TUESDAY: Do individuals belong to a race (part 2)?

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2021

Improving on yesterday's effort: Despite the many awards it has won, we did a lousy job in yesterday's report.

We were discussing a lengthy profile in Sunday's New York Times magazine. We'd call it a highly permissive celebrity profile about an upcoming film.

We're looking forward to seeing the film. On a journalistic basis, we thought the profile was extremely poor. 

That said, we did a lousy job critiquing the profile. By the time we were done, our basic point was quite unclear.

In part, we did a lousy job because the profile was flawed in so many ways. Today, let's take a quick look at the part of the profile which initially caught our eye.

The profile was written by Alexandra Kleeman. Her subject was Rebecca Hall, a British actress who is about to release her first film as a director.

Hall's film is an adaptation of Nella Larson's 1929 novel, Passing. Below, you see the way Kleeman's profile began, headline included.

Kleeman's summary of the novel instantly caught our eye. In one respect, it struck us as judgmental, possibly just a bit cruel:

KLEEMAN (10/26/21): The Secret Toll of Racial Ambiguity 

When Rebecca Hall read Nella Larsen’s groundbreaking 1929 novel, “Passing,” over a decade ago, she felt an intense, immediate attachment to it. The story seemed to clarify so much that was mysterious about her own identity—the unnameable gaps in her family history that shaped her life in their very absence, the way a sinkhole in the road distorts the path of traffic blocks away.

The novel follows Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, two light-skinned Black women who grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood and shared a friendship complicated by differences in class and social status. When Clare’s father died, she was sent off to live with white relatives, while Irene went on to become firmly ensconced in the vibrant Black artistic and cultural community of 1920s Harlem, wife to a Black doctor and mother to two dark-skinned young boys. One day, while passing for convenience on the rooftop restaurant of a whites-only hotel, Irene is recognized by a beautiful blond woman, who turns out to be Clare—who now not only lives her life as a white woman but is also mother to a white-passing daughter and married to a bigoted man who has no clue about her mixed-race heritage. The friends’ reunion crackles with tension, charged with curiosity, envy and longing.

(Kleeman says that Irene was "passing for convenience" in a restaurant. We assume that means that she was agreeing to be perceived as "white," but only on that one occasion.)

We were struck by Kleeman's summary of the novel. Here's why:

In Kleeman's summary, Irene and Clare are "light-skinned Black women who grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood," presumably during the 1920s (or before). The first possible surprise in the plot would be this:

"When Clare’s father died, she was sent off to live with white relatives."

How many black residents of Chicago at that time had "white relatives" somewherewhite relatives to whose care they could consign their son or daughter? 

That struck us as a surprising plot element. Years later, though, it apparently leads to this:

Clare now "lives her life as a white woman."  She's "married to a bigoted man who has no clue about her mixed-race heritage." 

Also this: Clare is now "mother to a white-passing daughter," whatever that formulation might be taken to mean.

We were struck by some of Kleeman's languageby some of the ideas about "race" her language seems to convey. Let's start with this relatively minor point:

What does it mean when Kleeman says that Clare had a "mixed-race heritage?" We've already been told that Clare is black. What does it mean when we're now told that her "heritage" is "mixed-race?"

That formulation could mean many things. Primarily, we'll guess it means that her bigoted husband doesn't know that her birth family was "black."

That's a fairly minor point. This second point is not:

What can it possibly mean when Kleeman says that Clare's daughter is "white-passing?" Just consider this young person's circumstance:

Presumably, her bigoted father actually is "white." That said, her mother is so light-skinned that everyone believes that she's "white" too. 

Unless someone has told her different, the daughter will naturally have this same impression of her mother. 

(Just for the record, the odds are good that the bulk of this girl's DNA traces back to Europe.)

In what sense, then, can this "dear daughter beneath the sun" be said to be "white-passing?" If we want to score her mother that wayif we want to adorn her with a scarlet Pwhy in the world would we want to score the daughter that way too?

Let's review! This darling daughter appears to be "white." Her father appears to be "white," and her mother does too. As far as we know, no one has ever told her that she's isn't "white."

Why then would someone want to call this daughter "white-passing?" Does Kleeman secretly hold to the one-drop ruleto the age-old rule which scores this dear daughter as "black?" Does Kleeman secretly cling to that rule, perhaps without even realizing?

In fairness, this was just a passing throw-away line from Kleeman. We can't tell you what she meant when she penned that description. We can't tell you if her editor asked her what it meant.

