Most other mixed and biracial people I know have at least one secret or lie in their family, have at least one person who is choosing to pass or is passing and doesn’t even know it…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2014-11-25 17:20Z by Steven

“Most other mixed and biracial people I know have at least one secret or lie in their family, have at least one person who is choosing to pass or is passing and doesn’t even know it. That theme is so common. I have a half sister who didn’t know she was half black until she was 11. I’m interested in telling these stories because it is my family’s history…” —Amber Gray

Alexis Soloski, “Returning to an ‘Impossible’ Role,” The New York Times, April 24, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/theater/amber-gray-on-an-octoroon-at-soho-rep.html.

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A Secret Falls From the Family Tree, and a Girl’s Identity Branches Out

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-11-25 16:48Z by Steven

A Secret Falls From the Family Tree, and a Girl’s Identity Branches Out

The New York Times
2014-11-23

Ben Kenigsberg, Film Critic

‘Little White Lie,’ a Personal Documentary About Race

The documentary “Little White Lie” would be provocative simply for what it says about race and identity. The director Lacey Schwartz grew up Jewish in Woodstock, N.Y., yet something seemed off. Her peers would ask if she was adopted. At Ms. Schwartz’s bat mitzvah, a member of her synagogue assumed she was an Ethiopian Jew. Her family attributed her darker skin to a Sicilian great-grandfather. Only gradually did Ms. Schwartz, now 37, begin to suspect what might seem obvious to an outsider: that her biological father was black.

“Little White Lie” is, in part, the story of Ms. Schwartz’s evolving view of her background. As a child, she thought of herself as white and even wished for a lighter complexion. College changed that: Although she didn’t declare a race on her application, she says Georgetown considered her a black student based on a photograph. She was welcomed by the Black Student Alliance and began to experience the influence that race has on everyday life.

That shift in perspective might be startling enough, but the movie goes one step further by charting the effect that Ms. Schwartz’s transformation has on her family members and the awkward sense in which her embrace of a biracial identity might be seen as a repudiation of them. The film is a searing portrait of collective denial — a diagnosis from which Ms. Schwartz doesn’t exempt herself…

Read the entire review here.

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“People would call me mulatto all the time. My dad was like: “Don’t let people call you that. Say that you’re mixed. Say that you’re biracial.””

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2014-11-25 16:44Z by Steven

“People would call me mulatto all the time. My dad was like: “Don’t let people call you that. Say that you’re mixed. Say that you’re biracial.” My parents were really careful with me. They were clear that you can’t separate out the two sides. You’d be denying half of yourself if you did.” —Amber Gray

Alexis Soloski, “Returning to an ‘Impossible’ Role,” The New York Times, April 24, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/theater/amber-gray-on-an-octoroon-at-soho-rep.html,

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Returning to an ‘Impossible’ Role

Posted in Articles, Arts, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-23 19:27Z by Steven

Returning to an ‘Impossible’ Role

The New York Times
2014-04-23

Alexis Soloski

Amber Gray on ‘An Octoroon,’ at Soho Rep

Leaning against an upright piano, Amber Gray bent her voice and body to a song’s harmonies — tapping her feet, drumming her fingers, bowing her head, and turtling her chin forward and back.

A restless, dynamic performer, Ms. Gray recently appeared as the scheming Hélène in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” She was now rehearsing for a much more innocent role: the title character of “An Octoroon” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

A disquieting adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s controversial 1859 melodrama, which opens on May 4 at Soho Rep, the play centers on a tragic love affair between the heir to a Louisiana plantation and Ms. Gray’s Zoe. Though raised as a decorous Southern lady, Zoe is one-eighth black, an inheritance that condemns her to the slave auction block.

After her musical rehearsal at the New 42nd Street Studios, Ms. Gray, who has the sort of careless glamour that can make a Baja jacket and acid-washed jeans seem very nearly elegant, retired to a futon in the green room. She spoke with Alexis Soloski about terrifying musicals, biracial identity and playing a difficult scene. These are excerpts from the conversation…

…What was it like to grow up as a biracial child overseas?

