Tag Archives: history

America, the Scapegoat [Youth Correspondent Tryout]

by Guest Contributor Sonita Moss

I’m back, America.

I have been home, on U.S. soil, for the past 3 weeks, and it has given me some time to reflect on being a black woman in U.S. vs. being a black American woman in France. Living in France for the second time was rather colder than the first but a bit more illuminating in terms of race. That can be attributed to the fact that while Aix-en-Provence, the first city that introduced me to the entrancing world of French culture, is an international student-city in the sunny south, Vannes is situated in Bretagne, in the rainy north-west of the country. Aside from the nonstop rain, Vannes was whiter than white. Not to say I didn’t see black people – indeed, I noticed black women on my daily bus route to work, but many public spaces, like the port, the library, and the grocery store were lacking in color. Admittedly, there were actually two black hair stores and a café Afrique that shut down while I was there, but that was about it.

Binta, the young Senegalese woman who did my hair, broke it down for me one day, “There’s no black people here because it’s too small because there are no jobs. But a lot of them marry French.” By “French”, she meant white men, and her sister, the owner of Ebene Cosmetique, was one such example. I noticed, with a certain amount of chagrin, that many Europeans of color refer to their privileged compatriots as the standard of that country, while they are specifically marked by their race. “English” are white, but English blacks are, well, black. The same goes for conversations I have had with German blacks. I suppose we hold the same standard in America, but because of our sordid misdealings with the social construction, although blacks may not be considered true “Americans” we do not refer to our white counterparts as simply “Americans”. Indeed, we are obsessed with race but rarely given the proper tools to talk about, much less acknowledge, our race problems. And white Europeans know it, effectively allowing them to ignore their own issues, I discovered.

When I first arrived in Vannes, I befriended a couple of local boys, and we often went out to bars since there is little else to do in the city. Amazed at the utter whiteness of the venue, one night I asked my friend, “Do you ever notice that there are essentially no black people here – why is that?” and he said, “There are some, just not many. But it’s very different in France, we are much less conscience of race in France than Americans.” He smoothly side-stepped my question and turned the focus to America’s racism. Because America is a popular topic in the media, the nightly French news frequently reported breaking American news. Thus, the world beyond our borders is informed of how race issues are part and parcel to American culture. Continue reading

For Your Women’s History Month: Black Moses Barbie Is Back!

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

This is the second installation of Pierre Bennu’s Black Moses Barbie series.  In this ep: Black Moses Barbie has to use her Motivational Freedom Rifle…but not on whom you’d think.

Black Moses Barbie commercial #2 of 3 from pierre bennu on Vimeo.

Transcript after the jump.

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For Your Women’s History Month: Loretta Ross on the Origin of “Women of Color”

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

Full disclosure: I met Loretta Ross at a Women’s Media Center’s media workshop for progressive women last summer, and we’re connected through the New York City chapter of SisterSong, which reshaped the reproductive-rights fight to reproductive justice. And I just think she is an incredible activist and living historian.

I saw this clip of her explaining to another generation of feminists where the term “women of color” came from and wanted to share.

Transcript after the jump.

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For Your Black History Month: Real Housewives of Civil Rights

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

I guess I’m not the only one who found the solemnity-yet-randomness of the Black History Month Minutes in my youth a tad ridiculous.  I understood why the segments were needed and learned a lot from them–and still found my hand in front of my giggling mouth.  The comic troupe Elite Delta Force 3 may have felt the same way.

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To Be Young, Gifted, and Mixed? Jean Toomer’s Cane and Questions of Identity

by Latoya Peterson

Cane book cover

Who exactly is Jean Toomer?

Scholars, academics, and American literature buffs know him as the author of Cane, one of the landmark works to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance.

And yet, Toomer’s legacy is a bit more complicated than just his work. Back in the 1920s, in spite of segregation, Toomer articulated a vision of multiracial identity that was rejected by the norms of the time. Splitting time between exclusively white and exclusively black environments, Toomer decided that he was neither – he considered himself an American, a mixture of several different races and nationalities. However, he grew increasingly frustrated with the restrictions placed upon him due to his identification with black literature – in later life, he allegedly denied having any “colored blood.” As a result of this, Toomer’s legacy and the meaning of Cane has been left open for wide open for interpretation – and a new release of Cane has done just that, with scholars Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Rudolph P. Byrd, asserting that Toomer wasn’t pioneering a new identity – he was trying to pass for white. Continue reading

Mardi Gras Indians: Can Cultural Appropriation Occur on the Margins?

by Guest Contributor Adrienne K., originally published at Native Appropriations

Mardi Gras Indian

Last week, the New York Times published a really interesting article concerning Mardi Gras Indians, specifically looking at the possibility of  the “Indians” copyrighting their costumes so their images can’t be used in things like calendars, promotional materials, etc, without their consent. I’ll get to that issue in a second post, but I think the entire concept of Mardi Gras Indians deserves a deeper look.
Let’s look at the ‘culture’ of the Mardi Gras Indians, independent of history and context (something the anthropologist in me cringes at, but work with me), then we’ll backtrack a bit.