We can say that it caught our eye, in part because of its apparent reflexive judgmentalism. Also, because it may seem to suggest that this young woman really was secretly "black," no matter what anyone says. Or maybe she should have gone around telling everyone she was biracial!

We were struck by that puzzling language in Kleeman's second paragraph. As we continued reading, Kleeman turned to a lengthy discussion of her own life and times, but she mainly profiled Rebecca Hall.

In the course of her highly permissive profile, Kleeman let Hall make an array of statements which don't seem to comport with the published record. Fawning journalists frequently perform such services on behalf of celebrities who have products to sell.

(We look forward to seeing Hall's film.)

Yesterday, we wallowed in the vast array of contradictions Kleeman left unchallenged and unclarified. By the time we were done with our attempt to list them all, it wasn't clear, in any way, what our overall point might have been.

Today, we thought we'd return to the puzzling account which first caught our eye in Kleeman's profile of Hall. It strikes us as a reflexively cruel account, but also perhaps as a tribute to the enduring power of "the world the slaveholders made."

Within the American context, the notion that everyone has (belongs to) a race comes to us from that deeply destructive world. Meanwhile, we progressives today! 

How deeply we progressives believe in the notion of "race!" How deeply we believe in the idea that everybody has a race, and that we are the ones who have been empowered to tell them what their racewhat their "identity"actually is! 

(Within living memory, the liberal project affirmed that there was only one racethe human race. Those days are long, long gone.)

Unfortunately, the concept of "race" lies at the heart of American understandings. It comes to us live and direct from the world the slaveholders made. 

Our vastly self-impressed liberal tribe aggressively clings to the concept of "race" in this brave new dystopia. Our thinking is often extremely jumbled, and sometimes cruel, as we insist on retaining this framework.

The Others can see us doing this. On the whole, it isn't a winning look. Quite often, it isn't especially smart.

We were surprised by what Kleeman wrote. Did her editor ask what she meant?

Where you may have seen Hall: We liked Hall in The Town, a 2010 film with a somewhat rank point of view.  

We're supposed to root for Hall's character to get together with Ben Affleck, who typically murders a couple of people on his way to her house for their dates.

Why would anyone want Hall's unsuspecting character to get together with him? This point just isn't made real clear in the course of the blood-soaked film.  

In fairness, a celebrity was branding himself in that film. It happens every spring. We're asked to accept what we're shown.


46 comments:

  1. "What does it mean when Kleeman says that Clare had a "mixed-race heritage?" We've already been told that Clare is black. What does it mean when we're now told that her "heritage" is "mixed-race?"

    Somerby's confusion about what it means to be "mixed race" must be feigned. Most African Americans are mixed race because of the intermixing of white and black people in the two centuries since slavery brought black people to America. Even black people with very dark skin are lighter than most Africans in the areas slaves were brought from.

    The term biracial is used to talk about those with one white parent and one black parent (regardless of degree of intermixing). It is also used to refer to those with one Asian parent and one black parent and those with one Indigenous parent and a black, white or Asian parent. There can be a variety of ways to be biracial.

    We are not told, but it may be that Irene, although light skinned because of her previous ancestors, may not have had a white parent herself. Or it could be that she continued to live with her birth parents because no one died in her family while she was a child. So she grew up in the black community.

    Historically, due to segregation, someone with one white parent and one black parent would have been required to live in the black community. There are historical examples of white people of either sex "passing" for black in order to live with a black spouse, especially in areas where black-white marriage was illegal or forbidden by custom. Light skinned black people who passed for white were breaking the law and thus had to be circumspect about it, whether they had a "bigoted" spouse or not.

    The remark about Clare, who was married to a white man and lived as a white person generally, passing in order to visit the store restaurant refers to the segregation by law that existed in many places. She would be thrown out if anyone recognized her as black, whereas that may not have been a danger in her own white community. For example, Los Angeles, in that same time period, had no segregation laws or customs and black people would not be bothered in a restaurant, no matter who they were eating with. Not so in Chicago at that time, hence the need to pass for both Irene and Clare.

    Somerby pretense that he doesn't know what mixed race means is ludicrous and offensive. If he truly knows nothing about our country's racial history, he has no basis for critiquing articles about it.

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  2. "What can it possibly mean when Kleeman says that Clare's daughter is "white-passing?" Just consider this young person's circumstance:

    Presumably, her bigoted father actually is "white." That said, her mother is so light-skinned that everyone believes that she's "white" too.

    Unless someone has told her different, the daughter will naturally have this same impression of her mother.

    (Just for the record, the odds are good that the bulk of this girl's DNA traces back to Europe.)"

    Somerby asks in what sense this girl is passing. He seems to be oblivious to the "one drop rule" which was part of segregation, arising from slavery. It says thst any amount of black ancestry classifies that person as black, no matter how small the amount, even "one drop" of blood. That is why the child is passing as much as the mother. Such laws didn't care whether the person knew about their black heritage or not, whether they had always lived as white or not, or what their intentions were. They were unforgiving.

    These attitudes are mirrored in today's white supremacist attitudes. There is no tolerance for racial mixing. Nor was there in Nazi Germany. Being aware or unaware of one's heritage is irrelevant to such laws and to the people who hold such attitudes. Black blood is a pollutant to the white race and would not have been tolerated, even in an innocent child.

    It surprises me that Somerby doesn't know this stuff. Has he been living with his head in a cabbage? He lives in a Southern city. How can he never have encountered any literature or history dealing with such matters?

    Somerby seems to want to blame Kleeman or Hall, but it seems to be his own ignorance that is at fault. Kleeman and Hall are describing reality. It is Somerby who doesn't know what it means.

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  3. "Our vastly self-impressed liberal tribe aggressively clings to the concept of "race" in this brave new dystopia."

    This statement is ridiculous. Somerby tries to blame Kleeman for the one-drop rule, which was invented by slave-owners, not people in this time period, such as Kleeman, who is dealing with the premise of a film based on a book about people living under that rule.

    Then Somerby blames liberals (progressives) for racial classifications arising from slavery, the ones that racism holds dear, as if liberals invented or are maintaining racism instead of fighting against it.

    This is akin to blaming firefighters for starting fires, since their job would not exist without them. Liberals didn't invent racism and are not perpetuating it by trying to fight it in our modern culture.

    But this is a meme circulated among conservatives. They are the ones who say that liberals are the true racists because of their focus on race in their attempts to eliminate racism. Why is Somerby, who claims to be liberal, repeating a conservative meme again? This is evidence that Somerby is no liberal, not even close, but is pretending to be one in order to persuade the unsuspecting that conservative beliefs have some merit -- they do not. Conservatives just want liberals to shut up about race so that they can go on discriminating and assaulting black people without consequences, because they have no interest in changing the racial caste system that exists in our country today, the legacy of slavery. Liberals want to eliminate that caste system. That does require talking about racism but talking about racism to eliminate it doesn't make one a racist.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It hurts to be criticized unfairly.

      Delete
    2. If progressive complaints about racism don't fit you, why would you be hurt or take offense?

      Delete
    3. Why would "blacks" want to accept a label created by racist slaveholders to confer inferiority on them?

      Delete
    4. Race problems serve as an excuse for progressives to express their own hostility and frustrated need for power. In doing so they actually harm black people, because their hostile attitude toward the white majority tends to intensify race hatred.

      Delete
    5. No, race problems are something that progressives address through policy and legislation because anti-racism is part of the Democratic Party platform, as are all forms of social justice. If black people felt they were being harmed, they wouldn't keep voting for Democrats.

      C- for your attempt to muddy the water with nonsense.

      Delete
    6. I'm not saying progressives are aware of it. Of course you rationalize it as something that makes you look noble. Democrats lost in black voters in the last presidential election. I'm sure you can rationalize that as well but that ain't good.

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    7. Why do you think progressive drop so many our bombs? It feels good. It makes them feel powerful. It ends all conversations and more important and more difficult issues remain unaddressed. It's a pure power play by people who feel powerless and it does nothing for anyone.

      Delete
    8. No, progressives aren't doing this to "feel good." It is an attempt to eliminate racism so that minority people can go about their lives on an equal playing field.

      Repeating another conservative big lie doesn't make it true. It just annoys people here, at a supposedly liberal blog. And it is just trolling.

      Democrats didn't lose "in black voters" in the last election. Trump gained slightly, but the overwhelming majority of black voters went for Biden. Stop lying about stuff like that!

      F for truth and D- for implausible lying.

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    9. Equal playing field on white terms. Not black terms. Trump gained in Black voters. What does that tell you? You think I care what grade you give me or what you think about it?

      Delete
    10. Of course you're not going to immediately understand or be able to come to terms with the fact progressives involvement in race matters is merely a way to make up for their own low self-esteem and depressive tendencies.

      Delete
    11. Repeating the lies. Bad troll!

      Delete
    12. If our society had no social problems at all, progressives would have to invent problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.

