One Tough Cookie: Fran Ross’s “Oreo” Written Decades Before Its Time

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-08-08 18:44Z by Steven

One Tough Cookie: Fran Ross’s “Oreo” Written Decades Before Its Time

Lawrence Public Library
707 Vermont Street
Lawrence, Kansas

Kate Gramlich

There are a handful of books I have re-read several times because I found some deep, emotional connection with the characters, and each read is like a conversation with a dear old friend. (I have a dear new friend who revisits To Kill a Mockingbird every year for similar reasons and to see how his opinions on the text change over time.)

Then there are books I have re-read because I just know that I didn’t catch everything the author was throwing down the first time. And I’m here to tell you, folks, that Fran Ross’s Oreo is the queen of those books. Oreo’s heroine’s journey to find the “secret of her birth” had me laughing aloud and wrapping my brain around awesome word puzzles the entire time.

Though originally published in 1974 (more on that later), Oreo was re-printed by New Directions in July of this year, and I was lucky enough to grab it right off our New Fiction shelves at LPL last week…

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: CAUCASIA

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-08-08 04:46Z by Steven

Book Review: CAUCASIA


Bethany Lam

Senna, Danzy, Caucasia: A Novel (New York: Riverhead, 1999)

Two biracial sisters—one light-skinned, one dark—are separated as children. The younger, lighter girl grows into a troubled teenager, but she never forgets her beloved older sister. Can she find her sister again … and with her sister, her self?

Plot Summary:

Seven-year-old Birdie Lee idolizes her big sister, Cole. Growing up biracial in 1970s Boston, she needs Cole’s protection and support to cope with the racial tensions of the time (see “Boston busing desegregation“).

The two girls are so close that they have developed a secret language, “Elemeno.” Together, they dream of a fantasy world, also called “Elemeno,” whose inhabitants can change appearance as needed to blend in and survive. As young children, the sisters retreat to this world to escape the things that threaten them, especially the slow crumbling of their parents’ dysfunctional marriage…

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: “A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life” by Allyson Hobbs

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-08-08 00:33Z by Steven

Book Review: “A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life” by Allyson Hobbs

The Santa Fe New Mexican

Adele Oliveira

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs, Harvard University Press, 382 pages

In the first chapter of The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1903 treatise on race, he famously refers to the “veil” that separated black and white America. Du Bois writes about what becoming aware of the veil means: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Though Du Bois is referring to individuals who are recognizably black, the difficulty of maneuvering dual identities was particularly potent for racially ambiguous Americans — and especially those who chose to “pass” as white, either temporarily or permanently. The complicated practice of passing is the subject of Stanford history professor Allyson Hobbs’ book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. In the book, Hobbs traces the history of passing from the 18th century until roughly the end of the civil rights movement, examining the choice to pass and its consequences…

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-08-07 23:51Z by Steven

Book Review: Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.

Jennifer L. Ruef
Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

Urban Education
Volume 50, Number 6 (September 2015)
pages 776-783
DOI: 10.1177/0042085913519339

H. S. Alim, G. Smitherman (2012). Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. xv + 199 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-199-81298-1.

This review highlights the ways in which race is heard and played to advantage or disadvantage. From Barack Obama’s redefinition of presidential—through his deft linguistic style-shifting—to the ways race is read in the speech of students and the general public, Articulate While Black (AWB) challenges the notion of a postracial United States and persuades the reader that who decides the power of racialized English is an open question. Furthermore, it is a call to action for teachers to change the ways race is heard, leveraged, and celebrated in classrooms dedicated to equity and social justice.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story by Walter Hamilton (review)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Oceania on 2015-07-30 01:58Z by Steven

Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story by Walter Hamilton (review)

The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth
Volume 7, Number 3, Fall 2014
pages 565-567
DOI: 10.1353/hcy.2014.0047

Owen Griffiths

Hamilton, Walter, Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story (Sydney: NewSouth Books, 2012)

What if you felt like you didn’t belong to the society in which you were born and raised? This is the question Walter Hamilton explores in his powerful book about mixed-race children born during the occupation of Japan. Drawing on his long experience living in Japan as a correspondent for the Australian Broadcast Company (ABC), Hamilton weaves personal testimonials into a broader tale about race discrimination in the modern era. He focuses on cases drawn from Kure in southwestern Honshu (the “Kure kids”), which was the center of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) that included a large contingent of Australian troops. This is not just an Australian story, however. Hamilton reminds us that people from many different societies and cultures recoiled in “horror and pity” at the consequences of race mixing, including the Japanese, whose “racial intolerance was fully matched in the nations it fought against” (3).

This story is a tragedy on multiple levels, punctuated by poignant moments of survival, perseverance, and, occasionally, triumph. Japan’s defeat and subsequent seven-year occupation brought the impoverished Japanese, especially women, face to face with thousands of foreign troops, all bigger, healthier, and richer than most Japanese could have dreamed of at the time. The interactions that followed took many forms from rape and prostitution to workplace relationships and chance romance. The offspring of these encounters were the konketsuji (mixed-race children) or ainoko (half-caste or hybrid), boys and girls struggling to survive at the margins of a society already fractured by war, defeat, and occupation. These children were rejected by their communities and often their own families because they looked different, because they were impure. They also suffered the “sins” of their mothers, whom society often ostracized as prostitutes regardless of the true nature of their relationships with foreigners. Abandonment by both mothers and fathers was not uncommon, with reluctant relatives often stepping into the breach to care for them.

Karumi and Joji, the first two Kure kids we meet, exemplified this marginalization. Never knowing their fathers and abandoned by their mothers, the cousins were raised in poverty first by their aged great-grandmother and then separated when Joji was sent to Hawaii for adoption. After a time with her uncle and abusive aunt, Karumi was reunited with her great-grandmother, under whose care she thrived. At school she was a constant target for abuse. An Australian couple adopted her when she was eleven, but she never spoke of her adoption experience. Karumi nonetheless made a career for herself in nursing, married, and raised three children. Tragedy was close by, however. Her husband’s death in an accident left her a widow in her early forties with three kids to feed. She did remarry and continued to develop her career skills. Her comments, when looking back on her first husband’s death, exemplify the hardships of the mixed-race kid. “Remember what you went through as a child,” she said to herself. “Just try to think: ‘This [her husband’s death] ain’t nothing’” (246).

The mixed-race stigma forced on the Kure kids and their counterparts in Japan and elsewhere is a tragic legacy of our obsession with blood purity and skin color. It seems that everyone who came into contact with the so-called scientific racism of nineteenth-century Europe either adopted the concept wholesale or found at least some of it amenable to their own indigenous ideas. A long war filled with race hate intensified these prejudices, which then carried over into occupation policies like non-fraternization and bans on mixed-race marriage. The attitudes of the governments involved in the occupation, Japan’s included, more than matched those of the occupation authorities. They alternated between non-recognition of the children’s existence to prohibitions against immigration and adoption. Australia was particularly harsh in this regard, banning interracial marriage and immigration until after the peace treaty with Japan was signed in 1951, and then only under limited conditions. Some soldiers left Japan unaware they had fathered children. Others abandoned mother and child to their fate. Still others, however, sought to marry and bring their new families back to their homes but were thwarted by…

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Review: ‘Oreo,’ a Sandwich-Cookie of a Feminist Comic Novel

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-07-25 00:59Z by Steven

Review: ‘Oreo,’ a Sandwich-Cookie of a Feminist Comic Novel

The New York Times

Dwight Garner

Fran Ross’s first and only novel, “Oreo,” was published in 1974, four years after Toni Morrison’sThe Bluest Eye” and two years before Alex Haley’sRoots.” It wasn’t reviewed in The New York Times; it was hardly reviewed anywhere.

It’s interesting to imagine an alternative history of African-American fiction in which this wild, satirical and pathbreaking feminist picaresque caught the ride it deserved in the culture. Today it would be where it belongs, up among the 20th century’s lemony comic classics, novels that range from “Lucky Jim” and “Cold Comfort Farm” to “Catch-22” and “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

These sorts of lists have been for too long, to borrow a line from the TV show “black-ish,” whiter than the inside of Conan O’Brien’s thigh.

“Oreo” might have changed how we thought about a central strand of our literature’s DNA. As the novelist Danzy Senna puts it in her introduction to this necessary reissue: “ ‘Oreo’ resists the unwritten conventions that still exist for novels written by black women today. There’s nothing redemptively uplifting about her work. The title doesn’t refer to the Bible or the blues. The work does not refer to slavery. The character is never violated, sexually or otherwise. The characters are not from the South.”

Instead, in “Oreo” Ms. Ross is simply flat-out fearless and funny and sexy and sublime. It makes a kind of sense that, when this novel didn’t find an audience, its author moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s to write for Richard Pryor

Read the review here.

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SCIENTIFIC RACISM REDUX? The Many Lives of a Troublesome Idea

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science on 2015-07-23 01:40Z by Steven

SCIENTIFIC RACISM REDUX? The Many Lives of a Troublesome Idea

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
Volume 12, Issue 1, Spring 2015
pages 187-199
DOI: 10.1017/S1742058X1500003X

Ann Morning, Associate Professor of Sociology
New York University

Nicholas Wade, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. New York: Penguin Press, 2014, 278 pages, ISBN 978-1-5942-0446-3. $27.95.

