Tag Archives: ethnicity

Saying Farewell to the Angry Black Man part 1 (Tristan)

Angry Black Male Studying Black Antiquity

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Tristan Samuels is a MA student in Egyptology via the Near East Studies progam at the University of Toronto. His major research centers on race in antiquity and the relationship between Kemet (ancient Egypt) & Nubi‎a.

I’m a Black male university student born and residing in Toronto: a city that thinks multiculturalism is anti-racism (oh the fallaciousness). I’ve have a Classics BA and I’m currently studying Egyptology in an MA program. As the subtitle indicates, I study Blacks in the ancient record through these fields. In Classics, I was able to write a BA thesis on Greek and Roman perceptions of Black people and I saw much enthusiasm for my work at conferences. In Egyptology, I have a professor who has no problem acknowledging that the ancient Egyptians were Black/African. In addition, I have a professor that shows interest in my application of critical race theory.

However, I have been characterized as an angry black person. The most direct was in an introductory course for Near Eastern archaeology which was really the first time that I got a true understanding of what I was up against. The professor was a Syro-Mesopotamian specialist. I argued, in my essay proposal, that the ancient Egyptians were African/Black and, in turn, the Nubian rulers of Egypt (ca. 800 BC) should not be called ‘the Black Pharaohs’. The portrayal of the Nubians as the bonafide Black people of antiquity means an imposition, deliberately or subconsciously, of ‎whiteness onto the ancient egyptians. Ex: calling those Nubian rulers “black pharaohs” sneakingly implies that the indigenous Egyptian rulers were “white”‎. A good example of this is the New national Geographic rise of the black pharaohs documentary on the Kushite/Nubian dynasty. My professor, framing himself in a ‘progressive’ sort of way, accused me of “racism in reverse” because I brought up race. However, I never made the claim that Ancient Egypt was superior because it was a Black civilization. I simply said that the ancient Egyptians’ identity is misinterpreted because of Eurocentric racialism and that Black identity is more complex than treated in Egyptological literature. So, I sent him a response e-mail clarifying my intentions – I got no response. So, I let my writing do the talking. I made sure to include a comprehensive section on
white privilege and white normativity. I got 92%, but that does not eclipse the bigger problem: A Black Male challenging epistemology is treated as a threat.

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My issue in Classics has come through publishing issues. I had submitted a work on the Herodotus, a famous Greek historian, perception of Black bodies to a joint British-US journal. The first readers, there were two anonymous readers, said that I needed to revise which I certainly agreed. However, some comments troubled me. Reader A felt I just needed slight additions but suggested my tone was inappropriate because of this comment: “McCoskey’s approach is sound for the most part, but she underestimates…”. Reader A felt that I was treating McCoskey as a grad student. I just specified a particular problem in her work – why the tone policing? They shouldn’t *know* that I’m black per se, being that I don’t have to disclose my identity, but I believe it was assumed because of my essay’s subject matter. I take it as ‘okay, but remember your place Negro’. Reader B argued that I was being anachronistic in calling Herodotus racist. More specific, this reader thought that Herodotus accusing Black men of hypersexuality and describing them as having black semen “unlike other men” did not constitute racism. Apparently, I was being too simplistic. It is quite disturbing that this explicit sexualizing of Black men is not understood as such. I seriously wonder if the reader believed one or two of those stereotypes. While I got a 2nd attempt, these response are very problematic.

The 2nd reading was done by one referee and yielded interesting results. Itwas 3 or 4 days after I resubmitted – that is fast. The reader, which was clearly a different person, strongly disagreed. My critique of classical scholarship’s handling of Herodotus & Blackness was dismissed as “mud-slinging” – I’m just a real angry black person I guess. I was also told that I didn’t “get” D.E. McCoskey’s book, Race: Antiquity and its Legacy (I.B. Tauris, 2012), even though I wrote a published review on that very piece. In fact, I cited that review in my essay, so that the reader could go to it for further discussion of her mishandling of Blackness. I guess to him I don’t have the intellectual capacity to critique her. This reader also accused me of playing the race card. So, this reader definitely assumed that I was Black. I never once accused any scholar of racism and, in fact, two of the classicists that I critiqued are Black. It was very clear to me that the reader was polemical and saw my work as a threat to his white supremacist fantasy.

I responded to the editor to notify him that I appreciated the second opportunity, though I found the review perplexing. He, definitely a white male, responded telling me that he is a professor and that I needed to “learn some manners”. I could hear a ‘boy’ at the end of that sentence. I responded stating that he was in no place to make such character judgments about me and emphasized that I simply disagreed with the reader. His only response “I’m not a doctor” – I had referred to him as “Dr.” Again there is this sense that Black bodies are animalistic/savage in need of taming.

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While I’ve grown up race-conscious, I’m starting to really understand the depth of anti-Blackness in a way I never understood before – something only experience can teach you. No matter how logical the arguments you put forth, your resistance is a threat. The Blackness of ancient Egypt is a means of dismantling ‘civilization’ – a concept so dear to the White gaze. It cannot fathom a role where it is not in power. When we refuse to fit or compromise ourselves for whiteness we are uncontrollable (e.g. militant, angry). Whiteness can only see its de-centering as an act of reverse racism because they cannot fathom a world where they do not control us. You see, the only ‘peace’ and ‘balance’ for the White supremacist is one where people of color know their place, or else they are nothing but angry savages in the chaotic realms of otherness.

Forthcoming Essay: The CW's #Arrow, #DCComics, & Race

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A few months ago, on Twitter (that blessed place) I had just happened to come across a friends’ timeline announcing a Call For Papers to submit proposals for a forthcoming book by McFarland on the CW’s ARROW. I don’t think I have made it any secret my love affair for this show, the diversity of the characters, the progressive message, the realism that is now turning into a more fantastic storyline. The Call For Papers was post on the Facebook Page for the Horror Area of the Pop Culture Association/ American Culture Association. My proposal was accepted and is due the first week of next year. Here’s the premise:

Tenative Title: Robin Hood Wears A Hoodie: a comparison of representations of People of Color in CW’s Arrow, “Green Arrow: Year One,” and “Green Arrow: Hunter’s Moon”

From its very inception, the comic book genre and its mythology have had to deal with the issues of race and ethnicity. After World War II with the return of African American veterans wanting to fight for freedom here in the U.S., as well as Japanese-American families being released from internment camps, the Ku Klux Klan attempted to regain its once formidable power in local and national politics. The producers of The Adventures of Superman radio show were contacted by activist Stetson Kennedy who had investigated the KKK’s activities. The producers subsequently wrote a series of episodes where Superman fough the Clan of the Fiery Cross in 1946. Concerning the other half of DC Comics’ Worlds’ Finest duo, Batman, scholar Chris Gavaler argues that Batman’s probable origin can be found in shadow novels that inspired works like the film “Birth Of A Nation.” Comic book historians point to the Comics Code of the 1950’s which began the comic book industry’s withdrawal from politics. DC Comics once again began to address the issue of racial injustice by teaming up its out-of-this-world galactic guardian, Green Lantern with the grounded, fellow Justice Leaguer Green Arrow.

Given the rise in popularity of comic book movies and television shows, it is my intention to examine the ways that people of color are represented in the CW’s Arrow in comparison to two very important Green Arrow story arcs: Andy Diggle’s “Green Arrow: Year One” and Mike Grell’s “Green Arrow: Hunter Moon.” I am particularly interested in scrutinizing the narrative tropes of CW’s Arrow’s take on DC Comic villains Shado and China White, as well as the introduction of the character John Diggle, the first member Oliver Queen’s crusade for justice. With Fanonian lens, I will point out how the character arc of John Diggle both fits and makes significant departures from what Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks, called “the-brave-fellow-who-knows-how-to-obey.” I shall contend that while Diggle was originally introduced as a Magical Negro/the Black Friend, the arrivals of Floyd Lawton/Deadshot and Lyla Michaels/Harbinger have managed to alter Diggle’s character into someone more complex. These changes to Diggle’s character has been well received by DC Comics fans, so much so that he has been officially canonized during Jeff Lemire’s current run of the New 52 Green Arrow comic.

Next, I plan to look at the differences of people of color in two crucial Green Arrow stories, “Year One” and “Hunter’s Moon.” At issue in “Year One” besides China White who I have already mentioned, is Oliver’s relationship with Taiana and how his encounters with her transformed him from being an apathetic billionaire playboy into a social justice warrior. Lastly, I will give close attention to depictions of blackness in the final two books of “Hunters’ Moon,” looking closely at Dinah and Oliver’s friendship with Colin, as well as Green Arrow’s battle versus the WarHogs. My conclusion will involve practical implications for how Green Arrow stories can be used to facilitate race conversations.

postmodern blackness in ABC's #Blackish @black_ishABC

This week I found great relevance in Tony Purvis’ article on postmodernism and television in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism. In one of the opening statements of the chapter, he states that television is praised and censured for its ability to be the site of fantasy, ecstasy and pleasure. Ultimately the piece helped me to reflect on the question of whether or not television is still the site through which consensus norms and values are transmitted, as they were in the period of television’s modernity. I recently watched a series on ABC called Black-ish, which by its very titled screamed postdmodernism to me. I decided to use this show as a medium to provide my own analysis of postmodernism and television.

Image from Deadline.com

The very title of the series speaks to the complexities of the present in both the series and in the field of postmodernism. The title refers to a characteristic of not being a stereotyped urban black person or an urban black person with non-urban characteristics. This sets the background for the series. The show revolves around the lead character Andre Johnson and his family as they try to adjust to life in the suburbs. Through its treatment of cultural identity, postmodern subjectivity, and the generic boundaries of hybridization, the show Black-ish can be read in a postmodern context.

One aspect of postmodernity that recognizable in the show is its ability to blur generic boundaries of hybridization. It playfully makes use of self-referential preoccupation with the inner thought of Andre. Truth and falsehood are manufactured in various ways on the show. Thus it scantily totes the line between reality and Andre’s perception of reality. For example, on the first episode Andre feels like an animal at an exhibit as neighbors stare at his family as they pass by. This is clearly an example of how Andre’s thoughtful imagination influences the show. Yet there is no event to counter this reality. Thus it blurs the line between what is real and what is perceived as real by not clearly indicating a difference.

Realizing the plurality of perspectives is evident through many of different voice on the show. Andre and his father have different interpretations on what it means to black in a suburban setting. Simultaneously, Andre’s wife Rainbow and their children also have different interpretations of blackness. Laurence Fishburn’s character juxtasposes yet another example of blackness. Fishburn’s character plays the live-in father of Andre. He represents many of the traditional notions of blackness derived from the Civil Rights movement and its subsequent social impact.

They (the family) struggle to gain a sense of cultural identity in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Black-ish for them refers to the ways that they have to redefine what it means to black in under a different social context. In the very first episode Andre is promoted to the Senior Vice President of Urban development. At first this promotion irritates him because he associates Urban Development with “minority stuff.” For his first project he submits to the other senior vice president his intention for urban development, which fit basically every conceivable stereotype for urban. By the end of the episode however he realizes that there is no one interpretation for the concept of urban. Urban only implies “minority stuff” if that is the way you choose to interpret it. Thus postmodern subjectivity is involved even in how the show defines itself. I think it is critical to understand that the show does not conceive of one definition of blackness and what it means to black under any context.