How America Bought and Sold Racism, and Why It Still Matters

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-10-25 20:06Z by Steven

How America Bought and Sold Racism, and Why It Still Matters

Collectors Weekly

Lisa Hix, Associated Editor

Today, very few white Americans openly celebrate the horrors of black enslavement—most refuse to recognize the brutal nature of the institution or actively seek to distance themselves from it. “The modern American sees slavery as a regrettable period when blacks worked without wages,” writes Dr. David Pilgrim, the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and a sociology professor at Ferris State University and the author of Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice, who has spent his life studying the artifacts that have perpetuated racist stereotypes.

The urge to forget this stain on our nation’s history is everywhere. In Texas, McGraw-Hill recently distributed a high-school geography textbook that refers to American slaves as immigrant workers. At Southern plantation museums that romanticize the idea of genteel antebellum culture, the bleak and violent reality of enslaved plantation life is whitewashed and glossed over. Discussions about how slavery led to modern-day racism are often met with white defensiveness. How many times have black people heard this line? “Slavery happened a long time ago. You need to get over it.”

The truth is when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, the economic subjugation of African Americans, and the terrorism used to maintain it, did not come to a grinding halt. The Jim Crow racial caste system that emerged 12 years after the Civil War ended in 1865 was just as violent and oppressive as slavery—and it lasted nearly a century. Up through Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, black people across the country, in Northern states as well as Southern ones, were routinely humiliated, menaced, tortured and beaten to death, and blocked from participating in business and public life. Thanks to smartphone and social-media technology, we’re seeing how such violence continues in 2015, 50 years after the height of the Civil Rights Movement

Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno played the “tragic mulatto” in the 1960 film “This Rebel Breed.”(From Understanding Jim Crow)

…Another caricature was inflicted upon mixed-race women: the “tragic mulatto,” which is based on the “one-drop rule” that says any African American blood in your lineage makes you a black person. In this story, the mixed-race woman grows up living as a privileged white person. When her white father dies, her black heritage is revealed, and she’s enslaved and subjected to violence by white men. Rejected by both racial groups, she’s often suicidal and alcoholic, and she in particular loathes her black side.

Reality, of course, tells a different story. In Understanding Jim Crow, Pilgrim says it’s true that in the days of slavery, mixed-race slaves (usually the illegitimate sons and daughters of their owners), sometimes sold for higher prices, and masters saw these women as particularly sexually desirable, claiming their beauty drove them to rape. Enslaved mixed-race women were also frequently sold into prostitution, and freeborn mixed-race women sometimes became the mistresses of white men under the “plaçage system.” Some people with “Negro blood” worked to “pass” as whites, which helped them get better education, pay, and homes. But throughout history, mixed-race people—who had the slur “mongrels” hurled at them by whites—have been well accepted in the black community: Take for example, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Mary Church Terrell, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Langston Hughes, and Billie Holiday

Read the entire article here.

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Projections of Passing: Postwar Anxieties and Hollywood Films, 1947-1960

Posted in Books, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2016-10-13 20:34Z by Steven

Projections of Passing: Postwar Anxieties and Hollywood Films, 1947-1960

University Press of Mississippi
284 pages
40 b/w illustrations, filmography, bibliography, index
6 x 9 inches
Hardback ISBN: 9781496806277

N. Megan Kelley

How the cinematic act of passing embodied, exacerbated, and sometimes alleviated American fears

A key concern in postwar America was “who’s passing for whom?” Analyzing representations of passing in Hollywood films reveals changing cultural ideas about authenticity and identity in a country reeling from a hot war and moving towards a cold one. After World War II, passing became an important theme in Hollywood movies, one that lasted throughout the long 1950s, as it became a metaphor to express postwar anxiety.

The potent, imagined fear of passing linked the language and anxieties of identity to other postwar concerns, including cultural obsessions about threats from within. Passing created an epistemological conundrum that threatened to destabilize all forms of identity, not just the long-standing American color line separating white and black. In the imaginative fears of postwar America, identity was under siege on all fronts. Not only were there blacks passing as whites, but women were passing as men, gays passing as straight, communists passing as good Americans, Jews passing as gentiles, and even aliens passing as humans (and vice versa).