What, if anything, does Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes. Race and Human History have to offer sociologists?

For most of us, the answer is “nothing.” Because simply put, this is not scholarly work. A Troublesome Inheritance is not an empirically-grounded monograph that offers substantiated arguments, but rather a trade book targeting general readers who are probably not interested in the literature reviews and citations that academics expect. All kinds of claims are made without reference to any supporting evidence or analysis. As a result, the book cannot serve as a source of data or credible theory regarding race, culture, social structure, or the relationship of genes to human behaviors.

But for sociologists of knowledge and of science, A Troublesome Inheritance is a gold mine. These scholars will no doubt delight in discovering the echoes of eighteenth-century race science, nineteenth-century polygenetic and Romantic thought, twentieth-century eugenics and development theory, as well as enduring sexism and the occasional tirade against “Marxists.” This book may also well become a classic for students of racial ideology, right up there with Herrnstein and Murray’s The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994). Both books are poignant cultural artifacts that testify to the ways in which biological science is invoked in the United States to shore up belief in races and to justify inequality between groups…

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Imperfect Unions: Staging Miscegenation in U.S. Drama and Fiction by Diana Rebekkah Paulin (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-07-13 20:00Z by Steven

Imperfect Unions: Staging Miscegenation in U.S. Drama and Fiction by Diana Rebekkah Paulin (review) [Black]

TDR: The Drama Review
Volume 59, Number 2, Summer 2015 (T226)
pages 178-180

Alex W. Black
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Imperfect Unions: Staging Miscegenation in U.S. Drama and Fiction. Diana Rebekkah Paulin. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. 336 pages.

Imperfect Unions is Diana Rebekkah Paulin’s award-winning study of “the symbolic and material implications of interracial unions” in the United States from the Civil War to World War I (3). During this period, interracial sex was often “the black-white headliner that overwrote stories featuring other intersecting relationships,” including those of gender and class (xvi). For example: In her 1892 pamphlet Southern Horrors, Ida B. Wells demonstrated that black men were lynched in the postbellum South not because they were a sexual threat to white women, but because they were an economic threat to white men. Paulin calls the process through which miscegenation came to stand in for such conflict “demographic distillation” for the way it “elided other types of power relations” (x, xiii). Interpreting drama and fiction to investigate “the contours of the color line,” Paulin argues that “the black-white encounter overshadows the complex” identities of, and relations between, all Americans, regardless of their race or ethnicity (xi, ix).

Paulin’s “miscegenated reading practices” draw on performance studies and literary history to examine formally hybrid productions like Thomas Dixon’s play The Clansman, which he adapted from his own novel, and Pauline Hopkins’s Winona, which she began as a play but rewrote as a novel (xiii). If the name Paulin gives to her method is provocative (one may argue how parallel the lines of color and of scholarship are), the method itself is productive. Her approach is consistent with the objects of study, which often make their arguments in theatrical terms — many are filled with spectacular enactments of identity — and with their creators, who worked in multiple media. More than viewing performance as a metaphor, these writers saw their texts as “mediating between the imagined world and the realities of everyday experience” (3): Louisa May Alcott based “M.L.” on the well-known case of a black male professor eloping with a white female student (30); Charles Chesnutt sent a copy of The Marrow of Tradition to Congress (104); James Weldon Johnson wrote The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man while serving as an American consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua (206).

In the first chapter, “Under the Covers of Forbidden Desire: Interracial Unions as Surrogates,” Paulin shows that miscegenation was viewed as a threat to the family and the nation it represented. In the Civil War era, America was figured as a divided house and as a mixed race. The title character of Dion Boucicault’s 1859 play The Octoroon embodies and inspires transgression: the other characters respond to her resistance to classification by revolting against their own classes — and races and genders (13, 10). Both of Alcott’s 1863 short stories, “M.L.” and “My Contraband,” feature white women who desire mixed-race men and their own liberation from patriarchal society (32, 44).

In the book’s second chapter, “Clear Definitions for an Anxious World: Late Nineteenth-Century Surrogacy,” Paulin describes how Americans dramatized national issues on an international stage. In the period between Reconstruction and Plessy v. Ferguson, they imagined Europe as a place where miscegenation originated or where it could settle and be resolved. The ambiguous racial status of the heroines of Bartley Campbell’s 1882 play The White Slave and William Dean Howells’s 1892 novel An Imperative Duty are resolved through marriage. In the former, a man declares his granddaughter (fathered by a foreigner and born abroad) to be his slave’s daughter to hide her illegitimate birth; her whiteness and their property are redeemed when she marries her grandfather’s adopted son (70–71). In the latter, a woman who learns that her mother was an octoroon chooses marriage to a white man and emigration to Europe over the cause of black uplift (87).

