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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  November 2, 2013 4:30pm-6:01pm EDT

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in its tone. i am concerned about the problem of access that poses potentially but you know among the friends and acquaintances who i am still in touch with from the field, i have gotten at least well wishes from several of them and much more than that in terms of feedback which has been tremendously gratifying. also the book is relatively new too so i'm still waiting to hear from a lot more folks. >> i am curious about if you saw any signs of dissent questioning? why are we taking part in this lunacy of american imperialism? you know the corporate media obviously tons to not focus on
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any of that at all whereas i tend to try to balance might corporate media with independent review will like democracy now and you hear all the time on democracy now about soldiers refusing to deploy. i just wondered if you saw any signs of that? thanks. >> that's a great question. the short answer somewhat tellingly is i think in my experience at fort hood and among the folks that i knew there, the short answer is basically no. i had one friend who is involved with a relatively oriented veterans advocacy group and certainly there is in this country a really lively antiwar veterans movement made up of a bunch of different organizations doing work that is politically
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important for those folks and also personally important for a lot of them. one of the things that was really interesting and striking to me in my work was the conventional language that we use and the civilian public being pro-war, being antiwar whether in principle in general or with regard to specific policy decisions. those are old things that soldiers and folks in military communities are completely well aware of ,-com,-com ma to varying extents just as is the case in the civilian world with a range of opinions just as is the case out here. but the immediate experience of being so directly involved in going to war doesn't necessarily line up with the kinds of stories that those frameworks provide. so that juncture itself is quite interesting to think about.
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so the kinds of stories that we use in the civilian world to describe what war is about what it's for, all of those things at least in my experience are quite recognizable to people in military communities that don't necessarily take account of what their actual daily lived experience is a doing the actual work of going to war. sometimes that meant that they had critiques of military order of war in general that were much more differently oriented and other times it meant that there was just sort of the sons of kind of failure of communication or a real challenge to think about, how to translate what's important are what's up getting talked about in one area and the other and vice versa. that's a great question. >> yes ,-com,-com ma in the last couple of years i have read and
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heard in the news a lot of soldiers being referred to as warriors instead of g.i.s or soldiers as in the past. to me that's quite a different concept and a totally different type of society than we are supposed to live in. what i'm wondering is if the soldiers themselves are referring to themselves as warriors or not? >> that is a great question. i have certainly seen that term used a lot in the media and in military language as well. and i would say it varies tremendously by context. i don't know that there is anyone who i was close to in my research you know who identified in that way out right but at the same time the way military culture works is oftentimes
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through labels and through people strategically for particular reasons identifying really strongly with particular labels. and so i can certainly see how it would be something they could easily take on a lot of significance in particular situations, but it's not something i can talk about particularly. [applause] >> thank you. >> thank you, ken. our final author today is ethan watters, an author, a journalist who has written about psychiatry and social psychology for the past two decades. he is to contribute to the new york times magazine discover men's journal details wired and this american life. his writing on the new research surrounding genetics was featured in the 2003 best
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american science and nature writing series and he is co-founder of the san francisco writers grotto a work list for poets and journalists. today he is sharing his most recent look, "crazy like us" the globalization of the american psyche. watters suggests america's homogenizing matches the categorization and the treatment of the mentally ill but perhaps more importantly the subjective experience of being mentally ill. for me this book? wide open western imperialism in regards to the american diagnoses in the form of apology. according to watters with little appreciation of the difference between mind and body we continue our efforts to convince the rest of the world to think like us end quote. perhaps it's time we think our generosity indeed. please join me in welcoming ethan watters.
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[applause] >> thank you so much. one of the joys of finding the book is you get to go around and have conversations and i'm looking forward to being on the panel with allen and kenneth. i respect their work rightly. of course you are not really certain what kinds of conversations the book to get you into. after the book came out i was called by a producer on "the daily show" and asked to go on the show. it was the disorienting and terrifying experience and because i'm speaking to some authors and soon-to-be authors out there i thought as dessert for our panel at the end i will give you the top 10 things that you need to know before you go on "the daily show" so you are fully prepared. [laughter] that will be at the very end of my talk. the book "crazy like us" is a book about a remarkable body of research.
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it in fact rises and falls on different cultures and forms every time and the lesson is basically that mental illness and their russian and symptomatology are reacted to culture and the conversation of the culture. i find i can get easy agreement on this idea if we look back in history. if we look at things like -- up look mad travelers that appeared in victorian era europe where a young man would walk in a transfer hundreds of miles with no idea of identity or no memory of where he had been. another example in the mid-19th century women by the hundreds of thousands displayed the remarkable signs of hysteria. these were the nervous tics, fainting physical paralysis. how does this happen? how does a discrete mental illness exist in one airtime and disappear from the next? in the book i interviewed a
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medical historian named edward shorter at the university of chandra and he has this notion of what he calls symptom pools. his ideas that pete will give in a moment in history someone in need of expressing psychological suffering have a limited number of symptoms to choose from. when someone unconsciously latches on to the hatred the person is taking troubling in emotions and internal conflicts often indistinct and hard to express and distilling them into a symptom of behavior that at that moment in human history is a culturally recognized signal of suffering. symptomatology can be thought of as the language and we speak the language that is understood in that time. of course this begs the question of where does the symptom pool come from? who makes a symptom pool? how did these arise over a given time? shorter points to the experts and this could be priests or shamans or doctors or others. they propose theories of the mind and look for the symptoms
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to confirm those theories. i think a maritime experts would certainly be part of the creation of the symptom pools. i think journalists such as myself when we love the new disorder we get good placement for pieces if we are the first out with a new disorder and certainly big pharma is part of shaping these symptom pools. he says patients endeavor to produce symptoms that will correspond to the medical diagnostics of their time. the cultural molding of the unconscious happens imperceptibly and follows a large number of cultural cues that the patient is simply not aware of. if you look at symptoms like hysteria we can clearly see the cultural origins of that behavior. we can see the undercurrent of misogyny the mistaken beliefs about women's anatomy fear of women's sexuality notions that female mental illness play a part in creating this remarkable widespread disease.
