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Posts Tagged ‘race

“Society is unity in diversity”*…

 

Diversity Map

 

In less than one year, the 2020 census will record just how much more racially diverse the nation has become, continuing the “diversity explosion” that punctuated the results of the 2010 census. While less authoritative than the once-a-decade national headcount, recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2018 make plain that racial minority populations—especially Hispanic, Asian and black Americans—continue to expand, leaving fewer parts of the country untouched by diversity…

From Brookings, a pre-2020 census look at the wide dispersal of the nation’s Hispanic, Asian and black populations: Six maps that reveal America’s expanding diversity.

* George Herbert Mead

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As we delight in difference, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that then 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key wrote “The Defense of Fort M’Henry,” a poem– which provided the lyrics for the U.S. national anthem–  in which he described the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.  Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory.

Indeed, he wrote lyrics beyond those most of us have heard:  a pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist campaigner, Key wrote a (now mostly omitted) third stanza that promises that “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

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Written by LW

September 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Race is an idea, not a fact”*…

 

White people- “Viewing the Performance of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ in the Globe Theatre,” by David Scott. Photo courtesy the V&A Museum

The Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton invented the concept of ‘white people’ on 29 October 1613, the date that his play The Triumphs of Truth was first performed. The phrase was first uttered by the character of an African king who looks out upon an English audience and declares: ‘I see amazement set upon the faces/Of these white people, wond’rings and strange gazes.’ As far as I, and others, have been able to tell, Middleton’s play is the earliest printed example of a European author referring to fellow Europeans as ‘white people’.

A year later, the English commoner John Rolfe of Jamestown in Virginia took as his bride an Algonquin princess named Matoaka, whom we call Pocahontas. The literary critic Christopher Hodgkins reports that King James I was ‘at first perturbed when he learned of the marriage’. But this was not out of fear of miscegenation: James’s reluctance, Hodgkins explained, was because ‘Rolfe, a commoner, had without his sovereign’s permission wed the daughter of a foreign prince.’ King James was not worried about the pollution of Rolfe’s line; he was worried about the pollution of Matoaka’s…

By examining how and when racial concepts became hardened, we can see how historically conditional these concepts are. There’s nothing essential about them. As the literature scholar Roxann Wheeler reminds us in The Complexion of Race (2000), there was ‘an earlier moment in which biological racism… [was] not inevitable’. Since Europeans didn’t always think of themselves as ‘white’, there is good reason to think that race is socially constructed, indeed arbitrary. If the idea of ‘white people’ (and thus every other ‘race’ as well) has a history – and a short one at that – then the concept itself is based less on any kind of biological reality than it is in the variable contingencies of social construction…

Black or White?  “How ‘white people’ were invented by a playwright in 1613.”

* Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People

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As we aspire to (self-)consciousness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that  A Hand Is On The Gate, billed as “an evening of poetry and music by American Negroes,” opened on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. The directorial debut of actor Roscoe Lee Browne, it featured a cast of eight, including Leon Bibb, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, and Josephine Premice (who was nominated for a Tony).

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Written by LW

September 21, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Race does not stand up scientifically, period”*…

 

The genetic distance between some groups in Africa, such as the Fulani of West Africa (above) and the Hazda of Tanzania, is greater than supposedly racially divergent groups such as East Asians and Europeans.

If race categories were meant primarily to capture differences in genetics, they are doing an abysmal job. The genetic distance between some groups within Africa is as great as the genetic distance between many “racially divergent” groups in the rest of the world. The genetic distance between East Asians and Europeans is shorter than the divergence between Hazda in north-central Tanzania to the Fulani shepherds of West Africa (who live in present-day Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Guinea). So much for Black, White, Asian, and Other.

