Rankine has won numerous prizes, including a National Book Critics Circle Award and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Citizen, which was also a finalist for the National Book Award. Just a few months after we spoke, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, which she plans to use to found the Racial Imaginary Institute. (The name comes from a book of essays she coedited last year.) In conversation, she is thoughtful and focused, speaking softly, with an edge of urgency. “How do you get the work to hold the resonance of its history?” she wonders. It’s a question that occupies the heart of all her books. That the history to which she refers is both personal and collective is, of course, the point.
But for me, there is no push and pull. There’s no private world that doesn’t include the dynamics of my political and social world. When I am working privately, my process includes a sense of what is happening in the world. Today, for example, I feel incredibly drained. And probably you do, too.
…we are all part of the same broken structures.
—David L. Ulin
WARNING: VERY DISTURBING***
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. —
“How do you prepare yourself for the possibility of becoming invisible?”
This question is part of a much longer title, “A History of Massacre (How do you prepare yourself for the possibility of becoming invisible?) ‘A hundred years after the U.S. occupation began, the deoccupation has yet to come…,’” a video by Jamaican-born, Miami-based artist Jamilah Sabur. It’s a fair question for a massive hunk of the world’s population, if they haven’t been marginalized to invisibility already. But the experimental short film specifically references “the recent exodus of Haitians from Brazil to the US,” the artist told Hyperallergic. “I found myself preoccupied with the root cause of migration, the destructive trade policies, and the legacy of brutal US occupations. Haiti is the center of this global condition.”
The Black Cowboys Whitewashed from American History
The photographs and videos in Black Cowboy at the Studio Museum show images of nonwhite cowboys, bringing Americana in line with historical accuracy.
The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Black Cowboy seeks to rectify the whitewashed identity of an American archetype. The cowboy — a historical figure, a way of life and livelihood, a symbol of Manifest Destiny, an advertising trope, an idealized version of manhood, and a tragic loner — is no simple symbol. But before considering these nuances, Black Cowboy is primarily concerned with showing nonwhite cowboys, bringing Americana in line with historical accuracy. For example, the wall text notes that in the 1800s, 25% of cowboys in Texas were African American, and that cowboy culture (horsemanship, western saddles, rodeo traditions) persists to this day in black urban communities from Los Angeles to New York, and in rural areas in between.
Before I sat down to speak to Isaac Julien on a leather couch outside his installation “Other Destinies” at the Royal Ontario Museum, I crashed a class field trip where Julien gave a tour to a group of University of Toronto students writing about his work. He introduced the work before he guided us through it with terms and ideas that are now customary in the literature surrounding it over the past three decades: the tension between realist documentary and narrative cinema; making objects into subjects to reconcile with secret histories and make them perpetually contemporary; queering white history and white spaces through visual reparation; asserting the agency of the black body through images that have only ever signified ethnographically.
True North and Western Union: Small Boats, the alpha and omega of a trilogy unfolding between 2004 and 2007, share the same protagonist, Vanessa Myrie. Both non-linear, narrative films unfold across three screens—further disorienting an already-distracted spectator, Julien says.
True North subverts the whitewashing of history by focusing on the story of Matthew Henson, an overlooked African American man who was in fact one of the key figures in white American explorer Robert Peary’s 1909 expedition to the North Pole. The vast, frigid expanses traversed by the explorer—though the story takes place in the Arctic, Julien filmed it in Iceland—are reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. Julien warps the passage of time: there are mere moments between the presentation of a glacier and its dissolution, between the protagonist trudging through tundra, her figure in the distance only a silhouette, and her fluttering, translucent white dress and bare feet on a beach awash with dissolved icebergs. Inuit throat singing punctuates moments of narration from Henson’s travel journal: “I think I’m the first man to sit on top of the world.”
