Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Necrosocial

some good recent posts on icite in relation to ucberkeley and more. the necrosocial. anti capitalist projects

read entire article

Saturday, April 05, 2008

White People Have a Racial History Too

Alice Walker in AlterNet

I want a grown-up attitude toward Cuba, for instance, a country and a people I love; I want an end to the embargo that has harmed my friends and their children, children who, when I visit Cuba, trustingly turn their faces up for me to kiss. I agree with a teacher of mine, Howard Zinn, that war is as objectionable as cannibalism and slavery; it is beyond obsolete as a means of improving life. I want an end to the ongoing war immediately, and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and to drive themselves out of Iraq.

I want the Israeli government to be made accountable for its behavior towards the Palestinians, and I want the people of the United States to cease acting like they don't understand what is going on. All colonization, all occupation, all repression basically looks the same, whoever is doing it. Here our heads cannot remain stuck in the sand; our future depends of our ability to study, to learn, to understand what is in the records and what is before our eyes.

(read entire article)

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Banished": American apartheid, long after the death of Jim Crow

Andrew O'Hehir in Salon

When the aging retiree in Harrison, Ark., welcomes filmmaker Marco Williams into his home, it seems almost like the setup for a Hollywood comedy. With his mismatched outfit of high-water trousers and flannel shirt, crusty old Bob Scott seems like the irascible geezer who might just have a heart of gold; in his T-shirt, jeans and flowing dreadlocks, Williams seems every inch the big-city African-American intellectual. They sit down at Scott's table and have a pleasant conversation about life in Harrison. Scott likes living there because people are friendly, the cost of living is low and the Ozark scenery is lovely. But one factor was even more important to him and his fellow retirees, he says: "No blacks."

It is not just historical accident that Boone County, which includes Harrison, has only 40 or so African-Americans among its 34,000 residents. Nor that Forsyth County, Ga., Washington County, Ind., Pierce City, Mo., and dozens of other counties and municipalities in the Midwest and South are nearly or totally all-white today. From the end of the Civil War through the 1920s, many rural communities systematically purged their black residents, driving them out with implicit or explicit threats of violence. Sometimes these blacks were allowed to sell their land, albeit under duress and at discount prices. Often they were simply driven off, forced to abandon homes and land and flee for their lives.

Hardly anyone now living witnessed these events, but as Williams' film forcefully demonstrates, the wounds have nowhere near healed. Descendants of displaced African-Americans have passed the stories down as formative family legend, and while whites are far more eager to bury the past, many remain uncomfortably aware that something unsavory lingers at the farthest edges of community memory.

Williams focuses on three areas with distinct and disparate histories: Forsyth County today is a bedroom community on the outer suburban fringe of Atlanta, anxious to present itself as part of the tolerant New South, unshackled from the past. Yet Forsyth was the site of one of the most extensive ethnic cleansing campaigns anywhere in the country; as recently as 1987, a multiracial Martin Luther King Day march was viciously attacked by an angry white mob. Meanwhile, the descendants of black landowners driven out in 1912 have begun to seek restitution or reparations for land that was apparently stolen from them, a movement vigorously resisted by white legal and political authorities.

In Pierce City, Williams follows the painful quest of James and Charles Brown, two St. Louis brothers who discover that their great-grandparents were driven out of town in 1901, to find and remove ancestral remains from the local graveyard. Awkwardly and uncertainly, Pierce City's coroner and former mayor begin to help the Browns, and to approach their own sense of communal responsibility. But when the Browns demand that Pierce City pay for the exhumation and relocation, the tentative sense of brotherhood falls away. Why should we offer reparations, these well-meaning white citizens demand, for something we didn't do?

Back in Bob Scott's Arkansas town, the racism is more overt than in other communities. Williams has a surprisingly polite conversation with Thom Robb, head of the local Ku Klux Klan, who amiably tells him that cross burning is an ancient Scottish rite (not, of course, an act of racial hatred) but that on the whole he thinks Harrison is better off as a white town. At the same time, Harrison's white residents have done more to confront the problem than anyone in the other two areas: Local preachers have held days of prayer and atonement; volunteers helped renovate a black church in a neighboring county; a scholarship was established for African-American student-athletes from other towns.