I was too young to really understand a lot of it. In the military school systems, kids were mean. People would call me mulatto all the time. My dad was like: “Don’t let people call you that. Say that you’re mixed. Say that you’re biracial.” My parents were really careful with me. They were clear that you can’t separate out the two sides. You’d be denying half of yourself if you did.

Before you became involved with “An Octoroon,” did you read the 1859 version?

I did. I got really emotional reading it. It struck a chord. Most other mixed and biracial people I know have at least one secret or lie in their family, have at least one person who is choosing to pass or is passing and doesn’t even know it. That theme is so common. I have a half sister who didn’t know she was half black until she was 11. I’m interested in telling these stories because it is my family’s history…

Read the entire interview here.

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Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

Posted in Articles, Arts, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-23 17:08Z by Steven

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

The New York Times
2014-05-04

Ben Brantley, Chief Theater Critic

‘An Octoroon,’ a Slave-Era Tale at Soho Rep

Some people are paralyzed by self-consciousness. The playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is inspired, energized and perhaps even set free by it.

You could say that he transforms self-consciousness into art, except then you have to ask what art is, as Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins surely would. How about into entertainment, then? No, that sounds too unequivocally pleasurable and guilt free. Well, let’s just say that Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins turns self-consciousness into theater, and that this is a lot more stimulating than it sounds.

Some degree of self-consciousness is inevitable for any latter-day dramatist taking on Dion Boucicault’sThe Octoroon,” which is what Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins is doing in the exhilarating, booby-trapped production called “An Octoroon” (those articles make a difference!) that opened at Soho Rep on Sunday night. Though a huge hit in this country in the mid-19th century, “The Octoroon” would appear approachable on today’s stages only with a set of very long, sterilized tongs.

It is, first of all, an unabashed melodrama, with all the handkerchief wringing and mustache twirling that term implies. The story it relates is an incident-crammed weepy of forbidden love in the slaveholding South, where social status is measured in drops of blood. (Octoroon refers to someone who is one-eighth black.)…

…The basic plot of this “Octoroon” is Boucicault’s, more or less. Its title character is the beauteous Zoe (Amber Gray of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”), the daughter of a slave and a recently deceased plantation owner. Zoe is beloved both by the plantation’s worldly and gentlemanly new owner, George (Mr. Myers), and by its former overseer, the evil M’Closkey (Mr. Myers again), who wants to buy the place for himself.

That’s Plot A (or most of it; I didn’t mention the local rich girl, played in high burlesque style by Zoë Winters, loves George, too). There’s a Plot B, but I won’t go into detail about that one, except to say that it involves a lovable rapscallion of a slave boy (Ben Horner, in blackface) and his pal, an American Indian, I mean Native American or … heck, I’m all tongue-tied now. Anyway, he’s played by Mr. Wolohan, in redface.

Oh, relax. It’s only a play, isn’t it? Except one of Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins’s points is that nothing that deals with race in this racially conflicted country can ever be reduced to an easy showbiz formula, whether satirical or uplifting. His “Octoroon” invites us to laugh loudly and easily at how naïve the old stereotypes now seem, until suddenly nothing seems funny at all…

Read the entire review here.

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‘A Chosen Exile,’ by Allyson Hobbs [Senna Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-11-22 03:00Z by Steven

‘A Chosen Exile,’ by Allyson Hobbs [Senna Review]

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review
2014-11-21

Danzy Senna

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life By Allyson Hobbs; Illustrated. 382 pp. Harvard University Press. $29.95.

One of the best birthday presents anybody ever gave me was a “calling card” by the conceptual artist Adrian Piper. I was in college at the time, and it felt like the ultimate inside joke handed from one racially ambiguous person to another.

Slim and innocuous as a business card, it reads: “Dear Friend, I am black. I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark. In the past I have attempted to alert people to my identity in advance. . . . I regret any discomfort my presence is causing you, just as I’m sure you regret the discomfort your racism is causing me.”

To be black but to be perceived as white is to find yourself, at times, in a racial no man’s land. It is to feel like an embodiment of W. E. B. Du Bois’s double consciousness — that sense of being in two places at the same time. It is also to be perpetually aware of both the primacy of race and the “bankruptcy of the race idea,” as Allyson Hobbs, an assistant professor of history at Stanford University, puts it in her incisive new cultural history, “A Chosen Exile.”

