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Rock Against Racism: On the front line with The Clash, Specials, Undertones & Elvis Costello

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It all began in 1968 when an old Tory coot Enoch Powell gave a racist speech against immigration and anti-discrimination legislation at his West Midlands constituency in England. Powell claimed he was horrified at what he believed was an unstoppable flow of immigration that would eventually swamp the country where “in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” It was an incendiary and offensive speech full bile and hate, and became known as the “Rivers of blood speech” because of Powell’s quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid about “‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”

Many of the white working class supported Powell, most shamefully the London dockers’ union staged a one day strike in his favor. Powell became the pin-up of the far right and his words appeared to sanction their rise, in particular the odious neo-Nazi National Front that promoted its racist policies with the boot as much as the ballot. Against this rose Rock Against Racism—“a raggedy arsed united front” co-founded by Red Saunders, Roger Huddle and others in 1976.

At first, Rock Against Racism was just an idea—a way to bring together a new generation of youth against the stealthy rise of the far right. It may have remained just an idea had it not been for Eric Clapton announcing during a concert in 1976 that the UK had “become overcrowded” and his fans should vote for Enoch Powell to stop Britain from becoming “a black colony.” Allegedly Clapton then shouted “Keep Britain white.” His racist tirade led to Saunders and Huddle writing a letter to the music paper NME pointing out that half Clapton’s music was black. The letter ended with a call for readers to help establish Rock Against Racism. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

In April 1978, 100,000 people marched across London in support of Rock Against Racism, which was followed by a concert at Victoria Park headlined by The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band. It was a momentous event, which singer and activist Billy Bragg correctly described as “the moment when my generation took sides.”

Photographer Syd Shelton documented the rise of Rock Against Racism during the 1970s and 1980s from its first demonstrations, the concert in Victoria Park, to the gigs, bands, musicians (The Clash, The Specials, The Undertones, Elvis Costello, etc), the young activists and supporters who stood up and proudly said: “Love Music, Hate Racism.”
 
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More rocking pictures against racism, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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James Baldwin asks ‘How are white Americans so sure they are white?’
12.04.2014
09:52 am

Topics:
Literature
Politics
Race

Tags:
James Baldwin
Dick Gregory


 
In 1963, James Baldwin wrote two essays that examined the role of race and racism in the history of America. Published in The New Yorker, Baldwin’s first essay, written in the form of a letter to his fourteen-year-old nephew on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation explained “the crux of [his] dispute with [his] country”:

You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.

Baldwin developed his historical and political analysis in his second essay in which he described his own experience of religion, criticising both Christianity and Islam as being culpable in maintaining ethnic division and oppression—where the white oppressors had attempted to destroy black men and women:

...the truth about the black man, as a historical entity and as a human being, has been hidden from him, deliberately and cruelly; the power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions. So every attempt is made to cut the black man down—not only was made yesterday but is made today.

Baldwin’s essays proved so popular and influential they were collected and published book form as The Fire Next Time later the same year. This book placed Baldwin as one of the major figures in the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, and as one of the greatest public intellectuals of the twentieth century.
 

 
In 1968, along with comedian and activist Dick Gregory, James Baldwin gave a talk at the West Indian Student Center in London, where he and Gregory discussed the American black experience in relation to the Afro-Caribbean experience in Britain. The seminar was documented by a young filmmaker Horace Ové, who filmed the proceedings and later edited the footage into a documentary called Baldwin’s Nigger (1969).  Though there is nothing special in the way in which Ové filmed the meeting (mainly in a flat, news-report style), it is the content of what each participant said, in particular Baldwin, that makes Ové‘s film so important, as he had fortunately captured an important debate and conversation between Baldwin, Gregory and the audience about ethnicity, identity, politics and racism at a crucial moment in world history.

Baldwin began by talking about a visit to the British Museum where he got in conversation with a West Indian man who asked the writer where he was from.

I told him I was from Harlem. That answer didn’t satisfy him…
“Yes,” he said “But man, but where were you born?”
And I began to get it.
“Well,” I said, “My mother was born in Maryland, my father was born in New Orleans, I was born in New York.”
He said, “But before that where were you born?”
And I had to say, “I don’t know.”

Baldwin went onto explain why he doesn’t know—for his ancestral entry into America was by a “bill of sale, which stops you from going any further.”

But Baldwin wasn’t interested in just offering personal historical context of the black American experience, he also asked provocative and difficult questions about white ethnicity and the complex relationship between all Americans:

White men lynched negroes knowing them to be their sons. White women watched men being lynched knowing them to be their lovers… How are white Americans so sure they are white?

The point is racism damages everyone.

In light of the institutionalised racism exposed by the Michael Brown fiasco in Ferguson, the killing of Eric Garner in New York and the rise of racist and xenophobic politics across Europe and the Middle East, Horace Ové‘s film of James Baldwin and Dick Gregory is necessary viewing.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Bugs Bunny’s racist adventure
11.25.2014
08:48 am

Topics:
Animation
Race

Tags:
World War II
Bugs Bunny


 
So many friends of mine are Disney fanatics, but I’ve always been partial to Warner Brothers cartoons. Most of the classic Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote and Daffy Duck cartoons still make me bust a gut. When I watch the 70-year-old “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips,” however, it just makes my face burn and sweat pool in my shoes. It’s a long, uncomfortable, ugly eight minutes. Caveat spectator.

For reasons that will be immediately apparent, you probably did not see this extravagantly racist WWII-era propaganda cartoon during the Saturday mornings of your childhood. Wikipedia says it was released on home video collections in the early ‘90s, but these were quickly withdrawn after the studio received complaints. In any event, it was conspicuously absent from Bugs & Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons and the Looney Tunes DVD set that covers this period.

I first saw it on a millionth-generation VHS I rented from a video store in Berkeley, the same place I first found a copy of Robert Frank’s famously unreleasable Rolling Stones documentary, Cocksucker Blues. That bootleg of “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” looked and sounded about as bad as the “restored” version Spike TV posted several years ago, only the color was even more washed-out.

Recently, a much higher quality copy has surfaced online. While it’s not crystal clear, and the top of the frame is still cut off, at least the headache you get watching it will be attributable to racism alone. The wretched quality of the bootleg wouldn’t let you forget the cartoon’s contraband status, which—for me, at least—made the short slightly less disturbing: it was marked as a banned film, never to be screened again. Here, it just looks like another Saturday morning with Bugs. 
 

Definitely NSFW.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Remembering Hines Farm, a legendary African-American mecca for the blues
11.06.2014
10:11 am

Topics:
Food
History
Music
Race

Tags:
Hines Farm


 
From the late 1930s until the early 1970s, a sprawling 32-acre spread in northeast Ohio known as Hines Farm, with its own open-air juke joint and enclosed night club, regularly attracted thousands of African-Americans with its ass-kicking blues parties. Hines Farm must have been a really special place, an oasis of incredible blues music, southern food, and (by the way) racial tolerance. It offered good times for all, with a roster of entertainments you wouldn’t find in New York City quite so quickly: roller skating, amusement park rides, exhibition baseball games, horse races, hobo car races, motorcycle races, squirrel hunts…. the list goes on and on.

Some of the biggest names in blues played there—B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, and John Lee Hooker, as well as jazz figures like Louis Jordan and Count Basie. Basie and his full orchestra were hired to play the grand opening of an outdoor pavilion in 1961. The pavilion doubled as a roller rink and a dance floor and could accommodate 1,500 people. People would come from miles around, from as far as Detroit or Cleveland, for the rollicking fun on summer weekends.

When B.B. King thinks of Hines Farm, he recalls the “good food, good music, and pretty girls. It was the only place that was happening.” John Lee Hooker called Hines Farm “a one and only place—wasn’t no other place like that I have been to that was like Hines Farm.” Hines Farm’s identity as an informal place for African-Americans to unwind, relax, and enjoy life started in the basement of Frank and Sarah Hines in the 1930s. By the late 1940s they had the first liquor license held by an African-American in northwest Ohio, and by 1957 they constructed an actual blues club.

Blind Bobby Smith, a Toledo blues guitarist who did session work for Stax Records, used to play in their basement in the early days. According to Smith, “After they’d close down outdoors we’d all pile in the basement. In the wintertime [Frank Hines] just ran it out of the house. It was, you know, everybody talkin’ at the same time ... passing the bottle around, and Hines wishin’ everybody’d get out of there so he could go to bed.”
 

