Negro? Prieto? Moreno? A Question of Identity for Black Mexicans

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2014-10-26 17:33Z by Steven

Negro? Prieto? Moreno? A Question of Identity for Black Mexicans

The New York Times
2014-10-25

Randal C. Archibold, Bureau Chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean

JOSÉ MARÍA MORELOS, Mexico — Hernán Reyes calls himself “negro” — black — plain and simple.

After some thought, Elda Mayren decides she is “Afromexicana,” or African-Mexican.

Candido Escuen, a 58-year-old papaya farmer, is not quite sure what word to use, but he knows he is not mestizo, or mixed white and native Indian, which is how most Mexicans describe themselves.

“Prieto,” or dark, “is what a lot of people call me,” he said.

This isolated village is named for an independence hero, thought to have had black ancestors, who helped abolish slavery in Mexico. It lies in the rugged hills of southwestern Mexico, among a smattering of towns and hamlets that have long embraced a heritage from African slaves who were brought here to work in mines and on sugar plantations in the 16th century.

Just how many people are willing to share that pride may soon be put to the test as Mexico moves to do something it has not attempted in decades and never on its modern census: ask people if they consider themselves black.

Or Afromexican. Or “moreno,” “mascogo,” “jarocho,” or “costeño” — some of the other terms sometimes used to describe black Mexicans.

What term or terms to use is not just a matter of personal and societal debate, but a longstanding dilemma that the government is hoping finally to resolve…

Read the entire article and view the slide show here.

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Medical Racism

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, United States on 2014-10-14 00:37Z by Steven

Medical Racism

The New York Times
2014-10-13

Brent Staples

The worst racial atrocities that took place in the Jim Crow South were carried out by the medical establishment, not by night riders cloaked in sheets. Indeed, many more African-Americans were killed by racist medical policies than by all the lynch mobs that ever existed. Until the late 1960s, the American Medical Association tacitly endorsed rules that denied membership to black physicians in the South, thus depressing their numbers in specialties such as surgery and ensuring that black patients would continue to receive dangerously substandard care — or no care at all.

This subject is rarely discussed in film or on television. The director Steven Soderbergh deserves praise for taking it up in “The Knick,” an absorbing, visually lush medical drama on Cinemax set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. The show centers on the self-obsessed, drug-addicted Dr. Thackery — compellingly played by Clive Owen — who leads a surgical team at the Knickerbocker, a hospital whose wards are awash in the immigrant poor. Known to his comrades as Thack, the junkie surgeon plans to carve his way to immortality, one bloody patient at a time, while lecturing to the rapt audience of doctors who crowd in to view his handiwork in the operating theater.

A racist, he is repulsed when a wealthy hospital patron forces him to accept the services of a talented black surgeon, Dr. Algernon Edwards — André Holland — even though Edwards has trained abroad and mastered techniques that his white betters have yet to learn…

…Critics who wonder about the real-world antecedents of the Dr. Edwards character should look to Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950). A towering figure in medical history, Dr. Drew helped to make blood banks possible by developing efficient ways to process and store vast amounts of blood plasma. He began his career in the 1930s when surgical residencies at white hospitals in New York — even those that treated black patients — were officially closed to black physicians. Charming and urbane, Dr. Drew wrangled what a contemporary later described as a “bootleg” residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, thanks to a white doctor who took an interest in him. The fact that he was light-skinned enough to be mistaken for white was clearly an asset; it made it easier for him to find acceptance with white colleagues and patients…

Read the entire article here.

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Meditation on President Obama’s Portrait

Posted in Articles, Arts, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-09-25 01:11Z by Steven

Meditation on President Obama’s Portrait

Lens Blog: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism
The New York Times
2014-07-25

Maurice Berger, Research Professor and Chief Curator
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Dawoud Bey’s photograph of the man who would soon be president was taken on a Sunday afternoon in early 2007, at Barack and Michelle Obama’s Hyde Park home in Chicago. The portrait is at once stately and informal. Mr. Obama’s hands are folded gracefully in his lap. He wears an elegant suit and white shirt, but no tie. He stares intensely into the camera.

The Museum of Contemporary Photography had commissioned Mr. Bey the year before to take a portrait of a notable Chicagoan. He had known the Obamas for several years and saw them periodically at social gatherings. Impressed with Mr. Obama’s keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, Mr. Bey sensed a “growing air of expectancy” about him.

