How Nella Larsen’s Passing deconstructed the question of race

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-11-15 17:38Z by Steven

How Nella Larsen’s Passing deconstructed the question of race

The New Statesman

Gary Younge, Professor of Sociology
University of Manchester

Photo by Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Larsen’s 1929 novel, now a Netflix film, illustrates the degree to which race is a construct – without lecturing the reader.

Every year approximately 12,000 white-skinned Negroes disappear,” Walter White, the former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, wrote in a 1947 article. “People whose absence cannot be explained by death or emigration… Men and women who have decided that they will be happier and more successful if they flee from the proscription and humiliation which the American colour line imposes on them.”

White had first-hand experience. The black president of the NAACP had blonde hair and blue eyes. He would “disappear” himself from time to time, so that he could safely investigate lynching in the American South. The piece, published in TIME magazine, was called “Why I Choose to Remain a Negro”.

The term “passing” relates to those who disappear – pretending to be something, and therefore someone, that they are not, usually in search of a better, safer or easier life. The practice is not limited to race. It could be a Jew posing as a gentile; a Catholic as a Protestant. But the challenges remain the same and lend themselves easily to narrative tension – the need to cut yourself off from your past, the fear of being discovered, the construction of a life that is a lie.

Nella Larsen’s laconic novella, Passing, draws from the human toll and intrigue that emerges from the transgression, subterfuge and outright deceit involved in an African American woman passing as white in 1920s America. Published in 1929, it has been adapted into a film by the British actor Rebecca Hall, now streaming on Netflix. The novella has long been one of my favourites among the works from the Harlem Renaissance, the literary movement that emerged among black artists and writers in 20th-century New York and saw the likes of Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen and Aaron Douglas become prominent. Sparsely written, character-driven and emotionally complex, it illustrates the degree to which black is a political colour, race is a construct, and racism is a system in which colour is a component, not a determinant – without actually lecturing the reader on any of that…

Read the entire article here.

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The clear genetic boundaries that racists crave to bolster their narrative are simply absent from the analyses of our 20,000-odd genes and their variants.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2020-02-07 19:27Z by Steven

The claim that genetics supports any form of racism – or that it supports the idea of race as a biologically meaningful concept – is a fallacy, argues the geneticist, author and Twitter warrior Adam Rutherford, in this slim, two-fingered salute to the haters: “The continual failure to settle on the number of races is indicative of its folly. No one has ever agreed how many races there are, nor what their essential features might be, aside from the sweeping generalisations about skin colour, hair texture and some facial features.” The clear genetic boundaries that racists crave to bolster their narrative are simply absent from the analyses of our 20,000-odd genes and their variants.

Anjana Ajuha, “The pseudoscience of hate,” The New Statesman, February 5, 2020.

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Andrea Levy, my brilliant friend

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2020-02-07 16:02Z by Steven

Andrea Levy, my brilliant friend

The New Statesman

Gary Younge

Remembering the novelist, one year after her death.

While Bill Mayblin, the novelist Andrea Levy’s widower, was gathering her things for the British Library archive, he came across a red Moleskine book containing a handwritten tale that he’d never seen before.

Entitled “Two”, it is a brief dialogue between two unnamed functionaries working for the Grim Reaper . They are discussing Andrea’s impending death. With a mixture of wry cynicism, callous ambivalence and bureaucratic nonchalance they ponder her admittance, as though standing at a water cooler in a celestial call centre.

I have someone for you.
Good. Male or female?
Don’t be silly, we haven’t done childbirth in ages. It’s a bit rare you know.
Around here maybe but not in other parts.
Well, maybe so. But childbirth… no. Cancer.
Of course.
I’m not going to have to hang about for ages am I? Only the last one took years.
It’s on. It’s off. Tries my patience.

As a close friend of Andrea’s, who talked with her a lot about the cancer she had and the death that was coming, I found the voices were recognisably hers. She lived with cancer for a decade – long enough for her to joke that she stopped telling people about it because some looked almost disappointed when they bumped into her and found her looking fine…

Read the entire article here.

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The pseudoscience of hate

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2020-02-06 18:35Z by Steven

The pseudoscience of hate

The New Statesman

Anjana Ajuha, Contributing Science Writer
The Financial Times

Genetics does not recognise race as a biologically meaningful concept, but that doesn’t stop racists invoking its findings.

How To Argue With a Racist: History, Science, Race and Reality. Adam Rutherford Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 224pp, £12.99

Accidental encounters with racists lead me to believe that they are open to neither reason nor self-improvement. I must conclude, then, that a book entitled How to Argue With a Racist will remain untouched by those who would most benefit from reading it. This is a pity, as there is a growing army who have succumbed to a phenomenon known as “race realism”. This is racism reinterpreted for the internet age: a heady brew of misunderstood science, ugly conspiracy and plain old prejudice that forms the basis of (usually) far-right and white supremacist thinking.

Race realism promotes the spurious idea that science has uncovered distinct and meaningful differences between races but that this “truth” is somehow suppressed by snowflake scientists in hock to political correctness. Those supposed truths are then contorted by their abusers into parodies of racial destiny: black men are born to sprint but not to swim; Jews are born into moneylending; and, of course, whites are born above all others. Black people are several rungs below white peers on the social ladder not because of systemic oppression and discrimination but because they are naturally more stupid.

It is a perverse system of thought that seeks to justify racial separateness and conveniently reinforce assertions of white superiority. This is an ideology treading water amid the flood of data pouring out of genetics studies and a mistaken concept of ancestry propagated by the consumer DNA testing market – which happily nurtures fantasies of Viking descent…

Read the entire review here.

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Who is to blame for Donald Trump’s victory?

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-11-11 23:15Z by Steven

Who is to blame for Donald Trump’s victory?

New Statesman

Helen Lewis, Deputy Editor

A narrative that attributes Trump’s triumph to the “working class” forgets the role of racism, sexism and the right-wing media.

As it became clear that Donald Trump had won Pennsylvania, putting the presidency in the grasp of those tiny hands, the activist and academic Van Jones looked crushed. “It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us,” he told CNN viewers. “You tell your kids: ‘Don’t be a bully.’ You tell your kids: ‘Don’t be a bigot.’ You tell your kids: ‘Do your homework and be prepared.’ And then you have this outcome.”

There are many ways to read Trump’s victory, but all of them should acknowledge just how improbable it would have seemed even a few years ago. The real-estate magnate has been both a registered Democrat and a Republican; he has married three times and had numerous girlfriends; he was initially progressive on subjects such as abortion. Hell, he might even believe in evolution. Normally these would have been seen as disqualifying characteristics for anyone seeking the Republican nomination…

…In the coming days, mentally insert the word “white” into any commentary you hear about the “working class” or the “left behind”. African Americans, not a well-off sector of the population, voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton; she had a lead among Hispanic voters. The group that voted Trump is the same demographic that brought us Brexit: older, white, living outside the big cities, with not much, but something to lose. Many feel ill-equipped for the future: Trump scored a landslide among white voters without a degree.

The racism was there from the start. Trump’s candidacy was born through questioning the legitimacy of the first mixed-race president. Some of his supporters post anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter and shout “lügenpresse”, a Nazi-era term meaning “lying press”, at journalists. The campaign turned a blind eye to this. At rallies, Trump always included his own version of a two-minute hate directed at the media, which were confined to a press pen. His final campaign video named prominent Jewish public figures – Janet Yellen of the Fed, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs – alongside classic tropes of “global special interests” that “control the levers of power”. Although many conservative local newspapers turned against him, Trump did secure one coveted endorsement: from the Crusader, the official publication of the Ku Klux Klan

Read the entire article here.

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