The Secret Toll of Racial Ambiguity

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-10-20 13:28Z by Steven

The Secret Toll of Racial Ambiguity

The New York Times Magazine
2021-10-20

Alexandra Kleeman, Assistant Professor of Writing
The New School, New York, New York

Rebecca Hall Carly Zavala for The New York Times

Rebecca Hall’s new film adaptation of the 1929 novel “Passing” has cracked open a public conversation about colorism and privilege.

When Rebecca Hall read Nella Larsen’s groundbreaking 1929 novel, “Passing,” over a decade ago, she felt an intense, immediate attachment to it. The story seemed to clarify so much that was mysterious about her own identity — the unnameable gaps in her family history that shaped her life in their very absence, the way a sinkhole in the road distorts the path of traffic blocks away.

The novel follows Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, two light-skinned Black women who grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood and shared a friendship complicated by differences in class and social status. When Clare’s father died, she was sent off to live with white relatives, while Irene went on to become firmly ensconced in the vibrant Black artistic and cultural community of 1920s Harlem, wife to a Black doctor and mother to two dark-skinned young boys. One day, while passing for convenience on the rooftop restaurant of a whites-only hotel, Irene is recognized by a beautiful blond woman, who turns out to be Clare — who now not only lives her life as a white woman but is also mother to a white-passing daughter and married to a bigoted man who has no clue about her mixed-race heritage. The friends’ reunion crackles with tension, charged with curiosity, envy and longing.

When Clare asks Irene if she has ever thought about passing in a more permanent way herself, Irene responds disdainfully: “No. Why should I?” She adds, “You see, Clare, I’ve everything I want.” And maybe it’s true that the respectable, high-status life Irene has built in Harlem encompasses everything a serious woman, committed to lifting up her race, should want. But Clare’s sudden presence begins to raise a sense of dangerous possibility within Irene — one of unacknowledged desires and dissatisfactions. When she sees the ease with which Clare re-enters and ingratiates herself within Black society, it threatens Irene’s feeling of real, authentic belonging.

Raised in England within the elite circles of classical theater, Hall, who is 39, had her first introduction to the concept of racial “passing” in the pages of Larsen’s novel. “I was spending time in America, and I knew that there had been vague, but I mean really vague, talk about my mother’s ethnicity,” Hall explained over the phone this spring. Her voice is calm and poised, with a warm polish to it, and she tends to speak in composed paragraphs. Over the year that we had corresponded, Hall hadn’t been acting much and had instead spent time writing screenplays from the Hudson Valley home that she shares with her daughter and her husband, the actor Morgan Spector. “Sometimes she would intimate that maybe there was African American ancestry, or sometimes she would intimate that there was Indigenous ancestry. But she didn’t really know; it wasn’t available to her.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Problem of the Prism: Racial Passing, Colorism, and the Politics of Racial Visibility

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-10-20 13:10Z by Steven

The Problem of the Prism: Racial Passing, Colorism, and the Politics of Racial Visibility

University of Maryland
2020
DOI: 10.13016/kkbp-vio4

DeLisa Hawkes

In The Problem of the Prism, I argue that activist writers challenged the normalizing of white supremacy and imagined black futurity within the intersections of racial visibility, nation, and culture by transforming and repurposing racist and colorist ideologies. Through a wide range of cultural materials, I recuperate overlooked discourses on race and color by broadening the parameters through which we understand the black-white color line.

Focusing on neglected texts by understudied authors allows for a deeper consideration of how assumed ancestry and legal segregation impact America’s construction of citizenship and social hierarchies. For this reason, I consider how critical attention to skin complexion and visible ancestry illuminates institutionalized feelings of inferiority. I call these the politics of racial visibility. In the first chapter, I consider Albion Tourgée’s 1890 novel Pactolus Prime and the ways in which it offers readers an examination of how the black-white color line fosters notions of inferiority within both races.

In chapter two, I argue that Sutton Griggs inspires the “New Mulatta,” a revision of the “tragic mulatta” trope, that inspires race pride throughout the Black Diaspora by rejecting colorist ideologies. In chapter three, I recover the works of Olivia Ward Bush-Banks and Sylvester “Chief Buffalo Child” Long Lance as critical lenses through which to deconstruct black separatism by considering African-Native American identities within New Negro philosophy. I argue that their works reconceptualize the “tragic mulatta/o” outside of the confines of the black-white binary while acknowledging the fraught relationship between African Americans and Native Americans. Thus, their works reveal a black-red color line that disables anti-racist and anti-colonialist collaboration. In the final chapter, I argue that 1940s and 1950s Ebony magazine articles shift readers’ attention to racial anxieties within the “white” appearing spectrum of the black-white color line to critique internalized racism. By addressing social implications anticipated within racial ambiguity in the space of the home, this commercial magazine allows readers from all socioeconomic backgrounds to engage with pressing concerns over racial visibility. Ultimately, Ebony magazine’s persistent focus on colorism and racial passing brings the efforts of nineteenth and early-twentieth-century authors full circle.