“When I was asked who I wanted to photograph,” Mr. Bey said, “it took me but a second to decide that I wanted to photograph him.”

Mr. Bey posed Mr. Obama at the head of the dining room table, light reflecting off its polished surface, and photographed him from an angle. “I wanted an interesting animation of the body, and finally through camera positioning and having him turn himself slightly I figured it out,” Mr. Bey said…

…Mr. Obama’s race has rendered him particularly vulnerable to this kind of mythmaking. Right-wing extremists see him as an exemplar of what is wrong with America. He has become a symbol of a dark and foreign otherness, a threat to white supremacy and racial purity. To some, he is a Muslim conspirator, bent on dismantling American mores and traditions. To others, he is an angry black man covertly intent on avenging slavery and other historic injustices.

This mythmaking has not been limited to conservatives. A year after Mr. Bey photographed Mr. Obama, the candidate was rousing messianic fantasies on the left, stoked by the election’s most memorable image: Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster.

Distributed independently by the artist and later adopted by the Obama campaign, the poster was visually dynamic and politically effective. It radiated an aura of confidence and optimism. But Mr. Fairey’s schematic rendering of Mr. Obama — branded by a single, amorphous word — reduced the candidate to a cartoonlike, racially ambiguous cipher.

Raking across Mr. Obama’s face, in a picture devoid of the color brown, was a broad swath of off-white paint, a metaphoric blank screen onto which voters were invited to project their dreams and aspirations. The “Hope” poster visually transformed a man who unambiguously defined himself as black into an icon of the unthreatening “postracial” politician…

Read the entire article here.

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A Family Rooted in Two Realms

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-24 20:45Z by Steven

A Family Rooted in Two Realms

The New York Times
2014-09-23

Neil Genzlinger, Television Critic


In “black-ish,” Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross lead a family wrestling with racial issues. From left, Marsai Martin, Marcus Scribner, Yara Shahidi and Miles Brown as their children.
ADAM TAYLOR / ABC

‘black-ish,’ a New ABC Comedy, Taps Racial Issues

A lot of people in the television business are said to be curious to see how “black-ish,” ABC’s new comedy, is received when it has its premiere on Wednesday night. What they should really be curious about, though, is where the series goes after its funny but talking-point-heavy first episode.

The sitcom centers on a black family in Los Angeles, the Johnsons, struggling with prosperity. Andre (Anthony Anderson) works at an advertising agency; in the premiere, he’s on the verge of a major promotion. Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is an anesthesiologist. Their four children are smart and adorable.

If this puts you in mind of the Huxtables of “The Cosby Show,” that’s no accident. But more than the Huxtables ever were, the Johnsons are wrestling with whether their comfortable lives are causing them to forget that they’re black…

…At home, he tells his lighter-skinned wife — a “pigment-challenged mixed-race woman,” he calls her — that she’s not black enough. He is dismayed that his older son is trying out for field hockey instead of basketball. The dinner table discussion (yes, we’ve found the last family in America that still eats together around a dinner table) focuses on whether the children know that Barack Obama is the first black president. Even fried chicken comes in for scrutiny, although not from Andre, but from his father, winningly played by Laurence Fishburne.

It’s all gentle as can be. “Black-ish” may be full of racial themes, but it’s working a gimmick that transcends race: Dad as buffoon…

Read the entire review here.

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Black Fathers, Present and Accountable

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-24 16:38Z by Steven

Black Fathers, Present and Accountable

Lens Blog: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism
The New York Times
2014-09-19

Maurice Berger, Research Professor and Chief Curator
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

An anxious little girl hugs her father as a shark swims overhead in an aquarium. A man feeds his baby as he keeps a mindful eye on his three other rambunctious children. A single father reveals the tattoo on his forearm that depicts him as his son’s guardian angel. A young man poses proudly with the teacher he sees as a father figure.

While these photographs depict everyday situations, they are in one sense unusual: Their subjects are black and counter mainstream media that typically depict African-American fatherhood as a wasteland of dysfunction and irresponsibility. These images appear in a groundbreaking new book, “Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood” (Ceiba), by Zun Lee, a photographer and physician based in Toronto. A reception and book signing to mark its release will take place Friday night at the Bronx Documentary Center.

