Charles Blow blows his horn in the New York Times

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-29 20:19Z by Steven

Charles Blow blows his horn in the New York Times

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2016-06-27

Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

In today’s New York Times, opinion editor Charles Blow delivers a harsh critique of the movie, Free State of Jones, arguing that its treatment of slavery in general and the rape of slave women in particular amounts to a “genteel treatment” of the institution. Blow then turns to my book “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War, and accuses me of using “grossly inappropriate descriptors” to characterize what in reality was rape. To demonstrate, he quotes the following passage from my book:

Through encounters with women such as Rachel, Newt knew that white men regularly crossed the color line despite laws and social taboos that forbade interracial liaisons and marriages. Rachel, light-skinned and physically attractive, was the sort of slave after whom many white men lusted. The fact that she had a white-skinned daughter announced to interested men that she had already been “initiated” into the world of interracial relations. (page 86)

With great indignation, Blow then exclaims, “Encounters? Liaisons? Initiated? Sexual relations? As long as she was a slave this was rape! Always. Period.”

I responded in the comments section of his op ed with the following:…

Read the entire article here.

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White Savior, Rape and Romance?

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-28 01:41Z by Steven

White Savior, Rape and Romance?

The New York Times
2016-06-27

Charles M. Blow

The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

It tries desperately to cast the Civil War, and specifically dissent within the Confederacy, as more a populism-versus-elitism class struggle in which poor white men were forced to fight a rich white man’s war and protect the cotton trade, rather than equally a conflict about the moral abhorrence of black slavery.

Throughout, there is the white liberal insistence that race is merely a subordinate construction of class, with Newt himself saying at the burial of poor white characters, “somehow, some way, sometime, everybody is just somebody else’s nigger.”

And, by extension, there is the lingering suggestion of post-racialism because, as the author Victoria E. Bynum writes in the book’s preface, the relationship between Newt and Rachel “added the specter of interracial intimacy to the story.”…

Read the entire review here.

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How Jesse Williams Stole BET Awards With Speech on Racism

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-27 18:42Z by Steven

How Jesse Williams Stole BET Awards With Speech on Racism

The New York Times
2016-06-27

Katie Rogers

Jesse Williams accepting the humanitarian award at the BET Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. Credit Matt Sayles/Invision, via Associated Press

The BET Awards Sunday featured tributes to Prince and Muhammad Ali, and a performance by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. But this year, the actor Jesse Williams commanded the spotlight with an impassioned speech calling for an end to police killings, racial inequality and cultural appropriation.

His was far from the only political statement of the evening: With the words “Don’t Trump America” written on his back, the singer Usher used his performance to make a statement against Donald J. Trump. And when Taraji P. Henson, the star of “Empire,” accepted her best actress award, she also warned the audience about Mr. Trump.

Since 2009, Mr. Williams has been played the role of Dr. Jackson Avery on “Grey’s Anatomy.” When he is not working on the set of the hospital drama, Mr. Williams, a former teacher, champions causes related to civil rights. He starred in and produced “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement,” a documentary that premiered last month on BET. He produces Question Bridge, an art project about the experience of black men in America, and works with Sankofa, an organization dedicated to ending racial injustice.

The child of a white mother and a black father, Mr. Williams told The Guardian last October that his parents had shaped his activist roots, and said that being biracial allowed him to see both sides of a cultural divide.

“I have access to rooms and information,” he told the newspaper. “I am white and I am also black. I am invisible man in a lot of these scenarios. I know how white people talk about black people. I know how black people talk about white folks.”…

Read the entire article here.

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He has been torn between America’s noble ideals of democracy and its cruel realities of race…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-06-26 19:24Z by Steven

President Obama is an extraordinary figure who has done some good things in bad times, and some great things under impossible circumstances. As the first black president he has faced enormous difficulties and has had to weather a steady downpour of bad faith from the right wing and racist resistance from bigoted quarters of the country. He has been torn between America’s noble ideals of democracy and its cruel realities of race — a tension he rode into office, and one that occasionally defeated his desire to reconcile the best and worst halves of the nation he governs.

Michael Eric Dyson, “Barack Obama, the President of Black America?,” The New York Times, June 24, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/opinion/sunday/barack-obama-the-president-of-black-america.html.

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Barack Obama, the President of Black America?

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2016-06-26 01:56Z by Steven

Barack Obama, the President of Black America?

The New York Times
2016-06-24

Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

What the haters and the hagiographers get wrong.