In the News
Jessica Marie Johnson March 6, 2017, Black Perspectives
(The introduction to Black Perspectives’ online roundtable on Sowande’ Mustakeem’s Slavery at Sea)
The field of Middle Passage Studies comprises, as Sowande’ Mustakeem notes, a “small yet growing body of scholarship” dedicated to excavating histories of slavery from within the “wooden world” of the slave ship (p. 4). Mustakeem joins renowned scholars contributing to this harrowing and necessary intellectual enterprise–from Stephanie Smallwood and Marcus Rediker, to Emma Christopher and Eric Taylor.
Histories produced in the field of Middle Passages Studies follow a particular method. These histories view the Atlantic ocean as a site of violence and commodification, but also a site with a history. Slave ships, in this analysis, become more than ocean-going vessels. Slave ships become technological innovations, carceral spaces, and extensions of a project of transforming, un-gendering, and re-quantifying human beings into objects for sale. Marcus Rediker described the slave ship as “a strange and potent combination of war machine, mobile prison, and factory.” Everyone on board, from captains to crew to African captives themselves, played active roles creating or resisting the dismantling terror of the Middle Passage.
Middle Passage Studies scholars push the field of slavery studies to examine the individual and collective experiences of sailors and slaves, investors and merchants, Africans on shore at factories and ports along the Atlantic African littoral, and Africans in the ports and slaveholding societies of the Americas. The network of slaving invoked in Middle Passage Studies reveals how the slave trade “filtered within and beyond the ocean, irrevocably transforming bondpeople’s lives as well as the societies and communities into which they were imported” (p. 7).
Rachel L. Swarns, March 12, 2017, The New York Times
He was an enslaved teenager on a Jesuit plantation in Maryland on the night that the stars fell. It was November 1833, and meteor showers set the sky ablaze.
His name was Frank Campbell. He would hold tight to that memory for decades, even when he was an old man living hundreds of miles away from his birthplace. In 1838, he was shipped to a sugar plantation in Louisiana with dozens of other slaves from Maryland. They had been sold by the nation’s most prominent Jesuit priests to raise money to help save the Jesuit college now known as Georgetown University.
Mr. Campbell would survive slavery and the Civil War. He would live to see freedom and the dawning of the 20th century. Like many of his contemporaries from Maryland, he would marry and have children and grandchildren. But in one respect, he was singular: His image has survived, offering us the first look at one of the 272 slaves sold to help keep Georgetown afloat.
One of the things I love best of having started my blog is the chance to get in touch with many people and other bloggers.
I love to discuss and exchange points of view with people with different experiences, cultures and nationalities. This makes you feel close to so many friends, even at distance. Each of them with different interests and passions, but all linked from following a blog or from writing their own where they talk about what they particoularly care about. Sometimes it also happens to find bloggers with very similar passion to yours…that’s what happened with Issa, an American lady who moved in Le Marche seven years ago and I got in touch with thanks to her own blog: Le Marche Magic. Please keep reading this wonderful interview, which is also the outcome of a beautiful interaction between bloggers 🙂
Where are you originally from and when/where did you move to Italy? Did you move with family?
- I did not move with a family but on my own at 39 yrs of age. I moved here from where I was living at the time, the smallest state in the United States called Rhode Island. I moved here to be with my grandmother who lived in Florence. I say lived cause she passed away over a year ago. [We’re very sorry to hear that]
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
- I found the transition extremely easy, since I am a woman who loves the challenges life presents me. I love people and traveling. I feel mother earth is our home and would love to meet as many different types of people with also different beliefs than my own, I feel this will complete me on my own life’s journey.
How does the Italian culture differ from home? Which aspect of Italian life was most difficult to get used to?
- To be specific, Le Marche how it differs from home is that the lifestyle here is wholesome something I have not to pay a whole paycheck to have but here it is a way of life that I love. For me there was nothing difficult to get used to, it all came naturally to me because I feel this is a way of life we are supposed to live.
What are the locals like? Do you mix mainly with other expats?
