Case Study: the Fall of NAACP’s Prestige and the Mishandling of the Rachel Dolezal Controversy (originally written by Gloria Steele-Hatten, August 17, 2015)

In the United States, racial tension has always been intensely heated and, all too often, this tension is one of the main distinguishing characteristics of American culture itself. The United States’ disconcerting history of racial tyranny includes the countless massacres set upon various tribes of Native Amerindians, as well as the horrors of African chattel slavery and its gruesomely profitable importance in the Triangular Trade. Over time, many movements and organizations have been established to fight for African American equality, even down to ensuring dignified representation of African Americans in the media (similar to the Jewish and Italian Anti-Defamation Leagues). The most prominent of these equal rights organizations is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization was founded in 1909 by both Black and white members with the intention of initiating consolidated efforts towards racial justice and empowerment (22), including, for example organizing– and, more importantly, funding– various social movements towards ensuring Civil Rights for African Americans. The organization is also well known for various charity efforts spent towards, for example, improving housing and school programs in African American communities to even fighting against stereotypical and degrading portrayals of minority ethnic groups in film and mainstream media, including, most famously, the protests against D.W. Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation in 1915 (13) and “the late C. Delores Tucker, an NAACP Special Contribution Fund Trustee, and others in the 1990s picketed and sued to remove sexually explicit lyrics from rap and hip-hop tracks, citing a concern that the lyrics were misogynistic and threatened the moral foundation of the African American community (24).”

The NAACP had a long standing reputation of dignity, even sometimes criticized as almost too conservative, but even in its earliest days, it was not immune to criticism about its choices as an establishment to accept or refuse to assist in certain civil rights cases. For example, the NAACP infamously declined to offer assistance or intervention in the horrifying Scottsboro Nine case, erroneously believing they were guilty and seeking to avoid ideological conflicts and political discrediting by affiliating with or interference into what was being handled by the ILD:

The NAACP thought the I.L.D. was using the Scottsboro case as propaganda for the cause of communism; the I.L.D. thought the NAACP was too moderate, willing to collaborate with the ruling class for small gains. The boys were easily swayed by both organizations but ultimately, the I.L.D. was more successful at courting their parents, and that decided the issue. (29)

In these early days, the Scottsboro case was one of the first instances of the NAACP’s intentions and goals being questioned by the public. However, recently, the once reputable organization has fallen deep into public disapproval again over seeming incompetence and lack of agency in addressing some of the most crucial needs of the African American communities. To the majority of the community that feels their influence outdated or ineffective especially, bitter resentment and a sense of cultural treachery is directed towards the now all-but-forgotten beacon of Black Nobility in Reconstruction and Civil Rights-Era America.

Some of the public outrage levied against the NAACP’s hierarchy shows concern over the redirection of charity contributions. The NAACP has a long and sordidly disillusioning history of financial mismanagement. Memorably, the Benjamin Chavis case, involving the epic downfall of what could have been a next generation Civil Rights hero, was one of the first instances of massive financial appropriation to be brought to the forefront (2). The firing of Benjamin Chavis from his short-lived (sixteen and a half months) career as president of the NAACP in 1994 was considered, at that time, “the most profound internal upheaval in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 85 year history (2).” The controversial young minister was known for his unconventional political passion and was often considered (or misunderstood/misrepresented) as more militant that some of his elder counterparts. With a conviction dropped inexplicably for arson and substantial damage to a white-owned grocery, the activist worked his way up the political ladder in Washington D.C. to compete against the likes of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson for the NAACP presidency with the support and assistance of a Ms. Stansel, whom he later clandestinely hired off the books to undisclosed assistance in his office, “working the phones and fax machines(2)” for a pretty under the table salary of $332,400 paid out of contributors’ funding. Chavis’ cooking of the books and skimming off the top was met with not just disapproval but also lecherous innuendos of sexual misconduct including harassment and favoritism (14). While several members of Chavis’ entourage (called “The Team” by intimates) were all paid, some believe, too handsomely and rewarded too lavishly during and after the campaign, however Ms. Stansel was of particular interest because of the perception of sexual exploitation that left an all too acrid odor of indignity to defile the NAACP’s reputation (19). After Chavis’ short-lived administration, what was once an economically and financially strong and sustainable civil rights organization “faced a deficit of $3 million (19)” in 1994 and has struggled to stay afloat ever since. Sadly, what was then an unprecedented tarnish on the NAACP’s image, has only in recent years been topped by more corruption and even more ludicrous sexual scandals and even more debilitating haphazard hierarchal organization (30).

Of late, particular focus has revolved around the circumstances concerning the resignation of two more NAACP presidents, Leon Jenkins and Rachel Dolezal. The most recent and racially heated NAACP scandals involving NAACP presidents are loaded with irony: the NAACP, an organization for recognizing grand achievement in the African American community, has been handing out grand accolades to white people instead of the Colored People the Association was formed to Advance.  The Donald Sterling case, for example, involves the embarrassing revocation of the lifetime achievement award from the racist, misogynist owner of the L.A. Clippers (6). In 2009, the NAACP awarded Sterling with its highest honor, in recognition of his great financial contributions (around $45,000) to the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, and was prepared to renew or re-present his award until his own sexual scandal overshadowed his displays of charity.

“The first time Sterling was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the group was in the midst of a lawsuit for housing discrimination based upon race,” said LZ Granderson, a CNN contributor and lecturer at Northwestern University.”To decide to honor him with the award a second time, after he had paid millions to settle multiple discrimination suits … is not selling out. Selling out makes financial sense. No, considering what $45,000 means to a man of Sterling’s wealth, honoring him with awards is just giving integrity away.” (6)

In light of the scandal of the association with the sexually deviant and racist Clippers owner, Los Angeles NAACP chapter president Leon Jenkins resigned, quoted as saying “the reputation of the NAACP is more important to me than the residency (6).”

Most ironic of all things in an institution dedicated to the dignity of a race, the NAACP has risked more of its institutional credibility in a recent scandal concerning racial misrepresentation. Just as painful as the seeming betrayal of the NAACP’s mismanagement of charity and taxpayer dollars, is that Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of NAACP was discovered and outed for “passing” as Black. Arguably one of the most controversial public figures and women of 2015 alone, Rachel Dolezal has been pretending to be or identifying as Black for an unknown number of years, but the charade became much more public after 2007:

When she moved into her uncle’s basement in the largely white town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2004, Rachel A. Dolezal was still blond and paleskinned and identified herself as a white woman — one who had left a black husband and had a biracial child. But within a few years, [the activist’s] already deep commitment to black causes and culture intensified. Coworkers and relatives began hearing from her or others that her background was mixed race— and even that she had called herself black. (15)

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Some believe the woman is, at best, completely delusional and deeply mired in self-hatred, and, at worst, deliberately and systematically making a mockery of the NAACP, the African American culture, the process of cultural assimilation and appropriation, as well as mocking the entire country’s cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity as a whole. When faced with questions of just why his daughter would go through such great strains to perpetuate such an elaborate ruse, Lawrence Dolezal offered his theory:

his daughter has long had a diverse group of friends — and black adopted siblings — and ultimately “assimilated” into the culture at the historically black college she chose to attend “so strongly that that’s where she transferred her identity.” (32)

The Rachel Dolezal scandal surfaced during a year in which the flames of ethnic and cultural conflict were fanned high. Between 2014 and 2015, several shockingly flagrant cases of recorded instances of overt white police brutality electrified the African American community. America as a whole witnessed the snatching away of the proverbial veil that prevented us from seeing this country in fact hadn’t changed its face of racism, even after the induction of a [half]Black president. Interestingly, the issue of Rachel’s passing for black also came at an unprecedented time in American history where the transgender community has also become more visible in their struggle for equality. In fact, the new transgender advocacy that’s sweeping the nation is being touted as the “new civil rights movement” as transpeople fight for right of expression and identity. Dolezal’s ethnic passing mirrors the sexual “passing” spoken of by transwoman Janet Mock in her highly laudable memoir Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood. Poignantly, Dolezal herself has publicly identified and aligned with transwoman Caitlyn Jenner, formerly famous as Bruce Jenner, the father of the Kardashian clan (32). What makes Dolezal’s passing so unsettling is that, unlike Janet Mock or even Caitlyn Jenner, and certainly unlike the thousands of so-called “tragic mulattoes” (13) and other African Americans who have passed for white (28), Dolezal was never in a position as dangerous, debilitating, and depressing as having to fight for equality and recognition in a world where you are at best invisible and at worst subhuman and demonized. A white woman passing as an African American woman does not grant her any increase in recognition, validity, credibility, or safety. Black men and women have historically passed for white to protect themselves from lynchings, segregation, discrimination, and, even in the present day some still pass to attempt to attain some semblance of dignified living in a hateful society that historically has legally defined African Americans as 3/5ths of a human being(10). So the Dolezal controversy begs the puzzling question: why would Rachel go to such lengths to fabricate such an intricately concocted delusion?

Many people are deeply offended by the idea that someone whose family suffered none of the horrifying systemic racism African Americans endure would seem to so gleefully immerse herself in and enjoy the trappings of black culture. And any assertion that she had good intentions but had to fib to attend Howard University or work for the NAACP doesn’t hold up: white people can, and do, do both of these things. But most infuriating to some is the idea that she may be able to retreat comfortably back into a white identity, leaving the racism she claims to have experienced as a black woman behind. (32)

First we must examine the history of passing then analyze how Rachel Dolezal turns the concept on its head and slingshots it back as a smack in the face of African American progress. Although the concept of racial/ethnic passing originated with two stories by Lydia Marie Child called “The Quadroons” and “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes” in the 1840s (27), the official term “passing” was first coined by Nella Larson in the classic Harlem Renaissance novel Passing (17), to refer to the practice of an individual removing oneself completely from their family and community to masquerade dangerously under the pretense of an entirely fabricated ethnic, cultural, and racial history and identity. One who “passes” does more than merely pretend or assume a persona, but truly embodies another race or religion (i.e. Jews passing for Germans during the Holocaust in Eastern European provinces), often at a grave cost to their sanity and lives. During cinema’s Golden Age of the 1930s-1960s, two films based on the 1933 Fannie Brice novel Imitation of Life were made in 1934 and 1959, starring Fredi Washington (an actual African American actress) and Susan Kohner (a white Jewish actress) respectively as Peola/Sarah Jane, the tragic mulatto. The film adaptations were quite critically acclaimed for their deep sentimentality and for the first time sympathizing the tragic mulatto character even as she remains a stock characterization kept just shy of fully realized, dynamic character development (4).

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Beyond the silver screen, music video or catwalk, many African American actors and actresses, singers and models struggle with visibility in a white predominant industry and, besides the unspoken practice of skin bleaching and the more publicly acknowledged “media magic” of airbrushing and photo enhancement techniques, many have plain deceived the public and their producers or kindly omitted their true ethnic roots to get further exposure and success. [In]famous “passers” who have denied or politely refused to acknowledge their genuinely African American ancestry to bolster their success in entertainment have historically included Mae West, Carol Channing, Slash from the rock band Guns N Roses, Rachel Meghan Markle, Rashida Jones, Cash Warren, Jennifer Beals, SNL’s Maya Rudolph (who has been cast blatantly as a white woman, Jewish woman, and African American woman in three different films with apparently no problem being taken at face value), Journalist Soledad O’ Brien, and Wentworth Miller, perhaps most visibly passing due to his exposure of the practice by playing the “life imitates art” role of Coleman Silk in the critically acclaimed The Human Stain, a film which is credited for bringing the concept of Passing back to the mainstream modern day America (20). Significantly, one of the most revealing and/or rewarding (?) instances of passing was the instance of Walter F. White, a Black man who, at his peril, successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan secret society and rituals in order to understand the organization’s clandestine plans and intentions, and allowed him to irrefutably expose Klansmen as the deliberate perpetrators of over 40 murders by lynching (35). White himself, to his credit, helped establish the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP at a time when the organization still retained its integrity and the Black community still regarded the organization’s advocacy as not only useful but vital to saving many Black lives from the lawlessness of the Klan’s bloody night rides.

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Besides the practice of Blacks “passing” is also the inextricably related practice of Blackface. Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled brilliantly and prophetically analyses the history of America’s media portrayal of Blacks. Taking an evolutionary turn from first omitting/denying African Americans work on films and just “substituting” white actors who painted their faces in gruesome masquerades of the most bestial mockery, the film industry, in later times, required even actual African Americans to be cast in shamefully stereotypical roles, themselves forced to “blacken up” their own already Black skin. This humiliating practice of African Americans forced to “blacken up” was essential for the Eurocentric hegemony to reinforce the concept of African-ness as ugly and damnable, laughable, exoticised and objectified. Incredulously, even Rachel Dolezal herself criticized the Ridley Scott film Exodus: Gods and Monsters because of the decision to cast white and European actors (with deep tans) in roles that were historically Black, Pre-Arab Invasion North Africans. Outside of Hollywood portrayals, white Texas journalist John Howard Griffin took upon himself to “blacken up” to understand the Black experience in New Orleans and parts of Mississippi, historically the “heart” of the most viciously racist South. More recently, philanthropic legend and humanitarian Angelina Jolie came under heated controversy and backlash for her portrayal of mixed heritage Marianne Peal in film A Mighty Heart (8), despite her having been cited as having “Creole” ancestry.

The phenomenon of white performers “blacking up” emerged in the 19th century but was at its height when the white Al Jolson performed in blackface in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer. Blackface was popular since it was a caricature of blackness. Apart from blacking up, Hollywood has a history of ignoring talented black female actors. The legendary Lena Horne lost the role in the 1951 film Showboat to Ava Gardner and Dorothy Dandridge also lost roles due to her race during the 1950s. Not everyone agrees Jolie is miscast. Lee Papa, a professor of English, world literature, and speech at CUNY in New York City says “true ‘blackface’ was an intentional mockery and exaggeration of race, with even black people doing blackface to appear darker for white audiences. Angelina Jolie is an actor playing a character who is at least part white.” [Marianne] Pearl’s comments about race in Glamour magazine last year indicates her own ambivalence about her [own] black heritage. In the article “The woman who gave me strength” she does not use the word “black” and repeatedly refers to her mother’s heritage as “Cuban.” (8)

This percentage of mixed ethnicity in Jolie hints at a plausibility of African American heritage supported by the “one-drop rule” cited by Halle Berry in the equally controversial public assertion of her daughter Nahla’s race which Berry firmly defends as Black, despite Nahla’s white French father (3).

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This is a fascinating bit of cultural development. Halle Berry would no more raise her child and send her to a “Black” primary school than would Barack and Michelle Obama. Their “Blackness” is an affectation rather than an identity forged in the “authenticity” of the streets. … we will never be free of the racism of our society until we no longer have 30% of all blacks living in poverty… so much of the pathology of the Black American community is a result of cultural pathologies (children raised by single mothers, often with multiple half-siblings, substance abuse, irresponsible behavior, the conscious devaluation of education in much of the community, and a host of other ills). For the record, the poorest American Blacks would be considered middle class in most of the world. They lag in comparative terms (and the definition of poverty increases every year) with white (and Asian) Americans and all of the efforts for the last 50 years, the “War on Poverty”, have done nothing to shrink the gap … The sad fact is that Black American communities remain deeply troubled and as a result, devalued, even as they are idealized by our cultural elites (3)

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The fact that Angelina Jolie is the adopted mother of multiracial children, including (Black) Ethiopian Zahara (7) allows us to bring the discourse back full circle to refocusing on Rachel Dolezal, who has maintained passionately that, if for nothing else, she is “Black” because she is the mother of Black children. Her three adopted sons include her own Black half-brother adopted by her parents when she was a teenager as well as two fathered by her African American husband Kevin Moore in a previous relationship of his with a [“Real”] Black woman and, finally, one son, she birthed from Moore. Most disturbing and convoluted in an already confusing phenomena, Dolezal claims her Black husband was sexually and physically abusive. These allegations automatically invoke disturbing collective conscious memories of the innumerable lynchings of Black Men falsely accused by white women of rape. Thus, Rachel Dolezal reinforces as a white woman  the persistent stereotype of the Black Man as abusive and sexually depraved. Rachel maintains that the abuse she endured reached a paramount leading to their divorce which led to her struggles as a homeless single mother– solidly placing her in the sympathetic role of the white woman victimized by the Black savage brute— shortly before publicly claiming her Black identity(33).

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On Tuesday, Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” show asked her, “When did you start deceiving people?” But Ms. Dolezal, who stepped down on Monday as president of the Spokane N.A.A.C.P. chapter, pushed back. “I do take exception to that because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black, or answering a question of, ‘Are you black or white?’ ” she said. Over the course of the day, she also described herself as “transracial” and said: “Well, I definitely am not white. Nothing about being white describes who I am.”… The term transracial has long been associated with adoptions of a child by a family of a different race. Angela Tucker, a black woman born in Tennessee and adopted by a white family in Bellingham, Wash., said it was “absolutely maddening” to associate the term with Ms. Dolezal’s story. “It means a lot to those of us who call ourselves transracial adoptees,” said Ms. Tucker, 29, a social worker who lives in Seattle. “We have grown up in a culture different than what we physically represent. We’ve had to seek out our roots. What Rachel has done is misappropriate that.” (15)

The trouble with Rachel Dolezal’s misappropriation inherent within her identification as Black is that the NAACP’s decision to grant her any position of assumed integrity or authority can be perceived as undermining the trials, efforts, and triumphs of genuinely Black individuals who daily struggle to seek representation in mainstream America. Most troubling in the [Black]face of Dolezal’s very public masquerade as an African American activist is precisely the invisibility of the majority of minorities in the United States off-screen, socio-economically repressed . The African American demographic misrepresented in the media barely manage to stand against a WASP majority that all too often ostracizes, fetishizes, and, ultimately, marginalizes individuals who seek to succeed and gain upward mobility by any means (including passing/assimilation) in a deliberately racist and ultimately unattainable Eurocentric Western society. At the time of writing, including the seminal Trayvon Martin case of 2012, the past five years alone have featured no less than 12 highly publicized murders of Black men, women, and children by police– and incalculable more unspoken and unsung (9). The fact that, while the likes of Rachel Dolezal and even Caitlyn Jenner and Janet Mock “pass” and rally impassionedly over imagined, self-constructed pains of skewed identity, real Black lives are being taken indiscriminately, callously, casually, and without harsh punishment indicates clearly that today the race has found no more safety than in the Reconstruction, with the Ku Klux Klan policing and terrorizing Black lives (that did, and do, matter).

Antics of racial mockery and displaced identities aside, the most telling– and deadly– of the NAACP’s fading prestige, especially with younger generations, was its perceived lack of satisfactory intervention in the October 2014 police killing of teenage Michael Brown in the highly publicized “Twitter Revolution” of the Ferguson, MO case, under the direction of then-President Cornell William Brooks:

…The group had been active from the outset of the Brown killing, mostly behind the scenes, from high-level meetings with the Department of Justice and local officials to putting political pressure on key players like St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson…. Despite the ongoing efforts, the NAACP and old-school clergy and activist have come under fire from leaders of a more impatient generation of protesters….During a mass, inter-faith, protest service sponsored in part by the NAACP, a mostly young crowd heckled Cornell William Brooks, the group’s national president. “This ain’t your grandparents’ civil rights movement,” Tef Poe, a St. Louis based rapper who has emerged as one of the protest movements young leaders, said after taking the stage during that service earlier this month. “For us, this is not an academic issue,” he said. “Y’all did not show up.”Tef Poe said the people who stood by him and others who took to the streets night after night following Brown’s killing, facing off with heavily-armed police, were young men mostly, some with their shirts off and bandannas tied around their faces. (18)

Although the NAACP is reported to have directly funneled substantial financial assistance into the protection of crucial private witnesses key to solidifying the character of the Ferguson officers, the NAACP still seems to be offering matters of Black Lives and Civil Rights as a playing ground for Eurocentric politics. Echoing the aforementioned tragic failure in Scottsboro, AL. 1933, the nation watched as their most precious male youth were abandoned and in the end martyred by the very intermediaries and ambassadors of the Colored community (including other groups of the States’ ethnic minorities) who were expected to defend and avenge at all costs. The NAACP’s lack of intervention  financially or otherwise, willingly or unwillingly, like Pontius Pilate, washed their hands clean of sufficiently engaging the conversation of white administrative culpability and its bloody consequence. The nine Scottsboro youth had their lives bargained away due to the NAACP’s decision to quite pointedly refuse to engage in what could be interpreted as any ideological association with the anathema Communist Party fronted by the ILD who subsequently took the boys’ defense, to their peril. In short, the majority of the minority community felt the NAACP refused to aid in the manner the community felt just. Then, as now, although the NAACP eventually had come to offer financial support to the families of the Scottsboro Boys even after their refusal to take the case, the organization was called to question for what was seemed overall as “too little, too late.” Indeed, perhaps it was more speciically “too belittling, too late” in terms of truly impacting a true revolutionary paradigm shift which must begin with a hierarchal re-structuring both within the NAACP as well as  official, federal branches of Western government. Huffington Post as  a news source has more recently risen to mainstream prominence in part due to its objective and all inclusive coverage of nuanced issues pertaining to various subcultures of class, race, gender, and sexuality, particularly giving weight of voice to the African American and LGBTQ communities. The news outlet was quite thorough and uniquely perceptive in their coverage of the “intergenerational work” that the Brown murder was a catalyst of. Huffington Post journalist for both the Black Voices and Gay Voices subcategories Rosa Clemente comments eloquently on the backlash against the seemingly useless community Elders:

“…at some point the young people stood up in the audience turned their backs on the president of the NAACP and a lot of the clergy and started chanting and getting very upset because they felt they weren’t being heard,” Clemente said…Clemente acknowledged…last night’s powerful rejection symbolized the way in which young demonstrators are holding their leaders accountable for stagnant progress.

“It literally changed the nature of a gathering that seemed to be disconnected from the lived reality of what these young people are facing,” she said. “And when they took that space over … they did the work. And now the older generation’s work is now to repent for having let down this generation.” (11)

Administrative reform applies just as much to ideological institutions as physical ones, applying just as much to business brands as to fraternal or religio-social archetypes. Thus, the NAACP may do well to reform their image– welcoming an upgraded reputation as a force willing to satisfactorily and quickly enable and support the New Age youth, eschewing their crumbling constitution founded initially on archaic and rhetorical expectations and standards. The horrifying spectacle of African American and Latino teenagers subjected to tear gas, dogs, and clubs has been reminiscent all too vividly of 1995’s King riots and 1955’s turbulent season of boycotts, marches, and sit-ins. A vast amount of disapproval was levied against the NAACP’s refusal to bring more proactive, protective assistance and attention to the brutality against youth protesters during the Fergusen media frenzy. The NAACP was also viewed as “selling out” to side with financial contributors, networks who were opponents of Net Neutrality (16). For the NAACP to give support (in the form of accepting considerable donations from) to corporations like AOL/Time Warner and others who would undo the Net Neutrality Act, would inhibit the organic growth of grassroots social media revolution(s) that thrive on increased up to the minute media awareness via live streaming and instantly accessibly Instagram and Twitter postings, such as those which helped spread awareness and advocacy to Michael Brown’s case and most recently Sandra Bland. The alleged failure of the NAACP lies, therefore, more in the failure of their image to hold relevance and permanence in the current age. The failure lies in the disconnect with the community and the failure to signify, as an Organization as well as an Emblem or Icon, the concept of Dignity and Justice for Colored People.

 **Readers: Please visit and review the following classic article on The Tragic Mulatto Stereotype https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mulatto/ 

works cited

  • Pilgrim, Dr. David. “The Tragic Mulatto Myth” Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum Of Racist Memorabilia Online Nov 2000/2012 (Edit) Web Retrieval

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief analysis of Satire and Stereotype in Swift’s Gulliver’s travels (originally written by Gloria Steele-Hatten May 14, 2019)

In “The Presence of Parody,” Mikhail Bakhtin wrote,

It is in general very difficult to identify … in literary prose … without knowing the background of alien discourse against which it is projected, that is, without knowing its context. In world literature  there are probably many works whose parodic nature has not even been suspected. (Bakhtin, 374).

A parody, some can say, is a reconstruction or a deconstruction (Phiddian). It can be seen as a usually humorous tribute to an existing work, or as a “remake” or “remix” that takes the same themes and similar plot details or character dynamics from the original work and places them, perhaps, in a different time or location. Gulliver’s Travels is rightfully viewed as a parody of epic travel narratives, akin to Cervantes’ Don Quixote and, as a more contemporary successor, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. More than just a parody of classic literary forms, however, Gulliver’s Travels is more importantly a satire of human behavior, in particular international conflict and racism. Swift uses Gulliver to embody the consummate common Englishman. The overly exaggerated indigenous tribes with whom he comes into contact represent extremes of humanity. In Swift’s story, the protagonist’s “heart of darkness” is his own heart as he is afraid to discover there is a savagery in himself which is the savagery of betraying his traditional life in his homeland because of his curiosity and wonder. His desire to travel an know other worlds leaves him with an almost dangerous restlessness.

In Gulliver’s Travels, the invasion by Gulliver into these fantastical lands is psychological– just as in real life history the European explorers penetrated the jungles of Asia and Africa, the invasion of the mind and culture of the different tribes by Gulliver was violent and permanent as well, despite his seemingly passive observation, as evidenced by the distrust and expulsion by the Lilliputians in particular. Just as a road cuts down and clears that which it penetrates, the English destroyed and nearly exterminated entire races depending on where they were able to go. Swift hints that even the sexual violence throughout, particularly among the Yahoos is a psychologically projected result of the aggression triggered in conjunction with the disappointment and frustration of not belonging in these foreign lands nor his English world. The violent, rapist nature of the colonizing Europeans is symbolised in the highly sexual and violent nature of the Yahoos. In an anachronistic way, Gulliver’s Travels retroactively is a parody of Joseph Conrad because the fear of the “explorer” as a white man was always that he would become “just like them”– that is, beast-like savage indigenous tribal creatures.

In the Lilliputian tribe, Gulliver confronts a tiny race of people who view Gulliver as a powerful ally against their enemies due to his size, and seek to enlist him in warfare in their defense. Eventually, however, they find reason to suspect and distrust him and attempt to imprison and starve him. The ordeal rather petty and pitiable to Gulliver due to his size and ease of escape, Swift expresses how individuals can enact a particular kind of apathy for the conflicts of others by seeing themselves as “above it all” and thus are unable to help in a truly compassionate, empathic way.

In choosing persons for all employments, [the Lilliputians] have more regard to good morals than to great abilities; for, since government is necessary to mankind, they believe-that the common size of human understandings is fitted to some station or other, and that Providence never intended to make the management of public affairs a mystery, to be comprehended only by a few persons of sublime genius, of which there seldom are three born in an age: but they suppose truth, justice, temperance, and the like, to be in every man’s power; the practice of which virtues, assisted by experience and a good intention, would qualify any man for the service of his country, except where a course of study is required. But they thought the want of moral virtues was so far from being supplied by superior endowments of the mind, that employments could never be put into such dangerous hands as those of persons so qualified; and at least, that the mistakes committed by ignorance in a virtuous disposition, would never be of such fatal consequence to the public weal, as the practices of a man whose inclinations led him to be corrupt, and had great abilities to manage, and multiply, and defend his corruptions. (Swift, pg26)

A structuralist reading of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels shows that the difference in size of Lemuel Gulliver who is big vs. the Lilliputians who are small, is Swift taking a stance about where we as humans stand today. Through the structuralist theory lens of delineated “binary oppositions” (big vs. small), Jonathan Swift takes a stand about human nature and how the Lilliputians represent, through size, the “small”, unassuming, meek, and humble embodiment of a people that value integrity and morality yet are limited by their protective mistrust of outsiders or those bigger than them, for fear of defeat or oppression.

After this illustrative first adventure, Gulliver’s own fear-inducing judgments are embodied in his interactions with the formidable Brobdingnagians, a race of giants whose personal flaws are magnified due to their size. In his interactions with the Brobdingnagians, Swift reflects the inherent hypocrisy of projection. In other words, through Gulliver, he shows satirically how individuals project judgments and prejudices against others who exhibit the same normalized flaws they already have. Many people accuse others of flaws that are no different from their own and it is in Gulliver’s fundamental attribution error concerning the Brobdingnagians that Swift brings this to light in a comical way.