In 2011, Mr. Lee began photographing black men and their children from New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Toronto, Newark and other cities. He relied on friends and social media to find his subjects. Intent on creating a nuanced and affirmative view of these families, Mr. Lee spent weeks at a time getting to know them.

“Out of the hundreds of fathers I came across, the ones I ended up photographing were right for this project for very simple reasons,” Mr. Lee, 45, wrote in his book. “Not only did we develop a trust that allowed me into the inner sanctum of their private lives, but something about these fathers’ interaction with their kids resonated in ways that redeemed my own story.”

Mr. Lee’s personal history informs the project in complex and surprising ways. When he was in his 30s, his Korean mother confessed to him that his biological father was a black man with whom she had a brief affair. This knowledge, combined with the physical and verbal abuse he endured from the Korean father who raised him, stoked anger and confusion. Mr. Lee wondered why his biological father abandoned his mother, why he had made no effort to reconnect with his son, and whether his childhood would have been better had he been raised by both of his biological parents…

Read the entire article here.

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Challenger Upends Brazilian Race for Presidency

Posted in Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Women on 2014-09-17 17:52Z by Steven

Challenger Upends Brazilian Race for Presidency

The New York Times
2014-09-15

Simon Romero, Brazil Bureau Chief

RIO DE JANEIRO — When Dilma Rousseff and Marina Silva were both cabinet ministers, they clashed on everything from building nuclear power plants to licensing huge dams in the Amazon.

Ms. Rousseff came out on top, emerging as the political heir to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and ultimately succeeding him as president. But she now finds herself locked in a heated race with Ms. Silva, an environmental icon who is jockeying for the lead in polling ahead of the Oct. 5 election as an insurgent candidate repudiating the power structure she helped assemble.

Ms. Silva’s upending of the presidential race is a symbol of the antiestablishment sentiment that has roiled Brazil, including anxiety over a sluggish economy and fatigue with political corruption. Her rising popularity also taps into shifts in society like the rising clout of evangelical Christian voters and a growing disquiet with policies that have raised incomes while doing little to improve the quality of life in Brazilian cities.

“Marina differs from other politicians” in this election “in that she came almost from nothing,” said Sonia Regina Gonçalo, 34, a janitor, referring to Ms. Silva, who was born into extreme poverty in the far reaches of the Amazon. “She’s the ideal candidate for this time in Brazil.”

Thrust to the fore after her running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash in August, Ms. Silva, 56, has a background with few parallels at the highest levels of Brazilian politics, allowing her to resonate with voters across the country.

If elected, she would be Brazil’s first black president, a milestone in a country where most people now identify themselves as black or mixed race, but where political power is still concentrated in the hands of whites…

Read the entire article here.

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Argentina Rediscovers Its African Roots

Posted in Anthropology, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery on 2014-09-15 01:47Z by Steven

Argentina Rediscovers Its African Roots

The New York Times
2014-09-12

Michael T. Luongo

The chapel in the small lakeside resort community of Chascomús is at best underwhelming. Its whitewashed brick exterior is partly obstructed by a tangle of vines and bushes, and its dim, one-room interior is no more majestic than its facade. Wooden pews and an uneven dirt floor are scarcely illuminated by sunlight from a single window. The gray, cracked, dusty walls are adorned with crosses, photos, icons — things people leave to mark their pilgrimage. A low front altar is layered with thick candle wax, flowers and a pantheon of black saints, Madonnas and African deities like the sea goddess Yemanja of the Yoruba religion.

Despite its unkempt state, this chapel, the Capilla de los Negros, attracts a little over 11,000 tourists each year who come to see a church named for the freed slaves who built it in 1861.

The chapel is “where we can locate ourselves and point out the truth that we are here,” said Soledad Luis, an Afro-Argentine from the tourism office who led me through the space. She knows it well. It sits on a plot her great-grandfather helped secure, and her family still gathers there weekly for a meal.

Capilla de los Negros feels off the beaten path, but it is part of a list of slave sites in Argentina created in 2009 by Unesco. Its inclusion signals the growing consciousness of African heritage in Argentina, seemingly the most Europeanized country in South America.

