black

Strange Fruit Hanging, From the Poplar Trees. Blood on the leaves

Steve McQueen, Lynching Tree, 2013

Steve McQueen, Lynching Tree, 2013

Steve Mcqueen’s image of the lynching or poplar tree, which is its legit name, has a dark past tied to the African American culture and people. The poplar tree was a tree where many black men and women were hung to death in the early 20th century and it has been illustrated through popular culture in music.

The poplar tree is a symbol for life because of its strong branches, and it is grown and strong and sturdy, but also a symbol for death because of the strange fruit hanging from it. The use of strange fruit as a metaphor, in the song by Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday, really connects the idea of something growing from a tree and producing life. When someone thinks of something fruitful, they will assume its rich with life and purpose and purpose but the adjective “strange” is really what gives the idea of the poplar tree bearing “strange fruit” the opposite of life and relates back to death. In the song strange fruit relate to the black people, and when she sings “Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” it literally translates to the dark past that poplar trees were used to lynch black people. The poplar trees were not used for bearing life but for the slaughter of African Americans.

Kanye West another popular musician also, took his stance about the poplar tree, and the lynching of black people in his most recent album Yeezus, in the song “Blood on the Leaves”. This is also interesting because Kanye West based his song on the exact same message of “Strange Fruit” but decided to tell it in a more contemporary and modern way to reteach history that may have been forgotten. The title of the song Blood on the Leaves, like “Strange Fruit”, carries a strong message. Blood on the leaves means literally blood of the African American victims that were lynched on the leaves of the tree. It also has a personified meaning of having blood on someones hands after someone kills someone. The trees leaves are now stained because it was used to murder people. Further into the song, the song begins to illustrate the horrors that occurred. Not only did it illustrate it but it began to point fingers to a certain part of America where it happened. “Black bodies swinging in the southern Breeze” literally illustrates that black people were hung high in the tree, and blown around by the southern breeze. The use of the southern breeze is used to remind the listener that it is not in the whole US the lynching has been going on, but it is mainly in the Southern part of the United States. This brings back to the listener of the civil war, slavery and racism that has gone on in the south during the 19th and 20th century.

The poplar tree, represented in this image does not look like much but it has so much history and importance in United States history and culture. The poplar tree’s history which has been illustrated by Billie Holiday back in the early 20th century and most recently by Kanye West in music, shows the dark past of the tree because of the lynching of African American people.

Mcqueen, Steve. “Lynching Tree.” Rap Radar. N.p., 25 Aug. 2013. Web. 1 Oct.
2013. .

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The Gradient Scale.

This is an image of a black and white gradient scale/map.

This is an image of a black and white gradient scale/map.

In black and white photography, the gradient scale happens to be one of the most important parts of the developing process.  The goal of the photographer is not just to take a picture, but to balance the brightness and darkness of the photograph to make a variety of shades of gray.  In society, white people work hard to find the grays, or the “acceptable blacks,” (not “too” black, but instead gray enough to be recognized, not necessarily seen) to make their world more diverse.

In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the narrator takes the readers on a journey of his experiences as a black man in the early 1900s.  The places he visits and people he meets influence his realization of his invisibility.  A photo gradient scale becomes a representation of how white and Black people play a key role in the process of assimilation in society.  Whites at the beginning of the scale and blacks at the end.

At the top of the gradient scale is white.  Bright.  Pure.  A standard.  In society, white people are seen; they stand out in ways others fail to do so.  During slavery, white people brought the Africans to America, got rid of the Native Americans and made America a Christian country.  White males were then deemed the “Founding Fathers” of this country. Therefore, everything done by others, positively uplifts the reputation of white Americans in society. Everything they do, have done, and will do is considered to be the “right” way. What those of other races contribute to the country is ignored, making all, especially those who are Black, invisible.

The series of clips above give the viewer a history lesson behind the prominent African-Americans who were erased from history. Famous pictures, video clips, and art featuring mainly whites are examined by television host Glenn Beck, who challenges one to take a deeper look into how society erases Blacks from history and replaces them with only the supreme whites. Beck interacts with the audience to see if they can understand the problem with trying to erase critical parts of history. He also interviews experts to understand why people tend to do such, and why others, especially African-Americans, allow it to happen.

