Friday, 25 September 2020

Black Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

In 2017, Roald Dahl's widow told the BBC in an interview, that Charlie Bucket had been a black child in an early draft and that Roald Dahl's agent had persuaded him to change Charlie's skin colour.
As far as this version goes, I think it is a really powerful racial allegory that might seem very surprising coming from Dahl. I think the mold in the shape of a chocolate boy is a metaphor for racial stereotype. In the early 20th century, chocolate marketing in both the U.S. and England was very tied up in imperialist fantasies and in connecting brown skin with brown chocolate. In one British ad for chocolate, for example, you had a black figure holding a cocoa bean and happily bestowing it on white children.

So I think it’s neat that in this midcentury moment Dahl has this black boy get stuck inside a mold that fits him perfectly — he emphasizes that — everything about the mold fits Charlie, except once the chocolate inside the mold hardens, it’s uncomfortable! So what better symbol of what it’s like to be turned into a racial stereotype than a black boy who gets stuck inside a life-size chocolate mold and can’t be seen or heard through this chocolate coating.

(...) “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is published in the U.S. in 1964, amid the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and race riots in England. Dahl should have been aware that the “happy slave” was not a permissible stereotype. And yet in the original edition Oompa Loompas were a tribe of African pygmies. I think this arc — from what I find to be a fairly antiracist novel to the novel that has been rightly criticized for its racist and imperialist politics — what it really shows is Dahl’s ambivalence. I think we’re in the right cultural moment to understand that. Like Claudia Rankine has said, we need to understand how white people imagine race. And so I think it’s really telling that Dahl seems to identify with this vulnerable character. I mean, he himself was the son of Norwegian immigrants, and was bullied at British boarding schools. I think Dahl always felt like an outsider who was bullied into Britishness.

(...) I think that’s the power of racism — to make someone able to hold these contradictory views at once. To both identify with the underdog and seem to understand the pain of stereotype, but then be completely flummoxed that anyone finds the Oompa Loompas offensive. He was genuinely surprised and very annoyed. So I don’t mean for this to whitewash Dahl’s racial politics. I just really love the vulnerability and the potential in this first draft.

(...) That’s the other thing about this book — it ends up being about the virtuous white factory boy. Isn’t that where we’ve ended up now, as a society? We hear so much about the virtuous white workers, and it often seems to be taking black people out of the story. Charlie and the Oompa Loompas are very similar, both starving. All the other children are bad consumers because they eat without pleasure. So it’s really interesting to think about the book’s trajectory — Charlie becomes white, and he ultimately ascends in the Great Glass Elevator, the best metaphor for white privilege I’ve ever seen! And all the Oompa Loompas are back in the factory serving Wonka. 
Maria Russo

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Thursday, 24 September 2020

Dude Food

One of the things that defines dude food is this carefree, limitless way of eating that doesn't take into account moderation, common dietary nutritional advice; that it often maps onto stereotypical assumptions about foods that are masculine, masculine appetites, flavors and ways of eating and thinking about food that map onto these limitless, voracious, seeking satisfaction ways of eating. So, when you look at ˜dude' as a concept, as a linguistic term, it can definitely map onto men and to women, to masculinity and femininity. But dude food in particular gives us often very regressive, sort of stagnant definitions of how to be a real man.
One of the cookbooks I'm looking at, literally titled Dude Food, is the only cookbook I've ever seen where there are pictures of men just being dudes (...) and the only picture in the book of a woman is a woman without her top lying on her belly in bed with a lover. So the only way that women are configured into the recipes for dude food are as ways to be able to get women in bed and to be able to satisfy all of their appetites. It definitely maps onto these ideas about gender that have significant effects for how we think about gender equality and justice in the United States. Emily Contois

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image of the great Michel Piccoli via

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Quoting Ruth Bader Ginsburg

"I ... try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, color of their skin, whether they’re men or women." 
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
"Feminism … I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, 'Free to be You and Me.' Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers—manmade barriers, certainly not heaven sent." 
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

"[W]hen I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that." 

