The First Drag Queen was a Former Slave

The First Drag Queen Was a Former Slave (Channing Gerard Joseph)

Coming of age at a time when an entirely new form of freedom and self-​determination was developing for African Americans, Swann and his house of butlers, coachmen, and cooks—the first Americans to regularly hold cross-dressing balls and the first to fight for the right to do so—arguably laid the foundations of contemporary queer celebration and protest.

The Conundrum of Privilege

White Progressive Parents and the Conundrum of Privilege (Margaret Hagerman)

Parents continue to make decisions…that extend the advantages of wealth. Those choices, however, have other consequences: They shape what children think about race, racism, inequality and privilege far more than anything parents say (or do not say).

Children reach their own conclusions about how society works, or should work, based on their observations of their social environment and interactions with others….So how their parents set up kids’ lives matters deeply.

If affluent, white parents hope to raise children who reject racial inequality, simply explaining that fairness and social justice are important values won’t do the trick. Instead, parents need to confront how their own decisions and behaviors reproduce patterns of privilege. They must actually advocate for the well-being, education and happiness of all children, not just their own.

Are Asian Americans People of Color?

Are Asian Americans White? Or People of Color? (Naseem Bhangal and OiYan Poon)

Even though anti-Asian racism is not the same as anti-Black racism, both types of racism still reinforce and result from structures of white dominance. Systemic white supremacy affects different populations in different ways.

Identifying as Asian American is not a biological destiny or question of geography, which would suggest a passive orientation (i.e. individuals are born Asian) rather than an active choice to identify in solidarity against matrices of oppression—internal and external—to the Asian American community. For those drawn to the term as a political tool for organizing, solidarity is key and requires individuals to reflect on and claim “Asian American” as opposed to being defaulted into the racial category.

Answering whether Asian Americans identify with other solidarity terms is not simple and often reveals individual identity development, sociocultural politics, and availability of critical education.

Black Britons Know Why

Black Britons Know Why Meghan Markle Wants Out (Afua Hirsch)

With a new prime minister whose track record includes overtly racist statements, some of which would make even Donald Trump blush, a Brexit project linked to native nationalism and a desire to rid Britain of large numbers of immigrants, and an ever thickening loom of imperial nostalgia, many of us are also thinking about moving.

The legacy of Britain’s history of empire — a global construct based on a doctrine of white supremacy — its pioneering role in the slave trade and ideologies of racism that enabled it, and policies of recruiting people from the Caribbean and Africa into low-paid work and then discriminating against them in education and housing, is with us today….

Meghan’s decision to join the family that is the symbolic heart of the establishment responsible for this troubled history was perplexing to many black British people, as we wondered whether she fully appreciated the institution she had entered. Both she and Harry appear to have gained crystal clear vision as to their reality.

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was Created to Celebrate Freed Slaves (Gillian Brockell)

An early model, circa 1870, shows Lady Liberty with her right arm in the position we are familiar with, raised and illuminating the world with a torch. But in her left hand she holds broken shackles, an homage to the end of slavery.

In fact, black newspapers railed against it as meaningless and hypocritical. By 1886, Reconstruction had been crushed, the Supreme Court had rolled back civil rights protections, and Jim Crow laws were tightening their grip.

The Enduring Whiteness of Jane Austen

Recognizing the Enduring Whiteness of Jane Austen (Marcos Gonsalez)

Unmarked, and universal, whiteness structures this classroom, this university, this world.

But they don’t know what whiteness is because they have never had to see it before. To them, white students and white professors discussing white literature feels like nothing out of the ordinary; it’s just the way things are, the way things are meant to be.

Yet my suspicions linger over the politics of retellings because the dominating forces over our art and culture are notoriously guilty of telling those of us who are queer, disabled, trans, and of color, that our original stories are too particular and niche to reach a large enough audience. The stories these white writers craft are universal templates, apparently.

What does it look like to retell Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In the Heights? Nella Larsen’s Passing? Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior? The question becomes tricky because these works, like all works by any kind of writer, like Austen or Shakespeare, possess their specific social and cultural contexts, all of them their own beautiful specificity. Yet some of us are always more universal, always able to be just Art, just Literature, just Author, and never, lest we say it, lest we give up the ruse, white.

Black Children in a White World

What’s Lost When Black Children are Socialized into a White World (Dani McClain)

For many white parents, the process of socializing their children is an unalloyed good, an uncomplicated part of child-rearing that poses no real threat. For the mothers I spoke with, immersing their children in a school’s culture meant hoping they’d get what they needed academically without sustaining too much damage to their sense of self.

Not all children so gracefully develop survival strategies that allow them to participate in predominantly white schools while also resisting and even transforming the culture.

Writing the Other

When It Comes to Writing the “Other,” What Questions are We Not Asking? (Alexander Chee)

“Do you have any advice for writing about people who do not look like you?”

Given all the excellent writing about the challenges of rendering otherness, someone who asks this question in 2019 probably has not done the reading. But the question is a Trojan horse, posing as reasonable artistic discourse when, in fact, many writers are not really asking for advice — they are asking if it is okay to find a way to continue as they have. They don’t want an answer; they want permission. Which is why all that excellent writing advice has failed to stop the question thus far.

Increasingly, this question is a trick question. A part of a game where writers of color, LGBTQ writers, women writers, are told to write as white men in order to succeed, and thus are set up to fail. While white men are allowed to write what they think the stories of these people are, and are told it is their right. This game is over.

Teaching Kindness Isn’t Enough (Bret Turner)

The harm done by long-term exposure to injustice—to the kind of imagery found in racist books, microaggressions and discrimination—calls for more than a simple understanding of kindness. It demands that kindness be interwoven with substantial notions of true justice.

What I tried to ensure in my classroom—frequently, intentionally and with care—was a viable, usable understanding of justice. Young people need to know what is (and isn’t) equitable, inclusive and just so they can begin to wrestle with systemic and institutional injustice, which affects them all in different ways.