Zadie Smith on Male Critics, Appropriation, and What Interests Her Novelistically About Trump

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-11-24 21:54Z by Steven

Zadie Smith on Male Critics, Appropriation, and What Interests Her Novelistically About Trump

The Slate Book Review
Slate
2016-11-16

Isaac Chotiner

A wide-ranging conversation.

In an interview in 2000, Zadie Smith told the Guardian about the pressure she felt after the astonishing success of her debut novel, White Teeth. “I was expected to be some expert on multicultural affairs, as if multiculturalism is a genre of fiction or something,” she said. “Whereas it’s just a fact of life—like there are people of different races on the planet.” Whether it’s indeed a fact of life or, we now fear, a feature of American life that is at risk of erasure, multiculturalism in all its complexity is at the center of Smith’s books. From White Teeth to NW, which was published in 2012, Smith’s characters inhabit mixed urban communities, often in London. Her latest novel, Swing Time, is out this week; set in England and West Africa, the story concerns the friendship of two young girls who meet in a dance class (“our shade of brown was exactly the same”) and traces the paths of their lives over a quarter-century.

Smith, who grew up in London with a Jamaican mother and English father, has also established herself as one of her generation’s prolific essayists, weighing in energetically on such topics as Middlemarch and Brexit and E.M. Forster. (Her third novel, On Beauty, was an “homage” to Howards End.) She now lives with her husband and children in New York City. I had been trying to interview her for years, to no avail. When the chance finally presented itself, the date and time kept changing, usually a sign of a reluctant subject. But when we did eventually speak over the phone, the day before the election, Smith, now 41, seemed surprisingly at ease. (Weren’t we all in those innocent days?)

Over the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed the vulnerability one feels writing fiction, the arrogance of male critics, and why she doesn’t have a smartphone…

Since your new book spans continents, from Europe to Africa, did you think about the target audience? Who are you writing for?

This time I was thinking very particularly about black girls. I’m very happy if other people read the book, but that’s who the book is for explicitly, and that’s who I wanted to write to…

Read the entire interview here.

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A DNA Test Won’t Explain Elizabeth Warren’s Ancestry

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-07-05 18:10Z by Steven

A DNA Test Won’t Explain Elizabeth Warren’s Ancestry

Slate
2016-06-29

Matt Miller

You’re not 28 percent Finnish, either.

Our genes dictate certain things about us, but ethnicity is not derived from a single gene.

Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator who lost to Elizabeth Warren in the 2012 election, has decided to dredge up old accusations that may have ultimately cost him that race.

“As you know, she’s not Native American,” Brown told reporters this week. “She’s not 1/32 Cherokee.” He then called on Harvard University, where Warren was a law professor, to release records that allegedly indicate Warren benefited from affirmative action (there’s no reason to believe this is true), before suggesting that “she can take a DNA test” if she wants to prove her roots.

But here’s the thing: DNA testing cannot definitively prove whether a person is Cherokee. Or a member of any community, at least not reliably. To assume it can is to assume that there’s something inherently different in the genetic makeup of tribal members and that this thing is universal within that community. That’s not true.

Our genes dictate certain things about us—there’s a gene that programs the color of your eyes, for example. But ethnicity is not a trait derived from a single gene, because ethnicity is mostly our perception of a collection of traits, rather than a trait itself. So a genetic test that looks at our genes and comes back with an assessment of our ethnic roots isn’t honing in on a specific gene and reading what it says because there’s no such gene to read. Instead, the test is comparing snippets of our DNA to snippets of DNA of people of known origin and looking for similarities…

Read the entire article here.

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How Trump Happened

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-03-13 18:53Z by Steven

How Trump Happened

Slate
2016-03-13

Jamelle Bouie, Chief Political Correspondent

It’s not just anger over jobs and immigration. White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” goes the line attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Typically, you’ll find this pearl adorning a classroom or splashed across a motivational poster. But last month, on the eve of Super Tuesday—when a dozen states cast ballots for the Republican presidential nomination—you could find it on Donald Trump’s Instagram page, the caption to a photograph of a massive rally in Alabama the day before.

