Archive for October, 2008

Nella Larsen Was a Genius & The Power of Race

Posted in Uncategorized on October 31, 2008 by thebibliophile

My Father's Hidden Life--A Story of Race and Family Secrets

In the book, One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life – A Story of Race and Family Secrets, Bliss Broyard examines her father’s choice to pass as white, despite his clear multiracial heritage. In the process of denying his ancestry, Anatole Broyard abandoned his parents and siblings. He chose instead to embrace life in Southport, CT with his self-made family: Bliss, her brother Todd, and his wife Sandy.

The topic of “passing,” and the fact that many in the U.S. seem so surprised by the practice, as evidenced by Bliss Broyard’s surprise that her father chose to hide his identity, got me more interested in representations and stories of passing in the U.S.  While “passing” is generally understood to be a phenomenon of Black people or people of color, with pale skin, passing for white, I think there are many forms of passing. We can pass or shield our gender identity, sexuality, language ability, or illness.

Perhaps, we find it particularly fascinating when people “pass” ot hide their race, because our culture holds the belief that you can see difference. And in fact we demand evidence of difference. As Foucault said in reference to sex, “we must see it speak.” With multiracial identity, I wonder if a large part of the fascination, is in seeing the results of said “sex.” In “seeing,” and witnessing sex speak for itself in the result of the progeny it produces. There’s a reason that multiracial identity was so often referred to as “miscegnation;” we were caught up in, and fascinated by, the sexual act. A prurient interest that contributes to the way society loads phenotypical identities with sexual weight.

Nella Larsen, who I think was a genius, brillantly played with these ideas in her novella Passing. Larsen juxtaposed two womyn, both of African-American heritage, one cavalierly passing, and the other not. The book is generally cited to be about racial passing, however, a close reading renders other forms of passing, most notably around sexuality.

In my research about passing, I came across the story of Anita Hemmings, the first African-American womyn to attend Vassar.


Anita Hemmings was the daughter of two African-American parents, both from Virginia. For those who follow history closely, you may notice that Anita shares her last name with Sally Hemmings, a slave womyn, who was Thomas Jefferson’s mistress or several years, and who bore him several children. Anita attended Northfield Academy (currently Northfield Mt. Hermon) and then applied and was accepted to Vassar, where she passed as white. Anita graduated in 1897 – 40 years before Vassar officially admitted African-American students.  Gotcha white supremacy!

Anita was extremely accomplished – voted the most beautiful in her class, academically successful, and also a strong singer. She was “outed,” when her jealous roommate had her father investigate the Hemmings family. The investigator, of course discovered that Anita’s family was Black – residing at 9 Sussex Avenue, in what is now Roxbury. Anita also had a brother Frederick, who attended MIT, but wasn’t able to pass -he attended MIT as a person of color.

The story doesn’t end there. Hemmings was able to graduate. She became a librarian, and then married a young doctor, Dr. Andrew Love, a graduate of Meharry Medical School – prestigious Black medical school. Dr. Love was also passing. Andrew and Anita relocated to New York, had children, and never told those children about their heritage. In another twist, Anita’s daughter, Ellen Love went on to attend Vassar, never knowing the history of her mother’s experience there. She too passed, though unwittingly, and received her BA in 1927. The same meddling roommate, upon learning that Anita’s daughter was attending Vassar, attempted to out her as well, privately writing to then President of the college – who responded tersely, that the administration wasn’t even sure “if Ellen knew she had negro blood.”  Ellen Love, did in fact not know about her Black heritage. She didn’t discover her identity until she visited her grandmother on Martha’s Vineyard. She kept the secret and  went on to become a theatre actress on Broadway. The family didn’t learn of their heritage until Ellen Love’s death.

Learn more about Anita Hemmings here:

Makes you wonder about our ideas about race and phenotype. The assertion of purity, either when we as a society reference race or sexuality. Spectrums exist and our denial of those is troubling, to say the least. In a study done in teh ’50s by a sociology professor, it was estimated that as many as 1 in 5 identifiable white people has Black ancestry, and 1 in 10 white people have ancestry of color.