In contrast, Swift represents his ideal, and idyllic, indigenous society in the Houyhnhnms. This group of people (personified as horses) represent naked honesty—literally and figuratively. Their lack of clothing symbolically represents their transparency and absolute integrity—they literally have nothing to hide. They represent a people without injustice or inequality, emboldened in the vulnerability of not only physical but moral nakedness, without any hidden agendas, intentions, or hierarchy to create dissension or disparity between them. The Yahoos were a society representing absolute corruption and debauchery, with extreme perversion and deceit. As the goal of parody is meant to expose frivolity or superficiality and, to an extent, satire is meant to reform, Gulliver’s Travels exposes inequality and prejudice in European/English society in particular and humanity at large.

The beauty of Swift’s satire is that he provokes with shock and sensationalistic exaggeration, yet also confirms the sociological ills his satire is levied against by how, paradoxically, literal his symbolism becomes. For instance, when the leaders of the Yahoos have servants that lick their feet and derrieres, we are automatically reminded of the modern cultural slang of “kissing butt” to gain favor with so-called authority figures and “groveling at the feet” of those who assume (corrupt or otherwise) appointed or ascribed positions of leadership. Swift’s satire is directed at exposing the projections of judgments that so quickly lead to war, dissension, conflict, and confusion. Each land upon which Gulliver embarks is representative of a different characteristic or facet of humanity that is glorified. The glorification of academic prowess and intellectualism is embodied in the people inhabiting the island of Laputa. The deification of ancestors is embodied in the inhabitants of the land of Glubbdubdrib; the glorification of age, wisdom, and elderhood is comically represented by the immortal and senile inhabitants of Struldbrugs. Dominance, tyranny, and sovereignty is embodied in the Yahoos; territorialism and conflicting Imperialism is represented by the conflict between the tribes of Lilliput and Blefscu.

 

Works Cited

 

Bakhtin, M. M. (2010). The dialogic imagination: Four essays(Vol. 1). University of texas Press.

Hutcheon, L. (2000). A theory of parody: The teachings of twentieth-century art forms (Vol. 874). University of Illinois Press.

“I’m Coming Up Man-Sized/skinned alive:” Subversion of traditional Gender Roles and Implicit Causes (by Gloria Steele-Hatten, submitted for my Sociology course, May 19 2019)

 

“Silence my lady head/get girl out of my head[1]…”

In the largely patriarchal Western world, there is perhaps no topic more controversial for the modern woman than gender roles in society. Although in increasingly tolerant times where gender fluidity and LGBTQ identification are more normalized, traditional gender roles have fallen by the wayside, and it seems there is great confusion among many men and women as to where they stand with one another. Debates over the traditional ascribed roles abound: should a man take care of the children? Should the woman be the primary earner? How should chores be divided? In more traditional cultures, these questions are already answered, but in the Western world, new answers must be reconfigured, especially as, in more recent times, gender fluidity is more commonplace. The purpose of this study is to explore the literature surrounding gender roles and their origins in the roots of socialization in which these roles were so long ago established.  In this study, literature reviewed has yielded evidence that gender roles are shaped by three primary influences, biological, social, and cultural.

The biological differences between males and females are pronounced, and may be the primary determinate for the development of social and cultural perceptions concerning gender roles. It is no secret that, ordinarily, males have more physical strength than females, particularly in the upper body. In ancient times, whether in prehistory or the post-agricultural era, this made the enforcement and standardization of some traditional gender roles necessary. Males were given roles as primary food earners:  hence the enduring colloquialism “bring home the bacon” to imply the man of the house brings home the meat of the hunt to sustain the household. Anthropology proves an assimilation over human evolution to a partnership forged in which it was understood the stronger, larger male would risk the hunt while the vulnerable child bearing woman stayed home to healthily and safely create and preserve life. Due to his build and strength and the obvious fact that he would not carry life inside his belly, the male would chase down wild beasts for food, a dangerously strenuous task considering the primitive tools available at the time, risking his life- though he doesn’t carry or birth life- as necessary to feed his family. Exhausted by the simple task of procuring and ensuring the family’s food for the day, it was most likely not unreasonable at all to expect the partner, the female, to prepare the food for consumption, make clothes, and otherwise attend to tasks that made life more comfortable and easier for the male to continue to accomplish this task.

This designation of gender specific duties is further emphasized by the other large biological difference between males and females: the strain the female must go through in order to bear and raise a child through the first few years of life. Females, even if they were so inclined, would not be able to maintain the level of physical activity and upper body strength necessary, in those times, to consistently acquire food for the family. A female who is pregnant cannot be expected to work for twelve, or more, hours in the fields, and after birth, must make herself available to the child for feeding several times per day for an immeasurable, inconsistent, and not inconsiderable amount of time. These biological differences make the logic behind traditional gender roles clear, even desirable. However, in the modern world, most physical labor is done by machine in some way, making the physical differences between the sexes moot. A female can now bear a child and return to work immediately after recovery, due to the ease of work done in the modern age and the development of breast milk substitutions; likewise, a male doesn’t need physical strength to process reports, for example, or any of the more menial desk and phone jobs available today.

Therefore, without the excuse of physicality, what biological factors are there for the persistence of the gender roles? Costa, Terracciano, and McCrae, in a cross cultural study of gender differences in behaviors, found that males and females in both traditional and modern Western culture exhibited very similar behaviors in regards to assertiveness, openness to new experience, extroversion, etc (Costa, et al. pg. 328). In fact, those in Western cultures were found to have more exaggerated variance than those in traditional cultures, though the researchers claim that it may be due to the sexes comparing themselves to both sexes in Western culture as opposed to only their own sex in traditional culture. They go on to attribute these differences to either brain make-up or hormonal influences (Costa, et al. pg, 324)

Another cross cultural study, by Fischer, Mosquera, Vianen, and Manstead, reports that males feel less passive negative emotions, such as hopelessness, and feel active negative emotions less intensely than females do, regardless of culture (Fischer, et al. pg. 91). They go on to say that females inhabiting low income countries do not express anger as often as females from higher income countries, and become angry for different reasons. Males from lower income countries are more likely to express anger towards a stranger than an intimate, females from low income countries and males from high income are equally likely to express anger at both, yet males from high income countries have double the chance of being angry with no target than the other three groups, while females from high income countries are much more likely to express anger towards an intimate. Males and females from high income countries are more likely to become angry due to relational issues and small frustrations, while in low income countries both sexes are more likely to become angry over personal injustices (Fischer, et al. pg. 92).

In my own experience, I seem to have participated in the subversion or inversion of traditionally sanctioned gender roles in my own marriage. Due to my increased education, I became “the breadwinner,” carrying my family of (at that time) 4 solely on my self-employed freelance writing income for 3 years. My husband became embittered with “the system” he felt was against him and, despite phenomenal physical strength and incredible range of technical skill and ability, left the burden of the household solely on me, complaining that I could “easily” make more money online (disregarding the long hours and intense mental strain on me—I was a freelance journalist, blogger, and thesis ghostwriter, sometimes writing thesis papers and dissertations for not one but often two or three clients simultaneously per semester!) than he could doing construction and hard labor. Ironically, I came to live perpetually in “the second shift (Croft, et al., 2014),” in which I had to work full-time yet also take most of the responsibility for taking care of the children—breastfeeding, changing diapers, comforting and playing with children, homeschooling and being attentive to their needs and desires for attention 24/7—although, to his credit, he did share in chores such as gardening, laundry (often by hand, not machine), cooking (sometimes making actual fires outside upon which to prepare food), fishing, cleaning, grocery shopping, and transportation.

If variable social and cultural factors—including parental modeling of designated duties and responsibilities—can significantly impact the nature of gender roles (Croft, et al., 2014), it happens relatively early in a child’s development. Adler, Kless, and Adler performed a study of gender roles upon elementary aged school children, and found that cliques formed by young males had vastly different criteria than those formed by females (Adler, et al., pg.172). Males determined popularity through rebelliousness and daring, athletic ability, detachment from events, and fitting into the median academically (Adler, et al. pg. 175). Females determined popularity according to family social status and the accoutrements of such, permissiveness of their parents, and appearance. Both groups saw the more socially fit individuals becoming more popular than others, which reinforced their social skills (Adler, et al., 1992, pg. 182). They go on to say that these behaviors mimic traditional gender roles, and both sexes participate in them to prepare themselves for those roles (Adler, et al., 1992, pg. 185).

In conclusion, it is difficult for people, as a whole, to self-analyze themselves without bias, which makes it difficult to determine where and how gender roles should be defined, and to what extent should they be rigidly or fluidly enforced so that both parties are happy. There seems to be a strong indication that biology is a significant factor in assigning these roles, yet it is not the only one. Perhaps the best course of action is for each individual couple to work out their differences and determine what division of labor makes them happiest, using their instincts and intelligence to determine which roles work best for them, instead of solely relying on cultural and social concepts of gender roles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Adler, Patricia A., Kless, Steven T., Adler, Peter. (1992) “Socialization to Gender Roles: Popularity among Elementary School Boys and Girls.” Sociology of Education, Vol. 65, No. 3, pp. 169-187.

Costa, Paul T., Terracciano, Antonio, McCrae, Robert. (2001) “Gender Differences in Personality Traits across Cultures: Robust and Surprising Findings.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 81, No. 2, pp. 322-331.

Croft, A., Schmader, T., Block, K., & Baron, A. S. (2014) The second shift reflected in the second generation: Do parents’ gender roles at home predict children’s aspirations?. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1418-1428.

Fischer, Agneta H., Mosquera, Patricia M. Rodriguez, Vianen, Annelies E. M. van, Manstead, Antony S. R. (2004) “Gender and Culture Differences in Emotion.” Emotion, Vol. 4, No. 1, 87-94.

Friedan, Betty. (1963) The Feminine Mystique. W.W. Norton and Co.

 

[1] This lyric and the paper’s title a reference to PJ Harvey’s song “Man-Size”

Frankenstein and the Divine Spark (Hebrew “nephesh”) that animates Humanity…by Gloria Steele-Hatten, May 2019

**note (May 24, 2019), this is an incomplete rumination on the matter; I plan to expand this work with an etymological exploration of the Hebrew concept of “spirit” vs “soul” and the “breath of life” that animates the flesh

Frankenstein is undoubtedly Mary Shelley’s finest and most remembered work, where she writes the classic treatise on the acts of man-as-God and what it takes to animate creation, what indeed distinguishes man from manmade. This spark of what we understand as a Soul gives the human the ability to cultivate empathy and consideration for another being’s circumstances and the myriad possibilities and perspectives concerning the relative, subjective context of another’s pain. Frankenstein was man made, scientifically lab created. What indeed would it have taken to make him a man? Simply the possession of male anatomy or characteristics apparently did not.  Is it blood or electricity which animates the body? A connection between the fluidity and animation of blood and electricity was the basis of Shelley’s Frankenstein, building her fiction on these scientific forays into Vitality research. Does Frankenstein then, love what he has made simply because he animated the thing with literal electricity and the coagulation of dead, not living, blood from sewn together parts of deceased human? This divine spark is what animates the installation of the sense of regulating morality that distinguishes the human from the animal in the comprehension of moral and ethical distinctions of “right and wrong.” Truly, this inherent human sense is what gives the human the capacity to think outside of one’s self, in someone else’s shoes so to speak.

When Frankenstein admits that his fashioning of the creature(s) is an act of “the basest and most atrocious selfishness” (p. 144), he admits, essentially to a humbling admission of the fallible shortcomings and Luciferian ambitions to “be like the Most High,” the original sin of Lucifer that resulted in his expulsion from Heaven for his desire to be like, or superior to, God Almighty. Once he sees only grotesque immorality and tragedy is the result of his grandiose attempts to replicate life, he admits its obvious selfishness. Frankenstein’s monster’s “hideous” perception is a mere reflection of the hideousness of a society with mother-less children and creation manifest without God’s permission, inspiration, or intervention. The natural, God-created world is synonymous with, implicitly, beauty; whereas the grotesque or “monstrous” visage of the “monster” reflects that which is manmade unnatural or out of order– as the creature’s body is literally an amalgam of other decaying body parts, metaphorically symbolizing the broken-ness and shattered, fragmented, compartmentalized pieces of masculinity in the Western world, usually from dysfunctional home backgrounds.

Frankenstein’s creature is not human, despite all anatomical appearances as such, because it lacks the spark of Divine consciousness than animates the human soul, its unique sentience that delineates the human from other beasts of burden. In contrast, the Frankenstein creation has the sense of right and wrong equivalent to a dog that comes to understand it is “bad” or has done something “bad” that displeased its owner because it has disrupted or destroyed something in the immediate environment–such as when a dog soils the carpet with urine or fecal matter, or tracks mud on its paws through the house, or rifles through the garbage and has strewn it all over the living room. Even when the creature rages and kills, it understands it has done something disruptive or violent that displeased others, in the same way a dog understands when it has bitten someone and hurt them through the interpretation of reaction, without truly understanding on a human level how the violence affects the soul and psyche of the human being through its trauma. Therefore Frankenstein’s monster has the mental capacity and sense of morality as a pet, with the same level of understanding of oneself in relation to human beings as that of a pet that understands it is in its master’s house, interacting with human beings, and, by being part of the human family only in the fact that it is owned by the family, its actions marginally affect those humans in a way it isn’t even fully conscious of.

The world of Frankenstein is a reflection of the monstrous consequences of absolute patriarchy– a life without feminine agency, creativity, or ability to give birth. The horror of patriarchy reveals itself in Shelley’s tongue in cheek parody, as a realm of beasts just as castrated, fragmented, and infantilized as Victor’s creation. The absence of the feminine in Frankenstein, in fact, emphasises all the more the necessity of feminine presence. In modern media, women are so accessorised, commodified, and so heavily proliferated, we collectively, men and women alike, take them for granted. However, in the very absence of female figures in the whole of Shelley’s novel, she writes the ways women’s absence takes with it, also, life. Whereas women spontaneously generate fresh, new life, man can only recycle the discarded, used, dead, like Frankenstein who assembles the limbs of corpses to craft his monstrous “offspring.”

Frankenstein is, after all, contrary to popular theoretical interpretation, a feminist work invoking the tragic consequences of the western philosophical and sociocultural shift to patriarchy. Shelley’s angst as a female writer is channeled into the howling angst of her and Dr. Victor’s creature, as a woman in a world of men writing about the horror that will come of a world without women, Shelley gets her tongue in cheek revenge against the predominantly male writer’s profession. Dr. Frankenstein is afraid of his creation the same way, perhaps, Google or the creators of iPhone’s Siri or the robot Sophia (cheekily named after the Gnostic Hebrew goddess of wisdom as the divine feminine), or other meta corporations may react with fear of the magnitude of the artificial intelligence they helped create.

