Musical theatre black women are often minor characters who show up to enlighten the main (white) ones with a Big Gospel Number, and then sink once more into the background. In spring 2006, not one but two shows premiered containing songs specifically lampooning this trope. And these are what I want to talk about.
Reading Benjamin Nugent's book American Nerd in preparation for writing this column I came across a reference to research by UC Santa Barbara linguistics professor Mary Bucholtz, which argues that nerd culture manifests "hyperwhiteness" in its language. Nugent didn't elaborate on this much in his book but he'd also written a review of her research for the New York Times, and I thought the whole idea of how nerd culture is racialized was really interesting…and pretty problematic.
I am wary when I walk into bookstores these days, because I don't need to dip into the horror section to find books that scare me. I take a look around at the white faces on the covers and think about how I'm not encountering books about people like me. Except, given how popular the whitewashing of covers is just at present, maybe I am and just don't know it.
Whitewashing book covers, representing non-white characters as white* on covers, is a publishing practice which has become disturbingly common.
It's time to head back to the nineteenth century, and one Miss Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre (1847) is, of course, one of the most widely-read books in the English language. But I wonder about the kinds of readings that are to be had here. And I wonder what I'm getting out of this book that would have gone over the head of Brontë, as a white woman from a colonising nation. These are sensibilities supplied by Jean Rhys' parallel novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), as we will see.
Gather around, children. It's time for a story. Several, actually. I've been thinking about picture books, and how big an impact a story can have with just a few words. Get thinking about the picture book icons of your childhood while I take you through some of my experiences and what the kids are reading these days.
This week's damali ayo lecture has left my head spinning. Bear with me while I try to sort my thoughts, please?
I'd known of damali's work for a few years, but this was the first time I'd seen her perform. As I expected, she's wickedly funny, extremely articulate, exceptionally bright, and undeniably charismatic. In her talk, "Shut up and change: A life as a social change artist," she walked us through her childhood, her art projects and performance pieces, her heroes, the negative and hostile response to her work, her six-year struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome, and her recent decision to "pass on" her anti-racist projects so that she can focus on yoga teacher training.