Uncovering a Tale of Rocket Science, Race and the ’60s

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-05-22 22:33Z by Steven

Uncovering a Tale of Rocket Science, Race and the ’60s

The New York Times
2016-05-22

Cara Buckley, Culture Reporter


Janelle Monáe, left, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures,” which is slated for release in January. Credit Hopper Stone/20th Century Fox

ATLANTA — Taraji P. Henson hates math, and Octavia Spencer has a paralyzing fear of calculus, but that didn’t stop either actress from playing two of the most important mathematicians the world hasn’t ever known.

Both women are starring in “Hidden Figures,” a forthcoming film that tells the astonishing true story of female African-American mathematicians who were invaluable to NASA’s space program in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s.

Ms. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a math savant who calculated rocket trajectories for, among other spaceflights, the Apollo trips to the moon. Ms. Spencer plays her supervisor, Dorothy Vaughan, and the R&B star Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, a trailblazing engineer who worked at the agency, too.

Slated for wide release in January, the film is based on the book of the same title, to be published this fall, by Margot Lee Shetterly. The author grew up knowing Ms. Johnson in Hampton, Va., but only recently learned about her outsize impact on America’s space race…

Read the entire article here.

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Long Time Passing

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-05-09 14:22Z by Steven

Long Time Passing

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
2009-01-23

Amy Finnerty

Baz Dreisinger, Near Black: White-to-Black Passing in American Culture (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008).

How black is Eminem? How white is our president? We can’t help asking these awkward questions as we digest “Near Black,” by Baz Dreisinger. A freelance journalist and an assistant professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, she explores cases of “reverse racial passing” — as distinct from the more conventional, black-as-white “passing,” for so long a feature of our tortured society. Presenting “narratives about white people who either envision themselves or are envisioned by others as being or becoming black,” and drawing on examples ranging from Twain’sPudd’nhead Wilson” to the sophomoric genre film “Soul Man,” she argues that the appropriation of black identity by whites — both literally and metaphorically — has been a potent strain in American culture for centuries.

The term “white passing” is broadly defined here. A white journalist with dyed skin infiltrating black precincts and writing about it is passing. So is a “jive-slanging” white D.J. A white immigrant sold into slavery in the early 19th century (a case of “coerced passing”) also has a place in Dreisinger’s compendium of racial mix-ups, satires and cautionary tales…

Read the entire review here.

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‘Ladivine,’ by Marie NDiaye

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive on 2016-05-09 13:34Z by Steven

‘Ladivine,’ by Marie NDiaye

Book Review
The New York Times
2016-05-05

Patrick McGrath

LADIVINE
By Marie NDiaye
Translated by Jordan Stump
276 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.

Marie NDiaye is the author of more than a dozen plays and works of fiction. Currently living in Berlin, having left France in 2009, by her own account in disgust at Nicolas Sarkozy’s election to the presidency, she is the daughter of a French mother and a Senegalese father. As yet, she is little known in this country, although at least four of her previous books — including “Three Strong Women,” which won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt, and “Rosie Carpe,” winner of the Prix Femina — have been translated into English.

NDiaye’s new novel, “Ladivine,” has been elegantly translated by Jordan Stump. It is a work of immense power and mystery, an account of four generations of women, the first of whom, Ladivine Sylla, immigrates from a tropical third-world country to France, where she works as a house cleaner. Her daughter, Malinka, is ashamed of her. As a teenager, Malinka heightens the natural pallor of her face with makeup in order to pass for white, and later she reinvents herself as Clarisse, finding a French husband and taking his name, becoming Clarisse Rivière. She visits her mother in secret, allowing no contact with either her husband or her daughter. This ambivalent relationship is one she both sustains and repudiates…

Read the entire review here.

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Paperback Row

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-05-04 02:10Z by Steven

Paperback Row

Book Review
The New York Times
2016-04-29

Joumana Khatib

Seven new paperbacks to check out this week…

A CHOSEN EXILE: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, by Allyson Hobbs. (Harvard University, $16.95.) People who chose to “pass” were intentionally clandestine and left few clues of their histories, but here, Hobbs, a historian at Stanford, delves into the fraught history of African-Americans who passed as white in the 19th and 20th centuries, with a focus on the black families and identities that were left behind…

Read the entire article here.