Fears about communist infiltration, invasion by aliens, collapsing gender and sexual categories, racial ambiguity, and miscegenation made their way into films that featured narratives about passing. N. Megan Kelley shows that these films transcend genre, discussing Gentleman’s Agreement, Home of the Brave, Pinky, Island in the Sun, My Son John, Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Rebel without a Cause, Vertigo, All about Eve, and Johnny Guitar, among others.

Representations of passing enabled Americans to express anxieties about who they were and who they imagined their neighbors to be. By showing how pervasive the anxiety about passing was, and how it extended to virtually every facet of identity, Projections of Passing broadens the literature on passing in a fundamental way. It also opens up important counternarratives about postwar America and how the language of identity developed in this critical period of American history.

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America’s obsession with multiracial beauty reveals our ongoing bias against blackness

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2016-10-09 23:58Z by Steven

America’s obsession with multiracial beauty reveals our ongoing bias against blackness


Robert L. Reece, Ph.D. Candidate
Duke University

Last month, rapper Kanye West posted a controversial casting call for his clothing line, Yeezy, mandating “multiracial women only.” Many objected, arguing that West had insulted darker-skinned black women.

But Kanye was only adhering to something fairly common in a society that still operates under a racial hierarchy: the belief that multiracial people are more attractive—what sociologist Jennifer Sims has termed the “biracial beauty stereotype.”…

Read the entire article here.

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‘MIXED’ Values: Biraciality in Non-Post-Racial America

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2016-10-08 02:26Z by Steven

‘MIXED’ Values: Biraciality in Non-Post-Racial America

Documentary Magazine
International Documentary Association

Caty Borum Chattoo, Co-Director
Center for Media & Social Impact, Washington, D.C.

Filmmakers Caty Borum Chattoo (front left) and Leena Jayaswal (front right) with the first mixed-race couple in North Carolina after the Loving v. Virginia decision.

The comments—and the fetishizing perspectives—were naively unexpected: “What is he?” “Where is she from?” “Are they adopted?” “So exotic.”

These are just a few of the remarks I’ve experienced in my decade-long journey as a white mother who gave birth to two brown children—alternatively called biracial, mixed, mulatto, swirls, black, depending on the perspective and region of the country. The aesthetic input is fairly innocent. But other moments have teeth: white parents and teachers who confuse my brown daughter with the one other girl of color in the ballet class; endless discussions about how I am ill-equipped to care for my daughter’s beautiful biracial curls; and a pattern of events with my then-third-grade son that was impossible for me to understand until I finally picked up a book about unconscious bias that can plague boys of color in school.

Others have shared a full spectrum of unsolicited, strongly held opinions about how my children should identify themselves racially, and how I, their white mother, should impose identities for them: The one-drop rule means they’re black, or they don’t look black enough, or being mixed implies that they will be racially self-hating, confused or the opposite of “pure.” These micro-aggressions—actually not micro at all—have also blended with a steady stream of other moments that can be best explained as overt racism. Still, for the most part, life is good and still innocent for them…

…We hope MIXED will offer a new lens into race and the lives of the first generation of mixed-race kids and families to be counted in the US Census, which has only been possible for 16 years. And the backdrop of today has turned out to be particularly meaningful: In an era in which biracial children are trying to understand both racism and white privilege, how do we explain the socio-political construction of race to a child who identifies as more than one? So, what have we—a brown woman and a white woman working together on a film about race—learned so far along the way, in places like New York and Texas and North Carolina and Maryland and Virginia, against the backdrop of Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter and the historic Obama presidency?…

Read the entire article here.

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This Movie Was Nearly Lost. Now They’re Fighting to Save It.

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2016-09-25 21:44Z by Steven

This Movie Was Nearly Lost. Now They’re Fighting to Save It.