These men and women call themselves “Indians.” They are members of “tribes,” with names like “Yellow Pocahontas,” “Geronimo Hunters,” and “Flaming Arrows” (a complete list of the tribes is here). They wear over-the-top, elaborate costumes based (very) loosely on American Indian powwow regalia–with headdresses, feathers, and beading (there is a slideshow on nytimes.com that can be found here):

They have an anthem called “Indian Red” whose lyrics include:

I’ve got a Big Chief, Big Chief, Big Chief of the Nation
Wild, wild creation
He won’t bow down, down on the ground
Oh how I love to hear him call Indian Red
When I throw my net in the river
I will take only what I need
Just enough for me and my lover

Objectively, out of context, this is by-definition cultural appropriation. Imagine if these were white men and women. I should be offended…right? Continue reading

Why Haiti Matters: Barack Obama and the Larger Discourse on Haiti [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Shannon Joyce Prince

In the current edition of Newsweek[1], President Obama claims to tell Americans why Haiti matters. Unfortunately, his claims reflect the racism, dishonesty, and denials of history that surround the way the “First World” frames Haiti and Haiti’s earthquake. Haiti does indeed matter to a variety of people and entities for reasons both good and ill – but not for the reasons Obama gives in Newsweek.

First, Haiti matters to the American government and American society because it gives us a chance to rewrite history. This tragedy provides us with the opportunity to expiate our crimes and portray ourselves as Haiti’s saviors. Due to America’s and the First World’s extensive financial and media resources, we get to determine the story that is told to the world about Haiti’s past and present. Thus, Obama’s version of the story claims, “… in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps. That is who we are. That is what we do. For decades, America’s leadership has been founded in part on the fact that we do not use our power to subjugate others, we use it to lift them up…” However, in terms of our relationship with Haiti (and other non-white or non-Western countries) the opposite is true.

As Randall Robinson pointed out in his works Quitting America and An Unbroken Agony, the U.S. has been sabotaging Haiti ever since the country’s independence. I could write an entire essay on the U.S.’s crimes against Haiti, but I’m just going to give a few of the examples Robinson offers on pages 200 and 201 of Quitting America.

The U.S. sided with France against the slave rebellion that brought Haiti independence. We then destroyed Haiti’s economy by forcing the country to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave-owners for their loss of property (slaves.) We occupied Haiti for nineteen years beginning in 1915, re-enslaving Haitians and leasing over 200,000 acres of land to American corporations – land stolen from tens of thousands of peasants. President John F. Kennedy gave military aid to Dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. We even provided the murderous post-Duvalier National Council of Government with millions in aid.

But the story doesn’t end there. As Paul Street has noted [2], “A reformist priest named Jean Bertrand Aristide threatened Washington’s vicious neoliberal regime when he won Haiti’s first free election in 1990… Aristide was removed in a U.S.-supported coup in 1991 but returned amidst popular upheaval in 1994. The Clinton White House initially backed the coup regime even more strongly than did George Bush I. Thanks to its rhetoric about ‘democracy’ at home and abroad, the militantly corporate-neoliberal NAFTA-promoting Clinton administration felt compelled to pretend that they backed Aristide’s return to power in 1994. The Clinton Pentagon and State Department delayed that return for two years and made it clear that Aristide’s restoration to nominal power depended upon him promising not to help the poor by offering any further challenges to Washington’s ‘free market’ economics.”

The story continued in 2004 when the U.S. government ousted President Aristide and sent him to the Central African Republic, although as Colin Powell notes, “We did not force him onto the airplane.” [3] I give this lengthy excerpt from a far lengthier litany of crimes to show that Obama’s claim that America doesn’t use power to subjugate others, but rather to lift them up, is untrue. But while America has overwhelmingly been a negative force towards Haiti, Haiti played key positive roles both in the development of the United States and in the worldwide quest for liberty that is as old as humanity itself. Continue reading

Who Was The First African-American Transwoman?

By Guest Contributor Monica, originally published at TransGriot

In 1906 Kelly Miller stated, “All great people glorify their history and look back upon their early attainments with a spiritual vision.”

Because the half century of transgender history so far has been predominately written by people who don’t share my ethnic heritage, it has only covered one facet of the story.

morejetWe know for example that Lili Elbe was the first person to undergo gender transition in the 1930’s, that Christine Jorgensen in 1953 was the first post-war one that garnered huge media attention, and about the exploits of other transwomen from Coccinelle to Renee Richards to Dana International.

But it’s only in the last few years that the stories of pioneering non-white transpeople have been coming to the forefront. Fortunately, some of those stories were recorded in the pages of our iconic magazines JET, EBONY and Sepia. Thanks to the Johnson Publishing Company agreement with Google that resulted in JET and EBONY being digitized and placed online in their book search feature to peruse, some of those stories are now coming to light.

As a transperson of African descent who comes from a family of historians, I want to know and revel in my history. Just as I’m keenly aware of the varied historical accomplishments of my people, I want to know the same things about Black transpeople as well.

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