All Articles Tagged "race"
Dolen Perkins-Valdez Talks New Novel “Balm,” And The Connection Between The Master’s Whip & The Police Baton
Just like every true vocalist is trying to imitate Kim Burrell’s runs, every Black author is trying to write like Toni Morrison. I kid… kind of. Maybe a better way to express that is to do so as author Dolen Perkins-Valdez put it in an interview with Salon. “…it’s not that I want to write like her, it’s that I’m trying to recreate the experience I have when I read her work.” Precisely.
And in both of her novels Perkins-Valdez manages to do just that, perhaps with a greater degree of accessibility. (You know you have to read Morrison’s novels 3-7 times before you understand everything that’s going on.) Many of us learned of Perkins-Valdez’s work with her New York Times bestselling novel Wench, which told the fascinating story of four enslaved women who are their master’s mistresses.
Perkins-Valdez said that she had intentions to avoid writing another historical novel after Wench because she didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an author but the question of ‘what happened next?’ kept coming to her mind.
That question birthed her latest novel, recently released in paperback, Balm. The story follows three characters, both Black and White, shortly after the Civil War. Sadie, Madge, and Hemp have all relocated to Chicago and are grappling with loss, death and the anxieties that come with navigating a new city.
In our exclusive interview with the author, Perkins-Valdez spoke about what inspired Balm, advice for aspiring writers and why stories about slavery and the immediate period afterward are still so important today.
What inspired Balm?
I was inspired the first time I found out about these women who were mediums at that time. They were traveling the country and purporting that the dead was speaking through them. I was really fascinated by the culture of death around the end of the Civil War and how Americans were grappling with that. I was trying to find a common ground that everyone shared in the nation at that time. My feeling about Civil War novels was that they had always been so divisive. And the common ground that I found was that everyone was in a period of transition. So I began to think about Cora Hatch who was a woman in real life who traveled the country and was a spirit medium. And that’s how I came up with the character Sadie. And then from there I thought who would be visiting Sadie’s parlor. And I thought about Madge, and I thought about Hemp and I thought about Michael. So it really kind of grew out of my interest in those spirit mediums.
Maybe this has just been my experience but when I read about characters who are connected or able to connect to the spirit world, they’re Black. Was the real woman (Cora Hatch) White?
Most of the spirit mediums were White, the ones who were very, very popular and who got to travel the country. Initially, when I came up with Madge’s character she didn’t have any special powers other than she had this knowledge of roots and tonics. It wasn’t until after several drafts of the novel I began to think of ‘she has a little bit extra ability there’ and that would be the common ground that she and Sadie would find as their friendship developed. So I didn’t start of thinking of her as a spirit medium, no. It kind of revealed itself.
Do you see Wench and Balm being related?
Wench came out in 2010 and Balm I started to work on in 2012. I wasn’t thinking about Balm as a sequel to Wench, but I was thinking about what was happening next in history. And I started out thinking I would write a Civil War novel. But again, the creative process, you can’t really tame it. So as the narrative sort of progressed, I said ’This isn’t really a war novel. This is more of a post-war novel.”
Tell me how you chose slavery as the time period of focus for your stories.
Well the first book Wench, I stumbled upon that as a historical footnote. And I didn’t think it would be a novel. I thought I was going to write an essay about it. And when my research hit a dead end, I realized I didn’t have enough for an essay and that’s when I started thinking ‘Well maybe I can make up the answers to the questions that I had.’
Then, after Wench came out, I thought ‘Well, I’m not going to write another historical novel because I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a historical novelist.’ But then I got back in the library and I really was thinking what happens next. I wasn’t quite interested in following the characters from Wench but I was interested in what happened next in history. And then I found that there were so few Civil War novels written by Black authors, I thought I want to contribute to that conversation.
What would you say to people who say they’re tired of stories about slavery and even the period afterward?
In terms of the Civil War, there’s no greater preoccupation of Americans than the Civil War. The Civil War continues to haunt us in profound ways. You’ve got all of these Civil War reenactors, you’ve got Civil War monuments that continue to be built on courthouse grounds. Last year, we had lots of public conversation about the continued presence of Confederate flags on state grounds. So, it’s a conversation we continue to have. And there’s no way to talk about the Civil War without talking about Black folks! And I think if we talk about the Civil War without talking about Black folks then we start buying into the narrative that the Civil War was not about slavery. That it was about something else. So I think it’s really important for us to keep slavery at the center of that conversation because it is at the center of that war. And if we don’t place it at the center then we’re engaging in the same kinds of erasure as other nostalgic southerners did at the end of the war.