The ultimate sin, Biblical scholars and religious adherents can attest to, is the sin of blasphemy. Blasphemy specifically includes the presumption there is no God or that God is not more powerful than oneself. When man commits ambitious acts such as cloning or transhumanism, the attempt to create life or even improve life (i.e. genetically modifying lab created fruits and vegetables with supposedly “enhanced” vitamin and mineral enrichment to overcompensate for the ravages of pesticides and demineralized soil due to pollution) is a somewhat controversial attempt to “beat God at His own game,” in a manner of speaking. Dr. Frankenstein eventually realizes his complicitness in  having committed this blasphemous attempt to create life out of sheer selfish pride and arrogant curiosity, realizes this ultimate, unforgivable sin. Thus, he resolves to suffer his own retreat from loved ones, and withdraws from life itself. His self imposed exile is what he resigns to willingly, from the knowing, like Lucifer, he is exiled from the Grace and Favor of God, society, and even his own family, having committed a crime against humanity in the creation of his monster(s). His crimes against humanity were essentially crimes against the freedom and free will of a creation, whether animal or human. Feeling some inherent right over the experiment in regards to what can be done to and for the creature is essentially due to the argument of Sentient vs Nonsentient beings and the assumed superiority of the sentient human being based on the degree of emotional and existential intelligence or the concept of a “soul” or sense of spirituality found in humans, not animals. Basically, humans are sentient beings with thought and the ability to reflect on deeper concepts such as purpose, fate, consequence, God, and a sense of universal role or place for everyone in relativity. It is the quality of the human brain and heart that allows for the emotion of compassion or sympathy—relative emotional bonding based on common comparative feelings of universally shared pain and, by extension, the inner “call” or pull to do whatever one can to minimize as much suffering as possible. Frankenstein attempts this, albeit too late, when he tries to kill his creature(s) and minimize the suffering they may inflict upon others and the trauma of their inner state by destroying them.

 

“Hafu” Controversies: Navigating Intersectionality, Biracial Identity, and Minority Marginalization in Japan and America, by Gloria Steele-Hatten March 19, 2019

“Hafu” Controversies: Navigating Intersectionality, Biracial Identity, and Minority Marginalization in Japan and America. 

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            In recent decades, liminal identities have dramatically increased. Gender, sexual, racial, and ethnic fluidity has increasingly become normalized and greatly tolerated. Now a new demographic of “exoticals[1]”–ambiguously “tanned” individuals that are the result of interbreeding– are increasingly glamorized and idealized as epitomizing new millennial beauty standards, indicating mainstreaming of the acceptance of biracialism. The phrase refers to ambiguous light skinned “beauties” that typically look as if they could simultaneously “pass” for a light skinned Black/mixed race woman, a dark skinned European/Italian/Spanish woman or even a woman of Middle Eastern heritage. First coined on social media and blogsites with heightened precedence in the 2015-2019 era, popular “trash-gossip” blogsite MediaTakeOut commonly uses the phrase; in a more credible Feminist blog, a debate was chronicled concerning why calling Black women “exotic” was problematic and racist; and, finally, issue was taken when HRH Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle was called “exotic” by a German broadcaster (Erikson, 2018).

In the years of slavery, pseudoscientific theories of “Phrenology[2] (Curtin, 1960; Richards, 2012)” and “The One Drop Theory[3](Rockquemore, Brunsma & Delgado, 2009)” were presented, along with racist interpretations of Darwin’s evolution(Marks, 2012), to justify white superiority and to demonize and dehumanize mixed-race children resulting from the brutal, systematic, callous rape of African/African-American enslaved women and their white slavemasters. Sally Hemmings, the slave “mistress” (or Stockholm Syndrome sex slave victim) of Thomas Jefferson, birthed him several children who subsequently were considered slaves, thus denying them any rights of inheritance that subsequently denied their descendants for generations until finally a DNA test in 1998 proved their legitimacy (Murray, 1998; Patton, 1999). Miscegenation was once illegal (Browning, 1951); The Loving court case (Pratt, 1997) was painful and humiliating for all involved; now, it seems the tide has changed with the mainstream idolization of interracial couples from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, to HRH Duke of Sussex Prince Harry and HRH Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle. “Light skin babies are prettier (Akintunde, 1997; Bendelhoum, 2017; Hayman, 2017)” is a sentiment too oft perpetuated[4], despite the reality that all “light skin babies” are not the result of interracial breeding[5].

In times past, fair skinned biracial men and women of color–considered Creoles, Octaroons, Quadroons, and Mulattos (Bogle, 2001)—used to “pass” for white[6] to survive and to elevate socioeconomically via assimilation (Pease, 1996). [1] The term “Tragic Mulatto” is most immortally epitomized in films like Imitation of Life (originally a novel, filmed in a 1934 original and 1959 remake) and Devil In A Blue Dress in 1995 starring Denzel Washington and a stunning Jennifer Beals. Now, the problematic glorification of biracial exoticism and, peripherally, the Blackness it stems from, has evolved into a curious phenomenon involving Caucasian young women “Blackfishing” (Petter, 2018) and “passing” for Black (Nesta & McGregor, 2018). In mid November 2018, the strange trend started gaining traction and visibility on social media: rather plain, comely looking Caucasian girls began bronzing and contouring in excess to achieve the look of a Black girl. While beguiling some, many Black social media users quickly began pointing out their shameful sham as “the new Blackface.” Soon, Black social media users were faced with a trend of an especially offensive appropriation.

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This new bronzing trend goes beyond the cultural intricacies that made Kim Kardashian (for a brief moment) a pariah for reaping the white privilege benefits of wearing cornrows and other “ethnic” styles. Historically, Black women had been blacklisted, harassed, and overlooked, labelled “ghetto ,” “hood,” “ratchet,” for traditionally African hairstyles, while Kim Kardashian and her sisters, presumably because of their white privilege, wear the same hairstyles which, on them, are hailed as couture to this day. This comes to light only weeks after Megyn Kelly’s recent resignation from her daily show due to backlash concerning her belittling “no big deal” remarks concerning Halloween Blackface (Deerwester, 2018) costume parties (like the one HRH Prince Harry went to years ago– before marrying biracial HRH Meghan Markle, dressed in a Nazi uniform next to Klansmen and Al Jolson dressed friends[7]). While many on social media have called out the young women for their offensive beauty faux pas, it seems not much of this discourse has led to a true heartfelt renunciation of their “passing” for Black. Perhaps the presidency of Trump is testament to the escalation of visibility of whites “Blacking up” and the increasing recklessness of whites downplaying the severity of its offensiveness. However, time will only tell if incidents like these will bring to boil the simmering rage of the trauma triggered by the descendants of slaves in this generation’s Blacks in America, and force a reckoning and reconciliation with the descendants of our oppressors.

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As racial tensions in North America all but boil over, in Japan, the complexities of race relations, racial tensions, and the marginalization biracial identity manifests in a different, yet no less problematic way. In 2015, when Ariana Miyamoto was crowned Miss Universe Japan, she was highly criticized despite her stunning beauty and dignity of character, surely epitomizing nothing less than stellar grace in any cultural context. Deemed an anomaly and regarded as inauthentic to what constitutes a “true” Japanese woman, her crown was disputed and the legitimacy of her choosing called heavily into question (Sandoval, 2015). The fact that she identifies as Japanese, was born and raised in Japan, being both a native and legal citizen, the integrity of Miyamoto’s claim to the ardently aspired compliment was overshadowed by the fact she was the daughter of an African-American father. Intelligent and wholesome, boasting “a 5th degree mastery in Japanese calligraphy (Sandoval, 2015),” she couldn’t have been more credible—yet she was disbelieved, mocked, scorned, and her pedigree doubted. Her win was acclaimed internationally (Holley, 2015) as a credit to the changing of the previously stereotypical homogeneity of the country, and the mundane reality that most of its women, especially to foreign eyes, pretty much seemed the same. She, similar to Meghan Markle in the historically all-white Windsor nobility, was a breath of fresh air, in a manner of speaking, as a bold, new representative of a millennial Japan seldom acknowledged.

“Haafu,” a term used to refer to biethnic/biracial, mixed-race Japanese natives, is thought to be at least mildly insulting (Royer, 2016). These groups of people are typically marginalized and socially displaced, often feeling profound lack of support and denied a sense of true belonging (Torngren, 2018). Blatant racism has always had a place in Japan (Yates, 2018)—African Americans are portrayed poorly in Japanese media, most memorably in an infamous Darlie (“Darkie”) toothpaste ad[8] featuring an emasculated, lonely Black man, clearly alone and anathema to Japanese society[9]. Black men in particular seem to be the prime target for the most vicious media attacks and societal ostracism. Darker reasons (no pun intended) seem to be suggested for the especially harsh perception of Black males in Japan; Japan, long stereotyped by diminutive, short, slender men who generally aren’t viewed as “sexy[10],” are often believed to possess less than impressive genetalia while, conversely, the age-old reputation of males of African descent for having mythically large genitalia at one time led slavemasters and Ku Klux Klansman lynchmob participants to cut off murdered Black men’s penises and preserve them in their homes as gruesome memorabilia[11]. This threat seen to be embodied (literally) by the Black man is perhaps the main reason Haafu (many of them children of Black fathers due to military entanglements) are so consistently rejected by mainstream society (Fingleton, 2015).

In stark contrast to the half-Japanese, half-Black Ariana Miyamoto, the half-Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa won Miss Japan only one year later and was startlingly much more well-received. Even though mainstream media acknowledged she was the 2nd consecutive mixed-race to win the contest, the language used to describe her win was obviously more positive and focused more on her own positive outlook on her (and Miyamoto’s) win and her personal accomplishments[12].  Her win was characterized as a hopeful, inspiring story for young girls to look up to, while the half-Black Miyamoto’s story only one year earlier was mostly described as a challenge and ominous wording focused moreso on detractors and deniers of her heritage.

 

Overall, it seems the acceptance of biracials in Japan is slowly increasing, and slowly “haafu” millennials are gaining credence and more positive acknaoledgement. Most notably, the historic U.S. Open win of Naomi Osaka—she, too, the daughter of a Japanese mother and African-American father—against Black America’s heroine Serena Williams was a turning point indicating improvement in visibility of mixed race Japanese. However, due to controversies surrounding the racism inherent in the media coverage of the win, there is reason to believe the “positivity” and encouragement seemingly piled upon Naomi Osaka is only seen as applauding “the lesser of two evils” as the more “threateningly” dark, robust, athletic Serena Williams was subsequently (literally) portrayed as an ape-like caricature in a now infamous editorial cartoon (Cavna, 2018). Erroneously portrayed as lacking graciousness in her loss, citing unfairness and discrimination by the referee calling the shots, Serena Williams was caricatured as a “Coon” throwing a temper tantrum, stomping up and down on her tennis racket, features grossly exaggerated and reminiscent of 1930s and 1940s “Sambo” racist cartoons and figurines popularized even in Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes cartoons of the era[13].

The ills of racism in the global West or East are hardly improving, the harsh and brutal truth of its persistence doesn’t soften even in the wake of a Black President or a (half)Black biracial Duchess in the House of Windsor. In The Americas, Europe, and Asia—indeed, the globe—the intricacies of racism are as convoluted as ever, if not more. Biracial identities do not eradicate racism, nor make it more palatable or lessen its existence and the sting of its history. The glamorization of mixed “exoticals” will never excuse the legacy of tyranny, slavery, colonialism, holocaust, genocides, and the horrors of inhumane experimentation in the name of “science.” Nor will the grotesque and increasingly bold proclivity of whites for cultural appropriation and adoption of black babies. However, at the very least, exploration of the fascinating nuances of the increasingly subversive, subliminal, and even subconscious (due to white privilege, conveniently unaware) manifestations of racism make for interesting media studies.

Bibliography

Bibliography

Akintunde, O. (1997). Light Skinned with Good Hair: The Role of the Media and Christianity in the Maintenance of Self-Hatred in African Americans.

Bendelhoum, H. N. (2017). TRAGIC MULATTA 2.0: A POSTCOLONIAL APPROXIMATION AND CRITIQUE OF THE REPRESENTATIONS OF BI-ETHNIC WOMEN IN US FILM AND TV.

Bogle, D. (2001). Toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies, and bucks: An interpretive history of Blacks in American films. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Browning, J. R. (1951). Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. Duke BJ1, 26.

Carter, Mitzi, and Aina Hunter. “ON BLACKNESS IN JAPAN.”

Cavna, Michael. (2018) An Australian artist’s racist Serena Williams cartoon receives a swift and international blowback. The Washington Post. September 12, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2018/09/10/an-australian-artists-racist-serena-williams-cartoon-receives-swift-and-international-blowback/?utm_term=.7123bd29885b

Cornish, Stephanie. (2015) “Half-Black Woman Named Miss Japan—Stirs Reaction.” Afro.com. March 20, 2015. https://www.afro.com/half-black-woman-named-miss-japan-stirs-reaction/

Curtin, P. D. (1960). ” SCIENTIFIC” RACISM AND THE BRITISH THEORY OF EMPIRE. Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria2(1), 40-51.

Deerwester, Jayme. ‘Megyn Kelly Today’ is done, NBC reveals following blackface scandal. USAToday. October 26, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2018/10/26/megyn-kelly-nbc-today-show-exit-blackface-scandal/1763026002/

Erickson, Amanda. (2018) A german broadcaster called Meghan Markle “exotic.” Viewers said it was racist. The Washington Post. May 21, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/05/21/a-german-broadcaster-called-meghan-markle-exotic-viewers-said-it-was-racist/

Fingleton, Eamonn. (2015) The Story in Japan Is Not That Blacks Are Excluded But That Truth Has Been Swept Under The Carpet. Forbes. June 21, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/eamonnfingleton/2015/06/21/the-story-in-japan-is-not-that-blacks-are-excluded-but-that-truth-has-been-swept-under-the-carpet/

Hayman, C. (2017). “The Blackness of Blackness”: Meta-Black Identity in 20th/21st Century African American Culture.

Holley, Peter. (2015) “Japan’s half-black Miss Universe says discrimination gives her ‘extra motivation’. The Washington Post. May 13, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/05/13/japans-half-black-miss-universe-says-discrimination-gives-her-extra-motivation/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6c747bdf2781

Mattos, Kica. (2016) Colorism: Is Kanye West’s ‘multiracial women only’ code for only light-skinned black women? TheUndefeated.com September 15, 2016

Marks, J. (2012). Why be against darwin? Creationism, racism, and the roots of anthropology. American journal of physical anthropology149(S55), 95-104.

Murray, B., & Duffy, B. (1998). Jefferson’s secret life. US News & World Report125(18), 58-63.

Patton, V. K., & Stevens, R. J. (1999). Narrating Competing Truths in the Thomas Jefferson—Sally Hemings Paternity Debate. The Black Scholar29(4), 8-15.

Pease, D. E. (1996). Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Duke University Press.

Petter, Olivia. WHAT IS BLACKFISHING? THE INFLUENCERS ACCUSED OF USING MAKEUP TO ‘PRETEND’ TO BE BLACK. The Independent. 5 December 2018 https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women/blackfishing-what-is-it-influencers-instagram-makeup-racism-black-white-social-media-a8667961.html

Pratt, R. A. (1997). Crossing the color line: A historical assessment and personal narrative of Loving v. Virginia. Howard LJ41, 229.

Reicheneker, Sierra. “The Marginalization of Afro-Asians in East Asia: Globalization and the Creation of Subculture and Hybrid Identity”.” Global Tides 5.1 (2011): 6.

Rich, Motoko. (2018) “In U.S. Open Victory, Naomi Osaka Pushes Japan to Redefine Japanese.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/09/world/asia/japan-naomi-osaka-us-open.html

Richards, G. (2012). Race, racism and psychology: Towards a reflexive history. Routledge.

Rockquemore, K. A., Brunsma, D. L., & Delgado, D. J. (2009). Racing to theory or retheorizing race? Understanding the struggle to build a multiracial identity theory. Journal of Social Issues65(1), 13-34.

Royer, C. K. (2016). In Search of Identity: Hafus in Japan(Doctoral dissertation, Wake Forest University).

Sandoval, Danielle. (2015) “Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto being Called ‘Not Japanese Enough’ For Her Biracial Background.” Bustle Online. March 23, 2015. https://www.bustle.com/articles/71606-miss-universe-japan-ariana-miyamoto-being-called-not-japanese-enough-for-her-biracial-background

SCMP Reporter (2018). “Naomi Osaka not the only mixed-race or minority Japanese who’s made it big.” SCMP.com 10 September 2018. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2163590/naomi-osaka-not-only-mixed-race-japanese-person-who-made-it-big-and

Theodórsdóttir, F. The Flawless Body: Searching for Women’s Self-Image in Japan (Doctoral dissertation).

Törngren, S. O. (2018). Ethnic Options, Covering and Passing: Multiracial and Multiethnic Identities in Japan. Asian Journal of Social Science46(6), 748-773.

Vick, Kameron & McGregor, Nesta. (2018) Blackfishing: The women accused of pretending to be black. BBC News. 5 December 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-46427180

Yates, Ronald E. (2018) JAPANESE PUZZLED BY CHARGES OF RACISM FOR BLACK DEPICTIONS. The Chicago Tribune. August 28, 1988

Yoshida, S. (2014). Being hafu (biethnic Japanese) in Japan: Through the eyes of the Japanese media, Japanese university students, and hafu themselves (Doctoral dissertation, College of Humanities, University of Utah).

Zandamela, T. (2018). Understanding Biracial Women’s Identity Formation.

“The First Multiracial Miss Universe Japan Has Been Crowned.” NBC News. March 17, 2015. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/first-multiracial-miss-universe-japan-has-been-crowned-n325131

“Miss Japan won by half Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa.” BBC News. 8 September 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37283518

[1] See: https://mtonews.com/snoop-dogg-caught-cheating-on-his-wife-with-exotical-insta-thot , https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/01/calling-woc-exotic-is-racist/ , and,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/05/21/a-german-broadcaster-called-meghan-markle-exotic-viewers-said-it-was-racist/

[2] Also, significantly, the name of a critically-acclaimed album by formidable “conscious” Philadelphia hip hop group “The Roots” who is also widely known for their album “Things Fall Apart,” a reference to the novel by Chinua Achebe

[3] the 1 Drop Rule which Halle Berry herself invoked and cited when she asserted her biracial daughter, Nahla Aubrey, fathered by her French-Canadian lover, Gabriel Aubrey, was Black

[4] See also: Kanye West’s “mixed women only” colorism debate https://theundefeated.com/features/colorism-is-kanyes-multiracial-women-only-code-for-only-light-skinned-black-women/ and singer Ne-Yo’s assertion “All The Prettiest Kids Are Lightskinned.” https://theybf.com/2008/12/18/ne-yo-all-prettiest-kids-are-light-skinned

[5] See https://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/187782 and https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1296929/dark-skinned-couple-light-skinned-baby

[6] Term believed to originate with 1920s Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen’s Passing

[7] https://www.newsweek.com/prince-harrys-worst-moments-meghan-markle-rogue-723177

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGdTKz9wOKA

[9] https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/article/2176817/how-darkie-now-darlie-became-east-asias-favourite

[10] https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2186047/no-valentine-complexities-interracial-dating-asians-north-america

[11] See Cooley’s “The Legacy of Lynching: The Effects on Contemporary Black Masculinity in Relationship to Black Violence” https://www.albany.edu/womensstudies/journal/2004/cooley.html

[12] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37283518 (cited in Bibliography, but no author credited)

[13] https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/coon/

Somewhere between Proverbs 31 and Revelation 17: Dame Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, and Chaucer’s Favorite Woman by Gloria Steele-Hatten (originally written December 2014)

Somewhere between Proverbs 31 and Revelation 17: Dame Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, and Chaucer’s Favorite Woman by Gloria Steele-Hatten (originally written December 2014)

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The p[r]etty wife, the kept wife, the silent submissive: none of these are the true characteristics of Dame Alisoun, the Wife of Bath. In Her Prologue and Tale, Alisoun presents herself as an assertive and sharp-witted woman, fashionable and relatively wealthy.

Her kerchiefs were of finely woven ground;

I dared have sworn they weighed a good ten pound,

The ones she wore on Sunday, on her head,

Her hose were of the finest scarlet red

And gartered tight; her shoes were soft and new.

From this the reader is able to interpret that The wife of Bath is refined, elegant, and of discerning, distinguished taste and aesthetic. The heavy weight of her kerchiefs indicates they are good quality, sturdy cloth, not cloth that rips or tears easily and is finely woven multiple times for durability and longevity. In antiquity, scarlet was expensive, as the color was so vibrant and the substances used to dye the cloth such a bold color were rare and costly. This also explains why the “Woman in Red” archetype was that much more memorably alluring, symbol of a woman unforgettably seductive, the “Scarlet Woman” a rare, vibrantly clad Mystery, the color makes her a standout, its expensiveness indicating its wearer was a woman of her own money (i.e. prostitution). Soft shoes indicates seldom worn, gently used shoes, and implicit of the fact that she was wealthy enough to have transportation that would enable her to glide gently in soft shoes rather than walking and needing hard shoes for travelling on foot like common laborers.

She also exudes a charisma that is flamboyantly sexual with a voracious appetite for intimacy considering the restrictive times of the 14th century in which, a modern reader may wonder, it was miraculously rare, seemingly, for  a woman to enjoy marriage in general, let alone sex. Fitting the stereotypes, threatening to the patriarchy at the time, of a strong willed woman capable of manipulating men to her will and whims, usually through humour and subterfuge, Alisoun proves her cunning in manipulating the Pilgrims to whom she almost apologetically shares her story. Already prefacing her story with almost self-deprecating humor, Alisoun is adept at disarming her staunch male audience  by a careful mix of flattery, apology, and even quoting the Church doctrine and patriarchal enslaving Biblical “auctoritee” in her own defense against her pious male hypocrites, almost like a Marilyn Monroe playing up the “dumb blonde” stereotype when in fact she outsmarted her own detractors with her business acumen.

Alisoun clearly indicates that she intends to ease the Pardoner’s mind by the time she has finished speaking. Also, the Pardoner’s interruption makes Alisoun aware of the rest of her audience and their probable discomfort at her words. She decides, therefore, to further spread a calming salve on all the pilgrims, telling them, “taketh not agrief of that I seye” (191). Her goal is to have fun and tell an interesting and clever tale. Doing so, Alisoun is beguiling her audience into believing that she does not have anything of importance to say. Once again, she is using the lessons she learned from the misogynistic texts in her favor. If her listeners were wary of her language (and the Pardoner’s interruption proves that they are), she would never be allowed to impart her knowledge, which would in turn deny her the power and authority she is desperately seeking. Therefore, Alisoun gives her audience a stated goal that appears to belittle her main goal, but she retains an unstated goal that actually supports her previous declarations. (Baumgardner, p9)

However, as Baumgarder points out, her true intent in telling her story, while downplaying it as a simple woman’s request to simply share a story for, presumably, female vanity, is to gain sympathy circuitously from the male pilgrims by showing her experience as contrary to the wives in their Marriage Tales, “set[ting] up a ‘contest’ between her experience and the dominant male authority, and her rambling prologue is the result of the two ideologies in verbal combat (p 7).”

It is in this realm of storytelling in which, like the stereotypical women’s art of weaving, Alisoun is able—even allowed, due to the “safety” of her “story”—to craft and uphold a liminal position between the world of women and men and, like a female version of a trickster god, uses her humour and “signifying” to lure the men into accepting, however reluctantly, the portrait of this Wife of Bath who not only carefully ensures she lives up to the Biblical guidelines of marital piety and submission—even, for example, making sure she is legitimately re-married before engaging in sexual relations to avoid the Church’s scrutiny while also ensuring title, position, propriety and property—but also finds her own satisfaction in sex. A self-fulfilling prophecy indeed is a woman who, like Alisoun and women of the present day, must use her maligned, repressed, and abhorred sexuality to lure the very men who’d subjugate her into granting her, in their own incompetence, power, title, and respect. In the introduction to Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale: An Annotated Bibliography, Editor Peter G. Beidler cites several critics during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 60s and 70s and their perspectives on Dame Alisoun’s self-described sexuality and the justification of her sexual manipulation of men for survival in a patriarchal world:

The strong emphasis that Alisoun places on sex in her marriages has prompted…[the critic Nist to find] Alisoun as a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac…While [critic] Nicols believes Chaucer valued the sacredness of the sacrament of marriage and would therefore frown upon Alison’s behaviour, Spisak is convinced that the Wife of Bath represents Chaucer’s realistic appreciation of marriage….the men Alisoun has married have been criticized as inadequate husbands, and Alisoun’s capitalizing on male weakness for carnality is praised. Chaucer’s application of animal imagery, specifically mice and sheep, to Alisoun’s first three husbands, aids his audience in their evaluation of Alisoun’s early marriages. That these men were elderly and rich allows the reader to maintain sympathy with Alisoun as she victimizes them, and that they have no names further distances the reader from them. Berggren asserts that Alisoun is victimized in her early marriages and that her humiliation prompts the Wife to victimize those husbands in return. …Burlin suggest that her early marriages instructed her in how to provide for herself, and, after the failure of her fourth marriage, Alisoun learns how to defend herself by using textual authority in her alliance with Jankyn (Beidler, pp. xxxix, xli)

There is also the matter of the obvious symbolism of the blood relating to ancient customs of viewing the bloodied sheets of the marriage bed as proof of the wife’s chastity at the time of consummation. The gold, however, could represent the “bride price” or “dowry” which is an ancient tribal tradition that evolved and continues to evolve through the years (some say in modern times the expense of the wedding ring itself is a sort of “dowry”, although nowadays seldom is any price paid to the family of the wife, as nowadays people seldom ask any permission or blessing of either family, they just tend to get married on their own, out of romantic sentiment or convenience.

The wife’s trickery in relating the false dream is not wholly dishonorable. The Wife seems to be a good Wife, indeed willing to indulge her husband(s) sexually and she implies she herself has a voracious sexual appetite, which is very progressive and even rare for women of the time who derived little to no sexual pleasure in their submission to their husbands and would rather do without it altogether. Indeed, The Canturbury Tales is/are rife with sexual innuendo. The wife, it seems, is happy to marry and continually re-marry to avoid the “sin” of unmarried fornication, as she does have a healthy sexual appetite, yet she must marry multiple times to fulfill her own pleasures without facing condemnation outside of the sanctity of marriage.

Overall it seems times have changed very little as in even todays’ modern manifestation/evolution of “rape culture” we still find “slut-shaming” or condemnation of women who are perceived as too sexually willing, an affront to the Virgin/Mother-Whore complex so erroneously polarized and dichotomised in Christian-dominant Western society. It is interesting to me that the living Behr hailed from Canturbury. It is true that, due to shifting standards in Literature studies and fluctuating definitions of “classics” in the works considered for Literature canonization, many modern scholars are less and less familiar with Medieval era female writers. Nonetheless, in times past, the predominant female literary figure associated with this era was the Wife of Bath from Chaucer’s Canturbury Tales. Allisoun, the Wife, too, was considered “scandalous” and “bawdy” or, to put nicely, “progressive” for the way Chaucer writers her tale and, in it, her celebration of her sexuality. Like the real life Behr writings, the tale the Wife of Bath tells is one in which her devotion to her husband(s) included a healthy sexual attraction and consistent sexual consummation. Behr, likewise, writes of sexual attraction as if it is normal, to be expected, and healthy– a sentiment surely shared by a very rare few women of the time, when, as we have observed, such a majority were sexually unsatisfied, emotionally neglected, psychologically degraded, and socially stigmatised.

Works cited

Beidler, Peter G., and Elizabeth M. Biebel. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale: An Annotated Bibliography 1900-1995.  Toronto: Published in association with the University of Rochester by University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Baumgardner, Rachel A. “I Alisoun, I Wife: Foucault’s Three Egos and the Wife of Bath’s Prologue.” Medieval Forum 5 (2006): n. pag. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.sfsu.edu/~medieval/Volume5/Baumgardner.html&gt;.

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Michelle Williams’ broken engagement and the Insidious Signs of Narcisstic Abuse

 

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Michelle Williams was always more than ⅓ of Beyonce-fronted superstar girl group Destiny’s Child. Many do not remember or never knew she was, in fact, the first of the group to release a successful solo album. She has won many awards as a Gospel singer and Broadway performer, most notably in The Color Purple musical. Although many, including Williams herself, may feel eclipsed by the meteoric rise of Beyonce and the laudable empire Kelly herself has built in DC3’s wake, Michelle has always had her own brand of unique wins and accomplishments.

