Tag Archives: race

The Wild West Meets the Southern Border

4 Jun

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

Tombstone’s reënactors re-create a peculiar and selective representation of the past. Photograph by Chris Verene for The New Yorker

Shakespeare is in New Mexico. Tombstone, in Arizona. Both are old mining towns near the U.S.-Mexico border. They came into existence in the eighteen-seventies, during the silver strike, but soon suffered the same fate as most of the other mining towns in the region: boom, depression, abandonment, and then a strange kind of afterlife.

Some years ago, I spent a summer in the Southwest with my then husband, our daughter, and my two stepsons, and we visited both places. It was 2014, the immigration crisis was very much in the news—unaccompanied children from Central America were arriving at the border in unprecedented numbers, seeking asylum—and I was beginning to do research on the situation. My husband and I were obsessively meeting deadlines, and the kids were getting impatient with us, feeling…

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How the Census Changed America

1 May

 

The inventor Herman Hollerith devised a punch-card system to record census information. His invention transformed data-processing technology. Photograph by American Stock Archive / Archive Photos / Getty

In April, the Supreme Court began to hear arguments about one of the central requirements of the Constitution. It’s right there, in Article I, Section 2, clause 3: For a government of the people to function, the people must be counted. The Founders wanted an “enumeration” to occur within three years of the first meeting of Congress, and then “within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” A census, in other words.

So begins Ted Widmer’s brief consideration of some of the history of the U.S. Census. While he rightly notes the partial exclusion of African Americans for much of this history, he fails to note the even longer exclusion of most American Indians. Indians were not declared U.S. citizens until an act of Congress in 1924.

You may read Widmer’s entire New Yorker article here.

Blackface in some historical perspective

5 Feb

Last Friday, it was revealed that Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of Virginia, had featured, on his medical-school yearbook page, a photograph of a man in blackface and a man in a Ku Klux Klan hood. Northam immediately apologized for appearing in the photo, but he then changed his story and said that neither person in the photograph was him; he did, however, say that he had once put shoe polish on his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. By the end of the weekend, many members of the Virginia and national Democratic parties had called for Northam’s resignation.

To discuss the subject of blackface and its historical role in American politics, culture, and racism, I spoke by phone with Eric Lott, who teaches American studies at the cuny Graduate Center and is the author of “Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy & the American Working Class.” An edited and condensed version of our conversation is below.

You made read the New Yorker interview with historian Lott here. And, to read the Native News Online op-ed entitled Why is Blackface Racist but Playing Indian is Not? click here.

Black Lives and the Boston Massacre

12 Dec

On March 5, 1770, at a little after nine o’clock in the evening, men in uniform shot and killed an unarmed black man named Crispus Attucks. They got away with it.

This may seem like a radical way to introduce the Boston Massacre, that seminal episode in American history in which British soldiers fired on a mob, killing five men. But it is not far from how John Adams described the events to jurors while defending those soldiers at trial. The future president would later say that winning their acquittal was “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” He engaged in some excellent lawyering, no doubt about it. The trial cemented Adams’s reputation as the archetypal lawyer-as-hero, a man willing to be hated in order to give individuals the chance to have their cause fairly heard. And it confirmed for Revolutionary British North Americans that theirs was a cause rooted in legal ideals. We have remembered the trial this way ever since: as a triumph of principle over self-interest or impetuous emotionalism. But an honest look at the transcript complicates the story by showing how racial prejudice contributed to the outcome. A critical part of Adams’s strategy was to convince the jury that his clients had only killed a black man and his cronies and that they didn’t deserve to hang for it.

So begins Farah Peterson’s masterful and sobering review of John Adams’s defense of the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre. You may read the rest of her American Scholar article here.

THE ENSLAVED CHEFS WHO INVENTED SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

26 Jul

“We need to forget about this so we can heal,” said an elderly white woman, as she left my lecture on the history of enslaved cooks and their influence on American cuisine.  Something I said, or perhaps everything I said, upset her.

My presentation covered 300 years of American history that started with the forced enslavement of millions of Africans, and which still echoes in our culture today, from the myth of the “happy servant” (think Aunt Jemima on the syrup bottle) to the broader marketing of black servitude (as in TV commercials for Caribbean resorts, targeted at white American travelers). I delivered the talk to an audience of 30 at the Maier Museum of Art in Lynchburg, Virginia. While I had not anticipated the woman’s displeasure, trying to forget is not an uncommon response to the unsettling tale of the complicated roots of our history, and particularly some of our beloved foods.

So begins Kelley Fanto Deetz’s essay at Zocalo Public Square about slave chefs and Southern hospitality. You may read the entire essay here.

Archiving While Black

23 Jul

Among the things 2018 will be remembered for is mainstream culture’s realization that white Americans use the police to challenge black entry into “white” spaces. Countless viral news stories detail how white people have called the police on black people for cooking, shopping, driving — basically for existing while black. A black body in a space presumed to be white is at best out of place and at worst a threat. This reality extends to less visible spaces, such as the historical archive. The archive, and black marginalization within it, has important implications for both scholarly and popular ideas about history.

So begins Ashley Farmer’s thoughtful “read” of archival exclusivity at the Chronicle of Higher Education. You may read her entire piece here.

Government Boarding Schools Once Separated Native American Children From Families

21 Jun

Carlisle Indian School

In 1879, U.S. cavalry captain Richard Henry Pratt opened a boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. But it wasn’t the kind of boarding school that rich parents send their children to. Rather, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was a government-backed institution that forcibly separated Native American children from their parents in order to, as Pratt put it, “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Over the next several decades, Carlisle served as a model for nearly 150 such schools that opened around the country. Like the 1887 Dawes Act that reallotted Native American land, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ 1902 “haircut order”specifying that men with long hair couldn’t receive rations, Native American boarding schools were a method of forced assimilation. The end goal of these measures was to make Native people more like the white Anglo-Americans who had taken over their land.

So begins Becky Little’s concise historical reminder at History.com of Indian Boarding Schools. You may read her entire post here.

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