Hidden in the Genes

Posted in Biography, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2022-01-07 02:14Z by Steven

Hidden in the Genes

Finding Your Roots
Season 8, Episode 1
Aired: 2022-01-04

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Host and Alfonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor; Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps Rebecca Hall and Lee Daniels solve family mysteries through DNA detective work, illuminating both history and their own identities.

Watch the episode (00:52:11) here.

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Who’s Black and Why? A Hidden Chapter from the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

Posted in Africa, Books, Europe, Forthcoming Media, History, Monographs, Slavery on 2021-11-29 03:10Z by Steven

Who’s Black and Why? A Hidden Chapter from the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

Harvard University Press
2022-03-22
320 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
21 photos, 1 table
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674244269

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alfonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor; Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Andrew S. Curran, William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

The first translation and publication of sixteen submissions to the notorious eighteenth-century Bordeaux essay contest on the cause of “black” skin—an indispensable chronicle of the rise of scientifically based, anti-Black racism.

In 1739 Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences announced a contest for the best essay on the sources of “blackness.” What is the physical cause of blackness and African hair, and what is the cause of Black degeneration, the contest announcement asked. Sixteen essays, written in French and Latin, were ultimately dispatched from all over Europe. The authors ranged from naturalists to physicians, theologians to amateur savants. Documented on each page are European ideas about who is Black and why.

Looming behind these essays is the fact that some four million Africans had been kidnapped and shipped across the Atlantic by the time the contest was announced. The essays themselves represent a broad range of opinions. Some affirm that Africans had fallen from God’s grace; others that blackness had resulted from a brutal climate; still others emphasized the anatomical specificity of Africans. All the submissions nonetheless circulate around a common theme: the search for a scientific understanding of the new concept of race. More important, they provide an indispensable record of the Enlightenment-era thinking that normalized the sale and enslavement of Black human beings.

These never previously published documents survived the centuries tucked away in Bordeaux’s municipal library. Translated into English and accompanied by a detailed introduction and headnotes written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Andrew Curran, each essay included in this volume lays bare the origins of anti-Black racism and colorism in the West.

Table of Contents

  • Preface: Who’s Black and Why?
  • Note on the Translations
  • I
    • Introduction: The 1741 Contest on the “Degeneration” of Black Skin and Hair
    • 1. Blackness through the Power of God
    • 2. Blackness through the Soul of the Father
    • 3. Blackness through the Maternal Imagination
    • 4. Blackness as a Moral Defect
    • 5. Blackness as a Result of the Torrid Zone
    • 6. Blackness as a Result of Divine Providence
    • 7. Blackness as a Result of Heat and Humidity
    • 8. Blackness as a Reversible Accident
    • 9. Blackness as a Result of Hot Air and Darkened Blood
    • 10. Blackness as a Result of a Darkened Humor
    • 11. Blackness as a Result of Blood Flow
    • 12. Blackness as an Extension of Optical Theory
    • 13. Blackness as a Result of an Original Sickness
    • 14. Blackness Degenerated
    • 15. Blackness Classified
    • 16. Blackness Dissected
  • II
    • Introduction: The 1772 Contest on “Preserving” Negroes
    • 1. A Slave Ship Surgeon on the Crossing
    • 2. A Parisian Humanitarian on the Slave Trade
    • 3. Louis Alphonse, Bordeaux Apothecary, on the Crossing
  • Select Chronology of the Representation of Africans and Race
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Credits
  • Index
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Inventing the Science of Race

Posted in Africa, Articles, Europe, History, Media Archive on 2021-11-29 02:53Z by Steven

Inventing the Science of Race

The New York Review
2021-12-16

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alfonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor; Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Andrew S. Curran, William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

Jean-Baptiste Oudry: Africa: A European Merchant Bartering with a Black Chief, from the Four Continents series, 1724

In 1741, Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences held an essay contest searching for the origin of “blackness.” The results help us see how Enlightenment thinkers justified chattel slavery.

In 1712 King Louis XIV of France signed the lettres patentes that formally established Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences, Belles Lettres, and Arts, a social club of intellectual inquiry and public edification. In contrast to the more conservative University of Bordeaux, whose primary objective was to educate the country’s priests, doctors, and lawyers through lessons compatible with Scripture, the Bordeaux Academy saw itself as “enlightened”: its objective was advancing scientific truth as part of a larger program intended to promote “mankind’s happiness.”

