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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, “The Power of Words,” 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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Before Kehinde Wiley, there was Barkley L. Hendricks: magnificent portraits of African-Americans
06.10.2014
01:20 pm

Topics:
Art
Race

Tags:
Barkley L. Hendricks

Barkley T. Hendricks
“Lawdy Mama” (1969)

I learned of the existence of Barkley L. Hendricks just a few days ago, when a friend of mine posted “Lawdy Mama,” without attribution, on her Facebook page. Intrigued, I wrote a comment asking if it was ... Angela Davis painted in the manner of a 12th-century saint? I soon learned how wrong I was!

A recent Hendricks exhibition Duke University bore the title “Birth of the Cool,” and if any American painter can withstand such brazen comparison to Miles Davis, it’s probably Hendricks. (You can buy Trevor Schoonmaker’s catalog for the show here.)

I adore how individuated, forthright, and interesting all of his subjects are. I don’t know who these people were, of course, but they certainly seem lifted right off the streets of his native Philadelphia, costumery, attitude, and pride intact. From an artistic perspective, you can see traces of Frida Kahlo in the way the backgrounds and clothes complement the subjects (and the way that most of them are facing the viewer). There’s a whiff of Jasper Johns in the red-white-blue frame of “Icon for My Man Superman,” and maybe a little bit of Peter Grant in the use of color. But Hendricks’ clearest connection is as the inspiration to a current art world superstar, the incredible Kehinde Wiley. As the Village Voice once wrote in an assessment of Wiley, “And then there’s Barkley Hendricks—in fact, Wiley’s paintings are a kind of juiced-up redux of Hendricks, with similar centralized figures and an emphasis on pattern.”

Few artists would embody the 1970s slogan “Black is Beautiful” as thoroughly as Hendricks. Of course, not all of his subjects are African-American, but most of them are, and especially earlier in his career. If you Google his name you’ll find plenty of later works depicting people of other races.
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“Icon for My Man Superman” (1969)
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris” (1972)
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“Dr. Kool” (1973)
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“Bahsir (Robert Gowens)” (1975)
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“Blood (Donald Formey)” (1975)
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“Sweet Thang (Lynn Jenkins)” (1975-76)
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“Steve” (1976)
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“Misc. Tyrone (Tyrone Smith)” (1976)
 
Barkley T. Hendricks
“APB’s (Afro-Parisian Brothers)” (1978)
 
More fantastic images and a video on Hendricks—all after the jump….

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Ask Lemmy: Straight talk from metal’s ace life coach
06.10.2014
06:25 am

Topics:
Amusing
Heroes
Music
Race
Sex

Tags:
Lemmy


 
If there were any doubt in your mind that Motörhead’s apparently indestructible singer/bassist Lemmy Kilmister is a total goddamn genius, I refer you to these two “Ask Lemmy” videos. They were produced for the program Hard N Heavy on the Canadian E1 network in 1994, and in them, the man who gave the world the lyric “They say music is the food of love/Let’s see if you’re hungry enough” offers some perfectly blunt, often hilarious, genuinely sage advice on matters of love, sex, and RACE RELATIONS.

I can add nothing further here. Just watch.
 

 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Black female filmmaker gently goes face-to-face with Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis
05.30.2014
12:54 pm

Topics:
Current Events
Movies
Race

Tags:
The Aryans


 
Mo Asumang, who’s the daughter of a black Ghanaian father and a white German mother, talks to the BBC about her new documentary The Aryans in which she peacefully confronts racists about what makes them tick.

There are some real zingers in this short piece, especially when she confronts a Ku Klux Klan member about his garb.

Filmmaker Mo Asumang embarks on a journey into the abyss of political evil and finds out that the Aryans originally come from an area which now belongs to Iran. ‘The Aryans’ is a personal journey into the madness of racism: Mo Asumang meets German neo-Nazis, America’s most notorious racist Tom Metzger and members of the Ku Klux Klan in the Midwest. When she encounters the true Aryans in Iran, she realizes that they are friendly and cosmopolitan people who lay no claims to being members of a superior race.

