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…

Tags: , , , , ,

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…

Tags: , , ,

‘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.

Tags: , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Free State of Jones: The Incredible True Story of Newton Knight and His Private Rebellion Against the Confederacy

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-26 23:35Z by Steven

Free State of Jones: The Incredible True Story of Newton Knight and His Private Rebellion Against the Confederacy

People Magazine
2016-06-24

Michael Miller

Free State of Jones brings to life one of the Civil War’s most extraordinary and counterintuitive episodes, in which a Confederate deserter overthrew his former commanders and established a free “state” in his native corner of southeast Mississippi.

Newton Knight, played by a ragged, yellow-toothed Matthew McConaughey, was a poor farmer who, incensed by a new law that allowed landowners to swap 20 slaves for their military service, abandoned his company to lead his own rebellion.

“He looked around at all of his yeoman farmer buddies and said, ‘Do you own any slaves?’ They were like, ‘No.’ He goes, ‘Me neither. I’m not fighting this war. It’s a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. I’m out of here,’ ” McConaughey tells PEOPLE of his character…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Matthew McConaughey Can’t Stop Being a Badass White Savior in The Free State of Jones

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-26 17:48Z by Steven

Matthew McConaughey Can’t Stop Being a Badass White Savior in The Free State of Jones

The Stranger
2016-06-22

Ijeoma Oluo


Watch the magical negroes heal Matthew McConaughey from his wounds that he received while badassing his way into exile.

Ever since the end of the first season of True Detective I’ve really been wanting more Matthew McConaughey in my life. That charming half-smile. That creepy, hyper-intense stare. That unmistakable yet unplaceable southern drawl. I don’t care if it’s laid-back, bongo drumming alright-alright-alright McConaughey, or if it’s riddle-speaking, indecipherable, slightly creepy, brooding McConaughey. I need more Matthew McConaughey.

You know what else I need? Black pain and suffering. I need another movie focused on the brutalization of black bodies filtered through a Hollywood lens. I need the only faces on the screen that look like mine to be crying, screaming, or slack from the noose.

It used to be that I’d have to separate these much-needed experiences of McConaughey and black pain. Dazed and Confused on Monday, The Help on Tuesday. Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past on Wednesday, 12 Years a Slave on Thursday.

But what if you could have it all? What if you could have slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, black pain, black murder, black suffering – and more Matthew McConaughey than you ever thought imaginable?

Dreams can come true. And they have come true in this 139 minute masterpiece of McConaughey-ness: The Free State of Jones

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , ,

Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-24 14:57Z by Steven

Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones’

The New York Times
2016-06-23

A. O. Scott, Film Critic


Matthew McConaughey, left, and Jacob Lofland in “Free State of Jones.” Credit Murray Close/STX Entertainment

Free State of Jones” begins on the battlefield, with a flurry of the kind of immersive combat action that has long been a staple of American movies. The setting is familiar in other ways, too. As a line of Confederate troops marches across a field into Union rifle and artillery fire, a haze of myth starts to gather over the action, a mist of sentiment about the tragedy of the Civil War and the symmetrical valor of the soldiers on both sides of it. But this is a sly piece of misdirection: The rest of the movie will be devoted to blowing that fog away, using the tools of Hollywood spectacle to restore a measure of clarity to our understanding of the war and its aftermath.

Directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) with blunt authority and unusual respect for historical truth, “Free State of Jones” explores a neglected and fascinating chapter in American history. Mr. Ross consulted some of the leading experts in the era — including Eric Foner of Columbia University, whose “Reconstruction” is the definitive study, and Martha Hodes of New York University, author of a prizewinning study of interracial sexuality in the 19th-century South — and has done a good job of balancing the factual record with the demands of dramatic storytelling. The result is a riveting visual history lesson, whose occasional didacticism is integral to its power.

