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Posts Tagged ‘racism

“The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare”*…

 

griffith

Dorothy and Lillian Gish and D.W. Griffith at the White House, 1922. Library of Congress

 

The year 1915 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Monuments to Confederate and Union heroes were being dedicated all over the country. Woodrow Wilson, a fan of Jim Crow laws, was president. He had allowed federal workplaces to segregate again.

Enter Thomas Dixon Jr., Wilson’s classmate from Johns Hopkins. A film had just been made of Dixon’s second novel, “the true story” of the South under Reconstruction. Would the president, he wondered, be interested in viewing it? (He would.)

“History written with lightning,” Wilson declared of The Clansman, the second film ever to be screened in the White House. It was an endorsement guaranteed to head off resistance from town censor boards charged with shutting down entertainment deemed unsuitable or incendiary to the public…

The Clansman was a silent movie with title cards. It depicted whites as victims and blacks as villains. Benevolent former masters were denied votes and subjugated by newly freed blacks taking over the country. In an early scene, black legislators sit at desks, shoeless and drunk, too busy stuffing their faces with fried chicken to work. The title card read: “An historical facsimile of the State House of Representatives of South Carolina in 1870.” South Carolina had been the first state to elect a majority-black legislature and that the card implied that the apish behavior depicted was historically accurate, too.

In a later scene, the white heroine (played by Lillian Gish) is threatened by a black man unable to contain his urge to “mongrelize” the white race. Before she is ravaged, a savior army rides in: The Ku Klux Klan. The title-card copy comes straight from the president’s five-volume History of the American People, published in 1902:

440px-wilson-quote-in-birth-of-a-nation

More of this sad story, and its aftermath, at “Hatred Endorsed by a President.”

* Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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As we ruminate on recurrence, we might send never-ending birthday greetings to August Ferdinand Möbius; he was born on this date in 1790.  A German mathematician and theoretical astronomer, he is best remembered as a topologist, more specifically for his discovery of the Möbius strip (a two-dimensional surface with only one side… or more precisely, a non-orientable two-dimensional surface with only one side when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space).  See ““It might help to think of the universe as a rubber sheet, or perhaps not.”

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Written by LW

November 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“But I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.”*…

 

A French print, published in the New York Sun newspaper, in 1835, purported to show all manner of plants and life on the moon’s surface.

… Most subsequent accounts of the Moon hoax fail to mention the Vale dwellers, that superior, lighter race—perhaps because those beings make clear that race and racialism have plenty to do with the hoax and its success. Whether [New York Sun editor Richard Adams] Locke meant to have these creatures taken as symbolic whites, or just as remarkable discoveries—or as things barely to be believed at all—the Moon Hoax’s popularity certainly owed much to its re-creating on the moon what many white readers believed could be found at home: there, on the other end of a telescope, wasn’t just life but order, not just extinct craters but vibrant temples, not just sustenance but subordination, not just humanoids but hierarchies.

Even many white abolitionists didn’t seek to eliminate racial hierarchy altogether, just slavery. In the Moon Hoax, Locke had married the fanciful travelogue to the outright travel lie, but also to the issues of the day. Not bound by facts, the hoax is free to fabricate feelings, and it is this artfulness and ambiguity that help explain the Moon Hoax’s popularity.

That popularity cannot be overstated. The Sun’s circulation soared to almost twenty thousand—a remarkable leap for the young paper, and for the new penny-press model it exemplified. Before the eighteen-thirties, newspapers cost six cents and were chiefly sponsored by political parties. By relying on advertising and circulation, the Sun and other penny papers helped invent a new reading public.

Within months, Locke’s Moon Hoax not only created the most popular newspaper in the world, and practically the very industry of the modern press itself, it also helped galvanize a new, national popular culture. “Moonshine,” a play inspired by the hoax, was performed mere weeks after the articles appeared, at the renowned, newly rebuilt Bowery Theatre, a venue known for doing topical plays and satires. Elsewhere, a life-size cyclorama of the moonscape drew many New Yorkers, including Locke himself.