Login to read the dissertation here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Confronting Anti-Blackness in “Colorblind” Cuba

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2021-10-11 17:55Z by Steven

Confronting Anti-Blackness in “Colorblind” Cuba

Sapiens
2021-09-02

Elizabeth Obregón, Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology
University of Illinois, Chicago

A man holds his grandson inside the doorway of a fruit and vegetable shop in Havana, Cuba. Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images

In the 1960s, Fidel Castro’s revolutionary Communist government claimed to have eradicated racism in Cuba. An anthropologist explores how racial hierarchies persist despite these official narratives, shaping family dynamics and significantly limiting opportunities for Afro-Cubans.

I sat waiting for Yudell* to finish his shift at the paladar, or small-scale private restaurant, in the central Vedado neighborhood in Havana. I’d already interviewed a few of the workers there. As I bided my time at a corner table on the outdoor patio, two of the waiters began to tease Yudell, yelling across to me, “Don’t believe what he says! He will probably tell you that he is Negro because he is a racist!”

Yudell timidly looked at me across the patio and chuckled. Growing up Cuban American, I had been to Cuba on past occasions to visit family, but this time I was there to conduct ethnographic interviews on processes of racialization for my dissertation in anthropology. I knew from experience that I had to tread carefully when entering conversations about race in Cuba.

In Cuba, a place where the revolutionary Communist government has claimed to have eliminated racial inequality, directly speaking of race is more than taboo; it is counterrevolutionary.

When we sat down for our interview a little later, Yudell proudly described himself exactly as his co-workers had said he would: “I am Negro” (a Black man). We talked about the persistence of colorism in Cuba, a system of discrimination based on skin color. Yudell chose not to self-identify as a Mulato (a mixed-race person) or a Moro (a dark-skinned person with a thin nose and “good hair”), since he saw such taken-for-granted racialized categories as a way for individuals to distance themselves from Blackness…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Choosing Blackness

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2021-09-20 15:18Z by Steven

Choosing Blackness

The Philadelphia Inquirer
2021-09-15

Elizabeth Wellington, Staff Columnist


Columnist Elizabeth Wellington poses for a photograph with her mother Margaret outside of the family home in New York. MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

Black identity is usually wrapped up in not having choice. My family used their light-skinned privilege to flip that choice and turned Blackness into a celebration of pride and identity and love.

I thought my mother was a white woman until I was about five years old.

So I will never forget the day she told me she was Black. The conversation started simple enough: I described someone on television as white, like she was.

If um, hell to the no was a person, she would have been Margaret Wellington in that moment.

My mother is so fair that whether she styled her hair in a Pam Grier-esque, mega Afro or a blonde-streaked press and curl, she was sometimes mistaken for a white woman. I’m sure she wasn’t surprised by my question given my milk chocolate hue. But she wasn’t angry. She settled into her rocking chair and motioned for me to sit next to her. We were wearing matching green cardigans. I may have been darker, but to her, I was still her toddler-sized replica. She took my chubby little hand into her slender one, and looking me in the eye said, “Beth, I’m Black.”

Clearly I looked confused. Because she said it again. This time with more soul. “I AM BLACK. I do not have the same pretty brown skin that you have. But I AM BLACK. And I am YOUR MOTHER.”

My 5-year-old self was relieved….

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

What Does It Mean To Be Latino? The ‘Light-Skinned Privilege’ Edition

Posted in Audio, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2021-08-21 03:46Z by Steven

What Does It Mean To Be Latino? The ‘Light-Skinned Privilege’ Edition

Code Switch
National Public Radio
2021-07-14

Shereen Marisol Meraji, Co-host/ Senior Producer

Kumari Devarajan, Producer

Leah Donnella, Editor


Maria Hinojosa (left) and Maria Garcia.
Krystal Quiles for NPR

Maria Garcia and Maria Hinojosa are both Mexican American, both mestiza, and both relatively light-skinned. But Maria Hinojosa strongly identifies as a woman of color, whereas Maria Garcia has stopped doing so. So in this episode, we’re asking: How did they arrive at such different places? To find out, listen to our latest installment in this series about what it means to be Latino.

Listen to the story (00:37:15) here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Spectacle of Latinx Colorism

Posted in Articles, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2021-08-01 22:17Z by Steven

The Spectacle of Latinx Colorism

The New York Times
2021-07-30

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio


Tina Tona

This summer’s controversy over the underrepresentation of dark-skinned Afro-Latinos in “In the Heights,” the Hollywood adaptation of the Broadway musical, laid bare the cancer of colorism in Latinx communities in the United States. The reckoning was long overdue, a pain that goes back as long as our community has existed. And the mainstream media was enraptured. It created what I think of as the spectacle — el espectáculo. I haven’t seen as high a demand for Latinx voices since the Pulse shooting.

Latinidad” is the shared language, childhood references, music, food, inside jokes and idiosyncratic TV Spanglish among the Latinx in this country. It is the sameness that unites us no matter where we grow up, and no matter where our parents were from. But the idea of sameness can devastate as much as it can connect. An open wound in this world of Latinx has been the shame around darkness, our own and that of our family and neighbors and compatriots. According to media by us or for us, dark-skinned Afro-Latinos do not exist and if they do, they aren’t Latino. Not really

Read the entire essay here.

