Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South by Melissa Schrift (review)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2016-04-12 02:30Z by Steven

Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South by Melissa Schrift (review)

Journal of American Folklore
Volume 129, Number 511, Winter 2016
pages 102-103

Jim Clark

Melissa Schrift, Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013)

In the thorough but concise introduction to her book Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South, East Tennessee State University Anthropology Professor Melissa Schrift comes quickly to the following conclusion: “Thus, in my research, interviews with individuals living in Melungeon-related areas resulted in an overwhelming lack of oral history evidence that being Melungeon related to any kind of experiential reality distinct from being Appalachian” (p. 22). The archival material, as well, she says, reinforces the conclusion that “there is simply no evidence that Melungeons existed as a culturally bounded group of people” (p. 22). This being the case, and admitted so early on, one might wonder why she would bother to complete her book about Melungeon identity. Schrift’s purpose, as she states, is to examine the social construction of Melungeon identity especially through the complex and sometimes contradictory lenses of race and class. Specifically, Schrift claims:

In this book I argue that the contemporary revitalization of Melungeon identity borrows from the past to create a new white ethnicity that capitalizes on the cache [sic] of the cultural exotic while underplaying stigmatized aspects of heritage. I trace the ways in which individuals employ genealogy, blood metaphors, narratives of oppression, and physiological traits as they become Melungeon. In this way the process of becoming Melungeon reflects a kind of racial passing from a collectively imagined whiteness to a more desirable non-white, or, perhaps, off-white, otherness.

(p. 28)

In chapters 1 and 2, Schrift explores early media representations of the Melungeons, a mysterious, dark-skinned, presumably mixed-race people living in Hancock County, in northeast Tennessee. Schrift ties these writings, the earliest dating from about 1880, to the literary “local color” movement, an early, nationalistic phase of the progression toward literary realism that focused on the quaint, the atmospheric, the colorful, and the unusual, in language that typically featured large amounts of equally colorful and unusual dialect. “The effect of local color writing in Appalachia, and elsewhere,” Schrift writes, “was to create images of an exotic otherness” (p. 33). One of the earliest and most popular writers to depict the Melungeons was “a female Nashville reporter named Will Allen Dromgoole” who had indeed actually visited Hancock County and talked with the natives. “Dromgoole’s articles were sensationalistic and ethnocentric,” Schrift says, “producing a national template for future media coverage on Melungeons” (p. 38). Continuing in chapter 2 with an analysis of the media representation of Melungeons over the next 100 years, roughly speaking, Schrift reaches a startling conclusion:

A critical analysis of hundreds of Melungeon articles yields an incredible truth—the Melungeon story is a respindled yarn with little or no basis in ethnographic reality. As I examine the context in which the earliest Melungeon articles were written, I argue that the media manufactured a Melungeon legend that has little to do with any lived experiences of an identifiable group of people.

(p. 53)

Much like other perennial mysteries—UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot—the Melungeon legend is largely a socially constructed “media phantasm” (p. 68).

However, this is hardly the end of this fascinating story. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an outdoor drama about the Melungeons, Walk Toward the Sunset, was produced in Hancock County. The brainchild of some members of the Hancock County Resource Development Committee, working with Carson Newman College Professors Gary Farley and Joe Mack High in 1966, the play was regionally popular. It was, however, somewhat controversial locally, especially owing to short-lived bus tours through Vardy Valley, in Hancock County, organized by local businessman and Development Committee member Claude Collins, during which it was suggested that tourists might be able to catch a glimpse of an actual Melungeon. Nevertheless, the impact of the drama on the Melungeon legend, as well as on Hancock County, was large. As Schrift points out: “With the drama, Melungeonness secured a public presence in the community for the first time, and the media gained a foothold to talk about Melungeons in a tangible way” (p. 69).

In chapters 4 and 5, Schrift shifts her focus “from media representations of Melungeons to social constructions of Melungeon identity vis-à-vis…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Coiled Serpent: Poems that Protect, in New Anthology

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2016-04-12 02:13Z by Steven

Coiled Serpent: Poems that Protect, in New Anthology

KCET
Burbank, California
2016-04-01

Mike Sonksen


The coiled serpent serves as a poetic totem to protect the City of Angels. Published by Tia Chucha Press

Over the last five years, a number of books and anthologies have been published to spotlight literary Los Angeles and its rich landscape of poets and writers. The newest anthology is the most extensive yet. Tia Chucha Press has just released, “Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles.” Edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Daniel A. Olivas and Ruben J. Rodriguez, this collection includes 160 poets from well-known seasoned scribes like Wanda Coleman, Kamau Daaood, Michael C. Ford, California State Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, Peter J. Harris, Ruben Martinez, S. Pearl Sharp, Amy Uyematsu and Terry Wolverton to up-and-coming younger bards like Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, F. Douglas Brown, Jessica Ceballos, Chiwan Choi, Francisco Escamilla, William Gonzalez, Douglas Kearney, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Teka Lark, Karineh Mahdessian, Jeffrey Martin, Luivette Resto and Vickie Vertiz.

