One of Us

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2014-10-29 01:17Z by Steven

One of Us

Boston Magazine
November 2014 (published 2014-10-28)

Jennifer J. Roberts


Portrait of the author by Jason Grow

I was a typical Southie kid, one of six, born to a single mother, raised in a triple-decker, surrounded by Whitey Bulger’s violence and fierce Irish pride. There was only one thing that kept me on the outside: Despite my mother’s claims to the contrary, we were black.

When I was six years old, I was bused to school at John Winthrop Elementary on the Dorchester/Roxbury line. The school was in a mostly black neighborhood, about 3 miles from the South Boston neighborhood where I lived, but even then I understood it as enemy territory.

My mother had made that clear: She was ­aggressive about her stance against busing, and “those blacks.” By which she didn’t mean us. I was the youngest of six kids, and the darkest, but if you asked my mother, she’d tell you we were Irish. Virginia Roberts was a proud supporter of Jim Kelly and Billy Bulger, hugged them flamboyantly at every St. Paddy’s Day Parade. They would give her a kiss on the cheek. I would cringe. Tall, thin, and attractive, she wore a shamrock brooch on her housecoat. Her kinky hair was usually covered by a kerchief or a wig. Her skin, like mine, was a warm beige in the winter and a deep red-brown in the summer. But we were Irish, she insisted, and nothing else.

Sitting in a neighbor’s kitchen, racial slurs would buzz around like hungry mosquitoes waiting to suck my blood out and leave me cold. Inevitably one would land on my mother. “Why can’t they just stay in their neighborhood? No offense, Ginny,” waving a cigarette at my mother. “You know we don’t mean you!” My mother would swat away their words with indifference; of course they didn’t mean her! She’d scoff right along with them.

When I was a child, the origin of our shared skin tone and hair texture was a mystery. Out on the street, though, kids had theories: “I heard your grandmother was raped by a black man,” they’d say to me, or, “I heard your mother was found on a doorstep and your grandmother took her in.” What was clear to me, even as a little girl, was that my mother wanted no part of our shared racial heritage. The bubble of denial she created for herself was solid Teflon. Everything rolled right off of her and onto me. At home, I was Irish. On the street, I was something different: “jigaboo,” “nigger,” “Oreo,” “Jenny the spook.” These names were spoken to me almost as if they were endearments, nicknames. Nearly everyone in Southie had a nickname.

I was from Southie; I was one of them. I was their black girl…

Read the entire article here.

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Bewildered in Boston

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-04-05 16:59Z by Steven

Bewildered in Boston

HiLobrow
2011-11-12

Joshua Glenn, Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief

Fanny Howe isn’t part of the local literary canon. But her seven novels about interracial love and utopian dreaming offer a rich social history of Boston in the 1960s and ’70s.
 
[This essay first appeared in The Boston Globe's IDEAS section, on March 7, 2004.]

Fanny Howe isn’t wild about her hometown. “Boston is a parochial and paranoid city,” the 63-year-old poet and novelist charges in the introduction to The Wedding Dress (University of California), a new collection of her literary essays. “It doesn’t admit its own defects, and it belittles its own children as a result.”
 
Between 1968 and 1987 the Cambridge-born Howe lectured at Tufts, MIT, and other local institutions while publishing 19 books of poetry and fiction, including a series of seven semi-autobiographical novels obsessively chronicling not just particular Boston neighborhoods but the social, economic, and political tensions that plagued the city in the racially charged ’60s and ’70s. Yet it wasn’t until the University of California at San Diego offered her tenure in ’87 that Howe began to be recognized as one of the country’s least compromising yet most readable experimentalist writers. Since then, she has won the National Poetry Foundation Award, the Pushcart Prize for fiction, and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, among other prestigious awards.
 
Still, she’s never been celebrated as part of Boston’s literary pantheon. “This city is tougher on its own—that’s a sign of its provincialism,” says Howe’s old friend Bill Corbett, an influential local poet and writer-in-residence at MIT. “Fanny had to leave town in order to find her audience.”
 
But Howe says Boston’s reluctance to recognize her work was the least of her worries. In The Wedding Dress, she recounts her experiences as a well-born Brahmin turned community activist, a white woman married to a person of color, and a mother of three mixed-race children during the city’s violent busing crisis—and recalls feeling that she’d never be the same again. “[The late anti-busing activist] Louise Day Hicks and the vociferous Boston Irish were like the dogs and hoses in the South…,” she writes. “Some worldview was inexorably shifting in me.”
 
Her daughter Danzy Senna, whose bestselling 1998 novel Caucasia drew upon her own memories of growing up in Boston in the early ’70s, says Howe “had an epiphany: As the mother of nonwhite children, she was no longer comfortable in the blind spot of the white world. She became a race traitor and a keen analyst of whiteness, in all its complacency and complicity.” As Howe herself writes in The Wedding Dress, she often feels “that my skin is white but my soul is not, and that I am in camouflage.”…

..It was an era of assassinations and race riots, and Boston’s black neighborhoods, where the newlyweds spent their time, sometimes became war zones. (“My white face felt like something I had foolishly chosen to wear to the wrong place,” recalls Henny, protagonist of Indivisible, the last of Howe’s memoiristic novels, of her travels “from Connolly’s to Bob the Chef to Joyce Chen’s and the Heath Street projects.”) Still, Howe and Senna bought a crumbling Victorian on Robeson Street in Jamaica Plain, and quixotically tried to establish their own racially neutral utopia. Senna went to work for Beacon Press, while Howe lectured at Tufts, got involved in neighborhood politics, and filled the house with “Carl’s family and Jamaican, Irish, and African friends of friends,” as she puts it.
 
The couple had three children—daughters Ann Lucien and Danzy, and son Maceo—in four years. Danzy looked white, but Howe encouraged all three children to think of themselves as black, and enrolled them in Roxbury public schools and the late Elma Lewis’s arts programs. (The white mother in Senna’s Caucasia tells her mixed-race daughter, “It doesn’t matter what your color is or where you’re born into, you know? It matters who you choose to call your own.”)
 
But as Howe admits, “Boston was a poor choice of a place to live” for a mixed-race family. “Many times people stopped me with my children, to ask, ‘Are they yours?’ with an expression of disgust and disbelief on their faces.” In a 1985 poem titled “Robeson Street,” she’d recall: “This stage was really hell — the fracas of an el/to downtown Boston, back out again,/with white boys banging the lids of garbage cans,/calling racial zingers into our artificial lights.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The Elizabeth Warren Situation Is More Complicated Than Many Think

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Canada, Identity Development/Psychology, Native Americans/First Nation, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-10-10 21:02Z by Steven

The Elizabeth Warren Situation Is More Complicated Than Many Think

Indian Country Today Media Network
2012-10-10

Laura Waterman Wittstock
Seneca Nation

A ton of ink has been spilled on the subject of the Elizabeth Warren run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Most of the writing on the Indian side of opinion is whether or not Warren has a legitimate claim to her Delaware and Cherokee ancestry. Strong language has emerged on the subject, rightly due to the fact that so many Americans claim Indian heritage without any idea of what being an Indian is all about.

But between the Indian and non-Indian sides of the coin are a million slices of what-ifs and others. Example one: I met a woman whose husband was enrolled in Coweta Creek and got support for his considerable higher education costs. Beyond that, he knew next to nothing about his tribe. He was born into an African American family, married an African American and had a couple of wonderful children. His wife’s question to me was how she could get the children enrolled after they had been informed the children lacked sufficient blood quantum. This mother was interested in her children’s education and wanted them to have all the benefits they might be due as a result of their father’s heritage. I did not have good news for them…

Read the entire article here.

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Race and a Political Race

Posted in Articles, Native Americans/First Nation, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-09-28 21:33Z by Steven

Race and a Political Race

Everyday Sociology Blog
2012-09-28

Jonathan R. Wynn, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Dwanna L. Robertson
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

The Massachusetts Senate race between incumbent Scott Brown and Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren took an unexpected sharp turn this week. Shades of racialized language (reminiscent of the 2008 Presidential campaign) seeped in. This actually started in April, when Brown’s staffers uncovered that Warren claimed she was a minority, implicating her as committing ethnic fraud because she lacked proof of a Native American ancestry.
 
During their first political debate, Brown went straight at this issue in a prepared remark, saying, “Professor Warren claimed she was a Native American, a person of color—And as you can see, she’s not.” With this statement, Brown contends he can identify Native Americans—and other people of color—just by looking at them.

It would be humorous—Did she accidentally forget to braid her hair and wear her moccasins?—if it didn’t have serious undertones cutting at the heart of race and politics in the U.S.. Brown suggests Warren received special consideration for claiming she was part Cherokee. “When you are a U.S. Senator,” he stated, “you have to pass a test and that’s one of character and honesty and truthfulness. I believe and others believe she’s failed that test.” But did Warren fail the test?…

..Back to Brown’s assertion idea that our eyes can tell us a person’s race. Sociologist Mary Campbell has been working on misclassification of race based upon skin tone, finding not only that American Indians experience a high level of misidentification, but that in the process they also experience higher levels of psychological distress…

There is, however, a real challenge when it comes to speaking of how indigenous folk look. It is not just that it’s a bad idea to think facial features are satisfactory markers of race. It is that the emphasis on perception also indicates a complete misunderstanding of U.S. History: People who claim First Nation Heritage are of a mixed ethnic background due to generations of attempted racial extermination, cultural oppression, and a breaking of tribal links to land and community…

Read the entire article here.