Sarah and Frank Hines
 
For African-American men, Hines Farm was a place for sex, a place to dance and meet women. A neighbor recalled wistfully, “Man, it was good to go back there in the woods. See, I never took my car. I’d just walk back there and have me a cold beer and watch ‘em dance. See, that place back there, they used to dance. Chicks would come out of Toledo. Some of them ol’ gals was good lookin’. I’d sit there and drink beer and watch ‘em from mid-afternoon. Hell, I wouldn’t leave ‘til dark ... watchin’ them chicks shake it up.”

According to Big Jack Reynolds, one of the regular performers in the club’s early days, Mexicans and whites were perfectly welcome as well: “There was no discrimination there.” As Marlene Harris-Taylor, who has co-produced a documentary about Hines Farm, said, “When most African-Americans came north, they moved into urban areas. Most of the jazz and blues clubs that sprang up were in the urban settings. Hines Farm was unique. It was like home for African-Americans who had moved here from the rural South.”
 

The interior of Hines Farm Blues Club
 
It was Frank Hines’ job to keep the peace. Hines would check everybody for knives and guns and just take them, then return them when they left. Frank’s wife Sarah was the same way, wouldn’t let any trouble start. Henry Griffin, who owned the property of Hines Farm after the blues club was discontinued in 1976, remembered, “One time Sarah broke a beer over a guy’s head. He got out there and played like he was drunk and was sayin’ a lot of filthy talk in front of the women, and she tried to get him to hush, you know, and he wouldn’t do it. So she went to him a couple of times. The third time, he started all kinds of that filthy talk, and she just took a beer bottle and went up there and hit that son-of-a-bitch on top of his head. That damned bottle shattered all to pieces, man, and that guy said, ‘She tried to kill me.’ He grabbed his head and said, ‘She killed me. I’m gonna tell Sonny’—that’s what everybody called Frank Hines. She said, ‘I don’t give a damn if you tell Sonny—just get the hell out of here.’ And it was peaceful the rest of the night.”

It also had motorcycle races, which were a really big deal. It’s the one thing that everyone who was there recalled, aside from the food and music. Griffin remembered: “Hines would send out a flyer that he was havin’ a motorcycle race and he would have people come from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and they’d get on their motorcycles and ride right up there. And there’d be thousands of ‘em.”

Hines Farm shut down in autumn 1976 and quickly fell into disrepair. Steve Coleman, son of Griffin, who passed away in January 2013, has the place up and running again.

In this documentary clip, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker reminisce about Hines Farm:
 

 
Thank you Charles!

Sources for this post include “Historical Blues Club to Reopen” and “Remembering Toledo’s Blues Showcase,” both from the Toledo Blade, and this expansive piece from Toledo’s Attic by Thomas E. Barden and Matthew Donahue. Matthew Donahue is the author of I’ll Take You There: An Oral and Photographic History of the Hines Farm Blues Club. Buy it!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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How Sam Cooke Invented the Afro
10.27.2014
08:09 am

Topics:
Books
History
Music
Race

Tags:
Sam Cooke
Peter Guralnick


 
The name of music writer Peter Guralnick may not resonate with rock music fans the way names like Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer do, likely because his work is informal, thoughtful, and restrained compared to that of many of his self-aggrandizingly, flamboyantly gonzo contemporaries from the early days of rock writing coming into its own. For example, his scholarly ‘90s Elvis Presley biographies Last Train to Memphis, Careless Love, and the mind-bogglingly granular Elvis Day by Day serve serious students of rock history as valuable counterpoints to the notoriously lurid sensationalism of Albert Goldman’s work on the subject.

On November 4th, Guralnick will be releasing two of his works—Sweet Soul Music and Dream Boogie—as enhanced e-books. In addition to being optimized for e-readers, the e-books will include troves of supplemental A/V material, including audio of his original interviews with figures like Ray Charles, Bobby Womack, and Solomon Burke, and newly purpose-shot video interviews. I was watching one of those video interviews when something I thought interesting jumped out. Guralnick was talking about the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke with the great Stax songwriter, singer, and producer William Bell, and of the brilliant and tragic talent behind indelible songs like “Chain Gang,” “Cupid,” and “Another Saturday Night,” Bell rather bluntly asserted that “Sam started the afro.”
 