It was a crucial speech, high-stakes even for a man used to giving important speeches: The first black president of the United States had to acknowledge, and then bind up, the nation’s racial wounds. A year ago, after the massacre of nine souls at prayer at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Barack Obama traveled to Charleston, S.C., to eulogize its pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

When Mr. Obama stood in the pulpit, I saw him as thrust into a peculiar position: He nobly assumed a symbolic, though not individual, guilt for the hate that had been visited on Charleston, largely because the white killer appeared to despise black progress, and there was no clearer representation of that progress than President Obama.

The president had a lot to do in that eulogy. He had to give comfort to a grieving family and congregation. He also had to make amends for seven years of public gestures of tough love toward black folks.

To do that, the president brilliantly evoked grace as an antidote to hate and preached in a black style to forge healing and redemption. He ended with a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.” As the call and response of the black church came full circle, Mr. Obama was at his best when he was at his blackest. It was a rare display of unapologetic race pride.

We are now approaching the last months of the Obama era. He will be remembered as a great, but flawed, president, and many of those flaws have to do with how he has addressed race — or avoided doing so…

Read the entire article here.

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Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-24 14:57Z by Steven

Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones’

The New York Times
2016-06-23

A. O. Scott, Film Critic


Matthew McConaughey, left, and Jacob Lofland in “Free State of Jones.” Credit Murray Close/STX Entertainment

Free State of Jones” begins on the battlefield, with a flurry of the kind of immersive combat action that has long been a staple of American movies. The setting is familiar in other ways, too. As a line of Confederate troops marches across a field into Union rifle and artillery fire, a haze of myth starts to gather over the action, a mist of sentiment about the tragedy of the Civil War and the symmetrical valor of the soldiers on both sides of it. But this is a sly piece of misdirection: The rest of the movie will be devoted to blowing that fog away, using the tools of Hollywood spectacle to restore a measure of clarity to our understanding of the war and its aftermath.

Directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) with blunt authority and unusual respect for historical truth, “Free State of Jones” explores a neglected and fascinating chapter in American history. Mr. Ross consulted some of the leading experts in the era — including Eric Foner of Columbia University, whose “Reconstruction” is the definitive study, and Martha Hodes of New York University, author of a prizewinning study of interracial sexuality in the 19th-century South — and has done a good job of balancing the factual record with the demands of dramatic storytelling. The result is a riveting visual history lesson, whose occasional didacticism is integral to its power.

The hero of this tale is Newton Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County, Miss., who led a guerrilla army of white deserters and escaped slaves against the Confederacy during the war. Afterward, he tried to hold this coalition together as a political force in the face of Ku Klux Klan terror. As played by Matthew McConaughey, Newton is an ordinary man radicalized by circumstances. His hollow cheeks and wild whiskers suggest a zealous temperament, but the kindness in his eyes conveys the decency and compassion that lie at the heart of his moral commitment…

…“Free State of Jones” is careful not to suggest that the conditions endured by disenfranchised white and enslaved black Mississippians were identical. The system may be rigged against both, but in different ways. Especially after the war, the alliance proves fragile, as white supremacy reasserts itself with renewed brutality. Its persistence is emphasized by a subplot that takes place 85 years after the war in a Mississippi courtroom, where Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin), a descendant of Newton’s, is on trial for breaking the state’s law against interracial marriage…

Read the entire review here.

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Michelle Cliff, Who Wrote of Colonialism and Racism, Dies at 69

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, Gay & Lesbian, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-06-20 20:33Z by Steven

Michelle Cliff, Who Wrote of Colonialism and Racism, Dies at 69

The New York Times
2016-06-18

William Grimes


Michelle Cliff sometime in the 1980s. In 1975, she met the poet Adrienne Rich, who became her partner and died in 2012.

Michelle Cliff, a Jamaican-American writer whose novels, stories and nonfiction essays drew on her multicultural identity to probe the psychic disruptions and historical distortions wrought by colonialism and racism, died on June 12 at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 69.

The cause was liver failure, according to the Adrienne Rich Literary Trust. Ms. Cliff and Ms. Rich, the poet, were longtime partners.

Ms. Cliff’s entire creative life was a quest to give voice to suppressed histories, starting with her own. Her first essay, “Notes on Speechlessness,” written for a women’s writing group in 1978, can be read as the keynote for her subsequent work, which navigated the complexities of her life situation — she was a light-skinned black lesbian raised partly in Jamaica and partly in New York, and educated in Britain — against the broader background of the Caribbean experience…

…In her first novel, “Abeng” (1984), she introduced Clare Savage, a light-skinned 12-year-old Jamaican girl who befriends the dark-skinned Zoe, whose family squats on Clare’s grandmother’s farm. It is an idyllic relationship that cannot survive the harsh realities of race and class.

“Emotionally, the book is an autobiography,” Ms. Cliff told the reference work Contemporary Authors in 1986. “I was a girl similar to Clare and have spent most of my life and most of my work exploring my identity as a light-skinned Jamaican, the privilege and the damage that comes from that identity.”