"Banished" offers a startling tour into an unforgotten history that remains invisible to most Americans, with the erudite Williams, who is simultaneously polite and confrontational, as our host. It would be ludicrous to suggest that he doesn't take sides: Williams clearly believes that a major historical crime has been swept under the rug, and his film is loaded with moments of understated emotional power. When the black Strickland family of Atlanta find a neglected and overgrown family burial ground on white-owned land in Forsyth County, and kneel there in prayer not far from the current residents' Confederate-flag-bedecked pickup, all the legal questions and ethical quandaries fade into the background.

All the same, Williams never shies away from his film's unanswerable questions. Much as I longed for the Brown brothers and Pierce City officials to find some agreeable middle ground, both remain prisoners of history. James Brown springs his demand for reimbursement on the coroner who has befriended him, just after the latter has shipped and reinterred his great-grandfather's remains. In response, the town fathers retreat into specious and sentimental rhetoric (and refuse to answer Brown directly). Someday, perhaps, these century-old crimes will be forgotten and black people will move into places like Pierce City and Harrison, not knowing or caring about what happened there. But not yet, and not for a long time to come.

(read entire article)

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The Price of Sugar

Andrew O'Hehir in Salon

As I write this, it's still difficult to find accurate information about where and when Bill Haney's profoundly disturbing documentary "The Price of Sugar" will be opening commercially in the United States. Partly this is because the Vicini family, sugar barons of the Dominican Republic, have hired Patton Boggs, a major Washington law firm, to try to halt the film's release, or at least paint it as slanted and defamatory. Narrated by Paul Newman, Haney's film follows an Anglo-Spanish missionary priest, Christopher Hartley, as he tries to bring some justice to the slavery-like conditions under which Haitian immigrants cut sugar cane in the Vicini fields.

As Hartley remarks in the film, Americans may be dismayed to learn the true cost of the sugar they put in their morning coffee: Haitian workers are routinely imprisoned by armed guards and underpaid (or go unpaid for long periods), and those who run away or try to insist on minimal legal rights frequently disappear. While Hartley and Haney have succeeded in focusing international attention on the Dominican sugar fields, both the Vicinis and the Dominican population continue to insist that nothing is wrong. Hartley has been reassigned to Ethiopia by his church superiors, and public screenings have reportedly been interrupted by counter-demonstrators. (Scheduled to open Sept. 28 in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities.)

(read entire article)

(The Price of Sugar)

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BANISHED -- When Jim Crow Came to Town, With Eviction Notices

MANOHLA DARGIS in The New York Times

There are ghosts haunting Marco Williams’s quietly sorrowful documentary “Banished,” about the forced expulsion of black Southerners from their homes in the troubled and violent decades after the Civil War. Dressed in what looks like their Sunday best, in dark suits and high-collar dresses, they stare solemnly into an unwelcoming world. A couple ride in a cart along a pretty country road, and others stand awkwardly before houses with peeling paint. There are few smiles. Photography was then a serious business, though being a black landowner, part of a fragile, nascent Southern middle class, was more serious still.

It’s stunning how loudly the dead can speak, and with such eloquence. I couldn’t help comparing these images with those in one of my own photo albums of a large family of stern-looking Midwesterners dressed in what looks like their Sunday best. The rough, ill-fitting suits and somber dresses look similar to those in the documentary, and the simple clapboard house looming behind this family recalls comparable homes in “Banished.” There are, once again, few smiles, though in one photo my grandfather, then around 12, looks as if he’s trying to keep one in check.

Unlike the young men in Mr. Williams’s documentary, my grandfather raised a family and ran a business not far from where his photographs were taken — an upstanding white citizen in a nearly all-white land. The young black men in “Banished” never had the chance to take root. Some were falsely accused of molesting white women and were lynched. We see a few of these dead in other photographs, hanging from trees and lampposts, their bodies sometimes surrounded by a visibly excited white crowd. (A crude sign under one corpse warns not to wake him.) As Mr. Williams explains, his measured voice-over calm as ever, lynching was an instrument of terror, used against blacks as a means of control and “racial cleansing.”