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it's easy to see when we look back. it's much more difficult to see it in our own time. we often believe that our modern diagnostics of symptomatology is no longer influenced by culture but i would suggest modern symptom ologies are influenced by cultural expectations every bit as much as that of his area over 100 years ago. the point here is not that this cultural shaping makes these behaviors or mental illnesses less real. the point is that we'll only fully understand these homeless is when we begin to understand how culture plays with the expectation of symptomatology. it's hard to tell in an american audience that symptoms are culturally shaped because oftentimes we think of them as not real. they are still real but they are culturally shaped. they are not true for all times and places but they can be churned particular times and places. the book looks at her influence
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across cultures and we need to understand this because america is the globalizing force in terms of how people think about the diagnosis and how we treated. we need to understand it is we are influencing the rest the world and the huge way. i took four examples and i wanted to ring it down as close as i could so i looked at the rise of anorexia in hong kong in the middle 90s which is one chapter and then i looked at what is probably the most remarkable piece of cross cultural psychiatric research is a multisite decade-long study of schizophrenia outcomes across cultures and what they found was people diagnosed with schizophrenia in developing countries did better on almost every outcome measure than people in the first world. i traveled as far as zanzibar with an anthropologist to understand what was going on there. then i wrote about the changing notions of depression in japan before and after the
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introduction of paxil and how we shape to the notions of depression in japan in a very dramatic way. the fourth example in the book is the one i will talk about today because it dovetails a little with canon's work and that is it so relevant in our times with the soldiers coming home and that's the notion of ptsd. to gain some cross-cultural perspective on that i wrote about the tsunami in sri lanka. and our effort after that tsunami to provide psychosocial support. we rushed in there with counselors of all stripes. the broad field therapist and scientologists were on the scene rapid eye movement therapist. dozens if not hundreds to teach the culture about ptsd and to tell them how to heal from it and give them our knowledge about that. we have a great certainty with the notion of ptsd is cross-cultural but
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anthropological work and cross-cultural psychiatry work shows that meaning and expectations matter a great deal after traumatic event in cultures around the world indeed have a variety of different reactions to trauma and their symptomatology is very much not the same. for example cambodians fled the khmer rouge would describe their primary psychological symptom is being visited by spirits and intense distress in escaping the country before they were able to perform rituals for the day. salvadoran women who endured a protected civil war describes the experience of -- which is often described of a feeling of intense heat to the body and people from afghanistan would describe nervous anger after a germanic event and intense pressure in their body. so it is possible with some hard
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work to go into another culture and to learn the language of suffering to understand how they combined with local modes of healing. this is exactly what a researcher did in sri lanka. she was a trauma researcher. she was there the day the tsunami happened already doing research on, in a culture and to understand the local meaning of distress what she did was she gathered together people who had all witnessed the tsunami and a set of quizzing them with the ptsd checked list she had them tell her open its stories about who were doing well and people were doing badly and she began to categorize reactions and did a larger scale survey to confirm the results. what she ended up with was what she called the sri lankan index of psychosocial suffering a measure of the local indicators of distress. so how do the symptoms different from local notions?
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sri lankans experienced, different from americans in two main ways. they were much more likely to experience trauma as a physical reaction. aches and pains in their bodies to react to that, as if it were physical blow to their body to cement as i said. there was another think were subtle and interesting reaction which was that sri lankans for the most part did not report reactions to trauma with the internal states of anxiety fear and numbing in the legs and ptsd checked list. rather sri lankans intended -- tendency the negative social roles and relationships. the people that were doing badly were the people that became isolated from the social network who were not fulfilling their social role and in short they conceived of the damage done by the tsunami is occurring not inside their mind that outside themselves in the social environment. sri lankans to the point where
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the two literally could not he teased apart. because the western conception of ptsd assumes the problem of the breakage is primarily in the mind of the individual that largely overlooks the salient symptoms from the sri lankans those that do not exist in the psychological but in the social realm. so the problem is this. it's when we rush into other cultures with ptsd checked as we rarely take the time to understand local modes of distress on western counselors know that your reaction, the best way to heal they are often disconnected with local people from modes of suffering which are always tied to local modes of healing. i think it does take a willful blindness to believe other cultures need our framework for understanding the human reactions to, or a medical anthropologist at harvard gave me at quote on this. he said most of the disasters in the world happen outside of the
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west yet become men and and pathologies their reactions and we say you don't know how to live with the situation. we take away their cultural narratives and we impose ours. it's a terrible example of dehumanizing people. i think once one conferencconferenc e the cultural differences in the psychological reactions to trauma the efforts of the western trauma colleges to russia's disaster zones in a few days notice without knowing the language and without a deep understanding of religions and without understanding the modes of mourning and the rituals for grieving it becomes deeply problematic. to drive his this point home one researcher asked me to imagine it in the reverse. he said imagine after 9/11 if a shaman from mozambique came to america and began knocking on doors of the survivors and said i need to lead you through some rituals to help separate the spirit of your loved one from the living.