 
The idea that someone could have “started” the way a significant number of people’s hair grows normally would seem absurd absent the context of the ‘50s, when many African-Americans, quite literally second-class citizens in the US, straightened their hair in aspirational imitation of white hairstyles, especially if they were public figures like entertainers. The common men’s hairstyle was called a “process” or a “conk.” Some of the most spectacularly vertical conks were sported by James Brown, Esquerita, Little Richard, and Muddy Waters. An amazing sequence of photos in Waters’ Electric Mud LP shows his conk’s creation step-by-step. But Waters was a holdover. That LP came out in 1968, by which time processed hair was becoming passé.
 

 

 
Perhaps it’s because I’m from a post-boomer generation, but I’ve long been accustomed to Jimi Hendrix getting a great deal of credit as the musician who popularized the afro. Not that Sam Cooke was without conspicuous black identity bona fides; he did, after all, write the immortal and still-potent “Change is Gonna Come.” Seeking clarity, I turned to Guralnick himself, who literally wrote the book on Sam Cooke—the aforementioned Dream Boogie is it, in fact. (He also wrote the movie on Cooke.) It turns out that the man is as dizzying a fount of knowledge in conversation as he is on the printed page. Compared to the thoughtful depth and detail of his answers, my questions sound embarrassingly boneheaded, so I’ve replaced them in the following Q&A with pictures of celebrated afros.
 

 

Sam started wearing his hair natural back in 58. He saw it as a point of racial pride, and he preached it as a point of racial pride. And Otis Redding stopped processing his hair after talking with Sam—this is what Roger Redding, Otis’ brother, told me long, long, ago, and which I’m sure is true, because Sam’s brother L.C. had told me the same thing. So he went out there at a time when a large percentage, by far the majority of African-American singers were straightening their hair, Sam was out there doing it natural, and making a point of saying “I don’t want to try to look like somebody else, I’m proud of being myself, I’m proud of who I am, I’m proud of my race.” And he articulated it to—not to interviewers, because nobody was interviewing him about it—but he articulated it, and I’ve heard this again and again, to other singers of that era.

 

 

This was a very unusual thing to do. I’m sure it wasn’t unique, in fact I know it wasn’t unique, but it was quite unusual, and it took a degree of self-awareness. Sam was somebody who was an inveterate reader, he just read anything and everything, from War and Peace to The New Yorker to Playboy, and he started reading black history, both African history and African-American history. He read John Hope Franklin, he started reading a great deal of that history, and really immersed himself in it, and in new people like James Baldwin and Malcom X, who were his peers.

 

 

On the night of the first Clay/Liston fight, when Muhammad Ali was still Cassius Clay, and he won the title, after the fight, Sam Cooke, Clay, Malcolm X and the football player Jim Brown went back to Malcolm X’s hotel room in the Hampton House, and the FBI had an informer there, and were extremely concerned! They saw this as a potential nexus of sports and entertainment superstars getting together on a political agenda. Sam was very serious—I don’t mean to make him out to be a crusader, but he was an extremely aware person, and extremely well-read. He once told Bobby Womack, if you want to expand your writing, you’ve got to read. You can’t just keep writing songs about “I love you I love you I love you.” You want to expand your horizons by reading. Bobby was a total disciple of Sam’s, and could describe Sam’s lessons almost word-for-word. I don’t know whether he ever became a great reader but he took the point.

 

 

One thing I think I’d emphasize, Sam’s hair was neither accidental nor happenstance. It was a well thought out response what he saw as white cultural domination and the willingness of the black community, in many instances, to see that as something to which to aspire, to want to look white, like the majority population, and he said that was ridiculous. He embraced James Baldwin’s point that this is a community of incredible joy, creativity, appreciation of life, a community that should celebrate itself, not to try to imitate anybody else.

 

 

Sam saw Black Power arise to some degree, with the Black Muslims who were preaching self-reliance, that was sort of a variation on Booker T. Washington I suppose, in a sense, though they wouldn’t have taken it that way. But the point is that was a proclamation of separateness, of black power.

So there you have it. Guralnick’s mention of that Cassius Clay story reminded me of this wonderful clip of Clay and Cooke singing together. The song is “The Gang’s All Here,” and it saw release on Clay’s LP I Am the Greatest!, which, yeah, exists. While you’re enjoying that, I’ll be starting research for my own scholarly work on the Jewfro.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Strunk and White supremacy: Racist secessionist eggheads obsessed with spelling and usage


Take note, Tea Party: No spelling mistakes here
 
The League of the South is not your ordinary band of Southern racists. In describing the group, the Southern Poverty Law Center emphasizes its intellectual credentials—“Originally founded by a group that included many Southern university professors, the group lost its Ph.D.s as it became more explicitly racist.” Hmmm. It seems that the professorial roots of the group have never really gone away, no matter how small the group is today. The group’s mission is, per the SPLC, is as follows: “The league believes the “godly” nation it wants to form should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities.” It turns out that the League of the South takes that “Anglo-Celtic” thing pretty seriously.

