Posts Tagged ‘racism’
June 23, 2016 | by Wei Tchou
How the Internet makes memoirists of us all.
I can’t recall the last time I didn’t know a writer’s face. See me pasting bylines into Facebook to find an essayist’s profile picture. Watch as I dive through tagged photographs to find out which school a reporter attended, what his partner looks like. Is his Twitter account verified? Is he famous enough to justify being verified? Usually I’m less interested in the plain fact of, say, a writer’s ethnicity or what kind of pet she owns than I am in her presentation of those facts. Of course sometimes I’m just nosy, but more often, I’m looking for reasons to trust or distrust a writer’s work. I don’t really believe in objective narrators anymore, but I still care to look for reliable ones. Read More »
June 15, 2016 | by Monica Youn
I wrote “Goldacre”—my “Twinkie” poem—in the wake of the brouhaha surrounding last year’s Best American Poetry anthology, when the white writer Michael Derrick Hudson published a poem under the name Yi-Fen Chou, sparking a media frenzy. As one of the few #ActualAsianPoets to have had a poem (“March of the Hanged Men,” first published in The Paris Review) included in the anthology, I was unwillingly sucked into the whole mess. But after my initial queasiness subsided, the controversy stirred up a familiar set of questions for me. Read More »
June 2, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ginsberg and Whitman have birthdays only three days apart, and it gets even weirder: they’re both American poets. The illustrator Nathan Gelgud has celebrated both of them by drawing “A Supermarket in California”: “I think of an English professor I had as a freshman … He talked about Leaves of Grass, and put so much importance on which version of the book I should read that I thought the actual title was Leaves of Grass Eighteen Fifty-Five … I heard later that the professor was arrested for having gone across the street and chucked corn dogs from the corner gas station at passing cars … Another eccentric who I think about when I think about Whitman is one of the other giants of American poetry—Whitman’s inheritor Allen Ginsberg … Ginsberg wrote ‘A Supermarket in California,’ a story about wandering into a grocery store in Berkeley, California and finding Whitman cruising the aisles, hitting on the grocery boys, and guiding Ginsberg out into the night.”
- Your favorite reality-TV star is really just a Jane Austen heroine. “Her female characters are defined by two primary qualities: their privilege and their powerlessness. Her writing focuses almost entirely on women searching for stability and status, deploying the very limited means available to them. Deprived of intellectual gratification or professional empowerment, they scheme, manipulate, and get bogged down in petty rivalries with each other. Their ultimate endgame is marriage, described by Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice as the ‘pleasantest preservation from want.’ That they do nothing of much more substantive significance (except, some of them, on rare occasions, be kind sisters or daughters) is their flaw, but also, as Austen portrays it, their fate. Isn’t it weird? It’s possible to imagine Austen, reincarnated with her bonnet and penchant for millinery, being moderately overwhelmed by the various cuts and colors of synthetic fabric worn by the contestants on The Bachelor.”
- A 1907 book of American superstitions confirms that we’ve always been a delusional people. And a morbid people, too, as these sample superstitions suggest: “If you kiss a baby’s feet, it will not live to walk on them.” “Never call a baby an angel, or it will die before the year is out.” “If a fire puffs, it is a sure sign of a neighbor’s quarreling.” “Carrying a shovel through the house—bad luck.” “If a white horse strays into your yard, one of the family will die.”
- Ever time-traveled? It’s so much fun, if you’re white. Mik Awake looks at what he calls the “bygone bigotry” that crops up in so many time-travel narratives, including, of course, Back to the Future: “Nothing flaunts white privilege quite like a time-travel story. But in those narratives, the subject of historical racism, if it’s handled at all, is often dealt with in a haphazard or obligatory way alongside other lesser concerns. Our protagonist usually has some specified mission of more pressing personal import, but nevertheless, the movies remind us, in self-defeating winks and nods, about how much progress we have made on the race stuff … Whether it’s Marty McFly in 1950s Hill Valley or Jake Epping in segregated Texas, the entire genre of American time-travel fantasy, with its chaos theory nerdery, butterfly-effect affectations, and desire to reshape the present, is irrevocably linked to the very real idea of white privilege.”
