Saturday, January 07, 2006

"Being and Blackness"

Orlando Patterson The New York Times

It isn't easy being a philosopher committed to making critical reflections on African-American identity. Those about whom you write have little time for abstractions and even less patience with criticism. The philosophers for whom you write often refuse to take seriously a subject so outlandishly removed from all that has preoccupied them for the past two and a half millenniums. And the experience upon which you reflect is largely bereft of earlier models to build upon. Only a few intrepid souls have plowed this virgin intellectual field. Add to them now Tommie Shelby, a sparkling new talent with all the boldness and intellectual self-assurance necessary for such an effort. [...]

Shelby's powerful critique of black cultural particularism incorporates and supersedes all previous discussions of the subject. He identifies eight basic tenets of this tradition: blacks have a distinctive culture; they should collectively and consciously reclaim that culture; they should take pride in conserving and reproducing it; unlike white culture, it provides a valuable foundation for their individual and communal identities; it is an emancipatory tool in resisting white hegemony, providing an alternate set of ideals to live by; it should be accorded public recognition by the state; blacks, as the main producers of this culture, should benefit from it in financial and other ways; and as "owners" of this culture, blacks should be the foremost authorities and interpreters of it. [...]

Nonetheless, Shelby does favor a special form of black political solidarity. To this end he borrows the sociological distinction between "thick" and "thin" identities. A thick identity positively promotes black cultural autonomy and the "so-called politics of difference" that Shelby firmly rejects. Thin identity views blackness as no more than "a vague social marker imposed from outside." Yet it remains important. In this view, according to Shelby, "what holds blacks together as a unified people with shared political interests is the fact of their racial subordination and their collective resolve to triumph over it."

Is this a productive (or not) re-framing of, say, Debra Dickerson's The End of Blackness? (more)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Katrina Round up

Scott Boehm Common Dreams "Bulldozing the Dead in New Orleans":

"Joyce Green died on the roof of her Lower 9th Ward home as her New Orleans neighborhood flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Helplessly, her son watched her die as the water rushed dangerously below them. Just last week he was able to return to their collapsed house on Tennessee Street for the first time, and found her skeletal remains amidst the ruins. He was able to identify them because they were wrapped in the clothes she was wearing the day she died. [...] On the eve of the holiday season, Greg Meffert, the city's chief technology officer, revealed that the city would immediately demolish about 2,500 "red-tagged" homes in the Lower 9th Ward. Before Meffert's announcement, a red-tag merely meant that a home was unsafe to enter. The City of New Orleans website specifically states in bold italicized text that "a red sticker does not indicate whether or not a building will be demolished, only that the structure is currently unsafe to enter." (more)

James Clingman Black Commentator "A New Iraq or a New Orleans?":

"Why have we spent as much as $1 billion per week to build a "New Iraq," yet our compassionate government, headed by George Bush and his boys and girls, cannot find a billion a week to spend on New Orleans and those wiped out by Hurricane Katrina?

What kind of a country is this anyway? What kind of people are running this show? Immediate expenditures totaling billions of taxpayer dollars to rebuild a country we intentionally destroyed, but four months after the worst catastrophe in this country our government has hardly moved to take care of its own." (more)

From WBUR "Study Tracks Katrina Survivors"

"Boston, MA - January 06, 2006 - Researchers at Harvard Medical School are preparing a new initiative to track thousands of survivors of Hurricane Katrina. The Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group will involve people displaced across the country who will be interviewed every couple of months to chart their recovery." (more)

AND "Survivors Of Katrina Get a Voice": "The struggles and stories of about 2,000 Hurricane Katrina survivors across the country will be documented regularly over the next two years in a project that aims to track their recovery. Their tales will be published and their advice sought for government policymakers, researchers said yesterday.