Buried on the group’s website is a series of pages on the theme of “Verbal Independence.”  They were written by Dr. James Everett Kibler Jr., and just by using periods to cap off the “Dr.” and the “Jr.” there, I’m annoying the good doctor mightily, for as he writes, seeking an unimpeachable Southern authority to justify his preference: “Mr Mrs Ms Dr Sr Jr Rev Esq—We do not use a period with these abbreviations. Interestingly, the great Southern writer William Faulkner always deleted the period in Mr and Mrs. ... We Southerners certainly thus have powerful precedent in adopting these forms used by the 20th century writer most celebrated worldwide. So, indeed, thank you Mr (no period) Faulkner.” Kibler is identified as the League’s “Cultural Committee Chairman.”
 

Dr. James Everett Kibler Jr.
 
So what kind of “style guide” does a committed racist write? Turns out, one that would not garner any attention whatsoever in the United Kingdom. That is to say, the bulk of Kibler’s guide is dedicated to such exciting prescriptions as spelling “color” with an extra “u,” replacing the “z” in “organize” with an “s,” and so on. Kibler even takes pains to insist upon single quotation marks in preference to double quotation marks and vice versa, just like they do in England. Kibler also includes a “special section” of words not covered by any rule, such as cheque, meagre, enquiry, and so on.

Once you get past the British-American style recommendations, the style guide degenerates into a series of ad hoc rules designed to retrofit a system of grammar around preexisting Southern phraseology, as in the paragraph that states that “mash” is too a perfectly acceptable synonym for “press,” as in telling someone to “mash three, please” in an elevator. (It took me a few moments to glean his meaning, actually, but I’m a nasty Northern type.) Amusingly, his irritation over this word apparently stems from incidents “in a Northern city (like Atlanta or Charlotte).” Burn! Take that, Atlanta!

One of KIbler’s longest entries is about the distinction between the words raise and rear. Now, I have to confess .... I’m an editor by trade, I’ve edited at least 150 books in my time as well as countless other pieces of printed matter. I’ve read style guides very much like that produced by Dr. Kibler (only with less racism). I’m a devotee of the Chicago Manual of Style. So all this stuff is very, very familiar to me. I do this for a living, I think about the differences between titular and eponymous, between further and farther, and much else.

All of that is preamble to this: confession: I have never seriously considered the words raise and rear as being of especial interest. Not so Dr. Kibler—he is very upset about raise and rear. Let’s give him the floor (note that the removal of apostrophes from single-syllable words accords with one of his rules):
 

A celebrated Pulitzer prize winning, South-hating author of my acquaintance once chastised me in an emotional outburst for my saying a certain black lady was raised near my home. ‘Like turnips!’ he blazed with righteousness, saying I had used a racially demeaning figure of speech like the ‘n-word’ or boy. Even after I got over my initial shock, I did not attempt to explain what most Southerners know—that we in the South are (if we are fortunate enough) all raised, both black and white, and not reared. And it is, indeed, no doubt, like turnips with us—yes, and also like cotton, okra, and beans—and with no shame in that! Any agrarian people well knows the image is a good one, for crops need the careful long process of planting, daily tendance, and then the grace of God over all—to yield up a successful crop. Raising requires great loving care and more than just biological growth. So out of our noble Southern agrarian heritage, let us keep our expression to raise, and foreswear to rear. And that will make certain we also keep the good old countryman’s phrase, ‘Boy, aint you had no raising?’ And we’ll know precisely what we mean. Because inherent in raising is good, courteous behaviour—good manners which must be taught in social situations by the family.

 
Call me crazy, but if touchy incidents involving race yielding a ringing sense of ressentiment constitute the core of your orthographical and grammatical agenda, it may be that you’re not really all that interested in spelling and grammar to begin with.
 

