Category Archives: identity

The Burdens of Blackness

By Guest Contributor Tikia K. Hamilton; originally published at The Feminist Wire

“It’s not hard being black, it’s just time-consuming is all.”

I recall a schoolmate in undergrad once saying to me, in an attempt to empathize about the difficult struggles of African Americans, that she imagined that it is quite hard being black. I had been describing to her my experiences of alienation while I was studying under a Dartmouth language program in Barcelona, Spain. At age 18, I did not suspect that my first voyage out of the United States would involve strangers picking through my braided hair; encountering “los conguitos,” or the daisy-duke outfitted pygmy chocolate candies Spanish vendors sold on the street; nor could I anticipate my Norwegian housemate’s level of racist comfort, before he complained at the dinner table in front of all who could hear him about Spanish women’s preference for “nigger dick.”

My schoolmate, a girl from Bulgaria, expressed to me that, after taking one or two black history courses back in the States, she had learned to feel sorry for older blacks, who had to bear the pain of a hate-filled past, as their previous persecutors now shared integrated travel space on buses and train with our grandmothers and grandfathers. But, as an Eastern European, she could not imagine that someone my age would be forced to endure similar mistreatment as civil-rights era blacks, especially in a foreign country.

The truth is, like so many people I know, before I had even understood Du Bois’s theory of “double consciousness,” I could count on two hands the number of times I endured these absurd moments, both in and outside of the United States. But, rather than assume the burden, a sort of victimized identity, in each circumstance, I never imagined that the problem lay with my blackness, but rather those individuals whom I obviously needed to check for their ignorance.  Like the time I cursed in Spanish a Oaxacan cashier for demanding that I open my purse in order that he might check to see if I had stolen perhaps a 25 cent bag of chips, or a 50 cent bottle of soda from the convenience store.  I  honestly don’t know who it was or when it was instilled in me that, by right and by obligation, it was my duty to those who would seek to make me uncomfortable in my own skin experience a greater level of humility in the face of a superior form of anger. It could have been my being raised alongside three brothers who made it their own duty to make me “tough.” Or, it could have been those history books that surrounded me in that cramped apartment on the Southside of Chicago, where six of us children shared two bedrooms, hand-me downs, and a weird fascination with the mice for whom we developed games, while they overran our apartment.

I know that my form of militancy—if in word only—is not something that everyone, especially my three brothers and other black men can always afford, as reflected in Questlove’s  “Lesson from the Zimmerman Verdict: Trayvon and I Ain’t Shit,” a compelling treatment of American racism and black male alienation.[1]  But, something I would have people know is the same thing many a black nationalist and pan-Africanist have over time have tried to drive home. We are not problems, or the problem. In the U.S. and within a worldwide context, the problem is, in fact, the disease of ignorance fueled by a great, if often unconscious, sense of entitlement and superiority.  But, however long or exhausting the battle, we can be the solutions. They say “anything worth having is worth the effort.”  Or, in the context surrounding one of my favorite quotes by that fiery abolitionist, Fredrick Douglass, in 1857, in a speech that foretold the coming of Civil War (a quote that I posted stridently above my chalkboard when I taught high school history at a predominantly white school in New York),

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.

Douglass’s words were not too dissimilar from that of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who, although once a conflicted slaveholder, readied would-be revolutionists when he challenged us in “The Declaration of Independence” to throw dynamite, if you will, across the tracks of a “long train of abuses.”

Is it hard being a so-called minority? To this question, I can only imagine that Douglass and Jefferson, who both articulated a vision of rights for once disenfranchised minority groups, would shudder at the questions’ overall insignificance in the face of a drawn-out battles for emancipation and equality. To this question, I imagine that our feminist forebears, Anna Julia Cooper and, though limited in their inability to move beyond their own racist presumptions, Susan B. and Elizabeth C., would also challenge us to think outside of the box when it comes to asserting the rights of a disenfranchised minority.

To wit, I have been asked by friends directly (and indirectly by those skeptical of my “agenda”), whether it is prudent to wear race on my shoulders, especially in this age of increasing diversity. (Or, especially as a single black woman who risks scaring off potential mates.)  But, against racism and race, my knowledge of the ways in which race ultimately and unapologetically matters is not something that I can tuck away easily. Nor is it a thing that I desire to hide.  Yes, the veil is heavy and, at times, completely and utterly exhausting.  Many of us would desire, like anyone else, to have increased those quiet moments when we don’t have to think about the ills that continue to inflict the world. But, for some of us, it has become an accepted way of life. And if time is all we have, then time must be our weapon, until at some point, some place, a merciful God will at last hear our cries!