Perverse as it may seem for the belligerent real estate magnate to channel even apocryphal Gandhi wisdom, the line is apt. First, we did ignore him—as a buffoon who wouldn’t survive past the summer. Then, we laughed at him—as a buffoon who wouldn’t survive through fall. Eventually, Republicans began to fight him, terrified of his traction with voters. Now, he’s winning, with more votes and delegates than anyone left in the field. On the eve of another critical Tuesday slate of votes, Trump is on the verge of an even greater victory. Polls show him in command both in the smaller states that will award their delegates proportionally, and in the larger, winner-take-all prizes of Ohio and Florida. By Wednesday morning, Trump could be a stone’s throw from the Republican presidential nomination…

….Race plays a part in each of these analyses, but its role has not yet been central enough to our understanding of Trump’s rise. Not only does he lead a movement of almost exclusively disaffected whites, but he wins his strongest support in states and counties with the greatest amounts of racial polarization. Among white voters, higher levels of racial resentment have been shown to be associated with greater support for Trump.

All of which is to say that we’ve been missing the most important catalyst in Trump’s rise. What caused this fire to burn out of control? The answer, I think, is Barack Obama

…“The election of the country’s first black president had the ironic upshot of opening the door for old-fashioned racism to influence partisan preferences after it was long thought to be a spent force in American politics,” wrote Brown University political scientist Michael Tesler in a 2013 paper titled “The Return of Old Fashioned Racism to White Americans’ Partisan Preferences in the Early Obama Era.” For Tesler, “old-fashioned racism” isn’t a rhetorical term; it refers to specific beliefs about the biological and cultural inferiority of black Americans. His work suggests that there are some white Americans who, in his words, have “concerns about the leadership of a president from a racial group whom they consider to be intellectually and socially inferior.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Interracial dating shouldn’t be taboo, but some people who date outside their race are sometimes ostracized.

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2015-10-08 19:37Z by Steven

The Terrible Things People Say to Interracial Couples

Slate
2015-10-01

David Rosenberg


Donna Pinckley

For the past couple of decades, most of Donna Pinckley’s photographs have focused on children and the objects that have personal significance for them. A few years ago, though, the University of Central Arkansas photography teacher noticed a post on Facebook of a girl she had photographed who was in an interracial relationship. The girl’s mother later told Pinckley that her daughter and her boyfriend had been the target of many cruel, racist comments. It brought back memories of another similar conversation Pinckley had many years earlier with a different mother.

“What struck me was the resilience of both couples in the face of derision, their refusal to let others define them,” Pinckley wrote on her artist statement.

“They are disgusting,” one couple wrote. Another couple wrote that they once heard, “If she can’t use your comb, don’t bring her home!”…

View the photo-essay here.

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Are There Really Just Five Racial Groups?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-08-17 22:47Z by Steven

Are There Really Just Five Racial Groups?

Slate
2012-05-17

Brian Palmer, Chief Explainer

How the government developed its racial-classification system.

For the first time in history, more than half of American children under the age of 1 are members of a minority group, according to figures released Wednesday by the Census Bureau. Everyone is familiar with the federal government’s classification of race and ethnicity—white, black or African-American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Why did we settle on these particular groupings?

Because they track discrimination. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for maintaining the nation’s racial-classification system, have always admitted that the categories have no scientific or anthropological basis. They were designed in the 1970s to help track compliance with civil rights laws, and are meant to identify groups that are vulnerable to discrimination. There are other considerations, as well. The geographic nature of the categories—aside from Hispanic, which has always been the most nebulous because of its linguistic basis—are supposed to make it reasonably easy for Americans to identify their own backgrounds. Individual federal agencies may choose to split up the OMB categories for more detailed data. The Census Bureau, for example, breaks “Asian” into several subgroups, such as Asian Indian, Chinese, and Filipino.

Our modern racial-classification system is far from the first in U.S. history. The federal government asked about race indirectly (are you a slave or a free man?) in the inaugural census from 1790—although more for the purposes of the “Three-Fifths Compromise” than to prevent discrimination. In addition, early American law limited citizenship to whites, so the census had to distinguish between whites and everyone else. (African-Americans became eligible for citizenship in 1868, Native Americans in 1924, and Asian-Americans in 1954.) As people of different backgrounds intermarried and interbred, the government’s attempts to delineate people by race became increasingly tortured. For example, the 1890 census categories were white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian. (Census takers carried detailed instructions on how to explain the groupings.) Race categories continued to vary for most of the 20th century. The 1920 census listed the races as “White, Black, Mulatto, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hindu, Korean, and Other.” The 1960 census used different terminology, listing “White, Negro, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Other.”…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Stunning Portraits of Mixed Race Families’?: Slate’s Human Zoo of Race Mongrelization

