Category: history

October 21, 2014 / / art

“Color is not a human or a personal reality, it is a political reality.” – James Baldwin

This is not a book review, because Who We Be isn’t really a book. It’s more of a thoughtful examination of how the United States arrived at this point in racial history.

Long time friend of the blog Jeff Chang is the author of the American Book award winning Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation and editor of the anthology Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop. To say we’ve been waiting for Who We Be is an understatement.

But in the introduction, Chang frames the core of the most recent case of racial backlash. Explaining the outsized reaction by some whites to President Obama, Chang notes:

In the 1830s white minstrels had put on blackface, creating space for the white working class to challenge the elite, while keeping Blacks locked into their racial place. Obama now appeared as a dual symbol of oppression. Because of his Blackness, he was even more of an outsider—and in that sense, even more American—than them. But he was also the president. His Blackness did not just confer moral and existential claims, it was backed by the power of the state.

And there went everything.

As much as we like to talk about the inevitability of America being majority-minority in 2042, the events playing out across the nation show that most places are outright hostile to the idea that people of color are equal Americans, with the same rights, privileges, representation, and agenda setting power bestowed to whites. Chang turns his critical eye to shifts in culture which becomes documentation of rise (and fall?) of multiculturalism. Read the Post Who We Be Examines the War on Multiculuralism

July 28, 2014 / / Entertainment
A 1960s promo shot of The Supremes, featuring Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson.

By Guest Contributor Lisa Hix, adapted from Collectors Weekly

Nichelle Gainer knows a thing or two about glamour: She spent most of her career working for magazines like Woman’s Day, GQ, Us Weekly, and InStyle, with a focus on celebrity, fashion, and grooming. But her true passion is fiction, so she decided to write a novel about black beauty pageants in the 1950s, partially inspired by one of her two glamorous aunts, who was a model in the 1950s—the other was an opera singer who rubbed shoulders with the biggest celebrities of her day.

Looking for newspaper articles on her aunt, she discovered a whole world of history that hardly ever bubbles to the surface: stunning, well-dressed African American stars celebrated in the black community, and sometimes even in the mainstream. Gainer put her fiction work aside to focus on these real-life stories.

Eventually, Gainer started a Tumblr and Facebook fan page, both called Vintage Black Glamour, full of gorgeous images that rarely make it into the public consciousness. While her novel went onto the back burner, her web sites drew the attention of a London publisher, Rocket 88. Gainer’s first book, a nonfiction coffee-table tome about women celebrities, Vintage Black Glamour, which will come out this September, can be preordered now.

We spoke with Gainer over the phone, and she explained to us the stories behind the photos she’s found, why glamour is important, and why Vintage Black Glamour will be more than just a collection of pretty pictures.

Read the Post Black Glamour Power: The Stars Who Blazed a Trail for Beyoncé and Lupita Nyong’o

June 3, 2014 / / Entertainment

By Arturo R. García

Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) begins to question her place, to the chagrin of Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson).

It’s only fitting that director Amma Assante’s Belle, a movie that culminates in a court, makes its own case crisply, and clearly. There’s a sense of some romanticizing, mind, but even that is based on hard evidence: the real Dido Elizabeth Belle did have a happy life.

So, admirably, Assante and writer Misan Sagay don’t try to inject pathos where it’s not necessary. Nor do they overplay their somewhat stacked cast, instead keeping Gugu Mbatha-Raw at the center, which she ably holds up. Because her story — at least, this story — positions her at the intersection of her own nascent questioning of her place in the world and her mentor’s role in shaping its future.
Read the Post Courageous Liaisons: The Racialicious Review of Belle

May 28, 2014 / / black

By Guest Contributor Phenderson Djeli Clark, cross-posted from Media Diversified UK

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a N*gger.

– H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of N*ggers (1912)

Author H.P. Lovecraft

I had come to believe that by now the racism of H.P. Lovecraft, the celebrated author of horror and fantasy, was a settled matter — like declaring Wrath of Khan the best film in the Star Trek franchise. Arguing against such a thing should be absurd. I certainly thought so after the matter was thrust into the spotlight in December 2011, when author Nnedi Okorafor won the esteemed World Fantasy Award — whose statuette is none other than H.P. Lovecraft’s disembodied head. Okorafor had been unaware of the depths of Lovecraft’s “issues,” until a friend sent her his 1912 poem,On the Creation of N*ggers, where blacks are fashioned by the gods as “a beast … in semi-human figure.”

This was no one-off, some “misspeak” by the author. Lovecraft’s racial biases ran deep and strong, as evidenced by his stories–from exotic locales with tropic natives lacerating themselves before mad gods in acts of “negro fetishism” (Call of Cthulhu), to descriptions of a black man as “gorilla-like” and one of the world’s “many ugly things” (Herbert West — Re-animator). This was no abstract part of Lovecraft’s creative process, where he was trying to imbue his work with some hint of realism. Rather, these were expressions of his foremost thoughts, a key part of his personal beliefs, most notably his virulent xenophobia towards an increasingly diverse American society emerging outside of his Anglo-Saxon New England.
Read the Post The ‘N’ Word Through The Ages: The ‘Madness’ Of HP Lovecraft