The first results are expected to be posted online by the end of February, said Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School, director of the project." (more)

Tommy Hallissey in Village Voice "Heartbreak Hotels":

"Half a continent away from New Orleans, some 480 Katrina evacuees in New York a re still attempting to navigate a cutthroat market for jobs and housing. More than three months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf region, some, like Vidho Lorville, had yet to receive a check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. With no money to rent apartments, they're bunking in hotels around the boroughs." (more)

AND "Images: Katrina Evacuees in New York" (more)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"Need Medicaid? Show Your Passport"

Bob Herbert from The New York Times

"Advocates believe that the provision, which will require Medicaid applicants to document their U.S. citizenship (which means producing a passport or birth certificate), may be especially harmful to poor blacks, most of whom do not have passports and many of whom do not have birth certificates.

There are no exceptions to this onerous provision, not even for people with serious physical or mental impairments, including Alzheimer's disease. [...]

Many poor people live far from the cities or towns where they were born and do not have ready access to their birth certificates. And, as the center said, a large number of African-American women, especially in the South, were unable to give birth in hospitals because of racial discrimination. Many of them never received birth certificates for their babies." (more)

"Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?: Katrina, Trap Economics, and the Rebirth of the Blues"

Clyde Woods in volume 57, 2005, American Quarterly

"The Katrina tragedy was a blues moment. The legitimacy of the United States is dependent upon multiethnic and multiracial cooperation at home and abroad, yet it affirms its status as the architect of a new world order by denying the existence of racism. Katrina has exposed both the absence of social justice and the futility of this "plausible deniability" dance. The blues tradition of explanation and development provides both a way out of the inner workings of inequity and a way into the Third Reconstruction.

The picture of twenty thousand slowly dying African Americans chanting "we want help" outside of New Orleans's Convention Center was a blues moment. It disrupted the molecular structure of a wide array of carefully constructed social relations and narratives on race, class, progress, competency, and humanity. In the blink of an eye, African Americans, an identity fraught with ambiguity, were transformed back into black people, a highly politicized identity. Mass suffering simultaneously killed the dream and "learnt" the blues to the hip-hop generation. Katrina's message was unmistakable. For example, on September 9, in an essay written for The Monitor of Kampala, Uganda, Vukoni Lupa-Lasaga summarizes the message sent to the African diaspora and the world at large:

This wasn't the way America was supposed to be. . . Many people in the United States genuinely believe—with a fervor that puts religious fanatics to shame—that nobody else in the world can do anything better than America. But the failure of government at all levels in responding to the hurricane disaster rehashes a much older story about the United States, [End Page 1005] one that has been steadily and deliberately noisily drowned or whited out of mainstream discourse. It is the story of race, class, poverty, and studied incompetence . . . for the rest of us, blacks in the United States serve as the proverbial canary in a coal mine. Those images on TV should, therefore, be a lesson for Africans and other people of African ancestry all over the world. Whether you are in peril in Darfur, Sudan, Ruhengeri, Rwanda, or New Orleans, saving your black behind isn't a priority for the American government, founded on a doctrine of white supremacy." (more)

"Henry Louis Gates and the Times: Unfit to Print"

Margaret Kimberley, "Freedom Rider" in The Black Commentator

"On December 27, 2005 the New York Times printed an article entitled "Ghanaians' Uneasy Embrace of Slavery's Diaspora." [...] "ccording to the Times, black Americans should just forget about visiting Africa or forging any links with Africans. Like people in poor nations all over the world, many Ghanaians seek to emigrate to the United States. The Times tells us that Ghanaians envy their American cousins for being taken into slavery.

Suppose, for arguments sake, that the statement is an accurate assessment of some Ghanaian opinion. A real newspaper would then ask how much Ghanaians know about the United States, and what if anything they have been taught about African American history or their own history for that matter." [...] "Not content to make light of African Americans attempts to connect to Africa, the times had to add the piece de resistance. They had to call Henry Louis Gates."(more)

"Identifying the Racial ‘Unknowns’": They're white!

Inside Higher Education "Identifying the Racial ‘Unknowns’" begins:

"Over the past decade and a half, the number and proportion of college students opting not to reveal their race when asked have shot up, to 5.9 percent of all students in 2001 from 3.2 percent a decade earlier. The increases have raised two major questions: Who are these students, and why are they declining to identify themselves? The answers have implications for college officials and policy makers on a wide range of issues, including affirmative action and student life."