What I like about Mo’s interview style is her gentle approach. She’s not confrontational. It’s almost like the KKK members are ashamed or feel shameful of what they’re doing when they speak to her.  That’s a unique talent!
 

 
Via reddit

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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The whitest rap battle in history—on ‘Jeopardy’
05.20.2014
07:33 am

Topics:
Amusing
Hip-hop
Race
Television

Tags:
Alex Trebek
Jeopardy


 
Seeing Jeopardy host Alex Trebek and perpetual winner Ken Jennings recite classic hip-hop lyrics is one of the most amusingly dad-like things you will see all week.

Hearing such acutely caucasian people reciting lines from “Insane in the Brain,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and “The Humpty Dance” almost has the same effect as those classic Steve Allen bits where he recites pop song lyrics as poetry—and oh God, how I tried to find you a video of Allen’s jaw-droppingly hilarious reading of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”—but it’s not being played for laughs.
 

 
Kidding around about whitey’s white whiteness aside, Trebek actually does an uncommonly dignified job at this, but then again, it’s not his first rodeo. I especially enjoy the moment at the end where everyone blows it on the one white artist in the bunch, and Trebek unleashes his inner Canadian on that song title’s pronunciation. Awesome.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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‘Kiss My Baadasssss: Ice-T’s Guide To Blaxploitation’
05.15.2014
07:53 am

Topics:
Movies
Race

Tags:
blaxploitation
Ice-T


Ice-T, still taking fashion cues from his superfly celluloid heroes
 
If you’re looking for a primer on blaxploitation cinema, I can’t imagine a more appropriate guide than Ice-T. “Kiss My Baadasssss: Ice-T’s Guide To Blaxploitation” has great commentary, with speakers ranging from feminist icon bell hooks to Isaac Hayes, but it’s Ice’s enthusiastic narration that truly sets the tone. He’s not kidding when he says “these movies were what made me”—the film even contains commentary from author, reformed pimp, and Ice’s namesake, Iceberg Slim. It’s a fair and sympathetic look at an influential (yet often unfairly maligned) genre, and it follows the trajectory of blaxploitation from its groundbreaking heyday to its descent into B movie madness.

The 1994 short was apparently an episode of a UK series called Without Walls, where (as far as I can tell), they just got interesting people to talk about something they liked or didn’t like, filmed them, and then edited it for cohesion. In this instance at least, the result is charming and (yes kids!) educational. While it’s pretty short, it’s a comprehensive little crash course in the blaxploitation genre.

Parts two and three can be found here and here.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Artist creates massive sugar sphinx invoking ‘Mammy’ iconography
05.08.2014
01:44 pm

Topics:
Art
Race

Tags:
Kara Walker
sugar


 
The Domino Sugar refinery, an iconic part of the East River view from Manhattan and closed since 2004, is undergoing slow demolition. It’s a contentious subject. The building was erected in 1882, and while not everyone wants to preserve it, many locals in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn have expressed anger and frustration at the plan to erect luxury apartments on the land, further gentrifying the area. It’s amidst this conflict artist Kara Walker‘s exhibit, “A Subtlety,” finds an appropriate home.

The show is billed as an “homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the new world on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.” Walker’s monumental sphinx centerpiece is 75.5-feet long, 35.5 feet high, and 26 feet wide, with a “mammy” kerchief and caricaturized, animalistic stance. There are also amber-colored “Sugar Babies,” realistic, life-size children that drip and melt with a molasses-like substance. The work certainly feels like Walker, though the materials are unexpected, as she’s most well-known for her disturbingly beautiful silhouette depictions of the plantation South.

The slave labor used on sugar plantations in the Caribbean and Americas is the obvious reference, but it’s also worth noting that the purpose of a refinery is to remove the molasses from raw sugar, thereby turning brown sugar into a sparkling crystalline white. “A Subtlety,” which is free, will be open to the public Saturday, May 10th. It will be open Fridays 4 to 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 12 to 6 p.m. until its close on June 6.
 