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would that make any sense to us and of course it wouldn't. it doesn't seem to stop us from doing the exact opposite and i think i know why. i think we think what we offer is based on science and it's universally human and we figured this out. our ptsd is not culturally shaped. i would fundamentally disagree. i think it's culturally shaped and all those other notions of trauma that i listed. you can even actually see, even if you took a subset of western soldiers over time you can see the cultural differences in ptsd overtime pay or if you are a british soldier and you had a negative reaction to it from a battle you are likely to complain of joint pain and muscle weakness. those were the conditions that doctors at the time called debility syndrome. if you are a soldier and american civil war and you have a negative reaction to, a tool uber liked to complain of
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pathological homesickness and a week hard beat and the feeling of pain in your chest. this was called dacosta syndrome. the first world war soldiers experienced shell shock. this was expressed through nervous tics, spotty movements and physical paralysis. does that sound like something i said earlier on? hysteria. very parallel with hysteria because it's the same cultural notions about how the mind works and how those wires can be freed and that expresses those symptoms. i think even in our lifetime we can see the shaping of ptsd. it was originally called the post-vietnam syndrome and it began in this interesting way. it began in these hothouse rap sessions between antiwar psychoanalysts and vietnam veterans against the war. they got together and began to shape this notion of
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post-vietnam syndrome. early descriptions are interesting because they often don't talk a lot about the moment on the battlefield for a soldier was traumatized. there was a psychoanalyst who wrote an op-ed in "the new york times" in 1972 describing this idea and here's how he described it. these sessions had been deceived used and betrayed by the military and society at large so the diagnosis of post-vietnam syndrome was intended to highlight the psychological cost of participating in a word that many mental health professionals and some soldiers perceived as unjust. so a generation later the concept of ptsd has come a long way from the early notion of post-vietnam syndrome with this overt meaning. it has evolved away from post-vietnam syndrome into its more clinical forms. ptsd has left behind for the most part a quest for social being. we have clinical iced it. we have isolated the trauma in the individual and we think we
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have scrubbed the culture in doing that. i think that is really problematic for a soldier. i think this narrative about ptsd has isolated those struggling in the aftermath of trauma. just think in contrast to this angry socially engaged vietnam war veterans. the frustrations and angers of the modern soldier has been moved from the social where one might find moral anger or justification or religious meaning to justify the sacrifice to the bio cycle medical. i think this is explanation for the psychological reaction of the soldier often leaves the soldier to borrow a marketing slogan feeling like an army of one. i think what is true is i think we are globalizing our categories of mental illness and we are exporting them and i think ptsd in our time is really one of our prime exports in that way. i think it's perhaps as we look at it, the modern notion of ptsd
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is perhaps a rip action of our modern securities. without a full range of religious and social narrative to rely on today's trauma we become become increasingly vulnerable and fearful. we are investing a great wealth and research in treating this disorder because we have rather suddenly lost other belief systems that gave context to suffering. many have pointed out we are now a culture that has a suspicion of resilience. eric somerfield of kings college in the u.k. has worked extensively with victims of war and genocide. he said we have invited people to see a range of experience is likely to make them ill. we are globalizing our culture. representing one version of human nature one set of ideas about pain and suffering as being definitive. in truth he says there is no one psychology. so i will leave it there. i would love to hear any
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questions or comments and then i will share with you the top 10 things you need to know before going on "the daily show" as your dessert for being such a kind and patient audience. questions? >> a wonderful talk. i really appreciated him and i love the fact that you focused on ptsd so that we have this conversation going on with your work and with ken's work. there are times in your talk where i thought it was very clear that you think there is a great mistake in moving our framework out into the rest of the world but i wasn't quite clear whether you were also saying that the framework does not work here. i would love to hear you talk a little bit more about that because when i think of your work combined with ken's work
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what i see him doing is going to the soldiers themselves and trying to understand the meaning from the perspective of those who are suffering and being diagnosed in the last ring i want to say is maybe there is a slight problem with shorter's model which has the symptom coming solely from the experts because i think what you describe in sri lanka suggests that the symptom pool may actually begin with the people who are talking about their suffering. so i would just love what you have to -- to hear what you have to say. >> whether ptsd is -- i'm a journalist and my wife is a psychiatrist. there are ways in which when i'm asked to talk about forensics what's working and what's not how does a psychiatrist -- i
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wrote about anorexia and hong kong and this global perspective and my wife was reading the chapter page she said this is all well and good but tomorrow morning i have an anorexic young lady coming in. how does this help me? i was stunned at that point. the honest answer is i am not sure that it does. i think we need to understand the notions of symptom pools and the notion that float in our culture in order to understand how to better treat the soldiers the one symptom that is come into the symptom pool recently is really troubling which is suicide ideation and suicide attempts on the part of soldiers. 22 veterans kill themselves each day in america. on average one active duty soldier kills himself each day. here's the symptom that is in the symptom pool in this huge
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way that is devastating. i talked to psychiatrist at the va and they said when a soldier says something about suicide he goes on the again anytime someone reads the record it pops up as the number one light, suicide risk, suicide risk. it took tremendous resources in trying to figure this out. we have hundreds of millions of dollars in studies that they are doing it in such a ham fisted way without the understanding of the way interventions can suggest symptoms versus the way in which interventions can delude symptoms or steer people away from symptoms will really be a bit rob him and that's the problem for people that do the outreach for young women with eating disorders as well. how do you talk about eating disorders without planting the idea and without making gravity around the symptomatology? how do i save journalists write
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about bulimia without creating a little gravity around that disorders such that women that are disturbed or in some ways upset with culture may gravitate into that whirlpool. there is no easy answer for that i think understanding it will help us but understanding it is not a silver bullet. i know that's not a good answer to your question, so i think soldiers deserve all the resources we can. but we need to be very aware of how we are shaping as a culture, as clinicians and journalists how we are shaping those experiences as we talk about them and try to help them and give them space. >> i too want to thank all of you for really adjusting panel and i'm struck is something i see as a theme great i'm sure they are many but it goes back to what allen said about grief and about the way our society is so afraid of grief. the u.s. society in particular so afraid of sadness and so
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afraid of people feeling their feelings for as long as it takes. that's the theme that i see in all three and when you talk about the sri sri sri lankan exe to feeling a relational loss or feeling that los relationally i think there's an argument to be made that u.s. culture sphere of sadness is what drives us inside when the answer possibly could be to take that cultural wisdom and be with other people in your sadness. the relational with other people so the possibility your work is seeing not just do we are as a culture broadly defined but also what we are afraid of and how we might need to ask other cultures to share with us how they get to sadness, fear and grief. >> that's a much better answer to the last question. that was a very smart ensure that question which is basically the idea that we shouldn't roll into other cultures with the assumption that we have the answers. a colonel that is responsible in
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the military told me once, she said the number one detail that delineates a soldier doing bad rum doing well front on return is having a job which makes a lot of sense but suggest the sri lankans and focusing on the social world as an idea that shapes from a very good one. ..
