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 Xhosa, South 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.
The first time I saw “Roots” I was in puberty, but since my birth the groundbreaking miniseries has been a running joke among my maternal relatives.
My mother is a black American, raised Baptist in Tennessee. My father is a Muslim from Nigeria. More specifically, for those in the know, he’s Yoruba.
When I was a baby my American relatives, all natives of small-town Tennessee and wholly unfamiliar with Africans, took to holding me up in the air and anointing me Kunta Kinte, like the character in “Roots.” Although the gesture annoyed my mother to no end, her family members found it hilarious.
Africans, you see, are hilarious. If there is one stereotype about Africans that has lingered throughout my life it is this. Perhaps because of this stereotype, before my birth my maternal grandmother envisioned that I would look less like a baby and more like an offensive cartoon character. She warned my mother to expect me to have coal black skin and bright red lips like Little Sambo. In expressing her fears, my grandmother ignored the reality of my father, who is dark-skinned but not especially so. In fact, he is a shade or two lighter than my mother is. Because Africans are an “exotic other,” however, my grandmother adopted a white supremacist gaze in connection to my father.
She’s far from the only black American to adopt that stance in relation to Africans. In Chicago, where my parents met and lived, my mother recalled being approached by a black woman curious to know if I cried in “African.” Now, I was born in the late1970s, before Akon dominated music charts or Hakeem Olajuwon (a fellow Yoruba) dominated basketball courts. Still, it’s somewhat shocking to note that some of the African Americans in my midst then viewed me as an entirely different entity from themselves. Continue reading →
Do you remember when Vogue India hit the stands and Australian model Gemma Ward was front and center flanked by two presumably Indian models in what I like to call “the coveted Beyonce spot?” All I could do was laugh at how predictable that move was on the editors part.
In the months since that launch last year, Vogue India has featured a dazzling array of Bollywood actresses and models on the cover. It’s as if to say, “yeah, we thought the cover on that premiere issue was lame too but we fully intend to make up for it!”
Anytime I think about that launch I wonder if an African country will ever get its own Vogue. Maybe a Vogue Nigeria or a South African Vogue.
I’ve debated back and forth on message boards about who would be chosen for the imaginary inagural cover. Legendary Iman? Alek Wek? Liya? Oluchi? Gemma in a safari hat?
I read an article in The Times last week about Oluchi in which she was quoted as saying that top magazines in South Africa (like Glamour and GQ) refuse to put blacks on their covers. This in a country that is 79% black.
“As a Nigerian and an African I have done so much in my career to represent everything African in Western countries. There is a diverse group of people in South Africa, be it black, white, Asian. …If you pick up Vogue India everything about it, from the first page to the last, is very Indian…I would like to see that in South Africa. They [magazines] need to embrace diversity and show more love …It doesn’t give me joy to pick up a copy of South African GQ and feel like I’m reading American GQ.”
This saddens me. I recall seeing the cover of South African ELLE once with a dark skinned woman on the cover and for months I tried to find an issue at various newsstands only to come up empty. I was dying to know if the cover I saw was an anomoly. So far, I’m not willing to pony up the $90 or so for a subscription to find out.
Back to my magazine fantasy…I picture two covers. The first one featuring a mix of models from all over the continent with Iman or Liya Kebede, Alek Wek or Ajuma to show the very different types of African beauty. My second thought has editors mixing it up a bit more with the likes of a Jourdan Dunn, Emanuela dePaula, Chanel Iman, Chrystelle Saint-Louis Augustin, or Damaris Lewis to illustrate how there isn’t a corner of the world that hasn’t been touched by this so called dark continent’s beauty and influence.
Seriously, I could ponder this for hours. I am so much more satisfied by made up magazines than by their real conterparts. Maybe there’s an editor out there dreaming of this launch too, and of Gemma Ward posing on an elephant for the cover.
Visitors to Memory Village would decide whether they wanted to be spectators or participants during a twelve-hour day. The latter would receive traditional African clothing and then be mock-kidnapped from their homelands, shackled, chained and forced to march to the slave ship (resting on a real stream), where they’d be piled in as cargo for the crossing of the Atlantic. Once the ship reached the New World, the participants would be brought to market and sold, then broken down in the quarantine and put to work out on the plantation. Near the end of the day, a slave rebellion would start, a rebellion that would eventually lead to the establishment of Haiti.
What do you think of this idea? Would this experience help educate people about slavery? Or is it just trivializing the issue?
I’ve been following the media’s handling of race in its coverage of Barack Obama’s presidential bid very closely over the last few months. But right now I’m particularly riveted by the media coverage of his wife, Michelle Obama. Race, gender, and feminism are intersecting in fascinating ways. Here are some highlights.
As my fellow BlogHer Contributing Editor Laina Dawes wrote a few weeks back, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has criticized Michelle Obama’s light-hearted comments about her husband being “just a man” and not knowing how to put his socks in the laundry. Dowd felt that these remarks were “emasculating”:
Many people I talked to afterward found Michelle wondrous. But others worried that her chiding was emasculating, casting her husband – under fire for lacking experience – as an undisciplined child.
Just a few days ago, Michelle Obama resigned from her high-powered job as vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals to focus on her husband’s presidential campaign.
