The Musings of a Wannabe Intellectual

Month: October, 2012

I’m sorry, dear readers

Hi all,

Been a bit busy lately because I’m about to leave Australia for the next month. I’ve been painting  (the first time in a long time). The pictures below are some thank you gifts for the people I’m meeting wile I’m in the States…


Two new terms…

As you may remember, dear readers, I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of consistent terminology in my field. Well, here are two more for my growing list:

Mauve Decade – The ‘mauve decade’ refers to the 1890s. Apparently this was because a scientist accidentally created mauve and quickly became a favorite shade in fashion. I don’t know. It seems so benign and passive to me (unless you are a Doctor Who fan, in which case it is quite apt). I think I’ll stick with the ‘Gilded Age’, despite its lengthy time frame…

Racial Crossing – Another term for racial passing and a favorite among 1920s sociologists. In hindsight this one was a bit obvious but I still need to revisit all the databases in search of it.

In other news, I have just read a fabulous analysis of Iola Leroy and Frances Harper’s take on racial passing. More to come…

People who passed for white: Judson Douglas Wetmore

Judson Douglass Wetmore was an attorney who gained fame after winning Patterson v Taylor, 51 Fla. 275 (1903) (Florida v Patterson). He is more widely known for influencing the experience of the protagonist in Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.

Wetmore’s experience with crossing the color line was more often temporary. Rather the completely crossing the color line and permanently passing, he presented himself according to his audience and needs. He established himself as a ‘Negro lawyer’ in Florida and later in New York City. However, as race relations became increasing volatile, Wetmore found himself more often than not acting the part of a white man…

Few fun facts:
– Both his spouses were of Jewish heritage who, though aware of his blackness, concealed his heritage from their families.

– He briefly represented Ada King, wife of Clarence King (who had a double life and passed for black).

– While attending Michigan Law School he passed for white by omission; his peers assumed he was white and Wetmore just never corrected them.

Judson Douglass Wetmore, you just became a person of great interest to me.

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012

Whenever I am struggling with my work, or feeling down on myself I listen to this address. It always makes me feel better.


OpenCulture provides a distilled version of the speech:

  1. Embrace the fact that you’re young. Accept that you don’t know what you’re doing. And don’t listen to anyone who says there are rules and limits.
  2. If you know your calling, go there. Stay on track. Keep moving towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sacrifice.
  3. Learn to accept failure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s normal.
  4. Make mistakes, glorious and fantastic ones. It means that you’re out there doing and trying things.
  5. When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.
  6. Make your own art, meaning the art that reflects your individuality and personal vision.
  7. Now a practical tip. You get freelance work if your work is good, if you’re easy to get along with, and if you’re on deadline. Actually you don’t need all three. Just two.
  8. Enjoy the ride, don’t fret the whole way. Stephen King gave that piece of advice to Neil years ago.
  9. Be wise and accomplish things in your career. If you have problems getting started, pretend you’re someone who is wise, who can get things done. It will help you along.
  10. Leave the world more interesting than it was before.

Sha-Clack-Clack by Saul Williams

I’m spending a little time thinking about social cues and blackness… The poem by Saul Williams plays on some well-known stereotypes and turns-of-phrase. Seems like a good place to start. Does anyone have any recommendations on blackness? I’m attempting to understand what is blackness…

(Scene from The N Word (2004))

Blacks who Pass for White (Phil Donahue Show)

(Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5) (Part 6) (Part 7) (Part 8)

This episode have provided some useful insight into the human experience of ‘passing’ or how it feels to be ‘perceived as white’. I loved the little soundbites like “hair going back home” and “black and black make black”. I did take issue with a couple of things in this episode though… And I took the time to think about what they were and why they invoked those feelings.

I think that the man on the panel was remarkable unhelpful. He was wrong to shut down the audiences comment about poverty in urban populations; in 1990 this was a series issue on the rise, not just something white folks were conceptualizing based off television shows (although I won’t dispute the media has done a lot of perpetuate negative stereotypes).

Another thing I really disliked was the panels constant referral to themselves as victims of racism. I don’t mean to say that they haven’t experienced racism or that they haven’t been disadvantaged by prejudices, I just really don’t like victim-hood. It’s such an introverted and unhelpful state. Most of the panel members seemed so angry and closed off to other perspective. As soon as one accepts the role of victim they just seem to become stagnant.

Finally, while I see they are a good historical source to gain different perspectives on the phenomenon for my thesis, I think if I had watched this in the 1990s I would have walked away angry. It was a particularly ineffective segment for addressing mixed race issues. I get that this was a “I’m black and I’m proud” moment but… there needed to be a space for the ambiguity to properly be acknowledged; that caller deserved to have her desire to just be herself rather than black or white. They had the platform to talk about something that affects millions of people and they turned it into an “either/or” situation.

Portrait of the Inauthentic Negro (July 1950)

Worst of all, the inauthentic Negro is not only estranged from whites—he is also estranged from his own group and from himself. Since his companions are a mirror in which he sees himself as ugly, he must reject them; and since his own self is mainly a tension between an accusation and a denial, he can hardly find it, much less live in it.

– Anatole Broyard

Anatole Broyard was a well-known book reviewer for the New York Times. It was revealed on his death bed in 1990 that, for the majority of his life, he had been passing for white. Broyard was ‘colored Creole’ desperate to be recognised as a writer, rather than “a ‘Negro writer’ consigned to the back of the literary bus.”

His life in itself is fascinating but what I find interesting is a pattern I am discovering within racial passing. The passer seems to allude to their other life, their heritage, or their knowledge of African American culture through the use of linguistic patterns, culturally-specific words or race-focused publications. Now that is fascinating.

(Sources: Portrait of the Inauthentic Negro and Editorial Observer; Back When Skin Color Was Destiny — Unless You Passed for White)

The struggle to be “mentally present”

I can’t focus. Try as I might I cannot focus at the moment. I can be sitting in the most engaging conversation of the week (probably even the month) and still get distracted by the fact that NWA is playing in my current location, that I have forgotten to email important information to an important person, or, worst of all, I am so tired I feel like my face is falling off.

Make no mistake, I want to be working on my thesis. Nothing makes me happier than working on African American history…. I think my problem is two-part.


I just keep getting hung up the stupid bureaucracy or etiquette required in this industry. I get stuck, unable to proceed. I’m not being me and I hate that. It’s like I’m being an exaggerated version of myself, a version that I think may be more likable, more … accessible. But, you know, some times I am not accessible, some times I am not likable; and I kind of like that. I have always, always, been an all or nothing kind of girl. I don’t like to compromise when it comes to my values….And lately, I feel like I’ve been asked to compromise a lot.


There are so many avenues of procrastination available. I know I should be reading journal articles and writing and yet I inevitably find myself watching YouTube clips, reading the news, or just lurking on Facebook.

Thankfully, (2) is relatively easy to address. Computer apps and programs have become a crutch. I use:

  1. Self-Control – blocks website (you can add/remove specific sites to the blacklist) and once you set the timer you can’t turn it off, even if you restart your computer.
  2. FocusBooster – implements the 25: 5 timer. You work for 25 minutes then a 5 minute break. It really helps me focus…
  3. Wunderlist – to-do list that is all my devices; it is unrelenting with its reminders.
  4. Speed Reading [available in the apple app store] – it reads articles and website to me, that usually gets me on a roll. Turns out TextEdit can do that so … maybe don’t pay for the app.

I also find this mind map really useful:

Any suggestions for how I can begin addressing (1)? …Other than sucking it up.