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>> i think that's exactly what you're describing, is we are cultural snoops -- slobs. [laughter] sorry, freudian slip. that, you know, we feel like our culture so superior that we can go out in the world and tell everybody else how to live. >> not learning from that last generation is something that i would say is true, and certainly i started writing about psychiatry in terms of the recovered memory controversy in the mid' 90s and the rise of multiple personality disorder x that rose up and went away. and then you want therapists and psychiatrists to learn from that, and they just basically dismiss it like, oh, we have nothing to learn from that
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because we can see its cultural influence now, ptsd, oh, we did that last generation, now we got it. and i just want to shake them and say, no, we need to learn from that, and learn the cultural influence of what's happening in the therapy and the society before we'll understand these things. okay. so here are the top ten things that you need to know before going on "the daily show." number one, don't expect any warm up. jon stewart comes into the green room before the show and chats with you for about three minutes. the conversation in my case focused exclusively on the contents of the daily show gift bag. [laughter] number two, you'll have about an hour to hang out and get nervous, a staff member on the show is there to distract you. she told me the case of one former interviewee who sweated so profusely, he nearly sweated out his microphone. number three, you'll only see the set 30 seconds before you
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walk on, a production assistant will lead you down a series of grim hallways past groups of writers in the break room. you'll be thinking this is not very glamorous, your eyes will be drawn to all exit signs. number four, do not look at the audience as you walk out onto the set, know that jon stewart will get you through this. trust in him. number five, do not think any of the following thoughts: all my ex-girlfriends are watching this, whatever happens in the next five minutes will live forever on the web, better not screw this up. number six, and this is important, don't try to be funny unless you are funny. if you are not sure you're funny, assume that you are not, and if you try to be in this situation, you'll look like an incredible jackass because you're sitting next to someone who is wear the naturally hilarious. number seven, large images of your face will appear on monitors, if you look at these images, your mind will freeze up
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and then explode -- [laughter] look only at jon. you'll only have to say a sentence and a half. number eight, do not too hard, if you start giggling, the interview is going to grind to a halt. number nine, bask in the postinterview is handshake. this is the moment when they're cutting away to the commercial, and jon leans in to shake your hand and say anything just between the two of you. i can't tell you what jon said except it was of a highly personal nature. [laughter] number ten, try not to open the copious amounts of liquor from the gift bag until you are on your way back to the hotel. what's in it? one monopoly board game, cherry-flavored vodka in case you want to get some high school kids hammered after the show, a packet of espresso packets but no machine, one daily show hat, one daily show t-shirt and one gift certificate to get a
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professional float graphic portrait of your pet in case you're ever traveling through new york with your dog. [laughter] thank you very much. [applause] >> i'd like to thank the authors and all of you for coming. all three of our authors will be signing their books at the signing kohl maid up at legislative plaza, and their books are for sale up in the center of the plaza as well. thank you for coming today. [applause] [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] >> you're watching c-span2 with politics and public affairs. weekdays featuring live coverage of the u.s. senate.
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on weeknights watch key public policy events and every weekend the latest nonfiction authors and books on booktv. you can see past programs and get our schedules at our web site, and you can join in the conversation on social media sites. >> carla kaplan recalls a group of white women given the collective moniker "miss anne" who participated in the harlem renaissance. the women, who included annie nathan and novel vis fannie hurst, were often met with suspicion and had their motives questioned. this hourlong program starts now on booktv. >> hello? is this sound okay? so welcome, everyone. it's great to be here. and i'm excited for this conversation, because carla and
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i are going to talk about a subject we both know intimately, and that touches on aspects of racial pathing and racial crossover and all kinds of unusual stories that are sometimes get short shrift in american history and in american literature and american cultural studies. so, carla, why don't you tell us a little bit about your title and the woman if your title. what is a miss anne, and who are the -- >> [inaudible] oh, my mic. sorry, how's this? as a way of getting into, relate me just -- let me just start with a couple of thank yous. to my amazing publishers for letting me use the title "miss anne in harlem" because one of the tricks, the title has been referred to -- rightly -- as a little bit cheeky -- is that miss anne is not a phrase that
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has had the same recognize about across race lines. it used to be that if you dropped the phrase "miss anne" into any room full of black folks everybody would sort of, you know, giggle and snicker. and you drop the phrase "miss anne" into a room full of white folks, and they'd look at you really blankly, like what are you talking about. and that points to the fact that today we still often live in very different and divided communities, although i'm glad to see that this room doesn't really reflect that division. and "miss anne" has been for a long time a derisive term in the black community for any white woman. it's a little nifty turning of the tables by taking a whole category of people and putting them as a type and dismissing them. of course, what had happened to black people for centuries. so it's a derisive, dismissive term for white women. and miss anne was the notion that the women i write about
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were up against. they faced opposition to what they were trying to do really from every possible direction. these were women who were not going up to black harlem just to go slumming. they were not going up to black harlem just as tourists. they really wanted to put the black cultural explosion that was the harlem renaissance at the center of their lives and to center their lives in black harlem. and that was a very unlikely idea at the time. and in trying to be taken seriously in harlem as participants and even as voluntary negroes, one of the obstacles they faced was this idea that white women were "miss anne." don't listen to her, she works for miss anne, or worse. so they faced rightful skepticism from the black community, skepticism that the black community had to have given the long history of race relations in this country.
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and they faced violent opposition from the white community which said to them do this, and you cannot come back home. do this, and we are done with you. so miss anne was just part of the obstacle they faced in making this really unlikely choice. >> and in a nutshell, tell us kind of who some of these women are briefly. we'll get into a little more detail about some of them in particular, but who are the women. >> and i will try to keep this part very brief. so i focused on six women in this book who are exemplary of the group who put harlem at the center of their lives, and i found about five dozen os -- of those women. i picked six who i felt were exemplary being hostesses, patrons, activists, writers, editors, lovers, wives, mothers. but also six women who left
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enough bewith hind that i could -- behind that i could try to let them tell their story in their own words. what were you after? why did you do? how did you think it was going to work out? many what was the experience like? and the six i chose were lillian wood, a yankee school marm teacher in tennessee who wrote an important harlem novel and has always been assumed to be a black woman. because part of her novel was an incredible indictment of white women for their complicity with the history of lynching. and no one thought that portrayal of white women as monsters could come from a white woman. another woman i write about is joseph teen skyler, texas heiress who married a black satirist, george skyler. charlotte oz good mason, assumed to be a dragon and a nightmare; beloved by her black proteges.
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annie nathan meyer, founder of barnard. how many of you went to bar a forward? nobody? this is the fist time in this bookstore that that's ever happened. >> upper west side event. >> indeed. everybody remember this, that happened. wrote a play called black souls, also an indictment of lynching. so controversial that the province town playhouse waited seven years to stage it and then had to close it after ten performances. nancy kunard, a british heiress who lost everything because she refused to renounce her love of blackness and devoted the most important years of her life to trying to make what was wonderful that she saw in plaque culture available to -- in black culture available to whites. that's probably enough. >> so we'll have a couple of occasions to read briefly from the book x the first one i'm going to ask you to read is a poem that you did not write. >> i did not write.
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>> disclaimer necessary, because i'll admit this poem made me cringe a bit. but you choose to put this poem front and center, and it's called "a white girl's prayer." read that poem and talk about why you chose to put it where you did. >> with everyone's okay, i'll go up to the podium for this one. how's the sound? so this is the front piece of the book, and there was a period in the late 1920s and early 1930s when the crisis -- one of the two most important journals in harlem of black culture and, indeed, in the nation -- started turning its poet's page which was a long-running feature in the paper, started turning the poet's page over to being a forum for white views of race. it was a very interesting and important gesture on the part of the crisis.