(read entire article)

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On Race, Kinship, and Black Women

Christina Sharpe in dissident voice

“You must not forget that we are students first and then we’re athletes. And before the student lies the daughter.”

-- Essence Carson

It took almost a week to generate "public outrage" about the remarks that Don Imus and producer Bernard McGuirk made about the Rutgers Women's basketball team.

In that same week the media consistently reported that three white lacrosse players from Duke University were found innocent of the charges against them. It's true that the charges of rape/sexual assault against the three white Duke players have been dropped, but they are not innocent of either misogynist or racist acts. After all, these young men whom, I suspect, like most young white men of their class have very little social interaction with black people or, at least, little social interaction with black people of vastly different class and circumstances, hired these young black women from the other side of the tracks to dance at their party. The two women hired to dance agree on this: the players subjected them to racial and sexist abuse. And, let’s not forget that after Ms. Roberts’ accusations became public, a number of women on the Duke Campus came forward to say that they believed her because they, and other women they knew, had been assaulted as well.

But, one (white) mother makes clear in her letter to the Boston Globe [1] the differences between what sons and daughters across a race/sex/class divide are told and who one imagines to be one’s son or daughter. She writes, “Any mother could have told those boys a party with alcohol, young men, and a stripper of unknown origins had the potential for trouble.” Many a black mother could have told that daughter (those girls) about the potential trouble to them in interactions involving alcohol and young white men with pedigrees and power attached to race, sex, and class privilege.

(read entire article)

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Why 'nappy' is offensive"--on hair, race, blackness and (in)humanity

ZINE MAGUBANE in The Boston Globe

Why 'nappy' is offensive

By Zine Magubane | April 12, 2007
WHEN DON IMUS called the Rutgers University basketball team a bunch of "nappy-headed ho's" he brought to the fore the degree to which black women's hair has served as a visible marker of our political and social marginalization.
Nappy, a historically derogatory term used to describe hair that is short and tightly coiled, is a preeminent example of how social and cultural ideas are transmitted through bodies. Since African women first arrived on American shores, the bends and twists of our hair have became markers of our subhuman status and convenient rationales for denying us our rightful claims to citizenship.

Establishing the upper and lower limits of humanity was of particular interest to Enlightenment era thinkers, who struggled to balance the ideals of the French Revolution and the Declaration of Independence with the fact of slavery. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen did not discriminate on the basis of race or sex and had the potential to be applied universally. It was precisely because an appeal to natural rights could only be countered by proof of natural inequality that hair texture, one of the most obvious indicators of physical differences between the races, was seized upon. Nappy hair was demonstrable proof of the fact that neither human physiology nor human nature was uniform and, therefore, that social inequalities could be justified.

Saartjie Baartman, a South African "bushwoman," was exhibited like a circus freak in the Shows of London between 1810 and 1815. The leading French anatomist of the day, George Cuvier, speculated that Baartman might be the "missing link" between the human and animal worlds because of her "peculiar features" including her "enormous buttocks" and "short, curling hair."

In "Notes on the State of Virginia," Thomas Jefferson reflected on why it would be impossible to incorporate blacks into the body politic after emancipation. He concluded it was because of the differences "both physical and moral," chief among them the absence of long, flowing hair.

(read entire article)

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Friday, April 06, 2007

The Article--What a mess, baby --Parents say fertility clinic botched in-vitro & girl's got the wrong dad

The New York Daily News

Thomas Andrews and his wife, Nancy, got a surprise when daughter Jessica (l.) was born: Looks like Thomas wasn't the dad.

