Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Ellis]

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, United States on 2016-07-19 00:24Z by Steven

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Ellis]

Utopian Studies
Volume 27, Number 2, 2016
pages 382-386

Cameron Ellis
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Mark S. Ferrara. Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2013. 204 pp. Paper, $29.95, isbn 978-0-7864-6793-8

Mark S. Ferrara’s principle scholarly interests lie within the fields of religious studies and Asian philosophy, as indicated on his State University of New York–Oneonta English faculty page and demonstrated in his other books Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (co-edited with Ronald R. Gray, Peter Lang, 2009) and Palace of Ashes: China and the Decline of American Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). However, it is his interests in rhetoric and political discourse, cultural studies, and world literature that make Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope such an insightful and pleasant contribution to the commentary on and criticism of the outgoing president. Ferrara wastes no time using his resources to contextualize the significance his study of the president has—especially as of 2008, which saw Obama being elected for the first time—by citing a Chinese proverb: “chaotic times make heroes (shi shi zao ying xiong)” (19). Although not mentioned explicitly, this proverb alludes to Obama’s inheritance of an extremely precarious geopolitical situation left festering by the Bush administration. (In fact, even though I wanted him to “go there,” Ferrara steers clear of the dangerous intricacies entwining Obama’s legacy in terms of Bush’s. The first explicit mention of Bush does not even appear until page 99.) Not only is this book a wonderful contribution to the study of American history and political science, but also it is a decidedly welcome addition to utopian studies by way of its analysis of one of the most important figures to date.

The advantage that adopting a utopian analytic in such a case study as Obama is that Ferrara liberates the conversation he seeks to facilitate from regressing into polemics and partisan politics, the kind that one sees most negatively worked out in other works on the president such as Stanley Kurts’s Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (Simon and Schuster, 2010), Dinesh D’souza’s Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream (Regnery Publishing, 2012), and Bob Thiel’s Barack Obama, Prophesy, and the Destruction of the United States (Nazarene Books, 2012), which read into the president signs and symptoms of America’s downfall. While it is quite clear that Ferrara is a champion of Obama, it never feels as though he is hitting his reader over the head with his views. Rather, Ferrara encourages his reader to recall that, regardless of one’s political alliance, Obama ran two successful campaigns on a positive message: hope. One of the greatest strengths of Ferrara’s book resides in his skill of presenting this aspect of the president while refraining from sentimentalism and nostalgia. Instead the reader is offered a well-researched piece of scholarly labor by one of the best in the field of rhetoric and political discourse.

I came to this book as an outsider to American history, but after reading it I feel as though I have a much-improved sense of the American tradition insofar as that tradition is one rooted in idealism. Ferrara helps his reader better understand how Obama captured this idealism and utilized it in terms of his political rhetoric. “Since this is a rhetorical study,” Ferrara writes early on, “… I am grateful to be spared the burden of aligning the word with reality—a task best left to the political pundits. My interest is specifically in the evocation of a better future toward which we progress gradually, one that offers a sort of collective salvation” (14–15). Drawing heavily on Obama’s own writings—namely, Dreams from My Father (2004) and The Audacity of Hope (2008)—Ferrara exercises academic rigor and resists needless sentimentalism by skillfully integrating these popular texts into the web of political speeches and interviews that flood the information highway. Starting in chapter 1 Ferrara grounds his study of Obama’s rhetoric of hope in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition: “Images of collectivist rebellion against the evils of…

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The Faux-Enlightened Free State of Jones

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-16 01:19Z by Steven

The Faux-Enlightened Free State of Jones

The Atlantic
2016-06-28

Vann R. Newkirk II


STX Productions

Matthew McConaughey’s new movie is a predictable but instructive journey of white saviorhood.

“Somehow, some way, and some time, everybody is somebody else’s nigger,” is an actual quote that happens around midway through Free State of Jones. Uttered by Matthew McConaughey’s Newton Knight, a Confederate nurse-turned-deserter-turned-freedom-fighter in defense of one of his black comrades, it’s perhaps the most oblivious remark about race in a film that is remarkable mostly for its astounding oblivion about race. At that point, an hour and change into a narrative slog as thick as the Mississippi swamp where Knight and his diverse buddies hide, it becomes apparent that the film is going nowhere fast.

But to cast Free State of Jones aside as just another bad summer movie might be missing the point. Written and directed by Gary Ross, it’s held back by a slow, disjointed plot that doesn’t quite know what it wants to do, and it betrays no signs of having attempted to develop characters. But with its badness comes a real opportunity for instruction: The film’s ideas about race and its main character Knight are textbook examples of how not to have conversations about white privilege, “allyship,” and black struggle. As such, they invite a closer look…

Read the entire review here.