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-06-29 19:15Z by Steven

‘Stunning Portraits of Mixed Race Families’?: Slate’s Human Zoo of Race Mongrelization

We Are Respectable Negroes: Happy Non-Threatening Coloured Folks, Even in the Age of Obama
Wednesday, 2014-06-25

Chauncey DeVega, Editor and Founder

Am I the only person who found Slate.com’s photo essay “Stunning Portraits of Mixed Race Families” to be very problematic?

To my eyes, it contains and channels the echoes of race science and eugenics wrapped in a veneer of praise and curiosity for “unusual” and “fascinating” bodies.

Questions of race and representation were and remain central to the dynamics of the global color line. The ways in which certain types of people and bodies are visually represented through film, photographs, paintings, and other mediums reflect the dynamics of power.

Whose eyes are “we” seeing through? What assumptions are driving the Gaze? How are the bodies and people in visual images posed and positioned relative to one another? Who is included? What types of people and bodies are excluded?…

…The contemporary American fascination with “mixed race” and “biracial” identity is a reflection of changing demographics and globalization; it is also a surrender to and performance of a shallow type of faux cosmopolitanism.

Ironically, the race scientists of Nazi Germany and the United States, as well as the photographer Cyjo (whose work was featured in Slate’s essay) who fetishize and find something “stunning” or “interesting” about “mixed race” and/or “biracial” people (what are fictive identities, social constructs, as there is only one race, the human race) share some common assumptions.

One, that those types of “racial” identities are somehow new or novel. In fact, human history is a story of “miscegenation” and “interracial” intimacy. Two, that those types of bodies and individuals merit study and analysis because there is some connection, either implied or explicitly stated, between genes, color, culture, destiny, and personal, as well as national “character”…

Read the entire article here.

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Stunning Portraits of Mixed-Race Families

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United States on 2014-06-29 17:10Z by Steven

Stunning Portraits of Mixed-Race Families

Slate
2014-06-24

David Rosenberg, Editor of Slate’s Behold blog

Fascinated by the evolution of identity, the photographer Cyjo, who styles her name CYJO, has created a series of portraits that examines how race, ethnicity, and heritage contextualize a person as an individual, and how they coexist within the framework of a family.

Cyjo identifies herself as a Westerner of Korean ethnicity (she was born in South Korea and raised in the United States) and photographed the series “Mixed Blood” from 2010–13 in both New York and Beijing. She has explored the dynamic between individual and collective identities in her previous work via a more abstract approach, but, with “Mixed Blood,” she uses the more literal approach of portraiture.

Over time, as humans migrate and change environments, the definition of identity has evolved to adjust to a broader definition of race and ethnicity. Cyjo pointed out that, in 2000, the United States Census for the first time allowed people to choose more than one identifier when noting their race. Almost 7 million people chose to count themselves as mixed race, a number that has continued to grow over the past decade and a half…

Read the article and view the photo essay here.

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Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-04-16 19:53Z by Steven

Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites?

Slate
2014-04-15

Jamelle Bouie, staff writer covering politics, policy, and race

How Hispanics perceive themselves may shape the future of race in America.

The Trayvon Martin shooting was hardly in the national consciousness before fault lines emerged around the case. Was Martin as innocent as he seemed? Did Zimmerman fear for his life? Did Martin provoke the incident? Was Zimmerman a racist?

Perhaps most controversial among all of these was the question of identity. Yes, Trayvon Martin was black, but is Zimmerman white? For Martin’s sympathizers, the answer was yes. For Zimmerman’s, the answers ranged from “it doesn’t matter” to he “is actually a Hispanic nonracist person who acted in self-defense.”…

…According to Pew—and echoing the results in the last census—the United States is just a few decades away from its demographic inflection point. Come 2050, only 47 percent of Americans will call themselves white, while the majority will belong to a minority group. Blacks will remain steady at 13 percent of the population, while Asians will grow to 8 percent. Hispanics, on the other hand, will explode to 28 percent of all U.S. population, up from 19 percent in 2010. Immigration is driving this “demographic makeover,” specifically the “40 million immigrants who have arrived since 1965, about half of them Hispanics and nearly three-in-ten Asians.”