A League of the South billboard—again, no typos
 
Thanks to Mark Davis!
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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William Shatner leads a racist reign of terror in Roger Corman’s ‘The Intruder,’ 1962
09.10.2014
04:14 pm

Topics:
Movies
Race

Tags:
William Shatner
Roger Corman


 
You may remember a post we did a while back on the all-Esperanto art house horror, Incubus, starring the immortal William Shatner. Although the film is beautiful in its ambition, fascinating in its inscrutability and kind of hilarious in its absolute weirdness, it is not my favorite Shatner deep cut. No, that great honor belongs to The Intruder,  a weird little anti-racist morality play directed by Roger Corman, the brilliant mind behind the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors, and producer of such classics as Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Death Race 2000. Oh, and more recently, Sharktopus.

While The Intruder definitely exhibits Corman’s trademark outrageousness, itt does so in an earnest effort to engage the audience’s humanity. Shatner plays a sneaky white supremacist that rolls into a southern town with the covert mission of sowing racial unrest into the recently integrated community. At the time he was a young Canadian theater actor looking to break in to Hollywood, and the role was pretty juicy and subversive—Shatner later said “I’d have paid him to play that role.”
 

 
As far as drama and social analysis of bigotry goes, yeah—it’s pretty heavy-handed and ham-fisted to the modern eye (I mean it’s Roger Corman and William Shatner), but Shatner’s performance is uncharacteristically understated. He’s sleazy and sly and generally threatening as all hell. The picture follows him charming the previously peaceful citizens of Caxton into a a paranoid frenzy, even going so far as to seduce a teenage girl before pressuring her to frame a black man for rape.

The mob violence and virulent hatred is tidied up quite neatly by a level-headed salesman who eventually (basically) just gives Shatner’s character bus fare to leave town. It’s a pretty rosy Hollywood resolution to an obviously complicated and dire subject—racism is treated as an “intruder,” not a part of civic and political fabric. The movie fails to really indict the white citizens of Caxton for their own horrific crimes, nor does it really seek restitution for its black victims.

But you’re not watching The Intruder for critical race theory… you’re watching it for an evil Bill Shatner in a convertible with the KKK.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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‘Wattstax’: The ‘Black Woodstock’ music festival


 
The Watts Riots are often referred to by lefties as “The Watts Rebellion.” While both are technically accurate descriptions, “rebellion” is considered the preferable word by sympathists, since “riot” has a negative connotation. For me, the word “riot” lacks any moralist stigma, since rioting has historically played a necessary role in the resistance of oppressed people. I also think “riots” paints a more identifiable picture.

In addition to less explicit economic discrimination, the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles was plagued with racist attacks from both white gangs and and a militarized police force (sound familiar?). The 1965 events that incited the riots are convoluted, but (briefly) a black man was arrested for driving under the influence, his brother (who was was a passenger), left to inform the man’s mother, who showed up to the arrest. There was a physical altercation, all three black citizens were arrested, and onlookers from the neighborhood began throwing things at the cops.

Eight days later, 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries and 3,952 arrests. 600 businesses were destroyed and over $40 million was done in damages over a 46-square mile-area.
 

 
In 1972, Stax Records put on a concert featuring their artists to commemorate the riots. Tickets for the Wattstax music festival (held in the massive L.A. Coliseum) were sold for $1 each to keep the event affordable for working class Los Angeles residents. Mel Stuart, who had just directed Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (a box-office bomb, despite its classic status), documented the concert in Wattstax, the electric results of which you see below. Wattstax has been shorthanded as “The Black Woodstock,” but it’s so much more.

The film is something greater than a record of fantastic concert footage, though the performances from artists like The Staples Singers, Isaac Hayes and The Bar-Kays are mind-blowing. It’s the interviews with Watts residents, who reflect on their lives and politics and what has and hasn’t changed since the riots, that really make the film. Richard Pryor serves as a kind of Greek chorus, and his interactions with the crowd are hilarious and full of humanity. You’ll notice that nearly the entire audience defiantly stays seated during Kim Weston’s rendition of the national anthem.

If you want a good clip to sample, there’s a fantastic bit starting around the 38:30 mark where Richard Pryor riffs on black identity (and pork). It then cuts to The Bar-Kays (looking like a heavenly choir from outer space), who do a blistering version of “Son of Shaft.”
 