A Long Island woman and her husband are suing a Park Ave. fertility clinic for allegedly inseminating her with the wrong man's sperm.
After struggling to conceive their second child, Nancy Andrews and her husband, Thomas, turned to New York Medical Services for Reproductive Medicine for in-vitro fertilization treatments, according to a lawsuit.
Andrews soon became pregnant and the couple was overjoyed. They only discovered the clinic's "colossal blunder" after Andrews gave birth to her daughter Jessica, court papers charge.
"While we love Baby Jessica as our own, we are reminded of this terrible mistake each and every time we look at her," the Commack couple said in documents filed in Manhattan Supreme Court. "It is simply impossible to ignore."
Thomas Andrews is white and his wife is Dominican. But Jessica, who was born Oct. 19, 2004, has darker skin than either of them as well as "characteristics more typical of African or African-American descent," the lawsuit states.
The couple tested their daughter's DNA using a home kit and later with two more sophisticated methods. All three of the tests confirmed their suspicions - the tot has a different father.
"We underwent a difficult and complex medical procedure for the sole purpose of bearing a child of our own," the couple said in court papers. "We were never informed that this type of mishap could occur, and frankly, this type of mishap is almost unimaginable."
In legal documents, the couple said they were "emotionally devastated" when they found out Thomas Andrews, who had donated his sperm to be inseminated in his wife, was not the girl's biological father.
"We fear that our daughter will be the object of scorn and ridicule by other children, both in school and as she grows up," they said.
In a decision made public yesterday, State Supreme Court Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam threw out parts of the couple's lawsuit - including a claim that they had suffered mental distress.
"The birth of an unwanted but otherwise healthy and normal child does not constitute an injury to the child's parents," Abdus-Salaam wrote.
But the judge allowed the malpractice lawsuit to proceed against New York Medical Services for Reproductive Medicine. A previous court ruling already had found the clinic's owner, Dr. Reginald Puckett, liable for inseminating Nancy Andrews with the wrong sperm, documents show.
The couple is seeking unspecified damages for the error.
Puckett's attorney did not return calls yesterday.
The Andrews, whose eldest daughter was born on Christmas Day in 2002, declined to comment through their attorney.

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Patricia J. Williams -- Colorstruck

The Nation


The March 22 New York Post offered a fascinating study in the contradictions of our culture. The top half of the front page was consumed by "a stunning mother-child portrait" of Angelina Jolie with her newest adopted child, or as the Post put it, her "Viet man." The lower half of the page was given over to a more lurid headline ("Baby Bungle: White Folks' Black Child") trumpeting "a Park Avenue fertility clinic's blunder" that "left a family devastated--after a black baby was born to a Hispanic woman and her white husband."

The story about Jolie's magical mothering of her rainbow brood was a fairy tale of happily ever after. The bungled baby story, meanwhile, was considerably less heartwarming: Long Islanders Nancy and Thomas Andrews had trouble conceiving after the birth of their first daughter. They employed in vitro fertilization and baby Jessica was born. Jessica is darker skinned than either of the Andrewses, a condition their obstetrician initially called an "abnormality." She'll "lighten up," said that good doctor. Subsequent paternity tests showed that Nancy's egg was fertilized by sperm other than Tom's. The couple has sued.

If this were the end, the story might simply fall within the growing body of other technological mix-ups resulting in what are sometimes called "wrongful birth" suits, for lost eggs, failed vasectomies and so on. There is a legally recognized expectation that a certain standard of care will be observed in the handling of genetic material. There are ethical difficulties with any of these cases. Just to start with, it's a bit of a conundrum to call the birth of a healthy child "wrongful." Therefore, courts tend to be conservative in framing monetary damages, lest they be understood as a property interest in perfection. Hence, awarding the costs of raising an unplanned child resulting from medical malfeasance is obviously less troubling than awarding damages for "the pain and suffering" of parenting a child who was "unwanted." Indeed, in the Andrews case, a judge permitted the malpractice claim to go forward but threw out the claim for the parents' mental distress.

What's distinctive about the Andrews case is that the parents also tried to cite (also without success) Jessica's pain and suffering for having to endure life as a black person. The Andrewses expressed concern that Jessica "may be subjected to physical and emotional illness as a result of not being the same race as her parents and siblings." They are "distressed" that she is "not even the same race, nationality, they are." They describe Jessica's conception as a "mishap" so "unimaginable" that they have not told many of their relatives. (Telling the tabloids all about it must have come easier.) "We fear that our daughter will be the object of scorn and ridicule by other children," the couple said, because Jessica has "characteristics more typical of African or African-American descent." So "while we love Baby Jessica as our own, we are reminded of this terrible mistake each and every time we look at her...each and every time we appear in public."

One wonders what this construction of affairs will do to Jessica, now 2, when she is old enough to understand. But here's the really interesting part. When I turned to other media accounts I found a picture of the family--from their 2006 Christmas card, no less. And Jessica looks exactly like her mother and elder sister. It is true that Jessica is slightly darker than her mother and that her hair is curlier than her sister's, but all three females are pretty clearly African-descended. As one of my students put it, if anything it is the paleness of the father's skin that marks him as the "different" one.

The picture underscores the embedded cultural oddities of this case, the invisibly shifting boundaries of how we see race, extend intimacy, name "difference." According to the Post, Mrs. Andrews is "Hispanic" and apparently, by the paper's calculations, one Hispanic woman plus one white man equals "a white pair." The mother is "a light-skinned native of the Dominican Republic," seeming to indicate that while she may not be "white," she's also not "black." Each narrative implies that if the correct sperm had been used, the Andrewses would have been guaranteed a lighter-skinned child. But as most Dominicans trace their heritage to some mixture of African slaves, indigenous islanders and European settlers, and as dark skin color is a dominant trait, it could be that the true sperm donor is as "white" as Mr. Andrews. But that possibility is exiled from the word boxes that contain this child. Not only is Jessica viewed as being of a race apart from either of her parents; she is even designated a different nationality--this latter most startling for its blood-line configuration of citizenship itself.

I might have consigned all of this to tabloid sensation had I not had conversations in recent days in which this case came up. Well-educated legal minds of all political stripes were arguing that there's nothing wrong in the parents' claim, that it's a private choice they made to have a family that looks "like" them and that they should get some money for the girl's "trauma" since, after all, it is harder to be black in this society. Some of the people arguing this have previously argued against affirmative action because our society is supposedly colorblind. Just look at Angelina! If this dreamy reasoning is any reflection of the culture at large, then its logic signals a privatization of civil rights: Discrimination is no longer a social problem that implicates all of us and our institutions as unloving or uninclusive. Discrimination becomes destiny, the normative response to biologized "abnormality."

It is ironic. There is a bill in the Georgia state legislature to make April Confederate Heritage Month. Not Southern heritage, but Confederate. Whatever romance that term may conjure in the collective imagination, it's important to remember that the Confederate Constitution was almost identical to that of the United States. The only significantly different provision was one that said: "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." In an era when none of us are slaves but all of us are increasingly objects in the marketplace, it is sad and alarming that "Negro" features, however arbitrarily perceived or shiftily delineated, still lower the value of the human product, of human grace.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Uncle Ben's dot com

Uncle Ben's dot com

He's still called Ben or Uncle Ben.

Read the Diary.

He signs his "letters" Uncle Ben.

Name: Uncle Ben
Hometown: Beaumont, Texas
Occupation: Chairman (Charman)
Year Sold First Rice: 1943
Years at the Top: A lot (b/c presumably he can't count, and doesn't need to, as long as he can cook & serve)
Packages Sold: Even more
Employees: Special, everyone
Global Offices: Absolutely

A sample Uncle Ben email:

"It may come as a surprise to you that – between my daily meetings, my Chairman functions and my everyday obligations running a worldwide rice company – I would have any time to take notice of exemplary employee behavior, but I do. In particular, I have been keeping a keen eye on the new young man working in the mail room. He is energetic, friendly and unusually prompt, all promotion-worthy attributes. Please make sure his paycheck envelope includes a complimentary coupon redeemable for a package of our delicious 90-second microwavable READY RICE®."

AS if the Chairman of the Board he is only concerned with rice, recipes, cooking, etc. How insulting.

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Uncle Ben, Board Chairman--WHAT

The New York Times

Uncle Ben, Board Chairman

A racially charged advertising character, who for decades has been relegated to a minor role in the marketing of the products that still carry his name, is taking center stage in a campaign that gives him a makeover — Madison Avenue style — by promoting him to chairman of the company.

Newspaper ad and image of Uncle Ben in his office,Masterfoods USA

A Web site for Uncle Ben’s,, offers a look at his executive office.

The longtime image of Aunt Jemima, in a photo taken between 1933 and 1951; a number of women, including Anna Robinson, shown here, portrayed the character at events like state fairs.
The character is Uncle Ben, the symbol for more than 60 years of the Uncle Ben’s line of rices and side dishes now sold by the food giant Mars. The challenges confronting Mars in reviving a character as racially fraught as Uncle Ben were evidenced in the reactions of experts to a redesigned Web site (, which went live this week.

“This is an interesting idea, but for me it still has a very high cringe factor,” said Luke Visconti, partner at Diversity Inc. Media in Newark, which publishes a magazine and Web site devoted to diversity in the workplace.

“There’s a lot of baggage associated with the image,” Mr. Visconti said, which the makeover “is glossing over.”

Uncle Ben, who first appeared in ads in 1946, is being reborn as Ben, an accomplished businessman with an opulent office, a busy schedule, an extensive travel itinerary and a penchant for sharing what the company calls his “grains of wisdom” about rice and life. A crucial aspect of his biography remains the same, though: He has no last name.
(read entire article)


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On Ignorance --William Safire "On Language"

The New York Times

On Language
Woman vs. Female

Published: March 18, 2007
Battle of the apposites.

Send comments and suggestions to:
“I do not understand why,” e-mails an irate Beathan Regan of New Hampshire, “Nancy Pelosi is referred to as the first woman speaker of the House or Hillary Clinton is potentially the first woman president. Is there some inherent power or stigma to female that spawns timidity in the writers of the media?”

This column does not fear to rush in where angels fear to tread. Only 27 years ago in this space, when fainthearted sociological euphemists were pushing the gentle grammatical category gender, I stood up for the plain old Anglo-Saxon word sex.

I lost that battle. Today, the smooth-sounding gender — as in gender gap, the political disparity between male and female voters — has to do with modern social and cultural differences and tensions, while sex is a low-life word disdained as rooted in biological rutting about.

Is female doomed to a similar lexical fate at the hands of woman? Put another way, are traditionalists going to lose this one too? Let us first examine the state of play:

“Four out of the eight Ivy League schools now have female presidents,” USA Today reports. “Clinton is to date the most successful female presidential contender,” The Boston Globe wrote. Contrariwise, “Harvard Chooses Woman President,” The Christian Science Monitor headlined, and The Washington Times reported Clinton as saying, “To all those who say we’ll never elect a woman president, we’ll never know unless we try.” CNN’s Larry King, scrupulously fair, had it both ways: “Having the first woman speaker of the House made us wonder if American is ready for its first female president.”

Both words can function as nouns, but female, unlike woman, can also be an adjective. In an Oscar Hammerstein II lyric from “Flower Drum Song,” written 50 years ago, a young woman glad to be a girl sings, “I’m strictly a female female” — the first use an adjective; the second, a noun. Adjectives are by their nature stretchable, happily taking “more” or “less”: you can say “more female,” but you cannot say “more woman”; you would have to say “more womanly.” In modifying another noun, woman is what the O.E.D. labels an apposite noun — explaining, even identifying, the noun it “stands next to” — but syntactically stronger than an adjective. Both words can be used as modifiers of nouns, but the noun woman has more weight.

There’s nothing new about this: The use of woman as a modifier dates to 1300, with the poet John Dryden, translating Juvenal in 1697, noticing “a woman grammarian who corrects her husband for speaking false Latin.” Today, usage is neck and neck, with woman as a modifier appearing to my ear as pulling ahead of female by a nose.

Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of “You’re Wearing THAT? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation,” gets that sense, too: “We’re hearing woman as an adjective more often now. Female connotes a biological category. I think many feminists avoid it for the same reason they prefer gender to sex. . . . I avoid female in my own writing because it feels disrespectful, as if I’m treating the people I’m referring to as mammals but not humans.”

Now we’re getting somewhere: as a modifier, female can be applied to all animals. (My beloved bitch, Geneva, for example, is a female Bernese mountain dog. She would probably take offense if I called her a woman canine, which as a native speaker I would never do.) To develop this female-woman distinction further, turn to Robin Lakoff, professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and author of a linguistic classic, “The Language War.”