And the second part of your question about people’s fatigue over slavery stories, I do understand that. I understand that it’s a difficult subject. I understand that there are times in our lives when we just don’t have the emotional capacity for it. I have sympathy for that because there have been times in my life when I’ve felt that way. But I still think that it’s a conversation that we need to continue to have. There’s still a lot of stories that need to be told. There’s still a lot of truth that needs to be unearthed. And the average American thinks they know more about slavery than they do. They really don’t know that much. The historians have done a phenomenal job of uncovering a lot of facts and stories and rebellions and everyday resistances. But a lot of those excavated details have not necessarily made it into our educational system at large. So we’re still, as a country, still educating ourselves about what actually happened.
And it’s an uncomfortable conversation but it’s absolutely necessary because if we talk about any contemporary race related issue, whether it be Black Lives Matter, whether it be #OscarsSoWhite…anything that we talk about in contemporary racial discourse…talking about Obama for example. Talking about the 14th Amendment and some prominent politicians have called for a repeal of that amendment. Well, that had everything to do with slavery. So there’s no way to talk about any of these things without historical context.
I understand the fatigue but I feel that we have to look at ourselves continue on talking about it.
I excitedly tuned in to watch “The People v. O.J. Simpson” last night on FX. In 1994, the year Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered, I was 7-years-old. My memories of that case are basically the seemingly endless white bronco car chase, the Black, leather glove that didn’t fit. And flashes of disturbing images of Nicole Brown Simpson’s bloodied body in a limp fetal position. And randomly, I remember a female comedian on BET’s “Comic View” making a joke about Brown’s family turning a blind eye to the years of physical abuse their relative endured at the hands of O.J., simply because he kept them living in the lap of luxury.
Everything else, I learned from my parents. And as for the outcome of the case, I wanted what my parents wanted, like many Black folks, for O.J. to be acquitted. Fresh off all the tension of Rodney King, and being children of the ’50’s and ’60’s, when stories of race and Civil Rights dominated the news, my parents wanted to see a Black man go up against the justice system and win.
And being their child, I wanted O.J. to win too.
I don’t remember my mother saying either way whether she believed he was guilty or not. I do distinctly remember my father saying that while he didn’t believe O.J. did it, he was sure that he thought he knew what happened and might have even witnessed the whole thing. It became the very same thing I said whenever the O.J. discussion would come up years later.
Oh, but now that I’m older, with more facts than I was able to process at 7-years-old, I’m almost entirely convinced that O.J. did indeed do it. And in an attempt to be very clear and intentional about what “it” is. “It” is nearly decapitating his ex wife, mother of his children and another innocent man, Ron Goldman. There are just too many “coincidences,” signs and patterns of behavior that seem to suggest that despite what his public persona was, O.J. was just the type of person who would and could do something like this.
There was the domestic violence. O.J. didn’t hit Nicole once or twice, there was an extensive record of abuse with Nicole and anecdotal evidence from his girlfriend after he was acquitted, Christie Prody, that kept getting swept under the rug.
There was the fact that he didn’t ask how his ex wife died. The fact that he was seen speeding away from the scene, irate. The blood on his car. The fact that not only could he not pass a lie detector test, he failed it miserably. There was the inconsistent stories and alibis. And the allegations that he repeatedly told Prody that Nicole “had it coming because of her lifestyle and who she hung out with.”
All of it is a lot to ignore.
If I had known and been able to process all of this back in 1994, I wouldn’t have rooted for his acquittal like my parents did. Whether I was sure about his guilt or not, it would have been too dicey to tell. Then again, my generation is entirely different from my parents’. They’ve seen and experienced things that I can’t relate to. Still, I would like to believe that I wouldn’t celebrate if I believed a man, of any color, heinously murdered his ex wife and a virtual stranger.
But perhaps, most interestingly, watching the story unfold last night, I kept thinking about the movie Concussion. Several of O.J.’s behaviors are consistent with the symptoms of those who suffer from Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), basically the repeated head trauma that causes brain damage in many football players.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of CTE usually begin eight to ten years after repetitive, mild traumatic brain injury and include
• Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
• Impulsive behavior
• Depression or apathy
• Short-term memory loss
• Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function)
• Emotional instability
• Substance abuse
• Suicidal thoughts or behavior
The documented abuse, the alleged murder of two people, the suicidal behavior and the fleeing are all very consistent with the symptoms listed above. They’re the same symptoms we saw in the film with actors portraying the lives of real football players who really did die from this disease. And the time frame matches, he married Brown in 1985, five years after his retirement from football. Brown died not even ten years later.
When he was playing football, O.J. was a running back, a position that takes some of the hardest hits. He played professionally for ten years. And before that he played in high school and famously at UCLA. While the sports world remembers all of his triumphant yardage, there must have been several instances in both practice and actual games that he got hit, in the head, hard. That translates to literally thousands of instances of blunt force trauma to his brain.
Dr. Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu, the man who was the first to publish his findings of CTE, the man Will Smith plays in Concussion, said Simpson is more likely than not, suffering from CTE. In fact, he told ABC, “I would bet my medical license on it.” Omalu has never examined O.J.’s brain and the disease can’t be diagnosed until after death but still he says he can identify the tell-tale signs.
All of it is a lot to digest. And now that I’m processing all of this with an adult mind, I can see why the scandal and the trial captured the attention of the nation. It’s certainly captured mine.
I’m convinced that my soon-to-be four-year-old daughter has been here before. She often says remarks, retorts, and clever quips you can’t help but pause and wonder ‘where does she get them from?’ Seriously, what three-year-old just walking by casually and unprovoked says: “I have options because of my imagination?”
Cydney Milner does.
Like many little girls, my daughter was all about Frozen. I had to buy the movie on bootleg before its “real” release I have seen the movie in it’s entirety at least one hundred times and bits and pieces a good two hundred more. She has all of the dolls, toys, sang “Let It Go” at her school’s Christmas Pageant, and for a good eight months let it be known that her name is Elsa.
When I picked her up early from school because she was sick, I turned on The Princess and the Frog. Cydney had seen it before and she liked it; but it wasn’t Frozen. Everything changed. Ever since she has been more and more into The Princess and the Frog. Her birthday is February 14th and everything that she asked for her birthday was Princess Tianna, Disney’s first Black princess.
Yes, children go through these phases and pretend to be whoever they admire, but Cydney seems to be identifying with Tianna. My daughter is also the same child who was born in New York and only lived in Virginia for a total of five months, but she often walks around the house doing her best imitation of a New Orleans dialect. Interesting enough is that she hasn’t got to the point where she says “I’m Tianna,” like she has the Princess from the TV show “Sofia the First,” Sleeping Beauty (That’s what she would introduce herself as…and I didn’t know her name was Aurora until two years ago), or Elsa. She has a little brown doll with a green dress and her name is Tianna.
One day I was walking by and I was eavesdropping on my daughter playing. Dolls Tianna and Anna (from Frozen) were having a conversation. Anna introduced herself to Tianna and said “I’m from Arendalle,” which is the fictonal Scandinavian kingdom where she lives. Tianna responded “Well, there are no brown people in Arendalle.”
Well damn…My first thought was “Cydney has seen Frozen so many times that she noticed there were no people of color in Arendalle at all!” My second thought was “How did she put that together and how did she realize that there is a difference in color?”
I say this because as Black people we tend to be aware of our color, but we aren’t aware of it until it is pointed out. I knew what a white person was because I had seen them on television, but I didn’t think I knew any. In first grade, we did a play about Rosa Parks and white people; but it wasn’t until a year later that my mom told me my teacher was white and that was when I became aware of race. I have plenty of friends; especially ones from the south who have found this out in some other manners and some of them are pretty traumatic.
Nonetheless, what just happened – that within a week my daughter became aware of color and figured it out all on her own.
It wasn’t her school because all of the children and teachers at her school are black. It was the movie. I honestly think that’s remarkable because holy sh*t my kid is kinda brilliant but I love that my daughter lives in a world in which there is a Disney that she can identify with.
That same night while watching The Princess and the Frog, Cydney asked me “Daddy, why is Tianna brown?” I responded “Because her parents are brown.” It was the best answer I could think of on the fly. She looked at the screen, looked at me, then looked at herself. She then pointed at her arm and said “I’m light brown” with a look of pride and acknowledging that she too was somewhat like Tianna even if she was a few tints lighter.
This makes me think of the Clark studies in the 1939-1940 in which a study was done asking which dolls little black girls thought were prettier, nicer, etc. when a black and white one were placed in front of them. There was a preference to the white doll virtually across the board and this opened up the door for studies and bringing awareness to self-esteem; the Clarks even testified in the Brown vs. Board case of 1954. So with “Queens of Africa” dolls outselling Barbie in Nigeria and starting to pick up here in America it’s nice to see things have begun to change.
