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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
 
More after the jump…
 

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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More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’: An eye-opening look at ‘traveling while black’ in postwar America


 
For some fascinating insights into the second half (roughly) of the pitiable era known as “Jim Crow,” the Negro Motorist Green Book is a positive trove of information. It was founded in 1936 by an African-American employee of the U.S. Postal Service named Victor H. Green, who realized that with the new availability of automobiles to a rising African-American middle class, travelers of his race increasingly required a guide to navigate the informal and treacherous logic of discrimination. The segregation of public transport made private ownership of motorcars highly attractive to the mobile African-American, and in addition there were increasing numbers of African-American athletes and entertainers who required to travel as a part of their work. George Schuyler put it well in 1930: “All Negroes who can do so purchase an automobile as soon as possible in order to be free of discomfort, discrimination, segregation and insult.”
 
Victor H. Green
Victor H. Green
 
In many parts of America white-run hotels, restaurants, and garages would refuse to serve African-Americans or fix their vehicles. Furthermore, while avoiding public transportation made sense, that did not shield African-American travelers from the ire of whites who might find an African-American with an automobile “uppity” or the like. In short, traveling around in America as an African-American was no joke (for many non-whites, it is still not a trifling matter today, however, the U.S. has seen some improvements in these areas in the last several decades). The purpose of the Green Book was to illustrate where African-Americans could safely travel and find food, entertainment (night clubs), lodging, and other services such as tailors.
 
Negros Barred
 
On the cover of the 1949 edition is a hopeful quotation from Mark Twain: “Travel Is Fatal to Prejudice.” The guide makes frequent reference to the necessarily incomplete quality of its information and repeatedly urges readers to inform hotels and restaurants about the Green Book so that the succeeding year’s information might become more complete. Here are a few lines from the introduction:
 

With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, it has been our idea to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.

The Jewish press has long published information about places that are restricted and there are numerous publications that give the gentile whites all kinds of information. But during these long years of discrimination, before 1936 other guides have been published for the Negro, some are still published, but the majority have gone out of business for various reasons.

 
Negro Motorist Green Book
 
The guide is essentially not much more than a long list, organized by state, of businesses that will cater to African-Americans. An example from my current home city of Cleveland:
 
Cleveland Green Book
 
To read the entries for Cleveland and Staten Island and Providence, some of the places I’ve made my home, is to give these familiar landscapes an entirely new and menacing character.

The introduction ends with the following paragraph, which if you’re anything like me will tear your heart out in its simple, plaintive confidence that better days must be on the way:
 

There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.

 
The Green Book lasted until the Civil Rights era, when ambitious new legislation passed by Congress made the book all but obsolete. We are sadly not in a country where African-Americans have “equal opportunities and privileges,” but we are closer to that goal—there is no Green Book today, after all (or maybe I just don’t know about it?). Someday, perhaps, the existence of the Green Book in the mid-20th century will not be perceived as a statement of the obvious—that the United States can be a very dangerous place for African-Americans—but rather as an outlandish artifact of long-outdated hatreds.

You can download the entire 1949 edition of the Negro Motorist Green Book here.

Here is a brief documentary about the Green Book:
 

 
via Map of the Week
 
Thank you Lawrence Daniel Caswell!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘The Black Man in the Cosmos’: Sun Ra teaches at UC Berkeley, 1971
07.18.2014
06:48 am

Topics:
Music
Race
Thinkers

Tags:
Sun Ra


 
The first thing I’d do with a time machine is point it to Berkeley, California, 1971. Those are the spacetime coordinates of the Afro-American Studies course Sun Ra taught at UC Berkeley. I’ve never been able to find an image of an original syllabus, but the reading list reportedly included the King James Bible, Blavatsky, Ouspensky, Radix by Bill Looney, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, LeRoi Jones’ Black Fire, The Real History of the Rosicrucians, The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians, The Rosicrucians: Their Rites and Mysteries, OAHSPE, and In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom.

According to John F. Szwed’s scholarly biography Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra, when students complained that some of these books were impossible to find, their professor “merely smiled knowingly”—of course the books that disclosed the secret history of the world were hard to come by. Szwed describes the class:

“Every week during the spring quarter of 1971 he met his class, Afro-American Studies 198: ‘The Black Man in the Cosmos,’ in a large room in the music department building. Although a respectable number of students signed up, after a couple of classes it was down to a handful (‘What could you expect with a course named like that,’ Sun Ra once chortled). [...] But it was a proper course—Sun Ra had after all trained to be a teacher in college—with class handouts, assignments, and a reading list which made even the most au courant sixties professors’ courses pale.

[...] In a typical lecture, Sun Ra wrote biblical quotes on the board and then ‘permutated’ them—rewrote and transformed their letters and syntax into new equations of meaning, while members of the Arkestra passed through the room, preventing anyone from taping the class. His lecture subjects included Neoplatonic doctrines; the application of ancient history and religious texts to racial problems; pollution and war; and a radical reinterpretation of the Bible in light of Egyptology.”