Every year, the academy organized an essay contest that it publicized throughout Europe. In 1739 the members announced the subject of the competition for 1741: “Quelle est la cause physique de la couleur des nègres, de la qualité de leur cheveux, et de la dégénération de l’un et de l’autre?” (“What is the physical cause of the Negro’s color, the quality of [the Negro’s] hair, and the degeneration of both [Negro hair and skin]?”) Embedded in this question was the academy’s assumption that something had happened to “Negroes” that had caused them to degenerate, to turn black and grow unusual hair. In short, the academy wanted to know who is black, and why. It wanted to know, too, what being black signified. The winner was promised a gold medal worth three hundred livres, roughly the annual earnings of a common worker at the time.

The 1741 contest was only the latest iteration of non-Africans’ fascination with dark skin. When the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Arabic peoples first described the inhabitants of Africa, it was Africans’ color that struck them most. Over many centuries, African “blackness” grew into an all-encompassing signifier that substituted for the range of reddish, yellowish, and blackish-brown colors that the skins of Africans actually express. The color black also became synonymous with the land itself; many of the geographical names that outsiders assigned to sub-Saharan AfricaNiger, Nigritia, Sudan, Zanzibar—contain the etymological roots of the word “black.” The most telling example is the name Ethiopia. Derived from the Greek aitho (I burn) and ops (face), it became the most widespread label for the entire sub-Saharan portion of the continent until the late seventeenth century. It even hinted at the cause of blackness itself…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Black & Jewish Talk Series’ starts with ‘A Conversation’

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2021-10-07 19:11Z by Steven

‘Black & Jewish Talk Series’ starts with ‘A Conversation’

The Harvard Gazette
2021-02-18

Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite, Harvard Staff Writer

Exploring their identities through culture, politics, and religion

The Center for Jewish Studies and the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research debut Monday “Black & Jewish: A Conversation,” the first installment of a new joint venture to shed light on the multifaceted nature of Black and Jewish identities in North America.

“Black & Jewish” is the first of three scheduled events this semester in the “Black & Jewish Talk Series,” focused on culture, politics, and religion.

“There is a lot of focus on the relationship between Black communities and Jewish communities in the U.S., but Black and Jewish identity hasn’t received very much scholarly attention,” said Sara Feldman, a preceptor of Yiddish in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and a co-organizer of the series. “There are many people in the United States who identify as both Black and Jewish. It’s time that their voices are amplified here at Harvard.”

“Black and Jewish: A Conversation,” takes place with vocalist and composer Anthony Russell and Rebecca Pierce, a writer and filmmaker. The discussion will be moderated by Katya Gibel Mevorach, Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at Grinnell College, and will focus on how Jewish diversity is discussed in public life and how it can and should change…

Read the entire article here.

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When those of mixed ancestry—and the majority of blacks are of mixed ancestry—disappear into the white majority, they are traditionally accused of running from their “blackness.” Yet why isn’t the alternative a matter of running from their “whiteness”?

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-06-22 22:07Z by Steven

To pass is to sin against authenticity, and “authenticity” is among the founding lies of the modern age. The philosopher Charles Taylor summarizes its ideology thus: “There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s life. But this notion gives a new importance to being true to myself. If I am not, I miss the point of my life; I miss what being human is for me.” And the Romantic fallacy of authenticity is only compounded when it is collectivized: when the putative real me gives way to the real us. You can say that Anatole Broyard was (by any juridical reckoning) “really” a Negro, without conceding that a Negro is a thing you can really be. The vagaries of racial identity were increased by what anthropologists call the rule of “hypodescent”—the one-drop rule. When those of mixed ancestry—and the majority of blacks are of mixed ancestry—disappear into the white majority, they are traditionally accused of running from their “blackness.” Yet why isn’t the alternative a matter of running from their “whiteness”? To emphasize these perversities, however, is a distraction from a larger perversity. You can’t get race “right” by refining the boundary conditions.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., “White Like Me,” The New Yorker, June 10, 1996. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1996/06/17/white-like-me.

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White Like Me

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-06-22 13:39Z by Steven

White Like Me

The New Yorker
1996-06-10

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


Anatole Broyard, date unknown. Photograph courtesy The New School Archives and Special Collections / The New School

Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer, not a black writer. So he chose to live a lie rather than be trapped by the truth.

