Friday, February 17, 2012 10:54 AM
Check out the January/February 2012 issue of Humanities magazine for a terrific article about the historic U.S. Supreme Court case that gave interracial couples the legal right to marry in the United States. At the heart of the case is a couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, whose uncompromising love survived despite a hostile environment, multiple arrests for living together as husband and wife, and an eventual 25-year banishment decree from their home state of Virginia. According to Humanities:
The Lovings had broken the state’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, a law that went to nearly insane lengths to keep anyone with even one drop of black blood from mixing with a white person.
It’s hard not to notice the striking similarity between the Racial Integrity Act, struck down by Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and the Defense of Marriage Act. Both rely on morally weighted language (“integrity” and “defense”), trying to disguise what the laws really are: one racist and one homophobic, both profoundly discriminatory.
Another detail that bears mentioning as the world discusses whether or not loving couples should have the legal right to marry: The Lovings were not exactly activists looking to rattle the nation, just everyday people trying to go about their everyday life:
Richard Loving refused to attend the Supreme Court hearing—he was a private man, averse to publicity. He was not a rabble-rouser, nor was his wife, who opted to stay behind with him awaiting the verdict that would transform their life—one way or the other. But Richard, the man of few words, did have something he wanted his lawyer to convey to the nine justices deciding his fate: “Tell the court I love my wife.”
: See the new HBO documentary,
The Loving Story
, about the Loving v. Virginia case.
Image by Grey Villet, Courtesy HBO.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 9:52 AM
Alexis Esquivel, "Smile, you won!"
The idea of globalism, so emphatically embraced by the , seemed to assume that the breakdown of cultural barriers and national borders—the “flattening” of the world caused by the increasing rapidity of exchange and interchange in the contemporary digitized age—was something wholly new. Of course, curators overstated the novelty of globalism. Humans have simply long been compelled to share and reconsider and mimic and recreate the work of others, and so intellectual and creative conceits and trends have always had a way of flowing across borders and around barriers.
Or such is a message, imparted through overt and covert channels, of an exhibition currently being mounted at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory: "Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art" (October 16, 2010, to February 27, 2011). As per the subtitle, “Queloides” presents the work of twelve artists who deal with issues of race, discrimination, and identity in Cuba. All twelve artists represented in this show—Pedro Álvarez, Manuel Arenas, Belkis Ayón, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Roberto Diago, Alexis Equivel, Armando Mariño (Right: "La anguista de las influencias" (detail)), René Peña, Marta María Pérez Bravo, Douglas Pérez, Elio Rodíguez, and José Toirac/Meira Marrero—were born in Cuba, and many produced their most compelling work during the so-called “Special Period in Time of Peace,” which started around 1991 and lasted through most of the decade (i.e., prior to the age of globalism).
The “Special Period” in Cuba was a time of acute economic struggle that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, on which the Cuban economy depended. During this period, the country’s trade market crashed, and its GDP dropped by 34 percent. Food and medicine imports were severely slowed. Cuban industry and agriculture ground to a halt, and food shortages followed. The average Cuban consumed about one-fifth the amount of food calories as prior to the Soviet collapse and lost twenty pounds in weight. Persistent hunger became a way of life, and many young children exhibited signs of malnutrition.
Starting in 1991, numerous Cuban musicians, writers, painters, performers, and academics began to use art to process the troubling changes taking place in their country. For instance, the emergence of Cuban hip hop dates to the Special Period, with rap artists driven to write about their everyday struggles. Around the same time, Cuban visual artists began to fixate on a particular social issue. In paintings, photographs, installations, sculptures, videos—examples of which are included in “Queloides”—artists focused on finding ways to ridicule and to dismantle the so-called racial differences in Cuba. The largest island country in the Caribbean, Cuba is home to over 11 million people, and the nation's culture is drawn from diverse sources -- aboriginal Taino and Ciboney peoples, the period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, and so on. “Queloides” refers to a “keloid,” or rubbery scar. In Cuba, many people believe the erroneous racial stereotype that black skin is prone to such scaring. The title also refers to the wounds, both physical and internal, that result from racism, discrimination, and centuries of cultural conflict and social struggle.