During construction, before being coated in sugar
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Via Gothamist

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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‘What motherf*cking color are writers supposed to be?’: The righteous rage of Chester Himes
05.05.2014
09:09 am

Topics:
Books
Race

Tags:
Chester Himes

000111semihc.jpg
 
Chester Himes’ early life was as disjointed and chaotic as the crime fictions he later wrote. Born in into an African-American family in Jefferson, Missouri 1909, Himes was witness to the racism endemic in the States at the time. His father worked as a teacher; he was the son of a slave and wanted to instil the value of education in Himes and his brother, Joseph Jr. Their mother thought she had married beneath her worth, and believed that being of lighter skin was the only way to progress in America—his mother’s emphasis on white skin color caused Himes some confusion (later reflected in Himes’ novels) of what it actually meant to be black. This mismatch of parentage led to an unsettling acrimony between his mother and father that pervaded Himes’ childhood. His mother eventually made a rent in the marriage by over-nighting in a “whites only” hotel, the following morning she told the management she was black. Word of the scandal caused Himes’ father to be fired from his teaching post and it was the start of his long and slow decline into failure.

The event that Chester Himes claimed filled him with guilt and anger was Joseph Jr.‘s blinding at school in a tragic accident. The brothers were to attend a chemistry class where they were to make gunpowder. After misbehaving, Himes was barred by his mother from attending the class. Joseph Jr. went alone, mixed the wrong chemicals and they exploded in his face. Joseph Jr.  was refused treatment at the first available hospital because of segregation and by the time he reached a black hospital, it was too late to save his sight. As Himes later wrote in The Quality of Hurt:

“That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together. I loved my brother. I had never been separated from him and that moment was shocking, shattering, and terrifying…. We pulled into the emergency entrance of a white people’s hospital. White clad doctors and attendants appeared. I remember sitting in the back seat with Joe watching the pantomime being enacted in the car’s bright lights. A white man was refusing; my father was pleading. Dejectedly my father turned away; he was crying like a baby. My mother was fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief; I hoped it was for a pistol.”

Himes left high school with below average marks, but had ambitions to continue with his education and passed entrance exams for Ohio State University. Here Himes was shocked to see the way in which his fellow African-Americans accepted the way they were treated by racist whites. His anger drove him to action, and he was eventually expelled after a fist fight with a lecturer. Himes drifted and fell into a criminal life as a pimp, bootlegger and bank robber. He was eventually caught and sentenced to 20-25-years for armed robbery. Chester Himes was only nineteen years old.

In prison he started writing short stories about prison life, which were published in various black magazines, and eventually in Esquire magazine. Prison also showed him how humans will do almost anything to stay alive.

“There is an indomitable quality within the human spirit that can not be destroyed; a face deep within the human personality that is impregnable to all assaults ... we would be drooling idiots, dangerous maniacs, raving beasts—if it were not for that quality and force within all humans that cries ‘I will live.’”

 
0111semihc.jpg
 
Released from jail after seven years, Himes started his career as a writer. His early books, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) and Lonely Crusade (1947) examined elements of Himes’ ambiguous relationship to ethnicity and class.

“The face may be the face of Africa, but the heart has the beat of Wall Street.”

In later years, a friend wrote Himes saying he was “the most popular of the colored writers.” Himes responded:

“What motherfucking color are writers supposed to be?”

Himes was not easily swayed by simplistic political argument, and was critical of Left as much as he was of the Right. Instead he viewed his life as “absurd”:

“Given my disposition, my attitude towards authority, my sensitivity towards race, along with my appetites and physical reactions and sex stimulations, my normal life was absurd.”

This wasn’t the kind of absurdity Camus or Beckett would have recognized, but it was a response to life that was to reverberate with European audiences.

Himes never had the respect he deserved when resident in America, and it was only after his move to France that he was rightly acclaimed as a writer of great importance, power and true originality. It was also in France that Himes began the series of crime novels (the classic “Coffin” Ed and “Grave Digger” Jones series, which included A Rage in Harlem and Cotton Comes to Harlem) that placed Chester Himes on par with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

The following video clips give a good introduction to Chester Himes his life and work.
 

 
More on Chester Himes, after the jump….
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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