The hero of this tale is Newton Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County, Miss., who led a guerrilla army of white deserters and escaped slaves against the Confederacy during the war. Afterward, he tried to hold this coalition together as a political force in the face of Ku Klux Klan terror. As played by Matthew McConaughey, Newton is an ordinary man radicalized by circumstances. His hollow cheeks and wild whiskers suggest a zealous temperament, but the kindness in his eyes conveys the decency and compassion that lie at the heart of his moral commitment…

…“Free State of Jones” is careful not to suggest that the conditions endured by disenfranchised white and enslaved black Mississippians were identical. The system may be rigged against both, but in different ways. Especially after the war, the alliance proves fragile, as white supremacy reasserts itself with renewed brutality. Its persistence is emphasized by a subplot that takes place 85 years after the war in a Mississippi courtroom, where Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin), a descendant of Newton’s, is on trial for breaking the state’s law against interracial marriage…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Blacks & Jews Entangled

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2016-06-24 00:35Z by Steven

Blacks & Jews Entangled

The New York Review of Books
2016-07-14

Darryl Pinckney

Oreo by Fran Ross, with a foreword by Danzy Senna and an afterword by Harryette Mullen, New Directions, 230 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Google wasn’t around when Oreo was first published in 1974. You are hit with Greek mythology and Yiddish right away and just the look of the pages of Fran Ross’s novel about an Afro-Jewish girl’s quest to find her white father can discourage or intimidate. Oreo, by an African-American writer who died in 1985, promises a degree of difficulty; the chapter titles, paragraph titles (“Helen and Oreo shmooz”), different font sizes, a graph showing shades of blackness, letters, an elaborate five-page menu of a daughter’s homecoming meal, footnotes, and mathematical equations say this is no naturalistic tale of two ghettoes. The protagonist is called “Oreo” not because of the cookie—i.e., because she is mixed-race or reluctantly black, as in black on the outside but white on the inside. Her black grandmother had been trying to give Oreo the nickname “Oriole,” but couldn’t make herself understood to the family.

In addition to Greek myth and Yiddish, Ross makes use of black slang, popular culture of the time, puns, raunch, her own made-up words—but this is not vernacular, not jive. Ross’s voice is literary, and thrilled with itself, joking about Villon or Bellow, totally into what it takes to get up to outrageous parody. Nothing about the narrative is restful; you have to stay on the alert. Oreo is quick, obscure, sly, and every line is working hard, doing its bit. Ross makes Oreo relentless in her shtick. “Oreo was soon engrossed in ‘Burp: The Course of Smiling Among Groups of Israeli Infants in the First Eighteen Months of Life,’ the cover story in Pitfalls of Gynecology.”

In fractured, short chapters, Oreo decides arbitrarily that she has fulfilled a given task and therefore deserves another cryptic clue from her father. Ross gives us not a send-up of Theseus’s journey of labors, but her appropriation of his battles as her structure, her frame for her provocative urban picaresque…

Read the review here.

Tags: , , , ,

On The Free State Of Jones

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-20 22:47Z by Steven

On The Free State Of Jones

The Huffington Post
2016-06-20

Steven Hahn, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of History
University of Pennsylvania

Three quarters of a century ago, “Gone with the Wind,” a film that mythologized an Old South of wealthy planters and obedient slaves, premiered in Atlanta amidst great fanfare and public interest. This week, a very different sort of film about the South of the Civil War and Reconstruction era – “Free State of Jones” — will have its premiere, and as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the War and Reconstruction and struggle through our own time of social and racial divisiveness, the public would do very well to take the film’s measure.

That is because “Free State of Jones,” challenges our many misconceptions of the Civil War and Reconstruction and can promote a dialogue about what may have been possible more than a century ago – and what is very much possible in our own day. “Free State of Jones” is based on a true story of interracial resistance to the Confederacy in Civil War Mississippi. It is the story of how a white farmer from humble origins named Newton Knight came to see how the Confederacy favored the rich planters at the expense of men and women like himself and chose to organize a rebellion aimed at establishing a terrain of freedom, a “free state,” in the county of Jones

…But Newton Knight eventually went further still. The strongest resistance to the Confederacy came, not from poor white folk, but from those who were destined to be its main victims: the slaves. In Mississippi and elsewhere in the Confederate South, they took the opportunity of the War to flee their plantations and farms, head to Union lines, or form maroons in swamps and remote woodlands, denying slaveholders the labor and submission that had been expected. During his own battles with the Confederacy in rural Jones County, Knight forged alliances with African Americans, most specifically a slave named Rachel with whom he developed an intimate relationship and eventually raised a family…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,