- Enough is enough. Let’s visit a volcano. John Perry went to the Masaya, in Nicaragua: “In December the neck of the chamber got blocked, but a few weeks later rock falls reopened it, exposed a boiling sea of lava. The conquistadors’ entrance to hell is visible once again. In the city, the emergency services regularly practice handling the after-effects of an eruption. Residents view the volcano with suspicion, and don’t trust the reassurances of scientists. Tourists can pay $10 to enter at night-time, peer over the crater’s edge from the adjoining car park and see the incandescent lava a couple of hundred feet below. Holding their noses against the sharp tang of sulfur, they can climb the eroded steps to Bobadilla’s cross for a better view of the hellmouth.”
February 5, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
With all the controversy surrounding the renaming of problematic buildings, it seems fitting to draw attention to another bit of suspicious rebranding. Perhaps you’ve seen the BBC miniseries previewed above. “Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None,” is, of course, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians—which was originally, notoriously, released serially in the UK under the title Ten Little Niggers. (This was the British music-hall version of the minstrel song.) Even in 1939, this title was considered too offensive for American publication. Read More »
December 23, 2015 | by Brit Bennett
We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!
The role of black dolls in American culture.
In 1864, a nine-year-old slave girl was punished for daydreaming. Distracted by rumors that her brother and father would be sold, she failed to remove worms from the tobacco leaves she was picking. The overseer didn’t whip her. Instead, he pried her mouth open, stuffed a worm inside, and forced her to eat it.
This girl is not real. Her name is Addy Walker; she is an American Girl doll, one of eight historical dolls produced by the Pleasant Company who arrive with dresses, accessories, and a series of books about their lives. Of all the harrowing scenes I’ve encountered in slave narratives, I remember this scene from Meet Addy, her origin story, most vividly. How the worm—green, fat, and juicy—burst inside Addy’s mouth. At eight years old, I understood that slavery was cruel—I knew about hard labor and whippings—but the idea of a little girl being forced to eat a worm stunned me. I did not yet understand that violence is an art. There’s creativity to cruelty. What did I know of its boundaries and edges? Read More >>
November 24, 2015 | by Asali Solomon
Celebrating Umoja Karamu, a “ritual for the black family,” on Thanksgiving.
Back in the early 1980s, no one at the mostly white elite prep school I attended had heard of Kwanzaa, which I’d grown up celebrating instead of Christmas. This was a yearly hassle of explaining: yes, presents; no, Santa Claus. But absolutely no one had heard of Umoja Karamu, “a ritual for the black family” that we observed at Thanksgiving. This one I never volunteered to explain. Black families who celebrated Umoja Karamu (Kiswahili for “unity feast”)—and we were the only one I knew of—were to trade in the ritual of senselessly stuffing ourselves for one in which we used food and words to reflect on the grim, glorious trajectory of black people in America, to recall the crimes of the “greedy one-eyed giant” white man, and to keep the “Black Nation” energized and focused, struggling toward liberation from racism.
During Umoja Karamu, which lived in a 1971 booklet (a mere two years older than I was) published by a fellow Philadelphian named Edward Sims, we sat at our special holiday table and took turns reading solemnly aloud from a pithy narrative of African American history that moved from the ancient kingdom of Mali to the Watts riots. Between readings, we ate a symbolic sequence of aggressively non-Thanksgiving foods, including black-eyed peas, rice, corn bread, and leafy greens, all served unseasoned, perhaps to make us more thoughtful. Blessedly, my mother always insisted on a normal holiday meal after Umoja Karamu. But Edward Sims was certainly about his business. Each Thanksgiving, as I waited to get to the stuffing and gravy, I did indeed taste the suffering we read about. I experienced the “bland and tasteless condition under which Black Folk lived during the slavery period” in the form of unsalted white rice and chalky black-eyed peas. But happily, enduring Umoja Karamu, unlike the suffering of the Black Nation, was a private shame, one about which my school friends knew nothing. That is, until I received a fifth-grade assignment to write an essay about family Thanksgiving traditions and to read it aloud. Read More »