In order to cover this subject, Hobbs had to be innovative. It’s impossible to know how many African Americans passed for white, and how many crossed back over. A creative intellectual, she uses unpublished family histories, anthropological projects, sociological journals, personal papers, correspondence, court cases, newspapers, literature and film to reveal an important set of stories caught in the thicket of race in the United States…

Read the entire review here.

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‘Dear White People’ or ‘Dear Bougie Black People’?

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-05 21:28Z by Steven

‘Dear White People’ or ‘Dear Bougie Black People’?

The Boston Globe
2014-11-04

Farah Stockman

THIS WEEKEND, I saw the new satirical film “Dear White People.” I was curious what it would tell me about how young people view race today.

Each generation plays out the drama of race in the movies. Baby boomers flocked to“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” which raised the question: Could a well-educated black man ever be good enough for a white family’s daughter? The jury was still out in 1967, the year my mom, who is black, saw that movie several times. Two years later, she married my dad, who is white.

Then came my generation. Born in the ’70s, we grew up glued to depictions of black slavery and impoverishment, with the television miniseries “Roots” and the sitcom “Good Times.” We came of age with Spike Lee’sJungle Fever,” released in 1991, which asked the question: Will the gulf between black and white ever be bridged? Lee’s answer seemed to be: Don’t hold your breath. In 1992, I left my predominantly white high school for a predominantly white Ivy League college.

Now we have the millennial generation, the most ethnically diverse, socially liberal cohort America has ever seen; kids who never wondered whether America could elect a black president. About 90 percent report being “fine” with a family member marrying outside the race. Yet, for much of this generation, the civil rights movement is ancient history, and systemic black poverty and incarceration take place on a separate planet. Millennials feel deeply ambivalent about acknowledging race, even for the purpose of righting wrongs: According to one poll, 70 percent feel it’s “never fair to give preferential treatment to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities.” Nearly half of white young people today believe that discrimination against whites has become “as big a problem as discrimination against racial minority groups.” By comparison, only 27 percent of people of color share that belief…

W. E. B. Du Bois famously defined a black man as anybody “who must ride ‘Jim Crow’ in Georgia,’ ” writes Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs in her new book, “A Chosen Exile.” That “raises the question, What would a black man be without Jim Crow in Georgia?”…

Read the entire article here.

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Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Imitation Of Life”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-03 18:57Z by Steven

Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Imitation Of Life”

Madame Noire
2014-07-21

Veronica Wells, Associate Editor

Everybody knows Imitation of Life. It’s the movie plenty of Black families reference when they speak about the original tearjerkers. When you think about it, it’s amazing that a movie that handled subjects such as race and class in such a real way was released during the beginning of the Civil Rights era. And surprisingly the version most of us know and love, the one with Mahalia Jackson, is a remake of a remake. Check out some of the little known facts behind the making of this classic film…

…Fredi Washington

Fredi Washington was the young actress who played a nineteen-year-old Peola Johnson (Sarah Jane Johnson in the ’59 version.) They approached her to play the older version of Sarah Jane in the 1959 remake but she declined because she didn’t want to only be known as the black actress who was always passing for white.

Washington, whose parents were both biracial, had very fair skin and green eyes but she was adamant about the fact that she identified as black. She told the Chicago Defender,

“You see I’m a mighty proud gal and I can’t for the life of me, find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons, if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.”

Washington eventually left acting because she was only offered roles where she had to play the tragic mulatto. And while she was fair and maybe appeared White to others, she was not allowed to star alongside White male leads because she was so vocal about her African heritage.

Sarah Jane

Although many African American actresses were tested, eventually, the role of Sarah Jane went to Susan Kohner, who was of Mexican and Czech-Jewish descent…

Read the entire article here.

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