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Color Lines – Appearances Can Be Decieving

Race in America is a amorphous thing. Most likely what “classification” you fall into will be based on your looks.

I have a family relationship with the Shinnecock Tribe, and from the pic below, knew this author’s mother, and possibly her father. The Reservation is pretty small, and all of the teens often gathered together at the beach. There was a NYC connection as well. I am not Native American (Not one drop according to my DNA test), however one of my Uncles married a Native American and lived on the reservation. I spent a number of summers both working and visiting the Reservation and am an Honorary Member of the Tribe. Which doesn’t mean anything in terms of identity, but does mean because of my Uncle’s marriage I have a few cousins there.

My family has everything from blonde haired, blue eyed to deepest ebon. The first of which caused a lot of problems back in the day. As a teen, I struggled with the existence of both black and “white” relatives. To understand that, you have to understand the historical context of the 60′ black “awakening”.

I don’t share Ms Joseph’s thoughts about Donezal. The only thing I see there is a tragedy.

Stealth sisterhood: I look white, but I'm also black. And I don't hate Rachel Dolezal

Stealth sisterhood: I look white, but I’m also black. And I don’t hate Rachel Dolezal

I am white, I am black, I am Native American. And I know what it’s like for people not to see all of who I am

On a hot, humid New York City morning in 1980, I stood with my mother in the checkout line of an A&P supermarket near our home. As she pushed our groceries along the cashier’s belt with me trailing behind, mom realized she had forgotten her wallet at home, but she had her checkbook. Leaving me standing alone in the line for a moment while she saw the manager to have her check approved, the clerk refused to bag our groceries and hand them to me. She was black, and I was white. “These groceries belong to that woman over there,” the woman nodded towards my mother. “They ain’t yours.” Confused, I said, “But that’s my mother. I’ll take them for her.” She looked me up and down. “No,” she said, her voice cold.

The clerk refused to believe that indeed I belonged to, and came from, my black mother, until mom returned to find me choking back tears. She gave the clerk a tongue lashing, which was not her style, and we left the market.  Later, mixed Native American and black children threw stones at me near my home on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation as I rode my bike. They yelled, “Get off our land, white girl!” These painful and strange experiences gave me my first taste of racial prejudice, and they have stayed with me all these years.

I am a child of many nations. I am white, I am black, I am Native American. I am West Indian, German, Irish. Brown and light together — integrated, not inter-racial, because race means nothing when you come from everywhere.

This Sunday’s New York Times Race-Related section ran a fascinating piece on DNA and racial identity by West Chester University professor Anita Foeman. For the past decade, she has asked hundreds of people to take part in ancestry DNA tests, and to date, over 2,000 have participated. “But first,” she wrote, “I ask people how they identify themselves racially. It has been very interesting to explore their feelings about the differences between how they define themselves and what their DNA makeup shows when the test results come in.”

Those results are often startling to the subjects and rife with racial stereotypes, Foeman found. According to her studies, some who came up with surprise Asian heritage in spite of looking white or brown noted, “That’s why my son is good at math!” Others who explored African heritage responded, “I thought my biological father might be black; I heard he liked basketball.”  Many of us harbor deeply-rooted prejudices that we aren’t even aware of, until it matters to us.

I don’t remember what mom said that day in the supermarket, but I can tell you that while she had been the object of many, many racist remarks and challenging situations in her life, she was not entirely prepared for what happened that day. That’s not to say she didn’t talk about the reality of how our family was different from others. To try to address the dearth of literary references to kids who looked like me, my mother physically altered my childhood books, using markers to make one parent brown and other other white, while the child originally drawn remained white-appearing, like me. But the scene in the supermarket still took her by surprise.

Confrontations over race can still catch Americans unprepared, such as when Rachel Dolezal, the now-former head of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, appeared on the media radar. Dolezal, who stopped by Salon recently to talk with me on her book tour, was born white but identifies as black and calls herself “transracial.”

Dolezal was “outed” two years ago by her biological parents for not being black as she had claimed, and subsequently resigned from the NAACP. She became a polarizing figure under heavy media scrutiny as she appeared to dodge questions about her unconventional chosen identity. She has been unable to continue to work as a university instructor of African and African American art history, and to this day is despised by many observers, black and white, for posing as a black person.

My Salon colleague D. Watkins, an African American writer from Baltimore, wondered why Dolezal couldn’t just “use her whiteness to advocate for black people,” rather than making up and living in her own fantasy world where race and ethnicity no longer cause any social or political delineations. He is one of many to hold this opinion, and it’s one I agree with.

Rebecca Carroll wrote for Dame in 2015 about what she calls Dolezal’s “apocalyptic, White privilege on steroids” with a palpable anger shared by many people of color. When I talked to my childhood writing mentor Barbara Campbell, a former New York Times reporter who is African American and has two multiracial sons, she wondered about Dolezal with a mix of anger and genuine confusion. “What is wrong with that woman? I feel empathy for her, because she is clearly delusional, but she can step out into the world as a white woman any time she wants to stop being ‘black.’ Black women don’t have that luxury.”

Campbell explained that growing up in St. Louis, she had many light-skinned relatives who resembled Dolezal and could “pass” for white, but otherwise lived their lives as people of color. “They would go to ‘work white,’ because they could earn more money and get better-paying jobs, but then they would go home and be black.”

But this Dolezal thing — this is a horse of another color entirely. Why, wondered many, would someone white want to live within the very real challenges of being black in America, when she had a choice? Dolezal’s explanation? She doesn’t define herself by race, just a feeling of affinity with the black culture she’s always had.

As one might expect, the last few years have been tough since her exposure, she told me, noting her newly adopted legal name, Nkechi Amare Diallo, which she claimed was a “gift” to her by a Nigerian man. When she arrived at our offices, it was hard to know what to think, or believe. Frankly, it was hard to feel any animosity at all, despite the vitriolic sentiments many of my dark and light-skinned family, friends and colleagues had for Dolezal. She arrived carrying her beautiful, light brown baby son, Langston Hughes (Yes. Stop. That’s his name. What can you do?), who was cared for by her adopted black sister, Esther. Dolezal appeared like any other tired, working mom. I offered her coffee, and empathy, rather than taking an adversarial approach.

I did suggest, however, that some of the passages in her new book, “In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World,” were outrageous and possibly specious. Dolezal shrugged. “I don’t expect everyone to agree with or believe me,” she said. Among her claims: she grew up living in a tee pee in Montana (my Native American percentage shudders). She was beaten by her parents and forced to weave and wear a coat loomed from dog hair. She identified with people of color from an early age, after reading her grandmother’s National Geographic magazines, and spread mud on her face to try to feel what it was like to have brown skin. Dolezal has said some very polemical things, some — dare I say — dumb things, that do not make her a sympathetic figure. Comparing her white Montana childhood to what chattel slaves experienced, even if indeed she was miserable, is a stretch by any measure, and engendered rightful animus from real black folks…Read the Rest Here

 

 
 

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You Can See Me Now – In The Movies

Back before digital photography, the Film used in professional level cameras had distinct qualities in terms of color rendition. Certain types of Kodak tended towards blue, others were “warm” – enriching the reds and yellows. This meant if you were shooting anything with blue, the sky for instance – the rendition was spectacular. Browns and greens tended to be “muddy” and tonal quality – the differentiation between something with multiple greens for instance – tended to wash out into a “middling” color instead of the full spectrum. Fuji Film tended towards yellow, and produced really vibrant greens and, to a lesser extent browns…

Ergo – getting film to “see” black folks, or even render the plethora of skin tones was difficult, if not impossible. Getting fine detail was virtually impossible for darker skin tones.

Since similar film formulations were used to make movies – black folks just all came out as the same color – if you could see an detail at all.

‘12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Mother of George,’ and the aesthetic politics of filming black skin

In one of the first scenes of early Oscar favorite “12 Years a Slave,” the film’s protagonist, Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor , is seen at night, sleeping alongside a fellow enslaved servant. Their faces are barely illuminated against the velvety black background, but the subtle differences in their complexions — his a burnished mahogany, hers bearing a lighter, more yellow cast — are clearly defined.

Mother of George,” which like “12 Years a Slave” opens on Friday, takes place in modern-day Brooklyn, not the candlelit world of 19th-century Louisiana. But, like “12 Years a Slave,” its black stars and supporting players are exquisitely lit, their blue-black skin tones sharply contrasting with the African textiles they wear to create a vibrant tableau of textures and hues.

“Mother of George” and “12 Years a Slave” are just the most recent in a remarkable run of films this year by and about African Americans, films that range in genre from the urban realism of “Fruitvale Station” and light romantic comedy of “Baggage Claim” to the high-gloss historic drama of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and the evocatively gritty pot comedy “Newlyweeds.” The diversity of these films isn’t reflected just in their stories and characters, but in the wide range of skin tones they represent, from the deepest ebonies to the creamiest caramels.

The fact that audiences are seeing such a varied, nuanced spectrum of black faces isn’t just a matter of poetics, but politics — and the advent of digital filmmaking. For the first hundred years of cinema, when images were captured on celluloid and processed photochemically, disregard for black skin and its subtle shadings was inscribed in the technology itself, from how film-stock emulsions and light meters were calibrated, to the models used as standards for adjusting color and tone.

