Bridging the 18th & 21st Centuries: The Timeless Depiction of Race in the Casta Paintings and Trethewey’s Poetry

The intersection of race, art, and poetry is just one of the many forms of voicing, remembering and monumentalizing histories that have been forgotten. To be a poet that writes about race in this decade is to write at a time that spans instances of police brutality against the Black population all over the United States. But what Natasha Trethewey, the author of the of poetry collection Monument (2018), does is situate readers in historical narratives that blend with her own. Trethewey shows the importance of memory and the assurance that it lives on through written word often grounded in historical photos and paintings. Poetry becomes a way to evoke in readers the emotions and historical context concerning issues of race to past and present narratives. Trethewey utilizes ekphrasis, which is the “description of visual art” to contextualize her work into the past that demands attention and relevance today (McHaney 153). Monument isn’t just a collection of poems, but one of selected and new poems. She binds together work from her different books such as “Native Guard” and “Thrall” to tell a fuller story of memory through her own family history and spans the country’s dark history of White Supremacy.

“De Español y Negra Produce Mulato”

In her poem “Taxonomy,” Trethewey uses ekphrasis to place the reader into an 18th-century context, allowing us to enter the thought process of a casta painter, a reflection and tool of the society at large to progress ideas of identification in the period of hegemonic New Spain. The merging of visual art from the 18th century and figurative language in the 21st century is the author’s way of simultaneously acknowledging and bridging a gap for present-day analysis. Trethewey provides readers with the origins and inner workings of the thoughts and physical action behind the reactors and thinkers who have molded our current discourse of ‘mixed race.’ But this idea is not limited to Latin America for the social construct of race has profoundly impacted a wider global history. She does this by replicating artistic expression in her own work through diction, word placement, interrupted phrases and more literary devices.

In Trethewey’s second poem within the “Taxomony” series, “2. Espanol y Negra Produce Mulato,” the author starts with the very inscription of number and words in the art to serve as the title for the poem. In the piece, she uses ekphrasis to describe the painting of a Spaniard and Black women on either side of a young boy referred to as “mulato” (Trethewey 141). The poet goes on to describe the racial dynamics of the scene and even asks what we should do about the different components that make it a casta painting such as the inscription in the corner serving as taxonomy and the depictions of racial stereotype. She states how the artwork, the story, changes if we took out the inscription or hid the child. The author continues,

“The boy is a palimpsest of paint —

layers of color, history rendering him

That precise shade of in-between.

Before this he was nothing: blank

canvas — before image or word, before

a last brush stroke fixed him in his place.

 

Trethewey not only describes the creation of the artist who represents the New Spain society on a large scale, but uses an interrupted phrase to dig deeper and go beyond what the finished artwork depicts. In using this literary device, the poet expands upon the word “palimpsest,” which means “something such as a work of art that has many levels of meaning, types of style, etc. that build on each other:” (Cambridge Dictionary). In the interrupted phrase, Trethewey uses words like “layers” and “history” allow readers to understand the depth behind the surface of a canvas. This device allows the poet to insert a short reversed timeline at the end of the poem, a reminder that art speaks to the past, present, and future state of humans. In doing so, it is like she allows the reader to become the artist and see the reverse progression of the artwork. She starts with undoing the layers, then situates readers by presenting them with the boy’s “precise shade.” The poet takes us all the way back to the “blank canvas” (142). At that moment Trethewey ends the interrupted phrase and continues with the rest of the sentence. In doing this, she suggests that the mulato child has no identity beyond that which the artist, or colonial Spanish society, create for him.

In the interrupted phrase, it is evident that Trethewey’s word choice hold powerful significance to the title of the entire poem, “Taxonomy.” The word itself stands for “the science or technique of classification” (Dictionary.com), which add weight to the words “fixed” and “precise” (142). These words illustrate an exact classification of the shade of the mulato child, despite the layers of colors it took to paint him, and the real identities of children from European and African descent. And so just as the paintbrush is a tool for the artist to translate stereotypical portraits and environments of miscegenation, Trethewey’s words are tools for the readers to analyze the depiction of race in art.

Whereas the paintbrush was a tool to support imagined fact in New Spain, Trethewey’s words create a friction that requires readers to see the past and present in tandem, visually and figuratively as layers of action and final product. Like a painting, she pieces together action with description, verb with adjective. The placing of her words tell of visual complexities that get us to think of a deeper significance. One unique way the author does this is in the very first and last stanzas. In the first she writes, ‘Still, the centuries have not dulled / the sullenness of the child’s expression” (Trethewey 141). The author creates a dichotomy between “not dulled” and “sullenness,” because, in hindsight, the two words evoke a similar connotation of feelings such as gloomy, gray and sadness. According to Dictionary.com, the word sullenness means, “showing irritation or ill humor by a gloomy silence or reserve.” (Dictionary.com). Trethewey places the verb to dull right before the adjective sullenness, creating both a likeness between the words but also a contrast between the unfulfilled action of time and the clear expression the painting of the boy continues to portray today.

Trethewey also incorporates a narrative of time and juxtaposition in her words in the very last stanza of the poem. She writes, “before / a last brush stroke fixed him in his place.” (Trethewey 142). Similarly, the use of “last brush stroke” as a verb and “fixed” as an adjective form a convergence of both movement of the artist’s tool and a seemingly permanent state of being for the boy. The action solidifies the boy’s existence, a contrast to the more free position of the artist in New Spain who were commissioned to paint these narratives. This literary device of diction and placement in the poem is important to our understanding of who gets to move about freely in society, who and what that power is translated through and who remains stationary in the timeless gaze of an oppressive system.

Pearl Amelia McHaney goes deeper into the style and framing of Trethewey’s poetry in her essay, published in the Southern Quarterly, titled “Natasha Trethewey’s Triptych: The Bodies of History in Belloq’s Ophelia, Native Guard, and Thrall” (2013). On the contrary, Dwight Garner’s New York Times, article “Natasha Trethewey’s Poems Take Wing on Intimate Details” published in 2018 is a review of her work in Monument, and offers a different perspective in which to look at the personal and historical analysis the poet reveals. On the other hand, in The Paris Review, Lauren LeBlanc directly engages with the author herself in publishing “Building a Monument: A Interview with Natasha Trethewey” (2018). LeBlanc’s questions make sense of the layers of intent behind Trethewey’s work of poetry including the reason for calling her collection Monument (2018). 

The Cover of Trethewey’s collection “Thrall” (2015), painting by Juan Rodríguez Juárez c.1715

Through work dedicated to her mother and the observance of various forms of monuments in her experience of the deep south, Trethewey speaks of a “psychological exile” and a “necessity for remembering” (LeBlanc 3). In her analysis, McHaney illuminates that, “Trethewey paints with words… She makes visible what cannot be seen– before or after the photograph is made or beyond the constructed frame” (McHaney 153). What McHaney does here is analyze Trethewey’s use of ekphrasis in her poems and in doing so, unravels the “complicated histories” into which the reader is placed (McHaney 153). This analysis not only places the reader into the historical context of the artwork but also at the intersection of Trethewey’s personal social world as well. McHaney says “Guided by Trethewey’s description of ‘the triptych their bodies make’ in the casta paintings, we see a child centered, caught, held, enthralled between the parents in poems throughout her work” (155). McHaney mentions how in triptych painting donors would somehow incorporate themselves into the panels. Trethewey is said to have done the same here because she has created poetry that resembles her own life. Trethewey is like Ophelia in the center of the triptych, whereas the “parents” on either side of Ophelia relate to the author’s black mother and Canadian father. By situating readers in the time, place and experience of Trethewey’s poetry,  McHaney reminds us that we can’t resolve to look at Trethewey’s books of poetry as sole manifestations of her personal story, but that which tells a larger story grounded in history. She talks about how the attention from receiving a Pulitzer prize made it easier for readers to see the poet’s work as an account of her life.

By unpacking these visual and figurative complexities, someone in the present day United States of America is able to digest what they see and may even live through themselves. One can look at the topic of police brutality today and find similarities between these hegemonic structures of power. To give one example, poets such as Claudia Rankine highlight the issue in the poem “Stop-and-Frisk” (2014). The job of cops in American society can be abused to further beliefs during reconstruction and beyond of controlling the black population. The continued reality of driving while black in the 21st century is dependent on ideas that have solidified over time and kept black people in a “fixed” struggle to be viewed as human. That is why narratives such as Monument are relevant not just in time, but on an individual and personal level. The author doesn’t tell you how to think, I don’t think poetry works in that way. Rather she presents information to the reader through words that can then be carried differently and convey different meanings to people. Although, there is no denial in what she presents and the voice she is using to do so.

Analysis of Trethewey’s poem “Taxonomy” matters because race is still viewed as a biological fact rather than a social construct. Taxonomy and the labeling of different groups have come to define us, it has given us an identity that’s not so easy to part within our current discourse and environment. And so even as we say “race is a social construct,” it is critical to understand the history, to place ourselves into past context an make more sense of our present. Trethewey is able to do that for us. Talking about race has by no means ever been an easy topic to cover. But what the author does is use poetry to get us thinking, to get us to create a timeless dialogue about race. Today it’s not uncommon to hear someone dismiss the concept of race, to say they are colorblind or how race doesn’t need to be part of the conversation. But to say that is to erase a history depicted, viewed and discussed in the very casta paintings Trethewey refers to before her poem begins.

Natasha Trethewey

Works Cited

Garner, Dwight. “Natasha Trethewey’s Poems Take Wing on Intimate Details.” The New

          York Times, 13 Nov.

            2018, www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2018/11/13/books/review-monument-

natasha-trethewey.amp.html , Accessed 10 Mar. 2019.

Kilroy-Ewbank, Dr. Lauren G., “Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo, attributed to     

        Juan Rodriguez.” Khan Academy, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap- art-history/early-europe-and-colonial-americas/colonial-americas/a/spaniard-and-indian-produce-a-mestizo-attributed-to-juan-rodriguez

LeBlanc, Lauren. “Building a Monument: An Interview with Natasha Trethewey.” The      Paris     

           Review, 15 Nov. 2018, www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/11/15/building-a-

           monument-an-interview-with-natasha-trethewey/. Accessed 11 Mar. 2019.

McHaney, Pearl Amelia. “Natasha Trethewey’s Triptych: The Bodies of History in

        Bellocq’s Ophelia, Native Guard, and Thrall.” Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the          Arts in the South, vol. 50, no. 4, 2013, pp. 153–172. EBSCOhost,           

        search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?     

         direct=true&db=mlf&AN=2014380100&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Trethewey, Natasha. “Taxonomy: 2. Espanol y Negra Produce Mulato.” Monument.     

         Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018, pp. 141-2.

Images

https://images.app.goo.gl/nBGNvcCVnQq2wEAC7

https://images.app.goo.gl/WwkXspcoG8a4NfwS7

 

The Art of Taxonomy and Poetry

The intersection of race, art, and poetry is just one of the many forms of voicing, remembering and monumentalizing histories that have been forgotten. What Natasha Trethewey, the author of the of poetry collection Monument (2018), does is situate readers in historical narratives that blend with her own. In the Poem “Taxonomy” by Natasha Trethewey, the poet splits up her piece into four numbered poems that are based on different casta paintings by Juan Rodríguez Juárez in the 18th century. These casta paintings were commissioned in New Spain at the time, by unknown patrons (Khan Academy). They speak of the formulaic results of the mixing of the different races during colonialism and  propel stereotypical narratives of those who inhabited those lands. Just as art was used to portray what the colonists tried to state as fact, Trethewey utilizes poetry as a tool for making race at the forefront of contemporary dialogues. Trethewey shows the importance of memory and the assurance that it lives on through written word often grounded in historical photos and paintings. Poetry becomes a way to evoke in readers the emotions and historical context concerning issues of race to past and present narratives. More specifically in “2. De Español y Negev produce Mulato, ” a section from the poem “Taxonomy,” Trethewey utilizes ekphrasis, which is the “description of visual art” to contextualize her work into the past that demands attention and relevance today (McHaney). It is through her eyes that readers of “Taxonomy” can piece together narratives that shaped the perception of races, and live on to this day.

Image result for de espanol y negra produce mulato

The inscription in the top right read “De Español y Negra Produce Mulato,” which became the title for Trethewey’s poem. Images of paintings are not included in the poet’s collection.

In the section “2. Espanol y Negra Produce Mulato,” Trethewey starts with the inscriptions in the art as the title for the poem. In the piece, she uses ekphrasis to describe the painting of a Spaniard and Black women on either side of a young boy referred to as “mulato” (141). The poet goes on to describe the racial dynamics and components that make it a casta painting. She even asks what we should do about these different components that such as the inscription in the corner serving as a taxonomical title of the art and the depictions of racial stereotype in the portraits. She states how the artwork and the story changes if we took out the inscription or hid the child. Trethewey then writes,

 

The boy is a palimpsest of paint —

layers of color, history rendering him

that precise shade of in-between.

Before this he was nothing: blank

canvas— before image or word, before

a last brush stroke fixed him in his place. (Trethewey 142)

 

 

 

Trethewey not only describes the creation of the artist who represents the hegemonic society of New Spain, but uses an interrupted phrase to dig deeper and go beyond what the finished artwork depicts. In using this literary device, the poet expands upon the word “palimpsest,” which is defined as, “something such as a work of art that has many levels of meaning, types of style, etc. that build on each other:” (Cambridge Dictionary). In the interrupted phrase, Trethewey uses words like “layers” and “history” allowing readers to understand the depth behind the surface of a canvas. This device gives the poet the space to insert a  reversed timeline at the end of the poem, a reminder that art speaks to the past, present, and future state of humans. In doing so, it is like she lets the reader become the artist and see the reverse progression of the artwork. She starts with undoing the layers, then situates readers by presenting them with the boy’s “precise shade.” Finally, the poet takes us all the way back to the “blank canvas” (142). At that moment Trethewey ends the interrupted phrase and continues with the rest of the sentence. In doing this, she suggests that the mulato child has no identity beyond that which the artist (colonial Spanish society) create for him.

In the interrupted phrase, it is evident that Trethewey’s word choice holds powerful significance to the title of the entire poem, “Taxonomy.” This word itself stands for “the science or technique of classification” (Dictionary.com), which add weight to the words “fixed” and “precise” (142). These words illustrate an exact classification of the shade of the mulato child, despite the layers of colors it took to paint him, and the real identities of children from European and African descent. And so just as the paintbrush is a tool for the artist to translate stereotypical portraits and environments of miscegenation, Trethewey’s words are tools for the readers to analyze the depiction of race in art.

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Works Cited

Kilroy-Ewbank, Dr. Lauren G., “Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo, attributed to

           Juan Rodriguez.” Khan Academy, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/early-europe-and-colonial-americas/colonial-americas/a/spaniard-and-indian-produce-a-mestizo-attributed-to-juan-rodriguez

Trethewey, Natasha. “Taxonomy: 2. Espanol y Negra Produce Mulato.” Monument.     

          Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018, pp. 141-2.

Making Sense of a Census

https://www.google.com/amp/s/millennialsofsg.com/2017/01/16/chinese-privilege-singapore/amp/

I officially learned about race while sitting in my elementary school classroom years ago when I was taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, a state test that begins in third grade. Before then, color and ethnicity was how I distinguished myself from my siblings and friends. But in that moment I was given 5 categories of races to choose from. A look into the way the question of race is approached in a non western perspective is presented in the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009) by Daniel Goh and Philip Holden. The authors point us to new views of the construction of race in these countries but also allow us to see how they are similar to the wider world through institutionalization.

         The authors clearly show how the current “state multiculturalism” that exists in both countries are rooted in the colonial past that has framed them (2). It is not just present in a political sphere, but also has a significant effect in the way people see and interact with one another. The authors discuss how this influence creates a “common sense” among the people in a multicultural nation. In critiques of this institutionalization, people see “limits” in “the recognition and interrogation of cultural difference,” which questions how people today can escape a colonial legacy that perpetuates a narrow view of the demographics of the nation (3).  The authors say, “the institutionalizations of identities has foreclosed commitments to cultures other than the official categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) inherited from the British colonial administration.” (3) This shows  how the decisions of colonizers can directly influence the prioritization of groups in the distributing of resources. It lives on in the forms that people complete, and in turn informs the lives they get to live in their multicultural state.

         I find it interesting how the categories seem so fixed and known to be referred to as the CMIO acronym. I think about my experience as a young kid having to choose between the categories of White, Black, American Indian, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. I don’t believe there was even an ‘other’ option my first time taking the PSSA, as I remember having to choose a race I have never identified with on several occasions over the years. But even if and when I had the chance to chose other, I knew I still didn’t belong. Even when I answer yes to the ‘Hispanic or Latino’ question today, I still feel out of place when it comes down to race. And so I wonder what it must be like for a child, adult or anyone being a descendent from immigrants having to choose between CMIO. I wonder how my experience gives me a different world view from someone my age in Malaysia or Singapore trying to make sense of their place in institutionalized multiculturalism.