In Invisible Man, the narrator’s interaction with Mr. Norton was a clear representation of such.  He tells the narrator, ‘”Your great founder…had tens of thousands of lives dependent upon his ideas and upon his actions.  What he did affected your whole race. In a way, he had the power of a king, or in a sense, of a god” (Ellison, 45). Superiority is key in the white community. Everything that one, from any race, does impacts their lives and their destiny. White Americans remain at the beginning of the gradient scale and as a result, blacks are considered inferior.

The color black is placed at the end of the gradient scale because of the reputation of the color:  less than, dirty, invisible.  Their failure to realize they are invisible and adjust their identity keeps them at the end of the scale, creating a name for themselves that most look down upon.  In the book, the narrator states that all of the students at the college “hated the black-belt people, the “peasants,” during those days!…They did everything it seemed to pull us down” (Ellison, 47). Black people are considered to be under-performing and poor and in return are looked over and ignored. They fail to realize that their many contributions to this country and value are not seen by others.  Without awareness of their invisibility to others, the mass of black people have continued to keep their race from progressing and have lead to others learning to assimilate to the white world.

The concept of the gradient scale can further be related to Paul Beatty’s novel The White Boy Shuffle. Similarly to the protagonist in Invisible Man, the main character, Gunnar Kaufman, struggles to find his Black identity during his experiences in both Black and white communities. What is most interesting about the novel’s relation to the gradient scale is that the two colors (black and white) are directly elaborated upon in the novel.

The way white was described was similar to the way it was portrayed in Invisible Man, but more subtle. It was directly stated that “White was the expulsion of colors encumbered by self-awareness and pigment,” highlighting that when white is involved, there are no other colors that are a part of it (Beatty, 35). That directly relates to how the “Founding Fathers” are the only people who receive credit for the development of this nation, and nobody else.

If one were to read through the rest of the white color description, they  would notice that “White Gunnar” and his “white ways” are described.

White Gunnar ran teasingly tight circles around the recovering hollowed-out Narc Anon addicts till they spun like dreidels and dropped dizzily to the ground. White Gunnar was a broken-stringed kite leaning into the sea breeze, expertly maneuvering in the gusty gales. White Gunnar stabbed beached jellyfish with driftwood spears and let sand crabs send him into a disco frenzy by doing the hustle on his forehead (Beatty,35).

The protagonist in Invisible Man struggled with being judged because of “acting white” or doing “white things,” and constantly questioned his ways. However, Gunnar disregarded what others thought about him, he continued to praise the white color and the culture.

The color black continues to take on a negative connotation in The White Boy Shuffle. In relation to Gunnar, black and the Black culture is described to be

an unwanted dog abandoned in the forest who finds its way home by fording flooded rivers and hitchhiking int he beds of pickup trucks and arrives at its destination only to be taken for a car ride to the desert…Black was being a nigger who didn’t know any other niggers (Beatty, 35).

Because Gunnar was disconnected from the Black culture, primarily because he grew up in a white neighborhood, and because of his experiences with other Black people in his life, mainly his father, he looked down upon the color and the overall essence of being a Black person.

The color gray is considered to take on a more neutral shade. This part of the gradient scale was saved for last because it is the part where the process of assimilation takes place. Black people who have recognized that in order for them to succeed, they must rid of some blackness and add whiteness, making them gray.  These people have paraded white Americans with the yeses and grins the Invsible Man’s grandfather spoke about.  They play the part, separating themselves from the Black community to move up in the white society. The clip bellow highlights the negative and somewhat positive effects cultural assimilation has had on African-Americans.

In Invisible Man, the protagonist’s grandfather gives him advice on how to move up in society as a Black man saying, “Live with your head in the lion’s mouth.  I want you to overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction, let ‘em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open” (Ellison, 16).  Assimilation immediately becomes the narrator’s way of survival in the world, and has become the answer to freedom from the reputation of the Black community for many Blacks today.