Tags: , , ,

The ‘Heights’ of Anxiety and the Color Line: Racial Ambiguity in a Culture of Absolutes

Posted in Articles, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2021-07-14 22:56Z by Steven

The ‘Heights’ of Anxiety and the Color Line: Racial Ambiguity in a Culture of Absolutes

Nerds of Color
2021-07-09

Lara Stapleton, Lecturer of English
Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York, New York

I once heard the great political philosopher and activist Angela Davis argue that Americans are so obsessed with race as an identifying feature that when we meet racially ambiguous people, we are anxious until we know on which side of the color line they fall. Upon hearing this, I was relieved by the articulation of something I had suspected was at the heart of my experience. It was like experiencing great art, that rush of adrenaline that comes with recognizing what we’ve known all along presented as fantastically new.

I say this because I am extremely racially ambiguous person, particularly in the United States where we traditionally discuss race as an absolute. I am bi-racial, Filipino and white, and I hear, from day-to-day, wildly different interpretations of who I am. I have been recently called “Kaitlin” on the train, and also described as many permutations of light brown people: Latinx, Native American, and Arab. I get Mediterranean, Jewish, and Sicilian and quite often, I am asked if I have some Black ancestry (which coincides also with being Latinx)…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

Phenotypic Proximity: Colorism and Intraracial Discrimination among Blacks in the United States and Brazil, 1928 to 1988

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2021-06-22 22:22Z by Steven

Phenotypic Proximity: Colorism and Intraracial Discrimination among Blacks in the United States and Brazil, 1928 to 1988

Journal of Black Studies
Volume 52, Issue 5 (July 2021)
pages 528-546
DOI: 10.1177/00219347211021088

Teisha Dupree-Wilson, Assistant Professor of History
Coppin State University, Baltimore, Maryland

The level of colorism that developed among blacks in the United States (U.S.) and Brazil, during the 20th century, gave rise to intense altitudes of intraracial discrimination. This distinct form of discrimination was based on proximity to whiteness and white privilege. This essay will illustrate how attitudes toward complexion, within the black community, are a direct consequence and perpetual remnant of the white supremacy and racial hierarchy that developed in colonized societies. Colorism manifested itself in different forms in Brazil and in the U.S. However, the level of black-on-black discrimination that it spawned was grounded in the belief that one’s immediacy to whiteness created a vehicle for upward mobility.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , ,

Opinion: ‘In the Heights’ is just more of the same whitewashed Hollywood

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2021-06-22 20:11Z by Steven

Opinion: ‘In the Heights’ is just more of the same whitewashed Hollywood

The Washington Post
2021-06-21

Julissa Contreras and Dash Harris Machado


Producer Lin-Manuel Miranda attends the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival opening-night premiere of “In the Heights” on June 9 in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Julissa Contreras is a Dominican writer, poet, actor and creator of the “Ladies Who Bronché” podcast. Dash Harris Machado is co-founder of AfroLatino Travel, producer and facilitator of the “Radio Caña Negra” podcast and producer of “NEGRO: A Docu-series About Latinx Identity.”

The recent controversy surrounding “In the Heights,” the big-budget film based on the musical created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, came as no surprise for Black Latin American and Caribbean people. With its White and light-skinned leading roles, the film became part of a long tradition in the Americas of Black erasure.

When moviegoers and journalists, including the Root’s Felice León, started highlighting the lack of Black leading cast members in the film, many prominent figures rushed to defend it. “We shouldn’t burden Lin-Manuel with the responsibility of representing every Latino,” commentator Ana Navarro said. “You can never do right, it seems,” actress Rita Moreno said in defense of Miranda. “This is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America.” Both accounts are inaccurate.

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

How ‘In the Heights’ Casting Focused a Wider Problem of Afro-Latino Representation

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2021-06-21 02:06Z by Steven

How ‘In the Heights’ Casting Focused a Wider Problem of Afro-Latino Representation

Rolling Stone
2021-06-16

Andrea Marks, Research Editor


MELISSA BARRERA (center) as Vanessa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS
Macall Polay/Warner Bros

A prevalence of light-skinned actors demonstrates Hollywood’s — and Latin America’s — history of colorism

When the musical In the Heights debuted in 2008, it was considered a triumph of Latin American story-telling. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, it brought the barrio to Broadway and centered Latino immigrants building a community in New York “north of 96th street” so their children could chase the American Dream. The plot is centered around Usnavi (originally played by Miranda himself), the son of Dominican immigrants, who runs the family bodega but dreams of something bigger.

The movie version of the Tony Award–winning show hit theaters and HBO Max last week to largely positive reviews and praise for its three-dimensional portrayals of Latin-American characters, not to mention its ambitious full-cast musical numbers. A majority-Latino cast carries the film, starring actors like Anthony Ramos, a star of Miranda’s other Broadway blockbuster, Hamilton, who is of Puerto Rican descent, playing Usnavi; Mexican TV actress Melissa Barrera; and Bronx-born bachata singer Leslie Grace, who is of Dominican descent. At the same time, many viewers have expressed disappointment at a lack of Afro-Latino representation in the cast, especially among lead characters…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,