Increasingly, I am beginning to believe, that white people (whiteness), like heterosexuals (heterosexuality), are a carefully constructed and protected myth….


Bringing the Sexy Back to Politics

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 23, 2008 by thebibliophile

If I left the house or showed up at a business event looking like this, my mother and several people in my life, woud have something to say to me….Is this work appropriate? I think not. She’s sexy as all get out, but it’s not for work; the holiday party or Valentine’s Day, yes.

Speak on it Robin Givhan.

Cynicism & Racism in Polling

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 22, 2008 by thebibliophile

   On the website, an unnamed McCain source described the entire Quinnipiac survey as “laughable.”

    “Our polling shows us up seven” in Florida, the source said. “My guess is they oversampled blacks and undersampled Cubans.”

Professors & Fashion

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2008 by thebibliophile

The New York Times Magazine did a fashion spread with college professors. I think this is great! Intelligence is sexy, sartorial, and fashion-worthy. Nice to see educators being glamorized and outfitted. It’s especially nice at a time when intellectualism – being anything other than a “Joe six-pack” or “Joe the plumber” is degraded. I’d submit that every Joe should appreciate smarts – however it’s represented.

Check out Professor of Mathematics ANNALISA CRANNELL. She teaches at Franklin and Marshall College. Yes women in the math and sciences!

What I really adore about this image, is not only do I like the outfit, but the shot of her is interesting – though I do notice the exposed neck and that she’s not looking directly into the camera. Considering that the other images in the series featured womyn who were, I think this is more of a stylistic decision, than a structure of positioning womyn in disempowering poses. I like that we can see her strong jaw line and the way the light hits her face. As a fan of belts – I love the layered cinched waist. And her necklace! It’s very creative and unique – and I might add, something that yours truly can make at home (large bangles, check, yarn, check). And that coat! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the detailing and clear craftsmynship of the coat.

You can see all of the professors here:

I love the idea and appreciate what the magazine did. I am, however, surprised and a bit disappointed that there is not one person of color (at least visually identifiable – so it’s an assumption) represented – and there are no theatre or art folks represented. Here are the people I would love to see in a spread:

– Kellie Jones at Columbia University – a great art historian

– Karen Allen-Baxter at Brown University who rocks great hats

– Ohio University president Gordon Gee, who’s fond of bowties

– Cornel West from Princeton, whose sartorialist style has him in beautifully crafted (though artfully disheveled) ’60s style black suits, complete with skinny ties

– Angela Davis whose currently at UC Santa Cruz

– Ronald Takaki – I don’t know what school he’s at currently

– Vijay Prashad whose at Trinity College

– Shanga Parker – who I think is at the University of Washington

– Barbara Ransby at the University of Chicago

– Madhu Dubey Professor of English at the University of Illinois 

– Professor of Law Dorothy Roberts

Who might make your list?

Fabutasticly Fierce

Posted in Uncategorized on October 15, 2008 by thebibliophile

Sometimes alliteration is the only tool one has to express one’s full flat out admiration.

What I love about this:

– The graphic and mod quality of the outfit; Black on white, highlighted by the very light gray with blue/green background

– The makeup is beautifully done – the highlighting of the cheeks, right next to those earrings (!) and the nude lip

– The hair. The HAIR! Creative, unique, and so very modern – while also harkening back to a more classic time in style

– This is an example of powerful style

Independence is Sexy, Until it Demands to Secede

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 13, 2008 by thebibliophile

Progressive Alaskan blogger over at Mudflats blog, posted this:

It’s about Palin’s connections to the Alaskan Independence Party. I found it disturbing. Know about it.

I’m going on a Paln hiatus…I’ve said my bit – there are plenty of other bloggers, journalists, and commentators with things to say. I mean, really, why stay “Palinated” from all the good things in life,  when I can focus on the fabulousness of these womyn warriors:

By Annie Lebowitz

Angela Bassett, who just joined the cast of ER:

Of course, the Divine Miss O.


Taxes & Patriotism

Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2008 by thebibliophile

“I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

                           – Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes