Passing, Identity and Race

Posted in Audio, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-04-18 00:32Z by Steven

Passing, Identity and Race

New York, New York

WNYC Newsroom

When Anita Florence Hemmings applied to attend Vassar College in upstate New York in 1893, she did not disclose her racial identity to the school. She passed as a white student for years before eventually being outed as a black woman shortly before graduation, after her white roommate’s family hired a private detective to investigate her background.

“Even though Vassar allows her to graduate after she’s been outed to the (college) president, she becomes the subject of a national scandal,” Vassar film professor Mia Mask told WNYC’s Jami Floyd. “And she’s worried that she will be unemployable after her time at Vassar.”

Now, Hemmings’s story is helping to launch a deeper conversation at the college. The conference, Quiet As It’s Kept; Passing Subjects, Contested Identities, runs from Friday Apr. 5 through Sunday Apr. 7.

For the professors coordinating the event, the topic spins off related discussions.

“Part of what happens when we start talking about passing and how we perform our identities is that we also get into a conversation about authenticity,” said English professor Hiram Perez. “It also brings us into this complex conversation about the different ways that we police one another.”

The conference is slated to include presentations about many forms of passing pertaining to race, sexuality, gender, ability, religion, and class.

Listen to the story (00:07:56) here.

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Hello World: How Nike Sold Tiger Woods

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2013-11-26 21:01Z by Steven

Hello World: How Nike Sold Tiger Woods

The Margins (After 1989)
Asian American Writer’s Workshop

Hiram Perez, Assistant Professor of English
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

How did a multinational corporation like Nike appeal to diverse markets without violating the principle of colorblindness that became increasingly and insidiously sacrosanct in the U.S. in the 1990s? A deconstruction of two infamous Tiger Woods ads sheds some light.

Percussion punctuates the chanting voices of boys and men as images of Tiger Woods, first as a toddler, then a young man, are choreographed into a montage that builds to an emotional, triumphalist crescendo. Over footage of fist-pumping victories and slow-motion shots of Woods, golf club in hand, walking across greens surrounded by galleries of peers, media, and fans, the following title sequence appears:

Hello world.

I shot in the 70s when I was 8.

I shot in the 60s when I was 12.

I played in the Nissan Open when I was 16.

Hello world.

I won the U.S. Amateur when I was 18.

I played in the Masters when I was 19.

I am the only man to win three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles.

Hello world.

There are still courses in the U.S. I am not allowed to play

because of the color of my skin.

Hello world.

I’ve heard I’m not ready for you.

Are you ready for me?

Nike made Woods the new major face of its brand when he turned professional in 1996. That year Nike signed Woods to a 40-million dollar, five-year contract (eclipsed by the $100 million dollar contract that followed in 2001) and released its controversial “Hello World” television campaign. The skilled editing, writing, and scoring of the ad elicits goose bumps to this day, even from cynical viewers (like me)…

…Tiger Woods’ racial celebrity personifies the paradox of ’90s racial discourse: a simultaneous institutionalization of diversity politics and colorblind universalism. This union of seemingly contradictory ideologies becomes a hallmark of liberal multiculturalism and its commodity forms. Race does not matter, or it matters only insofar as it can be commercialized.

We see this clearly in “I am Tiger Woods,” the second Nike campaign for Tiger Woods released in 1996, which universalizes multiraciality to herald colorblindness. The television commercial begins with a black boy pronouncing, “I am Tiger Woods.” The next shot features an Asian girl doing the same—hardly a coincidence since Woods is the son of a black father and Thai mother. Accompanied by percussion and the flute-like sounds of a falsetto chant, several more children follow, each making identical pronouncements. In the final shot, Tiger Woods appears on a dewy green striking a golf ball in slow motion, and a white subtitle at the bottom of the screen announces, “I am Tiger Woods.” The ad succeeds in evacuating the fact of Woods’ blackness much more effectively than his now infamous identification as “Cablinasian.” Personal criticism of Woods at the time for his use of this neologism could have been more productively directed at Nike’s construction of Woods’ transcendent racial celebrity, an iconography that so effectively sutured multiculturalism to colorblindness. The celebrity of Tiger Woods and its corporatization safeguard status quo, institutionalized racism.

