Category Archives: slavery

Finding Maria Chiquinquira — On the Road to Racial Completeness

By Guest Contributor Blanca E. Vega, cross-posted from Race-Work, Race-Love

Racially complete. When you are racially silenced, you begin the process of being incomplete. Silence can occur when you are told to stop talking about race. The process begins early for children – through a loss of heritage from the process of immigration, to being racially silenced in schools, to being told, “you’re crazy” from friends and family — the silence around race is deafening. To become racially complete, you have to go backwards, go back to these moments when you were silenced and try to understand what those moments were about. Your voice is the beginning.

I found my voice during Black History Month. I was a sophomore in college and was very unhappy. My experience with race and racism was overwhelming. A predominantly white institution, the college I attended still had a lot of work to do around these issues. Not knowing what race-work was at the time, I was one of the students who discussed racism on our campus with other students, in the corner of a cafeteria. Then, Revolution was only part of my vocabulary and something others did. Not something I could do.

Until one day, my friend Aira, co-coordinator of Black History Month at the time asked me to sit on a panel to discuss the experiences of Women of Color. “You should talk about what it means to be Latina here.”

Oh hell no I thought. I don’t even know what that means. Where would I even start?

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Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle in Ghana: A Personal Essay

The canopy walkways of Kakum National Park

By Guest Contributor Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted from Beyond Victoriana

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.

There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. “Are you scared?” one of the men– presumably a safety guide–asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.

“Yes, I am absolutely frightened,” I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, “You’re lying.” In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: “We’ll soon reach the end.” I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I’d heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn’t ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.

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Voices: The Huckleberry Finn Controversy

Compiled by Arturo R. García

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
- Mark Twain, author, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Seems to me I’m doing something constructive by simply eliminating a word that’s a clear barrier for many people.
- Dr. Alan Gribben, Twain scholar, Auburn University.

We’ve got our first official race flap of 2011—and it involves something published in 1884.
- Kai Wright, editorial director, Colorlines

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Off with his head, hipster racism & scapegoating poor folks: True Blood S03E06

Hosted by Thea Lim, featuring Tami Winfrey Harris, Joseph Lamour, Latoya Peterson and Andrea Plaid

Tara’s Escape, Sookie’s Rescue

Thea: Was it just me, or were there like a bazillion storylines going on this episode? I don’t remember ever seeing so many concurrent plot lines on this show before. I am impressed that they can all keep in straight. (What?? Did Thea just say something nice about True Blood??) But to start with our girl, goooooo Tara! I was pretty thrilled not only to see Tara taking her power back, but to see a woman rescue Sookie for once. What did we think of the scenes where Tara attacks Franklin and where Sookie and Tara take out the werewolf?

Latoya: I’m not going to lie: my very first, immediate reaction when Tara was like “Sookie, I’m here and we are going to get out of here-” was to put up the black power fist. Go Tara! Then my immediate, second, sarcastic thought was “Okay, so wait, Tara, after all she’s been through, *still* has to save Sookie? She has to fuck her abuser to get away and pluck Sookie from the pedestal?” Then Tara grabbed the mace and silenced my internal squabbling.

Andrea: I was thrilled how Tara used Franklin’s weaknesses–his “freakiness” and his vampiric aversion to daylight–to get away from him. (Though I’m going to be honest: James Frain’s voice is pure aural sex; this scene sealed this for me. I just wish this scene–really, all the Tara/Franklin scenes since their night at the motel–was much more consensual so I could hear his voice being better utilized, like agreed-upon dirty talk while sexing it up.) But I just thought Tara using the mace was like Tara being tied up: all for the visual shock. I just think Franklin’s going to wake up with a bad headache and even more physically vicious.

Thea: My movie watching companion was yelling “use the ax! take off his head!!” while Tara was bashing in Franklin’s skull. Methinks Franklin might survive the bludgeoning. In any case this was the goriest episode I’ve seen in a while.

Latoya: Oh me too – I was yelling at the TV “take the mace! Stake him to make sure he’s dead!”

Joe: Finally, this is the kind of Tara I love! Cunning, quick on her feet and clever. One thing though- you can only kill a vampire in the Sookieverse by cutting off the head or staking. Frankly, if you lived in a world with vampires, wouldn’t you think to know that, just in case? I’m totally afraid that he’s going to wake up and become abusive like we never have seen from him before- and coming from Franklin, that must and will be something awful.

Thea: Were the scenes of female kickback gratifying, hyperviolent, or just gross? Or all three?

Andrea: I didn’t feel a swell of girl power watching Tara and Sookie whupping that were-guard’s ass and escaping. I know that some commenters think I’m being a bit harsh about Sookie (like I care), but I think that sequence underlines off-centeredness about Sookie and Tara’s friendship: Tara’s trying to rescue her friend and Sookie’s trying to rescue her betraying (and quite foolish) man.   Continue reading

Gratuitous Slave Imagery, Hobbit-Troll-Vampires & Team Jesus: Roundtable for True Blood S03E05

Hosted by Thea Lim, featuring Tami Winfrey Harris, Joseph Lamour and Andrea Plaid

The cable gods stopped Latoya from joining us this week, but she promises to rant from the comments section.

Thea: Praise be that this episode was plot heavy, and not as violence-against-women heavy as last episode. I have to say this is the first episode I have enjoyed in a while. Damn you True Blood, for having that once in a while alluring episode that keeps me viewing through the shlock!

Ok, but obviously first things first: dear lord, whose idea was it to have the black woman fleeing a white Southern mansion in a Sojourner Truth outfit then get mauled by a dog (ok it was a werewolf, but it looked like a dog)? Do we buy that that was not a slavery reference – could the writers really be that culturally tone deaf (to their own damn culture!) to not see the significance of that image? And if they did see the significance of that image, why on earth drop it casually into an episode (and show) that has nothing to do with American slavery?