Tikia K. Hamilton is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Princeton University. Her research examines black educational activism during the pre-Brown period in Washington, D.C., where she currently resides. She also holds a Masters in African-American Studies from Columbia University, and a degree in History from Dartmouth College. She is a former high school educator, and originally hails from Chicago.

 

Race + Journalism: New Data Shows Lack of Diversity in American and British Newspapers

By Arturo R. García

Newspaper stand in downtown Chicago. Image by Chris Metcalf via Flickr Creative Commons.

This week has seen two developments underscoring the lack of advancement for journalists of color in the print world — and on two continents, even.

In the U.S., as The Atlantic reported, the American Society of News Editors’ (ASNE) latest study of newsroom diversity revealed a slight decline, with POC making up 12.37 percent of editorial staffers. Consider, though, that the high bar, set seven years ago, was 13.73 percent.
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Race + Comics: Breaking Down Uncanny Avengers’ Continued Racefail

By Arturo R. García

This month’s issue of Uncanny Avengers served as the most explicit follow-up to the much-maligned “we are all humans” speech written by Rick Remender in an apparent stab at “colorblindness.”

Instead of taking to heart the critiques directed toward him, though, Remender seemed intent to “prove his point” via a debate between two of the book’s mutant characters, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff). But don’t let the cover fool you. This may have been intended to read like a battle of wits, but Remender neglected to arm either combatant.

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FYI: “Black” doesn’t mean “African-American”

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By Guest Contributor T. F. Charlton; originally published as Grace is Human

A couple nights ago I made an offhand comment on Twitter about the conflation of “Black” with “African American” – the two aren’t synonymous – in response to a tweet referring to Nelson Mandela, y’know, the XhosaSouth African Nelson Mandela, as “African American.” It touched off a long and really interesting conversation about race, ethnicity, and identity, which is Storified and shared below.

A conversation on blackness, ethnicity, nationality, and identity. Not in strict chronological order – somewhat rearranged so the conversation flows more logically.

http://storify.com/graceishuman/thoughts-on-blackness-ethnicity-and-nationality

Image Credit:  MastaBaba creative commons

Open Thread: Dark Girls

By Arturo R. García

D. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke’s much-anticipated documentary Dark Girls premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network Sunday night, so let’s open the floor up for your opinions.

Following the discussion on Twitter, there seemed to be concern over the documentary touching on white men who entered relationships with black women, yet refusing to touch on issues related to white privilege very heavily.

White Men Discuss Their Attraction to African-American Women

In Dark Girls, hip-hop author and journalist Soren Baker, a white man who's married to an African-American woman, describes his early attraction to women of all races—and shares his father's reaction. Plus, another man in an interracial relationship discusses his wife's skin tone.

Also, a note via Shadow & Act: The film will be available on DVD on Sept. 24.

Barack Obama as our first Asian American President?: Part I

Barack Obama with his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng from their earlier days

By Guest Contributor Jennifer; originally published at Mixed Race America 

It has been two months since I last wrote a post in this blog–which is embarrassing (sigh).  For all my good intentions, I have not felt compelled to write in this space, even though I, ostensibly, have the time since I’m not teaching.

But this is, perhaps, the reason why I haven’t been writing in this space–because I have been immersed in trying to finish my book manuscript on racial ambiguity and Asian American culture (which also happens to be the title of the book).  I’m fortunate enough to have a research and study leave, which means I’ve been reading and thinking and writing and trying to make the most of my time out of the classroom.

And then, of course, as I realized how much time had passed from when I last blogged, the pressure to write something meaningful or at least intelligible increased after so much silence (sigh)–always the dilemma of the writer–the blank page and wondering if there is an audience out there.

But as I tell my students, sometimes, whether you’re feeling it or not, you just have to write it.  Good advice.  So I thought I should share what I’m working on, since it has applicability to this blog.  For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about the coda to my book–which is also the title of this blog post.  If race is a social construction–if it doesn’t have a basis in biology or blood, then could we imagine that Barack Obama is not only our first African American president, our first (openly) mixed race president, but our first Asian American president of the United States?