The book is dedicated to three great writers who have died in the last few years: Wanda Coleman, John Trudell and Francisco Alarcon. The volume’s four-page “Introduction,” is written by Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez and it goes a long way to describe the collection’s spirit…

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana by Carina Ray

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Women on 2016-04-04 00:09Z by Steven

Book Review: Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana by Carina Ray

Africa at LSE
London School of Economics
2016-03-18

Yovanka Perdigao

Yovanka Perdigao praises Crossing the Color Line:Race, Sex and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana for dismantling preconceptions of interracial couples in colonial Ghana.

Carina E Ray’s first book Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana both surprises and delights its readers as it navigates through the lives and politics of interracial couples in Britain and Ghana. It explores how such interracial relationships from precolonial to post-independent Ghana had an enormous impact in the making of modern Britain and Ghana.

The book highlights the evolving attitudes of both British and Ghanaian societies, and how each sought to negotiate these relationships. Despite one being familiar with the topics at hand, one is left surprised as the author explores the micro politics of disciplinary cases against colonial officers who challenged the British Crown by keeping local women; to the making of transatlantic networks in the eve of Ghanaian independence…

Read the entire reveiw here.

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‘The Firebrand and the First Lady,’ by Patricia Bell-Scott

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-04-03 02:40Z by Steven

‘The Firebrand and the First Lady,’ by Patricia Bell-Scott

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
2016-02-19

Irin Carmon


Pauli Murray, in 1946, and Eleanor Roosevelt, circa 1943. Credit Left, Bettmann/Corbis; right, Stock Montage/Getty Images

Patricia Bell-Scott, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016)

The February 1953 issue of Ebony included an article entitled “Some of My Best Friends Are Negroes.” The byline was Eleanor Roosevelt’s, though the headline, apparently, was not. “One of my finest young friends is a charming woman lawyer — Pauli Murray, who has been quite a firebrand at times but of whom I am very fond,” Roosevelt wrote. “She is a lovely person who has struggled and come through very well.” Indeed, nothing was ever easy for Murray, a black woman born in 1910, a woman attracted to women and also a poet, memoirist, lawyer, activist and Episcopal priest. But her tender friendship with Roosevelt, sustained over nearly a quarter-century and more than 300 cards and letters, helped. It is the rich earth Patricia Bell-Scott tills for “The Firebrand and the First Lady,” a tremendous book that has been 20 years in the making.

You could say Pauli Murray was born too soon, and saying so captures the essential injustice of her life, but it would also rob her of credit for making her own time the best she could. “I’m really a submerged writer,” Murray once told her friends, “but the exigencies of the period have driven me into social action.” The granddaughter of a woman born into slavery and a mixed-race Union soldier, Murray was arrested for refusing to sit in the colored section of a bus 15 years before the Montgomery bus boycott and for participating in restaurant sit-ins in the early 1940s, long before the 1960 sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter. She led a national campaign on behalf of a black sharecropper on death row…

Read the entire review here.

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‘The Black Calhouns,’ by Gail Lumet Buckley

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-04-03 02:13Z by Steven

‘The Black Calhouns,’ by Gail Lumet Buckley

Book Review
The New York Times
2016-03-16

Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law
Columbia University, New York, New York

THE BLACK CALHOUNS
From Civil War to Civil Rights With One African American Family
By Gail Lumet Buckley
Illustrated. 353 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press. $26.

In “The Black Calhouns,” Gail Lumet Buckley displays a particularly panoramic view of American society. Daughter of the legendary entertainer Lena Horne, she was raised among show-business royalty. But as the descendant of a privileged and lucky line of well-educated African-American professionals, she also grew up related to or knowing nearly every major figure in the movements for racial, gender and economic equality, from Reconstruction onward.

The name “Calhoun” is mostly remembered today in association with our ardently secessionist seventh vice president, John C. Calhoun, a fiery orator who fashioned his conviction that slavery was a “positive good” into the ideology of states’ rights. His nephew was Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun, a wealthy doctor who owned the slaves whose descendants include Buckley’s and Horne’s maternal line. This link between history’s white founding fathers and the slave families who carried their names into freedom is a story with which most African-Americans are all too familiar, but one that has remained remarkably suppressed as a matter of general public knowledge. Only in recent years have some stories come to light, such as Annette Gordon-Reed’s excavation of Sally Hemings’s genealogy and Essie Mae Washington-Williams’s revelation that Strom Thurmond fathered her by a black family maid…

Read the entire review here.

