I was not familiar with Patricia Stephens Due until I recently stumbled across an old interview with her on NPR. Growing up, most of what I learned about the Civil Rights Movement was about the work of Dr. King and the March on Washington. In school I didn’t learn a lot about the everyday women who helped the movement that changed our country and resonated among Africans around the world.
I remember going to church as a child and understanding that I was different. My abuela and I used to go to a Pentecostal church that was mostly white Latinos, but I had darker skin. I would see the Pastor’s wife and I yearned to look like her. In my eyes, she had milky white skin and silky hair to her ankles. Though she never knew this, I would go home, look in the mirror and wonder why my skin was darker and my hair was significantly shorter than hers. I did not understand what it was to be Latina and black.
Puerto Ricans are descendants of Africans, Europeans and the indigenous Tainos, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Puerto Ricans come in many colors.
You can read the entire text of “The Mis-Education of the Negro” here.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1915, will have its annual convention in Pittsburgh in September. This year’s Black History theme is Black Women in American Culture and History. We encourage you to make black history all year long by supporting local institutions and grassroots organizations.
Half of a Yellow Sun, a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has been the recent focus of movie execs and members of the Igbo community in Southern Nigeria. A petition, developed by Ashley Akunna, is protesting the casting of Thandie Newton as the film adaptation’s lead character. Newton is an acclaimed actress who has gained greater recognition in recent years for her roles in films such as Mission: Impossible II, The Pursuit of Happyness and Crash. She is of Zimbabwean descent and is set to play an Igbo woman caught in the thralls of the Biafran War, which ravaged a newly independent Nigeria from 1967 to 1970. The book has been heralded as a stunning depiction of the relationship between the Hausa and Igbo tribes during this period and received the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007.
Robin explains that yes, Black History Month is more than a month. But February is a great opportunity to support grassroots organizations and local institutions. She encourages you to enjoy yourself and Black History “The House Down”. For more information on Carter G. Woodson and the legacy of Black History Month, check out the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
A few days ago, an old friend from London came to New York for a visit. Cora’s trip was brief, but we managed to sneak in a dinner and catch up since our last lunch date 4 years ago. After chatting about the usual things–school, family, love–I asked her to fill me in on her experiences with the London Riots that swept the country for 4 days last August. She had much to say, but one thing stood out:
It was a really beautiful thing. This guy was shot by the police, and I mean, I know here in the US that type of thing happens all the time, it’s common. But in London, it started something.
I sat there quietly listening to the rest of her description of the riots, but I couldn’t move past her statement that state-sanctioned violence toward a person of color “is common” in the United States. Unfortunately she was right, and the past year has done nothing to suggest that this is changing.
On a recent, very brief trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, I was not surprised to experience the high quality of respect given to the memory of Bob Marley. Anything less would have been disappointing. However, as a lifetime follower of Marley, this trip highlighted a pattern much of the world is guilty of—pigeonholing Bob Marley as nothing more than a reggae artist and—thus losing sight of his revolutionary spirit.
Black History Month is in full swing and we have been enjoying all that New York City has to offer. If you haven’t had the chance to check out some BHM events around the city, it’s not too late. Here are some of the events we recommend (whole calendar after the jump). All events are free unless otherwise noted. If you know of any events to add, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“French and Francophone Cinemas in Dialogue” Roundtable discussion with Philip Watts, Madeleine Dobie, Hamid Dabashi, Francoise Pfaff and Sophie Saint-Just. Wednesday, February 14th. 5-7 PM. Columbia University, Morningside Campus World Room, Journalism, Room 305.
“Female Leadership in Slavery and Freedom” Gallery Talk. Thursday, February 16th. Noon. The African Burial Ground National Monument Visitor Center, 290 Broadway (near Foley Square, north of City Hall). 1st Floor. Call 212.637.2019 for reservations.
“The Indelible Influence of Malcolm X” Hear Esther Armah, Ishmael Beah, Kathleen Cleaver, Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin, Kahlil Gibran Muhammad, Darryl Pinckney, Meg Ventrudo and Salim Washington read from Malcolm X’s memorable speeches and writings. Tuesday, February 21st. 7-8:30 PM. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (515 Malcolm X Boulevard). Langston Hughes Auditorium. Register here.
If you haven’t already had the opportunity to check out Dee Rees’s film ‘Pariah’ I highly recommend you stop reading this, find the nearest theater and see the next showing. I finally had the chance to see the film—which has garnered a significant amount of critical success—and was thrilled by Rees’s presentation of a story that too easily could have left an audience filled with sorrow, pity or false empathy.
What struck me almost immediately about ‘Pariah’ was it’s honest portrayal of adolescence. Alike, a 17-year old black androgynous woman, struggles to find herself amongst the chaos that surrounds her. Her dysfunctional family life, complicated friendships, her first sexual encounter—and the awkwardness that follows—are things that everyone can relate to despite race, gender identity or sexual orientation. Of course, these things are also complicated by Alike’s black skin, butch exterior and interest in women, which are central to her character. Rees does a phenomenal job of balancing general teenage angst and discomfort (think ‘Thirteen’ or ‘Raising Victor Vargas’) and the specific issues that speak to the black LGBTQ community.
While I was in New Orleans bicycling around the 6th and 7th Wards earlier this month, I passed by a tiny vintage house in Robin’s egg blue with a proudly displayed sign: The New Orleans African American Museum. I was reminded there that 2012 is an important milestone in the African diaspora’s history. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress, the social movement organization that helped eradicate apartheid. It is also the 200th anniversary of the founding of Tremé, the first free black neighborhood in the United States that is slowly rebuilding itself, although it has been abandoned by our federal government ever since the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In so many of the classes I teach, students start the semester with a strong sense that racism is unjust and an equally resilient lack of confidence that racism can and must end in our lifetime. My friends, many of whom are very dedicated scholars, artists and organizers have the same—not cynicism—resignation. Walking around the 9th Ward, where there is an abundance of grassy lots and rippling tarps instead of families and neighbors, I felt similarly dispirited. I thought the people who had come back to the 9th were very brave. They worked in coalitions to reconstruct a few beautiful brightly colored houses that stood up from the grass against the power that tried to let them drown.