The concept of assimilation is directly mentioned when Gunnar explains a story about his drunken father saying,

He came naked, his entire body spray-painted white, his face drool-glued against the trunk of the swing-low tree. He ran home under the sinking Mississippi moon, his white skin tingling with assimilation.

His father pretending to be white by spray painting his body is just a small illusion to what Gunnar really struggles with while living in the white neighborhood.

The symbol of a black and white gradient scale shows how in society, white is considered to be superiority while black, inferior.  While some manage to eliminate parts of their blackness and add whiteness, to become gray, it may not always work to their advantage.  Some have been exposed to the white culture and diluted by their failure to see them. Others have realized their invisibility and have abided to the white standard. However, the problem remains that people will never understand that assimilation is not the way to go. Until those who assimilation to the white culture understand that they need to focus more on their Black identity and uplifting the Black community, the gradient scale will continue to be relevant and accurate. Whites at the top and Blacks at the bottom.

Sources:

Beatty, Paul. The White Boy Shuffle. New York: Picador, 1996. Print.

cure2arthritis. “Uplift, Accommodation, And Assimilation African American History.” Online video clip.
YouTube. YouTube, 26 Jun. 2012. Web. 12 May 2013.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, Inc., 1952. Print.

TedVoron. “Pt 1 Glenn Beck AMERICA’S BLACK FOUNDING FATHERS Founders’ Day .” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 28 May. 2010. Web. 12 May 2013.

TedVoron. “Pt 2 Glenn Beck AMERICA’S BLACK FOUNDING FATHERS Founders’ Day .” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 28 May. 2010. Web. 12 May 2013.

TedVoron. “Pt 3 Glenn Beck AMERICA’S BLACK FOUNDING FATHERS Founders’ Day .” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 28 May. 2010. Web. 12 May 2013.

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What Black Women Want; or rather, Why Black Men Don’t Only Date Black Women

What Black Women Want

or rather…

Why Black Men Don’t Only Date

Black Women

A look into the gender roles in black communities

myblackisbeautifuladvertisement

This is an advertisement (1) done by P&G featured in the May 2012 edition of Essence (2) magazine. What do these women share? What makes them different?

            What is beauty? What is it that makes one beautiful? This essay will examine the ideals of beauty in Danzy Senna’s, Caucasia (3), Paul Beatty’s, The White Boy Shuffle (4), and Nella Larsen’s, Quicksand (5) through research, reading, and the use of strong media images.

A great American poet once said, “As far as I knew white women were never lonely, except in books. White men adored them, Black men desired them and Black women worked for them.” Maya Angelou (6). Why is it that black women are pushed to the wayside when a white woman walks by? Is that really the case? Let’s look into what is really driving relationships and why it seems unfair to some, while others flourish.

black-man-white-woman

Is it the lure of the lighter skin? Maybe it’s the white woman’s fault (7)?

            According to the 2011 Census Bureau American Community Survey (8), white women earn over $100 more than black women. This is in 2011. In 1928, W.E.B Du Bois called Quicksand the “best piece of fiction that Negro America has produced since the heyday of Chesnutt.”(9) During the afro-modernism movement, Nella Larsen portrayed the difficulties of living as a black (or half-black, half-Scandinavian) woman.

“The joke is on you, Dr. Anderson. My father was a gambler who deserted my mother, a white immigrant. It is even uncertain that they were married. As I said at first, I don’t belong here. I shall be leaving at once. This afternoon. Good morning.” (Larsen, 18)

Helga was always good at dealing with the truth, but she didn’t like ambiguity. She wanted a respectable life, as do most women. Helga ends up becoming a baby-factory, popping out at least five children. She got lost while assuredly on the “right path.” Helga seduced the fat, black, southern reverend and married him out of spite. Rather than marrying the lovely (but somewhat dim-witted) Axel Olsen, Helga denies him because of his race: “But you see, Herr Olsen, I’m not for sale. Not to you. Not to any white man. I don’t at all care to be owned. Even by you.” (Larsen, 65) The specification of race by Helga is quite telling for what is to come in her future.

Now we know that a black man knocked up Helga’s white mother and left in a hurry; however, the idea that white skin is more appealing to black men is absurd, is it not?