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The Digital Afterlife of Lost Family Photos

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, United States on 2016-05-01 17:18Z by Steven

The Digital Afterlife of Lost Family Photos

On Photography
The New York Times Magazine
2016-04-26

Teju Cole


The backs of found photos from the writer’s “Mrs. X” collection. Credit Jens Mortensen for The New York Times

The photographs were Polaroids, taken between the 1970s and the 2000s. Zun Lee bought them at flea markets, at garage sales or on eBay. Most of them depicted African-Americans: people wearing stylish clothes, relaxing in the yard, celebrating birthdays. A few depicted people in prison uniforms. All the photographs had somehow been separated from their original owners and had become what Lee calls “orphaned Polaroids.”

Found photographs have long been important to artists like Lee. Photos taken by amateurs can sometimes acquire new value on account of their uniqueness, their age or simply the knowledge that they were once meaningful to a stranger. As part of a group, they can evoke a collector’s sensibility or tell us something about a historical period in a way professional photographs might not. For Lee, collecting found photographs of African-­Americans — a project he called “Fade Resistance” — had an additional and deeply personal meaning.

Lee was raised in Germany by Korean parents. In his 30s, his mother told him that the man who raised him was not his biological father. But because her relationship with that man, who was black, had been fleeting, she refused to tell her son more about him. This revelation, at once momentous and limited, changed Lee’s life. To make sense of his personal loss, and to explore his connectedness to black America, he took up photography. I became friends with Lee around the time he began making pictures of black fathers and their children in the Bronx and elsewhere; that project led to a book, “Father Figure,” for which I wrote a preface. Later, Lee began to collect the Polaroids — thousands of them — that ended up in “Fade Resistance.”…

Read the entire article here.

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At Yale, a Right That Doesn’t Outweigh a Wrong

Posted in Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States, Women on 2016-05-01 00:45Z by Steven

At Yale, a Right That Doesn’t Outweigh a Wrong

The New York Times
2016-04-29

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Peter V & C Vann Woodward Professor of History, African American Studies, and American Studies
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

NEW HAVEN — Yale made a grievous mistake this week when it announced that it would keep the name of an avowed white supremacist, John C. Calhoun, on a residential college, despite decades of vigorous alumni and student protests. The decision to name residential colleges for Benjamin Franklin and Anna Pauline Murray, a black civil rights activist, does nothing to redeem this wrong.

It is not a just compromise to split the difference between Calhoun and Murray; there should be no compromise between such stark contrasts in values. The decision to retain the Calhoun name continues the pain inflicted every day on students who live in a dormitory named for a man distinguished by being one of the country’s most egregious racists.

To be sure, there’s something noteworthy about the contrast between these two figures who now sit across campus from each other. Although they lived in different centuries, Calhoun in the 19th, and Murray in the 20th, in many ways, she lived in — and fought against — the world that he built.

Calhoun, a Yale graduate, congressman and the seventh vice president of the United States, owned dozens of slaves in Fort Hill, S.C. Murray grew up in poverty in Durham, N. C., as the granddaughter of an enslaved woman. Calhoun championed slavery as a “positive good”; Murray’s great-grandmother was raped by her slave master. Calhoun profited immensely from the labor of the enslaved people on his plantation; Murray was a radical labor activist in Harlem during the Great Depression

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Boris Johnson’s Essay on Obama and Churchill Touches Nerve Online

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United Kingdom, United States on 2016-04-23 15:09Z by Steven

Boris Johnson’s Essay on Obama and Churchill Touches Nerve Online

The New York Times
2016-04-22

Sewell Chan, International News Editor

LONDON — Hours after President Obama landed in London to urge Britons to vote to remain in the European Union, Mayor Boris Johnson, arguably the most visible leader of the campaign for Britain to leave the bloc, hit back with an opinion essay that criticized the president but immediately raised hackles online.

The essay, published in the right-leaning tabloid The Sun on Friday morning, recycled a story about a bust of Winston Churchill that was removed from the Oval Office shortly after Mr. Obama took office in 2009. It also mentioned a theory, prominent among some right-wing Americans, that Mr. Obama is motivated by a radical anti-imperialist agenda and that “the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire” motivated the removal of the bust…

Read the entire article here.

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With ‘Keanu,’ Key & Peele Break Into Feature Films — With Kittens in Tow

Posted in Articles, Arts, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2016-04-21 01:26Z by Steven

With ‘Keanu,’ Key & Peele Break Into Feature Films — With Kittens in Tow

The New York Times
2016-04-20

Dave Itzkoff, Culture Reporter

There is no longer “Key & Peele,” the razor-sharp Comedy Central sketch series that ended in September. There are only Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the comic actors and writers who used the five seasons of that show to shine a satirical spotlight on racial stereotypes and injustice (not to mention the increasingly distinctive names of college football players). And so the two men started pursuing their individual career paths.

A few months later, those paths have brought Mr. Key and Mr. Peele back together on their first movie, “Keanu,” which Warner Bros. will release on Friday, April 29. In this comedy, they star as cousins in Los Angeles who take in an adorable kitten they name Keanu. (It can mean “cool breeze,” too, you know.) But, unaware that Keanu once belonged to a notorious drug lord, the strait-laced pair must navigate the city’s criminal underbelly to reclaim Keanu when he is stolen from them.

There’s a running idea in “Keanu” about black men who don’t fit traditional stereotypes having to navigate a world of stereotypical characters. Is that drawn in any way from your real-life experiences?

PEELE Part of it is a commentary on the lack of representation in movies. Certainly, there’s an overwhelming amount of stereotypes in movies. We’ve placed ourselves in a more typical world of Hollywood stereotypes.

KEY African-American culture’s not a monolith. You could take 56 pictures, and there’s one picture where you make this face [contorts his features], and that’s the picture they pick. “He loves to make that face!” No, dude, you didn’t look at the other 55 pictures. If we’re black nerds, we write from a point of view being black nerds. But we’re still African-American. In my life, it’s been frustrating when someone says, “You’re not black enough.” And I’m going: I’m black enough to not get that cab you also didn’t get. They didn’t pick me up either…

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An Heir to a Tribe’s Culture Ensures Its Language Is Not Forgotten

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Oceania on 2016-04-11 02:11Z by Steven

An Heir to a Tribe’s Culture Ensures Its Language Is Not Forgotten

The Saturday Profile
The New York Times
2016-04-08

Michelle Innis


Stan Grant, a Wiradjuri elder, at his home in Narrandera, Australia. Mr. Grant was an author of “A New Wiradjuri Dictionary,” after years of advocating to preserve the Wiradjuri language.
Credit Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

NARRANDERA, AustraliaStan Grant, crudely tattooed in a way that hints at the petty crime and drunken brawls of his youth, clasped gnarly hands across his round belly and murmured: “birrangbirrang, birrangbirrang.”

Mr. Grant had spotted a small kingfisher, or birrangbirrang in Wiradjuri, as it swooped low over the Murrumbidgee River in the oppressive summer heat, calling to its mate.

Slipping back into English, he spoke over the whirring of cicadas in the river red gum trees that line the sandy banks: “It is smaller than a kookaburra. Its mate will be nearby.”

Mr. Grant, 75, is an elder of Australia’s second-largest Aboriginal tribe, the Wiradjuri, who roamed most of central New South Wales before white farmers surged inland in the early 1800s.

Until recently, he was one of only a handful of people still speaking the tribal language, also called Wiradjuri (pronounced wi-RAD-jury), which nearly died out in the 20th century, when Aboriginals could be jailed for speaking their native tongue in public.

“You are nobody without language,” Mr. Grant said. “The world does not respect a person who does not have language.”…

…Mr. Grant was probably 8 or 9 years old the night a local policeman heard his grandfather, Wilfred Johnson, and locked him up. But he does not recall a sense of alarm.

“He was an elegant man,” he said of Mr. Johnson. “He was beautifully dressed, usually in a coat and hat. But he was black. So it wasn’t the first time he had spent the night in jail.”

After the arrest, Mr. Johnson, who spoke seven languages, refused to speak Wiradjuri in public…

Read the entire article 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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