The New York Times

John Anderson

Richard Romain in the 1982 film “Cane River.”
Credit IndieCollect

When it debuted in 1982, “Cane River” was already a rarity: a drama by an independent black filmmaker, financed by wealthy black patrons and dealing with race issues untouched by mainstream cinema. Richard Pryor had even tried to take it to Hollywood.

But since a negative resurfaced two years ago, it has attained a certain mythic quality, connecting a disparate group of people across the country: New York preservationists dedicated to restoring it; a cultural historian in Louisiana devoting an academic paper to it; an archivist in Los Angeles fascinated with it. And the director’s son, the music journalist and filmmaker Sacha Jenkins, who knew about the film but has never seen it, and who has been left with a question no small number of sons have asked about their fathers.

“Who was this guy?”…

Cane River itself is a historically multicultural area in Natchitoches Parish in Louisiana, and the movie, in addition to being a Romeo-Juliet romance, deals with land swindles perpetrated against people of color, and “colorism”— that is, social hierarchy as dictated by skin tone.

“It’s a common issue, because there was a lot of intermarriage and, of course, slavery,” said Carol Balthazar, who was Horace Jenkins’s partner, and whose family history provided the movie’s historical backdrop…

…Ms. Spann watched a bootleg DVD of “Cane River.” “I can’t think of any film that dealt with colorism in such a serious way,” she said. She is writing a paper on “Cane River” for the Louisiana Historical Society, and said some of the scenes seemed too long. Debra I. Moore, who edited the film in 1980, said there’s a good reason for that…

Read the entire article here.

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Not under my roof: Interracial relationships and black image in post-World War II film

Posted in Communications/Media Studies, Dissertations, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-25 20:47Z by Steven

Not under my roof: Interracial relationships and black image in post-World War II film

Northern Illinois University
56 pages
Publication Number: 10008811
ProQuest document ID: 1765648575
ISBN: 9781339455150

Andre Berchiolly

This thesis examines the historical implications of miscegenation and interracial interactions between minority males and white females in Post-World War II independent cinema. Elia Kazan’s studio film Pinky (1949) exemplifies the perceived acceptable studio representations of interracial coupling. My examination of Kazan’s film provides a starting point from which to evaluate other textual situations of interracial interaction, particularly in relation to casting. In contrast, Pierre Chenal’s adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son, Sangre Negra (1951) exhibits key differences in interracial depictions between studio productions and independent productions of that era. After a comparative analysis of Kazan’s and Chenal’s films, further exploration of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) as an unintentionally racialized film, allows for an investigation into the casting of Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea as the primary characters. An analysis of these three films permits an evaluation of depictions of miscegenation and interracial interactions through an independent lens, distinguishing between acceptable mainstream allowances (via institutionalize censorship) of such depictions, and the comparative freedoms allotted to independent productions. This thesis provides an overview of the limitations of studio productions and their failures to adhere to changing social conventions, broadening the current discourse of film analysis from more canonized Hollywood films to lesser known and lesser criticized independent films, as well as establishing an understanding of Western culture’s influence upon the censorship of racial depictions during this period.

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The Ambiguous and the Mundane: Racial Performance and Asian Americans

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-25 02:23Z by Steven

The Ambiguous and the Mundane: Racial Performance and Asian Americans

Contemporary Literature
Volume 57, Number 2, Summer 2016
pages 292-300

Josephine D. Lee, Professor of English and Asian American
University of Minnesota

Jennifer Ann Ho, Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2015. xi + 215 pp. $90.00 cloth; $31.95 paper.

Ju Yon Kim, The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday. New York: New York University Press, 2015. x + 286 pp. $90.00 cloth; $28.00 paper.