Debra Dickerson, writing for Salon, declared that she is “in a feminist fury” about it:
Just as we watch curvy, healthy-looking singers and actresses like Lindsay Lohan become anorexic too-blonde hoochies before our very eyes, so we’re now in danger of having to watch the political version of that process: Any day now, Michelle Obama’s handlers will have her glued into one of those Sunday-go-to-meeting Baptist grandma crown hats while smiling vapidly for hours at a time. When, of course, she’s not staring moonstruck, à la Nancy Reagan, at her moon doggie god-husband who’s not one bit smarter than she is.
In response to Dickerson’s article, the new Gawker Media blog Jezebel (worst name ever, by the way) declared that Michelle’s “weird passive-aggressive comments” can only be explained by one thing: Barack obviously cheated on her:
…when Michelle Obama says stuff like “someday maybe he’ll deserve all the attention” or “he’s just a man” or calls him “the brother” even when she knows it makes the white folks uneasy is pretty simple: “The brother” fucked up! It wasn’t Gennifer or even Monica; it was probably just some one-night fling…
Mrs J, writing at Our Kind of Parenting, points out the Jezebel bloggers’ embarrassing cluelessness when it comes to African-American vernacular:
For the record, even if it makes white people uncomfortable, calling someone “the brother” (even if it is one’s husband) is not a diss. Especially when, in context, it is to say “The brother is smart”, as Mrs.O actually did recently (to an all black crowd)… This is a serious presidential candidate we’re talking about, ladies, not you’re effing ex-boyfriend. Save the cheap shots for someone else.
The Coup Magazine blog analyzes reactions to Michelle Obama in relation to the “Strong Black Woman (SBW) syndrome” and points out that Michelle is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t:
She can’t be funny. She probably shouldn’t work. After all, if she wants to counter the SBW stereotype and make her husband appear to be in charge, she cannot have a career. But when she quits her job, her motivation and commitment are called into question, and she risks losing credibility in the eyes of feminists. She can never have a hair out of place, appear aggressive, or ever be shown working out (one of her favorite activities), lest she characterized by someone as a “nappy headed ho.” In light of this constant and very public criticism, Michelle Obama can never quite be herself without being stereotyped as the aforementioned SBW—a categorization that could potentially destroy her husband’s presidential campaign.
And finally, Malena Amusa, writing for Racewire, suggests that Michelle is integral to Barack Obama’s racial authenticity:
Her presentation is a well-engineered counter to Barack’s Black masculinity that has been attacked for being diluted. Michelle proves Barack’s Black authenticity by her being so home-grown, down-home, and straight-up on the issues. Further, if Barack had said some of the things Michelle has, he’d be lumped under the Black nationalist umbrella held up by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton, and so many white people probably wouldn’t like him as much.
by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse, originally published at The Coup Magazine
“It was completely trivial” said a spokeswoman for Iberia Airlines’ new ad. I suppose that should be expected, but it never ceases to amaze me that some people consider the degradation of historically oppressed groups as “trivial,” “fun,” or “just a joke.” Maybe that’s because our society has a history of accepting stereotypes as truths, so veiling them in humor is its feeble attempt to disguise the simple fact that it can’t distinguish between one or the other. It may also be a result of the belief some hold that we are all equals and treated fairly. If this condition of equality is a given, then debasing one group or another is not expected to cause harm, embarrassment, or any real long-term affects. Maybe Spain’s national airline felt that they were engaging in harmless fun, simply teasing their colonial little brother Cuba, but not everyone shared Iberia’s interpretation. Ruben Sanchez, a spokesperson for Facua, a Spanish consumer rights group, found the commercial to be sexist and generally offensive to Cubans. Facua called for the advertisement, which is part of a set of commercials for Iberia’s website, to be pulled. Iberia complied. They apologized, stating that the ad was not meant to offend anyone, and removed it from television on May 16th. But considering that someone had thought up the commercial and allowed it to air in the first place, the damage had already been done.
When I saw the ad for the first time, I thought beyond sexism. Before me was a representation of women of African descent that has somehow lasted for more than three centuries. I saw an animated articulation of the remnants of European colonial dominance over a Caribbean nation and its women. There was so much to take in from such a short clip that I wanted to slow down and think about it in parts. I watched the video again, this time in silence. After muting the volume, I began to mentally catalogue the images I saw. Before the clip commenced, a tableau appeared of a fair-skinned baby in a rocking chair surrounded by two brown-skinned, dark haired, large lipped women frozen mid-dance, holding maracas and wearing bikini tops with Daisy Duke cutoff shorts. Once the video unfolded, it seemed. . . fairly harmless, but three things stood out to me:
1. The color contrast between the baby and his adult playmates. Both women featured in the commercial have brown skin, one a shade slightly darker than the other, and the men who provide musical accompaniment for the commercial are also varying shades of brown, from light to dark. This contrast is common in tourism advertisements, particularly those in Europe and the United States (with the exception of the recent Bahamas vacation ads). The tourist is almost always white and the “natives” are always brown, black, or yellow. Last time I checked, people of color also go on vacation, but maybe advertising executives don’t want to confuse the consumer audience by featuring them as tourists alongside people who look just like them. Funny enough, this never seems to be a problem in white-on-white ads encouraging people to go to European countries. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World