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Tuesday, 8 September 2020

The White Negro. Superficial Reflections on the Hipster (by Norman Mailer, 1957)

Probably, we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive in these years. For the first time in civilized history, perhaps for the first time in all of history, we have been forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality or the most minor projection of our ideas, or indeed the absence of ideas and the absence of personality could mean equally well that we might still be doomed to die as a cipher in some vast statistical operation in which our teeth would be counted, and our hair would be saved, but our death itself would be unknown, unhonored, and unremarked, a death which could not follow with dignity as a possible consequence to serious actions we had chosen, but rather a death by deus ex machina in a gas chamber or a radioactive city; and so if in the midst of civilization—that civilization founded upon the Faustian urge to dominate nature by mastering time, mastering the links of social cause and effect—in the middle of an economic civilization founded upon the confidence that time could indeed be subjected to our will, our psyche was subjected itself to the intolerable anxiety that death being causeless, life was causeless as well, and time deprived of cause and effect had come to a stop.



The Second World War presented a mirror to the human condition which blinded anyone who looked into it. For if tens of millions were killed in concentration camps out of the inexorable agonies and contractions of super-states founded upon the always insoluble contradictions of injustice, one was then obliged also to see that no matter how crippled and perverted an image of man was the society he had created, it wits nonetheless his creation, his collective creation (at least his collective creation from the past) and if society was so murderous, then who could ignore the most hideous of questions about his own nature?



Worse. One could hardly maintain the courage to be individual, to speak with one’s own voice, for the years in which one could complacently accept oneself as part of an elite by being a radical were forever gone. A. man knew that when he dissented, he gave a note upon his life which could be called in any year of overt crisis. No wonder then that these have been the years of conformity and depression. A stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life, and we suffer from a collective failure of nerve. The only courage, with rare exceptions, that we have been witness to, has been the isolated courage of isolated people.

It is on this bleak scene that a phenomenon has appeared: the American existentialist—the hipster, the man who knows that if our collective condition is to live with instant death by atomic war, relatively quick death by the State as l’univers concentrationnaire, or with a slow death by conformity with every creative and rebellious instinct stifled (at what damage to the mind and the heart and the liver and the nerves no research foundation for cancer will discover in a hurry) , if the fate of twentieth century man is to live with death from adolescence to premature senescence, why then the only life-giving answer is to accept the terms of death, to live with death as immediate danger, to divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self. In short, whether the life is criminal or not, the decision is to encourage the psychopath in oneself, to explore that domain of experience where security is boredom and therefore sickness, and one exists in the present, in that enormous present which is without past or future, memory or planned intention, the life where a man must go until he is beat, where he must gamble with his energies through all those small or large crises of courage and unforeseen situations which beset his day, where he must be with it or doomed not to swing. The unstated essence of Hip, its psychopathic brilliance, quivers with the knowledge that new kinds of victories increase one’s power for new kinds of perception; and defeats, the wrong kind of defeats, attack the body and imprison one’s energy until one is jailed in the prison air of other people’s habits, other people’s defeats, boredom, quiet desperation, and muted icy self-destroying rage. One is Hip or one is Square (the alternative which each new generation coming into American life is beginning to feel) one is a rebel or one conforms, one is a frontiersman in the Wild West of American night life, or else a Square cell, trapped in the totalitarian tissues of American society, doomed willy-nilly to conform if one is to succeed.

A totalitarian society makes enormous demands on the courage of men, and a partially totalitarian society makes even greater demands for the general anxiety is greater. Indeed if one is to be a man, almost any kind of unconventional action often takes disproportionate courage. So it is no accident that the source of Hip is the Negro for he has been living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries. But the presence of Hip as a working philosophy in the sub-worlds of American life is probably due to jazz, and its knife-like entrance into culture, its subtle but so penetrating influence on an avant-garde generation—that post-war generation of adventurers who (some consciously, some by osmosis) had absorbed the lessons of disillusionment and disgust of the Twenties, the Depression, and the War. Sharing a collective disbelief in the words of men who had too much money and controlled too many things, they knew almost as powerful a disbelief in the socially monolithic ideas of the single mate, the solid family and the respectable love life. If the intellectual antecedents of this generation can be traced to such separate influences as D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Wilhelm Reich, the viable philosophy of Hemingway fits most of their facts: in a bad world, as he was to say over and over again (while taking time out from his parvenu snobbery and dedicated gourmandise), in a bad world there is no love nor mercy nor charity nor justice unless a man can keep his courage, and this indeed fitted some of the facts. What fitted the need of the adventurer even more precisely was Hemingway’s categorical imperative that what made him feel good became therefore The Good.

