Category Archives: classics

Meanwhile, On TumblR: Wuthering Heights Reimagined And The Gap’s Anti-First Nations T-Shirt

By Andrea Plaid

Reblogged this excerpt of an In These Times post from thesmithian:

…the reimagining of Heathcliff, that “dark-skinned” “gipsy”…as a black man…Brontë’s Heathcliff was repeatedly evoked as “dark,” and culled from the slums of Liverpool (a port fraught with immigrants). But in movies and theater, he has always manifested as white, from Laurence Olivier to Tom Hardy. Brontë may not have intended Heathcliff to have been a full-on African—which in the 1700s meant being a slave—but Arnold’s coup turns the old story around, from a wicked love-lost tragedy into a crisis of a society suffering the guilt and ghosts of slavery.

Tumblizen purple01_prose added this commentary:

Here’s the thing. Christopher Haywood, in his annotated edition of Wuthering Heights, examines the race of Heathcliff at length. Given all of the coding of Heathcliff as ‘dark,’ Haywood explained some of the racial terms of the time, and some of the beliefs of a time, like in how many generations someone with African ancestry with dark skin could have a descendant with white skin. (at least 6, with a white partner for every generation). There were names for each generation.

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Using The Term ‘Multiculturalism’

By Guest Contributor Jaymee Goh, cross-posted from Silver Goggles

I’m currently re-reading Angela Davis’ Abolition Democracy, and her interviewer, Eduardo Mendieta, in response to her reiteration that “we need a new age–with a new agenda–that directly addresses the structural racism” (30) about multiculturalism: “very smart strategies are being used, ones that displace attention from issues of racial justice by speaking in terms of multiculturalism” (31).

Over the last year or so, I’ve become incredibly disillusioned with how the term “multiculturalism” is used in various spaces, including steampunk.

I’ve always loved the term, and multiracialism as well. In Malaysia, we are openly a multi-racial society; you see food stalls with Chinese lettering and Indian mamak shops. Wherever you go, there are clear signs that any given space caters to the needs of specific races, and it’s only hyper-consumerist spaces that cater to as many people as possible, that are, ahem, “race-less”. (Neocolonialism, you see, strips a country of its cultures, and replaces it with a singular culture of buying and selling and marathon window-shopping.)

We’re super-imperfect, and there are a ton of things I do not know about the different races and cultures within Malaysia alone. Partly because it’s simply not part of regular interracial interaction and thus it never comes up in conversation. Partly also because sometimes these practices are deeply private and specific to certain groups, and we kind of don’t see why we HAVE to tell others about it. But at functions, we are fairly happy to see each other dress appropriately, and in the cultural clothes associated with the race of the host.

Contrary to the politics of Malaysia, I really do think that the Malaysian people get it right sometimes, or at least, it did. Recently I’ve come to believe that our taciturn attitude towards talking about our cultures has become a wall and now we stand around awkwardly and don’t really know how to talk to each other about our cultures anymore.

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In His Own Words: Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)

The catchphrase, what that was all about, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” that was about the fact that the first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. So when we said that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” we were saying that the thing that’s gonna change people is something that no one will ever be able to capture on film. It will just be something that you see, and all of a sudden you realize I’m on the wrong page, or I’m on the right page but I’m on the wrong note, and I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to understand what’s happening in this country.

But I think that the Black Americans have been the only die-hard Americans here, because we’re the only ones who carried the process through the process that everyone else has to sort of skip stages. We’re the ones who march, we’re the ones who carry the Bible, we’re the ones who carry the flag, we’re the ones who have to go through the courts, and being born American didn’t seem to matter, because we were born American, but we still had to fight for what we were looking for, and we still had to go through those channels and those processes.
- Mediaburn, 1991

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An Uncomfortable Silence: Why Is Geek Media Keeping Quiet About The AKIRA Remake?

By Arturo R. García

In the post-Airbender era, it’s more important than ever to talk about questionable casting decisions, and outright white-washings like the Akira remake is shaping up to be.

But it’s also important to keep an eye on who’s not talking about it.

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Quoted: Hisaye Yamamoto, Short-Story Author, Dies

From LA Times:

Often compared to such short-story masters as Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor and Grace Paley, Yamamoto concentrated her imagination on the issei and nisei, the first- and second-generation Japanese Americans who were targets of the public hysteria unleashed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Yamamoto was 20 when the attack sent the United States into war and her family into a Poston, Ariz., internment camp. Her most celebrated stories, such as “Seventeen Syllables” and “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara,” reflect the preoccupations and tensions of the Japanese immigrants and offspring who survived that era. Among her most powerful characters are women who struggle to nurture their romantic or creative selves despite the constraints of gender, racism and tradition.

….

Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach on Aug. 23, 1921. The daughter of immigrant strawberry farmers from Kumamoto, Japan, she was a voracious reader and published her first story when she was 14. At Compton College, where she earned an associate of arts degree, she studied French, Spanish, German and Latin. She wrote stories for Japanese American newspapers using the pseudonym “Napoleon.”

During World War II, she wrote for the Poston camp newspaper, which published her serialized mystery “Death Rides the Rail to Poston.” She briefly left the camp to work in Springfield, Mass., but returned when her 19-year-old brother died while fighting with the U.S. Army‘s 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy.

After the war ended in 1945, she returned to Los Angeles and became a reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Tribune, an African American weekly. Her experiences there deepened her awareness of racism to a point of nearly unbearable anguish. She wrote a story about the intimidation of a black family named Short by white neighbors in segregated Fontana. She attempted to hew to journalistic standards of impartiality, cautiously describing the threats against the family as “alleged” or “claims.”

After her story ran, the Shorts were killed in an apparent arson fire. Yamamoto castigated herself for failing to convey the urgency of their situation.

“I should have been an evangelist at Seventh and Broadway, shouting out the name of the Short family and their predicament in Fontana,” she wrote decades later in a 1985 essay called “A Fire in Fontana.” Instead, she pronounced her effort to communicate as pathetic as “the bit of saliva which occasionally trickled” from the corner of a feeble man’s mouth.

She left the newspaper and rode trains and buses across the country. “Something was unsettling my innards,” she wrote of her dawning multiethnic consciousness. “I continued to look like the Nisei I was, with my height remaining at slightly over four feet ten, my hair straight, my vision myopic. Yet I know that this event transpired within me; sometimes I see it as my inward self being burnt black in a certain fire.”

She drew from this well in the burst of writing that followed. Her breakthrough came with the 1948 publication in Partisan Review of “The High-Heeled Shoes, a Memoir,” a shockingly contemporary story about sexual harassment. She weaved intercultural conflicts and bonds into “Seventeen Syllables” (1949), in which a nisei girl’s blooming romance with a Mexican American classmate offers an achingly innocent counterpoint to her issei mother’s arranged marriage. “Wilshire Bus” (1950) explores a Japanese American woman’s silence during a white man’s racist harangue against a Chinese couple on the bus they are riding.

 

Image credit: goodreads.com

Bad Feet, Will Travel: Oedipus El Rey Provides a Chicano Take on Faith, Love, and Tragedy

Oedipus El Rey and Jocasta

by Latoya Peterson

I thought I knew Oedipus Rex.

The first time I read Sophocles’ masterful Greek tragedy was in the 11th grade.  There, scribbling out an analysis as part of a 40 minute timed writing, I focused on what epitomized Oedipus for me – the struggle between fate and free will. After hearing from the Oracle that he was fated to murder his father and to sleep with his mother, Oedipus does what any rational person would do – he tries to put as much distance as he can between himself and the only family he knows. Unfortunately, prophecies are not so easily averted – Oedipus never knew he was adopted, and thus did not know the man he slew on the road to Thebes was his father; nor did he know the beautiful widow he would eventually marry was his birth mother.

Back then, I wrote about the icy hand of irony in Oedipus’ journey -  how he closed himself to what would have revealed the truth because of his hubris, but once he finds out he literally blinds himself.  But what really stuck with me was the idea of fate.  If your life is predestined – and all roads will lead to your eventual path – what is the point of having free will? Life never promised to be fair, but the fates are needlessly cruel, especially in Greek mythology.  And so, when I heard about a retelling of Oedipus Rex, set in the barrios of LA with a Chicano protagonist, I could immediately see the connection.

Indeed, the idea of being trapped by larger, unseen forces makes a lot of sense when thrust into a modern context. Oedipus El Rey bases its narrative in California’s penal system, with the title character Oedipus (also nicknamed patas malas due to the torture inflicted by his father at his birth) growing up in juvenile detention.  At one point, Oedipus confesses that after he was released at the age of seventeen, he robbed a Costco without a gun, just so he could be returned to jail.  It was a powerful admission – that so many boys who go into the criminal justice system at an early age come out without any sense of what it means to function in society, that there are people who come to prefer the steady monotony of incarceration than be forced to cope with the unstructured chaos of real life. The idea that regardless of your own intentions, one might still end up ensnared in forces beyond your control resonated with me. I could understand that.

So, playwright Luis Alfaro threw me for a loop when he replied to one of my questions, saying the play, at its core, was “about love.” Continue reading

DISGRASIAN OF THE WEAK! Liveblogging The Karate Kid Remake With Jen’s Hardass Asian Mama

By Guest Contributor Jen, originally published at Disgrasian

Spoiler Alert + Any use of inappropriate cultural terms or conflation with the original movie is entirely intentional.