 

Works Cited

Goh, Daniel P.S. and Philip Holden. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. New York, Routledge, 2009

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Layers to Life

Picture this, your mom introducing you to family and friends as her artist son living in New York City, and then finding out that your father was himself a painter. GB Tran only begins to dissect the memories that tell his story by the act of drawing and writing. The author takes this a step further by incorporating art into his art. I’m Vietnamerica, GB Tran presents readers with a compilation of layered history in his graphic novel, uncovering his experience learning about himself and his family. He highlights what is erased, forgotten and remembered by pulling it into the present.

When GB Tran finds his father’s painting in his grandfather’s home, Tri immediately tries to avoid further conversation by leaving the house. What GB does between pages 23-4 is show himself and his father interacting with art. After being denied an explanation from his father, the next three panels on page 23 show a close-up panel of GB’s face in between panels of his father’s painting also close up. This creates a sense that he is observing the art intensely, and trying to make sense of what just unfolded before his eyes.

The first half of the next page is filled with square panels describing Tri’s art, his success and the eventual destruction of it. The text narrates how his paintings were left behind and destroyed after fleeing Vietnam. The bottom half of the page continues in square panels but appears to show a backward progression of GB father’s life, followed by a forward progression of his mother’s life. The narration begins with “Sometimes doing what’s right means leaving things behind.” (24) In his father’s three panels, a watercolor impression of what appears to be Huu Nghiep is in the background. There is a clear distinction in the artistic depiction of GB’s father and grandfather, illuminating the continued absence of Huu Nghiep in Tri’s life. When Tri left Vietnam, he was not only leaving his art behind but also leaving a wider gap between him and his father. The narration on the rest of the page introduces a Vietnamese saying: “Our parents care for us as our teeth sharpen… So we care for them as theirs dull” (24). This gives light to Tri’s seemingly apathetic behavior towards his father. Huu Nghiep was not there to raise Tri as he vanished from Tri’s life very early on. Through the painting and GB’s artistic styles, we begin to see why Tri claims he didn’t reach out to his father for over 50 years.

GB Tran pairs words and art to tell a story of his experience visiting Vietnam. At age 30, he is only looking at his father’s painting, but by uncovering Tri’s past, he can observe what isn’t seen on the surface, all that his father does not tell him. Vietnamerica is like looking at a time-lapse of a mixed media painting. But while this graphic novel does not follow a linear trajectory, viewers are still able to see what it took to get to the present day. We see what has been erased, painted or drawn over, just like the memories of characters GB Tran navigates throughout this body of work.

Works Cited

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. Villiard, New York, 2010.

 

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To Be or Not to Be what The London Eye Sees

What happens when a home fire erupts within a family at the intersection of nationality and religion? In Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire (2017), Parvaiz, his twin Aneeka and older sister Isma all have individual experiences of what it means to be British and Muslim in contemporary society. Whether it be Isma’s travel to and from the United States, Aneeka’s relationship with Eamonn or Parvaiz becoming “the terrorist son of a terrorist father,” each of their Muslim identities are shaped by their home in London. Parvais getting to know Farooq is a transformation in perspective of the religion he has always known from a distance, it is a reexamination of his self-image outside of a UK gaze. (Shamsie 175)

 

Related imageParvaiz and Farooq often meet up while he is in London, and on one occasion they are talking about his sister and the role of women by quoting the Quran. Parvaiz relates to his earlier life and what his Muslim identity has meant for him growing up in Britain. Shamsie writes, “religion had, since early childhood, been a space he’d vacated rather than live in it in the shadow of Isma’s superiority. But in Farooq’s company he came to see there was such a thing as an ‘emasculated version of Islam…’” (133). The author’s use of imagery through the words “vacated” and “live” regarding the space in life where one engages with religion depicts Parvaiz’s rejection of his older sister’s power to shape his ideas of his own Muslim identity. The word “shadow” for Parvais suggests a superficial idea of Islam that he has not fully understood until Farooq introduces the notion of Islam in Britain as “emasculated” (133).

Imagery allows the reader to see how Parvaiz has understood himself in the past as he begins to evolve his own ideas in “Farooq’s company” (133). The image of vacating a space within his Muslim identity and entering a newly discovered one that is more radical gives him room to change according to the beliefs he has about women. In this scene, Shamsie makes it clear that being British and Muslim is an intersection that Parvaiz has been unable to fully grasp. The version of his religion that has been the default in his home does not align with the ideals he is developing and creating in the presence of a significant figure outside of his family.