In 1982, an investment banker named Richard Grand-Jean took a summer’s lease on an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Fairfield, Connecticut; its owner, Anatole Broyard, spent his summers in Martha’s Vineyard. The house was handsomely furnished with period antiques, and the surrounding acreage included a swimming pool and a pond. But the property had another attraction, too. Grand-Jean, a managing director of Salomon Brothers, was an avid reader, and he took satisfaction in renting from so illustrious a figure. Anatole Broyard had by then been a daily book reviewer for the Times for more than a decade, and that meant that he was one of literary America’s foremost gatekeepers. Grand-Jean might turn to the business pages of the Times first, out of professional obligation, but he turned to the book page next, out of a sense of self. In his Walter Mittyish moments, he sometimes imagined what it might be like to be someone who read and wrote about books for a living—someone to whom millions of readers looked for guidance.

Broyard’s columns were suffused with both worldliness and high culture. Wry, mandarin, even self-amused at times, he wrote like a man about town, but one who just happened to have all of Western literature at his fingertips. Always, he radiated an air of soigné self-confidence: he could be amiable in his opinions or waspish, but he never betrayed a flicker of doubt about what he thought. This was a man who knew that his judgment would never falter and his sentences never fail him.

Grand-Jean knew little about Broyard’s earlier career, but as he rummaged through Broyard’s bookshelves he came across old copies of intellectual journals like Partisan Review and Commentary, to which Broyard had contributed a few pieces in the late forties and early fifties. One day, Grand-Jean found himself leafing through a magazine that contained an early article by Broyard. What caught his eye, though, was the contributor’s note for the article—or, rather, its absence. It had been neatly cut out, as if with a razor…

Read the entire article here.

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Escaping Blackness

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, United States on 2020-03-07 02:03Z by Steven

Escaping Blackness

New York Review of Books
2020-03-26

Darryl Pinckney


Thomas Chatterton Williams, New York City, 2019
Dominique Nabokov

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race
by Thomas Chatterton Williams
Norton, 174 pp., $25.95

The black individual passing for white in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American fiction by white writers is usually a woman, and usually when the truth emerges, the purity of the white race is saved. However, in An Imperative Duty (1891) by William Dean Howells, a Boston girl is ashamed to find out that legally she is colored, but her white suitor marries her anyway and takes her off to a life in Italy. In the beginning of Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900), a “high-bred” black man in North Carolina returns to his hometown to ask his sister to take his dead white wife’s place and bring up his son. A young aristocrat she meets in her new white life proposes marriage, but soon learns the truth of her origins. Literary convention, in the form of a fever, kills her. The white suitor realizes too late that love conquers all. He promises to keep the brother’s secret.

The secret was as radical as Chesnutt could get. From a North Carolina family of “free issue” blacks—meaning emancipated since colonial times—Chesnutt had blond hair and blue eyes. He wouldn’t pass for white, because if he became famous then he chanced someone appearing from his past. He preferred to pursue reputation as a black man. Chesnutt had cousins who crossed the color line and he never told on them, viewing passing as an act of “self-preservation,” a private solution to the race problem. The big escape from being black was an American tradition. Three of Sally Hemings’s six children ended up living as white people.

The nameless narrator of James Weldon Johnson’s novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), a widower and a father, says little about his life as a white man. He is interested instead in his past as a black person, his life with different classes of black people, his wanderings around Europe as a young musician. When he returned to the United States and went on a folk song–collecting tour of the South, he witnessed a lynching—a black man being burned alive. Terrified, he got himself across the color line. He didn’t want to belong to a racial group so utterly without power…

Thomas Chatterton Williams, who belongs to the hip-hop generation of multiculturalism and diversity, is willing to risk being a throwback in his memoir/essay Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race. To speculate on the racial future, he goes back to the days when the black individual who could do so took the side exit from segregated life to personal freedom. He deals with passing for white, class privilege, and his hopes for the possibilities of race transcendence, knowing perfectly well that because he is light-skinned he can contemplate racial identity as being provisional, voluntary, situational, and fluid…

Read the entire review here.

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The passing of David Matthews

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-01-23 22:39Z by Steven

The passing of David Matthews

Savannah Now (Savannah Morning News)
Savannah, Georgia
2007-01-13

John Stoehr


David Matthews

In Harlem Renaissance author Claude McKay’s 1931 short story “Near-White,” Angelina Dove, a pale African American hoping to move up in the world, asks her mother “if some people are light enough to live like whites, why should there be such a fuss? Why should they live colored when they can be happier living white?”

Apparently many did. According to “The White African American Body,” by Charles D. Martin, a professor of literature at Florida State University, Ebony magazine published an article in 1948 titled “5 million U.S. white Negroes.”

The story, Martin wrote, proudly reported an upsurge in the number of African Americans who crossed the color line undetected by Jim Crow America. The article’s centerpiece was a series of photographs. The reader was invited to guess which person was black and which was white. Of the 14 portraits, three were white.