The Moon Hoax also provided an outlet for the era’s shifting sense of truth. As Ormond Seavey puts it, in an introduction to the hoax’s nineteen-seventies reprint, with the Moon Hoax the Sun “had stumbled across an unexpected fact about American society. The New Yorkers of Andrew Jackson’s second term did not especially care to read the news. Political life bubbled and fizzed around them constantly anyhow; they had no need of being further informed.” And when they did read the paper, Seavey writes, “people did not expect to believe everything they read.” He goes on: “It is impossible to say how widely or how much they did believe the supposed Supplement. When one examines the contemporary newspaper reaction, one can never separate clearly the believers in the hoax from those who knowingly joined in the deception. . . . Both the deadpan teller of the tale and his impassive listeners were conspirators against reality.” Readers and newspapermen found in even the Moon Hoax’s falseness a metaphor for the times—one that echoes our own…

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

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As we affirm that there is no alternative (to) fact, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that CBS first broadcast CBS Reports.

CBS Reports was a documentary program series inaugurated on October 27, 1959, in the aftermath of the quiz show scandals. Executive producer Fred Friendly (Edward R. Murrow’s colleague on the ‘See It Now’ series) once suggested that the program was an attempt by CBS to undo the damage caused by the quiz show scandals and the resulting investigations. Friendly, who was executive producer for the new program later became the president of CBS News.

“’CBS Reports’ continued as a regular series for seven years, producing 146 hour-long investigative documentaries….Some shows caused controversy; many achieved critical acclaim.”

– “Encyclopedia of Television News

While many of the series’ entries were impactful, probably none were more so than “Harvest of Shame,” a 1960 entry in which Edward R. Murrow exposed the plight of America’s farm workers.

 

Written by LW

October 27, 2017 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

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs”*…

 

When brands get highjacked…

At far-right rallies across the U.S., an English tennis champion named Fred Perry hovers, invisible to the men unwittingly representing him. For the last two years, members of the Proud Boys cult of masculinity have worn Perry-branded striped-collar polo shirts with a Wimbledon-inspired laurel insignia as they shout at anti-fascist protesters and take rocks to the head. In blog posts and tweets dating back to 2014, their patriarch Gavin McInnes has instructed them that this — a Fred Perry cotton pique tennis shirt, always in black and yellow — is the proper armor for battling multiculturalism.

The Proud Boys at most have a few hundred active members, but they are a fixture at fascist “free speech” events like this month’s anti-Muslim marches, where they mingle with white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. McInnes is eager to point out that the Proud Boys accept people of color, Muslims, and Jewish people — so long as those members also “accept that the West is the best” and reject non-Western immigrants to America (McInnes is Canadian). But McInnes insists his followers are not themselves white supremacists, a clarification he has to make partially because Fred Perry polos have a history of popping up at racist skinhead punk shows and rallies across Europe and the Americas. The shirts have been a fixture in some form or another, in all their two-dozen-plus colorways, in both fascist and anti-fascist politics for fifty years, here in the States but especially in England, where both the brand and the skinhead subculture that co-opted it are from…

The whole sordid story at “How Fred Perry polos came to symbolize hate.”

* “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

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As we cull our wardrobes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1787 that Edward Gibbon completed last lines of his monumental (and instructively cautionary) History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (nearly 25 years in the writing) between 11 o’clock & midnight in Lausanne.  He called it the “hour of my final deliverance.”

(In 1897, precisely 110 years later, Thomas Hardy visited the same spot and wrote his “Lausanne.”)

Edward Gibbon, portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds

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“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

Special “I Have a Dream” Anniversary Edition…

While (R)D rarely strays into the overtly political, it does regularly concern itself with the arrestingly weird.  So, with no embellishment (as it needs none), this from Gawker

I’m a Racist Idiot, And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt

J. Peach took this picture at today’s “Glenn Beck Restores America” poetry slam and cookout. All of this man’s racist shirts that actually make sense were at the cleaners. (Also, it’s “Mauritania,” dumbass.)

Dreaming on…

Written by LW

August 29, 2010 at 9:50 am

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