Asian American studies scholars such as Karen Shimakawa (National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage), Leslie Bow (Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women’s Literature), Tina Chen (Double Agency: Acts of Impersonation in Asian American Literature and Culture), Joshua Chambers-Letson (A Race So Different: Performance and Law in Asian America), and myself have drawn attention to the theatrical nature of Asian American racialization—the assumed incompatibility between Asian bodies and American loyalties that undergirds racial stereotypes such as the perpetual foreigner or the wartime enemy. The Asian American is imagined as a potential traitor or an economic threat whose essential nature is inherently at odds with American identity and whose apparently successful cultural assimilation is inherently untrustworthy. Throughout their long history, Asian Americans have been subject to the material and psychological consequences of this endgame, whether in the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans or in outlandish expectations for the “model minority.”

Two recent books—Ju Yon Kim’s The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday and Jennifer Ann Ho’s Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture—also envision Asian American racialization as a shifting and dynamic social performance, unpacking what “Asian American” does, rather than just assuming what it is. Both directly challenge fixed notions of racial epistemology as well as provide insightful, original commentary on historical and contemporary Asian American literature and culture.

Grounded in the theories of theatrical phenomenology and Asian American studies, Kim’s Racial Mundane specifically looks at the juxtaposition of Asian American culture (especially Asian American theater) and “everyday” life. Theater is often considered the realm of imaginative pretense as contrasted with the authentic world offstage. But as Kim points out, both theater and life are mainly constituted by repetitive habits and behaviors that define self and action. What Kim calls “the mundane” is the “fusion of the corporeal and the quotidian,” or as she eloquently puts it, “the slice of the everyday carried—and carried out—by the body” (3). For Asian Americans, these ordinary bodily practices are charged with racial significance. Asian exclusion and marginalization was founded on the premise that Asian immigrants and their descendants would never fully assimilate. Kim takes up different instances of this perceived gap between Asian body and American behavior; for instance, she reads the myth of the “model minority” in Justin Lin’s 2002 film Better Luck Tomorrow and Lauren Yee’s biting 2014 satire Ching Chong Chinaman as demonstrative of this racial slippage, whereby Asian American achievement is interpreted both as proof of a successful transition into Americanness and as accentuating a racial difference that belies assimilation.

Though Kim’s examples are largely contemporary, she opens with an analysis of a play that premiered in 1912. Now mostly forgotten, Harry Benrimo and George C. Hazelton Jr.’s The Yellow Jacket was praised in touring productions as well as Broadway revivals, drawing attention for its novel adaptation of the stage devices of Chinese opera as well as Chinese settings and characters. Kim juxtaposes the success of this play’s version of Chineseness with the uncertainty and suspicion with which Chinese immigrants were treated. If the “heathen Chinee” (as Bret Harte called the Chinese immigrant in his popular 1870 poem) was so reviled in early twentieth-century America, how do we explain the popularity of the Chinese characters (played by white actors) in The Yellow Jacket? Key to this contradiction was Benrimo and Hazelton’s inclusion of a “Property Man,” a character who manages the stage set and props while doing ordinary things such as eating, smoking, and reading a newspaper. This novel stage device may well have influenced Thornton Wilder’s creation of the Stage Manager for his…

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All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Census/Demographics, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Social Science, United States on 2016-09-01 01:38Z by Steven

All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

Code Switch: Race And Identity, Remixed
National Public Radio

Leah Donnella

In a country where the share of multiracial children has multiplied tenfold in the past 50 years, it’s a good time to take stock of our shared vocabulary when it comes to describing Americans like me.
Jeannie Phan for NPR

It’s the summer of 1998 and I’m at the mall with my mom and my sister Anna, who has just turned 5. I’m 7. Anna and I are cranky from being too hot, then too cold, then too bored. We keep touching things we are not supposed to touch, and by the time Mom drags us to the register, the cashier seems a little on edge.

“They’re mixed, aren’t they?” she says. “I can tell by the hair.”

Mom doesn’t smile, and Mom always smiles. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.

Later, in the kitchen, there is a conversation…

‘Multiracial’ or ‘mixed’?

In light of Hall’s paper, “multiracial” was adopted by several advocacy groups springing up around the country, some of which felt the term neutralized the uncomfortable connotations of a competing term in use at that point: “mixed.”