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Pao by Kerry Young – review

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive on 2016-04-03 01:42Z by Steven

Pao by Kerry Young – review

The Guardian
2011-07-03

Ian Thomson

Young, Kerry, Pao: A Novel (London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011)

Kerry Young’s mesmerising first novel celebrates Jamaica’s ethnic melting pot, and the lost world of Kingston’s Chinatown

Jamaica, where Kerry Young was born in 1955, is an island of bewildering mixed bloods and ethnicities. Lebanese, British, Asian, Jewish and aboriginal Taíno Indian have all intermarried to form an indecipherable blend of Caribbean peoples. In some ways, this multi-shaded community of nations was a more “modern” society than postwar Britain, where Jamaicans migrated in numbers during the 1950s and 60s. British calls for racial purity often puzzled these newcomers from the anglophone West Indies, as racial mixing was not new to them. Jamaica remains a nation both parochial and international in its collision of African, Asian and European cultures.

Young, the daughter of a Chinese father and a mother of mixed Chinese-African heritage, came to Britain in 1965 at the age of 10. Pao, her zingy first novel, lovingly recreates the Jamaican-Chinese world of her childhood, with its betting parlours, laundries, fortune-telling shops, supermarkets and (business being a hard game in Jamaica) gang warfare. The Chinese first arrived in Jamaica in the 1840s, we learn, as indentured labourers. Having escaped this indignity, they set up business in the Jamaican capital of Kingston selling lychee ice cream, oysters and booby (sea bird) eggs. Racial tensions developed between them and their black neighbours; mixed marriages were generally frowned on. Ian Fleming, in his Jamaican extravaganza Dr No, wrote disapprovingly of the island’s yellow-black “Chigroes“…

Read the entire review here.

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Who’s the most photographed American man of the 19th Century? HINT: It’s not Lincoln…

Posted in Anthropology, Arts, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-03-31 00:35Z by Steven

Who’s the most photographed American man of the 19th Century? HINT: It’s not Lincoln…

The Washington Post
2016-03-15

Jennifer Beeson Gregory

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass would become one of the most well-known abolitionists, orators, and writers of his time. He understood and heralded not only the power of the written or spoken word, but also the power of the visual image — especially, his own likeness. He therefore sat for portraits wherever and whenever he could. As a result, Douglass was photographed more than any other American of his era: 160 distinct images (mostly portraits) have survived, more than Abraham Lincoln at 126. Many of these rare, historically significant images are published for the first time in “Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American,” by John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd and Celeste-Marie Bernier.

This book shows all 160 photos and delves into Douglass’s life and passions, including photography. In his writings, Douglass praises Louis Daguerre, who invented the daguerreotype, which made the developing process easier and cheaper, and in turn made photography available to the masses. By the mid-19th century, there were portrait studios all over the Northern United States. Almost everyone in a free state could afford to have their picture taken — even non-whites. Douglass therefore called photography a “democratic art.”…


Unknown Photographer, Honeymoon with Helen Pitts in Niagara Falls, N.Y., August 1884. Albumen print (Frederick Douglass National Historic Site/National Park Service)

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Book Review – Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive on 2016-03-20 16:47Z by Steven

Book Review – Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World

Mixed Race Feminist Blog
2016-03-18

Nicola Codner
Leeds, Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World, Sharon H. Chang, Routledge, 2016, 264pp, £27.99, ISBN 978-1612058481

I was really excited to finally get my hands on a copy of this excellent book which focusses on how to navigate successfully raising Asian multiracial children in today’s world. The main argument of the book is that in order to do this parents must analyse their own understanding of racial issues, and seek to expand their knowledge and awareness in this area so they can adequately support their offspring. Considering the content of the book, the mention of ‘a post-racial world’ in its title can only be taken as tongue-in-cheek since the writer argues throughout the text that the world is anything but this and sets about exposing how white racism continues to be pernicious and pervasive, simply mutating over time rather than weakening in power.

The book is split into an introduction followed by 8 chapters and is based on an interview study conducted by the author with multiracial Asian parents. The study explored multiracial Asian parents’ approaches to parenting in conjunction with their attitudes regarding race. Chang, who is an activist, writer and scholar, is multiracial Asian herself, as is her husband. The study highlighted parents often neglect appropriate conversations around race with their children and thus do not support them in developing good self-esteem and coping skills when it comes to dealing with racism…

Read the entire review here.