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Who Gets To Decide Who Is Native American?

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Audio, Native Americans/First Nation, New Media, United States on 2012-08-10 03:00Z by Steven

Who Gets To Decide Who Is Native American?

Tell Me More
National Public Radio
2012-08-09

Michel Martin, Host

Rob Capriccioso, Washington Bureau Chief
Indian Country Today Media Network

Tiya Miles, Professor of American Culture, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Native American Studies
University of Michigan

A controversy about identity has erupted in the race for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. News outlets revealed Democrat Elizabeth Warren claimed Cherokee ancestry during her academic career, and critics say Warren isn’t providing enough documentation to prove her identity. Host Michel Martin discusses just who is Native American.

Listen to the story here. Download the story here. Read the transcript here.

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Ancestry isn’t the issue in Warren race

Posted in Articles, Native Americans/First Nation, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-06-04 21:32Z by Steven

Ancestry isn’t the issue in Warren race

Concord Monitor
Concord, New Hampshire
2012-06-04

Monitor staff

The flap over Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American ancestry would be a tempest in a teepee if, that is, the Cherokee she claimed to be on some college forms lived in teepees, which they didn’t. The Cherokee didn’t have princesses either, which hasn’t stopped plenty of people over the years from claiming to be descendants of one.

Warren is in a close race with Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown for Teddy Kennedy’s old seat. The Brown campaign, as any campaign could be expected to do, is using her claim of Native American ancestry to question her honesty. But nothing suggests that the fiery consumer advocate ever sought any advantage from her claim. Whether Warren is or isn’t Native American is irrelevant in the context of a run for the Senate. It’s distracting voters from the economic issues voters care about, but it has focused attention on questions about race and identity that society hasn’t resolved…

…Since Warren’s roots are in Oklahoma, a state with 310,000 Cherokee residents, it’s quite likely that she does have a Native American ancestor. So do millions of other people. But there’s a difference between ancestry and ethnicity, culture and identity. One can do nothing about one’s ancestry, but ethnicity and identity require some degree of participation in a group culture and tradition. By that standard, Warren and countless others with a Native American ancestor are not Native American.

The United States has come a long way since states had laws specifying, for example, what proportion of African American ancestry a person could have and be considered legally white – one-quarter to one-half in some states, not one drop of black blood in Tennessee

…In 2000, the Census Bureau recognized that by allowing people to check more than one box when asked to identify their race. Though collecting reliable demographic information about race is important to measure the fairness of elections, the targeting of government programs, for medical research and other reasons, it’s debatable how valuable the census information is when millions of people can legitimately check maybe a half dozen or more boxes. Some of the boxes don’t even indicate race but ethnicity. The bureau specifies, for example, that people who think of themselves as Hispanic, Spanish or Latino can be of any race.

By one expert’s estimate, about one-third of America’s population is multi-racial and that percentage is increasing. Intermarriage has made for some amusing family histories. President Obama considers himself black, but according to the New England Historic Genealogical Society he’s related to Warren’s opponent, Scott Brown, and according to other genealogists, to former vice president Dick Cheney, both of whom are white…

Read the entire editorial here.

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The Myth of Native American Blood

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-06-04 19:26Z by Steven

The Myth of Native American Blood

The Hyphenated Life
The Boston Globe
2012-06-01

Francie Latour

The African-American grandmother of a friend of mine once summed up the laws that govern black identity in this country. “If you ever want to know if someone’s black or not,” she would say, “go ask their white neighbor.”

That succinct, small-town Georgia wisdom essentially outlines the rule of hypodescent, also known as the one-drop rule. The one-drop rule emerged during slavery and hardened in Reconstruction, automatically classifying as black anyone with any trace of African ancestry. It is the reason why, in the 1800s, the extremely light-skinned offspring of white fathers and black mothers were deemed slaves. It’s also the reason why, in 2011, the actress Halle Berry, who is biracial but identifies as black, became a lightning rod of controversy for maintaining that her own daughter, with white Canadian actor Gabriel Aubry, is also black.

The fact that Americans with vastly different complexions know they are black by the number of cab drivers who don’t stop for them as much as by any internal measure is a dilemma on many levels. But for Kim Tallbear, an enrolled member of South Dakota’s Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe and a UC Berkeley professor who studies race, genomics and Native American identity, the tyranny of the one-drop rule poses a specific problem in the ongoing controversy surrounding US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren and her shifting, dubious claims of Native American identity…

…“If you want to understand Native American identity,” Tallbear said, “you need to get outside of that binary, one-drop framework. Native Americans do not fit in that binary. We have been racialized very differently in relationship to whites.”

