Ellis island names

The idea that immigration officers at Ellis Island were a bunch of rent-a-cops scribbling down whatever names struck their fancy falls into the same category as Washington chopping down the cherry tree or the CIA killing Kennedy. Immigration officers at Ellis Island (and its precursor, Castle Garden) were accompanied by interpreters who were required to know at least three languages, while ancillary interpreters with knowledge of more obscure languages circulated to ensure competency—and in this context, Yiddish, German, Russian, and Polish were far from obscure.

None of this even matters, though, because immigration officers at Ellis Island never wrote down immigrants’ names. They obtained those names from ships’ manifests, compiled at the port of origin. Nor is it possible that the same mythic scenario was enacted on the European end. Ships’ manifests were recorded from passports and other travel papers, and the shipping companies were very careful not to make errors, because errors cost them money: inaccuracies were grounds for deporting improperly documented or unqualified people back to Europe at company expense. [link]

Memorial Day’s hidden history

The scholar David Blight on his research into the one of the earliest, large memorial day commemorations. This took place in Charleston, SC, by newly liberated black Americans burying and honoring the Union dead. This history was later erased by white elites.

The largest of these events, forgotten until I had some extraordinary luck in an archive at Harvard, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.

After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. …The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body.” Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner” and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible…

Despite the size and some newspaper coverage of the event, its memory was suppressed by white Charlestonians in favor of their own version of the day.  [link]

Wandering Wakanda

Rachel Strohm’s recent blog post made me realize that Wakanda has moved from West Africa to East Africa. Here are two maps from Marvel sources, both taken from a slide show by Professor Julian Chambliss. Personally, I love the fact that Wakanda’s location is never truly known, and think that each new writer should situate it somewhere different in the African continent on purpose.

After all, Wakanda isn’t a place, it’s a weird byproduct of a sincere effort by Marvel to engage with blackness in the 1960s, combined with current Afrofuturism, and a ton of remaining residual orientalism about Africa. So why should it be any given place on the continent, instead it should simply be … Africa. Neither of our racist fears nor our futurist fantasies about Africa are actually rooted in any knowledge of a place nor reaction to it. Instead, it’s all about Africa as a mirror to American and European anxiety about the other. Fine then. Let it be as rootless as our fears and hopes are.

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Dumbfounded – Safe


The rapper, whose real name is Jonathan Park, comes out swinging with the first line, which is a mission statement for the whole song: “The other night I watched the Oscars and the roster of the only yellow men were all statues/ We a quarter of the population there’s a room of fuckin’ 1-percenters laughing at you.” The video flits between scenes of Dumbfoundead as part of a nuclear family decked out in Mad Men-era duds, plunked down in front of the TV, and scenes of him invading what’s on that TV. Over the course of the video, he inserts himself into scenes of famous films ranging from Casablanca to Pirates of the Caribbean, and also pearly white TV shows like Friends, Full House, and The Brady Bunch. [link]

Also, see the Starring John Cho tumblr.

People like us

Most white people in the United States spend most of their time with other white people. A 2014 study from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that for every 91 white friends a white person has, he or she has one black, one Latino, and one Asian friend. Neighborhoods across the country are, and stay, segregated. ..That is to say, it’s entirely possible as a white person in this country to not interact with people of color in any meaningful way, ever. And not just possible. Fairly likely. [NPR]

For some people cacophony is more relaxing than silence

The researchers discovered that neurotic people found “high-anxiety” situations to be more calming for their minds. In another experiment, Newman and Brucks ran a soothing ocean wave soundtrack followed by a tape of honking horns. Surprise: neurotics didn’t find the blare of taxi cab horns annoying. Actually, they found it rather satisfying… A highly neurotic person can still enjoy nature, but maybe their ideal version of a hike includes more boulders, a trail run, some animals.” In other words, when it comes to alleviating anxiety, it’s not the environment so much as what you do in it. [link]

Movies with more black actors make more money; most films have zero

This study argues that movies with 2 more more black actors in main roles boost film revenues by more than 60%. Unfortunately, in 85% of movies there are neither no or just one black actor in a major role, and these are the films that made less. It is unclear what other factors are controlled for (are all the movies with multiple black actors big budget superhero movies?), nor whether the authors looked at worldwide revenues or domestic. The argument made by studios is that black actors do poorly in China, which is the reason why John Boyega’s image is minimized in the Star Wars posted made for China. 

For their study, Kuppuswamy and Younkin took a look at 723 mainstream English-language movies released in major theaters between 2011 and 2015, and determined the number of black actors in lead roles in each film. In nearly two-thirds of the films, there were no black actors cast in any lead roles. In 23 percent of the films, there was one. Only in 11 percent were there two or more black principals.

The relative rarity of diverse casts might suggest that they have little money-making potential, but after parsing the data, the researchers came to the conclusion that audiences don’t reject films with diverse lead actors—they actually prefer them. According to Kuppuswamy and Younkin, adding more black actors in principal roles had a beneficial effect on box-office outcomes. The films that had only one black lead actor performed about as well as those films that had none. But films that had two or more black actors playing main roles performed even better, boosting box-office revenues by more than 60 percent compared to films that didn’t have any black lead actors. [link]

Here is the original study on SSRN:  “Blaming the Customer: The Effect of Cast Racial Diversity on the Performance of Hollywood Films


The elephant in the room

Straight talk from Gene Demby. What’s baffling to me is why so few white political commentators (which is to say most political commentators) are willing to be honest about the key analytical issues in this election, that is why they keep ignoring and omitting race:

[In] Jonathan Chait’s recent essay at New York Mag, “The Real Reason We All Underrated Trump,” … he openly wonders whether Republican voters who’ve fallen for Trump are “idiots” … It’s telling that Chait finds it easier to imagine that huge swaths of Republican primary voters are childlike and naive, rather than folks who quite rationally dig Trump’s direct appeals to their interests — their racial interests. Among Trump’s most notorious policy proposals is a moratorium on Muslims entering the country. He has called Mexican immigrants “rapists.” Maybe we should concede that these declarations are not incidental to his appeal among his supporters, but central to them. Calling them “idiots” posits that they’ve been duped, when perhaps Trump is saying precisely what they want to hear. [link]

Let them drink Lemonade: Beyonce sells images of women’s liberation, while also selling clothing produced by women’s exploitation

These quotes are taken from a very well written piece in The Fashion Law blog. I noticed I hesitated before posting this, both because Queen Bey is so well loved (an understatement) and because I am not a black woman. But at the end of the day, the people who matter most to me are not the Beyhive but the seamstresses whose products are being sold to “support and inspire women.” 

Beyoncé’s new Ivy Park collection is made in sweatshop conditions by laborers, who earn as little as $6.17 a day, according to sources, including The Telegraph. The mega-star and so-called feminist’s collection hit shelves last month and allegedly aims to “support and inspire women.” …

The workers, mostly young women from poor rural villages, can only afford to live in boarding houses, which are often provided (at a cost) by the factory owners, and work more than 60 hours a week to make ends meet…

Beyonce’s team has released a statement saying: “Ivy Park has a rigorous ethical trading program. We are proud of our sustained efforts in terms of factory inspections and audits, and our teams worldwide work very closely with our suppliers and their factories to ensure compliance.” [link]