One of these “millions” of “white Negroes” was Anatole Broyard, the New York Times literary critic who, for decades, protected the Ivory Tower of European high culture from the unwashed proletariat while also “passing” for white, to the extent that even his wife and children didn’t know of his African ancestry until after his death in 1990.

Broyard’s hidden identity was revealed by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in a piece titled “The Passing of Anatole Broyard” for the New Yorker in 1996. The practice of racial passing, and the serious questions the social phenomena raises about the metaphysics of race and the paradox of racial identity, received wider attention four years later thanks to Philip Roth’s novel “The Human Stain” and its eventual movie adaptation.

In the decades since Martin Luther King Jr.’sI Have a Dream” speech, which have witnessed the rise of black nationalism, hip-hop, political correctness and influential black figures like Tiger Woods and Barack Obama, one might think passing for another race an archaic endeavor – discouraged by proud enfranchised blacks, dismissed by guilt-ridden whites.

As David Matthews demonstrates in his new memoir, “Ace of Spades,” however, passing continues. Like Angelina Dove, Matthews passed for white for the first 20 years of his life – throughout the 1970s, ’80s and into the ’90s – as a means of living more happily in an America still in thrall to the oppressive requirement of identification according to race…

Read the entire review here.

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The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Media Archive, Monographs on 2017-09-07 20:54Z by Steven

The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation

Harvard University Press
September 2017
256 pages
4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674976528

Stuart Hall (1932–2014), Professor of Sociology
Open University

Edited by:

Kobena Mercer, Professor of History of Art and African American Studies
Yale University

Foreword by:

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor; Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University

In The Fateful Triangle—drawn from lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1994—one of the founding figures of cultural studies reflects on the divisive, often deadly consequences of our contemporary politics of identification. As he untangles the power relations that permeate categories of race, ethnicity, and nationhood, Stuart Hall shows how old hierarchies of human identity in Western culture were forcefully broken apart when oppressed groups introduced new meanings to the representation of difference.

From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, the concept of race stressed distinctions of color as fixed and unchangeable. But for Hall, twentieth-century redefinitions of blackness reveal how identities and attitudes can be transformed through the medium of language itself. Like the “badge of color” W. E. B. Du Bois evoked in the anticolonial era, “black” became a sign of solidarity for Caribbean and South Asian migrants who fought discrimination in 1980s Britain. Hall sees such manifestations of “new ethnicities” as grounds for optimism in the face of worldwide fundamentalisms that respond with fear to social change.

Migration was at the heart of Hall’s diagnosis of the global predicaments taking shape around him. Explaining more than two decades ago why migrants are the target of new nationalisms, Hall’s prescient vision helps us to understand today’s crisis of liberal democracy. As he challenges us to find sustainable ways of living with difference, Hall gives us the concept of diaspora as a metaphor with which to enact fresh possibilities for redefining nation, race, and identity in the twenty-first century.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
  • Introduction by Kobena Mercer
  • 1. Race—The Sliding Signifier
  • 2. Ethnicity and Difference in Global Times
  • 3. Nations and Diasporas
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Editor’s Acknowledgments
  • Index
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DNA tests show fallacy of Jim Crow

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-10-20 01:04Z by Steven

DNA tests show fallacy of Jim Crow

The Albuquerque Journal
2014-03-21

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University

I am filming guest interviews for Season 2 of the genealogy series “Finding Your Roots,” airing on PBS this September. One of the most intriguing pieces of information shared with our guests is the “admixture” results contained in their DNA – their percentages of European, Native American and sub-Saharan African ancestors over the past 200 years or so.

The record of your ancestral past, in all of its complexity, is hidden in your autosomal DNA.

African-Americans almost always guess that they have much higher percentages of Native American ancestry and much lower percentages of European ancestry than they have. That is not surprising since African-Americans have long embraced the myth that their great-grandmother with “high cheeks and straight black hair” looked that way because of a relationship between an ancestor who was black and another one who was Native American.

But scientific results show that very few African-Americans have a significant amount of Native American ancestry: In fact, according to a study just published by 23andMe researcher Katarzyna “Kasia” Bryc, only about 5 percent of African-Americans have at least 2 percent of Native American ancestry, while the average African-American has only 0.7 percent Native American ancestry…

At the same time, Bryc’s research shows that the average African-American has a whopping 24 percent of European ancestry, which explains why great-grandma had those high cheekbones and that straight black hair.

But what about the presence of recent African ancestors in a “white” person’s family tree?…

Read the entire article here.

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