This might seem like an odd way to end a book on racial ambiguity and Asian American culture.  Yet if we think about taking the idea of racial ambiguity to its furthest extremes, if race is not just limited to what you “look” like–if you can be Asian American without Asian American family (as transracial adoptees would seem to prove), if one’s racial identity is as much about culture and community as anything else, then it would seem that there are clear markers of Asian American racialization that correspond to Obama’s life narrative.  For example:
*He was born and spent his formative adolescent years in the only state in the union that has a majority Asian American population.  The local culture in Hawaii is steeped in Asian American culture from the various Asian immigrants who have come to the island archipelago from the 19th C.  He can speak pidgin, he eats local food, he grew up with his grandparents preparing sashimi for guests and with Asian American neighbors and classmates.
Obama’s fifth-grade class photo from The Punahou School
*He is the child of an immigrant father who came to the US to be educated (first, a BA at U of Hawaii and then a PhD at Harvard), and his name reflects these immigrant roots, with people who find it odd, foreign, and hard to pronounce (something many children of Asian immigrants with Asian names understand all too well).
*He lived for four years in Indonesia (from the ages of 6-10) thus experiencing life in an Asian country.
*He has family members–a sister (Maya Soetoro-Ng–Indonesian-white), a brother-in-law (Konrad Ng–Chinese-Malaysian from Canada) and nieces who are Indonesian-Chinese-Malaysian-white–who are Asian American.
The Soetoro-Ng family
In October 1998, writing for The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” about the ways that President Bill Clinton was being targeted by special prosecuters for potential impeachment after revelations of his affair with Monica Lewinsky became public, Toni Morrison famously (or infamously) wrote:

Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.

Until Barack Obama was elected to office in 2008, it was believed, in certain quarters, that Morrison had claimed blackness for Bill Clinton, thus dubbing him our first black president.  But if you read the above quote (and the entire article) carefully, you will see that it is the “trope of blackness” that Morrison refers to rather than claiming that Clinton’s identity is that of an African American man.

In similar fashion, claims for Barack Obama as our first Asian American president have been made by Rep. Mike Honda and Jeff Yang – mine is not the first observation made in this regard.  
Yet what does it MEAN for me to imagine, that Barack Obama could be considered Asian American based on the trope of Asian-ness–the ways in which parts of his life narrative contain similarities to those of Asians in America?  Is this an anti-racist move, one that can remind us that race is a fiction, a social construction designed to elevate one racial group above others?  Can knowing that race is this fluid and flexible become a means to dismantle structures of institutional racism?
Stay tuned for Part II (which I promise to write this weekend!) and, of course, if there are any readers out there, I welcome your thoughts and comments, your agreements and disagreements.  I welcome dialogue, because that’s the reason I started this blog to begin with–and Barack Obama was the topic of the third blog post I wrote back in May 2007.

 

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Jose Antonio Vargas’ Documented

By Andrea Plaid

Second week of Pride Month, and I have some great documentary news!

Journalist/activist/filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas casually mentioned his newest documentary, Documented, to me when we gathered to petition the New York Times to completely stop using the terms “illegal” and “illegal immigrants.” But I thought he was in the throes of shooting or at the beginning of post-production. In other words, the movie was a long way off from being in the theater.

Well, documentary-fan me is so happy to announce that the movie will make its world premiere next Friday, June 21, at Washington, DC’s American Film Institute’s documentary festival!

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‘You Can Touch My Hair,’ But Why?

By Guest Contributor Brokey McPoverty, cross-posted from PostBourgie

The website un’ruly held a public art exhibit in New York City this weekend entitled “You Can Touch My Hair.” Three black women stood in Union Square with signs that read “You can touch my hair,” welcoming strangers to come and cop a feel. The women had different hair types:  dreadlocks, straightened hair, a big, blown-out afro.

My intent was to have a piece on this event written a couple of days ago, but getting my thoughts together has been tougher than I thought. But now that I’ve had a chance to chew on this for a while, I’ve decided that this is either some amazing real life trolling or a misguided attempt at doing something important. Or maybe both.

I’m a woman with big hair who has had many a strange, uninvited hand in her head, and so my entire body and spirit reacted to this event. There is a special kind of violation that comes with someone putting their hands on you — any part of you — without your permission. When you’re at a club and someone puts his hand on your waist or the small of your  back to get your attention. Or you’re at a work function and a happy-faced woman in a business suit sticks her hands in my hair. When someone has decided that their desire to touch you is more important than your interest in being touched, you don’t feel very much like a person. And being asked by a stranger for undeserved permission to touch part of me is exceedingly creepy.

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