How do we know Native Americans are racialized differently, Tallbear said? Because a white person—say, Elizabeth Warren, for example—can absorb a Native American ancestor and still maintain an identity as white. If Warren had a black ancestor, that fact would threaten her white identity…

Read the entire essay here.

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Does The Heritage Controversy Tell Us More About Warren Or The Media?

Posted in Articles, Audio, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-05-28 02:36Z by Steven

Does The Heritage Controversy Tell Us More About Warren Or The Media?

Radio Boston
WBUR
2012-05-22

Dan Mauzy, Associate Producer

Hosts

Meghna Chakrabarti, Co-Host

Anthony Brooks, Co-Host

Guests

Kevin Noble Maillard, Associate Professor of Law (member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma)
Syracuse University

David Catanese, National Political Reporter
Politico

Here’s a bit of a problem that political reporters have to contend with: How should we handle those stories that appear to distract from what most regard as the big, important issues of the day? When a particular campaign or a political party fans the flames of one of these sidebar stories in an effort to keep a controversy alive, what should the media do?
 
The story about Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native American ancestry presents one of those challenges.
 
The Harvard law professor who’s challenging Sen. Scott Brown has talked proudly about her Native American heritage, and we’ve learned that she listed herself as a “minority” for nearly a decade back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Warren has tried to explain why and there’s no evidence that Harvard, or any other university, hired her because of her claim…

Read the entire article here. Listen to the interview (00:25:32) here. Download it here.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Birther Moment

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Native Americans/First Nation, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Women on 2012-05-06 23:33Z by Steven

Elizabeth Warren’s Birther Moment

The New York Times
2012-05-04

Kevin Noble Maillard, Associate Professor of Law
Syracuse University

If you are 1/32 Cherokee and your grandfather has high cheekbones, does that make you Native American? It depends. Last Friday, Republicans in Massachusetts questioned the racial ancestry of Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate. Her opponent, Senator Scott Brown, has accused her of using minority status as an American Indian to advance her career as a law professor at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas. The Brown campaign calls her ties to the Cherokee and Delaware nations a “hypocritical sham.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, Warren defended herself, saying, “Native American has been a part of my story, I guess since the day I was born, I don’t know any other way to describe it.” Despite her personal belief in her origins, her opponents have seized this moment in an unnecessary fire drill that guarantees media attention and forestalls real debate…

…The Republican approach to race is to feign that it is irrelevant — until it becomes politically advantageous to bring it up. Birthers question Obama’s state of origin (and implicitly his multiracial heritage) in efforts to disqualify him from the presidency. They characterize him as “other.” For Warren, Massachusetts Republicans place doubts on her racial claims to portray her as an opportunistic academic seeking special treatment. In both birther camps, opponents look to ancestral origins as the smoking gun, and ride the ambiguity for the duration…

Read the entire opinion here.

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Elizabeth Warren says she’s Native American. So she is.

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Native Americans/First Nation, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States, Women on 2012-05-06 23:14Z by Steven

Elizabeth Warren says she’s Native American. So she is.

The Washington Post
2012-05-04

David Treuer

Suddenly many Americans wonder what it means that Elizabeth Warren, who is vying for Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate seat, has identified herself as having Cherokee and Delaware Indian heritage. The claim wasn’t sudden, but the furor is.

Some 20 years ago, she listed herself as a minority in a directory of law professors. Recently the authenticity of her heritage, and her reasons for claiming it, have been called into question on the campaign trail. However, the debate should not be about whether she deserves this minority status, but whether we live in a meritocracy…

…An Indian identity is something someone claims for oneself; it is a matter of choice. It is not legally defined and entails no legal benefits. Being an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, however, is a legal status that has nothing to do with identity and everything to do with blood quantum. Members must meet requirements set by the tribe in consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (Elizabeth Warren is not enrolled in a tribe and doesn’t seem to have sought such status. She doesn’t claim an Indian identity, just Indian ancestry.) Indians who are not enrolled in a tribe aren’t eligible for the aforementioned programs and benefits, including casino profits, education assistance, hunting privileges and housing…

…My father is Jewish, but I didn’t really grow up around any of my Jewish relatives, so claiming a Jewish identity — despite that heritage — would feel strange, presumptuous, disrespectful. On my mother’s side we have an ancestor by the name of Bonga, who was African and ended up at Leech Lake in Minnesota, where he married a woman of the Ojibwe tribe, and where I grew up. Despite this heritage, it would likewise feel very odd to claim that I am African or African American. (I am something like one-156th African.)…

Read the entire opinion here.

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