That embedded racism extended into the aesthetics of the medium itself, which from its very beginnings was predicated on the denigration and erasure of the black body. As far back as “The Birth of a Nation” — in which white actors wearing blackface depicted Reconstruction-era blacks as wild-eyed rapists and corrupt politicians — the technology and grammar of cinema and photography have been centered on the unspoken assumption that their rightful subjects would be white.

The result was that, if black people were visible at all, their images would often be painfully caricatured (see Hattie McDaniel in “Gone With the Wind”) or otherwise distorted, either ashy and washed-out or featureless points of contrast within the frame. As “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen said in Toronto after the film’s premiere there, “I remember growing up and seeing Sidney Poitier sweating next to Rod Steiger in ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ and obviously [that was because] it’s very hot in the South. But also he was sweating because he had tons of light thrown on him, because the film stock wasn’t sensitive enough for black skin.”

Montré Aza Missouri, an assistant professor in film at Howard University, recalls being told by one of her instructors in London that “if you found yourself in the ‘unfortunate situation’ of shooting on the ‘Dark Continent,’ and if you’re shooting dark-skinned people, then you should rub Vaseline on their skin in order to reflect light. It was never an issue of questioning the technology.” In her classes at Howard, Missouri says, “I talk to my students about the idea that the tools used to make film, the science of it, are not racially neutral.”

Missouri reminds her students that the sensors used in light meters have been calibrated for white skin; rather than resorting to the offensive Vaseline solution, they need to manage the built-in bias of their instruments, in this case opening their cameras’ apertures one or two stops to allow more light through the lens. Filmmakers working with celluloid also need to take into account that most American film stocks weren’t manufactured with a sensitive enough dynamic range to capture a variety of dark skin tones. Even the female models whose images are used as reference points for color balance and tonal density during film processing — commonly called “China Girls” — were, until the mid-1990s, historically white.

In the face of such technological chauvinism, filmmakers have been forced to come up with workarounds, including those lights thrown on Poitier and a variety of gels, scrims and filters. But today, such workarounds have been rendered virtually obsolete by the advent of digital cinematography, which allows filmmakers much more flexibility both in capturing images and manipulating them during post-production.

Cinematographer Anastas Michos recalls filming “Freedomland” with Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson, whose dramatically different complexions presented a challenge when they were in the same shot. “You had Julianne Moore, who has minus pigment in her skin, and Sam, who’s a dark-skinned guy. It was a photographic challenge to bring out the undertones in both of them.”

Michos solved the problem during a phase of post-production called the digital intermediate, during which the film print is digitized, then manipulated and fine-tuned. “You’re now able to isolate specific skin tones in terms of both brightness and color,” says Michos, who also shot “Baggage Claim,” “Jumping the Broom” and “Black Nativity,” due out later this year. “It gives you a little bit more flexibility in terms of how you paint the frame.”

Daniel Patterson, who shot “Newlyweeds” on a digital Red One camera, agrees, noting that on a recent shoot for Spike Lee’s “Da Blood of Jesus,” he was able to photograph black actors of dramatically different skin tones in a nighttime interior scene using just everyday house lamps, thanks to a sophisticated digital camera. “I just changed the wattage of the bulb, used a dimmer, and I didn’t have to use any film lights. That kind of blew me away,” Patterson says. “The camera was able to hold both of them during the scene without any issues.”

The multicultural realities films increasingly reflect go hand in hand with the advent of technology that’s finally able to capture them with accuracy and sensitivity. And on the forefront of this new vanguard is cinematographer and Howard University graduate Bradford Young , the latest in a long line of Howard alums — including Ernest Dickerson, Arthur Jafa and Malik Sayeed — who throughout the 1990s deployed the means of production to bring new forms of lyricism, stylization and depth to filmed images of African Americans….

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Black History, The Post-Racial Life

 

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White Hobbits Only!

No Frodo…There are NO black Hobbits allowed!

The previous movies in this series were pretty anemic looking…

The Hobbit’: Casting agent dismissed after seeking extras with ‘light skin tones’

A casting agent working on director Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’sThe Hobbit was fired from the production after placing ads in a regional New Zealand newspaper seeking extras with “light skin tones,” according to Agence France-Presse. The casting agent was also reported to have told a prospective background extra, a woman of Pakistani heritage named Naz Humphreys, that she wasn’t suitable to play a Hobbit because of her skin color. According to The Waikato Times, video footage shows the casting agent telling people at an audition, “We are looking for light-skinned people. I’m not trying to be … whatever. It’s just the brief. You’ve got to look like a Hobbit.” A spokesman for Jackson’s production company told Agence France-Presse that the casting director, who was contracted by the film, was never directed to make any restrictions based on skin color. “No such instructions were given,” the spokesman said. “The crew member in question took it upon themselves to do that and it’s not something we instructed or condoned,” adding, “It’s something we take very seriously.”

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2010 in The New Jim Crow

 

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