- I love the ‘marchigiani’! They have a way about them of watching you for about a year to sum up who you are before letting you in…This is good, because we all should pick the people in our lives the way we pick our fruit…I mix with expats who have integrated in to the lifestyle here only.
Was it easy meeting people, making friends and integrate into the community?
- Yes, I have been very fortunate to have made many many wonderful life friends and also have been the witness/ maid of honor for a dear friend, as well. I do have a habit of making lifetime friends wherever I go.
Is there anything you miss about living in Usa?
What do you enjoy most about living in Le Marche and the Italian lifestyle?
What’s your favorite Italian food?
- Very hard question to answer because every region has a specialty, but I am partial to seafood. No I love seafood and vegetables … and here it is all fresh and that is wonderful!!!
In our blog we try to incentivize people from all around the world to find out more about Italy and particoularly about Le Marche and their local tradition. Have you ever visited Le Marche before and if so what did you love the most about Le Marche?
- Before 2009 I had never heard of Le Marche…and I love EVERYTHING this is why I also have started a blog to bring the world here…secretly because it should remain a treasure always and the tourist that come to visit should be people who want to keep the traditions and help keep the goodies of Le Marche. I would hate anyone who came and disrespected this beautiful region of Italy. I would never want it to become like Venice or Florence or Rome for that matter.
How difficult was getting a work visa/permit?
- I was lucky to have found my soulmate here…but I did try and get a 1yr visa and it is not an easy thing to get if your an American. First they want to know if you have at least $100,000.00 dollars in your bank account (I kid you not) they want proof…and you also need to have a monthly check from social security or retirement. Just to make sure ur not coming here to steal work. I personally had over $45,000.00 and a letter from the Secretary of State of Rhode Island and a letter from someone here in Le Marche (who is very influential) to say they would house me free of charge to just write my book….yes, at the time I wanted to write a book as well. But when I met my husband to be, not a lawyer would touch me, but to be honest with the internet and my wits I managed to get all the paperwork needed through New York and a firm I hired there.
How does the Italian work culture differ from your country?
- Here they believe in family and…vacations.
How does cost of living compare to home?
- It is so much cheaper here to live.
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Italy?
What are your top tips to any future expats or people considering moving to Italy from abroad?
In retrospective is there anything you would change?
- Not a thing.
Why should people visit Italy?
- Well from everything I have written above, it is obvious that I believe that every human being should travel. “Mother Earth is our home, just like you know all that is in your house. One should visit and try and understand as many humans beings living on our planet. Maybe we don’t incorporate always their lifestyles into our own, but what makes us RICH is at least understanding where they are coming from.” [Quote by Issa:-)]
You are also writing your own blog. Can you tell us a bit about it and when/why did you start your blog?
- Yes my blog is called Le Marche Magic, I love where I live here in Le Marche and have found MY OWN special place on our mother earth. I would like to share it, I feel the untouched nature of Le Marche can really help and touch many people. Even if they come for a visit or to live. Le Marche is a way of life.
I hope you all enjoyed this enthusiastic and pleasant interview from Issa.
Please don’t forget to visit her blog about Le Marche: http://www.lemarchemagic.com
I closed my original interview with a
“GRAZIE MILLE ISSA!”
and I’d like to share her lovely reply…
“You are very welcome! I hope I answered all your questions to your satisfaction. It was extremely easy for me to write all my answers since my fingers just flowed with love of writing about the place I love. A place called Le Marche.
Top Photo: 2016 found a number of white folks giving half-assed apologies for racist behavior.
In the News
Rachel L. Swarns and Darcy Eveleigh, Feb. 4, 2017, The New York Times
The copper-jacketed bullet tore through a civil rights worker’s shoulder, stopping within an inch of his spine. The shotgun blast shattered the car windows of four voting rights activists and gouged the wall of a nearby home.