Hobbs is interested in the stories of individuals who chose to cross the color line — black to white — from the late 1800s up through the 1950s. It’s a story we’ve of course read and seen before in fictional accounts — numerous novels and films that have generally portrayed mixed-race characters in the sorriest of terms. Like gay characters, mulattoes always pay for their existence dearly in the end. Joe Christmas, the tormented drifter in William Faulkner’sLight in August,” considers his blackness evidence of original sin (a.k.a. miscegenation) and ends up castrated and murdered. Sarah Jane, a character in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of the film “Imitation of Life,” denies her black mother in her attempt to be seen as white. Her tragedy once again feels like mixed fate. As her long-suffering mother puts it, “How do you tell a child that she was born to be hurt?”…

Read the entire review here.

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The Case for Black With a Capital B

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-19 20:45Z by Steven

The Case for Black With a Capital B

The New York Times
2014-11-18

Lori L. Tharps, Associate Professor of Journalism
Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA — I WAS sitting in my office at Temple University when I overheard an exchange between a colleague and his student. The student had come to see her professor to go over a paper, and he was patiently explaining that the abundance of grammatical mistakes detracted from her compelling content. I sympathized with my colleague as he pointed out error after error. Until he came to this one.

“Why did you capitalize black and white people?” he asked. “I thought I’d seen it written that way before,” the girl stammered. “Come on,” he said. “Why would you capitalize black or white?”…

…After emancipation, as many individuals replaced their slave surnames with ones of their own devising, like Freedman or Freeman, they still bore the painful legacy of the labels they’d been given: black, negro and colored.

It wasn’t only Black people who didn’t know what to call the nearly four million newly freed citizens of the United States. The government itself fumbled its way through names, categories and labels for Black people. Between 1850 and 1920, the United States census classified those of African descent as black, negro, mulatto, quadroon or octoroon — depending on the visual assessment of the census taker. By 1930, the Census Bureau offered just one of these categories: negro.

This wasn’t solely an issue of identity politics. In a 2008 article on the census for Studies in American Political Development, Jennifer L. Hochschild and Brenna M. Powell wrote, “Over the course of almost a century, the U.S. government groped its way through extensive experimentation — reorganizing and reimaging the racial order, with corresponding impact on individuals’ and groups’ life chances.” These names matter…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Empire of Sin,’ by Gary Krist

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-19 20:25Z by Steven

‘Empire of Sin,’ by Gary Krist

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review
2014-11-06

Walter Isaacson, President and CEO
Aspen Institute

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans By Gary Krist; Illustrated. 416 pp. Crown Publishers. $26.

When Tom Anderson’s saloon opened in 1901, at the entrance to the recently designated sin district known as Storyville on the edge of New Orleans’s French Quarter, people from all over town came to marvel at its opulence. Its cherrywood bar stretched half a block and was lit by a hundred electric lights. With Anderson’s encouragement, high-class brothels were soon flourishing down Basin Street. Josie Arlington, his business partner, had a four-story Victorian mansion with a domed cupola, mirrored parlor and Oriental statues. The exotic, mixed-race Lulu White built a brick palace that specialized in interracial sex and featured the jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton at the piano. Another octoroon (the appellation given to people considered to be one-eighth black), Willie V. Piazza, passed herself off as a countess and sported both a monocle and a diamond choker. Anderson, whose civic spirit earned him the title “the Mayor of Storyville,” published a Blue Book that contained photos and descriptions of the area’s better prostitutes, annotated with symbols (“w” for white, “c” for colored, “J” for Jewish and “oct.” for octoroon). It was all a vivid expression of the city’s tolerance and diversity…

…Through much of the 19th century, New Orleans had been racially progressive, especially for Creoles of color, most of them French-speaking Roman Catholics descended from families that had intermarried with Europeans. From the early 1870s onward, blacks could vote and serve on juries; marriage between different races was legal; and schools, lakefront beach areas and many neighborhoods were integrated. But the advent of Jim Crow laws after Reconstruction created a new dynamic. The reformers of the city’s elite took the lead in passing segregation laws as well as in cracking down on prostitution. In 1908, the State Legislature passed a bill that barred musical performances in saloons, prohibited blacks and whites from being served in the same establishment and excluded women from bars…

Read the entire review here.