Ultimately, the artists in “Queloides” used the subjects of racism and the societal and ideological changes of the Special Period to make oblique stabs at the government. Officially designated a socialistic republic, Cuba in practice has been ruled by a closed and repressive governmental regime. Citizen’s access to the rest of the globe is severely limited in Cuba. The Human Rights Watch alleges that the Cuban government "represses nearly all forms of political dissent" and that "Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law.” Today, just connecting to the Internet illegally in Cuba can lead to a five-year prison sentence. For Cuban artists, addressing the ills of their society in their art has exacted a higher toll: Real ostracism and repression, even for addressing as simple an idea as racial justice and equality. According to co-curator Alejandro de la Fuente, "This is the first time in post-revolutionary Cuba the word ‘racism’ has appeared in the title of an exhibition. Because of this, I have now been banned from Cuba. It is a high price to pay, but we must do what we can to help break the official silence on racism.”
All these facts, taken in sum, might dictate that Cuban artists in 1991, in a pre-globalist age, would be ignorant of international art trends. But in actuality, as “Queloides” reveals, quite the opposite is true. Early 90s global art trends such as identity art, appropriation, accumulation, media-fixation, mixed media art, installation and performance art all make their appearance in this exhibition. For example, the artist Alexis Esquivel produced works that were not far removed, at least in surface appearance, from the David Salle and Robert Longo-influenced, media-mediated pastiche style popular across the globe in the early 1990s. Roberto Diago’s installation work, meanwhile, reflected the trend of accumulating appropriated objects—trash, discards, consumer goods—that appeared in the work of Tom Friedman, Tara Donovan, Rivane Neuenschwander, and many others through the 1990s and 2000s. And Rene Pena’s work reflected a concern about personal identity and self-image that is not much different in the work of Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, and many other artists who emerged in the 1990s.
Of course, understanding all the nuances and subtle contexts of the work in “Queloides” relies on a full understanding of local issues—in particular, what life was like during the “Special Period” in Cuba. But it is clear “Queloides” reveals a hidden secret of globalism. That is, many years before curators noticed, ideas, fashions, and visual trends were already being widely shared, even in nations and among artists that resided outside the world stage. “Queloides” is both an intriguing look at how art ideas pass over closed borders, and how closed communities internalize and reinterpret global intellectual trends while keeping a solid eye on local conditions.
René Peña, "Marat negro"
All photos courtesy of the Mattress Factory
Michael Fallon is a writer and arts administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications. Read his previous post, Artist Faces Darkness at Heart of Amazon Rainforest.
Michael Fallon is a guest blogger at utne.com. The views expressed by this guest blogger belong to him and do not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial voice of utne.com or the Utne Reader.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 4:35 PM
A sobering analysis of the uproar over racism and the new Arizona immigration law from Daisy Hernández at Colorlines:
We don’t yell racism when Obama’s administration deports hundreds of thousands of men and women and even teenagers. We didn’t say anything of race in 2008 when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, then Arizona’s governor, signed a law forcing employers to verify every employees’ social security number. We barely mentioned racism in the nineties when federal officials decided to beef up border patrol and force migrants to travel the Arizona desert, where they would either die or be easier to catch in the sweltering heat.
But put it on paper that race will explicitly be one reason why the cop is pulling over brown folks and we’re all screaming “racist!”
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 2:06 PM
For years, Roberto Vargas avoided white people altogether—he’d had too many collisions with racism and prejudice. In the new issue of Yes!, he urges the opposite path. “My invitation to you, as a reader who desires to increase fairness and respect among all people,” Vargas writes, “is to be a facilitator of courageous conversations about race and culture.” Check out his simple tips for starting your own dialogue.
Congratulations to Yes!, which was nominated for a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for health/wellness coverage.