And a fire destroyed voter registration equipment and materials outside the city’s Voter Registration Headquarters, leaving the street strewn with rubble.
It was 1963 in Greenwood, Miss., a major battleground in the fight for civil rights, and white officials were playing down and ignoring a series of attacks intended to discourage thousands of African-Americans from registering to vote.
Claude Sitton, the renowned New York Times correspondent, shot photos and took meticulous notes, exposing the racial violence with his pen and with his lens.
*****The Shape of Slavery
A data mapping project by Bill Rankin and Matt Daniels, The Pudding
Of all the stats about US prisons, Louisiana’s incarceration rate is among the most shocking. For every 100,000 residents, 868 are in state prison. That’s 0.86% of Louisiana’s population, or nearly 1 in 100 (the worst among all states).
This is what people must mean by mass incarceration.
Instead of debating drug reform or systemic police discrimination, we want to understand prison rates historically. Inspired by Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, we began with the idea that the South’s approach to incarceration has its roots in slavery. Or more specifically, in the Jim Crow laws that targeted former slaves after the Civil War. These laws were eventually abolished, but we know that their legacy continues to the present day. Louisiana’s tragic incarceration rate is just one example among many.
Harriet Tubman fled a life of slavery in Maryland. Now a new visitor center opens on the land she escaped.
By Michael E. Ruane, March 4, 2017, The Washington Post
CHURCH CREEK, MD. — She preferred moving in the darkness of long winter nights. She didn’t wait for late passengers: The “train” for Zion always left on time. And she carried a pistol, in case of trouble or flagging hearts.
Her branch of the line began here, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, near places like Tobacco Stick, Kentuck Swamp, and Skeleton Creek, off the Choptank River, to the north.
She was small and the color of a chestnut, as her owner described her when she first ran away. But she was hardened by whippings and work on the timber gangs, and she knew the wilderness as well as a hunter.
On March 11, the National Park Service and the Maryland State Park Service plan to unveil a new visitor center here dedicated to the life and mission of abolitionist and legendary Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.
By Jennifer Schuessler, March 5, 2017, The New York TimesCAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In 1976, archivists at Harvard’s natural history museum opened a drawer and discovered a haunting portrait of a shirtless enslaved man named Renty, gazing sorrowfully but steadily at the camera. Taken on a South Carolina plantation in 1850, it had been used by the Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz to formulate his now-discredited ideas about racial difference.
On Friday, Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, stood at a lectern under a projection of Renty’s face and began a rather different enterprise: a major public conference exploring the long-neglected connections between universities and slavery.
Harvard had been “directly complicit” in slavery, Ms. Faust acknowledged, before moving to a more present-minded statement of purpose.
“Only by coming to terms with history,” she said, “can we free ourselves to create a more just world.”
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“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.”
James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright and novelist regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time and Another Country.
- James Baldwin
I saw this bar graph on social media this morning and found it very telling. It explains a lot. The chart shows Democrats and Republicans differing wildly in their perceptions of whether the Trump administration is “uniting” or “dividing” the nation. How can that be? They’re looking at the same phenomenon.
So the irony is, at the very time I’m discovering how “American” my pedigree is, I find myself far, far away from the contemporary American poster boy with similar roots. I’m about the roots themselves, and maintain that I remain truer to those roots than the millions of angry, red-faced people who go around waving flags and demanding conformity to their values. I am forever seeking out the old, the fecund and the folkish.
…In recent months I’ve felt like I was really beginning to understand the ideological underpinnings of the American folk movement of the mid-twentieth century for the first time, and WHY there was such an uproar and feelings of betrayal when Dylan went electric and “commercial”. I’ve always had misgivings about corporate control of popular culture, especially mainstream Hollywood films since the 1980s (for their violence, materialism, and encouragement of conformism). And also the video experience, which happens alone, dispassionately, less empathetically. The danger becomes more apparent when you see corporate forces so closely allied with government power as they now are.