Apparently, the Arkestra’s agents failed to prevent the taping of Sun Ra’s May 4 lecture, a recording of which surfaced on the double-CD set The Creator Of The Universe. Though the recording starts and ends abruptly in mid-sentence, it’s actually of higher fidelity than much of the master’s officially sanctioned musical product (just listen to the tapping of the chalk on the board). The whole thing is worth listening to, but for me the climax comes around the 37-minute mark. “If you’re not mad at the world, you don’t have what it takes,” Sun Ra told his musicians, and towards the end of the lecture, the questions of a tardy student seem to touch a nerve. Prof. Ra’s improvised response is an impassioned summary of his militant, gnostic philosophy:

“I’m thinking about the future of black Egypt, which is outside of the realm of history. History has been very unkind to black people, so actually what I’m always talking about is the myth, and nothing that has ever been is part of what I’m talking about, because I’m saying that black folks need a myth-ocracy instead of a de-mocracy. Because they’re not gonna make it in anything else. They’re not gonna make it in history[. . .]

You see, that’s what’s wrong with y’all. Now here you walk in, the last man to get in here, and you gonna ask questions. But honesty is not what I’m talking about. You’re not in a place where truth can do you any good. So you gonna have to come to me privately, and we’ll talk about things that can help the black race. Truth has been abolished, so any truth you say is not permissible in here, because it never done anybody any good. Now, I’m dealing with things that can do you some good. If I come across the biggest lie in the universe, if it can help the black race, then I’m gonna use it. That’s fair warning to anybody, any nation on the face of the earth. I’m gonna use anything I find, and any weapon that I find.

Now I find that the truth is not permissible for me to use. Because I’m not righteous and holy; I’m evil. That’s because I’m black. And I’m not a striver to any righteousness. I never been righteous, I’m never going to be righteous. So now I’m evil. I’m the incarnation of evil. I’m black. I’m following their dictionary. Now I’m dealing with equations. I can’t go around and tell you I’m ‘right’ or ‘good’ when the dictionary is telling everybody in the world everything black is evil and wicked, so then I come and say, ‘Yes. So what? Yes, I’m wicked. Yes, I’m evil.’ I’m not gonna be converted. I’m not gonna strive to righteousness. I don’t wanna go to heaven, because good folks don’t never do nothing but be good, and they always failing, and they always getting killed, and they frustrating. So all I see on this planet is something evil like the white man being successful, and successful, and successful, and successful.

And I see evil killing black men every day, destroying him. Why should I be good? No, it’s better for me to come up to the white race and say, ‘Yes. We evil people should sit down to the table and talk together. You’re evil, I’m evil too. Now, them other folks that you’re dealing with are good black folks. I’m not good, and you’re not good. We understand one another.’”

This is before he gets to explaining that white people are evil and wicked because “they were made evil and wicked in imitation of the evil and wicked black man,” but you should really just listen to the whole thing.

Listen to, or download the entire thing at Sensitive Skin

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Cringe at ‘Uncle Tom’s Bungalow,’ the Merrie Melodies ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ parody
07.11.2014
07:50 am

Topics:
Animation
Race

Tags:
Tex Avery


 
There’s nothing intrinsically significant about racism in a Merrie Melodies cartoon. “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow” (1937) is actually one of the “Censored Eleven”—a group of cartoons so racist, they were banned 1968 by United Artists, who owned the Looney Tunes film library at the time. What makes “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow” exceptional is its parody of much-beloved piece of abolitionist literature. Uncle Tom’s Cabin wasn’t really particularly radical—rather than a dignified depiction of black humanity, it attempted to appeal to white benevolent paternalism by portraying black people as child-like—but still it was pretty damn revered to become the butt of a Tex Avery lampoon.

Regardless of racism, the cartoon is kind of weak, and I say that as a Looney Tunes fan. In 1947 Avery would create “Uncle Tom’s Cabaña, which wasn’t actually a parody of the book so much as an attempt at a retelling. It’s not any less racist than its predecessor—it makes similar (though way less relentless) use of racist caricature, and the punchline is that Uncle Tom is a liar—but it’s a far superior cartoon, both in animation and writing.

In"Uncle Tom’s Bungalow,” the gags are a little rote (even for Merrie Melodies), and the jokes aren’t particularly clever. For example, there’s an anachronistic “bad guy gets electrocuted” sequence that was clearly just an excuse to use a cool animation effect. At one point the escaped slave Eliza is described as “the dark horse in this race”—geddit?!? In its stronger moments, the cartoon appears to be taking aim at the schmaltz of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The saccharin “white angel” character of Little Eva is depicted as cloying cute, and if you’ve ever read the book, you might remember rolling your eyes at her saintliness.

Perhaps aiming for a big finish,  “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow” reaches its nadir at the finale, where we see Uncle Tom pull up in a Rolls Royce—he bought his freedom playing craps. Watch if you don’t mind cringing—this cartoon serves up some vintage racism, folks!
 


Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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‘Lamps everywhere’: Utterly psychotic New Orleans furniture commercials
07.08.2014
02:00 pm

Topics:
Advertising
Idiocracy
Race
U.S.A.!!!

Tags:
Sparkle Johnson


 
I have no words—these commercials for New Orleans’ Hotel Furniture Liquidators star the Maryland performer Kevin Scott’s staggeringly offensive blackface-and-drag character “Sparkle Johnson.” (ZERO relation to the baffling-for-different-reasons HGTV dandy Josh “Sparkle” Johnson.) Why they thought racism, misogyny and classism would be a good way to sell used hotel furniture is anyone’s guess (my guess: because the South), but beyond the brashly anti-PC nature of the character, this stuff is just phenomenally fucked up.
 

 

 
If you’d like to see some more of Scott’s, er… act, I’d suggest you look up his “Aunt Grace” character and don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

Here’s an older ad for the same company, which shows that the unfathomably bizarre had been a tool in their tactical sales arsenal for a good while before they employed Mr. Scott.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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