Friday, October 30, 2009 4:51 PM
There’s been no shortage of inappropriate Halloween costumes this year, including the pulled-from-the-shelves “illegal alien” and “Anna Rexia” outfits, of which Jezebel observes: “It’s inexplicable finding such a thing delightfully amusing in the first place—does seeing 20 of them on a shelves of a drugstore make the joke seem . . . more funny? . . . What’s bad enough as an asshole frat boy’s attempt at racist irony becomes something else entirely when it’s got money and presumably more than one yes-man behind it.”
Should you encounter a get-up in poor taste, there’s some truly thoughtful advice on broaching racist Halloween costumes from Washington CityPaper’s blog The Sexist, from the gentle—don’t make it personal—to the very straightforward: “Ask your friend if she has any reservations about wearing the costume in public. Just straight up ask her if she’s worried about any indigenous Alaskans seeing her Sexy Eskimo Costume.”
Sources: Jezebel, The Sexist
Thursday, July 30, 2009 11:22 AM
Edward Abbey is a hero to many modern-day environmentalists: He’s a font of aphoristic wisdom, a forebear to lots of front-line activists, and a spiritual mentor to lovers of the desert West. But was he also a sexist and a racist? In the July-August issue of the radical environmental journal Earth First, a writer dubbed S@sh@ (EF writers often use pseudonyms) answers soundly in the affirmative:
One quick look at Edward Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang exposes the racism and sexism that poisoned the movement throughout the 1980s. Its transparently patriarchal depictions of gender stereotypes show up throughout the book and are even more pervasive in Abbey’s disturbing diary, Confessions of a Barbarian.
Even if you aren’t as incensed as S@sh@ is by Abbey’s use of gender pronouns, and even if you don’t buy her outrageous claim that Abbey’s patriarchy basically killed him, it’s harder to argue with her case on his racism. She quotes piecemeal from an Abbey passage in Confessions, but in the interest of letting ol’ Ed speak for himself, here’s the whole eyebrow-raising section, which it must be noted was written in 1963, in the midst of the civil rights movement:
According to the morning newspaper, the population of America will reach 267 million by 2000 AD. An increase of forty million, or about one-sixth, in only seventeen years! And the racial composition of the population will also change considerably: the white birth rate is about sixty per thousand females, the Negro rate eighty-three per thousand, and the Hispanic rate ninety-six per thousand.
Am I a racist? I guess I am. I certainly do not wish to live in a society dominated by blacks, or Mexicans, or Orientals. Look at Africa, at Mexico, at Asia.
Garrett Hardin [the author of Tragedy of the Commons] compares our situation to an overcrowded lifeboat in a sea of drowning bodies. If we take more aboard, the boat will be swamped and we’ll all go under. Militarize our borders. The lifeboat is listing.
Well, there’s not much ambiguity here. Abbey’s views would fit right in among today’s vigilante border militias, white-power groups, and right-wing talk-radio haters.
Close readers of Abbey know that he had plenty of rough edges, most of which he took no pains to hide. But his flagrant racism is indeed a major strike against sainting the man as some sort of green prophet.
S@sh@ knows she’s messing with an icon and even grudgingly gives Abbey his due. But she also ultimately takes to heart his advice to “resist much, obey little”:
These quotations are difficult to inscribe within this journal—like the Earth First! Journal itself, Abbey’s writing has done much to inspire the environmental movement to direct action. We should recognize his contributions. To be sure, he was not alone in his oppressive beliefs; it was a different time, and they pervaded and hampered the whole EF! movement. … [But] Remember, the revolutionary presence that drove Abbey and his minions away created space for the philosophical introductions of eco-feminism, deep ecology, and bio-centrism. We should never return to the petulant and puerile egoism of certain old traditions.
Source: Earth First (article not available online)
Image by msn678, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009 1:51 PM
Psychologists have found that people who are too cautious or deliberate can be perceived as racist, according to the We’re Only Human blog of the Association for Psychological Sciences. For the experiment, researchers from Tufts University tried to sap white volunteers of the cognitive abilities needed for self-discipline through a series of mental exercises. Then, the participants sat down to talk about race with black men who served as judges. According to the blog:
Those who were mentally depleted—that is, those lacking discipline and self-control—found talking about race with a black man much more enjoyable than did those with their self-control intact. That’s presumably because they weren’t working so hard at monitoring and curbing what they said. What’s more, independent black observers found that the powerless volunteers were much more direct and authentic in conversation. And perhaps most striking, blacks saw the less inhibited whites as less prejudiced against blacks. In other words, relinquishing power over oneself appears to thwart over-thinking and “liberate” people for more authentic relationships.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 1:30 PM
Barack Obama’s election is hailed as a step forward in American race relations. Now, researchers are trying to quantify the “Obama Effect” to figure out how it’s changing American culture. One study, reported by the New York Times, found that a test-taking achievement gap between black people and white people disappeared after Obama’s election. In other words, before Obama’s election, white people tended to do better on this test than black people. Now, that gap has disappeared, at least for this test.
The reason why that gap existed in the first place, Jonah Lehrer writes for the Frontal Cortex blog, may be due to a “stereotype threat.” Stereotypes can creep into the minds of test takers, making them perform worse on tests because of the threat, rather than any difference in intelligence.
An inspiring politician isn’t needed to erase that achievement gap, according to the WNYC show Radio Lab. All that’s needed is a simple change in language: When a test is referred to as an “intelligence test,” the gap remains. But if researchers refer to the exact same test as a “puzzle,” or some other word that is less loaded than “test,” the difference goes away.
“The real subtle power of a stereotype isn’t that it prevents you from the thing you want to do,” Radio Lab’s Jad Abumrad says, “it distracts you for just a beat from the thing you want to do. And that may be all the difference.”
Obama’s election could be lowering racism coming from white people, too. Tom Jacobs reports for Miller McCune that biases against black people registered significantly lower after Obama’s election in certain research. Researchers from Florida State University used Implicit Association Tests and found that the participants, 80 percent of which were white, showed no biases against black people, while previous studies showed a preference for white people. The researchers described this as a “fundamental change” in American race relations.
The post-election test results aren’t all positive, however. Other studies have shown that white people who expressed a preference for Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008, also expressed a preference for hiring white people over black people. That same preference didn’t come up when the participants expressed a preference for John Kerry.
“The researchers conclude that endorsing Obama helps people establish their ‘moral credentials’ as non-prejudiced people,” Jacobs writes, “and thus makes them more comfortable expressing opinions that could be regarded by some as racist.”
Sources: Miller McCune, Radio Lab, Frontal Cotex, New York Times
Image by hyperscholar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 22, 2009 1:49 PM
This Tuesday, we witnessed a milestone in U.S. race relations as Barack Obama was sworn in as this country’s first black president. His inauguration rightly gave us occasion to celebrate our progress, but when the glow from the day wears off, we’re still left with a racial reality that’s far from perfect. Writing for Colorlines, Andrew Grant-Thomas cautions against rosy declarations of a ‘post-racial’ America and offers some well penned advice for (what he hopes will be) a continuing dialogue on race and justice.
Claims that Obama’s election proves we’re beyond race, Grant-Thomas argues, stem from some problematic understandings of race and racism:
The post-racialism claim builds on the all-or-nothing approach Americans often take to making racial judgments. So President Bush’s tepid response to Hurricane Katrina revealed him to be a “racist,” but then his selection of several people of color to prominent cabinet posts proved that he is “not a racist.” Either Obama’s unprecedented achievement affirms what the Wall Street Journal calls the “myth of racism” or it is completely anomalous. Too often, we insist that race mean everything or nothing.
Such pronouncements also assume that racism is only perpetuated by individuals.
Because Americans generally take individual people to be the main vehicles of racism, we often fail to appreciate the work done by institutions and structures that are racially inequitable. But, in fact, all societies feature institutional arrangements that create and distribute benefits, burdens and interests in society. This often has nothing to do with our conscious intentions.