In the age of corporate media, the message is disseminated from the top down. It is controlled and it is designed to condition spectators to conform.
Gradually, Montana became home to the highest concentration of hate groups in the nation. In the Flathead — which includes Kalispell (more industrial, more sprawling, population 22,000), Whitefish (a quaint grid of a resort town, population 7,000), and Columbia Falls (a former timber town, now filling with those priced out of Whitefish, population 5,000) — they mostly keep to themselves. Sometimes there’ll be a piece of Nazi propaganda slipped between pairs of expensive jeans in clothing boutiques; other times there’ll be flyers for “A Nature-Based, Race-Centered Religion for White People” folded in children’s books at the local bookstore. “Every place in town has a story like that,” one business owner told me.
But some things can’t be ignored. Like in 2010, when April Gaede — better known as the “Nazi stage mom” to twin girl group Prussian Blue and a member of Pioneer Little Europe, an organization of whites-only intentional communities — began showing Holocaust denial films at the Whitefish library. Or this past December, when a neo-Nazi site, the Daily Stormer, launched a campaign to troll local Jews as revenge for perceived attacks on the mother of “academic racist” (and Whitefish resident) Richard Spencer.
Trump did not explicitly align himself with white nationalism, yet Spencer, along with other neo-Nazis and hate group leaders, aligned themselves with him, hailing his presidency as the long-awaited turn from multiculturalism and political correctness. “I think if Trump wins we could really legitimately say that he was associated directly with us, with the ‘R’ word [racist], with all sorts of things,” Spencer told Mother Jones in October. “People will have to recognize us.”
Like nearly all of Montana, Flathead County voted overwhelmingly for Trump (65% of 46,250 votes cast). White nationalist Taylor Rose lost the race for the Montana House of Representatives’ 3rd District, located just a few miles from the Flathead County line, by just six points. Against the backdrop of a reported spike in hate crime reports across the nation, a clip of Spencer giving a Nazi salute and declaring “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” at an alt-right conference in DC in November went viral.
A week after the Love Not Hate rally, several dozen people gathered at the Outlaw Inn in Kalispell for a film screening hosted by ACT for America — one of the very groups that Love Not Hate wishes to counter. ACT for America was founded in 2007 to, in its own words, “promote national security and defeat terrorism.” In practice, this means lobbying for anti-Sharia legislation, fighting immigration and refugee resettlement, and spreading the idea that Islam is a hateful ideology — not necessarily a religion, or subject to protection under the Constitution.
“The Government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals ‘because of race and color,”’ according to the New York Times. “It also charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available.”
Trump at first resisted signing a consent decree, according to the Times.
He hired his friend, Roy Cohn, the lawyer and former right-hand man to U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. “Mr. Trump said he would not sign such a decree because it would be unfair to his other tenants,” the Times reported. “He also said that if he allowed welfare clients into his apartments … there would be a massive fleeing from the city of not only our tenants but the communities as a whole.”
Kozol has long warned us about what’s lost when opportunities for learning mutual understanding disappear through resegregation. By most measures, our public schools today are more racially segregated than they were shortly after Brown v. Board of Education was decided, according to the Century Foundation, and white children are growing up in incredibly homogeneous environments: The average white kid goes to a school where 77 percent of students are white, and she is less likely than a student of color to interact with students from different racial or ethnic backgrounds.
How to read the news –> Some teachers and schools are adding lessons on news literacy to students’ civics lessons, and one state might even make it a standard part of the grade 7 through 12 curriculum. “It hasn’t been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material because there’s so much going on out there,” Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at New Jersey’s Kean University, tells the AP, “but it’s difficult in terms of politics because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I’m afraid sometimes that they think I’m being political when really I’m just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like ‘Oh, you’re anti-this or -that.’”
No worries if you’re not in school. We also have a series, written by news literacy expert Michael Spikes, to help you make sense of the news.