However paradoxical, colorblindness and multiculturalism ultimately advance similar ideologies. Each imagines racial difference independently from systemic racism. Liberal multiculturalism promotes diversity for the sake of diversity and has little interest in radically challenging the institutions that secure white privilege…

Read the entire article here.

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How to Rehabilitate a Mulatto: The Iconography of Tiger Woods

Posted in Books, Chapter, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2013-11-26 20:34Z by Steven

How to Rehabilitate a Mulatto: The Iconography of Tiger Woods

Chapter in East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture (pages 222-245)

New York University Press
May 2005
382 pages
29 illustrations
Cloth ISBN: 9780814719626
Paperback ISBN: 9780814719633

Edited By:

Shilpa Davé, Assistant Dean, College of Arts and Sciences; Assistant Professor of Media Studies and American Studies
University of Virginia

LeiLani Nishime, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies
University of Washington

Tasha Oren, Associate Professor of English
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Foreword by:

Robert G. Lee, Associate Professor of American Studies
Brown University

Chapter Author:

Hiram Perez, Assistant Professor of English
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

“A Real American Story”

Tiger Woods’s tongue-in-cheek identification as “Cablinasian” on the Oprah Winfrey Show in April 1997 resulted in such contentiousness within the black community that Winfrey followed up later that same month with a program devoted to the “Tiger Woods Race Controversy” Woods’s identification as Cablinasian during that interview has more often than not been taken out of context. He relates arriving at that category (“Ca, Caucasian; bl, black; in, Indian; Asian—Cablinasian”) during his childhood as a survival strategy against racist taunting and violence, including an incident after the first day of kindergarten when he was tied to a tree and called a monkey and a nigger. However, that moment on Oprah when he pronounced the word “Cablinasian” constituted for the multiracial category movement an Amalgamation Proclamation of sorts. Following the program, he was soundly blasted by black media and intellectuals, among them Manning Marable, but such criticism has only deepened the resolve of the multiracial category movement that its ranks are misunderstood and victimized not only by a dominant culture but by other racial minorities, particularly what they regard as a militant, uniracial old guard.

The white parents of biracial (in this case, usually black and white) children constitute the majority of the proponents for the addition of a multiracial category to the census. These parents are attempting to protect their children from what they perceive as the hardships that ensue from identification as black. As Tanya Katerí Hernández explains, “White parents will seize opportunities to extend their privilege of whiteness to non-White persons they care about.” Their naiveté lies in the belief that evading the legal classification “black” or “African American” will entirely spare a child from the socioeconomic and psychic hardships common to black people. An examination of the history of passing confirms that the legacy of hypodescent is never eradicated by the act of passing. Part of the insidiousness of racial classification in the Americas, which relies on notions of racial contamination and purity, is the manner in which that one drop of tainted blood assumes a ghostly life, not just in terms of its symbolic quality (by which the threat of invisibility is managed) but by its perpetual return either across generations or, for the subject who passes, at that inevitable moment of confession or betrayal.