 
Via Open Culture

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Remembering Barbara McNair: Forgotten Motown artist and groundbreaking black entertainer
08.08.2014
07:16 pm

Topics:
Music
Race
Television

Tags:
Barbara McNair


 
When career opportunities for black women began to increase on television and in the movies during the 1960s, beautiful singer/actress Barbara McNair, all but forgotten today, was one of the fastest rising young African-American talents. After getting a break appearing on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in the 1950s and working her way up through the show biz ranks, in 1962 McNair took over from Diahann Carroll, the original lead, in Richard Rodgers’ Broadway musical No Strings—an interracial love story set in Paris where a black fashion model falls in love with a white novelist. (During the show’s run, she endured obscene phone calls and hate mail.)

In 1965, a New York Times writer declared that the “strikingly beautiful” McNair “does not have to depend on looks alone. She is a highly knowledgeable performer who projects an aura of beauty, a warm personality and an appealing sense of fun.” She also possessed a phenomenal voice.
 

 
McNair—a serious babe as you can tell from the photos—recorded for Motown (who never seemed to know what to do with her) and other labels. She continued appearing on Broadway and in a number of television variety shows of the era like Hollywood Palace, The Dean Martin Show and Hullabaloo, plus acted in guest-starring roles in popular shows like I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Hogan’s Heroes and Dr. Kildaire. Additionally she performed for the troops stationed in Vietnam with Bob Hope and had a role as a nun in the Elvis film Change of Habit which co-starred Mary Tyler Moore.
 

Mahalia Jackson. Elvis and McNair
 
In the cinema, the Elvis flick aside, McNair’s work was more varied. She was cast as Sidney Poitier’s wife in They Call Me MISTER Tibbs, its sequel The Organization and If He Hollers Let Him Go, a 1968 film about race very, very loosely based on the Chester Himes novel of the same title. In 1969 she became one of the first black women in the history of the medium to have their own television show. The Barbara McNair Show was produced in Toronto for first run syndication in America and lasted until 1972.
 

 
The thing that seems somewhat unclear to me researching McNair today is how she sort of had one foot in the world of very staid and family friendly show business, while on the other hand she was stripping down for Playboy (one of the first black women to do so), friends with Lenny Bruce, known to have attended at least one ceremony of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan in San Francisco and co-starred in Jess Franco’s avant garde exploitation film Venus in Furs. Additionally she was involved in a 1972 drug bust (holding half an ounce of heroin) with her husband/manager Rick Manzie, who had reputed mob connections and was murdered in their Las Vegas mansion in late 1976. Although the drugs charges were dropped, neither of these events would have had a positive effect on her career.

From the available evidence Barbara McNair wasn’t one thing or another but a force of nature with her own center of bohemian gravity. It’s interesting to remember this woman who could straddle the squeaky clean world of a Bob Hope USO show, while doing full frontal nudity in European art films that co-starred Klaus Kinski! She seems like she was a hip lady. McNair continued performing for some time and died of throat cancer in 2007 at the age of 72.

Somebody should really write her biography. She’s obviously a worthy—and fascinating—topic.

Below, McNair’s minor hit for Motown, “You’re Gonna Love My Baby.” Although long considered a Northern Soul classic that can instantly fill a UK dance floor, WHY isn’t this song as famous as anything anyone ever sang on Motown? This song is fucking incredible!
 

 

McNair in the NSFW trailer for Jess Franco’s Venus in Furs
 
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Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Racist mechanical toys of the late 19th century
08.04.2014
06:51 am

Topics:
History
Race

Tags:
toys


 
This 1882 toy catalog from The Automatic Toy Works company in New York City depicts some impressive mechanical playthings, boasting “artistic designs, strength and durability of construction and elegance of finish.” The document, now preserved by the Library of Congress, is a fascinating record of what constituted early tech toys, and among the models advertised are a drummer boy on a cart, a crawling baby and a rearing bear.

Oh, and a “heathen Chinese.”

Yes, advertised even more frequently than animals or genial human figures are grotesque racial caricatures. Even the seemingly neutral depictions—the benevolent-looking “Celebrated Negro Preacher”, for example—are followed up by a counterpart like “Brudder Gardner,” who looks downright monstrous. There is one ugly face in the catalog that could be white—the politically-charged “woman’s rights advocate,” though the cross-hatching on her face implies a less-than-porcelain complexion.

For comparison, here is a woman at a sewing machine—one who is presumably not interested in obtaining the vote.
 

 

 

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Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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