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and this poem by edna margaret johnson is called "a white girl's prayer." and let me read it first, and then i will just say a couple things about why the whole book leads off with it. i'm not going to read every line, i'll just read enough for you to get the idea. edna margaret johnson was a white woman. i writhe in self-contempt, o god. my nordic flesh is but a curse. o god of life, remove this curse. the cords of shame are strangling me. remorse is mine. i would atone for white superiority, sheer carnal pride of my own race. tonight on bended knees i pray, free me from my despised flesh and make me yellow, bronze or black. and i start the book with that
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poem not because it's the best poem written, you know, in the late 1920s, but because this longing for blackness is a really important part of what's happening in white culture at this moment. langston hughes called it the vogue, the harlem vogue, the vogue for things black. and it was certainly connected to the primitivist movement, the idea that white culture was depleted and air rid and washed out and dry and could only be revitalized by bringing in the life forces of so-called primitive pieces. so some primitivists looked to africa, some looked to the southwest, some looked to tahiti. but there's something more than important at work than just that primitivist longing for blackness which is edna margaret johnson -- who does want to get away from whiteness -- she also want withs to take responsibility for whiteness. she says she wants to atone.
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and the women i write about many this book -- in this book had very strongly a longing for blackness. they saw it as preferable to whiteness at a time when that was almost unthinkable. but they also wanted to take responsibility for whiteness. and for some of them, that meant becoming voluntary negroes. >> a very generous reading, carla, and we can talk about how we might read things differently when we talk about the question of judgment and what we do with these characters. in my book, "near black," i talk about -- it's a cultural history of whites who have passed as blacks from the 19th century to the present day. i don't have too many women in my book, which is why your book really fills a need and a niche, but there are two kinds of passing. one of the idea is passive passing for black as opposed to active passing for black and the other is the idea of pen name
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passing. and some of the characters you write about who engage in that. >> and let me just add to that as a way of answering that. one of things barb stresses in her book, "near black," which is a wonderful study of racial ideology and this rare form of passing is what she calls reverse passing is actually quite rare in american culture and american history. there is lots of instances for largely economic reasons of black passing for white. white passing for black is a much more unusual phenomenon. and a number of the women i write about in this book engaged in what we could call passive passing which is to say they did something considered so unlikely or unthinkable that they were assumed, well, that person must be black. and they did not correct the record. so in the case of lillian word and her novel "let my people go," lillian wood has been
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listed until now in every bibliography of african-american women's writing as a black writer. because her portrayal of white women so sering, her depiction of white women as monsters guilty of racial violence so unusual that no bibliographer even imagined she could be a white woman. she never corrected the record. she had lived her life as a white teacher in a black college, and she stayed there for decades until she was the only white teacher left standing in the yearly faculty photo. and she was perfectly happy never to correct the record. she certainly knew about it, but she let it stand. that's a form of passive passing. there were other women in this book, like josephine skyler, who engaged in much more active forms of passing. on her marriage certificate, she was very nervous on her wedding day, and she said to her husband, what do i do? what do i say?
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because even though racial intermarriage budget illegal, it was frowned on. -- wasn't illegal. so she wrote down "colored." she also in her neighborhoods where she lived in harlem did not correct her neighbors who thought that, well, maybe she's a very light-skinned black woman. that's a passive form of passing. but she also was a very active passer. i discovered in the course of doing the work on this book that she didn't just write under one or two pseudonyms, she wrote under about half a dozen. and one of them was a woman named julia jerome. and julia jerome was the black ann landers of harlem. so here's white josephine skyler writing relationship advice column as a black woman with. that's active passing. [laughter] >> and pen name passing? >> pen name passing is another
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version of passing also engaged in by josephine skyler, and it is for some people a way of experiencing a kind of freedom about which they're a little uneasy. because when you're engaging in pen name passing, you don't necessarily have to answer face to face questions. so i think about it as my other name for pen name passing is wardrobe passing which is to say it's a way of trying on identities. trying them on, taking them off, trying on a different one -- >> in a very safe context. >> in a very safe context. but at a moment when playing around with being a whole bunch of different people across gender and race lines was actually not only tolerated, but encouraged. >> two of the male equivalents in my book that are interesting along those lines were, the actual was the first, the founder of the first black
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newspaper in new orleans, joan charles g. [inaudible] famously never fought the rumor that i was black, interestingly enough. and and there's a french their who wrote a normal called "i spit on your grave," it's a great dark novel that involves passing and lynching. it's very gruesome and intense. he passed as vernon sullivan, a african-american, and he was a white french. man, and nobody knew for years and years who he really was. so interesting stuff. >> yeah. >> another reading, tell us about josephine skyler and her very tumultuous, very telenovella relationship with her husband. >> so i am going to talk about josephine, and the biographer of josephine's daughters is with us, so, kathy, if you want to chime in, please do so because it's a great honor to have you here. josephine skyler has emerged, i
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think, as the star of in this book. she seems to be the character who is speaking to most people. and for me she was a very important character because she speaks to all of the ways white women tried to be part of black harlem. she was a writer, she was an editor, she was a hostess, she was a patron, she was a tiny bit of a philanthropist, although they did not have very much money. she was a lover, she was a wife, and she was a mother. she was born in gran berry, texas, to a family of enormous wealth. and at 17 she ran away first marrying a traveling salesman, he was a cereal salesman -- ceil car being a new invention at the time -- and then running away to san francisco to become a nude artist model. after she did that a bit to no great satisfaction, she made her way to greenwich village where she rented a studio and had
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great fantasies of her life as a new woman and discovered that in three months she was bored to tiers. didn't -- tears. so she one day said, no, i know what i'm going to do. she had already published three poems in the messenger. she was part of that move on the part of black papers to give space and voice to white writers on race. so she decided to go up to the messenger offices where she walked in, met george skyler. they fell head over heels in love. they went dancing, and that was pretty much it from then on. after much tumultuous back and forth, she did marry george skyler, they had their daughter, and she's a very complicated character as it is fairly clear -- and i'm putting that as carefully as i can particularly with kathy in the room -- that josephine did a considerable amount of george's writing. in fact, there is no other explanation for some of george's productivity, particularly when he was traveling in africa and had no way to get his pieces
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back. and she wrote under all of these other pseudonyms. her life in black harlem was very isolated. she lost her family. she felt she was not welcome in most black social circles. at the same time, it gave her the freedom to be six or seven different people at once and to have a life that her texas background could never have provided her. but one last piece that is, for me, difficult, a little cringe-worthy but also striking is that this was a woman who crossed for, particularly from a texas background. her father was a charter member of the ku klux klan. she was raised by racists. she was raised in a racist culture. she felt she had married down, married someone she shouldn't have, but in her mind she also felt that this man she would never be -- this meant she would never be cheated on. she struck in her mind a devil's bargain. she was deeply in love with
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george before very aphrase to marry him. and one of the ways she got herself to do it was she said, well, at least this means i will never be cheated on. she married one of the most famous ladies' men of harlem. he was cheating on her within months if not weeks, and that continued throughout her life. she did come to a very sad end. her daughter was killed in vietnam, and two years later josephine hung herself in their apartment while george was reading in the living room. and many of the women in this book did come to sad ends. >> do you have a piece to read for us? >> i do. >> about josephine? >> people's permission, i'll -- i don't need both mics, right? okay. one mic is enough. >> and i think the selection displays how in so many ways their marriage was based on an idea, not a reality. that there was -- their ideas and fantasies about each other kind of consumed the realities of who they were, and that built their faulty relationship in so
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many ways. >> so just a couple of paragraphs as background and then just a little touch from her diary. today when we are surrounded by interracial images, it may be hard to grasp how brave george and josephine were in their times. the lines they crossed did not begin to break down until recently. the first interracial kiss, for example, did not take place on television until the late 1960s. in the 1920 and 1930s, those were not lines that most people were willing to cross in the open. but josephine and george founded their marriage on their shared willingness to brave censure, violence and isolation for what they thought was right. as they often put it, they spent their lives trying to break down race prejudice so that the challenges they faced would failed -- fade in future
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generations, particularly for the generation of their daughter. to that task, they brought their own myriad con rah dictions about race. -- contradictions about race. throughout their lives, oscillated among all of the available positions on the race debates of their day. is race blindness a goal, or is it another form of racism? can one attack racial essentialism and still celebrate race difference? what, if anything, do we owe our own race? can we switch races? opting for an identity based on affiliation and allegiance rather than on blood? sometimes toeslation brought them closer together. often it drove a wedge between them. and in that, too, they mirrored the texture of political and emotional ties in harlem.
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this was a woman who braved extraordinary censure to do what she did, but she carried into her experiment, into her journey, into her bold race crossing all of the ideas with which she had been raised. she didn't drop them or lose them the second she married george. and part of the texture of their marriage as was true of the texture of so much of the interracial life of harlem was this bold attempt at deep interracialism integration which was riven through with racist ideas, skepticism, mistrust and doubt. so the night before her wedding josephine poured her doubts about marrying george into her journal to try to dispel them. and here is a little piece of what she wrote in that journal.
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i know up north here the negro women will all hate me and feel i have taken unfair advantage of them and used my pale color to turn skyler. now it all recurs to me how i have felt him alone of all the men i've known to be my mental, spiritual and sexual equal. now i suddenly remember why i am marrying f. i want him to browbeat me. it gets worse. i want him to destroy my superiority complex. i want him to laugh at my white affectations and rationalize my fears. to my mind, the white race, the anglo-saxon especially, is spiritually depleted. america must mate with the negro to save herself. our obnoxious self-esteem will utterly destroy us unless we do. we need shaking down, human
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humanizing. i need skyler. without him i will quit growing and solidify. if i am to be saved, s will save me. my last pure white night i shall take calmly, serenely, as befitting the future why have of a realist of uncompromising courage and color. >> very good at reading without cringing, carla. [laughter] but, so let's skip to the real juicy questions, because that one brings up so many, that excerpt. and the big question of kind of judgments and evaluation and what we do with these characters. and you, there's a line in your book you write "unconventional lives by definition are the most difficult ones to live and to judge." so this was something that i struggled with, too, in writing "near black" which is full of these characters who cross over
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in various ways, who pass as black, whose relationship to blackness and authenticity varies quite a bit. and i absolutely confess to having favorites and less favorites in my book, characters who i felt sort of i cross-identified in a way that struck me as awe they wantic and not based on some of sort of primitivist caricature of what they felt blackness was versus those who, you know, maybe seemed less appealing and more inclined toward those kinds of primitivist identifications. and it was a struggle in writing about those characters, having those favorites and those less favorite characters. at the end of my book, i try to evaluate sort of are there standards by which we can judge one who's cross-identifying or crossing over or passing in this way. can we evaluate them? so talk to me a little bit about the characters in your book along those lines. >> one of the things that was
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important to me when i finally decided that i was going to write this book and it was a book i wrote because i wanted to read it, and it wasn't out there. this was a completely missing piece of a history we had had of the 1920s and, indeed, of the harlem renaissance. and i had gone looking for this piece, couldn't find it and realized if i was going to read it, i was going to have to write it. but for me, one of the conditions i set for myself if i was going to do this was that i was going to withhold judgment. and i was going to withhold it at a couple of key moments. that as i went looking for "miss anne" in harlem, as i tried to identify who the women were who put harlem at the true center of their lives and try to research them and, in a sense, resurrect them, that i was not going to go into the archives sure of what i knew about them. because these are women about whom we've known either nothing or very little or on whom we
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have already passed judgment. and i think particularly of nancy kunard who had been dismissed -- there's been a great deal written on her, but she has been dismissed as an adventurer, an opportunist and a sexual predator. and i wanted to go back into the archive with an open mind -- not my usual way, by the way -- [laughter] but i wanted an open mind and see what i could hear from these women about why they did what they did, what they thought they were doing, what the experience was like. and then i also made a commitment that if i was going to do this, i wanted them as much as a biographer can do to answer those questions in their own voices. and occasionally during harlem renaissance white women were asked exactly that. mary white to springton -- ovington, she reflected on being asked by black friends why did you decide to give your life to
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black civil rights? nancy kunard was famously asked this in the 1940s, and i wanted not to prejudge the answer to that question, but to try to let these women explain why they did this thing. because what they kid was at -- what they did was at great cost. what they did was filled with cringe-worthy moments. what they did was very complicated, was a range of motives with a range of outcomes. but for all of them, it was at great cost. many of them could never go home again, many of the women in this book came to some fairly sad, even tragic endings as a direct consequence of their choice to violate race lines. and i didn't want to judge that. as i did the research, one of the things that was most shocking to me and that i had not expected was to find how unjudgmental in the main harlem
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intellectuals were about these kinds of experiments crossing race lines and trying on different racial identities. from the inclusion of white voices in the poet's page of the naacp journal "the crisis" to welcoming women like libby holdman into an interracial benefit -- libby holman was famous for what we would all call an insulting performance of a black prostitute in "brown face" -- to a genuine love on the part of her proteges even for charlotte osgood mason to a kind of heroic status for nancy kunard's work in putting black cultural expression in the largest anthology that i think to date has still ever been created. harlem held back on its judgment. harlem said we're not quite sure what race is.