In English, people have been using the word “mixed” to describe racial identity for at least 200 years, like this 1864 British study claiming that “no mixed races can subsist in humanity,” or this 1812 “Monthly Retrospect of Politics” that tallies the number of slaves — “either Africans or of a mixed race” — in a particular neighborhood.

Steven Riley, the curator of a multiracial research website, cites the year 1661 as the first “mixed-race milestone” in North America, when the Maryland colony forbade “racial admixture” between English women and Negro slaves.

But while “mixed” had an established pedigree by the mid-20th century, it wasn’t uncontroversial. To many, “mixed” invited associations like “mixed up,” “mixed company” and “mixed signals,” all of which reinforced existing stereotypes of “mixed” people as confused, untrustworthy or defective. It also had ties to animal breeding — “mixed” dogs and horses were the foil to pure-breeds and thoroughbreds.

Mixed “evokes identity crisis” to some, says Teresa Willams-León, author of The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed Heritage Asian Americans and a professor of Asian American Studies at California State University. “It becomes the antithesis to pure.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Our Diversity Isn’t Looking Very Diverse

Posted in Articles, Arts, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-20 23:29Z by Steven

Our Diversity Isn’t Looking Very Diverse

Affinity Magazine

Etienne Rodriguez
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Look alive, True Believers, if the rumors are to be believed, then Zendaya is playing the role of Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-Man movie. This is the latest in a series of black women being cast in traditionally white comic book roles. First it was Candice Patton being cast as Iris West in CW’s The Flash, then Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, followed by Kiersey Clemons being cast in Warner Brother’s The Flash, and now Zendaya. While they’re all great actresses and I can’t wait to see them in action, it’s hard not to notice that only a certain type of black girl is being cast.

We all want to celebrate the fact that black women are getting more roles, but we need to address the colorism in these casting. Zendaya, Kiersey, Tessa, and Candice are all lightskin black women. These aren’t coincidences; these are products of our society’s devaluing of darkskin black women, especially those that don’t meet Eurocentric beauty standards. These actresses received/continue to receive a lot of hate, doused in racism no doubt, but nothing in comparison to what Leslie Jones went through just last month.

Leslie is a darkskin black women with Afrocentric features, and the internet sure as hell wanted her to know it. Through comparison to gorillas, various racial slurs, and general bigotry, she was forced to retreat from Twitter and thus interacting with her fans. Women like her are rarely given the chance to shine and when they are, they’re met with harassment and abuse…

Read the entire article here.

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Barack Obama and Immigrant Blackness: A Catalyst for Structural Change

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-15 20:18Z by Steven

Barack Obama and Immigrant Blackness: A Catalyst for Structural Change

The International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations: Annual Review
Volume 12 (2012)
pages 33-42

Kirin Wachter-Grene, Acting Instructor of Literature
New York University

This essay builds upon an argument I make in my article “Beyond the Binary: Obama’s Hybridity and Post-Racialization” to read Barack Obama through post-colonial scholar Homi Bhabha’s theory of “hybridity” to advance “post-bichromatic racialization.” Obama’s cultural identity is more complex than the limited bichromatic (black/white) ways—such as “multiracial” or “African American”—it is imagined to be. He can be read as a hybrid individual, understood in a multiplicity of ways including as non-bichromaticly multiracial in which his blackness is derivative of African, not African-American heritage, and as a second-generation immigrant. Hybridity values difference without trying to systematize it into hierarchical classifications, thus it suggests potential for structural change to the concept of black racialization. Some may regard the complexity of Obama’s cultural identity to be a moot point due to a consideration that in 2013 his public persona is no longer capable of being discursively manipulated regarding race. However it is crucial to remember that cultural understandings of powerful public figures are never static concepts. All subjects remain full of discursively transformative possibilities. This article therefore seeks to advance a discourse that may eventually complicate the predominant manner in which subjects are categorized as black in the United States.

Read or purchase the article here.

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