They discover that the students are white. I'm not sure why they are surprised.

"The report calls for better and more accurate data collection about the racial makeup of students, both to “eliminate our reliance on assumptions about unknown students and establish a way of collecting more accurate official enrollment data on all students. With this more accurate data, we will have not only a better sense of the true racial/ethnic composition of our colleges and universities, but also a better gauge of the access various students have to, and the success they have through, higher education.”(more)

Was their assumption that it was students of color (Asian-, African-, Latino, etc.) who were the bulk of the 'unknowns'? (I think people of color will make up some portion of those 'unknowns' but there is still the persistent and wilfull misreading of affirmative action (in relation to black people and Latino's if not Asian Americans) as giving preference to Blacks. So, it seems to me that it would be white students who would disassociate themselves from the "taint" of whiteness in the application process but not associate themselves with the "taint" of "coloredness" which would impact their lived world should they identify themselves as black, Asian, Latino, etc.

It would be interesting to look at all of the categories to see who identified as "what." But i'd really like to see how many people (across race, ethnicity, nationality) identified themselves as white.

Has anyone done a study like that?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Mysterious Illness Could Have Katrina Ties

George Graham Common Dreams

"Louisiana State Trooper David Bryant responded three times to the help call and also is receiving medical assistance after contracting a recurring 102-degree fever following his third trip. Doctors have been unable to determine whether his illness, which resembles pneumonia or bronchitis, is fungal or bacterial.

“It definitely came from New Orleans,” the trooper said. “My chest started hurting in October and lasted for more than a month. I returned to Ruston, but went back to New Orleans for a week over Halloween. When I came home the third time is when I had the high fever.”

Lincoln Parish Deputy Tommy Doss, another early responder, had a different experience — a rash developed on his forearm shortly after returning from his stint in New Orleans. Topical skin treatment helped his forearm for a few days, but then the rash emerged on his legs. During treatment, it also returned to his arm.

“Now I’ve got the rash on both legs and my arm,” Doss said. “I don’t know for sure that I caught it in New Orleans, or what it is, but a lot of people are coming down with weird rashes." (more)

More Money

"New Tour of Katrina-Hit Area Is Sold Out"

January 04,2006 | NEW ORLEANS -- Mountains of debris, collapsing houses, a weather-ravaged stadium: It's yours for $35 a person -- $28 for kids.

Gray Line New Orleans began a bus tour Wednesday of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, and demand was high enough that the company added a third tour on the first day.

Some New Orleans residents have questioned whether such tours are morbid exploitation, or a good way to help people grasp the enormity of the disaster. Even some of those on the first tour Wednesday morning had mixed emotions.

"I felt guilty about going out and looking, but it's something we had to do," said Toni Stone of Harrisonburg, Va., who took the tour with her husband.

The three-hour tour, called "Hurricane Katrina -- America's Worst Catastrophe," takes passengers down Canal Street, where many businesses remain boarded up after the floods that hit 80 percent of the city and the widespread looting that followed.

It swung by the Superdome, where thousands took refuge and awaited rescue for days. A bright white temporary coating, contrasting with the dirtier off-white color of the original roof, covers the holes Katrina ripped open Aug. 29." (more)

Postings on Katrina

Wood s lot has several postings on Katrina.

T. W. Croft: Gulf Storms, Fables of Reconstruction and Hard Times for the Big Easy

A new issue of Space and Culture: Disastrous Social Theory - Lessons From New Orleans

Common Ground Collective, New Orleans: Occupation to Defend the Lower Ninth Ward

MLA, Ariel Dorfman, and "The Role of the Intellectual in the 21st Century"

V went to a talk at MLA on the role of the intellectual in the 21st century. When Ariel Dorfman was about to speak he apparently got up and said the thing the Eng profs love to hear, "I don't have my paper." Then he went on to explain why.

I'll have to ask V to recount it in writing but the gist of it is that Ariel Dorfman arrived in Miami, FL from Venezuala with a hand-written paper. (His laptop battery died.) Homeland Security took him aside, confiscated his paper, and 2 officers questioned him about it. "Tell us," they said, "in twenty-one words or less (they should have said fewer but i know they said less) what the role of the intellectual in the 21st century is." Dorfman replied, "The role of the intellectual is to resist the inevitable catastrophe."

