Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Complexities of Black Folk

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2015-04-16 21:34Z by Steven

Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Complexities of Black Folk

The Stone
The New York Times
2015-04-16

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

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Law and Philosophy
New York University


Kwame Anthony Appiah

This is the 10th in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Kwame Anthony Appiah, who teaches in New York University’s department of philosophy and its school of law. He has been the president of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, and of the PEN American Center. He is the author of numerous books, including, most recently, “Lines of Descent: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity.” — George Yancy

George Yancy: How did you become interested, philosophically, in the question of race? Did it grow out of something like a conceptual problem of reference, or did it come more out of lived experience? Or, perhaps this disjunction is a false start?

Kwame Anthony Appiah: I’m always skeptical when intellectuals give accounts of how they came about their interests! So you should take what I have to say as a set of hypotheses about my own past, not as the results of introspection, which yields nothing about this.

When I first started teaching in the United States in 1981 I had a joint appointment at Yale, in African and African-American studies, on the one hand, and philosophy, on the other, and I was casting about for things to do on the African and African-American side of my work, both as a teacher and as a scholar. I had been an undergraduate student at Cambridge in medical sciences for one year, and philosophy for two, and I was puzzled, as a newcomer to the United States, by the fact that many people appeared to think “race” was a biological concept, whereas I had been taught in my brief career in the life sciences to think it was not.

G.Y.: In your new book, “Lines of Descent,” you write that W.E.B. Du Bois saw himself as an American and a Negro (as opposed to an African-American). You state correctly how being an “American” and being a “Negro” did not fit well for him. I’m reminded of Du Bois’s encounter in “The Souls of Black Folk” with the tall (white) newcomer and how she refused to exchange visiting cards with him and how this signified early on in his life a deep tension in his sense of “racial” identity. Do you think contemporary African-Americans also find themselves possessed by, as Du Bois describes it, “two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps them from being torn asunder”?

K.A.A.: I think that Du Bois’s way of thinking about this, which was informed by 19th- century German social philosophy, can be put like this: Each people, each Volk, has a soul, a Geist, that is the bearer of a folk culture and of what he called spiritual “strivings.” American Negroes were possessed of the soul of America and the soul of the Negro. Since America’s folk culture was racist, they were possessed by a spirit that was, in some respects, hostile to them. The Negro soul gave them the resources for a positive sense of self, which helped to resist this, but it also gave them various other gifts…

…K.A.A.: Well, I should begin by saying that I think that a background of class privilege on both sides of my family has protected both my sisters and me from some of the worst challenges of living in a racist world. (They have also had the advantage of living much of their lives in various parts of Africa!) I was born in London but moved with my family to Ghana when I was 1. My sisters were all born there. When I was an undergraduate at college in England, Skip Gates and I and a Nigerian philosophy student we knew were the only black people in our college. But I had white upper-middle-class high school friends and upper-middle-class English cousins around, so I guess I didn’t feel that there was any question as to my right to be there, and I don’t think anyone else thought so either. (And I wouldn’t have cared if they did!)

As a young person in Ghana, many people I met in my daily life in my hometown knew my family, and knew why I was brown and not black. They knew my mother was an Englishwoman (and white) and my father was Ashanti (and black). And throughout my childhood in Ghana the Asantehene, the king of Ashanti, whose capital was my hometown, was my great-uncle by marriage. (To those who didn’t know me, though, I was a “broni kokoo,” a red [skinned] foreigner; “broni” is often mistranslated these days as “white person.”) So, in a way, the most interesting “problem” for me, having been in America and then an American citizen for much of my adult life (since 1997), has been how to figure out a black identity, having come from two places where my color had a very different significance.

One of the things that I have always been most grateful to this country for is the sense of welcome I have often felt from African-Americans as a person of African descent. There’s no necessity about this: my ancestors — and not so many generations back — were in the business of capturing and selling other black people into the Atlantic slave trade (and some of my mother’s kinfolk back then were no doubt in the business of buying and shipping them). So one thing that race does in the world is bring black people together in spite of these divided histories. But I suppose that the main effect of my being black has been to draw me to black subject matter, black issues, and to give me an interest — in both senses of the term, an intellectual engagement and a stake — in pursuing them. Without this connection to the world of Africa and her diaspora I would just be someone else…

Read the entire article here.