In several interviews, one easily gets the sense that Michelle Williams is self deprecating at best, codependent at worst. Subtle signs of codependency are evident in the downplaying of her accomplishments. Most telling was how she chose to introduce herself in the first episode of her reality tv series with the words: “My name is not ‘aint you that girl from Destiny’s Child?’ it’s Michelle!”

As the introduction to the documenting of her tumultuous engagement to Pastor Chad Johnson, the statement was telling of her deeper insecurities. Revealing her hidden struggles with depression over the years, Michelle Williams has spoken candidly about her therapy process and journey to recovery, however, more seemed to be revealed in what she wasn’t saying.

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In a highly documented moment on her reality show, her fiance berated and belittled her after a highly charged argument over race relations, asking her in condescending tones, “did you take your meds today?” The fact that this statement came as an attack to discredit Williams character and pour salt in the wounds of her depression battle, this was a classic red flag of narcissistic abuse. Even worse, coming from a white male towards an emotionally vulnerable Black woman in what is still a staunchly Eurocentric and patriarchal Western society, the statement was all too telling of his domineering and even subconsciously racist personality.

Body language often reveals more than spoken words express, and this was more than evident in much of the footage from the show and interviews in its promotional campaigns. During many interviews, Chad Johnson’s body language was stiff, defensive, and his appearance strictly controlled. Williams even jokingly admitted during some footage that Chad purportedly spent more time in the mirror than she did, took more time getting ready, and always had to look perfect, indicative of more narcissistic red flags, as narcissists take care to present themselves as perfect and perfectly charming to the outside world, while cold, callous, condescending, and calculating in their abuse of those closest to them.

In many interviews, Michelle seemed to be overcompensating, as codependent partners of narcissists often are, quick to jump to the forefront to apologize or blame herself for any of Johnson’s seemingly negative remarks or actions, then alternately shrinking in his spotlight when he was boasting about his ministry or his immersion in “Black culture.” Even in the most recent of Johnson’s Instagram posts, the incongruity of their respective demeanor  was tragically obvious. In the picture, the two are holding up paintings of a similar tropical sunset they each had painted. In Chad’s painting, the palm trees are flourishing, the leaves full and the beach scene inviting. In Michelle’s, the trees look sickly, the branches nearly bare.

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Psychologists assert that much can be told of a person’s mental state through their artistic expression, be it creative writing, impressionist dance, or painting. Indeed, in the picture, Chad is smiling broadly, boastfully, bursting with pride as he gazes directly into the camera; Michelle, by contrast, looks disappointed, insecure, even worried, as she barely forces a crooked attempt at a disconcerting halfsmile, looking down, beyond the camera. Finally, most telling was Chad’s caption: “Wellllp (sp), which one would you go to for the honeymoon? #ChadLovesMichelle” This biting, sarcastic caption is unacceptably dismissive of his fiance, typically narcissistic, and indicates he clearly feels his painting was better, boasting at the expense of her feelings.

Alternatively, a truly loving spouse would not brag about his picture being better first, he would instead say something that gratified both pictures equally or even compliments their uniquely beautiful and distinct characteristics.

Signs like these are telling that Michelle is actually lucky to have broken free before they walked down the aisle, and should not blame herself, as she seems to imply in her breakup announcement on instagram:

I still remain fearless. I guess I still remain single! Things didn’t work out. The healing that needs to take place is a must! I don’t wanna destroy another relationship. Blessings to him, his family, and his ministry. #Fearless”

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Sadly, even in her breakup statement, her language is self-blaming and glaringly codependent.

     Yes, Michelle, the healing is a must, however, the destruction of the relationship is not your fault and is probably for the best, as you may have ended up even more traumatised had it continued. Praying for your recovery and for you to walk, empowered, in UNAPOLOGETIC Self-Love!

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Raise The Age NY: legacy of Roper v Simmons, a bittersweet victory for Kalief Browder and minor offenders, and suggestions for further progress

Raise The Age NY: legacy of Roper v Simmons, a bittersweet victory for Kalief Browder and minor offenders, and suggestions for further progress

Copyright (C) Gloria Steele-Hatten (GSH) December 18, 2017, written for client Chandni Roy to present in an alternate form as “Raising the Age of Criminal Culpability” to be presented for John Jay College at the Criminal Justice and Society Colloquium

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Introduction

    Culpability is a slippery slope of tenuous judicial ambiguity in general, and particularly with regards to legal minors. Varying legislations uphold different standards and statutes concerning legal adulthood. In many cases, legal adulthood is officially declared to be 18, yet the age of consent and permittance is different in an array of adult situations. It is known, for instance, that minors of the age of 16 may not be permitted to join the armed forces, nor to vote or play the lottery. If one may operate a vehicle at 15 or 16 in some states, yet may not be employed to operate heavy machinery until 18, upon what variable factor is the determination of legal maturity contingent?

It is certainly questionable, at best, to fathom that in some states sexual consent and even legal right to marriage is 15 or even 16 years old, yet to purchase a weapon one must be 21. Sexuality often inevitably creates life, for better or worse, while gun violence even more often recklessly destroys life. Legal criminality is ideologically based upon what seems moral but are in fact definitive means to different socially-sanctioned ends. At times, within society and, by extension, the law itself, something can be legally criminal without being necessarily immoral. Often, many are incarcerated for actions that were deemed technically criminal, although based on an inherently corrupt system of numbers and politics, and are treated inhumanely in jailhouse environments. When children are subject to these conditions, especially before trial conviction of guilt,  public emotion and outrage quickly blurs lines between legality and morality, criminality and humanity.

In 2017, New York has signed an adopted bill into law finally mandating an increase in the age of adult criminal conviction to 18, to be fully enforced within the next 2 years across all jurisdictions. This finally removes from New York the stigma of being the 2nd state besides North Carolina to try 15 and 16 year olds as adults. Before being signed into law in 2017, countless underage youths– some who had never driven a car, had sex, or purchased alcohol yet– were imprisoned in torturous, barbaric conditions and often died before even reaching trials. The most famous and tragic of these cases perhaps is that of Kalief Browder, a generally meek schoolboy from the Bronx who was cruelly accused of a petty theft and ended up tortured, starved, beaten, and mutilated while imprisoned on the notorious Rikers Island over 4 years. It is in light of and respect for Browder’s and other similar cases, that despite New York’s acclaimed and historic decision, this paper will argue that the law must raise the age still higher to 21 for criminal convictions.

Background and Legislation

    America’s custom of a separate juvenile justice system is based on the assumption that children are less able to grasp the consequences of their actions due to cognitive, emotional, and behavioral immaturity. In natural development stages, it is often assumed children and adolescents have less refined impulse control and less behavioral self-discipline, paired with a definitive lack of discernment or discretion that develops with age, experience and character. In light of this, the American justice system has traditionally deemed this lack of culpability due to lack of decision-making skills the foundation upon which is built the concept of juvenile criminality. In other words, because they are presumably too young to truly know better, juveniles must be tried to a different standard and set of legislation, set apart from adults, even if sometimes accused of the same crimes.

    Another assumption implicit in the leniency and standard differentiation when it comes to prosecution of juveniles and adults, is the assumption that children and youth generally respond better to rehabilitation efforts. Due to the fluidity and malleability of the young personality as opposed to the elder “set in their ways,” it is generally accepted that older perpetrators will continue to deviate towards criminal proclivities and are less responsive to light castigation. Yet the tense debate over juvenile criminality, however, is intensified all the more when it comes to the consideration of cases such as Kalief Browder’s where innocence is not protected and children are arrested and confined with adults who haven’t even been convicted in trial yet. In fact, the juvenile justice system was initially created to protect youths against precisely what happened to Browder.

The concept of juvenile justice seeking to protect children is one that is quite valid in consideration of many variable possibilities and criminal motivators such as coercion and/or financial/material incentives. Indeed, it is always quite possible that young adults, adolescents, or children who have committed crimes are compelled– usually by adults– to do so by traumatic mind control, insanity triggered by childhood trauma, or by usually financial exploitation and manipulation. Also, it is always possible children do not realize exactly what they are doing, nor are they developed enough mentally to even attempt to understand why they have done it themselves and, therefore, need to be psychologically analyzed and reformed rather than criminally punished. It is true that a vast majority of incarcerated criminal offending youth and perpetrators of violence under the age of 18 come from broken homes, dilapidated neighborhoods, and marginalized minority communities and clearly need more psychological support than demonization.

Convicted or not, stigmatised by their ethnic and socioeconomic status, many minority youth like Kalief Browder find themselves unfairly railroaded in a system built inherently against them due to their nationality, heritage, and poverty. Sadly, since the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and the sustained crimes waves of the 1990s, urban youth find themselves all the more targeted and misunderstood. Since the criminal activities and the intensity of the crimes committed has risen exponentially since the 1980s and 1990s, more juvenile criminal justice systems are leaning towards stricter adult punishments in an effort to quell the violence. Yet, most of the incarcerated have never been to trial or been formally convicted, so the system is actually not enforcing stricter legislation on the criminal youth in order to protect society from them, simply because the majority of them have yet to be convicted.

Disparities exist within the juvenile justice system because the woefully misunderstood and increasingly wrongfully accused youth being locked up are often impoverished.  Exploiting this, the system conveniently sets up impossible bonds and frighteningly manipulative persuasion tactics in order to compel the innocent to plead guilty, ignorant of the actual law and system set against them. More recent efforts to change the juvenile justice system have merely been channeling reform towards harsher sentencing of criminally convicted youth. These efforts should instead have focused on reforms that will inevitably free the innocent unfairly accused or protect youth who have committed petty misdemeanor crimes from serious trauma, injury, or death from truly nefarious felony adult prisoners.

Due to the heightened demand for harsher punishments for criminal youth in light of the unprecedented crime waves of the past 30 years or so, the public fails to realize this system merely breeds more desperate violence as the children, continuously treated as convicted adults in jail, must become themselves more violent than that which they were accused of, just to survive being held there, awaiting the chance to be proven innocent. The collective fear and apathetic dehumanization of these youth– writing them off as savage delinquents– leads inevitably to more children, abandoned, left to violently be tried and treated as actual adults convicted of the most heinous imaginable.

The sentencing of many of the youths strikingly mirrors adult convictions, and the pain experienced and punishments levied against many of these youth are typically traumatic enough to psychologically debilitate the most war-hardened adult. This is just as true today as in the case of Kalief Browder, who spent close to 3 entire years in solitary confinement– astonishing considering the United Nations themselves deemed less than 24 hours in solitary confinement as “cruel and unusual punishment” and blatantly inhumane. In light of this unconscionable history, American jurisprudence and studies into psychosocial behavior clearly indicates the age of criminal liability for youth should be raised to 21 instead of lowered. American courts should solely determine those over 21 as adults able to be legally convicted for sound and absolute criminal responsibility.

The Status Quo

    The largest hypocrisy in the American justice system is the ideal of “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” upon which it is purportedly founded. For children wrongfully accused, instead of being tried as juveniles for adjudiciative purposes, they are often instead regarded as adults and sentenced with the same procedural intensity as their adult counterparts. Facing the same penalties as adults, these youths are treated to the same harsh and savage realities of violence, underworld politics, and Machiavellian ruthlessness.

         Each of the 50 states has juvenile justice systems, subject to and operating under different standards and restriction/rehabilitation policies and techniques. In these instances, crimes by youth offenders are handled with specialized training according to age range and type of offense. Specialization often includes psychological training due to the complexities inherent in dealing with abnormally deviant, antisocial juveniles acting out in response to an innately hostile environment. Due to the nuanced nature of this kind of juvenile justice specialization, many state Family Services divisions working in tandem with the courts do not have time to adequately dedicate themselves to each case seriously. This results in the kind of monotony-triggered systematized apathy towards, and dehumanization of, minority offenders in general, particularly the children mislabelled “superpredators” by even the likes of Hillary Clinton.

This fear-fueled apathy is based on the reluctance to understand the troubled youths that are committing crimes– and the even more disturbed youth innocent and wrongfully accused. Rather than labeling them psychologically insane or just innately criminal, more analysis should be done concerning more of the sociological nature and extraordinary circumstances often necessitating criminality or even the disparities inherent in its stereotypical  perception. The enormous social injustices so inextricably intertwined within the very fabric of the American judicial system must be thoroughly addressed before justifying such harsh punishment of these accused child offenders.

     Racial stereotypes and ethnic disparities aside, the crux of the argument in favor of raising the age of criminal culpability is the argument that maturity in youth– no matter what race, ethnicity, or background– is highly subjective and evolving during various stages of adolescence. Therefore, the judicial system should recognize an extended period of adolescence increased to the age of 21. This would alleviate many of the injustices in juvenile sentencing, due to the myriad variables inherent within the determination of criminal culpability based on character judgment and emotional as well as cognitive maturity in the offender. Specifically, New York’s Raise The Age bill cites the 1996 Kent vs United States case as a precedent in determining juvenile criminal culpability based on the following :

(a) legal criteria (e.g., prosecutorial merit),(b) offense characteristics (e.g., violent, premeditated), (c)the youth’s level of sophistication-maturity (e.g., emotional and environmental), (d) the youth’s treatment and delinquency history, and (e) the prospective threat to public protection as well as the youth’s degree of treatment amenability. Thirty-six state statutes on juvenile transfers to adult court make reference to the legal construct of maturity. These states commonly use the definition from Kent v. United States (1966) which suggests that the sophistication and maturity of the juvenile be determined by consideration of the juvenile’s home, environment, emotional attitude, and pattern of living. (New York Senate)

 

Through the rhetoric herein, the bill proposal clearly takes into consideration extenuating circumstances of systematic socioeconomic marginalization and the ambiguity of adolescent maturity within an array of different demographics and environments. This also aides in eradicating some of the biases leading to stricter punishments and apathetic extensions of cruel treatment. Such treatment is characterized by isolation, intimidation, violence and sleep deprivation, just as the conditions experienced as the truly heinous extension of time Kalief Browder spent in solitary confinement often under the guise of “protecting him” from general population.