      (Not all progressives of course. This is only a rough indication of a general tendency of progressives.)

      Delete
    13. I only want blacks to have more governmental representation, to own Right-wingers.
      It's the same reason why I love immigrants, women, and the poor.

      Delete
    14. That's an honest and accurate statement. You only care about blacks as a way to exercise power and settle scores. It's an expression of anger and hostility borne out of your low self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness. Blacks are just the vehicles to express it. It's very good to be aware of this and be honest about it.

      Delete
    15. Yup.
      Thanks to the "economic anxiousness" of the Right, it drives them crazy.
      I do what I can. I'd love to Facebook Live a daily abortion, but I'm male.

      Delete
    16. 11:40,
      Someone has to teach CRT to pre-schoolers. Why shouldn't it be me?

      Delete
    17. 10:32, 10:57

      Cool. Sounds great.

      Delete
  4. "Why would anyone want Hall's unsuspecting character to get together with him? This point just isn't made real clear in the course of the blood-soaked film."

    Redemption? I guess Somerby doesn't believe people can change.

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    Replies
    1. Is Hall supposed to have turned down the role because of the moral murkiness of the script? I'm not sure any but the top stars have that option.

      Delete
  5. “ Somerby pretense that he doesn't know what mixed race means is ludicrous and offensive. If he truly knows nothing about our country's racial history, he has no basis for critiquing articles about it.”

    What does it mean NOW for a writer of today to have logically qualified Clare’s daughter as passing? Qualified her as that without even mentioning the ethos of that era- “the world the slave holders made.”

    What are the boundaries with this issue now? Are the boundaries still influenced by the past? Are there modern day rewards that are coupled with this status?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kleeman is talking about a book and film set in the 1920s in Chicago, not now.

      Passing is no longer a thing today because there are no longer segregation laws. A business that denied entry to someone based on race would be breaking the law.

      Today, all but the bigoted throwbacks are willing to acknowledged the mixing in their own heritage.

      In the 1950s, there were many families who frowned on mixed marriages between different religions or different denominations of Christianity (Baptists and Presbyterians for example, Lutherans of different synods). It was also forbidden to mix across class lines, poor people and wealthy people (hence the phrase "wrong side of the tracks"). A mixed marriage could also be considered someone with a college degree marrying someone with only a high school diploma or less. All of these forms of mixing were frowned upon.

      The scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts tries to shop on Rodeo Dr. wouldn't happen today because all of those forms of snobbery are greatly decreased.

      But to answer your question, it depends on the people involved. Certainly, bigots and white supremacists are trying to keep those boundaries alive.

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    2. Wouldn’t your caveats about current times suggest that considering the heritage of Clare’s daughter, it’s logical to ponder why Kleeman didn’t bother to reference the ethos of the past to her modern readers? Could Kleeman’s assumptions about the daughter and about us be part of the continuing influence of the world of a slave holders?

      Nothing to chide anyone about in that question.

      Delete
    3. Educated people know such things. Somerby pretend there is some great mystery involved when there is none.

      Delete
  6. Anonymices, you can Netflix The Town.

    A more intriguing vehicle in order to check out Rebecca Hall (n my book, surely not that my old man’s) is to watch the miniseries Parade’s End on Amazon Prime.

    Five episodes $1.99/each. The series $14.95(HD) or $9.95 (SD).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why supply the prices, unless you get a percentage?

      Delete
    2. She was in that Woody Allen thing. Penelope Cruz won an Oscar for it.

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    3. If all you've got to making a sweeping claim that progressives endorse racial identity, is a fluff piece article about an actress, you're probably a redneck.

      just sayin'

      Delete
  7. "Our vastly self-impressed liberal tribe aggressively clings to the concept of "race" in this brave new dystopia."

    Don't be so dramatic, dead Bob. Dystopia? Ha-ha. Farce, more like.

    Your liberal-hitlerian cult deserves contempt, not pity.

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  8. And what does your Trumpist cult deserve?

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  9. Oof, Somerby got pummeled in the comments yesterday, and wants a do-over. He tries to distract with some nonsense about a NOVEL, then meekly tries to reassert his outlandish claim about progressives loving race identity, and then offers some more distraction nonsense about a MOVIE. Who does he think he is fooling?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymices attack Somerby in the comments every time he blogs . No matter the topic.

      That’s why it’s so evident that this behavior is an organized operation.

      Delete
    2. People (not mice) attack Somerby whenever he writes garbage. No matter the topic, he manages to do that.

      Delete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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