Consider the example of college admissions. Grades earned by high school students in Advanced Placement (AP) and other college-prep courses may be the single most influential factor in admissions decisions (often more important than overall GPA, class rank, or test scores, and far more important than “diversity” considerations). In a society where white students are much more likely than Black and Latino students to attend high schools that offer such courses, and offer more of them, weighing AP performance heavily in admissions decisions is racially inequitable.
We don’t need to conjure up racist admissions officers to get this outcome.
Grant-Thomas hopes we might take these insights into account in crafting more complex ways of talking about race. To do so, he maintains, we’ll need to acknowledge that it isn’t all or nothing, but more often, “something, but not everything.” We’ll also need to recognize that racial justice means more than treating each other well; it also means addressing systems that favor certain groups over others. These are commitments best made together, because, as he writes in closing, “Barack Obama may prove willing and able to lead the way on the next stage of the journey, but he can’t get us there by himself.”
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 1:40 PM
There’s a steady feed of anxiety buzzing across the airwaves and blogosphere about Barack Obama falling short on Election Day.
First, there’s the infomercial gamble.
Then there’s the incessant stream of bad news about voter suppression. And the potential of a Florida redux.
And where to begin with the polls? Nate Silver’s soothing graphics and heady analysis can’t even stave the fear that the polls are way off. The New Republic and Washington Post have some scary bedtime reading on that front. But what about the impact of Obama’s perceived lead? Will it keep would-be Obama voters at home? Will it convince hard lefters to go Green Party? How anyone in a post-Bush v. Gore world could succumb to such a line seems inconceivable, but my colleagues Julie and Danielle kindled such irrational fears in me yesterday by reporting that Green Party nitwits at Minneapolis’ trendiest co-op are handing out fliers for Cynthia McKinney with the chant, “Obama’s up 14 points.”
As if this glut of fear weren’t enough, some folks are spinning some hypothetical nightmare scenarios with all the care of horror film scriptwriters.
Newseek’s Jonathan Alter was kind enough to spin this Halloween-esque yarn about “Why McCain Won”:
Obama shifted New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada from red to blue. But there was a reason Virginia hadn't gone Democratic since 1964. The transformation of the northern part of the state couldn't overcome a huge McCain margin among whites farther south. They weren't the racists of their parents' generation, but they weren't quite ready to vote for the unthinkable, either.
Obama had wired every college campus in the country, and he enjoyed great enthusiasm among politically engaged young people. But less-engaged students told reporters the day after the election that they had meant to vote for Obama but were "too busy." History held: young people once again voted in lower percentages than their elders. Waiting for them turned out to be like waiting for Godot.
And then there’s this personalized bit of horror that’s making the rounds from MoveOn.org. (I thank my big brother for sending it to me after I rattled on a little too long about recurring nightmares of McCain taking Pennsylvania.)
So what’s a nervous wreck to do, outside of hitting the bottle or the Xanax?
Normally, I wouldn’t turn to Larry David for advice about anxiety, but he does offer one option that, I suspect, many others are taking:
The one concession I’ve made to maintain some form of sanity is that I've taken to censoring my news, just like the old Soviet Union. The citizenry (me) only gets to read and listen to what I deem appropriate for its health and well-being.
Of course, there’s always yoga. The Huffington Post’s Tara Stiles has some election-timed tips in this video.
The Associated Press has a few suggestions as well:
Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising. You'll feel better while recognizing those things you can control, says Wilmette, Ill.-based psychologist Nancy Molitor.
Realize that no candidate is as good — or as bad — as you might imagine, Molitor says.
When all else fails, change the subject, says Lisa Miller, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University Teachers College in New York. "Turn to those things which are more eternal and more important, such as nature and family," she says. "It's a great time to go into nature. Go camping."
Unfortunately, these tips seem about as realistically helpful as the fantastical prescriptions the Stranger came up with last month, such as Palium, which “[i]nduces a Valium-like calm with respect to all things Sarah Palin.”
In truth, the best plan is to either tune out until November 5th or white-knuckle it until the results are in (really in).
