Black like her: Is racial identity a state of mind?

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-01-19 20:13Z by Steven

Black like her: Is racial identity a state of mind?

The Washington Post
2015-06-16

Amy Ellis Nutt, Reporter

While people continue to question the motivations behind former NAACP official Rachel Dolezal’s claiming she is black, scientists say identity, even racial identity, doesn’t arise from any single place in the brain.

Individuals contain different selves, often contradictory selves, according to neuroscientists. There is no clump of gray matter or nexus of electrical activity in the brain that we can point to and say, “this is me, this is where my self is located.” Instead, we are spread out over our brain, with different areas of cortex controlling different aspects of who we are, from what we see and hear to how we think and feel.

For instance, the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain located just behind the forehead, is activated whenever we think about ourselves. But when we think about how someone else thinks about us — does my spouse think I’m pretty? — the medial prefrontal cortex disengages and the posterior part lights up. Culture and community, neuroscience tells us is, are important constituents of identity, which may explain why children understand social interactions before they even learn to talk. Identity, in other words, is complicated.

Carolyn Yoon, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, says she doesn’t “see what the big controversy is” regarding Dolezal’s claim to identify as a black person.

“That’s a reasonable view in my book,” Yoon said. “Identity is highly malleable and is a function of what she comes in contact with, what she spends her time doing, is interested in and motivated by. Over time that will change your brain.”…

…There is certainly historical precedence for passing as black. Effa Manley was born to Bertha Brooks, a white woman, in Philadelphia in 1900. Brooks was married to an African-American man and so Effa grew up with six biracial siblings. She, however, was the product of an affair her mother had with a white man. Although blonde-haired, hazel-eyed Effa believed she also was biracial until her teens when her mother told her the truth.

Nonetheless, Effa lived our her life as a black woman: she married an African American, lived in Harlem and became the well-known co-owner of a Negro League baseball team. She also belonged to the NAACP and the Urban League and was once profiled in Ebony magazine.

Whether it was her early life experiences, self-deception or mirror neurons — or all three — Effa Manley saw herself as a black woman, which is why she could muse to a reporter when she was in her 70s, “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to associate with white people.”…

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Obama’s skin looks a little different in these GOP campaign ads

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Communications/Media Studies, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-12-31 02:12Z by Steven

Obama’s skin looks a little different in these GOP campaign ads

The Washington Post
2015-12-29

Max Ehrenfreund

A new study shows that negative ads targeting President Obama in 2008 depicted him with very dark skin, and that these images would have appealed to some viewers’ racial biases.

The finding reinforces charges that some Republican politicians seek to win votes by implying support for racist views and ethnic hierarchies, without voicing those prejudices explicitly. The purported tactic is often called “dog-whistle politics” — just as only canines can hear a dog whistle, only prejudiced voters are aware of the racist connotations of a politician’s statement, according to the theory…

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Old Dixie Highway renamed President Barack Obama Highway in Florida city

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-12-20 03:15Z by Steven

Old Dixie Highway renamed President Barack Obama Highway in Florida city

The Washington Post
2015-12-19

Elahe Izadi, Reporter


Workers install a new sign in Riviera Beach, Fla., on Thursday. (City of Riviera Beach)

Old Dixie Highway is no more in Riviera Beach, Fla. Instead, motorists are driving on President Barack Obama Highway.

Riviera Beach officials renamed the portion of the highway in their city limits, and the new sign carrying the name of the nation’s first black president went up Thursday. Old Dixie, officials said, paid homage to an era that glorified slavery.

The name was “symbolic of racism, symbolic of the Klan, symbolic of cross burnings, and today we are stepping up to a new day, a new era,” Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters told WPTV on Thursday.

The street itself carried a painful history for some. Dora Johnson, 77, told the television station that she once witnessed a cross-burning on Old Dixie Highway. Johnson will be given the old sign that has been removed, Masters told the Palm Beach Post.

The city council’s August vote to rename Old Dixie came at a time when many communities in the South were reconsidering Confederate flags and monuments. A national debate over such symbols began anew following the June shooting of nine parishioners by a white gunman inside a historic black church in South Carolina

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Why I want my interracial son to play with Legos

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United States on 2015-11-27 20:45Z by Steven

Why I want my interracial son to play with Legos

The Washington Post
2015-11-27

Nevin Martell

“Come build with me,” says my 2-year-old son Zephyr, beckoning me to join him on the living room floor next to a giant bin full of Lego bricks.

He pats the finished wood next to him, smiles widely and then turns back to his tinkering.

Who could refuse? I plunk down and take a look at his creation, a multicolored spaceship that he swoops through the air while energetically “whooshing.”

“That’s awesome,” I tell him, before digging in the mix of bricks to start building my own starfighter. Mixed in are a slew of minifigures, some assembled just like the picture on the package, but my little Dr. Frankenstein has reimagined many of them as completely new characters: a lightsaber wielding alien, a knight sporting a pirate’s tricorn hat and a gargoyle with an astronaut’s helmeted head.

Some have specialized heads with a variety of human skin tones, while others mimic more fantastical characters. However, the majority of them are bright yellow. That’s one of the things I love about the Danish toys: the original minifigures were designed with yellow heads and hands so they would be completely inclusive.

Many people incorrectly believe that this sunny skin tone is intended to represent a Caucasian cast, but that’s not the case. In fact, it’s the opposite. The unnatural shade is intended to set Lego minifigures apart from a specific segment of humanity. “They’re designed to be citizens of the world,” says Michael McNally senior manager of brand relations for Lego. “The intent is for kids to project their own stories and identity into this figure.”

In other words: use your imagination, kids!…

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A course originally called ‘The Problem of Whiteness’ returns to Arizona State

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2015-11-13 21:47Z by Steven

A course originally called ‘The Problem of Whiteness’ returns to Arizona State

The Washington Post
2015-11-12

Yanan Wang

Freedom of speech. Racial inequality. Student activism. Safe spaces.

These are the phrases that have been lobbied about over the past week, in tones both fervent and contemptuous, as University of Missouri students successfully campaigned for the resignation of their system president.

Mizzou is, of course, just the most prominent example. As The Washington Post’s Michael Miller pointed out Tuesday, similar debates are being had and protests held across the country, for instance at Yale University and Ithaca College.

At the center of all these debates is another word: whiteness.

At some universities, there are classes dedicated to understanding the notions of whiteness, white supremacy and what the field’s proponents see as the quiet racism of white people. The professor of one such “whiteness studies” course, Lee Bebout of Arizona State University, announced recently that he would be teaching for the second time a course originally called U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness.

The syllabus described Critical Whiteness Studies as a field “concerned with dismantling white supremacy in part by understanding how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced.” Readings included works by Toni Morrison, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (“Racism without Racists”) and Jane H. Hill (“The Everyday Language of White Racism”)…

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Every term the Census has used to describe America’s racial and ethnic groups since 1790

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-11-06 03:01Z by Steven

Every term the Census has used to describe America’s racial and ethnic groups since 1790

The Washington Post
2015-11-04

Laris Karklis, Deputy Graphics Director

Emily Badger, Urban Policy Writer


This chart is based on an interactive the Census Bureau published this week tracing the history of these changes, from the proliferation of new racial and ethnic identities (now the government counts Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Guatemalans) through the revision of old ones (“Indians” have become “American Indians”).

From the moment of the first American census, in 1790, through every decennial census we’ve had since, the categories the U.S. government has used to classify its residents have included the word “white.”

That label has been the lone constant in an ever-evolving checklist of identities that reflect the changing demographics of this country — and the changing language the government has used to define it. In 1790, the three categories available were “free white females and males,” “all other free persons” and “slaves.” By 1830, that last category had splintered into “slaves” and “free colored persons.” By 1890, the census separately counted blacks — now all legally free — as “blacks,” “mulattos,” “quadroons” and “octoroons.”…

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The day my daughter realized she isn’t white

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2015-11-04 21:06Z by Steven

The day my daughter realized she isn’t white

The Washington Post
2015-11-03

Lisa Papademetriou

“Mama,” my 4-year-old daughter said. “Did you know that darks and lights didn’t used to be able to go to the same places?”

“What?” I asked. It was bedtime, and I was tired. I wondered vaguely how Zara knew so much about laundry.

“There are some people who have dark skin color,” she said. “Lights would go one place, and darks would go another,” Zara went on, indignant. “There were signs saying the darks couldn’t go into where the lights were!”

“Who told you about that?” I asked, and she explained that a special visitor had come to her classroom to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She very earnestly explained the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King’s message to me. “He said that everyone should be able to go into the same places. He said people should take down the signs that kept the darks out.” Growing more passionate, Zara cried, “Kylie and I agreed that we wouldn’t go anywhere if there was a sign that said, ‘Lights Only!’ We would rip up that sign and say, ‘Everyone can go here!’” Kylie has blue eyes and curly blond hair.

“Zara, honey, I’m so glad you feel that way,” I told her. “But do you realize that you’re not white?”

Stunned silence.

And then: rage. “I am white!” she shouted. “You’re white!”

“Yes,” I told her. “I’m white, so you are part white. But Daddy is from Pakistan. He’s brown. And that means that, in those times, you would have been considered brown, not white.”