They said, "Good answer. But it won't get you your paper back."

He won't get his paper back for five years.

It was a fiction. From Susan Hollis Merrit on (Talk Left)

It was a brilliant "invention" that most people in the audience believed had actually happened, though it was a fiction. Knowing his work and his background (his parents emigrated for political reasons from the United States to Chile and, after 9/11 (1973) in Chile, back to the United States, I had thought it probably was a fiction, but I really was also not entirely sure. He told me afterward that over "37" people had asked him whether it had indeed happened. The possibility that it had happened as he said was plausible in many audience members' imagininations.

"Just like a woman" - "Real Dolls"

I wanted to post this piece on Real Dolls and "their owners" when it first appeared in Salon this time around. (There was an article 4 or 5 years earlier.) Blackademic prompted me to post it now because she has an interesting post about women of color and pornography. She writes about the numerous hits her site gets for people looking for porn by using keywords like "nubian booty," "ghetto black lesbians," etc.

"Just like a woman"

"Davecat keeps a picture of his girlfriend in his wallet. She's pretty, with long black hair, an alluring mole under her left eye, and glossy red lipstick. Her sheer tank top shows off her full breasts and the hoop through her left nipple. [...] When Davecat was a child in a department store, his mother emerged from a dressing room to find him talking to a mannequin who was wearing a short tennis skirt. "I was trying to chat her up," he says. "I remember the beauty of her stillness." With Sidore, he's gotten past just chatting: "I like having her in bed beside me, holding her, cuddling her," he tells me. "I like to sleep with my doll. I'll be blunt: She's a girlfriend." (more)

How do these fantasies function? How do they tie people together?

For more on this see "The Intersection of Race and Gender: Feminism of Colour" at (reappropriate)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

"Manassas Changes Definition Of Family"

Stephanie McCrummen in Washington Post:

"The inspector slid into his Crown Victoria, a police radio on his belt, addresses in hand. It was after 5 p.m., and he and his interpreter rolled into Manassas, down a street of benign ranch houses strung with lights. They parked, walked to a door and knocked.

"Mrs. Chavez?" Victor Purchase asked in the quiet evening.

Victor Purchase, an assistant fire marshal, and interpreter Adriana Vallenas question Jose Ortiz about the number of people living in his townhouse. A new law in Manassas essentially limits households to immediate relatives.

Defining the Family
A new Manassas ordinance narrows, for zoning, what the city considers a family:
A. An individual;
B. Two or more persons related to the second degree of collateral consanguinity by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship, or otherwise duly authorized custodial relationship, as verified by official public records such as driver's licenses, birth or marriage certificates, court orders or notarized affidavits, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit, exclusive of not more than one additional unrelated person;
C. A number of persons, not exceeding three, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit though not related by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship; or
D. Not more than two unrelated persons and their dependent children living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit.

There had been a complaint, he said. The city needed to know not just how many people lived there but how they were related. He handed Leyla Chavez a form and explained that she could be prosecuted for lying.

"Okay," she said and, in a mild state of shock, began filling it out.

There was Chavez and her husband. Their two sons. A nephew. The man who rented downstairs. His girlfriend.

"Your nephew, under our law, is considered unrelated," Purchase said, then delivered the verdict: Two people had to go.

That is because a zoning ordinance adopted this month by the city of Manassas redefines family, essentially restricting households to immediate relatives, even when the total is below the occupancy limit" (more)

"Why Slave-Era Barriers to Black Literacy Still Matter"

Brent Staples in NY Times:

"Those of us who write about our families inevitably engage in conversations with the dead. The two specters who take up most of my time these days were black, slave-era founders of the Staples family line. My great-grandfather John Wesley Staples, of whom I have often written, was conceived in the waning days of the Civil War, narrowly missed being born a slave and died just 11 years before my birth. His mother, Somerville Staples, was enslaved in the home of a prominent Virginia doctor when she became pregnant with John Wesley, her last child and the first freeborn member of the Staples clan.