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‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-18 19:41Z by Steven

‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review
2014-11-14

Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita
Princeton University

Greenspan, Ezra, William Wells Brown: An African American Life (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014)

If the publishing industry reflects the American zeitgeist, things have changed when it comes to black American historical figures. As a graduate student at Harvard decades ago, I came across William Wells Brown, the fugitive slave, abolitionist, lecturer, travelogue writer, novelist and performer whose wide-ranging intelligence turned a gaze on white people (for a change). Back then he was to be found in only one full-length biography, William Edward Farrison’s “William Wells Brown: Author and Reformer” (1969). Published by the University of Chicago Press in the twilight of the “second Reconstruction” and at the dawning of African-American studies, it depicted Brown as a representative black American. In the absence of the biographical scholarship coming after 1969, Brown’s colleagues remained ill defined. Farrison’s biography was reviewed only in publishing trade papers and a couple of history journals. What was the problem?

It wasn’t Brown’s lack of an interesting life: more on that momentarily. The main problem was that 20th-century American culture accommodated only one 19th-­century black man, a spot already taken by the monumental, best-selling Frederick Douglass. Another problem was theoretical: Farrison published his biography before the flowering of two other fields crucial to a full appreciation of Brown’s public life — the history of the book and performance art…

…The child who would be William Wells Brown was born enslaved in Kentucky, in about 1814, the son of his owner’s cousin. In St. Louis, given the job of tending a young charge also called William, his name was changed to Sandford with the carelessness characteristic of slave naming. As Sandford he worked in his owner’s medical office and on the Mississippi River’s ships and docks. After several unsuccessful attempts at escape, one with his mother, he finally fled St. Louis at about age 19. He retook his own name William and added Wells Brown in honor of the Quaker who had rescued him from starving and freezing in Ohio

Read the entire review here.

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What ‘White Privilege’ Really Means

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2014-11-06 20:58Z by Steven

What ‘White Privilege’ Really Means

The New York Times
2014-11-05

George Yancy, Professor of Philosophy
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon

This is the first in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Naomi Zack, a professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon and the author of “The Ethics and Mores of Race: Equality After the History of Philosophy.”  The interview was conducted by email and edited. — George Yancy

George Yancy: What motivates you to work as a philosopher in the area of race?

Naomi Zack:  I am mainly motivated by a great need to work and not to be bored, and I have a critical bent. I think there is a lot of work to be done concerning race in the United States, and a lot of ignorance and unfairness that still needs to be uncovered and corrected. I received my doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University in 1970 and then became absent from academia until 1990. When I returned it had become possible to write about real issues and apply analytic skills to social ills and other practical forms of injustice. My first book, “Race and Mixed Race” (1991) was an analysis of the incoherence of U.S. black/white racial categories in their failure to allow for mixed race. In “Philosophy of Science and Race,” I examined the lack of a scientific foundation for biological notions of human races, and in “The Ethics and Mores of Race,” I turned to the absence of ideas of universal human equality in the Western philosophical tradition…

G.Y.: We can safely assume white parents don’t need to have this talk with their children. Do you think white privilege is at work in this context?

N.Z.: The term “white privilege” is misleading. A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It’s not so much that being white confers privilege but that not being white means being without rights in many cases. Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn’t a privilege. It’s a right.  But I think that is what “white privilege” is meant to convey, that whites don’t have many of the worries nonwhites, especially blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn’t see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.

Other examples of white privilege include all of the ways that whites are unlikely to end up in prison for some of the same things blacks do, not having to worry about skin-color bias, not having to worry about being pulled over by the police while driving or stopped and frisked while walking in predominantly white neighborhoods, having more family wealth because your parents and other forebears were not subject to Jim Crow and slavery. Probably all of the ways in which whites are better off than blacks in our society are forms of white privilege. In the normal course of events, in the fullness of time, these differences will even out. But the sudden killings of innocent, unarmed youth bring it all to a head…

Read the entire interview here.

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