::: More/via: Dissent

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photographs via and via

Monday, 7 September 2020

Nina Simone's Letter to Langston Hughes

Then too, if I'm in a negative mood and want to get more negative (about the racial problem, I mean) if I want to get downright mean and violent I go straight to this book and there is also material for that.



Sometimes when I'm with white "liberals" who want to know hy we're so bitter - I forget (I don't forget - I just get tongue-tied) how complete has been the white race#s rejection of us all these years and when this happens I go get your book.



I know one thing - I've always admired you and been proud of you - respected you and felt honored to know you - but brother, you got a fan now!





images via

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Risk of Being Killed by Police in the United States

"We find that African American men and women, American Indian/Alaska Native men and women, and Latino men face higher lifetime risk of being killed by police than do their white peers. We find that Latina women and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women face lower risk of being killed by police than do their white peers. Risk is highest for black men, who (at current levels of risk) face about a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police over the life course. The average lifetime odds of being killed by police are about 1 in 2,000 for men and about 1 in 33,000 for women. Risk peaks between the ages of 20 y and 35 y for all groups. For young men of color, police use of force is among the leading causes of death."



"Police in the United States kill far more people than do police in other advanced industrial democracies", particularly black men under 30. Here some figures: 
Between the ages of 25 y and 29 y, black men are killed by police at a rate between 2.8 and 4.1 per 100,000, American Indian and Alaska Native men are killed at a rate between 1.5 and 2.8 per 100,000, Asian/Pacific Islander men are killed by police at a rate between 0.3 and 0.6 per 100,000, Latino men at a rate between 1.4 and 2.2 per 100,000, and white men at a rate between 0.9 and 1.4 per 100,000. Inequalities in risk persist throughout the life course.
Interesting links:
::: The Counted. People killed by police in the US (The Guardian): LINK
::: Mapping Police Violence: LINK
::: Police Shootings Database (The Washington Post): LINK

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- Edwards, F, Lee, H. & Esposito, M. (2019). Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex. PNAS, 116 (34) 16793-16798.
- photograph via 

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Universal law...

“It's an universal law -- intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.” 

Monday, 17 August 2020

Professor Rogelio Lasso describes his experience as a part-black college student in Texas in 1969

I lived with a family friend from Panama. Roberto was blond, blue-eyed and had lived in the United States for years, so he spoke English without an accent. Soon after I arrived, Roberto asked me to join him and two of his white friends for dinner. At the restaurant, the waiter asked me where I was from. I answered, "Panama." He politely told me that although the restaurant was not integrated, he could serve me because I was not an American. He explained that the restaurant did not serve "Negroes or Mexicans," but since I was neither, I was "OK." I pointed out that I was part Black and Native American. "But you are a Panamanian," he patiently explained. "You are welcome to eat and drink here..
(cited in Green, 2008:409)



Exceptionalism:  
It has long been understood that when people encounter a person who differs from a previously held stereotype, they tend not to change the stereotype, but to create a new subtype to accommodate the exception. 
(Green, 2008:407) 
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- Green, T. (2008). Discomfort at work: Workplace assimilation demands and the Contact Hypothesis. North Carolina Law Review, 86(2), 379-440.
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Friday, 14 August 2020

Quoting Dolly Parton

"And of course black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!"


photograph via

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Inge Morath + Her Male Pseudonym

 "A bold and determined woman, she managed to establish herself in a then male-dominated filed, and even had to sell her first shots to a number of publishers under the male pseudonym Egni Tharom. The first woman to ever join the renowned Magnum Photos agency, first as an editor and later, in 1955, as a full photographer, Inge Morath helped breaking down many prejudices with her talent."
Inge Morath exhibition, Museo Diocesano, Milan 2020

photograph MLM