The Karate Kid (Jaden Smith) and his Mom (Taraji Henson) are leaving Detroit. Lest you think this is a single black mom/deadbeat dad scenario, we’re told upfront that the Karate Kid’s Dad is dead…period. Detroit is portrayed as a gray, dismal city full of shuttered storefronts. This is America in our continued state of joblessness, America in the 21st century, America on the decline. But China, where they’re headed for Mom’s work, is the land of opportunity, the land of now, the land on the up-and-up, or, as the Karate Kid’s Mom puts it, “a magical new land,” like unicorns live there or something.

The Karate Kid tries out his Mandarin on the Asian dude sitting across the aisle from him on the plane. “Dude, I’m from Detroit,” the Asian dude says. Light laughs from the audience, which is mostly made up of families with tween children and some creepy older loners who probably wanted to be Daniel-san back in the day. My Hardass Asian Mom (HAM) approves of this joke: “Not all Chinese or Asian looking guy speaks Chinese, this is true.

Meanwhile: Where is my Bananarama remix???

When the Karate Kid and his Mom arrive at the airport, their lady driver is holding a sign for “Mrs. Packer.” Mom corrects the lady driver, telling her the name’s “Parker.” Ah, Engrish!

After settling into their new flat and discovering that they don’t have hot water, the Karate Kid goes looking for their super, who turns out to be Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan ignores the Kid and, instead, picks up a dead fly with his chopsticks, chucks it on the ground, and keeps eating his cup o’ noodles with the same chopsticks. (Which my HAM says would totally happen in China although she told me not to write about it, so, of course, I had to write about it.) The Karate Kid leaves to check out the local park, where we meet his love interest, Meiying. Meiying, aka Mini-Tamlyn Tomita, has the jankiest hybrid haircut–a bob with pigtails–which is sorta cute if you’re into mullets.

And what is Mini-Tamlyn doing in the park? Tuning her violin! And listening to Bach! NATURALLY.

AWKWARD MOMENT ALERT: Speaking of hair, Mini-Tamlyn asks to touch the Karate Kid’s cornrows. Eep.

That’s when the Chinese Billy Zabka comes over, all jealous, and tells Mini-Tamlyn that she should be…practicing the violin. OMG NERD!!! Then Chinese Billy Zabka beats the Kid’s ass, upping his badass quotient considerably. At which point, my HAM takes off her glasses and covers her eyes.

The next day, the Karate Kid covers up his bruises with his mom’s makeup. He looks like he knows what he’s doing. Something tells me his real-life mama Jada’s taught him a trick or two in this department and he may be a few years away from “guyliner,” which means he may be a few years away from being a total Hollywood douche-nozzle. But for now, as much as I hate to admit it, he’s kinda adorbs.

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Soul Full of Heat: Zane and the Trajectory of Black Women’s Literature

By Guest Contributor Regina Barnett, originally published at Red Clay Scholar

Can’t you see Zane, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison swapping stories of sexual conquests at a Black Chippendale Review?

Zane intrigues me because not only does she write scripts and vignettes (yup, quickies. I couldn’t help myself) but she writes novels. Novels. Those make up the canon, right? Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou are a given, but could Zane make the cut?

My students, especially my womenfolk, were all for Zane being considered the next generation of black women’s literature. “She goes there and puts it all on the table,” one commented. “Zane talks about women and sex like they aren’t taboo subjects. She talks about it like it actually happens,” remarked another. On the flip side of that, my academic peers and professors gasped in horror and disgust:

“She’s not a writer, she’s a smut pusher!”

“As a burgeoning scholar, Ms. Barnett, I am appalled you would include her in this type of conversation…”

“Zane? A Writer? Get the hell outta here and come back when you’re sober!”

There is a critical need to include an angle to discuss the role of these recent women writers and their novels into the conversation about the trajectory of African American literature and the construction of its narrative from the perspective of a woman of color. The Noires, Zanes, Sister Souljahs, and even the vixen formerly known as Superhead (she’s retired) are battling it out for spaces on bookshelves against the Zoras, Tonis, Alices, and slave women narratives. Frighteningly, instead of putting these sisters of the quill in concert with one another, there is an imbalance and even a dismissal of one type of narrative for another. Ironically, which narrative that is dismissed depends on its audience – in academic circles, staple texts of the likes of Morrison, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, and Nella Larsen are given top priority. In lay audiences, Zane trumps Zora like a big Joker in a game of Spades. Let the record show, however, that the erotic scenes brought to life in the pages of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker make Zane’s sexcapades look like episodes of Sesame Street. Questions of the relationship between sex and the erotic, agency and pleasure, and self expression and subjection entangle themselves in black women’s discourse.

Often inextricably linked, these questions are the framework for discussing and presenting the peculiarities of African American women’s experiences in American society. In similar fashion to their male counterparts, black women often endure sex as a primary lens to their identities. And, parallel to black men, women of color are in a constant search to speak to the often traumatic experiences that frame our existence. Agency and social practice reflect the era and thus the writing it produces.

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