I know, I know, salad isn’t a food we usually associate with Thanksgiving. (Stuffing is not salad. Nor is green bean casserole.) But in my reading this week, I came across a quote disagreeing with the concept of America as a melting pot. Instead, “Everyone keeps their different shapes and forms but still contributes something to the salad.” I like that; it’s both more accurate and a better ideal.
I’m still not going to eat salad on Thanksgiving, but we can give thanks for the great Salad Bowl of America, imperfect though it is.
And whence comes that great quote, you ask? From this great City Room post on a unique new college education program in a Connecticut prison. Selected for their essays and academic potential, these incarcerated students take classes from Wesleyan University professors, using the same syllabi and the same standards of grading as are used on Wesleyan’s campus. The classes are the same, but the students bring a much different perspective: a view from inside a justice system with, among other things, much higher rates of incarceration for Blacks and Latinos than for whites.
This week, we’re looking at the idea—the fallacy—of purity: racial purity, national purity, and cultural purity.
Let’s start with South Korea, which is experiencing a clash between its historical ideas of ethnic homogeneity and its increasing immigrant population. A New York Times article draws attention to both the prevalence of racism in South Korea and the new efforts that are being made to stem it. It also highlights how closely ideas of racial purity are tied to sexism.
England and the US have their own issues of purity, some of which Andrew Sullivan explores in Scratch white America and beneath it is black. As a born Englishman who moved to the United States decades ago, Sullivan shares how, to an outsider, the black influences on American culture are apparent in everything from music to books.
It’s Halloween and the costumes are out! No zombies or vampires here, but we do have some serious masquerading to share when it comes to race.
To start us off we go to Germany, where a journalist is investigating the treatment of black people in Germany—by donning blackface and going undercover. Sure enough, he uncovers a lot of racism—but he does it without showcasing the experiences of actual black Germans.
Closer to home, this week’s America’s Next Top Model featured the competitors being dolled up as biracial: makeup, often darkening their skin; wigs; clothes that are a “fashion interpretation” of their cultures’ historical clothing. Dodai at Jezebel looks at it suspiciously, pointing out that “the problem, of course, is that race is not silver eyeshadow, a bubble skirt or couture gown. It’s not something you put on for a photo shoot to seem ‘edgy.’ Race is not trendy.” Still, she has mixed feelings: “Her intent was probably to showcase bi-racial beauty. Is this a case in which the action can be forgiven if the motive comes from a good place?” Thea at Racialicious, on the other hand, has no mixed feelings: she’s just angry.
It’s easy to think of racial groups as cultural monoliths: black culture is like this, Asian culture is like that. An article on culture clashes between recent immigrants from Africa and African Americans, many of them descendants of slaves whose families have been in the U.S. for centuries, reminds us of the complexity. It also opens a window into perceptions of blackness and Africanness, as when a recent African immigrant says of African Americans, “Those people, they don’t respect African people,” or when a black American says of a black African, “They think they’re better than black people.”
Continuing with the idea of blackness in America, Ta-Nahesi Coates brings us a beautifully written essay on blackness, obesity, segregation, and shame. I keep coming back to this line: “Segregation was a cocoon brimming with all the lovely variety of black life.”
We’ll start things out with the bad news: a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. His justification? That any children the couple had might suffer discrimination. A quick history review: it was 1967 when the U.S. Supreme court ruled in the case Loving v. Virginia that race-based legal restrictions on marriage are unconstitutional. In other marriage-relate news, same-sex couples can still only get married in six states.
We have a bell on the wall in the office. It’s the good-news bell; whenever we get a starred review, an award, or a really big order, the bell is rung, the staff gathers around it, and the news is announced to the office.
Jason, as publisher, is the first to know when we get starred reviews: the relevant journal emails him the news. My first inkling comes when Jason sidles up to Hannah’s desk—right next to mine—and mutters something along the lines of, “Check your email. I forwarded something from Booklist.” After a pause long enough for the email to download and open, Hannah says, “oooh!” She then gets up and walks in the direction of the bell, Jason following surreptitiously two steps behind. That’s the point at which I know I’d better slip my feet into my shoes—I tend to kick them off under my desk—and get ready to gather around the bell for the good news.
Woot! GRACIAS • THANKS by Pat Mora is our second book this fall to get a starred review from Kirkus (a review journal certainly not known for dishing them out freely). Since it’s running later than our other fall titles, this is the first review we’ve gotten in, so we were all pretty excited this morning to read this: