Demography Is Not Destiny

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2021-08-20 22:55Z by Steven

Demography Is Not Destiny

The Atlantic
2021-08-20

Adam Serwer, Staff Writer


Jan Hanus / Alamy; Paul Spella / The Atlantic

New numbers provide a reminder of the fluidity of American identity.

In the more racist corners of the mainstream right, the 2020 census findings that the white American population has declined are cause for panic.

“Democrats are intentionally accelerating demographic change in this country for political advantage,” the Fox News host Tucker Carlson insisted on Friday, treating the results as confirmation of this conspiracy theory. “Rather than convince people to vote for them—that’s called democracy—they’re counting on brand-new voters.”

Carlson, it’s worth noting, has it wrong—voters who are not white are no less persuadable than those who are. If Republicans want to win over those constituencies, nothing is stopping them beyond their own nativism. And any read of the census results that assumes the growing diversity of the United States will simply redound to one party’s benefit is likely mistaken.

Political parties and identities are not static, and few concepts are as elastic as the invention of race, in particular the category of “white,” which is defined not just by looks and ancestry, but also by ideology and class. The fact that fewer Americans identify as white in the 2020 census than did 10 years before does not spell doom for the Republican Party, nor does it herald an era of political dominance for the Democrats, despite the forlorn cries of those who are committed less to conservatism as an ideology than the political and cultural hegemony of those they consider white

Read the entire article here.

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Meaning, Without the White Gaze

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, United States on 2019-11-10 02:31Z by Steven

Meaning, Without the White Gaze

The Atlantic
2019-08-07

Rebecca Carroll, Host
WNYC Radio, New York, New York


Kate Martin / The Atlantic

I’m writing my memoir for the late, great Toni Morrison.

I had been writing it for her. For her, and for Pecola Breedlove. Perhaps too ambitious or presumptuous or high-minded, I had, until the announcement of her death this week, been writing my memoir, Surviving the White Gaze, for Toni Morrison and Pecola Breedlove. Because I survived the white gaze for Pecola, and Morrison taught me how.

I knew Pecola first. I lived inside her skin, her ache; felt sickened, ashamed, and unseen by that baby doll’s dead blue eyes on one of the book’s early covers. Page after page of The Bluest Eye, I felt Pecola’s mind curl into anguish and succumb to a delusion better than reality. Pecola lost her mind because she wanted the blue eyes set inside the ceaseless standard of white beauty—a gaze so narcotic that it ravaged her body from flesh to bone—and I almost did, too.

I say that I knew Pecola first because Morrison’s writing of her was so thorough and fully realized that in my initial reading of The Bluest Eye, the character loomed larger than the author. This is what will happen to me, I remember thinking. If I keep internalizing the white gaze and contorting my own reflection in response to it, I will spiral into madness and still be seen as ugly

Read the entire article here.

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“You Should’ve Seen My Grandmother; She Passed for White”: African American Women Writers, Genealogy, and the Passing Genre

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Women on 2018-08-22 04:27Z by Steven

“You Should’ve Seen My Grandmother; She Passed for White”: African American Women Writers, Genealogy, and the Passing Genre

University of Sheffield
October 2015

Janine Bradbury, Senior Lecturer in Literature; School Learning and Teaching Lead
School of Humanities, Religion & Philosophy
York St John University, York, United Kingdom

Ph.D. Dissertation

This thesis critiques the prevailing assumption that passing is passé in contemporary African American women’s literature.

By re-examining the work of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Dorothy West, Alice Walker, and Barbara Neely, I argue that these writers signify on canonical passing narratives – Brown’s Clotel (1853) and Clotelle (1867), Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900), Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912), Larsen’s Passing (1929), and Hurst’s Imitation of Life (1933) – in order to confront and redress both the historical roots and contemporary contexts of colourism.

As well bridging this historiographic gap, I make a case for reading passing as a multivalent trope that facilitates this very process of cultural interrogation. Rather than focussing on literal episodes of passing, I consider moments of symbolic, textual, and narrative passing, as well as the genealogical and intertextual processes at play in each text which account for the spectral hauntings of the passing-for-white figure in post-civil rights literature.

In Chapter 1, I examine the relationship between passing and embodiments of beauty in Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), Bambara’s “Christmas Eve at Johnson’s Drugs N Goods” (1974) and Neely’s Blanche Among the Talented Tenth (1994).

In Chapter 2, I discuss passing, class, and capital in Naylor’s Linden Hills (1985) and Dorothy West’s The Wedding (1995).

In Chapter 3, I suggest that Walker and Morrison revisit Larsen’s Passing in their short stories “Source” (1982) and “Recitatif” (1983).

Finally, I conclude this project with a discussion of Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child (2015) in order to demonstrate the continued centrality of the passing trope for authors interested in colourism, genealogy, and black women’s experiences.

Embargoed here until October 2020.

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“Black Matters”: Race and Literary History in Mat Johnson’s Pym

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2017-12-23 03:35Z by Steven

“Black Matters”: Race and Literary History in Mat Johnson’s Pym

European Journal of American Studies
11-1 | 2016 : Special Issue: Intimate Frictions: History and Literature in the United States from the 19th to the 21st Century

Jennifer M. Wilks, Associate Professor of English
University of Texas, Austin

After being denied tenure for expanding his teaching of race and literary history beyond exclusively African American texts, Chris Jaynes, the protagonist of Mat Johnson’s novel Pym (2011), sets out to retrace the voyage from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1838 novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This essay examines how Johnson uses Jaynes’ own shipwreck—he and his crew are stranded in Antarctica—to posit the history of race in the United States as a national disaster that overdetermines contemporary social dynamics. Using intertextuality and satire, Johnson follows Toni Morrison’s precedent in depicting blackness and whiteness as constructs that are inextricably bound and that cannot be understood one without the other. Central to this claim are Johnson’s mirroring of the progressive, 21st-century African American Jaynes with his narrative foil: the pickled, ancient Anglo American Arthur Gordon Pym. I contend that Johnson not only revisits Morrison’s argument but also expands upon it; for, as Jaynes and his fellow characters confront the thorny legacy of race and racism in the United States, they must also face a future in which the country’s changing demographics will render questions of identity more, rather than less, complicated.

Read the entire article here.

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On the First Asian-American President

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-12-26 22:16Z by Steven

On the First Asian-American President

Vogue
2016-12-21

Eric Chang

Given the poise with which Barack Obama has taken on his role as president (measured here at minimum by the absence of personal scandal, gaffes, or brushes with death via pretzel), it’s easy to forget how difficult it was to imagine a figure even approximately like him, prior to 2004. The concept of a black president was once a rhetorical construct used to highlight unlikelihood, if not outright impossibility, up there with winged pigs and a frozen inferno. So entrenched was the hegemony of white male leadership in America that in 1998, Toni Morrison wrote the following of then-President Bill Clinton in The New Yorker (to no terrific protest): “Years ago . . . one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black president. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.”

Much has been made of this designation. It’s been frequently misattributed to Morrison alone, when by her own account she was reporting a thesis aggregated from several different conversations (those “murmurs,” collected from her community). It’s also been decontextualized to insidious effect, often in attempts to bolster Bill Clinton’s bona fides as a champion of black Americans…

…The visceral recognition I and Asian-Americans like me see in President Obama rests on a similar foundation, and so I frame my argument as an intentional parallel to Morrison’s: Black skin notwithstanding, this is our first Asian-American president…

Read the entire article here.

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Opinion: “White spaces” are everywhere – including ARC

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-28 00:03Z by Steven

Opinion: “White spaces” are everywhere – including ARC

The American River Current
Sacramento, California
2016-09-26

Shiavon Chatman

Imagine being alone in a place where there was no one who looked like you or understood your experiences.

Imagine having a conversation with someone who assumed the actions and behaviors of people who looked like you and made predictions about the way you conducted yourself.

Being a person of color in a predominantly “white space” is similar to this.

Author Toni Morrison addresses this very idea of oppression and loneliness that comes with being racially stereotyped in her first novel entitled “The Bluest Eye.”

In her novel, the main character Pecola is “(the) little black girl who want(s) to rise up out of her pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes.”

The idea of “colorblindness” doesn’t exist. No matter how progressive and accepting a person is, they will see color.

Recognizing color, or rather, race and ethnicity, is being consciously aware of the social injustices and stereotypes that people of color experience.

American River College [(ARC)] student Alyssa Senna said “I feel like there’s a stereotype for all people of color and that’s how white people see us.”…

…The stigma of being a person of color in predominantly white spaces has the same level of intensity for mixed people.

“I feel almost like an alien at times,” said ARC student, Sade Butler, “because I’m black, white, and Filipino and I’m of a medium complexion, (so) a lot of people don’t see me as a person of color.”

Mixed people typically experience more privilege, referred to as “passing”, than non-mixed people of color, except in predominantly “white spaces.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Trauma and Race: A Lacanian Study of African American Racial Identity

Posted in Books, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Philosophy, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2016-02-03 03:26Z by Steven

Trauma and Race: A Lacanian Study of African American Racial Identity

Baylor University Press
February 2016
190 pages
9in x 6in
Hardback ISBN: 9781602587342

Sheldon George, Professor of English
Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts

African American identity is racialized. And this racialized identity has animated and shaped political resistance to racism. Hidden, though, are the psychological implications of rooting identity in race, especially because American history is inseparable from the trauma of slavery.

