Outside Looking In: Race and Identity in American Music Culture
By Stephanie Shonekan, Contributing Editor, Art, Music & Pop Culture
In her book, Soul, Country, and the USA: Race and Identity in American Music Culture, author Stephanie Shonekan explores perceptions and resistance to dominant cultural narratives, national identities, and understanding of the “American Dream” in soul and country music. Here is an excerpt from Shonekan’s provocative new book.
In his 1903 seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, African American scholar W. E. B. DuBois boldly predicted that the problem of the twentieth century would be “the problem of the color line”. This pronouncement was made as he was perched on that shaky threshold between the morally tragic nineteenth century and the tentatively hopeful twentieth century. As hope gave way to helplessness in the early twentieth century, in spite of valiant waves of resistance to the most violent racism and bigotry, DuBois’s statement seemed eerily prophetic as the problematic matter of race in America continued to dig its jagged roots into the receptive sociocultural soil of the United States. Once imagined as a contained field of contamination in the Deep South, historical evidence has shown that these divisive roots had spread from sea to shining sea. Discourses that revolve in complicated circles around media representations of American culture, the educational and criminal justice systems, and campaign rhetoric during voting season in the United States reveal the fruit of those racial roots, further reminding observers that DuBois’s statement may be an apt measuring stick for investigating the twenty-first century. Continue reading →
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Rasmea Odeh on Hopes, Dreams and Freedom in Palestine and the U.S.
By Rasmea Odeh
In the early morning on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 Rasmea Yousef Odeh, Associate Director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, was arrested at her home by agents from the Department of Homeland Security. Sixty-five years old at the time, she was indicted in federal court that same morning and charged with Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization, an allegation based on answers she gave on a 20-year-old immigration application. Her arrest is part of a broader pattern of persecution by the federal government of Arabs and Muslims that are outstanding and outspoken leaders in their communities throughout the United States. On November 10, 2014, without a full and fair trail, Odeh was found guilty. She was detained at the St. Clair County Jail in Port Huron, Michigan pending sentencing. In March, almost 200 supporters filled two courtrooms in Detroit at her sentencing hearing where Judge Gershwin Drain sentenced Odeh to 18 months. Currently out on bond, Rasmea Odeh offered these words at the Incite! Color of Violence conference “Beyond the State: Inciting Transformative Possibilities.” Continue reading →
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Digna and Me: Cuba, Race & Transnational Solidarity
By Lisa Brock, Senior Editor and Academic Director, Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership
On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced to great excitement that he planned to modify the 55-year-old US blockade against Cuba. Given that Congress passed major pieces of the embargo law, Obama is limited in what he can do. Yet, a robust set of negotiations has begun. Lisa Brock recently returned from Cuba, where there is both excitement at the possibilities of open ties with the US, and concern over Obama’s hostile turn towards Venezuela, Cuba’s strongest ally. Interestingly, many of Brock’s US-based colleagues have asked her, did you yet see changes as a result of the US turn toward normalization? Brock’s answer is this: Cuba is always changing and has been shifting towards a mixed economy on its own terms for years. Normalizing relations with the US is just the latest move in this direction. As Tom Hayden wrote in The Democracy Journal,[i] it is not Cuba that has been stuck and isolated but the US. Brock, for one, has been writing about and engaging in solidarity with Cuba for 25 years.
Last summer (2014), my friend, colleague and “hermana” Dr. Digna Castañeda Fuertes spent three months with me, here in the US. Digna is a 78-year-old Cuban woman and is the first black professor emeritus in the 285-year-old history of the University of Havana. While this may at first seem dumbfounding, it shouldn’t. Harvard University, founded in 1636, did not grant emeriti status to an African-American until 1999, which was during its 363rd year. Slavery and racism prevented blacks from employment and status at most predominantly white institutions of higher education throughout the Americas until the 1960s. For US-blacks, increased opportunities in higher education are due to the Civil Rights Movement. For blacks in Cuba, it has been the result of the Cuban revolution.
Digna spent last summer with me because I am writing a biography of her. My desire to do this biography came about after an interview I did of Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando Casamayor for a British publication. It struck me that Gloria and Digna are not just Cuban collaborators with whom I have worked in solidarity for nearly twenty-five years. These two extraordinary women are the Cuban revolution. They were among the cohorts of young people who made the revolution, benefitted from it, still believe in it and are struggling to make it better.
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