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we don't know be it's an essence -- if it's an's is sense and we want to celebrate it, we don't know if it's an essence and we want to be free of it, we don't know if we really owe the people we were born to an allegiance. we're not sure where we stand, so let's get it all on the table. there was a remarkable cultural openness to cringe-worthiness. cringe-worthiness was invited in. and that convinced metaa my -- convinced me that my job was to put everything in book about these women and to hold back my own judgment because i think we might find that the more we all put on the table, the better off we are. >> very good of you, again. generous of you. i mean, i'm going to push you on that a little bit, and then we can open this up to the floor for questions. >> please. >> but you cite janis joplin.
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>> i do. >> who said being black for a while make me a better white, which might apply to some of the characters in this book. and, i mean, that's beyond cringe-worthy. it's the idea that you can dabble a little bit. and, again, this is something i found quite a bit as well, you can dabble a little bit, you can enter this world, you know, you can dip in, you can dip out and ultimately retain your whiteness and your privilege and your benefits. and that was one of the criteria that i used to distinguish between those who kid -- did that, the elvis presley take a little bit, and then get whiter and white or as the money rolls in versus, you know, a more longstanding commitment. so surely there's a place even if history may not have judged them for us to potentially apply judgment, or no? >> yes. i'm not saying we can never judge and, certainly, these women are here for their readers and for people to sort of make
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judgments about, and i do. there is a woman in this book, fannie hurst, who i judge pretty harshly. fannie hurst, as far as i'm concerned, went into harlem to take and take and take and take, did not give back and paid, essentially, no price for everything she got and appropriated from black culture. but the reason to hold back the judgment question until the very, very, very bitter end is that i think we are still struggling with the question of when does empathy and understanding bleed into appropriation and theft and vice versa. as a literary scholar, the thing that most excites me is when i see my students genuinely learn to identify across cultural historical gender, sexual, racial difference with characters really unlike
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themselves. this is the great moment for any literature teacher. this is like, yes, you know? even more important than theory, this moment of identification. at the same time, we cringe at appropriations. we, and we have been cringing so carefully at appropriation that we have not been encouraging a great deal of cross-lines a allegiance and identification. for me, trying to judge these women, trying to think about what they did at cost puts all of those questions back on the table. i notice that you tend to use a kind of authenticity as part of what you bring to bear, and for me this was a moment where racial and gender ideology was so all over the place, and miss anne -- let me just put it bluntly -- was such a mess, okay? because miss anne's a mess.
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that's the first thing. miss anne is absolutely a mess. that i could not use something like authenticity. and what i ended up using was, was there a cost? did it cost them? did they give back? did they contribute in a way that i can see that was meaningful but that people at the time saw as meaningful? and i think that's still relevant, that trying to step outside ourselves at cost. not conveniently. not for fun and certainly not for profit which is what fannie hurst did. but trying to step outside our own cities, the identities in which we were worn be at cost is still a good thing. i still think this is worth doing. >> and i hear you on that. >> thank you. >> i think the struggle is that in a contemporary lens it becomes so difficult in light of our knowledge of the context of appropriation of black culture
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and specifically for profit once capitalism enters the picture. and i think it becomes about trying to negotiate some sort of balance between what i would call, you know, onerous ownership idea of identity in which it's all i own this and you own this and you can't take from me, and i can't take from you and the other side of the spectrum where it's this happy hybridity model where we're one big, happy hybrid because we all know it's a lot more complicated than that, and the dynamic is a hot more complicated. >> and i think one of the things that you're pointing to is how much we still have trying to answer miss anne's question. miss anne was an enormous problem for harlem, because she said, oh, i want to be a voluntary negro. count me in, i'm sign ising up, i'm here too. and she wasn't just saying i want to participate, she was saying i so identify that i'm partly black. and even charlotte osgood mason actually said and meant i am a black god. she's a very complicated figure,
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but she did mean that. and nancy kunard said i speak as if i were negro myself. and she actually meant it. and the problem they were posing to that community is one we still face. because what is it that we can say back to miss anne that says to her, no, you are not allowed to do in? are we going to fall back on essence? are we going to fall back on blood and biology? surely we no longer believe that, right? we believe, don't we, that race is a social construction. we don't believe that race is blood or biology or's sense. and miss anne said, all all rig, if race is a social construction because this is a period in the 1920s when that idea is being cooped, she pushed it to the limit. she said if race is a social construction, then i'm black. and harlem said, oh. [laughter] you're -- >> weren't ready for that. >> we weren't ready for that. and i think we are still struggling with that question today which is not to say she
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isn't a mess and not to say she isn't cringe-worthy. but it is to say what's our answer back? what do we say to someone who says that? >> and i think that's a good place to bring the audience into the discussion. questions? i think there's a mic, should be a mic coming around. >> yes. people are being asked to use a mic for c-span. do you want people to identify themselves? doesn't matter. >> i'm martha -- [inaudible] university. my question goes exactly to your last point, carla, thank you. thank you both. and actually -- >> can't hear. >> i need a -- [inaudible conversations] >> okay. i'm martha from new york united states. my question -- university. my question goes exactly to the point carr -- carla was just making which is this idea of a
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white person saying i am a voluntary negro depends upon the american racial system of a one-drop rule. in other words, that anybody with any african-american ancestry whatsoever, you know, by the 1920s is legally considered black, labeled that way in a census. which, you know, was a process. it wasn't always that way. so my question is did miss anne, did these women ever acknowledge that their privilege came from this one-drop rule system where they had the choice to say it doesn't matter what i look like, i can be white, or i can be black. and be maybe the same with your folks in "near black," did they ever get that people of african descent couldn't necessarily pass for white? >> yes and no. some of the women in this book, and it is important for me to reiterate that miss anne -- while a mess -- was never a monolith. so the women in this book came with very different motives,
