What Is Whiteness?

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2015-07-01 01:33Z by Steven

What Is Whiteness?

Sunday Review
The New York Times
2015-06-20

Nell Irvin Painter, Professor Emerita of History
Princeton University

The terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C., an atrocity like so many other shameful episodes in American history, has overshadowed the drama of Rachel A. Dolezal’s yearslong passing for black. And for good reason: Hateful mass murder is, of course, more consequential than one woman’s fiction. But the two are connected in a way that is relevant to many Americans.

An essential problem here is the inadequacy of white identity. Everyone loves to talk about blackness, a fascinating thing. But bring up whiteness and fewer people want to talk about it. Whiteness is on a toggle switch between “bland nothingness” and “racist hatred.”

On one side is Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old charged with murdering nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday. He’s part of a very old racist tradition, stretching from the anti-black violence following the Civil War, through the 1915 movie “The Birth of a Nation,” to today’s white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and gun-toting, apocalyptically minded Obama-haters. And now a mass murderer in a church.

On the other side is Ms. Dolezal, the former leader of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., who, it seems, mistakenly believed that she could not be both anti-racist and white. Faced with her assumed choice between a blank identity or a malevolent one, she opted out of whiteness altogether. Notwithstanding the confusion and anger she has stirred, she continues to say that she identifies as black. Fine. But why, we wonder, did she pretend to be black?

Our search for understanding in matters of race automatically inclines us toward blackness, although that is not where these answers lie. It has become a common observation that blackness, and race more generally, is a social construct. But examining whiteness as a social construct offers more answers. The essential problem is the inadequacy of white identity…

Read the entire article here.

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Misty Copeland Is Promoted to Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theater

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2015-06-30 17:16Z by Steven

Misty Copeland Is Promoted to Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theater

The New York Times
2015-06-30

Michael Cooper

Misty Copeland, whose openness about race in ballet helped to make her one of the most famous ballerinas in the United States, was promoted on Tuesday by American Ballet Theater, becoming the first African-American female principal dancer in the company’s 75-year history.

Her promotion — after more than 14 years with the company, nearly eight as a soloist — came as Ms. Copeland’s fame spread far beyond traditional dance circles.

She made the cover of Time magazine this year, was profiled by “60 Minutes” and presented a Tony Award on this year’s telecast. She has written a memoir and a children’s book, and has more than a half-million followers on Instagram. An online ad she made for Under Armour has been viewed more than 8 million times, and she is the subject of a documentary screened this year at the Tribeca Film Festival…

…That race could still be such an issue in 2015 — and African-American dancers still so rarely seen at elite ballet companies — has been depressing to many dancegoers, and has led to impassioned discussions in the dance world and beyond about race, stereotypes and image.

More than a half-century has passed since the pioneering black dancer Arthur Mitchell broke through the color barrier and became a principal dancer at New York City Ballet in 1962, and a generation has elapsed since Lauren Anderson became the first African-American principal at Houston Ballet, in 1990. But City Ballet has had only two black principal dancers in its history, both men: Mr. Mitchell and Albert Evans, who died last week. And Ballet Theater officials said that the company’s only African-American principal dancer before now was Desmond Richardson, who joined as a principal in 1997…

Read the entire article here.

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America’s ‘Postracial’ Fantasy

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2015-06-30 16:51Z by Steven

America’s ‘Postracial’ Fantasy

The New York Times Magazine
2015-06-30

Anna Holmes

For millions of mixed-race people, identity fits more than one box, but we still see one another in black and white.

On Father’s Day, my dad and I had brunch with some close friends of mine. The conversation soon turned to their two sons: their likes, their dislikes, their habit of disrupting classmates during nap time at nursery school. At one point, as I ran my hand through one of the boys’ silky brown hair, I asked whether they consider their kids biracial. (The father is white; the mother is South Asian.) Before they could respond, the children’s paternal grandmother, in town for a visit, replied as if the answer were the most obvious thing in the world: “They’re white.”