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Jackie Kay’s Quest For Her Roots – Theresa Muñoz

Posted in Africa, Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, United Kingdom on 2016-03-20 16:05Z by Steven

Jackie Kay’s Quest For Her Roots – Theresa Muñoz

Scottish Review of Books
Volume 6, Issue 3 (2010-08-12)

Theresa Muñoz

Adopted at birth, Jackie Kay discovered neither of her birth parents were who she’d thought they’d be, her new memoir recalls.

“If you have skin my colour” writes Jackie Kay in her memoir Red Dust Road, “you must be a foreigner.” All of her life, people have asked her where she is from. Glasgow, she’d tell them. Then people would inquire, but where are her parents from? Her parents are from Glasgow and Fife, she’d say. But she would also add that she’s adopted and her birth father is Nigerian. “They’d nod,” Kay says, “with a kind of ‘That explains it’ look”.

Since I moved to Scotland, people have asked me where I’m from. “Vancouver, British Columbia,” I reply. Most leave it at that because they have relatives or friends in Canada and would rather discuss them. But others persist: “Where are you really from?” Once, an older gentleman in the library in Dumfries asked if I was from the Far East. “Yes, I live in Edinburgh,” I replied. He left me alone after that.

It’s not that people shouldn’t ask. I’m happy to tell others that both my parents were born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada, individually, in the Seventies. (They later met in what used to be Simpson’s department store in Toronto.) But the nature of these questions can make you feel like an outsider. As Kay says, “I felt it was being pointed out to me, in a more sophisticated manner, that I didn’t belong in Scotland”.

Other comments are just plain ignorant. Walking down West Princes Street in Glasgow, I passed a man who muttered something about a tan. “Nice tan,” I think he said to me. Kay has also been asked about her tan. In Wigtown a woman asked her and her mother, “Is that lady your daughter? Oh? Your daughter is awful tanned. Is she that colour every day?”

Once or twice things have turned ugly. A fight broke out in Glasgow’s Ashton Lane, when a drunken man asked my Scottish boyfriend where he “bought me”. Kay’s experiences have been much more humiliating. In 1980, during the rise of the British Movement, posters were put up around Stirling University that asked: “Would you be seen with that Irish-Catholic wog called Jackie Kay?” Kay locked herself into her student apartment and was offered police protection.

Racism happens without warning. You never know how to react. Dignity? Fury?…

Read the entire review here.

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Book Review: The ‘R’ Word by Kurt Barling

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2016-03-17 01:39Z by Steven

Book Review: The ‘R’ Word by Kurt Barling

The LSE Review of Books
London School of Economics, London, United Kingdom
2016-03-04

Amal Shahid

As the newest edition to the Provocations series from Biteback Publishing, The ‘R’ Word challenges the idea that we have entered a ‘post-racial’ society in which race no longer represents a significant obstacle to opportunities. Drawing upon his own personal experiences, Kurt Barling questions the often paradoxical prevailing discourses surrounding race and racism in contemporary society. Although Amal Shahid suggests that the resolutely autobiographical nature of the account is occasionally inhibiting, she finds this book a lucid, accessible and effective engagement with issues surrounding racism, written with journalistic flair.

If you are interested in this book, LSE alumnus Kurt Barling will be speaking at an LSE alumni event, ‘The ‘‘R” Word: Racism and Modern Society’, on Tuesday 26 April 2016, alongside Provocations series editor Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, LSE academic Dr Caroline Howarth and LSE’s Student Union Anti-Racism Officer, Jasmina Bidé.

The ‘R’ Word. Kurt Barling. Biteback Publishing. 2015.

Many believe that the society we live in today is a ‘post-racial’ one and that race is no longer an impediment to opportunities. And yet, over the course of the year to April 2015, out of all people stopped and searched by the Metropolitan Police in Britain, about 38 per cent were people of ‘Black appearance’ and approximately 14 per cent were of ‘Asian appearance’. Of these, around 21 per cent of the former and 16 per cent of the latter were subsequently arrested. This implies that the rates of stop and search as well as arrests were significantly higher for non-white subjects, even as recently as 2015 (113)…

…The major strength of the book lies in the particular issues that it addresses, some of which find parallels in several contemporary societies. For instance, Barling demonstrates how over time there has been a denial of racism in public discourse. The growing multiculturalism of Britain has led people to believe that racism in its rudimentary form no longer exists. On the other hand, a parallel discourse has emerged that argues for a White English victimisation. This sense of majority victimisation has become a part of many diverse societies, ranging from the USA to India…

…Being of mixed race himself, Barling makes the question of ‘who speaks for whom’ less controversial…

Read the entire review here.

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