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White Parents, Becoming a Little Less White

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Census/Demographics, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United States on 2015-04-16 19:07Z by Steven

White Parents, Becoming a Little Less White

Motherlode: Living the Family Dynamic
The New York Times
2015-04-15

Jack Cheng


Amy Crosson

Former Gov. Jeb Bush made news recently because he checked “Hispanic” on a voter registration form. This is obviously ridiculous from a scion of the Bush family (and Mr. Bush has said he made a mistake). Yet, I understand, because the family he raised is not unlike mine.

A few years ago, in fact, my wife casually mentioned that she doesn’t consider herself 100 percent white any more. She has blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin, and as far back as anyone can remember, all of her ancestors have been Irish.

She was white when we were married. I know that because I’m Chinese and that made us an interracial couple. My wife jokes (I think she’s joking) that she married me in part because my increased melanin would protect her children from skin cancer.

She became less white when our son, and then our daughter, were born. I think the first bit of doubt surfaced the day we were on the subway with our newborn and a woman came up to my wife and said: “Oh, he’s so cute! When did you adopt him?” I was livid: Did it not occur to this woman that the father was sitting right next to his wife and child? It turned out that the woman really just wanted to talk about her own adopted granddaughter but somewhere in that moment my wife was identified as the mother of a nonwhite child…

…While it will take 18 years for that mixed race baby to vote, there is a parent in that family who suddenly has an altered perspective on the culture and policies of the United States. White mothers who realize that their sons will be victims of racial profiling, white fathers who suddenly feel a little squeamish about the fact that “Asian” is a category of pornography. There are white parents whose children look vaguely Middle Eastern and will face harder times getting onto airplanes…

Read the entire article here.

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A New Phase in Anti-Obama Attacks

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-04-12 01:45Z by Steven

A New Phase in Anti-Obama Attacks

The New York Times
2015-04-11

The Editorial Board

It is a peculiar, but unmistakable, phenomenon: As Barack Obama’s presidency heads into its twilight, the rage of the Republican establishment toward him is growing louder, angrier and more destructive.

Republican lawmakers in Washington and around the country have been focused on blocking Mr. Obama’s agenda and denigrating him personally since the day he took office in 2009. But even against that backdrop, and even by the dismal standards of political discourse today, the tone of the current attacks is disturbing. So is their evident intent — to undermine not just Mr. Obama’s policies, but his very legitimacy as president.

It is a line of attack that echoes Republicans’ earlier questioning of Mr. Obama’s American citizenship. Those attacks were blatantly racist in their message — reminding people that Mr. Obama was black, suggesting he was African, and planting the equally false idea that he was secretly Muslim. The current offensive is slightly more subtle, but it is impossible to dismiss the notion that race plays a role in it…

Read the entire article here.

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Asian, American, Woman, Philosopher

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2015-04-11 23:15Z by Steven

Asian, American, Woman, Philosopher

The Stone
The New York Times
2015-04-06

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

Emily S. Lee, Associate Professor of Philosophy
California State University, Fullerton

This is the ninth in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Emily S. Lee, an associate professor of philosophy at the California State University, Fullerton. She is the editor of “Living Alterities: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and Race.” — George Yancy

George Yancy: You work at the intersection of race and phenomenology (the investigation of direct structures of experience). What got you interested in this area?

Emily S. Lee: Well, I’ve always been interested in how people can live in close proximity, share experiences, even within a family and yet draw very different conclusions from the experience. So when I began reading the French philosopher M. Merleau-Ponty’sPhenomenology of Perception,” I really appreciated his care and attention to how this phenomenon can occur. Because an experience is not directly drawn from the empirical circumstances; it is also structured by the accumulated history and aspirations of each of the subjects undergoing the experience, Merleau-Ponty’s work helps to systematically understand how one can share an experience, and yet still take away different conclusions.

It was with luck that while I was reading Merleau-Ponty’s book, I was also reading the critical race theorist Patricia Williams’s book, “The Alchemy of Race and Rights.” I found some of her descriptions and analysis demonstrating the chasms of understanding among different “races” incredibly enlightening. I thought an explanation for many of the racial phenomena that Williams described in terms of the inexplicable dearth of understanding among various racialized subjects could be facilitated with the phenomenological framework…

Read the entire article here.

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Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, Leaps to Forefront of Senate Race

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-03-30 17:52Z by Steven

Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, Leaps to Forefront of Senate Race

The New York Times
2015-03-27

Adam Nagourney, Los Angeles Bureau Chief

CASTAIC, Calif. — When Kamala D. Harris, a Democrat, was the newly elected district attorney of San Francisco in 2004, she walked into a firestorm after deciding not to pursue the death penalty for a man accused in the killing of a police officer — drawing attacks from law enforcement leaders and even Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of the most respected Democrats in the state.

Six years later, when Ms. Harris ran for state attorney general, national Republicans poured more than $1 million into the race, trying to defeat her with charged advertisements invoking the death penalty case. Ms. Harris barely defeated her Republican opponent, the district attorney of Los Angeles.

But now, at age 50 and after winning a second term, Ms. Harris has suddenly established herself as the dominant candidate in the race to replace Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who announced in January that she would retire next year. With a speed and efficiency that startled many in her party, Ms. Harris has appeared, at least for now, to dispatch what most people had expected would be a sprawling generational battle with powerful ethnic overtones, given that Latinos now make up nearly 40 percent of California’s population…

She herself would be a pioneering figure, if elected — simultaneously the first black and the first South Asian senator from California

Read the entire article here.

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Trevor Noah to Succeed Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-30 15:12Z by Steven

Trevor Noah to Succeed Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’

The New York Times
2015-03-30

Dave Itzkoff, Culture Reporter

In December, Trevor Noah, a 31-year-old comedian, made his debut as an on-air contributor on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” offering his outsider’s perspective, as a biracial South African, on the United States.

“I never thought I’d be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa,” he said with a smile. “It kind of makes me a little nostalgic for the old days, back home.”

Now, after only three appearances on that Comedy Central show, Mr. Noah has gotten a huge and unexpected promotion. On Monday, Comedy Central will announce that Mr. Noah has been chosen as the new host of “The Daily Show,” succeeding Mr. Stewart after he steps down later this year.

Read the entire article here.

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Alabama Shakes’s Soul-Stirring, Shape-Shifting New Sound

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-19 20:45Z by Steven

Alabama Shakes’s Soul-Stirring, Shape-Shifting New Sound

The New York Times Magazine
2015-03-18

Joe Rhodes

With its highly anticipated second album, this band of small-town misfits finally has a ticket out — not that they would ever leave.

In the upstairs dressing room at the Georgia Theater in Athens, Ga., in January, Alabama Shakes was getting restless. The band was about to perform songs from its second album, “Sound & Color,” for the first time, and the room was full of distractions. Friends and relatives had driven over from Alabama: cousins and uncles, wives and girlfriends, crying babies and unrestrained toddlers. Sippy cups and spilled Cheerios were scattered everywhere.

Off to one side, Brittany Howard, the 26-year-old lead singer, stared into the middle distance, listening to the new tracks on her headphones, concentrating on the sections that had given her trouble in rehearsal. She got the last touch-ups on her makeup and hair, a sort of Mohawk-bouffant cropped close on the sides, her bouncy curls left free to run wild on the top, and slipped into her show boots: ankle-high burgundy suede.

As the band made its way toward the stairwell that connected the dressing room to the stage, the backup gospel singers, a first-time luxury, followed close behind. The procession moved slowly down the six flights of steel and concrete, which formed a sort of vertical echo chamber. The singers ran scales as they descended, and invited Howard to join them, to take advantage of the acoustics and the last few remaining seconds to prep her vocal cords.

“I don’t really know how to warm up,” she said, laughing. Maybe she was joking. Maybe not. Then, as if to punctuate the point, she let loose a guttural roar that reverberated up and down the stairwell. She laughed again just before she walked through the door to the stage, where a thousand fans screamed at the first glimpse of her. Then she turned around and shouted the University of Alabama rally cry back to the musicians assembled in the stairwell, at the top of her lungs: “ROLLLLLL TIDE!”