I am okay with my daughter being aware of race. Her first experience isn’t negative and that’s amazing. I’m a single father and my little girl doesn’t have a living mom; so I’m figuring out this raising a little girl thing the best way that I know how. I may get some things wrong, but I know that a high self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence are a great place to start.
Look at me, almost 30 years old and still learning from Disney Movies.
Taye Diggs is likely somewhere patting himself on the back. A recent study, highlighted in TIME, said that interracial women are more likely to identify as multiracial than interracial men. Maybe I’m slow, but it took me forever to understand what this story and the study were trying to say. Basically, with the American multiracial population growing as it is, social scientists estimate that by 2050, one in every five Americans will be mixed race.
So the question becomes how will this growing demographic choose to identify themselves?
Well, according to the study, gender may have something to do with the choice. Lauren Davenport, professor of political science at Stanford, sifted through data from tens of thousands of incoming college freshman with muti-racial backgrounds across the country.
She found that women who were multiracial were more likely to identify themselves as such. While men who were multiracial were more likely to choose one race.
For children born of Black-White unions, 76 percent of the women defined themselves as multi-racial while only 64 percent of men with the same background did. The same was true for students who came from Latino-White and Asian-White unions. Interestingly enough, the TIME piece didn’t mention multiracial individuals with two parents of color.
Davenport speculates that the reason women may be more likely to mark multiracial is because, in society, women with various racial and ethnic backgrounds are viewed more favorably.
She’s certainly not lying. We’ve all seen. From the music videos, to Hollywood casting choices (see Zoe Saldana or Aurora Perrineau,) to internet memes, to men on the street, there seems to be this subtle or blatantly expressed preference for racially ambiguous or multiracial women. And not just women, biracial children as well. There have been entire videos made discouraging what has become the fetishization of biracial children, believing that they’ll one day become biracial adults, particularly women, who will be viewed as more visually appealing and sexually attractive. People will express this preference telling you that your biracial children will have “good hair,” that they’ll be “pretty babies.” They’re sure of it. It’s a notion rooted in racism really. That it takes a White person to make what would have been an “ordinary Black” child attractive. And we all know how attractiveness translates to other perks, benefits and even opportunities in this country, from the time of slavery until today.
So perhaps these women are responding to that culture, wanting to be a part of that celebrated caste.
Or maybe not.
Maybe some of these women are starting to reject the one-drop-rule. Which is also steeped in racism. The one-drop-rule was a way to keep people with just an ounce of Black ancestry from claiming the advantages and freedoms of being White in America. And while the Black community has transformed the one drop rule to accept the diversity of Blackness, there may be some people who would like to acknowledge all that they are. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I see where Taye Diggs is coming from when he says his child should be able to acknowledge and celebrate both sides of his heritage. But I also believe a person should be able to identify as they please. I know right now you might be thinking about Rachel Dolezal. She too has that choice. And we in society have the choice to accept it or not. In the case of Dolezal, she doesn’t have my acceptance. And this societal acceptance or rejection is the exact reason why some people choose to identify as one race or another. A person who is biracial with a darker skin tone could say that they’re White all day. But if that person were to expect to be seen and treated as a White person, they might be severely disappointed.
It’s like President Barack Obama choosing to identify and be called Black, though he was raised exclusively by his White mother and her parents. It is his choice, likely influenced by the ways in which society sees him. A cursory look over his life will show you that despite his peers seeing his White family, he experienced racism. And it’s a choice I feel we should honor. Which is where Taye Diggs and I differ.
Biologically speaking, race is a social construct. All we have is melanin, in varying amounts. It’s people, in our need to classify, who determine which ones of us fall into which racial category based on that melanin. Since the idea is entirely made up anyway, there are no rules that say these definitions can’t shift.
Your friend Tikisha was telling you the other day that she’s teaching her seven-year-old daughter a ‘black code,’ or in other words, a way of acting around the police. It went something like, “Yes, officer, no officer, what can I do for you today, officer?” It’s a conversation that she decided to start having in light of what’s going on in this country with #BlackLivesMatter and the almost daily accounts of black folks getting killed by the police.
You found it odd because, really, what are the chances that the police will stop a seven-year-old little girl? You ask your friend just that and she looks at you like you’re crazy. “Anything could happen to any of us at any time.”
She’s right. What would prevent an officer from shooting a little girl? And getting away with it?