Armed with this knowledge, many investigators in the biological sciences have replaced the term “race” with the term “continental ancestry.” This in part reflects a rejection of “race” as a biological classification. Every so-called race has the same protein-coding genes, and there is no clear genetic dividing line that subdivides the human species. Another reason for using the term “continental ancestry” in lieu of “race” is improved precision for locating historical and geographic origins when we look at the genome. Thus, continental ancestry allows for more genetically accurate descriptors. For example, President Barack Obama was not just the first socially “black” president. He was also the first (as far as we know) who has European and African ancestry.

In sum, racial categories now in use are based on a convoluted and often pernicious history, including much purposefully created misinformation.

It is a good time, then, to dispel some myths about genetic variation that have been promulgated by both the left and the right alike…

Setting the scientific record straight on race, IQ, and success: “What Both the Left and Right Get Wrong About Race.”

* Dalton Conley and Jason Fletcher

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As we hear Bob Marley sing “One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel all right,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1795 that the first (but still provisional) official standard “metre bar” was forged in Paris.  Made of brass, its length was one ten-millioneth of the northern quadrant of the Paris meridian.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution (1789), the traditional units of measure used in the Ancien Régime had replaced; the livre monetary unit was replaced by the decimal franc, and a new unit of length was introduced– the metre.

This first prototype was short by 0.2 millimeters because researchers miscalculated the flattening of the earth due to its rotation.  Still this length became the standard– replicated in platinum– until 1889, when new, more accurate measurements were used to create a new standard metre, that gained acceptance across the world.

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Written by LW

June 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Watta woil, watta woil”*…

 

Readers will know of your correspondent’s special affection for Krazy Kat and his creator, George Herriman. From the remarkable Chris Ware, an invitation to consider the modern relevance of the work…

For one of the most prolific and highly-praised cartoonists who ever lived, George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat (1913-1944), didn’t like talking about himself. Recoiling from photographers and brushing off personal questions with elliptical answers and even occasional fabrications, George or “Garge” or “The Greek” always preferred the focus to be on the multivalent, multifarious, and multicultural characters who populated the inner world he made every day with the scratchings of his pen. A direct throughline of thought-to-gesture in black ink on white paper, George Herriman’s drawings come alive before the reader’s eye with a vital, persuasive complexity previously unknown in the history of art. Krazy Kat lived on the page—but he—or she—had a secret. And so did George Herriman.

Krazy Kat has been described as a parable of love, a metaphor for democracy, a “surrealistic” poem, unfolding over years and years. It is all of these, but so much more: it is a portrait of America, a self-portrait of Herriman, and, I believe, the first attempt to paint the full range  of human consciousness in the language of the comic strip. Like the America it portrays, Herriman’s identity has been poised for a revision for many decades now. Michael Tisserand’s new biography Krazy does just that, clearing the shifting sands and shadows of Herriman’s ancestry, the discovery in the early 1970s of a birth certificate which described Herriman as “colored” sending up a flag among comics researchers and aficionados. Tisserand confirms what for years was hiding in plain sight in the tangled brush of Coconino County, Arizona, where Krazy Kat is supposedly set: Herriman, of mixed African-American ancestry, spent his entire adult life passing as white. He had been born in the African-American neighborhood of racially mixed, culturally polyglot 1880s New Orleans, but within a decade Herriman’s parents moved George and his three siblings to the small but growing town of Los Angeles to escape the increasing bigotry and racial animosity of postbellum Louisiana. The Herrimans melted into California life, and it was there that George, with brief professional spates in New York, would remain for the rest of his life.

But imagine knowing something about yourself that’s considered so damning, so dire, so disgusting, that you must, at all cost, never tell anyone. Imagine leaving behind a life to which you cannot claim allegiance or affection. Imagine suddenly gaining advantages and opportunity while you see others like you, who have not followed in the footsteps of your deception, suffering. Herriman, once he was considered white, didn’t even have a way of voicing this identity. Until he started drawing Krazy Kat

Read the essay in its remarkable whole at “To Walk in Beauty,” then peruse Michael Tisserand’s Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White.