In chapter 3, “Staging the Unspoken Terror,” Paulin finds that Americans at the turn of the century connected the future of the nation’s government to the issue of miscegenation (102). This is the first chapter to present texts by a black writer and a white writer who take opposing positions, even if they foresee the same outcome: In Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, a white woman is killed (and rumored to have been…

Read or purchase the review here.

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Before Rachel Dolezal, there was Walter White

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-16 17:24Z by Steven

Before Rachel Dolezal, there was Walter White

The Christian Science Monitor

Randy Dotinga

The man known as ‘Mr. NAACP’ was blonde, blue-eyed and 5/32nd black, all of which provoked an outcry similar to that over contemporary NAACP official Rachel Dolezal.

Walter White, known as “Mr. NAACP,” didn’t look black. He had blue eyes and blonde hair, and his enemies sought to smear him as an opportunist who lied about his race and couldn’t possibly understand the black experience. But the secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People persevered through much of the 20th century and left a stunning if tarnished legacy.

White energized the refined halls of the NAACP, brought together literary stars of the Harlem Renaissance, and helped craft the partial demise of segregation. He battled lynching, convinced politicians to kill the Supreme Court nomination of a racist and hobnobbed with the famous. Sixty years after his death, White is eclipsed in modern memory by other civil-rights leaders. Few know about his remarkable struggle to be seen as the genuine article by other African-Americans, and his vicious battles with fellow leaders like W. E. B. DuBois.

But this month, the ever-bubbling issue of blackness – who has it, who doesn’t, and why it matters – is on tongues across the country amid the roaring debate over Rachel Dolezal, a NAACP official in Spokane, Wash. White’s story resonates as Dolezal, who may not be black as she’s claimed, faces a national storm.

Here are 5 Things to Know about Walter White and Racial Identity, gleaned from his crisply written 1948 memoir A Man Called White and author Thomas Dyja’s perceptive and often-critical 2008 biography Walter White: The Dilemma of Black Identity in America

Read the entire article here.

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‘Mislaid,’ by Nell Zink

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-12 21:45Z by Steven

‘Mislaid,’ by Nell Zink

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times

Walter Kirn

Agata Nowicka

Zink, Nell, Mislaid: A Novel (New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2015). 242 pages.

Toward the middle of Nell Zink’sMislaid,” a screwball comic novel of identity, Karen, a Southern white girl whose lesbian mother has raised her as black for complicated reasons, innocently asks a new friend, as though she were inquiring about her major: “What minority are you?”

“Hispanic,” her friend replies. “We’ve never done the genealogy, but you can tell by my name.”

In context, this is a laugh line, since the book has already answered, in a hundred ways, the question of what exactly is in a name: Nothing. Names mean nothing. They are labels stamped on mysteries, absurdly reductive and misleading. The same goes for racial and gender designations, which, in the book, are infallibly irrelevant to the highly individual business of living and loving according to our instincts rather than larger, social expectations. In “Mislaid” everyone is a minority — of one…

…When Peggy finally leaves her husband, afraid that he’ll commit her to a psych ward for various acts of dramatic exasperation (including driving their car into the lake), she takes their daughter but leaves their son behind, setting the stage for a latter-day fairy tale thick with misunderstandings and coincidences, concealments and revelations. Rigging up the machinery of this plot consumes a lot of narrative energy and asks us to suspend our disbelief to greater and greater degrees, changing the book from a comedy of manners into an outright comedy of errors. Peggy moves into an abandoned house in a historically black rural settlement and gets her hands on a dead child’s birth certificate, which she uses to conceal her daughter’s past. She renames herself Meg and her daughter becomes “Karen,” who, per the stolen certificate, is black. “Maybe you have to be from the South to get your head around blond black people,” the helpful narrator chimes in by way of quieting readers’ skepticism. “Virginia was settled before slavery began, and it was diverse. There were tawny black people with hazel eyes. Black people with auburn hair, skin like butter and eyes of deep blue green. Blond, blue-eyed black people resembling a recent chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. The only way to tell white from colored for purposes of segregation was the one-drop rule: If one of your ancestors was black — ever in the history of the world, all the way back to Noah’s son Ham — so were you.”…

Read the entire review here.

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