Now you’ve found yourself thinking about race and wondering if you should be speaking to your daughter, too. The truth is, you don’t go anywhere near conversations about race with her for various reasons. One, she’s only five, and this police thing is straight boogie monster. The last thing you want is for her to be afraid to walk down the street for fear of running into the police. Two, you don’t want her having low self-esteem about being black. It’s so hard to put a positive spin on the fact that we were sold into slavery and forced to work for the white man. Which brings you to your third reason. You don’t want her looking up to the white man either, as if his force makes him superior. That feels the same as teaching her to know her place and that you will not do.
But you can’t deny what’s going on, and turning the channel every time something comes on the news.
Is it time to talk about race to your kid?
It’s a question that you pose to Dr. Jane G. Fort, psychologist, and product of two educators. She says, “It’s never too early to start having the race conversation with your kid. You don’t want her to be blindsided.” Indeed, you don’t, but how do you know that it’s not too much? She says that one way to deal with it is by answering questions as they arise. In her case, the conversation was discussed when she was around six or seven-years-old, and discovered that while in their black neighborhood of Nashville, they could ride the front of the bus, but outside of that they were forced to sit in the back. The day she made that observation, her father, a historian, sat her down and gave her a history lesson on slavery. But what about the fact that slavery and Ferguson is a depressing topic for a kid? She says to focus on the positive aspects of America and the black community. Let her know that what’s on the news is not the whole story.”
When stated like that, it sounds doable.
Ironically, you’re discovering that you’re not the only one at the doorstep of these conversations. Your friend SekouWrites was telling you that one of his boys just started talking about race with his nine-year-old kid. The dad was explaining the judgment that comes from people when you wear baggy clothes. As they finished the conversation, the kid said, “Oh, that’s why the teacher said that.” Apparently, a substitute teacher at his private school wouldn’t let him answer any questions in class because she assumed, perhaps because of his baggy attire that day, that he was being disruptive. By the time class was over, she realized her mistake and said, “You’re not who I thought you were.”
To quote your friend Sekou, “the world is coming. It’s best to get in front of it.”
He’s so right. The world is coming and if you don’t act first, the outside world will be teaching your kid about race, and it won’t be pretty. It probably won’t even be true. As Dr. Fort also said, “kids take in a lot more than we know. She needs to have a buffer.”
Okay, it’s settled. Your daughter will be getting her first history lesson, like yesterday.
Racism is real. As people of color, we encounter or witness it in some way, shape or form just about every day. But to think that our people have to deal with something so ugly on their death beds is truly heartbreaking. However, according to a new study, prejudice and racism manifest in hospital rooms more frequently than one would think.
According to the Huffington Post, the study, which was published in the January issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptoms Management, black patients who are terminally ill receive less compassion from doctors than their white counterparts.
The study was conducted on 33 real, hospital-based physicians in the western Pennsylvania area. Each doctor was placed in “high fidelity” simulations in which they were required to interact with actors portraying dying patients and their family members. Each “patient” read from the same script and showed matching simulated vital signs. While doctors were aware that they were participating in a study, they did not know the specifics of what researchers were looking for. The findings of the study were quite alarming.
“Although we found that physicians said the same things to their black and white patients, communication is not just the spoken word,” explained Dr. Amber E. Barnato, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “It also involves nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, body positioning, and touch.”
And in these instances, doctors fell short when it came to their black patients. While explaining health conditions and discussing steps to follow, researchers noticed that the participating physicians stood closer to the bedside and were more likely to touch the subject in a compassionate way when the patient was white. When dealing with black patients, doctors were more likely to stand at the door while holding their binders, which made them appear defensive or disengaged.
After analyzing the audio and footage captured during the study, researchers gave each doctor a score based on their nonverbal behavior with patients. On average, the doctors’ interactions with their black patients received scores that were 7 percent lower than scores received for exchanges with their white patients. Dr. Barnato believes that healthcare providers can benefit from this kind of “experiential learning” because it would make them more self-aware.
“I Will Not Be Your Intellectual Mammy” Writer Stacey Patton Is Tired Of Explaining Racism And Black Rage
With each unjust death, each decision not to indict, each heinous attack against Black people at the hands of a White person, it becomes increasingly more difficult to write about the incidents and our response to them. The rage we felt for Michael Brown, for Trayvon Martin, for Eric Garner, for Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd was the same thing we felt for Tamir Rice. Once when he was shot and killed and then a second time when we learned that there would be no punishment for it.
As a journalist, it becomes difficult to pour yourself out again and again when you feel like you’re saying what’s already been said. And it’s not about being numb. It’s about feeling too much anger. Some of our mothers used to say, “I’m tried of talking” and it’s that same sentiment we feel, whether we write articles or Facebook statuses.