* George Herriman’s Krazy Kat

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As we learn from the Masters, we might recall that it was on this date in 1863 that Leland Stanford, industrialist (and later Governor of California and endowing founder of Stanford University) drove the ceremonial “first spike” in the transcontinental railway in Sacramento, California. (Ground had been broken there just under a month earlier.)  Stanford drove the ceremonial “golden spike,” celebrating the completion of the railway, at Promontory Summit, in the Utah Territory, on May 10, 1869.

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Written by LW

February 2, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization”*…

 

… The history of “thug” goes back not just to the hip-hop scene of the 1990s, to Tupac Shakur and the “Thug Life” tattoo that stretched, arc-like, across his abdomen; it goes back to India—to the India, specifically, of the 1350s.”Thug” comes from the Hindi thuggee or tuggee (pronounced “toog-gee” or “toog”); it is derived from the word ठग, or ṭhag, which means “deceiver” or “thief” or “swindler.” The Thugs, in India, were a gang of professional thieves and assassins who operated from the 14th century and into the 19th. They worked, in general, by joining travelers, gaining their trust … and then murdering them—strangulation was their preferred method—and stealing their valuables…

Who is a thug? Who is not a thug? “The thug,” the Brown University professor Tricia Rose writes in her book The Hip Hop Wars, “both represents a product of discriminatory conditions, and embodies behaviors that injure the very communities from which it comes.” Thugs, in this conception, are both victims and agents of injustice. They are both the products and the producers of violence, and mayhem, and outrage. So it is fitting that, as the word’s history suggests, there is—contrary to [Baltimore] Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s claims last [week]—a kind of universality to thuggery. Thugs are not necessarily “evil”; thugs are not necessarily opposed to “the will of good”; thugs are not necessarily unsympathetic. Which is another way of saying that thugs are human. And, being such, they evolve. Mark Twain, in Following the Equator, noted that all of human history, on some level, has found “Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization.”

Twain continues…

The joy of killing! the joy of seeing killing done–these are traits of the human race at large. We white people are merely modified Thugs; Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization; Thugs who long ago enjoyed the slaughter of the Roman arena, and later the burning of doubtful Christians by authentic Christians in the public squares, and who now, with the Thugs of Spain and Nimes, flock to enjoy the blood and misery of the bull-ring. We have no tourists of either sex or any religion who are able to resist the delights of the bull-ring when opportunity offers; and we are gentle Thugs in the hunting-season, and love to chase a tame rabbit and kill it. Still, we have made some progress–microscopic, and in truth scarcely worth mentioning, and certainly nothing to be proud of–still it is progress: we no longer take pleasure in slaughtering or burning helpless men. We have reached a little altitude where we may look down upon the Indian Thugs with a complacent shudder; and we may even hope for a day, many centuries hence, when our posterity will look down upon us in the same way.
Following the Equator

More at “The History of ‘Thug’.”

* Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World

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As we examine our etymology, we might send crafty birthday greetings to Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli; he was born on this date in 1469.  Machiavelli wrote comedies, poetry, and some of the best-known personal correspondence in Italian; but he is best remembered as a Man of Affairs, first as a servant of the Florentine Republic in a time during which Medici influence was on the wane, then as an adviser to the Medici.  His most famous work, The Prince— first published as a pamphlet in 1513– was written mid-career to gain favor with the Medici, who were at that point regaining dominance in Florence.  The essay on the exercise of power (inspired by Cesare Borgia) not only failed to win over the Medici, it alienated Machiavelli from the Florentine public; he never again played an important role in government.  Indeed, when the Florentine Republic was established in 1527, Machiavelli was effectively ostracized.

But published in book form posthumously (in 1532), The Prince began its steady growth in influence.  And of course today, Machiavelli is considered one of the fathers of modern political theory… if not indeed a philosopher of thuggery.

Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

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Written by LW

May 3, 2015 at 1:01 am

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