Clare returns to Jamaica as an adult in the novel “No Telephone to Heaven” (1987), which, in a series of flashbacks, tells of her life in New York and London and her struggles to come to terms with who she is…

Read the entire obituary here.

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Pat Cleveland: Early Supermodel and Author With Many Tales

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-06-19 04:16Z by Steven

Pat Cleveland: Early Supermodel and Author With Many Tales

The New York Times
2016-06-15

Guy Trebay, Chief Menswear Critic


The fashion model Pat Cleveland in her home studio in New Jersey. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times

WILLINGBORO, N.J. — The peacocks were rooting around in the bushes, strutting and pecking and ruffling their trains. Occasionally, one — Boy or Big Boy, say, or Snow White — struck a pose, tipping its beak up to emit a banshee shriek.

“They’re just a bunch of drama queens, honey,” said Pat Cleveland, as she sat in the backyard of her house in a rural part of New Jersey, sipping on a sinister-looking juice drink the color and texture of algae. Drama queens, as it happens, is a topic on which Ms. Cleveland has some stories to tell.

This she does in “Walking with the Muses,” a picaresque new memoir about a tall, skinny mixed-race girl (“not black enough to be black or white enough to be white”) hailing from a section of East Harlem that she terms the Golden Edge.

In her 1950s childhood, Ms. Cleveland writes, that neighborhood was still representative of a now largely bygone city, a place where “the Jews, the blacks, the Irish and the Puerto Ricans all had a corner of their own.”…

…American fashion, in particular, during the era when Ms. Cleveland first appeared, was also more porous and racially diverse than it would be in the subsequent decades. Success in the business was measured in those days not by social media metrics but by an ability to bewitch the cognoscenti, to make yours a name they whispered about.

And seemingly Ms. Cleveland has been an object of fascination for those around her almost from the time she was born 65 years ago to a white Swedish saxophonist and an African-American artist from the South. Soon after, Ms. Cleveland’s father, Johnny Johnston, returned to Sweden, leaving her mother, Lady Bird Cleveland, to raise her freckle-faced young daughter alone.

“If you’re a single black woman and have a Swedish lover, life is never going to be easy, and Lady Bird didn’t have the opportunities in life,” Ms. Cleveland said. “But her lesson to me was always, whatever your circumstances are, it’s up to you to create your own world.”…

…At the height of her powers, that same skinny girl from Harlem was transformed into a star on the evening of Nov. 28, 1973, when she — one of 30 black models chosen to participate in a benefit runway show held at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris — took to the stage in front of 800 guests, many of them prominent or titled, and, spinning and twirling, left little doubt in the minds of observers that the immediate future of fashion belonged not to the Old World but to the New…

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Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer—and not just a “Negro writer” consigned to the back of the literary bus. He followed the trail blazed by tens of thousands of light-skinned black Americans.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-06-19 02:16Z by Steven

Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer—and not just a “Negro writer” consigned to the back of the literary bus. He followed the trail blazed by tens of thousands of light-skinned black Americans. He methodically cut ties with his family (including a mother and two sisters) and took up life as a white man with a white wife in white Connecticut. By the late 1980’s, he had been“white” for 40 years, with two adult children who were unaware that they were part of a large black family that included an aunt who lived an hour away in Manhattan.

Brent Staples, “Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White,” The New York Times, September 7, 2003. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/opinion/editorial-observer-back-when-skin-color-was-destiny-unless-you-passed-for-white.html.

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Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-06-19 01:49Z by Steven

Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White

The New York Times
2003-09-07

Brent Staples

The New Yorker was trying not to speak ill of the dead when it described Anatole Broyard as the ”famously prickly critic for the Times, a man who demanded so much from books that it seemed he could never be satisfied.” From his early reviews for The Times in the 1960’s up to his death in 1990, Mr. Broyard was often gratuitously cruel and clever at the author’s expense.

The novelist Philip Roth was one of the favored few. Mr. Broyard praised him in the column ”About Books” and seemed to see his life through Mr. Roth’s work. When Mr. Broyard was diagnosed with cancer, for example, he compared his symptoms to those of Portnoy, Mr. Roth’s fictional alter ego in ”Portnoy’s Complaint.”

The comparison made perfect sense. Mr. Roth’s great theme was his own struggle to preserve selfhood against the smothering pressures of ethnic identity. That, in a nutshell, was Mr. Broyard’s life. He was a light-skinned black man born in New Orleans in 1920 into a family whose members sometimes passed as white to work at jobs from which black people were barred. The largest private employer of black labor at the time was the Pullman Company, which sought college-educated black men to work essentially as servants on train cars that accommodated white travelers only…

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