First, Lakoff notes that a “woman doctor is closer to a ‘doctor who is a woman,’ while a female doctor is closer to a ‘doctor who is female’ — the last an adjective with no indefinite article. A very small distinction in meaning, but I think it works to focus more attention on woman than is focused on female in analogous cases.” That’s because an adjective adds color to a noun, while apposite nouns are part of the basis of meaning of a noun phrase.

“The use of either woman or female with terms such as ‘president, speaker, doctor, professor,’ ” the linguist says, “suggests that a woman holding that position is marked — in some way unnatural, and that it is natural for men to hold it (so we never say ‘male doctor,’ still less ‘man doctor’). When I first began in my job, people like me were often referred to as ‘woman’ or ‘female’ professors, but thankfully no more, as we have become a more normal (unmarked) part of the academic landscape. In time I trust that women presidents and female speakers will vanish in the same way.”

That leads her to make an unexpected point that goes beyond the female-woman divide: “Since we feel so strongly (still) that a president is necessarily male, every time we say ‘woman president,’ we reinforce that view: that only a man can be commander in chief, symbolize the U.S. (which is metonymically Uncle Sam and not Aunt Samantha, after all) and make it harder to conceive of, and hence vote for, a woman in that role.”

There’s a stopper for politicians seeking to curry favor with the distaff decider and female activist long known as the woman voter. But here’s a development above politics that is breathtaking in its cultural contradiction: feminists everywhere have begun to turn on the word female. What’s next?


Womanism as a black womens social/economic/political justice movement(s) exists both in the US and in Africa. Alice Walker defines womanism in In Search of Our Mother's Gardens and Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi defines African womanism (developed simultaneously with Walker's and distinct from it) in Signs in 1985.

On language. From the OED womanism, n.

Add: b. spec. that of a kind advocated by some writers, esp. Black woman writers, and characterized by an emphasis on celebrating the contribution of women to society as a whole; Black feminism. Cf. *WOMANIST n. (and a.) 2.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Harriet Washington responds to Ezekiel Emanuel’s (egregious) review

The New York Times

‘Medical Apartheid’

Published: March 18, 2007
To the Editor:

In 15 chapters and 501 well-annotated pages, my book “Medical Apartheid” offers a careful, nuanced discussion of trends, cases, problems, ethics and persistent patterns in the disparate treatment of black research subjects. However, Ezekiel Emanuel’s review (Feb. 18) ignores its rich content in order to claim that “Medical Apartheid” fails to place the experience of African-Americans in context. He dramatically misrepresents the work within an untrustworthy review that is rife with distortions, contradictions, errors, exaggerations and confusions.

Emanuel’s own troubling research agenda, elements of which I criticize in “Medical Apartheid,” may be pertinent. He champions such dubious policies as offering undue inducement to poor people and offering research subjects in developing countries inferior medications and standards of protection.

I have been allotted 650 words, insufficient for a point-by-point refutation, so I’ll address a smattering of his many mischaracterizations and errors.

Emanuel ignores how consistently “Medical Apartheid” quantifies my statements about the disproportionate use of blacks in abusive medical research. For example, researchers’ own statements reveal that the experimental development of gynecologic surgeries like Caesarian section, vesicovaginal fistula repair and ovariotomy were perfected almost exclusively using enslaved black women. The disproportionate theft of black cadavers was validated by records and events like the 1989 discovery of 9,800 bones, 75 percent from blacks, in the basement of the Medical College of Georgia’s former anatomical laboratory. Dr. Eugene Saenger’s fatal radiation experiments in 1950s Cincinnati were performed on a subject pool that was 75 percent black. The subjects of many other radiation experiments were all black, like the patients at Dooley and St. Phillip hospitals in Virginia who were intentionally given third-degree radiation burns by scientists “for investigational purposes.” By 1983, 43 percent of women sterilized by federally funded eugenic programs were black. Approximately 80 percent of the boys in the 1970s Baltimore XYY studies were black, as were nearly all of the children in that city’s KKI lead study. Every boy in a 1990s New York City fenfluramine experiment was black.