Writer and correspondent Stacey Patton expressed that sentiment in a Facebook status that has gone viral on Facebook.
See what she had to say below.
I remember all too well laying across my living room floor as kid when “The Doll Test” was presented on ABC’s news program “20/20.” I do not recall exactly how old I was, but I was old enough to reason that something was terribly wrong with the test where little Black girls were asked to comment on how they felt about dolls–some Black and some white. How could children of color lack self-confidence and believe that white baby dolls were better than Black baby dolls? Why was this even a question or concern? Why did this even matter?
I grew up with my very own Kenya doll, black Barbies, a Black cabbage patch, a Black baby alive, and an American Girl Addy Doll. In elementary school, we had African American Achievement Programs where we wore Kente cloth, recited classic poems from the Harlem Renaissance, and sang old Negro spirituals. At home, I watched The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Family Matters. I did not have Doc McStuffins television show or anything, but you clearly get where I am going with this. We had James Brown’s “Say It Loud” on vinyl. Black Pride was on overload in my household.
“Where did these children come from? Who raised them?” These questions and many more raced through my brain as I watched the investigative news piece on the race insecurities of African American children as a whole.
But of course I had these thoughts; Black Jesus was in a gold frame over my guardian’s headboard. Growing up in the 90’s in Philadelphia made me feel like the whole world was Black and proud. This sheltered perspective further induced by murals of legends like Patti Labelle and Cecil B. Moore painted on the side of buildings would soon come to a screeching halt during my high school days in honors courses and my undergraduate studies in NYC.
I found that when mixed in with others, my otherwise very vocal and very charismatic peers of color were not so comfortable expressing their Black pride. I will make no judgments as to why. I have several leads, but one article does not give me the space to divulge. I will say that all this leads me to the decision some may find offensive.
As long as I am buying their toys, my daughters will not play with white dolls.
Now before you call me a racist or a prejudice person, hear me out. I am not saying that my daughters cannot play with non-African American children. The exact opposite is true. Most of our social engagements involve non-African American persons. We are the only African Americans in our residential complex. Also, the parks, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, shopping malls, museums, and restaurants we frequent are primarily inhabited by non-African Americans. Excluding family events and church, we rarely see Black people.
For this reason, I think that it is very important for our girls to get acclimated with who they are racially and culturally speaking. Filtering their toys and media entertainment is one way of ensuring that they do so.
“The Doll Test” I mentioned earlier comes by way of two African American psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, husband and wife, who conducted a study in the 1940’s to test the psychological effects of segregation on children of color. Their findings would eventually be used in the famous school desegregation case, Brown v. The Board of Education.
I know what you are thinking: that was over 60 years ago! Schools are no longer segregated, Zendaya has her own television show and Dora and Doc McStuffins pop.
You are right, however, as recently as 2010, CNN reconducted the Clark study to find:
“Nearly 60 years after American schools were desegregated by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, and more than a year after the election of the country’s first Black president, white children have an overwhelming white bias, and black children also have a bias toward white, according to a new study commissioned by CNN.”
At the time of The Clark’s study, in the 1940’s, Black dolls did not even exist. They were forced to paint white dolls Black in order to conduct the experiment. Nearly 60 years later, there are Black dolls available, but the results are still the same: mainstream media and imagery in America promotes low self-esteem for children of color/darker hues.
I know that I will be successful teaching my girls everything that was taught to me regarding Black history, pride and culture. But no matter what I do in our home and with them socially, they will still encounter a media and entertainment world from books, to magazines, film, and TV that does not over supply them with positive imagery of their own reflection. As their mother and a happily brown colored woman, it is my duty to filter their atmosphere with as much reinforcement of positive imagery as possible. My Black girls will play with Black dolls only.
Clarissa Joan is a spiritual life coach and editor-in-chief of The Clarissa Joan Experience. She resides in Philadelphia with her husband, their two girls, and a yorkie named Ace. Clarissa is also an expert in impact investing. She is the Communications Associate at Impact America Fund.
A woman can’t even run for president of the United States of America, without people asking her about some damn plates…
What I mean is that during the 15 minutes of the Democratic primary presidential debates, which were televised over the weekend, ABC news reporter and debate co-moderator Martha Raddatz asked Hillary Clinton (as transcribed by Mashables):
“First ladies, as you well know, have used their positions to work on important causes like literacy and drug abuse, but they also supervise the menus, the flowers, the holiday ornaments and decor. I know you know where I’m going here,” moderator Martha Raddatz asked Clinton as the debate was wrapping up. “You have said that Bill Clinton is a great host and loves giving tours, but might opt out of making flower arrangements if you’re elected. Bill Clinton aside, is it time to change the role of a president’s spouse?”
I shouldn’t have to point out the obviously wrongness in this question. But just in case, let’s start with:
- The devaluation and blatant disregard of the not only the office of the FLOTUS, but what is considered traditional women’s work in general.
- The idea that a possible First Husband is above the supposed trivial tasks of his job description – all because of his gender. Granted, Bill Clinton is the former POTUS; but traditionally, the office of the FLOTUS has always been centered on presenting a non-partisan and hospitable image of the presidency. Therefore why should he be above doing what is still a very important and essential role to a successful presidency?
- There are male florists and married men with good taste in food and décor.
- The fact that this is really a question to begin with.
- Why wasn’t the supposed trivialness of the office of FLOTUS a concern for anyone before? In particular when Michelle Obama, who is a graduate of both Princeton and Harvard Law School and who has real world experience as an attorney, was forced to do cheesy fitness videos to silence those who felt she was too bossy. Or better yet, when Hilary was getting dragged by the Republicans (and many on the liberal side) for not staying in her lane as FLOTUS?
And that is just the obvious stuff.
But as asinine and flat-out offensive as the question was, particularly in a debate that spent zero-minutes addressing women’s issues, I was kind of disappointed in Clinton’s overall response.
Granted, I wasn’t expecting Clinton to go full rural-Arkansas on Raddatz. But I was expecting her to politely and directly hold Raddatz accountable for the adherent sexism in even asking her such a lazy and irrelevant question during what was supposed to be a serious discussion.
That’s what I expect from a candidate who calls herself a champion for human rights and voice for women.
But instead, Clinton played “respectability” politics.
More specifically, she laughed uncomfortably, gave some scant defense about how every first spouse has historically defined their own agendas and then fed into the obvious sexism more by adding:
“I am probably still going to pick the flowers and the china for state dinners, and stuff like that,” Clinton said. “But I will certainly turn to him as some presidents have for missions and advice, and particularly how we’re going to get the economy working, which he knows something about.”
And this is why I have a huge problem with supporting candidates based solely on identity.
Yes, Clinton is a woman.
Yes, Clinton is a feminist.
Yes, I know she is not afforded the same opportunities to be brash and loud like Bernie Sanders or interrupt people all night like Martin O’Mallery did.
Yes, Clinton is running a campaign, which has taken a number of progressive stances as it related to women rights and issues.
But those are all promises and labels. And how can we believe that if elected to the highest office in the land, Clinton will be willing to actually put herself on the line for the rights of women when she can’t even call out blatant sexism is a silly question during a debate?
Folks may feel like I’m not being fair to Clinton, but when President Obama was running for office he was besieged almost daily with questions related to race and what his presidency meant for the Black community. Like Clinton, he too thought he could just smile graciously and coyly sidestep the elephant issue in the room. But regardless of how hard he tried to not make his skin color an issue, the rest of the country would never let him forget he was Black.
As such, President Obama had to be a poster boy for race relations. He had to defend himself, renounce relationships and even had to make a historic speech just to prove to folks that he was capable of dealing with the complicities of race in this country. He had to do all of this even though race was not the central part of his candidacy.
And yet, Clinton continues to run as the progressive candidate for women, but hasn’t fully said or done anything to make us believe that she is up to the challenge of actually challenging the status quo.
Nor is anyone really challenging her. Because really out of all the gender related questions to ask Clinton, a woman decided that the best thing she could come up with is to ask her about flower arrangements and patterns for fine China?
When it comes to gender, Clinton is kind of skirting by. And quite frankly, this is unacceptable. If we have learned anything from President Obama’s last eight years in office, particularly in the wake of Black Lives Matter movement as well as and a number of other race-related issues that have rocked the country, is that we are going to need more than symbolism to fix everything that is wrong with us.
So I ask of us ladies: is Hilary doing enough to call out and speak to sexism in her campaign? And should we be pushing her to do more?
No matter where you go in this world, as a Black person, someone is always going to remind you that you are Black and Black only. It doesn’t matter if you are an English-speaking Black or Spanish-speaking Black or Swahili-speaking Black (or any other language-speaking Black), folks are going to say, “Nope. That’s a Negro. And they can’t sit with us…”
You may laugh, but sadly, it is true.
For instance, Lupita Nyong’o, along with Star Wars: The Force Awakens co-star Oscar Isaac, recently did an interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos. Of course, the interview was a light piece about how the two stars of “Latin origin” landed their roles in the new Stars Wars flick. (This according to the Facebook translation app. And as a note, all translations in this piece are based off on the app.) And of course, the entire interview is done in Spanish, which both Nyong’o and Issac are fluent in.
It should have been a cute little fluff piece where we, at most, lightly mock the irony of social constructs and national boundaries drawn by imperialism and colonization.
But instead, folks in the comment section got into one serious debate over the question of identity and authenticity. Specifically, who is Latin American?
The right answer is anyone born in Latin America. As Latin America, which includes over 20 sovereign states and territories from Mexico to South America and through the Caribbean, is made up of various ethnic groups and races including European, African, indigenous native and Asian.
But you know folks aren’t about being right.
And of course, we know that this wasn’t about the olive-colored, wavy-haired Issac either. Because a person with lighter skin can be born anywhere in this universe and folks will have little question about the authenticity of their identities. Just look at “Brazilian” supermodel (and former fiancée of Rohan Marley) Isabeli Fontana, whose roots are straight-up Italian. Or comedian Louis C.K. whose father, a native of Mexico, is of Jewish heritage. Or even Isaac himself, whose father is actually Cuban and his maternal grandmother French.
Instead, folks took issue with Nyong’o who was born in Mexico City, Mexico to two Kenyan parents.
One such commenter put it like this, “Lupita N’yongo no es Latina! Es una actriz increíble, una mujer hermosa, pero de Latina no tiene nada. Nació en México mientras su padre estaba allí de negocio y solo vivió allí unos meses. Sus papás son de Kenya.”
Facebook app translation: “Lupita N ‘ YONGO IS NOT Latina! It’s an incredible actress, a beautiful woman, but of Latina has nothing. She was born in Mexico while her father was there for business and only lived there a few months. Her parents are from Kenya.”
And another commenter said, “Lupita es Mexicana por accidente no por que tenga Origen Latino como Lo dice el señor Jorge Ramos. Ella es Africana. Oscar si es de Origen Latino.”
Facebook app translation: “Lupita is mexicana by accident not because I have latin origin as it says Mr Jorge Ramos. She is African. Oscar if it is of Latin origin.”
Again, if there is some poor translation, blame the Facebook app and my four years of being a mediocre student in both high school and college-level Spanish. However, you can read the entire thread for yourself here.
For those who are not aware, Nyong’o, who lived in Kenya for most of her childhood but went back to Mexico when she was 16, identified herself as a “Mexican-Kenyan.” More specifically, she told El Mañana (as translated and reported by The Wire):
“I’m Mexican and Kenyan at the same time,” she said, according to El Mañana. “I’ve seen the quarrels over my nationality, but I’m Kenyan and Mexican at the same time. So again, I am Mexican-Kenyan and I am fascinated by carne asada tacos.”
It should be noted that most of the up-voted comments proudly claim Nyong’o as one of their own. In particular, this comment that said the following:
Si Lupita fuera Rubia y de ojos azules ahi estubieran reclamandola como Mexicana! Como es posible que sea el 2015 y tengamos la mente tan cerrada? Y la verdad no me sorprende en lo absoluto, nuestro hermoso continente Americano es un gran arco iris de colores pero lamentablemente lo unico que casi se ve en la tele es blanco, claro! Eso tambien se debe a que nuestras razas de color casi estan marginalizadas y no tienen las mismas oportunidades.
Facebook app translation:
If Lupita She was blonde and blue eyes there were reclamandola like Mexican! How is it possible that it is 2015 and we have the mind so closed? And the truth I am not surprised at all, our beautiful American continent is a big rainbow of colors but unfortunately the only thing that you can almost see on tv is white, of course! That also is due to the fact that our races of color almost are marginalized and do not have the same opportunities.
Well said in any translation.
And while we are honoring progress, we should also note that just last week, Mexico released its new Census form, which will now officially recognize the 1.38 million “Afro-” Mexicans living in the country. According to Quartz, Afro-Mexican activists wanted the inclusion as a way to help fight back against discrimination and erasure, which has painted the look of Latin culture in only one way.
Still, in a region (who am I kidding, in a world), which is largely grappling with its Afro-Latin identity and is plagued with issues of both racism and colorism, it’s clear in the way that some folks insist we need “proof” of Nyong’o’s identity that we have a long ways to go.