        Taking Kalief Browder as a “symbol of the failures of the justice system (2016, Mathias, Huffington Post)”, it is clear that within an unjust and inequality society, there are inevitable miscalculations concerning maturity, criminal motives, and proclivities in youth offenders. This indisputably leads to adolescents or legally minor children having to endure conditions that would irrefutably debilitate seasoned older men– especially when innocent and robbed of childhood. There are variable changes state to state concerning specifics of legal statutes related to criminal culpability based on thresholds of age and severity of the crime alone. 48 out of 50 states amended many laws enforcing harsher penalties on minor infractions due to the rising occurence of murders and greatly harmful assaults committed by those below the legal age.

The system moved away from individual handling of cases to categorical, standardized, one-rule-fits-all style of handling juvenile crime cases. Previously, in eras past, youth were counseled and rehabilitated for crime due to its extreme abnormality in correlation to the level of maturity and psychological motive in young age. It was later thought that trying to understand each troubled child to turn him away from crime was not effective enough to keep citizens safe, thus, a penchant towards generalized and, as time goes by, stricter sentencing was normalized. Besides, the ultimately more humane road of justice was not efficient– in the time it would take to thoroughly analyze and empathize with each of the accused, the already sprawling and grotesquely underfunded system would become irreparably backed up

    For years the debate on Raising the Age of criminal culpability has been based upon the constitutionality of the death sentence, execution, and life without parole for children. This constitutionality has been debated before the Supreme Court in at least two precedents. The precedents cited in the drafting of the Raise the Age bill are founded upon research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience that has proven the inhumanity of harsh sentencing f0r youth offenders. Some of the precedents frequently alluded to and revisited within the Raise the Age bill are Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana. Christopher Simmons was a 17 who confessed to premeditated murder and was arrested, but held until he was formally tried at 18. Although Simmons had confessed, he assumed he would be absolved; it is a fact that on the evening preceding the crime, Simmons enlisted a friend’s assistance and complicitness in the crime, persuading the friend the night before the murder with the idea that they would “get away with it” due to their legal status as minor adolescents (Roper v. Simmons , 2004). Simmons believed sentencing him to death was an eighth amendment violation. The eighth amendment strongly prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, including the harsh sentencing of minors with diminished culpability, as Simmons argued he was. Because deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and retribution are the four goals of justice and, thus, order, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to enforce cruel and unusual punishment, appropriate by age group. This was ruled a necessary implementation because the harsh sentences assigned at that age were serving no purpose but retribution to the juvenile.

    The significance of the landmark Roper v Simmons decision is that it explicitly establishes the unconstitutionality of harsh punishment for minors, and is specifically cited and invoked in  the case of Kalief Browder and other youth offenders like him facing life sentencing, death penalties, and punishments such as solitary confinement/punitive segregation. Based on this precedent and others, the question of legal juvenile criminal liability would be best supported with biological and psychological evidence that demonstrates mental and emotional maturity at the age of 21 and above. 21 is the age it is being proposed that the constitution must approve of changing it to now; even after New York’s historic decision to raise the age to 18, the American juvenile justice system has a dismally long way to go yet.

“Murder Smells Like Honeysuckles”: the Allure of Abandon in Double Indemnity

**(Author’s note July 18 2017) Written for a client earlier in 2017, contains brief extractions from other papers I did over the course of this year as well

*All text, except where cited, Copyright (C) G. Steele-Hatten 2017

“Murder Smells Like Honeysuckles”: the Allure of Abandon in Double Indemnity

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In the film noir genre, the Mysteries of indiscretion and often crimes of passion are highlights of the plot, for such a genre category with all its shadows and secrets typical of its part-gangster cinema, part-detective boiler drama. Desire, within the world of film noir cinema, is always presented as as neuroticism (or neurotic eroticism), and the genre typically presents a caricatured embodiment of the woman as the archetypal Femme Fatale (Bronfen, 2004). Through exploring tropes of film noir cinema in the era of Hays Code, it is highly plausible that the projection of evil onto the femme fatale is at once an indication of unconscious homosexuality and hatred of the feminine. As well, the persistence of this portrayal of femininity presents male desire as a sick codependency upon women in which the “uncontrollable” and ultimately destructive desire for women confirms the self fulfilling prophecy of the primal masculine fear of the female destruction as the reinforcement of that female hatred (Into, 1981).

In much of the literature surrounding various films of the noir era, here is a generalized consensus that, as embodied by the prototypical Temptresses and Molls that populate many a noir script, the “untamed” female sexuality is presented as a personality disorder (Snyder, 2001). It is often assumed through implicit or explicit details in the screenplay, that the violent or sexually liberated woman in the film noir must inherently be an abuse victim, an abandoned orphan, or otherwise unstable due to the expression of her femininity in more masculine assertive ways.: as Snyder (2001) wrote: “The femme fatale of the film noir movies of the 1940s and 1950s is representative of several related personality disorders characterized by histrionics, self-absorption, psychopathy, and unpredictability (Snyder, 2001).” This presentation of the feminine character, established in and indicative of the film noir, was established invariably to assuage the underlying homoerotic patriarchal fear, ultimately must always meet a tragic end due to the betrayal of her true femininity (as defined by the patriarchy) as punishment for her transgression of the “safe” femininity of the virtuous and submissive woman (Bronfen, 2004). The desire of the woman is ultimately destructive to herself as well as the male protagonist in the usual film noir plotline. Likewise the desire for the woman not only entangles the protagonist in a downward spiral Descent into the Underworld of the streets and into depraved or criminal acts, but it also a desire in which the woman herself is circumscribed and limited in her (ultimately discarded and expendable) role as a fulfillment of male fantasy at the cost of her own autonomy.

[Film noir is]….identified by its cynical, nihilistic view of the world. Urban crime and corruption along with a depiction of a demise of American culture are its mainstays. Vice, licentiousness, wrongdoing, impulsiveness are all portrayed in a manner and style more realistic than Hollywood had ever attempted before. The real world of film noir is “shadowy, crime-ridden, web-like, amoral, and illogical. The Hollywood world is just the opposite”. America’s most fundamental promises – of optimism, wealth, and freedom from fear – are threatened in film noir. (Snyder, 2001)

 

In Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity released in 1944, a film which is largely credited as the “standard” of film noir that set the stage for the noir-defined films to follow, the basic plot is standard to the genre. The story, based on James M Cain’s novel, depicts a (seemingly) straight-laced, innocuous enough insurance salesman played by Fred MacMurray who becomes entangled with a wayward wife played by Barbara Stanwyck as she lures him into compliance and complicitness in the plot to murder her husband to collect the insurance money. He of course obliges and begins travelling with her on this journey to orchestrate the perfect crime that is untraceable. As typical in film noir films after the enforcement of the Hays Code of Censorship, many of the actors from former gangster films now switched hats in a manner of speaking and played law-abiding, justice-hunting “good guys”. In this film, the case in point is Edward G. Robinson, the original “Scarface” who plays the honorable and meticulous claims adjuster that is onto their case, looking to find loopholes to the phony insurance claim.

Employing the typical noir voiceover narrative to present a “double masculine” or reflection and contemplation, the film establishes the masculine protagonist as well as the masculine perspective. The film is told, in flashback, through the lens of the masculine, as MacMurray’s Masculine Gaze affixes not only outward towards his longing and, ultimately, repressed self-expression, but also gazing inward in reflection of his desires and their consequences as he looks back from the present where he is clearly injured, on the run, bewildered and in pain. As MacMurray’s character dictates the events that previously transpired up to this point to his insurance claims adjuster colleague played by Robinson, the plot unfolds as he describes his obsession with the femme fatale played by Stanwyck, and his obsessive willingness to be her accomplice in her wicked plot, just to feel the pleasure of her seduction and the excitement of the danger and intrigue. His fascination with her is solidified with compassion– when she describes how “mean” her husband is to her and his refusal to leave any of his assets to her in his will, which, instead, allocates his inheritance solely to his daughter from a previous marriage, MacMurray’s character takes it upon himself to help her, falling for her feigned tears. His obsession with Stanwyck’s temptress culminates at the stunning finale, when he ends up murdering her once she confesses she never loved him– at least not until she herself tried to kill him and was unable to.

The role of the male protagonist in the film noir is one in which, often, an ordinary guy with a noble– albeit boring– enough profession as a detective or divorcee or, like MacMurray’s character, a salesman, becomes incomprehensibly embroiled with an extraordinary female character in drama and intrigue surrounding an incidence of murder, theft, or a crime of passion. Ultimately, the protagonist pays for his sins– not the sins of murder or theft, but ultimately the punishment is understood through subtext as the reward for his fornication or adultery with a licentious woman. In the gangster cinema, the gangsters ultimately meet a tragic end, consumed by their own murderous karma, living by the gun to die by the gun. In contrast, however, in film noir, the true crime is never a crime of violence but of lust– in this case, the murder, then, is simply a byproduct of Neff’s (MacMurray’s character) real sin which is his desire for the Shadow feminine. The use of the double narrative (Neff’s flashback voiceover confession spoken in second person as dictated to his partner), is a clever cinematic way to display Neff and his inner Shadow as a double self, one portion of himself projected into the “real world” in his criminal journey, and the other portion of him reflecting back his story.

Carl Jung defined archetypes as parts of our consciousness and subconscious that have encoded cultural mythologies and legends, marking them as deified aspects of the Self.  Jung argues that even in antiquity, the heroes and gods of the old legends were in actually embodiments of universal characteristics found in relatively all men and women, as shaped and refined by nuanced culture specific mores and ideologies. Thus, in Jung’s assessment, Greek goddess of love and sensuality Aphrodite is equated with the Roman Venus, the Hindu Lakshmi, the Yoruba Oshun, the Japanese Benzaiten and the Norse Germanic Freyja. All of these are culturally shaped ideals of supreme femininity and what a completely fertile, sensual, compassionate and nurturing woman would ideally be embodied as.  Accordingly, cultural syncretism aligns common human sentiments and emotions and predicaments as personifications: even in modern culture, cultural archetypes such as The Dumb Blonde, the Shy Nerd, the Naughty Professor, the Sexy Librarian, and the Hot Jock for example are all ones that are readily recognizable and easily conjured in memory by average Americans across ethnicity, race designation and socioeconomic background.

        According to Jung, an archetype represents “certain instinctive data of the dark, primitive psyche…real but invisible rods of consciousness….the ultimate core of meaning [of which] may be circumscribed but not described (White, p1).” This elusive, interminable essence of a Mystery, emotion, or personality is fluid as each culture and individual re-encodes its meaning and its recognizable forms as the Archetype(s) continually evolve(s).

The individual psyche responds to the presence of the archetype by imprinting it with its own psychic material, thus creating a series of images informed by both Universal understanding and personal experience. Jung compares the original archetype to the axis of a crystal, about which material clusters; in the same way, he suggests, the archetype defines the images which cluster about it. (White, pg1)

       For Jung, the Archetype that embodies the man’s lowest nature is referred to varyingly as the Shadow or the Beast.  To summarize Jung’s perspective, the Animus is a feminine projection of a man’s compartmentalization of his “aggression and emotionalism(White, p1).” The feminine Shadow projection is all parts of man he doesn’t want to acknowledge within himself due to gendered socialization and primal gender conflicts. The feminine shadow represents the uncontained, illogical, undisciplined nature of humanity. The animus is arguably represented in Barbara Stanwyck’s character, Mrs. Dietrichson, a seductively sorcerous embodiment of the chaotic impulses and often grief connected to human lust and desire driven to creation or conception.

Ironically, despite the masculine action, danger, and aggression shown in most noir pictures (albeit much more censored than the early 20s and 30s gangster films from which the gere spun-off), the majority of filmgoers crowding the cinema audiences were females in the 1940s, and the most prolific and beloved entertainers of the time were overwhelmingly female (Snyder, 2001). Despite the fact that a majority of film noir pictures featured only one or two female characters in the cast throughout the plot, the film fans flocked to see– and, progressively, eventually to identify with– the femme fatale that stole the spotlight from the male castmates. True, the 1940s became the era in which the female actress was glorified more than the males who had their heyday as “G-men” and “Public Enemies” years prior. In fact, the likes of Double Indemnity’s own Edward Robinson and others like Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney were widely acclaimed in their villainous gangster roles in the 20s and 30s, but as the Code era wore on, and their roles changed to more acceptable detective, police officer, and other investigative or business like roles, their star power flagged in spite of their heavy overpopulation of the screen. Indeed it seems the feminine is highlighted and her allure heightened because of her rarity on the screen: when you finally see the Femme Fatale, played by Stanwyck, Dietrich, Harlow, Hayworth, or other starlets, one can’t take their eyes off her and the audience relates to the wide eyed transfixion of the male protagonist hopelessly caught in her web. The strength of the allure of the Femme Fatale, as well as her independence and agency, was undoubtedly inspiring to female audiences, who were inevitably shaped by the images they devoured in cinema. Snyder notes that, in the height of World War II and post-War cinema, women ultimately were motivated to work as well as keep their jobs, even after the war and the men came home to reclaim their positions (Snyder, 2001).

World War II induced an unparalleled collective response from women, resulting in new perspectives and rising ambitions. By 1944, 85 percent of women wanted to keep their jobs, whereas at the beginning of the war they viewed themselves as temporary custodians for their males’ rightful positions in the workforce when they returned home from the war…The returning veterans were hesitant to patronize movies depicting women who were assertive, self-assured, and ran their lives smoothly and competently without a male. GI Joe needed reassurance about his own place in society. Displacing females from corporate positions was a critical undertaking….It may be no accident that the overabundance of films exhibiting the femme fatale coincided with female acquisition of economic and social clout in real life. In fact, film noir movies may be a result of the alteration of forties American culture, symbolizing the female threat to the status quo…the film noir femme fatale with her attendant psychopathology was at once a creation of the forties and a reflection of profound shifts in the role of American women in that era.  (Snyder, 2001)

Snyder goes through great lengths to illustrate the profound ways in which film and mass media affects, creates, and perpetuates ever-shifting cultural ideals and paradigms in society (Snyder, 2001). Humans are wired biologically and psychologically to learn through example and imitation: invariably, mass media programming is a valuable tool of mass indoctrination and shaping the collective consciousness of a given society into subscribing and conforming to film’s designated roles on screen and off screen. Calling film itself a “psychological stressor (Snyder, 2001),” which shapes individual and collective socialization, Snyder explains how women began to become increasingly influenced by the portrayals of femininity in film, and sociosexual deviance became more commonplace (prostitution, adultery, the introduction of alternative sexual practices, techniques, and or positions) as well as an increased incidence of particular neuroses including hysteria, histrionics, and other disorders that ultimately could be summarized as female sexual restlessness and sexual frustration, as well as rebellion against the traditionally confining roles ascribed women in the patriarchal West.