(caution, abusive language)

(10)

Hopefully that video was enlightening. Though it may not pertain specifically to the time period at hand, it is a good start for our journey through the experiences of the blacks in literature where these opinions originate.

The three major stereotypes of black women in the media have been: The Mammy, the Sapphire, and the Jezebel.

The Mammy was a stereotypically larger, darker skinned care-giver. The Mammy will typically be the protector of the white family. It originated as a false-representation that black women enjoyed being slaves and serving the white man. This stereotype has been prevalent throughout history: from as early as the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind (11) and is still being used as satire in movies such as the 2012 film, The Campaign  (12).

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The role of the “Mammy” figure has perpetually been played by the large, black woman. (13)

Then we have the Sapphire and the Jezebel: the former is the “angry black woman,” while the latter is the overly sexualized video vixen. (14, 15)

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These stereotypes were shaped by a media-driven generation, and actually helped shape generations to come. Whether or not this was the right way to go about afro-modernism is not what is up for debate; however, we do see that in Larsen’s Quicksand, Helga does not necessarily fit into any of these distinct categories, leaving her almost lost in society:

And he had said that if all Negroes would only take a leaf out of the book of Naxos and conduct themselves in the manner of the Naxos products there would be no race problem, because Naxos Negroes knew what was expected of them. They had good sense and they had good taste. They knew enough to stay in their places, and that, said the preacher, showed good taste. (Larsen, 5)

While Helga is able to live somewhat of a posh life with Aunt Katrina and company, she cannot ever truly escape herself and her roots. During the proposal by Herr Olsen, he talks about how Helga has the “warm impulsive nature of the women of Africa” but “the soul of a prostitute.” (Larsen, 65) After going on about her selling herself, Helga realizes that she truly has a bond within her heritage; one that she did not know was even there:

Yes, I refuse you. You see, I couldn’t marry a white man. I simply couldn’t. It isn’t just you, not just personal, you understand. It’s deeper, broader than that. It’s racial. (Larsen, 65)

I’m homesick, not for America, but for Negroes. That’s the trouble. (Larsen, 68)

Larsen does a fantastic job of connecting the plight of the assumed need for interrelations between people who have black ancestors (within the past few generations) and the concept that it is much less of a choice for black women; rather, it is much more of an assumed destiny, brought upon by generations of hate for oppressors and lack of involvement in society.

This brings us to Beatty. In White Boy Shuffle, Psycho Loco chews out Gunnar for not talking to women, but it is more than just not talking to women that flicks Loco’s switch. As we see when Gunnar attempts to explain that he had a girlfriend in Santa Monica, the black community that Psycho is from does not see things the same as Gunnar: “What, some pasty white girl named Eileen, please? That don’t count. Nigger, have you ever seen any parts of the pussy?” (Beatty, 124) Beatty is showing the reader that in the society that Gunnar lives in, getting with a white woman is not even considered “getting some.”

But what happened to white women being at the top of the black man totem pole? The transition from Afro-Modernism through the Black Arts (16) movement and into Post Soul (17) era created a dichotomy between the draw of getting something that your father could not have gotten and staying true to your roots and procreating within your own race.

In Caucasia, we see the opposite. Senna attempts to show us that “Jesse” wants to be something that she is not. She yearns to be a part of the Marsh family. She wants to “reek of class” (Senna, 165), as Libby explained to Walter. Birdie Lee wants to be white because she wants to be able to have the things that the white people have. She wants to be seen as more than someone such as the “fat black chick from Africa or something” who Nicholas (and his friends) raped.

It was all right. We all took turns with her. She just lay there, looking up at us with this blank expression. But if you closed your eyes you’d kinda forget about it, you could pretend you were somewhere else. She was okay, though. I don’t remember her face much. (Senna, 171)

Birdie wants to fit in. She wants to be someone special, or at least someone who doesn’t have to hide herself all the time. Apparently being a lesbian did not work.

art23876widea

They would have made a fine couple. (20)

            Clearly there were roadblocks on the path to happiness for black women in society between the 1920’s and the 1990’s (understatement of the year), but it is interesting to read as Senna, Beatty, and Larsen take us through life-changing events of our protagonists in very different worlds. Larsen almost made it seem like it was a burden to be wanted:

Incited. That was it, the guiding principle of her life in Copenhagen. She was incited to make an impression, a voluptuous impression. She was incited to inflame attention and admiration. She was dressed for it, subtly schooled for it. And after a little while she gave herself up wholly to the fascinating business of being seen, gaped at, desired. (Larsen, 55)

Helga was a strong protagonist, but even she was caught up in the dramas in the world of love.

Before Nicholas wanted to call Birdie “Pocahontas” because she “turn(s) all brown in the sun. Like a little Indian,” (Senna, 164) and decades prior to Gunnar feeling destined to “suffer the sins of the father,” (Beatty, 5) Helga was coming to harsh truths about reality:

An illusion. Yes. But better, far better, than this terrible reality. Religion had, after all, its uses. It blunted the perceptions. Robbed life of its crudest truths. Especially it had its uses for the poor – and the blacks. For the blacks. The Negroes.

Long before the Post Soul literary movement, Larsen captured the essence of what has been traditionally the most influential thing in the black community; neigh, the world: Religion. It is religion that creates these “social norms” and often degrades women. Why doesn’t the bible talk about all men and women being equal?

Beauty. In these novels, it lay between the cracks. There are glimmers of love and beauty, but Beatty brings beauty to the forefront with his addition of Gunnar’s wife, Yoshiko. Beatty created an idea that so many would frown upon and made it into something to be admired.

Yoshiko cleared her throat and threw her hands in the air. “Brmmphh boomp ba-boom bip. I’m the king of rock – there is none higher! Sucker MC’s must call me sire!”

“Hoooo!”

“Anyone know how to say ‘I love you’ in Japanese?” (Beatty, 170)

(18)

Run-D.M.C. – King of Rock (1985) was a merging of two cultures: Rock and Rap.

The beautiful part of this relationship is that, as “forced” as it may seem, the two characters are the most real characters that we have encountered this entire semester. They don’t try to hide from each other, and neither one of them are trying to make the other into something that they are not. They are, just as King of Rock is, a perfect combination of cultures.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Each person sees beauty in his or her own unique way. Maybe that’s why these stereotypical relationships come to be. Maybe it is not the need to reject ones own race, but rather the need to expand ones horizons and experience the world outside of traditions and social norms that creates the disparities.

tumblr_m3kzdlf4Xa1rsv195o1_500

One mans trash is another mans treasure. I know whom I’m choosing. (19)

It is the running that Birdie has done that makes her scared, it is the heritage that creates relationship problems for Helga, but it is the blunt, poetically scientific look that Beatty gives Gunnar which makes him the most beautiful of characters. By not worrying about dancing the “White-boy shuffle” or not giving into making a decision between being a ball player, a poet, or a homosexual, Gunnar opens up his life to freedom. True beauty is when you free your soul. True beauty sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Make sure you are ready to embrace it.

Life is a system of half-truths and lies. Opportunistic, convenient evasion. – Langston Hughes (21)

Works Cited

  1. “My Black Is Beautiful.” Essence. Essence, n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://naturalhairinthemedia.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/myblackisbeautifuladvertisement.jpg&gt;.
  2. “Essence Magazine | Essence.com.” Essence Magazine | Essence.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.essence.com/&gt;.
  3. “Caucasia (novel).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caucasia_(novel)&gt;.
  4. “The White Boy Shuffle.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Boy_Shuffle&gt;.
  5. “Nella Larsen.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 05 Nov. 2013. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nella_Larsen&gt;.
  6. “People of Color Organize.” — As Far as I Knew White Women Were Never Lonely,…N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://peopleofcolor.tumblr.com/post/16200597984/as-far-as-i-knew-white-women-were-never-lonely&gt;.
  7. Blackmanwhitewoman. N.d. Photograph. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-gywEXDZNwa4/TbrljoGI-9I/AAAAAAAAB-4/GKgIB0OWnNs/s1600/black-man-white-woman.jpg&gt;.
  8. “African American Income.” BlackDemographicscom. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://blackdemographics.com/households/african-american-income/&gt;.
  9. Hostetler, Ann E. “The Aesthetics of Race and Gender in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand.”PMLA 105.1 (1990): 36-37. JSTOR. Modern Language Association. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/462341?seq=2&gt;.
  10. “Why Do Black Men Like White Women?” YouTube. YouTube, 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 13 May 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZPBUVycJDw&gt;.
  11. “Mammy.” IMDB. IMBD, n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0006058/quotes&gt;.
  12. “Interview “The Campaign” Actress Karen Maruyama.” Interview. Asian Social Networking and Asian Entertainment. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://blog.asianinny.com/exclusive-interviews/interview-the-campaign-actress-karen-maruyama&gt;.
  13. “Third Wave Feminism.” Third Wave Feminism. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.nathanielturner.com/thirdwavefeminismmiriamdecostawillis.htm&gt;.
  14. “Sapphire.” Sapphire. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/sapphire/esther.jpg&gt;.
  15. Jezebel. N.d. Photograph. Jezebel. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://a2.ec-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/2/8538a48ccda44701bdbed8209fd96fae/l.jpg&gt;.
  16. “Black Arts Movement.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 05 May 2013. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Arts_Movement&gt;.
  17. Scott, Cynthia C. “Black Literature in the Age of Hip-Hop.” Yahoo Voices. Yahoo, 4 June 2006. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://voices.yahoo.com/black-literature-age-hip-hop-42019.html&gt;.
  18. Run-D.M.C. – King of Rock. Perf. Run. King of Rock. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N0VnqJflAE&gt;.
  19. I’m Beautiful. N.d. Photograph. Tumblr. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m3kzdlf4Xa1rsv195o1_500.jpg&gt;.
  20. “Lovely Ladies.” Good Loving. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/imgs/hed/art23876widea.jpg&gt;.
  21. Cadet, Danielle. “Langston Hughes Birthday: 8 Quotes From The Legendary Author (PHOTOS).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/01/langston-hughes-birthday-quotes_n_2600256.html&gt;.
  22. “Great Collage.” SpiritedStrength. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://spiritedstrength.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/great-collage-of-black-and-white-people-holding-hands1.jpg&gt;.

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What Black Women Want; or rather, Why Black Men Don’t Only Date Black Women by Lee Hopcraft is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

ACTING AND ASSIMILATING: A NEW VIEW

Image

(Entitled “Mixed Race”, Source from MsAfropolitan.com)

Is America this huge melting pot of diversity? In some aspects it is, however, many individuals find it hard to identify with the “American” culture and are forced into closets of assimilation. This idea is magnified even more within racial constructs. Assimilation, in many ways, is defined as a performance.

In my primary source, there are a series of faces. Each face varies in color (ethnicity) and is shown within a radial frame. We can visibly see, through racial physical stereotypes, the various races depicted. One see’s the African American with the dark skin and full lips. One also see’s the eye on the viewers right, which is slanted like many of those of the Asian culture. These faces are physically constructed together in the form of a radial pie. We also see various skin tones and physical attributes within the artwork. Whereas the images combine to create the “big picture” (creating diversity together), the American culture works in opposition. We perform to fit the mold. Instead of embracing culture, we erase the culture to adapt to the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture and customs.

The intention of this piece may have been to show a pool of racial and cultural identities and how they come together in unity. As mentioned earlier in the introduction, many individuals see America has a huge melting pot, however, when one takes an intricate look at this idea, we may begin to question this American culture and more specifically, this issue of diversity in the US. One definition that I found on the term “American” is “Something of, relating to, or characteristic of the United States or its inhabitants”.

In the sense of this essay, when I use the term assimilation, I tend to pair it with the ideas of performance and adapting. There is also a difference when people use the terms “acting black” and “acting white”. This holds a negative stigma. Because of my education and academic success here at Elon University, I have personally had many of my black peers state that I “act white”, but not without then posing the question “What does acting black mean?”