“I am white!” Zara wailed. “I’m everything!” And she burst into tears…

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Obama has vastly changed the face of the federal bureaucracy

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Gay & Lesbian, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-10-05 18:47Z by Steven

Obama has vastly changed the face of the federal bureaucracy

The Washington Post
2015-09-20

Juliet Eilperin, White House Bureau Chief

Friday afternoon announcements in Washington are usually aimed at attracting as little attention as possible, but last Friday was different. President Obama’s decision to nominate Eric Fanning — an openly gay man — to head a branch of the military which only four years ago did not allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, was both historic and attention-grabbing.

And it underscored an often-overlooked feature of the Obama presidency: Obama has presided over the most demographically diverse administration in history, according to a new analysis of his top appointments. The majority of top policy appointments within the executive branch are held by women and minorities for the first time in history.

The transformation partly reflects a broader trend in U.S. society, but it also reflects the results of a calculated strategy by the nation’s first African American president. The shifts are significant enough, experts say, that they may have forever transformed the face of government…

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Obama and hip-hop: a breakup song

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Barack Obama, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2015-10-01 00:50Z by Steven

Obama and hip-hop: a breakup song

The Washington Post
2015-09-25

Erik Nielson, Assistant Professor of Liberal Arts
University of Richmond

Travis L. Gosa, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Erik Nielson is an assistant professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond. Travis L. Gosa is an assistant professor of Africana studies at Cornell University. Their book, “The Hip Hop & Obama Reader,” will be published in October.

In 2008, Barack Obama flipped the script on more than three decades of conventional wisdom when he openly embraced hip-hop — a genre typically viewed as politically radioactive because of its frequently controversial themes and anti-establishment ethos — in his campaign. Equally remarkable was the extent to which hip-hop artists and activists, often highly skeptical of national politicians, embraced him in return. As a result, for the first time it appeared we were witnessing a burgeoning relationship between hip-hop and national politics.

As we approach the 2016 election, however, this relationship is all but gone. Ironically, Obama — often called the first “hip-hop president” — largely is to blame.

This is especially disappointing in light of Obama’s 2008 run for office, when he encouraged artists such as Jay Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs to campaign for him, referenced rap music in his interviews and speeches, played rap at his events and openly contemplated a space for hip-hop in an Obama White House. In one of the lasting images of the campaign, Obama stood in front of an audience in Raleigh, N.C., and referenced Jay Z’s 2003 track “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” to raucous applause. In that moment, voters had every reason to believe that hip-hop indeed would have a seat at the table in an Obama administration…

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Born that way? ‘Scientific’ racism is creeping back into our thinking. Here’s what to watch out for.

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-09-28 17:45Z by Steven

Born that way? ‘Scientific’ racism is creeping back into our thinking. Here’s what to watch out for.

The Washington Post
2015-09-28

W. Carson Byrd, Assistant Professor of Pan-African Studies
University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

Matthew W. Hughey, Professor of Sociology
University of Connecticut

This month, Jennifer Cramblett lost her “wrongful birth” lawsuit, which centered on a troubling ideology that has been creeping into mainstream discussions in ways not seen in decades. Cramblett claimed that the sperm used to inseminate her came from the wrong donor, leading to a biracial child, which she had not wanted. Her lawsuit claimed that this mix-up in the lab caused her and her family personal injuries of various kinds.

This lawsuit was shadowed by a troubling logic: the idea that race is a biological reality with particular traits and behaviors that can be avoided through proper breeding practices. In doing so, Cramblett’s claims echoed arguments made in a darker era of global history of “scientific” racism.

Here’s how the argument goes. Some people are born with outstanding talents, easily mastering basketball, mathematics, languages or piano, if given the right environment in which to grow. What biologist or social scientist could argue with that? But alongside that genetic understanding, an old and pernicious assumption has crept back into the American conversation, in which aptitudes are supposedly inherited by race: certain peoples are thought to have rhythm, or intellect, or speed or charm. That’s a fast track toward the old 19th- and early 20th-century problem of “scientific” racism…

…Sociological data suggest that the social behavior of both slaves and slaveholders better explains mortality rates than do physiological qualities of health, speed or strength. In particular, groups of rebellious young men were were most likely to die than those who passively acquiesced, while the economically well-off slaveholders were more likely to kill slaves than those who could not afford to lose property. In sum, the social forces of organized rebellion and the political economy of slavery are better explanations for mortality rates than abstract appeals to “genes” or “natural selection.”

Hughey’s and Goss’s work finds that such explanations have actually proliferated in an era that many argue is “colorblind” or “post-racial,” from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who proudly said that he forgot, for a moment, that Obama was black, to a 2011 New York Times article that referred to interracial marriage as “a step toward transcending race,” to the claim that “all”— not “black” — lives matter, as presidential candidate Rand Paul recently insisted

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