Reading on the Rails

"Afro Chair" via Apartment Therapy 10/2009


The blogosphere has been busy! In the last few weeks, I’ve been introduced to a few new blogs that have peaked my interest and got me thinking about several things I’d like to discuss and post in the coming months. First, One Grand Home, a blog that focuses specifically on domesticity and home decor, there is a post about Apartment Therapy, the wildly popular home decor site (and book series) and its problematic history of racism, classism, and appropriation. Read the post entitled, “A Problematic History of Race & Class at Apartment Therapy.”  The post is thoughtful, very well researched – it features images from Apartment Therapy as evidence, and it brings up very potent and current issues of how “home” functions as a politized space.  I particularly appreciate the discussion of gentrification and displacement. Two words: afro chair.   

Via Sociological Images, 1/2010


Over at Sociological Images, there’s an interesting piece on gendering and whitening professional on-line degree programs. Their post, “Gendering Online Degree Programs,” is a good read. Especially considering how many of these pop-ups we unwittingly view while on the internet.   

 Boldtype has introduced me to Daily Lit, a website where you can sign up to have books sent to you in installments. Best of all, it is completely free! Note: I’m sure they sell your reading selections to a third party, but hey, free reading. The selection is not broad and their listing of African-American books is embarassingly paltry (and someone should tell them that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while written about fictionalized Black people, is not written by an actual African-American and is not African-American literature), but still, free books.   

Check out this war propaganda from WWII,  from Life Magazine which is featured on Google Books. Pay close attention to the toothpaste ad, which declares:   

Look! Is not this your Daughter?/ Is not she young America? /She has a great Heritage, /A Future filled with Promise! We see her a Woman, Sympathetic and Smiling – with a Smile that owes much to her Lifelong use of Ipana and Massage.   

Now I can legitimately link the craze for tooth whitening to white sumpremacist notions of beautify and purity.   

Carleen Brice is featuring some great links on her site, White Readers Meet Black Authors, particularly a link to discussions of race in Young-Ault literature on the site Chasing Ray. Brice also astutely notes a trend I’ve also noticed: that in the rush to list the “best of 2009” the great list-makers who be, only seem comfortable including one author of color. That’s it. Brice wittily points to this “Highlander” tendency in her post, “There Can Be Only One.”   

Wench: A Novel

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez


And I am eagerly awaiting the release of the book Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez which examines the lives of four womyn living in a resort designed for white slaveowners and the enslaves Black womyn, with whom they were sexually engaged.The Sartorialist is running some great classic photographs featuring beautifully dressed people of color (a rarity for Sart, though I love the site).   

Via The Sartorialist, 1/2010


Overall I thought the comments were respectful and admiring, though it would have been even better, if comments like this, weren’t part of the mix:   

From stylespotterfashionblogger: They are all so smart. Love the tap dancing like shoes, and the wide leg pleat front trousers. They seem to take such pride in their images.   

What tap dancing shoes? What? And:   

From God’s Favorite Shoes: “WOW!!! Who is that family? Is it mine? Is that my great grandmother?(just kidding) Were they pimps? Were they educators? Who are they! I love a stylish family! Those men were so suave!!!”   

And this: “not only are the photos great due to B+W, fashion, etc., we are also looking at I’m assuming an African American family that was upper middle class, or even upper class, which was not very common during this time period, the history of the people/family is probably more fascinating than the tailored clothes.”   

Many of the commenters make remarks about Sart’s discovery of these photos, and the people in those photos, which not surprisingly I find not only problematic, but also telling. The people in the photographs, identified as being at City College, are youthful, alive, and well-dressed to the hilt. The credit given to Sart, somehow removes the agency from the people in the photograph – as if his style reach is so powerful it can reach back temporally to create fashionable images.   

Exotification aside, I think its pretty powerful when a predominantly white website, that features predominantly white fashionistas and commenters (though that doesn’t constitute all of the readership or all those featured) features people of color, so beatifully positioned – and then creates a fervor and excitement about how those people are dressed. That commenters are for the most part referencing the timelessness and elegance of the photographs, which doens’t always happen when a body of color is photographed.


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