Within White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty, the main character Gunnar Kaufman suffers a similar disconnect. This novel presents a valid and accurate alternative of intercultural and interracial understanding. Diversity within this novel is conflicted. A secondary source by Marcela Fuentes, who responds to White Boy Shuffle states, “Assimilation is a major theme, and Beatty uses it to show how conspicuous it feels to be the “other”. Gunnar is indeed “performing” in this novel. Gunnar’s character changes when he transfers schools and when/how he interacts with his new wife.

Within the novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee, we also see themes of assimilation. The main character, Dan Freeman goes through various changes of assimilating (performing and adapting) to his new surroundings. Once Freeman gets the position within the CIA, he carries on this persona of just being the typical black worker but maintains a double life outside of his work environment. It is almost like there is a character shift within the novel. Gunnar is a different character when he first begins his CIA training, when he goes to New York, when he is with his girlfriend, when he is with his prostitute, and with the gang that he helps lead.

The online movie for Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door can be found here.

In a quote from Black People in White Face: Assimilation, Culture, and the Brown Case, the author states, “This requirement of black assimilation is akin to a requirement that black people put on white face and is ultimately unacceptable as a goal for a decolonized African American community.” Is black face similar to “white face” as they relate to literal and symbolic performances?

Image

(Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows in which performers create a stereotyped caricature of a black person.)

The comparison is parallel. Not only is there a disconnect to identity and assimilation on a global and national scale, but also within the racial aspects. While growing up, I had many of the same experiences as Gunnar Kaufman. I attended a predominately black high school for my first and second years and I transferred to a private school for my remaining high school career. I was one of three African Americans of about 95 students. While there, students behaved differently and I learned how to fit it by thinking consciously of the vernacular that I used, the clothes that I wore and even the music that I listened to.  When I would go back home to visit friends, I noticed that I could switch up my demeanor. I learned the value of performing and assimilating under false pretenses. I was the “cool black guy”!

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This painting was created by Norman Rockwell and is similar to both my experiences and
 Gunnars experiences within (White Boy Shuffle).

An article by Reihan Salam called Performance Race is a great example and personal account of performing within various settings. The source states, “So, one of those things you notice when you go from a mostly black public school to a mostly white northeastern college is that there are a lot of white people who think black people are cool. Automatically. Because they’re black. For some of these kids, it’s a real ego boost, because no one actually thought they were cool at home. The problem is that the unrestrained admiration directed at the newly anointed cool black kid is contingent on reminding his new white friends that he’s black, and therefore cool. For his new “friends,” this validates the pressing need to be able to say, “I have black friends,” just in case they try to touch someone’s dreadlocks without asking or something. So the newly anointed cool black kid employs a lot of black cultural idiosyncrasies he wouldn’t actually use at home, just to make sure everyone still thinks he’s still “black enough” to be considered cool.”

This quote correlates to my aforementioned experience in my predominately white high school. I never considered myself to be a performer of race, however, I began to understand the implications how to interact in various situations with an array of people.

Within Beatty’s novel, we definitely see similarities of what Gunnar endured in comparison to the above quote. A similar quote exists within White Boy Shuffle. Gunnar states, “ I was the cool black guy. In Santa Monica, like most predominantly white sanctuaries from urban blight. “Cool black guy” is a versatile identifier used to distinguish the harmless black male from the Caucasian juvenile while maintaining politically correct semiotics.”

Both of these novels are from two different time periods, the Black arts movement and the Post Soul movement. I find it very interesting to look at these two novels in current day. Many would think that, we (Americans) have progressed from the times in these novels; however, it is a fact that we are still living within the same racial confinements.

Another source entitled The Expense of Assimilation On the Black Community states, “The black person who makes the choice to integrate into the dominating culture really must be honest with his or her self and admit that all their pronouncements of concern for the welfare of the black community take a backseat to their personal desire to assimilate. These black people are more of a role model to other black people on how to assimilate or integrate into the colorless and racially generic whole of American culture that just so happens to be controlled and dominated from the white community.” Is assimilating a positive or negative thing?