Medical treatment and public-health initiatives can also constitute medical research. Emanuel disingenuously writes as if an initiative must be either one or the other in order to accuse me of conflation. Despite Emanuel’s bewildering claim to the contrary, the “Black Stork” chapter does focus heavily upon medical research, including racialized studies that fueled involuntary sterilizations, Norplant and Depo-Provera investigations, research distortions that created the myth of the “crack baby,” and nonconsensual research with pregnant black South Carolina women.

Far from castigating directly observed therapy for tuberculosis, I lament that it is too often eschewed in favor of imprisonment. Thalidomide is indeed being given to black women subjects in Africa, and researchers fear that its presence in semen may make its use in men hazardous. Despite Emanuel’s assertion, the book is supported by a plethora of notes filling 50 pages.

Emanuel’s tenuous grasp of history is typified by his non-exculpatory focus on tangential, oft-told events and by the errors crammed into the single sentence with which he attempts to reconstruct the U.S.P.H.S. Study of Syphilis in the Untreated Negro Male. The men first were denied Salvarsan, not only penicillin; a significant minority obtained treatment; the study’s goals included not only observation but also a validation of a racially dimorphic progression of syphilis and diagnostic refinements. Researchers’ goals could not be accomplished without autopsy, and so were not achieved before death.

He falsely claims that “for Washington, the answer comes down to one thing: skin color.” Actually, I describe a terrible confluence of factors that changed over time, including a precise variant, scientific racism. My discussion of factors that tempered or trumped racism includes economics, politics, utilitarianism, communitarianism, black complicity, white beneficence, forbidden knowledge, deontological frameworks and social-justice issues. Emanuel’s failure to acknowledge these sophisticated arguments is a startling omission. Perhaps he is interested only in silencing them.

Harriet A. Washington


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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ga. Senate Panel OKs Confederate Month

The New York Times

Ga. Senate Panel OKs Confederate Month

Published: March 15, 2007
Filed at 9:16 p.m. ET

ATLANTA (AP) -- A panel of Georgia lawmakers signed off Thursday on a plan to create a Confederate heritage month, even as legislative leaders reacted coolly to a push to apologize for the state's role in slavery.

Sen. Jeff Mullis' bill would dub April as Confederate History and Heritage Month to honor the memory of the Confederacy and ''all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause of Southern Independence.''

The unanimous vote by the Senate Rules committee -- which sent the plan on to the full Senate for consideration -- comes days after black lawmakers announced plans to ask the state to officially apologize for its role in slavery and segregation-era laws.

Virginia's legislature last month passed a resolution expressing ''profound regret'' for the state's role in slavery, and lawmakers in Missouri and Congress have proposed similar measures.

Democratic Rep. Tyrone Brooks, chairman of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, said it's discouraging to see the Confederate month proposal moving ahead after leaders of the Republican-controlled House and Senate said they're not in favor of apologizing for slavery.

''Georgia needs to recognize and apologize and atone for its part in the slave trade, as Virginia has done,'' Brooks said. ''Until we do, I think there will continue to be resistance from African-Americans and others who are serving in the General Assembly'' to efforts like Confederate month.

Mullis, a Republican, said his bill was not a response to the slavery-apology movement.

''I'm from Chickamauga, so it seemed pretty appropriate for me to do something to commemorate the War Between the States,'' Mullis said. His family owned land at the site of the Battle of Chickamauga, the Civil War's second-bloodiest battle and the South's last major victory.

Mullis has supported efforts to create a Civil Rights History Month in Georgia but opposes a slavery apology. ''If I had done something personally, yes, I would apologize,'' he said.

The state's branch of the NAACP called the push for a Confederate month hypocritical.

''Although the supporters of the Confederate history bill feel responsible to honor the past deeds of their ancestors through official governmental action, they resist all notions that they have any responsibility to apologize to their ancestors' victims through official governmental action,'' said Edward Dubose, president of the group's Georgia chapter. ''That reeks of hypocrisy.''

Brooks, who said black lawmakers plan to officially introduce their slavery legislation next week, said he hopes Mullis' bill at least will encourage discussion. He said he's not necessarily against the idea of a Confederate month -- as long as similar recognition is given to the state's black history.

''All of Georgia's history should be promoted and respected and highlighted,'' he said. ''Hopefully this will lead us into some meaningful dialogue.''

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