I was taken aback, but I also realized she had a point: The two boys, who have big brown eyes and just a blush of olive in their skin, are already — and will probably continue to be — regarded as white first, South Asian a distant second. Nothing in their appearance would suggest otherwise, and who’s to say whether, once they realize that people see them as white, they will feel the need to set the record straight? Most people prefer the straightforward to the complex — especially when it when it comes to conversations about race.

A Pew Research Center study released in June, “Multiracial in America,” reports that “biracial adults who are white and Asian say they have more in common with whites than they do with Asians” and “are more likely to say they feel accepted by whites than by Asians.” While 76 percent of all mixed-­race Americans claim that their backgrounds have made “no difference” in their lives, the data and anecdotes included in the study nevertheless underscore how, for a fair number of us, words like “multiracial” and “biracial” are awkward and inadequate, denoting identities that are fluid for some and fixed for others…

…My interactions with the world also underscored that biracial children are not in any way created equal — others’ interpretations of us are informed by assumptions based on appearance. Few black-white biracial Americans, compared with multiracial Asian-­whites, have the privilege of easily “passing“: Our blackness defines us and marks us in a way that mixed-­race parentage in others does not. As the Pew survey explains, children of Native American-­white parents make up over half of the country’s multiracial population and, like Asian-­white children, are usually thought of as white. The survey also reports that although the number of black-white biracial Americans more than doubled from 2000 to 2010, 69 percent of them say that most others see them solely as black; “for multiracial adults with a black background,” Pew notes, “experiences with discrimination closely mirror those of single-­race blacks.”..

Read the entire artricle here.

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Review: Misty Copeland Debuts as Odette/Odile in ‘Swan Lake’

Posted in Arts, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-06-29 22:05Z by Steven

Review: Misty Copeland Debuts as Odette/Odile in ‘Swan Lake’

The New York Times
2015-06-25

Alastair Macaulay, Dance Critic


Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in “Swan Lake.” Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times

When Misty Copeland made her New York debut in the double role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake,” the most epic role in world ballet, two aspects of the performance on Wednesday afternoon proved marvelous. One: that it all happened successfully. Two: the curtain calls.

Let everyone know henceforth that an African-American ballerina has danced this exalted role with American Ballet Theater at the prestigious Metropolitan Opera House. Let everyone know that other African-American dancers, Raven Wilkinson (who danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1955-61) and Lauren Anderson (who, with the Houston Ballet, was the first African-American ballerina to become a principal of an American ballet company), brought her bouquets onstage. And let everyone know that her fellow dancers shared her applause with pride. (The enthusiasm and affection shown by James Whiteside, who partnered her as Prince Siegfried, was especially engaging.)

As Odette, the Swan Queen, Ms. Copeland has moments of courage and grandeur when you feel the heroic scale of Tchaikovsky’s celebrated drama. She runs boldly around the stage like a creature accustomed to vast space; she raises her arms with the epic sweep of mighty wings. In other respects, she’s admirable but without striking individuality. The substance of “Swan Lake” is there, but in potential. I hope she dances it again and reveals more in it…

Read the entire review here.

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Driven by Love or Ambition, Slipping Across the Color Line Through the Ages

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-29 20:33Z by Steven

Driven by Love or Ambition, Slipping Across the Color Line Through the Ages

The New York Times
2015-06-28

Rachel L. Swarns


Clarence King, a Yale-educated white man who worked as a geologist in the 1800s and dined at the White House, lived a secret life as James Todd, a black train porter with a wife and five children in Brooklyn.

The railroad carried him to the hot springs of Arkansas, the copper mines of Montana and the gold fields of the Pacific Northwest. Weary, lonesome and ailing, he sent letters of love and longing to his wife in New York City.

“I can see your dear face every night when I lay my head on the pillow,” he wrote. “I think of you and dream of you, and my first waking thought is of your dear face and your loving heart.”

Ada Todd saved those letters, symbols of devotion from her husband, James Todd, a fair-skinned black man from Baltimore who worked as a Pullman porter in the late 1800s, and spent weeks and sometimes months away from home.