What’s being illustrated is not simply how Parvais lives as a Muslim person within British society, but rather the way he chooses to accept or deny parts of a Muslim identity that is normalized within the British society he is raised in. 

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Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. New York, Riverhead Books, 2017

 

 

Stop-and-Frisk, This is what it looks like

 

“To understand the universe you need to…” was the practice sentence that my Portuguese professor presented to us in class and my first response was the language itself. I believe understanding language is critical to how we communicate with one another. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric demonstrates how the absence of quotation marks impacts the understanding of her writing.

Rankine’s prose creates a unique way of reading and understanding her work, especially in the poem “Stop-and-Frisk” in which she sets the stage for a play on words, truth, and dichotomy:

“This is what it looks like. You know this is wrong. This is not what it looks like. You need to be quiet. This is wrong. You need to close your mouth now. This is what it looks like. Why are you talking if you haven’t done anything wrong?” (Rankine 108).

The apparent dialogue is stripped of quotation marks. This style of narration zooms out of the direct confrontation between two people and allows readers to examine what the narrator is voicing. The presence of the word “You” highlights the familiarity of stop-and-frisk, and the contrasts from sentence to sentence suggest the internalization of these occurrences.

The presence of the sentences starting with “You need to…” can be the words of the cop, but it can also be the thoughts of the victim who’s vocalization has become criminalized. Pairing these commands with the words “this is wrong” illustrates the process behind the narrator deciding on what move to make next. Throughout this small part of the poem, repetition, and the ambiguity of dialogue alludes to the systematic oppression that creates these encounters. This internal dialogue can show just how normalized it is to fear encounters with police in the black community.

Just as black bodies are criminalized, black voices are repeatedly dismissed in their efforts to narrate their own experiences, on the streets and in classrooms alike. In her depiction of Stop-and-Frisk, Rankine’s structure of language forces readers to listen more closely to the narrator’s voice by contrasting each sentence with the one preceding and/or following it. We as readers are able to find deeper understanding of the complexity of communication in Stop-and-Frisk, all without the use of quotation marks. 

Image result for stop and frisk

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “This is what it looks like.” Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf      

         Press, 2014.

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…But What Happens Next?

 

Elementary school taught me the five categories of race. Middle School introduced me to memes and taught me how to joke “That’s Racist!” to my friends. High School taught me that institutional power is an essential part of racism. And college is teaching me how to unpack the very notion of race as a “social construct,” thanks to writers such as Ijeoma Oluo and Chenjerai Kumanyika. These writers explore the confusing thing we call race.

Race is no easy topic of discussion. In our current society, many wonder why “social justice warriors” make such a fuss about it. I mean, why do we keep talking about something that is fake right?

Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race, published in 2018, dives deeper into the idea of race as a social construct. Through her own narrative, Oluo says, “out of a social construct created to brutalize and oppress, we’ve managed to create a lot of beauty.” (21) Race is a system of power that imposes pain, but it also informs Oluo’s identity as a Black woman. And so the question is not whether we can simply be color blind and all get along in the future, but whether we can see race as an architect of both our society at large and personal lives too.

Chenjerai Kumanyika assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers, and contributor of the “Seeing White” podcast, also builds upon the idea of the systematic power of racism. He also addresses how the word appears in our vernacular. Kumanyika says, “It’s not about just attitudes, like your distant cousin who’s a bigot. Right? But we also do use the term racist for that too” (Kumanyika). Throughout the podcast, Kumanyika expresses his confusion in having to grapple with an understanding of racism at the macro level in our institutions, and micro level in interactions between people. Hence, it is easy to throw the word “racist” around and create tension and confusion but no progress.

In their work, Both Oluo and Kumanyika acknowledge that race is systematic, ingrained into the institutions that organize our society. But they also paint a clearer picture into what we as individuals make of race outside of the system, and how race can simultaneously bridge and separate people.

While race is not scientific fact, it is still real socially, and very much “alive” (Oluo 12).  After 13 years of schooling, I now understand how race is a social construct, but what happens next? What conversations are there to be had after acknowledging the complex and confusing versatility of race?

Works Cited:

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York, Hachette Book Group, 2018

Kumanyika, Chenjerai. How Race Was Made (Seeing White Part 2). Scene On Radio, Mar. 1, 2017. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-32-how-race-was-made-seeing-white-part-2/

 

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