Joe: Ah Thea, you forget, southern black woman running away from an opulent mansion, hungry, barefoot AND bound with rope. Oh yeah, and being chased by animals.

Thea: Ugh.

Andrea: And I thought for two seconds that Cooter was going to rape her once he pushed her on the grass. Just. Too. Much.

Joe: Two of my white friends, (one who’s southern by the way) both said to me after the episode “When we saw Tara ‘running for freedom’, we basically did a double take.” Surely Rutina Wesley must of said something. Right? The writers absolutely have to know what that looks like.

Tami: Could be because I’m currently reading Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, about enslaved black women forced into relationships with their southern slave masters, but that was some seriously loaded imagery. I can’t imagine the director and editors of this episode didn’t see what was clear to nearly every commenter in cyberspace.

Andrea: It’s like what Mollena said about the Ciara/Justin Timberlake interracial BDSM-y video, that moment, IMO, was a cheat precisely because the writers knew the imagery was loaded.

Tami: Also disturbing was the naked disdain everyone at Chez Edgington had for Tara. I understand that vampires view humans as insignificant, but what was up with that “dusky little blood beast” stuff from Talbot? Again, contrast this treatment to the way Sookie moves in the vamp domain. Yes, she has sometimes been ignored and condescended to, but never spoken to like a dog. “Who’s a pretty girl?”

Andrea: Tami, I wanted to knee-kick Talbot in the chin for mock-cooing at Tara like that. And saying that while Tara was getting tied up by her abuser did not sit well with me at all. But I’m going to give Tara props for the deadly side-eye she gives to Talbot while he came at her like that. I think, if Franklin wasn’t tying her up, Tara would’ve delivered a knee-kick herself, vampire strength or not.

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Quoted: Dolen Perkins-Valdez on Toure, White Masters, and Black Mistresses

Natalie Hopkinson over at the Root posted a fascinating conversation with Dolen Perkins-Valdez on Toure’s twitter comments, among other things.

The Root: What was your reaction to Toure’s comments?

Dolen Perkins-Valdez: My initial reaction was ‘here we go again with the stereotypes.’ [During slavery] black women were portrayed as seducing men. The ‘wenches’ were so sexual that the white men couldn’t resist them.

The use of the phrase “good-good” objectifies women in the same way that slavery objectified women. It reinforces the idea that women were just bodies to be used in any way. The last line in my book was, “She was more than eyes, ears, lips, and thigh. She was a heart. She was a mind.” The sort of flip-ness of the comment was unfortunate. My feeling is we need to educate ourselves about what really happened.

TR: But Lizzie, one of the main characters, does love her master and specifically use sex to curry favors for her children and other slaves.

DPV: I think there was a lot of gray. Yes, surely women who were favored by the master used whatever little power they could gain from that favor. I think it is a little bit reckless to say that black women intentionally seduced masters. The power they gained was still so small. To call Lizzie a seductress, fooling Massa with her ‘good-good’ is not accurate. He seduced her when she was a 13-year-old orphan. [...]

[Public rapes] definitely happened in the slave quarters in broad daylight. It happens in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The men are made to give oral sex to the overseer. The way she writes it is very oblique. [In the rape scene in Wench] these two Northern women thought they were coming to see a beating and the master got carried away in the frenzy of the moment. But the master wasn’t doing it for them, he was doing it for the other slaves as a warning.

Vintage Politics: The Awl’s “White People Clothing and ‘Old Money Green’”

By Guest Contributor Mimi Thi Nguyen, originally published at Threadbared

Awl writer Cord Jefferson just penned an incredibly thoughtful piece on the phenomenon of “nu prep” or what passes for “classic Americana” in men’s style. In “White People Clothing and ‘Old Money Green,’” Jefferson wonders what to make of garments whose appeal is narrated through unsubtle references to histories of racial degradation and economic privilege — Ralph Lauren Polo’s “old money green” chinos, J. Crew’s “plantation madras” button-down, and J. Peterman’s “owner’s hat” (the copy for which reads, “Some of us work on the plantation. Some of us own the plantation”).* Jefferson ends his piece:

I like Barbour jackets a lot, and Tod’s driving moccasins. I even like “Nantucket red” pants with a crisp white shirt and a blue blazer. But, as a person of color with no family crest of which to speak, I wonder if I should. It would be one thing if the current fashion trends were merely sentimental for grandpa’s favorite pair of shoes. But here, amidst the money greens and plantation nostalgia, it seems as if they’re also rooted in grandpa’s stunted cultural outlooks as well. I now see a sick irony in myself and kids in East New York wearing bow ties and sweater vests. Not new money kids, not old money kids, but no money kids who, apart from the slacks, look nothing like the Take Ivy boys everyone’s heralding, copying, designing for and listening to. To paraphrase one of my favorite poets, “I would go out tonight, but my ancestors were crushed under racial oppression for centuries.”

The piece is hilariously tagged with: “PLANTATIONS?, SOLID EUROPEAN STOCK, THE NEW NICE RACISM, WHITE PEOPLE THINGS.”

Referentiality –or knowing what cluster of ideas we refer to when we say “old money,” for instance– is an unstable thing. Does aestheticization deracinate a plantation history, or merely insist that such a history does not matter? For what might an “owner’s hat” be nostalgic, if nostalgia is the modern phenomenon of borrowing a “lost” sentiment or sensibility from the past for present usage? What does it mean to apprehend or be attached to something understood as lost, when the spatial or temproal dimensions of that loss cannot help but include chattel slavery or colonial racial rule? The dead do not stay down while their clothes come forward.

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