Argentina at one time had a robust African presence because of the slaves who were brought there, but its black population was decimated by myriad factors including heavy casualties on the front lines in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay in the 1860s; a yellow fever epidemic that rich, white Argentines largely escaped; and interracial offspring who, after successive generations, shed their African culture along with their features. And European immigration swelled the white population — 2.27 million Italians came between 1861 and 1914.

The demographic shift has been sharp. In 1800, on the eve of revolution with Spain, blacks made up more than a third of the country, 69,000 of a total population of 187,000, according to George Reid Andrews’s 2004 book “Afro-Latin America.” In 2010, 150,000 identified themselves as Afro-Argentine, or a mere 0.365 percent of a population of 41 million people, according to the census, the first in the country’s history that counted race.

But the culture the slaves brought with them remained. And in recent years, Argentina has gone from underselling its African roots to rediscovering them, as academics, archaeologists, immigrants and a nascent civil rights movement have challenged the idea that African and Argentine are mutually exclusive terms…

Read the entire article here.

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Choose Your Own Race

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-09-03 17:52Z by Steven

Choose Your Own Race

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
2014-08-29

Emily Raboteau

‘Your Face in Mine,’ by Jess Row

Do you ever dream of starting again in a new skin? This is the central question of Jess Row’s provocative and intriguing first novel, “Your Face in Mine.” It’s also a tag line of the shady enterprise in Bangkok where the book’s central character, Martin Wilkinson (né Lipkin), has paid a hefty sum to undergo something called racial reassignment surgery, to transform from a white Jewish man to an African-American one.

We’ve seen variations on this premise before, in the 1986 comedy flop “Soul Man,” in which C. Thomas Howell takes self-tanning pills so he can attend ­Harvard Law School on a scholarship for African-Americans, and in the 1961 best seller “Black Like Me,” wherein the white journalist John Howard Griffin disguised himself as black to tour the segregated South by bus. Those stories advanced blackface tradition from minstrelsy to illustrate (as only a white man can — with a wink) that it’s harder in this country to be black than white. Thankfully, Row’s narrative delves into more nuanced territory.

Martin becomes black not to teach anyone a lesson but to better reflect his “true self.” As in Adam Mansbach’s novel “Angry Black White Boy,” Martin’s condition speaks to a generation of suburban white kids who came up in the 1990s possessed by a vibrant hip-hop culture that let them access sincere rage at the world’s injustice in a way music hadn’t done since punk. (One of the book’s sharpest moments is its loving remembrance of the Spike Lee film “Do the Right Thing,” and Row is gifted throughout at writing about music.) Martin’s self-diagnosis is “Racial Identity Dysphoria Syndrome.” He compares his plight to that of a transsexual, but oddly enough, instead of being born into the wrong gender, he believes that he was born into the wrong race. Odder still, that race can be purchased, packaged and sold. More convincingly, he demonstrates it can be performed…

Read the entire review here.

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Chronicling Mississippi’s ‘Church Mothers,’ and Getting to Know a Grandmother

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Mississippi, Religion, United States, Women on 2014-08-31 18:18Z by Steven

Chronicling Mississippi’s ‘Church Mothers,’ and Getting to Know a Grandmother

The New York Times
2014-08-29

Samuel G. Freedman, Professor of Journalism
Columbia University, New York

SUMNER, Miss. — Toward noon on a torrid Monday in the Mississippi Delta, Alysia Burton Steele drove down Highway 49, looking for the crossroads near the Old Antioch Baptist Church. There, at the corner of a road called Friendship, she turned into the African-American section of Sumner, a dwindling hamlet of about 300 that suffices as a county seat.

A photographer by training and a professor by title, Ms. Steele was headed for the homes of two older neighbors, Lela Bearden, 88, and Herma Mims Floyd. She was bringing the women legacies to inspect, legacies in the form of portraits and testimonies she had taken of them over the last few years.

Ms. Bearden and Ms. Floyd were part of a larger assemblage of 50 African-American women whom Ms. Steele had chosen to chronicle in text and image for a book-in-progress she has titled “Jewels in the Delta.”

Whether by formal investiture or informal acclamation, nearly all the women in the book held the title of “church mother,” a term of respect and homage in black Christianity. As lifelong residents of the Delta — the landscape of the blues bards Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson and the terrain of the civil rights crusaders Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer — the women had lived through segregation and struggle and liberation.