I argue that the celebrity of a figure such as Tiger Woods functions to rehabilitate the mulatto in order to announce the arrival of a new color-blind era in U.S. history. Woods’s multiracial identity is recuperated as a kind of testimonial to racial progress that simultaneously celebrates diversity in the form of Cablinasianness and the multiplicity that category suggests while erasing the histories of black disenfranchisement, racial-sexual violence, and U.S. imperialism that generate, result from, and entrench the legal, scientific, and popular definitions of race, including each racial component of Cablinasianness and their various amalgamations. The word Tiger Woods chooses to describe his racial makeup effects, ironically, his racial unmaking. As I demonstrate in this essay, Nike advertising, with the exception of the company’s very first television advertisement featuring Woods, obliquely references race only to register its insignificance (within the discourse of constitutional color-blindness) or to capitalize (just as obliquely) on racial fantasies about the black body and the Asian body. The Tiger Woods iconography shuttles seamlessly between race consciousness and racial elision. That seamlessness is facilitated by the unlikely union in recent years between the ostensibly incompatible ideologies of multiculturalism and color-blindness. Although multiculturalism and the rhetoric of color-blindness appear to espouse contradictory positions, these philosophies ultimately advance very similar ideologies, as various critical race theorists and cultural critics have already argued. Diversity, as a central goal of multiculturalism, does not transform the economic, legal, and cultural institutions that secure white privilege. Both multiculturalism and color-blindness conceive of racial difference as independent of institutionalized racism. The inconsistencies implicit in the iconography of Tiger Woods (i.e., a celebration of multiraciality that simultaneously heralds color-blindness) become transparent in the U.S.,” provides one of the earliest articulations of the model minority stereotype: “At a time when it is being proposed that hundreds of billions be spent on uplifting Negroes and other minorities, the nation’s 300,000 Chinese Americans are moving ahead on their own with no help from anyone else.” Just as model minority rhetoric functions to discipline the unruly black bodies threatening national stability during the post-civil rights era, the infusion of Asian blood together with his imagined Confucian upbringing corrals and tames Tigers otherwise brute physicality. Some variation of his father trained the body and his mother trained the mind is a recurring motif for sports commentators diagnosing Woods’s success at golf. Earl Woods has encouraged this fantasy:

Her teaching methods weren’t always orthodox, but they were effective. When Tiger was just a toddler, she wrote the addition and multiplication tables out for him on 3-by-5-inch cards, and he would practice them over and over every day. He started with addition and later advanced to multiplication as he got older. His reward was an afternoon on the range with me. Tida established irrevocably that education had a priority over golf. (Woods 9)

The qualities of Woods’s model minority mother compensate for the black man’s cognitive deficiencies. In fact, since the stereotype of the model minority secures the normalcy of whiteness by attributing Asian American successes (the evidence for which is often exaggerated and overly generalized) to a biological predisposition toward overachievement, the contributions of the Asian mother actually exceed the capacity for white blood and a Protestant work ethic to compensate for black degeneracy. Woods’s success at golf, traditionally a sport reserved for the white elite, is in part explained by the logic of eugenics.

The celebration of Tiger Woods as the embodiment of American multiculturalism and racial democracy institutes an instance of “organized forgetting.” Oprah Winfrey’s celebratory vision of Tiger Woods as “America’s son” displaces, for example, historical memories of the bastardized children of white slave owners or U.S. soldiers overseas. Miscegenation as a legacy of slavery is forgotten, as is the miscegenation that has resulted from the various U.S. military occupations in Asia dating back to the late nineteenth century…

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Two or Three Spectacular Mulatas and the Queer Pleasures of Overidentification

Posted in Articles, Arts, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2010-03-05 01:18Z by Steven

Two or Three Spectacular Mulatas and the Queer Pleasures of Overidentification

Camera Obscura
Volume 23, Number 1 67 (2008)
pages 113-143
DOI: 10.1215/02705346-2007-026

Hiram Perez, Assistant professor of English
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

Building on feminist and queer scholarship on the relationship of film spectatorship to subjectivity, this essay conjectures subaltern spectatorships of the two US film adaptations of Fannie Hurst‘s 1933 novel Imitation of Life as a means of tracing the impossibly entangled discourses of race and sexuality, as well as of formulating “queer of color” as a kind of critical modality. Much like Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s Uncle Tom’s Cabin functions, according to Sigmund Freud, as a cultural artifact prized in the form of an idealized beating fantasy by the Victorian (white) child, Imitation of Life stages for black and queer of color spectators originary traumas, in particular the formative (and compounded) experiences of racial and sexual shame. This essay seeks to reconcile the dissonant emotions evoked by Imitation of Life by reading the overidentifications of subaltern spectators with the figure of the tragic mulatto as instances of queer pleasure, both self-shattering and subject forming. In so doing, the essay pays tribute to that tragic mulatto as a spectacular mulata and diva. The spectacular mulata diva summons queer subjectivities; furthermore, she betrays larger national and colonial secrets, locating the racially hybrid genealogies of the classic diva and the universalized subject of psychoanalysis, heretofore presumably white (European).

Read or purchase the article here.

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