Hollywood film operates to legitimate certain values and its depictions help to instill ideology. Motion pictures create an illusion that what occurs on the screen is an objective recording of events, rather than a representation of a certain point of view. Film is a component of a wider system of cultural delineation that creates psychological order that results in a distinctive formation of social reality. Social institutions are sustained by these shared beliefs of what the world is and should be. Films have become part of that extensive cultural system of constructions that represent social reality. Such representations may be appropriated from the culture, embraced as part of the self. When these constructions are internalized, they may mold the self and help to shape our personality. (Snyder, 2001)

 

Throughout history there has been a constant analysis of emotional passions as unnatural to the human state. The fascination with passion has existed ever since the Elizabethan and Victorian ages, a time before psychological analysis when emotion was less understood and “hysteria” was attributed to an imbalance of bile in the body. Emotions were considered unhealthy and a depressed or angry person was often labelled, if not hysterical (“hysteria” was mostly attributed to women), then one was called “choleric”.  Western philosophers have often attempted to define and explain the unnatural existence of passionate raging. Anger, anxiety, and apathy as well as lust are definitely unnatural passions that plague the post-Industrial West epidemically, a discontent that began to become more heightened in and since Word War II as the idyllic “American Dream” transformed exponentially into a gruesome “rat race,” one in which women were over time more aggressively joining in on, from the workplace to the brothels, streets, and beyond. This is the result of a number of variable external and internal factors, including cultural and environmental models of influence on the individual and community collective.

Surely, women sought autonomy and sexual freedom long before the likes of Stanwyck, Hayworth, Harlow and Dietrich strutted sensually across the silver screen. However, seeing their secret desires manifest in film embodied in these characters’ representations was something that perhaps let the oppressed women of the patriarchy know that it was possible to attain that sexual power, that dominating allure, that hypnotic, dangerous compelling of the men who daily repressed and belittled them, regulating them to chaste virgins and obedient housewives. Snyder explains how personality disorders are characterized as behavior and perspectives that deviate distinctly from what is expected from one in a particularly nuanced sociocultural context (Snyder, 2001) and continues to argue that the film noir and the dangerous archetype of the femme fatale has led to epidemic incidence of “antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic” personality disorders in the women on and off screen (Snyder, 2001).
(To Be Continued…I would like to expand this in the future. Author’s note July 18 2017 3:13pm est)

Works Cited

 

Bronfen, E. (2004). Femme Fatale–Negotiations of Tragic Desire. New Literary History, 35(1), 103-116. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Elisabeth_Bronfen/publication/50915256_Femme_Fatale–Negotiations_of_Tragic_Desire/links/556ed5f308aeab777226b80d/Femme-Fatale–Negotiations-of-Tragic-Desire.pdf

 

INTO, F. K. F. F., & NOIR, F. (1981). Desire, Transgression and James M Cain. Bulletin, May, 48(568), 112. Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/37081147/Krutnik_Desire_Transgression_and_James_M_Cain.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1495216385&Signature=uVpSVFuAk%2BVEtag%2BgguY2pjf3s8%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DDesire_Transgression_and_James_M_Cain.pdf

 

Loyo, H. (1993). SUBVERSIVE PLEASURES IN BILLY WILDER’S” DOUBLE INDEMNITY”. Atlantis, 169-190. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.jstor.org/stable/41054713&ved=0ahUKEwj_iq6E7ITUAhUExVQKHa38DqIQFggcMAA&usg=AFQjCNGKQbKsP7UKV4Fbmlq9WLmkVQJSag&sig2=27v611eKMgpqyXSP-sH6ZQ

 

Snyder, S. (2001). Personality disorder and the film noir femme fatale. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(3), 155-168. Retrieved from http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol8is3/snyder.html

 

White, J. A. (2004). Hero-ego in search of self: A Jungian reading of Beowulf (Vol. 26). Peter Lang

Disillusionment and Dreams Deferred: The Passion of Stokley Carmichael at the Crossroads of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Revolution

**ORIGINALLY WRITTEN MARCH 14, 2014 FOR CLIENT (C) COPYRIGHT GLORIA STEELE-HATTEN, ATLANTA GEORGIA

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(O)n one level, nonviolence is a philosophy of life, an ethical principle, a way of being in the world verging on the religious. On another level, however, it is merely a strategic approach to struggle. But on both levels it is a very stern discipline. And no discipline is ever “passive.” That’s the first thing. Which is what Dr. King (peace be unto him) had meant when he explained to me, “Stokley, you have to understand one thing. The beauty of nonviolence is that you never let an outside force, nothing outside of yourself, control what you do.” Check that out. That’s discipline, Jack, and self-control . . . . Nonviolence as a strategy of struggle, as personified and pronounced by Dr. King, gave our generation–particularly in the South–the means by which to confront an entrenched and violent racism. It offered a way for large numbers of Africans to join the struggle. Nothing passive in that.[Stokley Carmichael, Ready For Revolution, pg.166]

 

Introduction

            It’s fitting that the title of Stokley Carmichael’s autobiography is Ready For Revolution for, indeed, it is widely considered, to quote the prestigious Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a life testament that “completes the circle and the history of the black movement.” This autobiography is the chronicle of a Soul at once Soldier and General, fighting for the Freedom to defend oneself, be defended from, and escape or be offered refuge from tyranny, as the Birthright of all Human individuals evoked and recalled in the “Declaration of Independence”. Carmichael, once one finishes his rousing tale, is regarded a man as amalgam of Ideals who, to quote Gates once more, is “the link between the civil rights movement, as headed by Martin Luther King, and the radical black movement that emerged from within the civil rights movement through the younger generation.” Not only the link between Civil Rights and Black Power, in his transformation to Kwame Ture, the man widely known as Stokley Carmichael was also a vital link in the pan-African movements, according to a New York Times writer who offers that, Ture’s name change…reflects his admiration for the Guinean president Sékou Touré and Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana.” And goes on to muse, “But in embracing them and leaving for Africa, did he leave [B]lack Americans behind?”

           Did he indeed turn Black America against itself in seeming to add to a perpetuation of the erroneous “Good vs Evil/Light vs dark” dualistic summations of “Civil Rights Movement passivity-vs-Black Power violence” polarities—or did he leave Black America behind altogether in pan-Africanism, or did he, in turn, raise the United Black Vibration by taking his vision and voice worldwide? One may question his actions and his involvement within the Civil Rights movements, but during the time of struggles, trials and triumphs, one can only imagine the thoughts of a man through such pressure: to save his people, his dignity, his own legacy. Is Stokley Carmichael a sort of MLK-meets-Huey Newton, as much member of and sometimes leader to Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee, Black Panther Party For Self Defense, and Nation Of Islam? Perhaps we will find such descriptions too simplistic a reduction of a Man to a characterization.

Bridge Over Troubled Water: Between Two Strategies for Freedom

           Liminality is a trait of a mercurial nature and, thus, a two edged sword that only the Kings with the heaviest crowns must wield: to whom much is given much is due, the saying goes, and indeed, two worlds Carmichael/Ture had to juggle: two distinct yet interrelated spheres of Black progress in the 60s, known as “Civil Rights vs Black Power”, often in belittling stereotype by dismissive Eurocentric historians—in the words of the Indomitable Scribe Chinua Achebe,  “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  

           Although the passion for progressing black rights never faded, Stokley began to experience the shortcomings of the Movement. Northern and Southern groups having their unique pros and cons, he exposes the cracks in the construction of the various factions of “Black Power” as a whole. Easily he traverses the distinct landscapes of Northern and Southern Black Power/Black Rights socio-politics—having committed personally to, and had experience in, several of them, as Carmichael writes with integrity:

…We had to begin national organizing to achieve Black Power. Which is where the Panthers seemed a possibility…two radical groups seemed to have some success organizing at the grass roots in Northern cities: the Nation of Islam and the emerging Panthers. Especially with Malcolm X gone, the NOI had seemed entirely apolitical and fundamentalist in orientation. ..What SNCC offered was six years’ experience on the front lines. Also certain legitimacy in struggle. Perhaps the young Panthers could benefit from our organizing experience and our mistakes? If so, perhaps the Panthers could be our channel into the Northern urban struggle? (Carmichael, Revolution, 660)

        Yet, despite his own misgivings and twinges of doubt, with admirable faith and determination, Carmichael deflected issues of loyalty by joining all the movements: originating in the crusades and tactical performances of the South through SNCC and SCLC (i.e. freedom rides, counter integration, bus boycotts) and engaging the position that Black Power stood for in the mostly Western and Northern demographic by Huey Newton, Malcolm X, BPP & NOI and the like. Stokley/Kwame displayed and advocated a genuinely heart-led fluidity of agendas from the colorful tapestry of memory and shifting ideologies from his Caribbean birth, Dixie upbringing, and African-retirement.

         Ture’s honest reflection of the causes of the internal corruption in SNCC (670) was sobering, and beautifully summarizes the strengths and weaknesses equally of the Black Panthers:

The Party offered valuable programs that our communities needed and therefore deserved to be preserved and further developed. There was a political consciousness and militant spirit that, properly disciplined, could have been of immense value to urban youth and the community. Which in fact was precisely what the government was so anxious to prevent. These were things that one was obliged to fight for. On the other hand, there was the irresponsible adventurism; a rigid, politically confused ideological direction; and the strong-arm tactics which combined to suggest that the organization might not be salvageable. (671)

        A pivotal moment in his revolutionary life—and one way Stokley Carmichael was able to genuinely reconcile his native Southern nonviolent mentality and his affinity with the logic and respect of self defense dogma—was his public union with Rev. Bernard Lafayette in the chaotic and hysterical Selma, Alabama:

Dallas County. In 1961 my old friend Reggie Robinson from Baltimore had scouted Selma as possible SNCC project. In 1962 we sent in the first field secretary, the Reverend Bernard Lafayette. The night Medgar Evers was murdered, the Klan sent an assassin after Bernard. Bernard maintains to this day that his nonviolent discipline and demeanor saved his life. I suspect that his nonviolence might have been aided considerably by the neighbor who ran out, shattering the silence with his shotgun (444)

 

             Lafayette, himself was a transversive figure who, like Carmichael, successfully established dynamic presence, influence and leadership in both SNCC and SCLC—enough so that his joint efforts moved the Voting Rights Act of 65 into approval—and Carmichael being in the position to send such distinguished selective personnel to represent the civil rights movement with poise and dignity was vital to the success attained by the civil rights leaders and the movement as a whole. Carmichael/Ture here in effect shows (or proves?) that regardless of location or geographical region of the U.S., the Proud and some viewed as defiant or “uppity” energy associated with Black Power groups in the North like BPP and NOI would have been exerted with the same assertiveness, if not more anger, in the South—which had in actuality been the root of it all—indeed if it had not been for the extremes of cruelty and the vice grip of the south’s economic and political dependency upon the dark prosperity of slavery. The south was depicted over time as where one expected passive, servile, singin-and-prayin, soft Negroes; the Heart of Dixie where heartless Protestant owners of slaves broke the will of rebellion in even the strongest slaves through the elevated Mengele-like cruelty and the exponential degrees of cultural and psychological repression notably more severe than Catholic-ruled Caribbean/Central-South American slave regions. There is palpable irony in the “soft” portrayal of Southern Blacks, considering the Bible belt was the heart of oppression and original hub for slaves’ disembarkment—leftovers from ships bearing criminal cargo and ghoulish “property”.

            Perhaps the southern based civil rights movement is characterized as soft because in its nonviolent appearance, it belies a higher tolerance for pain in southern blacks, taught absolute submission expertly as they were. To some in present times, the Black Panther Party movement seems more hands on, more daring, more “badassssss”, and, in Ture’s own words,  “political, youth-oriented, and very much in yo’ face…militant…rhetoric [“abrasive”], and their public image mixed. (660)”,  In contrast, the civil rights movement seems self-abusing in its “turn the other cheek” philosophical performances, but one must consider matters of regional-cultural variables in consideration of the seeming differences in the respective peoples’ technique and temperament.

         In the end, Carmichael himself matured and grew weary of the contradictory politics and late in life pondered the Movements’ effectiveness: in a final interview given in April 1998 to The Washington Post, Carmichael had criticized the economic and electoral progress made by African Americans in the US during the previous 30 years. He acknowledged that blacks had won election to the mayor’s office in major cities, but said that, as the mayors’ power had generally diminished over earlier decades, such progress was essentially meaningless

Summary

         The civil rights movement is a movement that consists of many key players. Carmichael is but one. Being the distinguished individual as such he was, his is a name remembered and not to be soon forgotten, a legend painted as a key player in the Black Power movement in both its stereotypically polarized “violent vs nonviolent” aspects. His legacy can be seen throughout his written works such as “Black Power” published in 1967.

          Diane Nash, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou—Medgar Evars, MLK, and Eldridge Cleaver, are all names well known in nostalgic recollections of the Civil Rights movement’s Golden Era. Ture/Carmichael stands hand and hand with these very figures personally and allegorically; as such, even his presence in the modern-day courses of University curriculum showed his position, his power, his passion, and his work transversing and, thus, uniting the SCLC, SNCC, the BPP and NOI in a collective Memory of Black Power. He is survived by his mother, two ex-wives, two sons, and three sisters, but he will never be forgotten in the true account of the African Diaspora. Here when we speak of Carmichael in the era of powerful Black speakers and speeches, we see one who has created his own phrase “Black Power” and defined a revolutionary spirit, a collective consciousness birthing forth a concept now cemented in history.

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Works Cited

Carmichael, Stokley (author); Thelwell, Ekwueme Michael (Contributor-compiler), Ready For Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Copyright Scribner 1998, New York

Churcher, Kalen M.A., “STOKLEY CARMICHAEL, ‘BLACK POWER’ SPEECH October 29, 1966”, review of speech included in dissertation, Niagara University

Davies, Lawrence E., “Carmichael Asks draft’s Defiance,” The New York Times, October 30, 1966

Randall, Jonathan, “Collegians Split by ‘Black Power,’” The New York Times, August 28, 1966

Span, Paula, “The Undying Revolutionary: As Stokley Carmichael He fought for Black Power, now Kwame Ture is fighting for his life”. The Washington Post April 8, 1998, p D01