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 12:43 PM
Talk of assassination during this presidential election has been a taboo violated in a few notorious instances. But yesterday’s discovery of a disturbing, if far-fetched, neo-Nazi plot to assassinate Barack Obama has renewed anxiety about various worst-case scenarios that many people think about but few mention aloud.
Yesterday’s revelation is only the latest resurgence of the A-word. There was Hillary Clinton’s unfortunate RFK gaffe last spring. There are jokes made by Fox pundits. There are websites created by insane people. And then there are the sentiments of those at Sarah Palin’s rallies, who have shouted “Kill him!” on more than one occasion.
Blog chatter among those sympathetic to the candidate is marked by anxiety. After Gawker ran a photo of Obama addressing a crowd of 100,000 in St Louis, some commenters fretted about him appearing in such wide-open spaces. “I was going to say something about how much this looked like a Kennedy or MLK Jr. rally, then I remembered how that panned out for them,” wrote one. “I just want to fast forward to November 5, if only so I can stop holding my breath.”
Another worried: “This sort of open air speech setting seems almost [to be] defying history to me. It's as if Obama is thumbing his nose at common sense.”
This comment was met with a sound rebuttal: “You either have to just get out there and give your speeches and assume God or Fate is on your side, or frankly, you probably don’t have much business trying to be president, particularly in these times.”
This last suggestion seems to be the one Obama has taken to heart on the campaign trail, thumbing his nose not so much at common sense but at the cynicism, hatred, and fear-mongering that has been too much the norm of late.
Thursday, July 24, 2008 12:49 PM
It’s been an eventful week for the hip-hop artist Nas. Wednesday afternoon, he joined ColorofChange.org and MoveOn.org outside of Fox News Channel’s New York City headquarters to protest the network's coverage of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign—treatment that he and the groups allege is racist. (SOHH and Racewire have photos of the demonstration.)
The rapper then proceeded to an appearance on the Colbert Report with a 620,127-signature petition demanding that network president Roger Ailes "find a solution to address racial stereotyping and hate-mongering before it hits the airwaves." He also performed the anti-Fox track “Sly Fox” from his new album, which debuted at #1 on Tuesday after months of controversy over its title. Nas originally planned to call the LP Nigger, but abandoned the idea amid qualms from music retailers and his label. Ultimately, he released the album eponymously.
Nas' Fox-slamming and Billboard chart–topping comes at a time of heightened racial tensions in the media: not just criticism of Fox’s Obama coverage, but last week’s New Yorker cover brouhaha and ongoing questions about the role that race plays in Obama’s campaign. This week, the Root explores younger generations’ relationship to race, with a series of essays about Generation Y’s post-racist ambitions, its use of the n-word, and its supposed colorblindness.
Image by kokuziu, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 07, 2008 1:42 PM
is a most welcome addition to our library: a feminist magazine that reaches beyond DIY crafting tips and media deconstructions. Feminist discussion is best when it’s fresh, feisty, and includes diverse voices, and make/shift goes into enough depth to bridge the gap between the predictable coverage of established magazines and the relentless pace and sometimes cursory coverage of the feminist blogosphere.
In its third issue, the 2007 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for best new publication highlights feminist activism ranging from doulas working in a Washington state women’s prison to Men Can Stop Rape discussion groups in Washington, D.C. Of particular note is an elucidating interview with Mia Mingus (article not available online). As codirector of Georgians for Choice, Mingus speaks convincingly of the need to expand the discussion about reproductive choice beyond the divisive battle over abortion. For Mingus, reproductive justice is about “reproductive health, bringing sex education to the table, talking about prenatal care. Right now for us, adoption is really important.”
At first, Mingus’ concerns seem far flung. But it makes sense that Mingus—a queer, disabled, Korean transracial adoptee—thinks about reproductive justice in broad terms. She urges us to examine the global inequalities—“ableism, racism, capitalism, and a legacy of white supremacy”—that create the circumstances in which women feel obligated or compelled to give up children. Throughout the magazine, make/shift devotes much needed space to such complex and underrepresented feminist voices.
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