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Black and White in the Free State of Jones

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-16 00:00Z by Steven

Black and White in the Free State of Jones

Process: A Blog For American History
2016-07-14

Nina Silber, Professor of History
Boston University

I’ll confess: I was fully prepared to be disappointed with the recently-released Free State of Jones. Not out of any disrespect toward the excellent historical scholarship behind the film, including Victoria Bynum’s superb book by the same name which helped inspire filmmaker Gary Ross’ initial interest. Rather, my skepticism stems from a long history of bad Civil War films, a history that includes truly atrocious movies like Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind, and Gods and Generals. As these films attest, Civil War film-making has frequently been an exercise in myth-making and obfuscation: these movies have, repeatedly, erased the central problem of slavery; ignored the critical role of African American slaves and freedpeople in fighting for emancipation; and portrayed Southern whites as the victims of a tyrannical Northern onslaught, both during but especially after the war had ended. These movies fit in a long history of what, in my recent JAH article, I refer to as “the imagined reconstitution of the nation,” an imagining that privileged the sectional reunification of whites while pushing African Americans to the sidelines. Free State of Jones, in stark contrast, generally gets the central historical narrative right and even manages to tell some complicated history in a moving and compelling manner. Most notably, it effectively pushes back on some of the most deeply entrenched myths of all: on the true meaning and significance of Reconstruction

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: Loop of Jade

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2016-07-12 03:17Z by Steven

Book Review: Loop of Jade

Never Imitate: Trying to avoid society’s pigeonholes
2016-07-11

Jackie Law

Loop of Jade, by Sarah Howe, is the author’s debut poetry collection. It includes explorations of family, history, migration and inheritance. Within each work is an inherent restlessness tinged with longing. History, fable, Chinese culture, and modern life are skilfully woven together.

“Something sets us looking for a place. Old stories tell that if we could only get there, all distances would be erased.”

Howe was born in Hong Kong to an English father and Chinese mother, moving to England as a child. Her experience of living with dual roots seeps through…

Read the entire review here.

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Colorblindness is not Progressive: a Review of “The Color of Water”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2016-07-10 00:31Z by Steven

Colorblindness is not Progressive: a Review of “The Color of Water”

The Tempest
2016-06-11

Maya Williams

We should make it clear that the concept of colorblindness isn’t just a white perspective to have or to talk about.

The Color of Water: a Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother (1995) tells the story of a mixed race man named James McBride and his Jewish mother coming of age in a time when mixed race visibility was relatively taboo. This nonfiction novel’s format is such a unique one because while you read it, you can see how fluid time is and how history is capable of repeating itself for generations.

This is such a good book, you guys. After re-reading it, I was struck once more by the intricacies of McBride’s storytelling, the parallels between McBride and his mother, and their human strength. Hands down, one of the most interesting people to read about in this book is Ruth McBride Jordan, the author’s mom…

Read the entire review here.

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The Pain of Passing

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-07-04 21:41Z by Steven

The Pain of Passing

Reviews in American History
Volume 44, Number 2, June 2016
pages 264-269
DOI: 10.1353/rah.2016.0028

Renee Romano, Professor of History, Africana Studies, and Comparative American Studies
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

Allyson Hobbs. A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014. 382 pp. Figures, notes, and index. $29.95.

In the past year, racial passing became the subject of intense media controversy and scrutiny when it was discovered that Rachel Dolezal, then-head of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington, was a white woman who had misrepresented herself as being partly black. In the wake of the media frenzy that followed, commentators took pains to point out that, even though it was unusual to see a white assuming an identity as black, passing itself was nothing new in U.S. history. “The history of people breaching social divides and fashioning identities for themselves is as old as America,” an editorial in the New York Times proclaimed in response to the controversy. But while the act of passing has long been a part of the American story, it has not, until now, been the subject of a sweeping chronological and narrative history. A Chosen Exile by historian Allyson Hobbs succeeds in the ambitious project of crafting a social and cultural history of the most famous version of the practice, that of people of black ancestry who passed as white. Racial passing, of course, was meant to be hidden and to leave no trace. But in A Chosen Exile, Hobbs demonstrates not only that sources exist to recover the history of blacks who assumed white identities, but also that historians have offered a rather onesided story of black-to-white passing that does not mine the experience fully for what it can tell us about the lived experience of racial identity in different eras in American history.

Drawing on creative research in sources—including runaway slave ads, diaries and letters, census and military data, student college records, and novels—A Chosen Exile offers a wide-ranging chronological history of the experience of blacks who passed as white from the late eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. In taking that approach to the subject, it stands out from most of the existing literature on passing. Scholarly work on passing, for the most part, falls into one of two camps: studies by literary and media scholars that explore literary and cultural representations of the practice, such as Gayle Wald’s Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture (2000) or more historical works that take a biographical approach to reconstruct the lives and stories of specific individuals or families who passed as white. Gerald Horne’s The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States (2009), for example, sheds light on the strange life of Lawrence Dennis, a former child-preacher who chose to pass as white and who eventually became an outspoken supporter of fascism in the 1930s. Legal historian Daniel Sharfstein follows the lives of three families who changed from black to white from the colonial era to today in The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America (2012). But A Chosen Exile has a much broader scope. Although Hobbs offers lengthy discussions of some key historical figures, she seeks to bring together as many stories of passing as possible to “reveal larger social, cultural, and national dynamics that would be far less visible if viewed through a lens fixed on the idiosyncrasies of a single person, family, or place” (p. 25).