His earnings allowed the family to move from a cramped, predominantly African-American section of Vinegar Hill in Brooklyn to a more residential street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, to a spacious 11-room house in Flushing, Queens. It was only when he was dying in 1901 that Ms. Todd finally began to piece together the truth: Her husband was not from Baltimore. He was not a Pullman porter. And he was not a black man…

…Yet 19th-century history is dotted with such cases. White men and women driven by love, ambition or other circumstances sometimes leapt across the racial chasm, defying state laws and social conventions designed to keep blacks and whites apart.

“We’ll never know how many people did it,” said Martha A. Sandweiss, a historian at Princeton University who documented Mr. King’s double life for the first time in her book “Passing Strange,” which was published in 2009.

“If they did it well,” she said, “they’re invisible.”

Clarence King did it well…

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But Ms. Dolezal’s view of herself — however confused, or incongruent with society’s — reveals an essential truth about race: It is a fiction, a social construct based in culture and not biology.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-06-22 21:41Z by Steven

But Ms. [Rachel A.] Dolezal’s view of herself — however confused, or incongruent with society’s — reveals an essential truth about race: It is a fiction, a social construct based in culture and not biology. It must be “made” from what people believe and do. Race is performative. It is the memories that bind us, the stories passed down to us, the experiences that we share, the social forces that surround us.

Allyson Hobbs, “Rachel Dolezal’s Unintended Gift to America,” The New York Times, June 17, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/17/opinion/rachel-dolezals-unintended-gift-to-america.html.

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U.S. ‘Not Cured’ of Racism, Obama Says, Citing Slavery’s Legacy

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, United States on 2015-06-22 20:40Z by Steven

U.S. ‘Not Cured’ of Racism, Obama Says, Citing Slavery’s Legacy

The New York Times
2015-06-22

Michael D. Shear, White House Correspondent

Christine Hauser, Reporter

WASHINGTON — Just days after nine black parishioners were killed in a South Carolina church, President Obama said the legacy of slavery still “casts a long shadow” on American life, and he said that choosing not to say the word “nigger” in public does not eliminate racism from society.

In a wide-ranging conversation about race, including his own upbringing as a man born to a black father and a white woman, Mr. Obama insisted that there was no question that race relations have improved in his lifetime. But he also said that racism was still deeply embedded in the United States.

“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on,” the president said during an interview for Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast that was released on Monday. “We’re not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.”

He added, “Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened two to 300 years prior.”

Mr. Obama has been more open about the issue of race during his second term, in part because of racially charged episodes in the last several years. The killing of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager in Florida, and the protests that followed several police shootings have prompted the president to be more reflective about his own racial identity and the nation’s.

In the hourlong interview, Mr. Obama talked about being a rebel during his youth and “trying on” different kinds of personas as he struggled to understand what kind of African-American man he wanted to be.

“I’m trying on a whole bunch of outfits,” Mr. Obama said. “Here’s how I should act. Here’s what it means to be cool. Here’s what it means to be a man.”

He said that a lot of his issues when he was young “revolved around race” but that his attitude changed around the time he turned 20. That is when he began to understand how to honor both sides of his racial identity, the president said.

“I don’t have to be one way to be both an African-American and also someone who affirms the white side of my family,” he said. “I don’t have to push back from the love and values that my mom instilled in me.”…

Read the entire article here.

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From Ferguson to Charleston and Beyond, Anguish About Race Keeps Building

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-06-21 02:59Z by Steven

From Ferguson to Charleston and Beyond, Anguish About Race Keeps Building

The New York Times
2015-06-20

Lydia Polgreen, Johannesburg Bureau Chief

Ferguson. Baltimore. Staten Island. North Charleston. Cleveland.

Over the past year in each of these American cities, an unarmed black male has died at the hands of a police officer, unleashing a torrent of anguish and soul-searching about race in America. Despite video evidence in several of the killings, each has spurred more discord than unity.