In Trauma and Race author Sheldon George begins with the fact that African American racial identity is shaped by factors both historical and psychical. Employing the work of Jacques Lacan, George demonstrates how slavery is a psychic event repeated through the agencies of racism and inscribed in racial identity itself. The trauma of this past confronts the psychic lack that African American racial identity both conceals and traumatically unveils for the African American subject.

Trauma and Race investigates the vexed, ambivalent attachment of African Americans to their racial identity, exploring the ways in which such attachment is driven by traumatic, psychical urgencies that often compound or even exceed the political exigencies called forth by racism.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Race Today, or Alterity and Jouissance
  • 1. Race and Slavery: Theorizing Agencies beyond the Symbolic
  • 2. Conserving Race, Conserving Trauma: The Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois
  • 3. Approaching the Thing of Slavery: Toni Morrison’s Beloved
  • 4. The Oedipal Complex and the Mythic Structure of Race: Ellison’s Juneteenth and Invisible Man
  • Conclusion: Beyond Race, or The Exaltation of Personality
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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”)…

Read the entire article here.

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Signifying without Specifying: Racial Discourse in the Age of Obama

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-03-10 15:20Z by Steven

Signifying without Specifying: Racial Discourse in the Age of Obama

Rutgers University Press
2011-11-01
218 Pages
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8135-5143-2
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8135-5144-9
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8135-5210-1

Stephanie Li, Professor of English
Indiana University, Bloomington

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama faced a difficult task—rallying African American voters while resisting his opponents’ attempts to frame him as “too black” to govern the nation as a whole. Obama’s solution was to employ what Toni Morrison calls “race-specific, race-free language,” avoiding open discussions of racial issues while using terms and references that carried a specific cultural resonance for African American voters.

Stephanie Li argues that American politicians and writers are using a new kind of language to speak about race. Challenging the notion that we have moved into a “post-racial” era, she suggests that we are in an uneasy moment where American public discourse demands that race be seen, but not heard. Analyzing contemporary political speech with nuanced readings of works by such authors as Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Colson Whitehead, Li investigates how Americans of color have negotiated these tensions, inventing new ways to signal racial affiliations without violating taboos against open discussions of race.

Table Of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Violence and Toni Morrison’s Racist House
  • 2. Hiding the Invisble Hurt of Race
  • 3. The Unspeakable Language of Race and Fantasy in the Stories of Jhumpa Lahiri
  • 4. Performing Intimacy: “Race-Specific, Race-Free Language” in Political Discourse
  • Conclusion: The Demands of Precious
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Sweetness

Posted in Articles, Media Archive on 2015-02-07 02:18Z by Steven

Sweetness

The New Yorker
2015-02-09 Issue

Toni Morrison

It’s not my fault. So you can’t blame me. I didn’t do it and have no idea how it happened. It didn’t take more than an hour after they pulled her out from between my legs for me to realize something was wrong. Really wrong. She was so black she scared me. Midnight black, Sudanese black. I’m light-skinned, with good hair, what we call high yellow, and so is Lula Ann’s father. Ain’t nobody in my family anywhere near that color. Tar is the closest I can think of, yet her hair don’t go with the skin. It’s different—straight but curly, like the hair on those naked tribes in Australia. You might think she’s a throwback, but a throwback to what? You should’ve seen my grandmother; she passed for white, married a white man, and never said another word to any one of her children. Any letter she got from my mother or my aunts she sent right back, unopened. Finally they got the message of no message and let her be. Almost all mulatto types and quadroons did that back in the day—if they had the right kind of hair, that is. Can you imagine how many white folks have Negro blood hiding in their veins? Guess. Twenty per cent, I heard. My own mother, Lula Mae, could have passed easy, but she chose not to. She told me the price she paid for that decision. When she and my father went to the courthouse to get married, there were two Bibles, and they had to put their hands on the one reserved for Negroes. The other one was for white people’s hands. The Bible! Can you beat it? My mother was a housekeeper for a rich white couple. They ate every meal she cooked and insisted she scrub their backs while they sat in the tub, and God knows what other intimate things they made her do, but no touching of the same Bible.

Some of you probably think it’s a bad thing to group ourselves according to skin color—the lighter the better—in social clubs, neighborhoods, churches, sororities, even colored schools. But how else can we hold on to a little dignity? How else can we avoid being spit on in a drugstore, elbowed at the bus stop, having to walk in the gutter to let whites have the whole sidewalk, being charged a nickel at the grocer’s for a paper bag that’s free to white shoppers? Let alone all the name-calling. I heard about all of that and much, much more. But because of my mother’s skin color she wasn’t stopped from trying on hats or using the ladies’ room in the department stores. And my father could try on shoes in the front part of the shoe store, not in a back room. Neither one of them would let themselves drink from a “Colored Only” fountain, even if they were dying of thirst…

Read the entire short story here.

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