That approach enables Hobbs to develop arguments about how the meanings and practice of passing have changed over time—arguments that are simply not possible in works that are more narrowly focused. She shows, for example, that passing was a relatively egalitarian practice that both elites and the poor engaged in when circumstances allowed; although, as the book progresses, it is clear that Hobbs has found more evidence to reconstruct the stories of economically privileged blacks than she has for poorer ones. She includes the experiences of both men and women who crossed the color line, and she compares the experiences of those who passed strategically—or who temporarily claimed a white identity in order…

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Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture by Jennifer Ann Ho (review)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2016-07-04 18:13Z by Steven

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture by Jennifer Ann Ho (review)

American Studies
Volume 55, Number 1, 2016
pages 165-166
DOI: 10.1353/ams.2016.006

Jeehyun Lim, Assistant Professor of English
Denison University, Granville, Ohio

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. By Jennifer Ann Ho. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 2015.

Jennifer Ho’s Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture raises timely questions about the category of Asian American at a time when reexaminations of identity categories are being actively carried out in what the feminist theorist Robyn Wiegman calls fields invested in identity knowledges. As Ho explains in her introduction, questioning the definition of Asian American in and of itself is not a new project. The category of Asian American, while rooted in grassroots social movements of the 1960s and meant to counter the demeaning signification of “Oriental,” has been scrutinized, if not solely then most forcefully, by poststructural critiques such as Kandice Chuh’s Imagine Otherwise. Yet Ho’s project differs from existing critiques in at least two regards. First, it consistently illuminates the concept of racial ambiguity—mostly through mixed-race identities and identifications but also through other norm-defying and transgressive identities and identifications emerging variously from transracial adoptees to the definitions of Asian American texts—as the method of exposing and critiquing the multiple exclusions that arise in the vexed project of Asian American self-determination. Secondly, as much as it is invested in bringing into high relief the impossibility of a rigid and exclusionary definition of Asian American, it is likewise equally invested in reestablishing the category as an important site of knowledge production and of social and cultural engagement…

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‘Free State of Jones’ depicts realities of Reconstruction

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-03 20:54Z by Steven

‘Free State of Jones’ depicts realities of Reconstruction

The Post and Courier
Charleston, South Carolina
2016-07-03

Adam Domby, Assistant Professor of History
College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina

Free State of Jones” is the film Reconstruction historians have been waiting for. Reconstruction, which encompassed the decade following the Civil War, is perhaps the most overlooked era in American history. It is the only period that doesn’t have a National Park Service site commemorating it.

Reconstruction, which witnessed the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and the first widespread political enfranchisement of African-Americans, is ripe with stories for filmmakers.

Yet, since the racist celebration of the Ku Klux Klan in “Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Gone With the Wind” (1939), no major Hollywood film has addressed the violence and drama of the era.

Director Gary Ross has begun to fix this oversight by making a Reconstruction film disguised as a Civil War action flick…

Read the entire article here.

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The Agonizing Collision Of Love And Slavery In ‘Thomas Jefferson’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2016-07-03 01:04Z by Steven

The Agonizing Collision Of Love And Slavery In ‘Thomas Jefferson’

Book Reviews
National Public Radio
2016-04-06

Jean Zimmerman

Did Thomas Jefferson dream of his enslaved concubine, Sally Hemings? No one knows. Jefferson himself never wrote a word about his constant companion of almost 40 years. But author Stephen O’Connor gives us a brave and wondrous dream of a novel that renders the fraught subject of their relationship a fascinating, complex and ultimately extremely addictive tale. At the core of O’Connor’s Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings lies a conundrum: How could the author of five words that shook the world — all men are created equal — keep his lover enslaved for decades?

Little is known of Hemings, while Jefferson is — after Lincoln — perhaps the most well documented of any figure in American history. She was the daughter of a slave and a Southern planter, the cousin of the two children whom she served at Monticello and who bore a spooky resemblance to their mother, Jefferson’s late wife. Begun when she was an adolescent, the affair lasted a lifetime, and despite the liberty-espousing statesman’s acute criticism of slavery, he never freed Sally Hemings. Together they produced four living children, who were also born into slavery, but freed upon Jefferson’s death — the only slave family so liberated by him…

Read the entire review here.

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White Savior, Rape and Romance?

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-28 01:41Z by Steven

White Savior, Rape and Romance?

The New York Times
2016-06-27

Charles M. Blow

The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

It tries desperately to cast the Civil War, and specifically dissent within the Confederacy, as more a populism-versus-elitism class struggle in which poor white men were forced to fight a rich white man’s war and protect the cotton trade, rather than equally a conflict about the moral abhorrence of black slavery.

Throughout, there is the white liberal insistence that race is merely a subordinate construction of class, with Newt himself saying at the burial of poor white characters, “somehow, some way, sometime, everybody is just somebody else’s nigger.”

And, by extension, there is the lingering suggestion of post-racialism because, as the author Victoria E. Bynum writes in the book’s preface, the relationship between Newt and Rachel “added the specter of interracial intimacy to the story.”…

Read the entire review here.

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