Furthermore, the ideas of assimilation are multifaceted topics. We as humans come from various backgrounds and cultures. We all offer different attributes to society and it is very unfortunate that we all, in some way, hide who we are to fit into this “American” mold. Do we ever stop performing? Or, is “adapting” to our settings something that occurs normally?

Work Sources:

“The Expense of Assimilation On the Black Community.” Brotherpeacemaker. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013.

Greenlee, Sam. The Spook Who Sat by the Door: A Novel. New York: Bantam, 1970. Print.

“An Ongoing Review of Politics and Culture.” Performing Race. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2013.

Senna, Danzy. Caucasia. New York: Riverhead, 1999. Print.

Image Source:

“Mixed Race Girls Have Issues – Part 3 of 3 | MsAfropolitan.” Mixed Race Girls Have Issues – Part 3 of 3 | MsAfropolitan. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2013.

Ruby Bridges – Norman Rockwell Painting at the White House | Tv-14.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 13 May 2013.

“White Students In Blackface Re-Enact Chris Brown’s Assault On Rihanna At New York High School Drawing Criticism [Video/Pic] – ThisIs50.com.” White Students In Blackface Re-Enact Chris Brown’s Assault On Rihanna At New York High School Drawing Criticism [Video/Pic] – ThisIs50.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2013.

Video Source:

The Spook Who Sat by the Door. By Sam Greenlee. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Feb. 2012. Web. 13 May 2013.

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Biraciality

Image of marvel's new biracial Spider-man revealing his face from underneath his mask.

Image of marvel’s new biracial Spider-man, named Miles Morales, revealing his face from underneath his mask.

Biraciality is the internal struggle, especially in young people, to discover exactly who they are and where they belong. The struggle is depicted in this image.

The animation, the brown strip in the background, and the speech bubble all point to comic book graphics.  It is evident that this image depicts Spider-man because of the red and blue outfit. The patterned glove and the part of the mask that is visible (with a glimpse of an eye hole), along with the blue sleeve and red collar are recognizable. The man under the mask seems distraught. His large emotional brown eyes are accentuated; they appear shiny as if watering or tearing up. His eyebrows are furrowed and they convey his concern. Drops of sweat roll down his forehead. His speech bubble reads, “Maybe the costume is in bad taste.”

This Spider-man is Black, as implied by his defined features. His thick lips are slightly parted and they’re not much different in color than his dark skin. He also has a thick round nose. Where he is lifting the mask, his hair is shown, which is cut short and styled like a Black man’s.

All young people are searching for their identity, trying to find a place in this world. To add to this confusing goal, many adolescents further struggle as a result of their biraciality.

Being biracial, there can be tension between two groups that manifest themselves in one person. Historically, society has looked down upon it because mixed marriages were taboo. Today, the conflict is not the result of prejudice against mixed marriages; the uneasiness that biracial people feel comes from within themselves. Miles Morales is Black and Latino. He appears Black, but perhaps on the inside he relates to the Latino culture. When he is with Latinos, they may treat him more like an outsider because he does not look like them. And when he is with Blacks, they might expect him to act in adherence to their culture. This double consciousness is a common theme among biracial people.

In Danzy Senna’s novel Caucasia, the protagonist is a young girl who is biracial, and looks White, even though she identifies more with Black culture. Her sister, however, looks Black. It shows that biraciality can cause tension in one’s own family, even between siblings.

As seen in Senna’s novel, in the search for identity, some biracial people try to pass one way of the other. If they physically resemble one group and also align themselves with that group internally, they may just be doing what feels natural to them, and it’s the solution to their struggle. But  simplicity is not always enough to make a person content with their identity.

Simply covering up half of your race can leave emptiness inside a person. There comes a time when it is time to remove the mask. Although Spider-man can do amazing things with his mask on, he must also be true to the person he is on the inside. Whether he considers himself Latino or Black, is for him to discover. And finding the perfect balance, realizing his identity, is a truth worth struggling for.

Source

Bishop, Marlon. “Marvel Comics Unveils New Biracial Spider-Man from Brooklyn.” Wnyc.orghttp://www.wnyc.org/articles/features/2011/aug/03/brooklyn-spider-man/
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