Alabama Shakes’s rapid ascent has been largely fueled by Howard’s singular stage presence. When she first steps in front of a crowd, there are moments when she seems like the awkward adolescent she used to be, all too aware of her size, her looks and her lumbering gait. But when she hits that first big unrestrained note — her face contorted as if possessed — or a thundering chord on her Gibson, stomping and quaking, preaching and confessing, her jaw jutting out like an angry, pouting child’s, everything changes. It becomes impossible to look anywhere else. She can sound by turns ferocious or angelic, sometimes in the same song. When she sings about heartbreak, it feels as if, right there at that moment, she is consumed by it…

Read the entire article here.

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Hate Takes the Bus

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2015-03-12 15:36Z by Steven

Hate Takes the Bus

The New York Times
2015-03-11

Charles M. Blow

A University of Oklahoma Fraternity’s Chant and the Rigidity of Racism

This week, when video was posted showing members of the University of Oklahoma’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon gleefully engaged in a racist chant on a bus, some people were shocked. Others, like me, were not.

This was just video confirmation of a racism that envelops us like a fog, often just as evanescent and immeasurable.

Some people seemed surprised because these were millennials, and college students to boot. Both because of generational easing and educational enlightenment, weren’t these sorts of things supposed to be vestiges of the past?

After all, as the Pew Research Center put it last year, “Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history,” with “some 43 percent of millennial adults” being nonwhite.

A 2010 Pew report found that “almost all millennials accept interracial dating and marriage.” An MTV poll of millennials found that “84 percent say their family taught them that everyone should be treated the same, no matter what their race,” and that 89 percent “do believe that everyone should be treated the same no matter their race.”

But these numbers can be deceiving. They don’t herald an age of egalitarianism as we might think…

Read the entire article here.

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Don’t Starve the Census

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-03-11 16:48Z by Steven

Don’t Starve the Census

The New York Times
2015-03-10

The Editorial Board

Some Republicans in Congress are calling for cuts to the Census Bureau’s budget that would impair the agency’s already strained ability to gather basic data.

An accurate census is essential to determining the correct number of representatives from each state, the effectiveness of voting laws and the allotment of federal aid to states. In fact, information from the census and other surveys by the bureau is crucial to anyone — policy makers and businesspeople, researchers and citizens — who wants to understand the United States, assess where it is headed and influence its course on the basis of hard data.

The White House has requested a slim $1.5 billion for the bureau for fiscal year 2016. Much of that would be for the 2020 census, the planning of which is already behind schedule because of previous budget cuts. Next year is critical for the testing of data-gathering technology; Congress’s failure to provide timely financing to try out hand-held computers before the 2010 census forced a last-minute reversion to paper forms, which proved costlier than an orderly roll out of the computers would have been…

Read the entire article here.

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Obama, at Selma Memorial, Says, ‘We Know the March Is Not Over Yet’

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-03-08 00:44Z by Steven

Obama, at Selma Memorial, Says, ‘We Know the March Is Not Over Yet’

The New York Times
2015-03-07

Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent

Richard Fausset


Doug Mills/The New York Times

SELMA, Ala. — As a new generation struggles over race and power in America, President Obama and a host of political figures from both parties came here on Saturday, to the site of one of the most searing days of the civil rights era, to reflect on how far the country has come and how far it still has to go.

Fifty years after peaceful protesters trying to cross a bridge were beaten by police officers with billy clubs, shocking the nation and leading to passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, the nation’s first African-American president led a bipartisan, multiracial testimonial to the pioneers whose courage helped pave the way for his own election to the highest office of the land.

But coming just days after Mr. Obama’s Justice Department excoriated the police department of Ferguson, Mo., as a hotbed of racist oppression, even as it cleared a white officer in the killing of an unarmed black teenager, the anniversary seemed more than a commemoration of long-ago events on a black-and-white newsreel. Instead, it provided a moment to measure the country’s far narrower, and yet stubbornly persistent, divide in black-and-white reality…

Read the entire article here. Read President Obama’s transcript here.

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