Archive

Posts Tagged ‘race/ethnicity/color’

5. “Covering,” Kenji Yoshino

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I would think, I wish I were dead. I did not think of it as a suicidal thought. My poet’s parsing mind read the first “I” and the second “I” as different “I”s. The first “I” was the whole watching the self, while the second “I”– the one I wanted to kill– was the gay “I” nested inside it. It was less a suicidal impulse than a homicidal one. (8)

While I tried to speak calmly, Bill has since told me I failed. He said I reminded him of the dinner parties he was attending in those days. At the mainly straight parties, his age peers would jabber on about their children. At the gay dinners, they’d jabber on about their coming out. This made him think coming out is the closest many gay men will come to giving birth. The act of giving birth to oneself is miraculous and terrifying, but unlikely to be calm. (13-14)

It is worth quoting Yoshino’s definitions of a few terms at length.

My struggle to arrive at a gay identity occurred in three phases, which I could also trace in the lives of gay peers. In the first phase, I sought to become straight. When I went to the chapel at Oxford, I prayed not to be what I was. I will call this desire for conversion. In the second phase, I accepted my homosexuality, but concealed it from others. By the time I talked to Bill about his class, I was no longer trying to convert. I was, however, trying to hide my identity from my classmates. I will call this desire for passing. Finally, long after I had generally come out of the closet, I still muted my orientation by not writing on gay topics or engaging in public displays of affection. This was not the same as passing, because my colleges knew I was gay. Yet I did not know a word for this attempt to tone down my known gayness.
Then I found my word, in sociologist Erving Goffman’s book Stigma. Published in 1963, the book describes how various groups– including the disabled, the elderly, and the obese– manage their “spoiled” identities. After discussing passing, Goffman observes that “persons who are ready to admit the possession of a stigma… may nonetheless make a great effort to keep the stigma from looming large.” His calls this behavior “covering.” Goffman distinguishes passing from covering by noting that passing pertains to the visibility of a particular trait, while covering pertains to its obtrusiveness. He relates how Franklin Roosevelt always stationed himself behind a table before his advisers came in for a meeting. Roosevelt was not passing, since everyone knew he used a wheelchair. He was covering, downplaying his disability so people would focus on his more conventionally presidential qualities.” (17-18)

I could keep going and quote the entire book, but that should be enough to make you want to give Yoshino a high five. Not only is he immensely readable (which I am coming to feel more and more is something embodied theory must be), but his application of covering is very timely. This book is theory told through memoir and is poetic and incisive.

Page count: 203
Page total: 1,544

57. “Who Fears Death,” Nnedi Okorafor

August 11, 2010 Leave a comment

In a post-apocalyptic Africa where oceans are a thing of the past, technology has given way to powerful juju, and racial wars rule, Onyesonwu is a young and powerful sorceress charged with ending the war between the Okeke and Nuru.

I definitely want to re-read this. The first third or so was slow going for me but after Onyesonwu begins training in earnest, the book became urgent and fast-paced.

(Despite the dire tags, this book isn’t really depressing. It’s dark, to be sure, and if any of those things are a major trigger for you, skip it, but Okorafor manages to weave a book where rape, racism, and genocide are central and important but not soul-crushing.)

Page count: 387
Page total: 15,617

52. “Hair Story: The History of Black Hair in America,” Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps

July 29, 2010 Leave a comment

A historical and cultural examination of the meanings assigned to Black hair in the US.

This was a really interesting and enlightening book. I did have some understanding of Black hair care (and myths, mythos, superstitions, and general bullshit) before reading, but this book was lush with first-person accounts and extremely balanced in its reporting of history and the meanings of history.

When I was younger, I had long, very textured and curly hair and if left to its own devises, my hair would dred a little. But this book really argues that it’s not the hair itself as much as it is the history of the hair that makes it so fraught. In most West African societies in (and long before) the 1600s, hair care and styling was incredibly ritualized, with different hair styles holding symbolic meaning and the creation and upkeep of them a cultural affair. When Africans were kidnapped and enslaved, their kidnappers shaved their heads, stripping them of their identities. After months in the belly of slave ships, they emerged with dirty, matted hair incomprehensible to their slavers. In a new continent, new climate, and inhuman (not merely inhumane) conditions, slaves had to come up with new ways of caring for, or more often, merely taming or containing their hair.

Enter the hot comb, grease, do-rags, followed up by relaxers, braids, Afros, Jerri Curl, weaves, cornrows, perms, dreds, and blow-dryers.

Along the way, White people, of course, have had a lot of shit to say about Black hair, such that smooth, silky, combable hair becomes good hair, worthy of both envy and derision, and textured, kinky hair is “bad” hair (but sometimes afforded a sort of grudging respect at particular political moments).

I mentioned my own hair earlier because it has always been kind of difficult for me to understand why many Black people are quick to snap that their hair is not curly, it’s kinky and that White people don’t really have dreds even when they, well, have dreds (because White hair usually requires intervention to make it dred, while kinky Black hair doesn’t). But reading this book helped me to understand the cultural meaning of kinky hair and how it probably feels like white washing to have it euphemized by White folks as curly. And White surfers with dreds, or me pointing out that my hair used to have a lot of texture, too, definitely smacks of appropriation of an extremely loaded topic by someone who simply doesn’t get the same cultural baggage with the hairstyle.

So, as I said, a really interesting book, and, I think, a good one for White people to read. Because the average Black person definitely knows more about caring for White hair than the average White person knows about caring for Black hair and that’s not comfortable to me.

Since it’s my favorite axe to grind with this genre, there were a few organizational/editing problems, though. Parts of it were set up almost like a magazine with vocab lists, profiles of five Black men who changed hair, a bio of Jesse Jackson (I didn’t know that his bouffant was originally cut and styled by his mentor and surrogate father James Brown, who made him promise to wear his hair like that until Brown died), and other interesting asides, but they are plopped in sort of randomly. Also, the time line kind of jumped around so that it wasn’t always in historical order, or we’d get an in-depth profile of Madam CJ Walker and her business and then, twenty pages later, have her explained again.

Overall, a solid B+.

Page count: 198
Page total: 14,376
Call number: E185.86.B96 2001x

42. “I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight,” Margaret Cho

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Apparently Margaret Cho is the shit. I don’t really go in for her comedy, as she does a lot of shouting and I do not like shouting, but this book shows a righteous, very cool, very smart person.

I was sort of confused by the format, which is almost like a blog. Even though it’s divided into sections, there’s not much tying the entries together. Not everything in the feminism section is explicitly feminist, not everything in the war on terror section is about how Former VP Chenney is a dangerous, dangerous human being.

“My attitude toward peace does not depend on which war we are discussing. I think that words should do the work of bombs.” (25)

On the ease with which women hate Courtney Love:

“Courtney Love is an incredible artist who has endured public derision and scorn for well over a decade. What man could survive that? Yet in any real way, the feminist majority has yet to come to her defense. No one has come forward with the simple question ‘Why is it that I am hating another woman with such ease?'” (112)

“Strange that there is so much religion in the world, but only enough to make us fight over who is right, not enough to make us love one another.” (182)

“A government that would deny a gay man the right to a bridal registry is a fascist state.” (145)

Page count: 240
Page total: 10,608
LOC Call number: PN 6165.C56 2005

40. “Caucasia,” Danzy Senna

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Two biracial sisters– one who looks white, one who looks black– are torn apart by the social unrest pervading 1970s Boston and their mother’s dangerous choices.

This book was wonderful. I found it in the young adult section, but I don’t think it is. I follows a girl between the ages of nine and fifteen and is extremely lucidly written, and those two combine to mean middle grades. The narrator writes with such understanding, though, that it feels like there must be space between the events and herself. The book as a whole feels wonderfully real and intimate. I felt my world expand when reading this book, which is a sensation I have got from very few books (“Stone Butch Blues” comes to mind).

Here I had a thoughtful summary, but WordPress lost it. Nothing more for now, aside from the earnest recommendation that you buy (not just read!) it.

Page count: 432
Page total: 10,149
LOC call number: YA fiction Senna 2009

28. “Freakonomics,” Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

May 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Interesting and a quick read, but I feel pretty dubious about many of the conclusions Levitt reaches. I’m no John Bates Clark Medal-winner, but I can’t help but think that most events are the result of more than one thing coming together. So saying that legalizing abortion in resulted in the 1990s dip in crime might be partially true, but it is certainly not the only cause. But it’s not as interesting to say that an event is the result of many causes as it is to attribute it to the fact that poor, undereducated, unwed mothers were free to terminate their pregnancies in record numbers, thereby reducing the pool of the people who most frequently commit crimes. Which may be true, but is almost certainly not the whole truth.

Page count: 207
Page total: 6,963

63. “I Am America and So Can You,” Stephen Colbert

September 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Very much like the show. I like audiobooks that are read by the author and this one was particularly good because Stephen has a very strong voice. If you’re familiar with Colbert, you hear him when you read his stuff anyway.

Page count: 240
Page total: 24,539