My great-grandfather and his mother were barely visible against the backdrop of the 19th-century South when I first started to focus on them about 15 years ago. Since then, the outlines of their lives have become steadily clearer, thanks to remembrances from elderly relatives and documents that have recently turned up in the public record. It will take years, perhaps even decades, to flesh them out fully. But it is already clear that their 21st-century descendants stand heavily in their debt and that my career as a writer would have been much less likely - and perhaps even impossible - without them." (more)

"Slaves' mass grave is grim reminder of Brazil's racist legacy"

From the Guardian via (black looks):

"Experts say as many as 20,000 bodies may have been buried in the area, most of them African men aged 18-25 who had died during the three-month sea journey to Brazil or soon after arriving.

"In truth it was a ditch into which they threw the bodies," said Antonio Carlos Rodrigues, the former president of Rio's black rights council. "When they dug it up you could see skulls on top of other skulls, bodies piled up on each other." Between 1550 and 1888, when slavery was officially abolished, at least 3 million African slaves were shipped to Brazil by the Portuguese. The port district of Gamboa found itself at the centre of this trade. The area was also home to so-called casas de engordo (fattening houses) where slaves were fed before being sent to work in the plantations." (more)

Blogging and Social Justice PT#

From woman of color blog

"I think that our dialoguing has begun to uncover some major points about women of color, the internet and using the internet as a tool for social justice work.

First, we all agree that women of color are treated much differently and have much different representations of ourselves on the internet than other communities do. These representations have not been countered on a meaningful level with equally powerful images of power, strength, and wholeness. For example, while white women may also have to deal with male online fantasies of extreme sexual fetishes, they, on the other hand, also have to a certain amount of control and power over alternative and very popular online images of themselves, for example, BitchPhd. Women of color, on the whole, have no existing similar space that we control, run, and create by our own standards." (more)

Act II: American Racial History Plays in London

Ben Brantley in NY Times:

"FOR years, Eugene O'Neill's "Emperor Jones" has usually been looked upon with a wince. It is as if this stark psychological parable from 1920, which charts the degeneration of a self-appointed black emperor from regal swagger into primal fear, were some formerly famous, deeply embarrassing old relative - the kind you introduce into polite company only with winks and mouthed apologies behind his back.

But the United Kingdom, whatever its official immigration policy, has a way of taking in and rehabilitating the cultural castoffs of the American theater, especially difficult or ostensibly lesser works by masters like O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Now a small London company called the Gate has wrapped the unloved "Emperor Jones" in a bear hug of a production that allows no room for protective self-consciousness or irony. The results have left audiences and critics dazed, disturbed and gasping for superlatives. (more)

The Case for Contamination

By Kwame Anthony Appiah (photographs by Lyle Ashton Harris) in NY Times:

"Anywhere you travel in the world - today as always - you can find ceremonies like these, many of them rooted in centuries-old traditions. But you will also find everywhere - and this is something new - many intimate connections with places far away: Washington, Moscow, Mexico City, Beijing. Across the street from us, when we were growing up, there was a large house occupied by a number of families, among them a vast family of boys; one, about my age, was a good friend. He lives in London. His brother lives in Japan, where his wife is from. They have another brother who has been in Spain for a while and a couple more brothers who, last I heard, were in the United States. Some of them still live in Kumasi, one or two in Accra, Ghana's capital. Eddie, who lives in Japan, speaks his wife's language now. He has to. But he was never very comfortable in English, the language of our government and our schools. When he phones me from time to time, he prefers to speak Asante-Twi." (more)

2005 for Black Folks: a partial review

I invite folks who read this blog to contribute to my partial (as in incomplete and biased) review of 2005 for black people. I'll keep adding to it but I want to get it started.

Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath
Liberian elections
The execution for Stanley Williams and the question of redemption
New findings on the Wilmington Riots


Rosa Parks
August Wilson
Richard Pryor
Ossie Davis
Shirley Horn
Harold Cruse
Johnnie Cochran
Shirley Chisholm
Constance Baker Motley
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
Luther Vandross

To be continued ...