But the thing to remember about the Hispanic category, for instance, is that it contains a wide range of colors and ethnicities. In the United States, Hispanics (or more broadly Latinos) include Afro-Brazilians, dark-skinned Puerto Ricans, indigenous Mexicans, Venezuelan mestizos, and European Argentinians, among others.

To say that America will become a majority-minority country is to erase these distinctions and assume that, for now and forever, Latinos will remain a third race, situated next to “non-Hispanic blacks” and “non-Hispanic whites.” But, as the Zimmerman controversy illustrates, it’s not that simple…

Read the entire article here.

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Baseball’s Secret Pioneer

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-02-14 22:40Z by Steven

Baseball’s Secret Pioneer

Slate
2014-02-04

Peter Morris, Baseball Historian
Haslett, Michigan

Stefan Fatsis, Sports Writer

William Edward White, the first black player in major-league history, lived his life as a white man.

On June 22, 1937, Joe Louis knocked out James Braddock with a right to the jaw to become the world heavyweight champion. At a time when Major League Baseball was still a decade from integration, Louis’ victory in Chicago’s Comiskey Park was a triumph for black America, and for racial progress. “What my father did was enable white America to think of him as an American, not as a black,” Joe Louis Jr. told ESPN in 1999. “By winning, he became white America’s first black hero.”

Three months before the fight, another notable moment involving race and sports occurred in the same city: the death of a 76-year-old man named William Edward White, of blood poisoning after a slip on an icy sidewalk and a broken arm. Fifty-eight years earlier, White played a single game for the Providence Grays of baseball’s National League to become, as best as can be determined, the first African-American player in big-league history. Unlike Louis’ knockout, though, White’s death merited no coverage in the local or national press. A clue as to why can be found in cursive handwriting in box No. 4 on White’s death certificate, which is labeled COLOR OR RACE. The box reads: “White.”

William Edward White was born in 1860 to a Georgia businessman and one of his slaves, who herself was of mixed race. That made White, legally, black and a slave. But his death certificate and other information indicate that White spent his adult life passing as a white man. Since the 1879 game was unearthed a decade ago, questions about White’s race have clouded his legacy. If he didn’t want other people to think of him as black, did he actually break the sports world’s most infamous racial barrier? Or is the reality of his racial heritage, and the difficult personal issues it no doubt forced him to confront, enough to qualify him as a pioneer? Should William Edward White be recognized during Black History Month alongside Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson and other groundbreaking African-Americans?

These are complicated questions. Allyson Hobbs, an assistant professor of American history at Stanford, says the practice of “racial passing” in America dates at least to runaway slaves in the 1700s. Slaves, she says, often attempted to pass as white to gain their freedom but then lived out their lives as black. By the Jim Crow era, when William White came of age, the social and economic advantages of living as white—and the disadvantages of living as black—were so profound that people who could successfully pass did so and never looked back.

“People who passed did not want to leave a trace,” says Hobbs, whose book A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life will be published by Harvard University Press in the fall. “They did not want to leave records, they did not want to have anyone find them, to discover that they were passing. It’s very difficult to get a well-rounded image of these people’s lives, and that’s by their design. It’s a hidden history, and it’s one that can be very frustrating because there is often so little data available about these people.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Won’t Somebody Think of the Children

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-30 04:00Z by Steven

Won’t Somebody Think of the Children

Slate
2013-03-27

Brian Palmer, Slate’s Chief Explainer

Do opponents of marriage equality always claim that they’re merely worried about the kids?

During yesterday’s oral arguments over the constitutionality of California’s ban on gay marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that there is “considerable disagreement among sociologists” as to whether being raised by a same-sex couple is “harmful to the child.” The lawyers arguing the case repeatedly brought up the landmark 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia, which struck down interracial marriage bans. Did supporters of the ban argue that interracial marriage was harmful to children in that case, too?

Absolutely. The state of Virginia presented two arguments in support of its interracial marriage ban in 1967. The first was that the authors of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution explicitly stated that they did not intend to strike down anti-miscegenation laws, which were common in the 19th century. The second argument was that interracial marriages were uniquely prone to divorce and placed undue psychological stress on children

Read the entire article here.

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