I think I can safely assume that most of the class will have heard something about Rachel Dolezal by the time we meet again on Tuesday. Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the basic facts, because I think this could be a great opportunity to discuss the issue of social power and visuality. Clearly, race is a category tied very closely to the visual register: the meaning of race, its presence, is– we’ve been taught– largely a matter of appearance and visibility. I can recommend Gary Younge’s very brief commentary as a place to begin:
Really enjoyed the conversation in class. Maybe one way to attempt to sum it up would be to note that the image (in all its forms) in functioning as a sign becomes a means of asserting and constructing identity. However you feel about Iggy’s performance in “Fancy” her voice works as a signifier which evokes concepts (signifieds) such as 1) musical genre 2) cultural tradition 3) class/ gender/ racial identity practices.
If you’re interested in the history of Racial Masquerade, you can look at a brief discussion of “Black vernacular speech”, check out these links and images or screen this montage sequence from Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled. There has been an enormous amount of scholarship on Blackface Performance in recent years by people such as Louis Chude-Sokei, Eric Lott, WT Lhamon, and Donald Bogle among many others.
If you have any thoughts about the discussion or remarks about the videos please feel free to address your comments to this blog.
Thursday we’ll work through Hall, Sturken&Cartwright, Weedon and Barthes. Come prepared to do some writing.
You’ll recall that I mentioned in class that there is a history of the Asian detective in US cinema, one that includes fictional characters such as Mr. Moto, Charlie Chan, and Mr. Wong. All of these figures were played by white actors in a form of “racial masquerade” that has deep roots in US culture. Here is the first film in the Mr. Wong series– Mr. Wong, Detective— starring Boris Karloff of Frankenstein fame. If you’re interested in the cultural politics of Hollywood representations of Asians and Asian Americans you can consult The Slanted Screen (2006), a great documentary on the subject, or Robert Lee’s seminal study Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (1999).