Grand juries have tended to give the benefit of the doubt to police officers. National polls revealed deep divisions in how whites and blacks viewed the facts in each case. Whites were more likely to believe officers’ accounts justifying the use of force. Blacks tended to see deeper forces at work: longstanding police bias against black men and a presumption that they are criminals.

Then, on Wednesday night, a young white man walked into a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., and joined a group of worshipers as they bowed their heads over their Bibles. He shot and killed nine of them. In his Facebook profile picture, the suspect, Dylann Roof, wore the flags of racist regimes in South Africa and the former Rhodesia.

The massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was something else entirely from the police killings. But it, too, has become a racial flash point and swept aside whatever ambiguity seemed to muddle those earlier cases, baldly posing questions about race in America: Was the gunman a crazed loner motivated by nothing more than his own madness? Or was he an extreme product of the same legacy of racism that many black Americans believe sent Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Tamir Rice to their graves?

The debate has already begun…

…America is living through a moment of racial paradox. Never in its history have black people been more fully represented in the public sphere. The United States has a black president and a glamorous first lady who is a descendant of slaves. African-Americans lead the country’s pop culture in many ways, from sports to music to television, where show-runners like Shonda Rhimes and Lee Daniels have created new black icons, including the political fixer Olivia Pope on “Scandal” and the music mogul Cookie Lyon on “Empire.”

It has become commonplace to refer to the generation of young people known as millennials as “post-racial.” Black culture has become so mainstream that a woman born to white parents who had claimed to be black almost broke the Internet last week by saying that she was “transracial.”

Yet in many ways, the situation of black America is dire…

Read the entire article here.

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Rachel Dolezal’s Unintended Gift to America

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-17 22:22Z by Steven

Rachel Dolezal’s Unintended Gift to America

The New York Times
2015-06-17

Allyson Hobbs, Assistant Professor of History
Stanford University

Allyson Hobbs is the author of “A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life.”

In James Baldwin’s 1968 novel “Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone,” a child points to his light-skinned mother’s relationships to offer a compelling case that she is indisputably black:

“Our mama is almost white … but that don’t make her white. You got to be all white to be white …. You can tell she’s a colored woman because she’s married to a colored man, and she’s got two colored children. Now, you know ain’t no white lady going to do a thing like that.”

For the child in Baldwin’s novel, racial identity was determined by the life one chose to live and the relationships one chose to privilege.

Rachel A. Dolezal evidently believes that she should have the same choice as the light-skinned mother in Baldwin’s novel. Enmeshed in black politics, black communities and black experiences — she is raising two black sons — why should she see herself any other way?

As a historian who has spent the last 12 years studying “passing,” I am disheartened that there is so little sympathy for Ms. Dolezal or understanding of her life circumstances…

Whiteness is a form of property, the legal scholar Cheryl I. Harris has argued, a privilege that allocated economic, political and social resources along the color line. By passing as white, one could have access to employment opportunities, buy a house in a better neighborhood, and enjoy countless other advantages, like sitting in a more comfortable seat on a train or being addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” One could do more than survive; one could live….

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The “one-drop rule,” which, for much of American history, legally defined as black anyone with a black ancestor, was used to keep black people from adopting whiteness. Ironically, it has made it easier for Ms. Dolezal to claim blackness without others questioning the assertion.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-06-17 15:38Z by Steven

The “one-drop rule,” which, for much of American history, legally defined as black anyone with a black ancestor, was used to keep black people from adopting whiteness. Ironically, it has made it easier for Ms. [Rachel] Dolezal to claim blackness without others questioning the assertion. If they are not themselves of a similar hue to Ms. Dolezal, many black people watching her story unfold can recognize in her features a cousin, parent or grandparent. African-Americans vary in appearance from light-skinned to coal black, straight- to curly-haired, keen- to broad-featured, and every possible combination in between.

Tamara Winfrey Harris, “Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful Masquerade,” The New York Times, June 16, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/opinion/rachel-dolezals-harmful-masquerade.html.

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