“I knew there were hard times,” said Ms. Steele, 44. “But I did not understand it. Just to hear the things they went through. That blacks couldn’t try on shoes in stores. That you couldn’t go to school if there was cotton to pick. The stories made me cry. They put a face on history for me. I felt like I got my private history lesson.”

In her work, Ms. Steele has attested to the worth of lives that Jim Crow meant to render worthless. At times, she has had to convince the church mothers themselves that their stories were significant enough to be part of a book…

…For Ms. Steele, such biography served a covertly personal purpose. The past for which she was searching in the Delta was that of her own grandmother, Althenia Burton.

As the daughter of a black father and white mother, who divorced when she was 3, Ms. Steele was raised by her paternal grandparents. While young Alysia cherished her grandmother, her Gram, she also bitterly resisted her. When her grandmother insisted on bringing Alysia to church, the girl poked holes in her tights in the futile attempt at an excuse to miss it. Even as Ms. Burton cultivated her granddaughter’s ambition for college, she dismissed her passion for photography with the pronouncement “Pick a real major.”…

Read the entire article here.

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On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2014-08-22 20:05Z by Steven

On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

The New York Times
2007-10-12

John Strausbaugh

LAST month the City of New York gave Duffield Street in downtown Brooklyn an alternate name: Abolitionist Place. It’s an acknowledgment that long before Brooklyn was veined with subway lines, it was a hub of the Underground Railroad: the network of sympathizers and safe houses throughout the North that helped as many as 100,000 slaves flee the South before the Civil War.

With its extensive waterfront, its relatively large population of African-American freemen — slavery ended in New York in 1827 — and its many antislavery churches and activists, Brooklyn was an important nexus on the “freedom trail.” Some runaways stayed and risked being captured and returned to their owners, but most traveled on to the greater safety of Canada.

Because aiding fugitives from the South remained illegal even after New York abolished slavery — and because there was plenty of pro-slavery sentiment among Brooklyn merchants who did business with the South — Underground Railroad activities were clandestine and frequently recorded only in stories passed down within families. Corroborating documentation is scarce.

Still, it’s possible to follow some likely freedom routes through Brooklyn. You begin in Brooklyn Heights, where the Promenade offers sweeping views of the East River waterfront. In the decades before the Civil War, this waterfront bristled with the masts of sailing ships. Many were cargo vessels bringing cotton and other goods from the South. Sometimes they brought secret passengers: slaves fleeing to freedom. The fugitives slipped ashore and filtered into Brooklyn, where they were hidden and helped along on their journeys. Acquiring its railroad imagery by the 1830s, this antislavery network had its own “stationmasters” and “conductors,” who helped organize runaways’ passages north, and its own “stations” and “depots,” where they hid. Several Brooklyn churches participated. Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, a few blocks from the Promenade on Orange Street, between Hicks and Henry Streets, was called its “Grand Central Depot.”…

[Henry Ward] Beecher’s most successful tactic for arousing what he called “a panic of sympathy” for slaves was to stage mock slave auctions in the church, with the congregation bidding furiously to buy the captives’ freedom. The 1914 bronze statues of Beecher and two girls in the church’s courtyard by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculptured Mount Rushmore, depicts the first such auction, in 1848.

The most famous auction occurred in 1860, when Beecher urged his congregation to buy the freedom of a pretty 9-year-old from Washington, Sally Maria Diggs, called Pinky for her light complexion.

“After the service he called her to the platform and told the congregation her story,” Ms. Rosebrooks said. “He said, ‘No child should be in slavery, let alone a child like this.’ I’m sure he played on this. She could be your niece. She could be your sister. Your next door neighbor. So they passed the collection plate and raised $900, which is about $10,000 in today’s dollars.”

Congregants gave jewelry as well as cash. In a theatrical flourish Beecher fetched a ring from the collection plate, slipped it onto Pinky’s finger and declared, “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom.”

In 1927 when Plymouth Church celebrated the 80th anniversary of Beecher’s first sermon there, one who attended was Mrs. James Hunt, a stately woman of 76. She was Pinky and had grown up to marry a lawyer in Washington. According to Plymouth Church lore, she brought the ring with her; Ms. Rosebrooks showed me a simple gold band set with a small amethyst. (A Brooklyn Eagle article from 1927, however, quotes Mrs. Hunt as saying the ring had been lost.)…

Read the entire article here.

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