The Case for Black With a Capital B

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

The Case for Black With a Capital B

The New York Times
2014-11-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire article here.

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‘Empire of Sin,’ by Gary Krist

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

‘Empire of Sin,’ by Gary Krist

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

Walter Isaacson, President and CEO
Aspen Institute

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

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

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

Read the entire review here.

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‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan

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

‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire review here.

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What ‘White Privilege’ Really Means

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

What ‘White Privilege’ Really Means

The New York Times
2014-11-05

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

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire interview here.

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Blacks, Obama and the Election

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-11-03 18:37Z by Steven

Blacks, Obama and the Election

The New York Times
2014-11-02

Charles M. Blow, Visual Op-Ed columnist

President Obama’s name won’t be on any ballots Tuesday, but he will most certainly be on them in spirit — a fact that many Republicans are trumpeting and some Democrats are hoping to downplay.

The president is not particularly popular at the moment.

According to Gallup’s Frank Newport:

“President Obama’s job approval rating is 42 percent. If that holds up until the day before the election, it will be the second-lowest job approval rating for a president before a midterm election going back to 1982 when Ronald Reagan, of course, was president of the U.S. What was the lowest of all? That was George W. Bush’s, whose job approval rating was 38 percent back in 2006.”…

…This is the great immeasurable when it comes to this man. Race is a construct that, unfortunately, is woven through the fabric of America. Of course, it has some bearing on our politics, but it’s nearly impossible to calculate the degree of the effect for a particular politician. And there can be benefit as well as detriment — pride and prejudice as counterweights.

As Obama himself told The New Yorker in January: “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President.”

He continued: “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

As Gallup pointed out last week: “We find very little change in the support given to Obama among his strongest demographic subgroup: black Americans.” The report continued, “In fact, if anything, the trend is for relatively higher support among blacks” when measuring the gap between black support for Obama and the national average…

Read the entire article here.

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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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