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understandings, they had different experiences and somewhat different outcomes. and some of the women in this book absolutely understood that, and the reason they wanted to be voluntary negroes -- which was an effort on their part based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the phrase -- was to dispel the one-drop myth, was as a radical way of saying that any reliance on blood or biology to determine race is ridiculous. race is a social construction that works politically. and some of them were very canny in using it that way. now, what they didn't understand is that at the time the phrase "voluntary negro" which had a lot of currency in the day itself referred to the one-drop rule. so those who were voluntary negroes were blacks who looked so white they could have passed for white but chose not to. and the most famous and celebrated voluntary negro was walter white who was so white he
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was almost translute sent. i mean, you can't get white -- >> blond hair and blue eyes. >> blond hair, blue eyes, and he refused to be identified as white. she insisted on his -- he insisted on his black identity which he could claim because he had the drop. so even though harlem was all over the place about the status of this one-drop rule, some of these women were simply exercising privilege, were saying that i can be with anything i want. and it is related to class, and it is related to the kind of mobility, but they were also as women trying to avoid one script that was laid out for them which was the post-victorian constricted life that they were supposed to have as matrons playing with and doing a tiny bit of charity work. and so for them saying, no, i'm over here, i'm this other thing, i'm something else was a way of claiming freedom in another sphere. so even the moment of privilege
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are complicated, i guess is what i would say. i'm sure you have an answer to this too. >> it's very similar. i mean, it's the same, it's the same mixed bag in my book in terms of the characters. but i will say that it's a big source of evaluation for me, again, is how attuned they are to that kind of white privilege. so you have a character like johnny otis, for instance, right? rhythm and blues, a pioneer. greek-born who passed as african-american in various contexts, wrote a book in which he uses the "we" very liberal to refer to himself and was an activist and so on and so forth who's very attuned to these kinds of issues and the ultimate privilege of being able to say, hey, i can choose to pass for black because it benefits me in certain contexts but not necessarily in others. and, you know, that becomes a sticking point for me in terms of being able to recognize white privilege and the irony of sort of recognizing your own whiteness in the context of passing for blacknd, right?
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blackness, right? >> my name is elsa -- [inaudible] i finished your book yesterday. [laughter] >> well done, thank you. >> and if you don't mind a plug, i found it fascinating and very well written, and i would certainly recommend it. and i especially appreciate your treatment of nancy kunard. i just changed my whole opinion of her. you didn't judge her, and it was a very beautiful treatment. my question what is the response of, what has been the response of black scholars for both of your work? >> ah -- >> met me repeat the question -- let me repeat the question. i won't repeat the praise, but i thank you for it very much. [laughter]
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>> [inaudible] >> well written, especially appreciated kunard. the question was what has been the response of black scholars not just to this project, but to all of our work. and one of the things i want to say about that -- and i'm not going to attempt in any way to answer for barb whose experience may have been very different from mine -- one of the things i want to say which is that this book is a missing piece of the history of the harlem renaissance could not have been written too much earlier than it was the. because it was very important to me, and i think it's important to ore scholars who have supported this book that the white women did not come first. and they do not come first. of we have been working for decades now to resurrect the lost and neglected and derioted history of black cultural expression in from this period. and i have been part of that ark long call effort.
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my own work was very much rooted in what i call a sort of scholarly archaeology, an attempt to bring back the missing pieces of literary and cultural history of women and african-americans particularly. so i think that had book been with written -- been written before we had done a lot of that archaeological work which is not over, there would be a different feeling about this book. i don't think anybody wants a harlem renaissance that's missing a big hole in it. and in this hole was missing. i also admit, and your question kind of points to a salient fact, that my own experience as a white scholar in black studies informs this project. please do not go away with the misimpression that this is a book in any way about me. it is not. i promise you, you would not have to suffer through any stories about me. but having been a white scholar
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in black studies for 25 years, i think i have something of an understanding of what the joys and the challenges are of being part of a community to which you will always remain in some way withs an outsider. and that insight is brought to bear on these women, and maybe it's why you keep using the word "generous. identities i don't know, i noticed that kept coming up. so that is part of the experience that informs the larger study. >> and i'll just say quickly that i have the same reaction, that generally people looked at it as there's this hole, there's all these studies about traditional passing but not much about reverse racial passing. and also there was appreciation of the fact that i distinguished between those kinds of passing, that they don't work the same way, that there's privilege involved in one necessarily and not the other that we can't kind of conflate the two. also my book came out at the time where there was a lot -- and i wrote the book at the time when there was a lot of talk
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about around this issue of whiteness studies and subjecting whiteness to scrutiny which i think is always and ever a good thing in a classroom in any academic context. so whiteness is not this invisibility factor, it's not this blank page that doesn't need analysis and hasn't been construed in history and in culture in the same way blackness has. so it fit into that niche, i think, fairly well. >> my name's carol gregory, and i teach at the -- >> [inaudible] >> little louder. [inaudible conversations] >> my name is carol gregory -- [laughter] i teach english at the -- [inaudible] manhattan community college. and i heard you speak first for the hurston conference at barnard. >> that's why you look vaguely familiar. >> my mother was born in mississippi, and she did use the term miss anne, but i think you
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need to broaden it. because the way that i hear you using it, you're saying that the black women are sarcastic but for no reason. >> oh, no. i'm saying for good reason. >> this is what i'm hearing. i just want to bring it to your attention. so when you say it, make sure you spell out because most of the black women did domestic work, raised white children, took care of the white families, especially in the south. >> yeah. >> all right? and i'm just going to give a quote. this is not from my mother, but my mother used misanne. this is other women that i grew up hearing use the term, and they said it's too hard to work for a white woman. you have to sleep with her husband, raise her children, keep her house clean, cook, and she's never satisfied with what you do. [laughter] so that is how they used miss anne. and i think you should put that out there to try to give a context of why they're using miss anne. that's when i first heard it, and i was a little girl. >> so i'm so glad you gave me
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the chance to clarify it in case anyone else misheard. i did not say for no reason, i said for good reason. this was, there was every reason for the black community to try to not just, it's not just that it's aty ricive term, but it's that it's a dismissive term. so many black women in particular, as you say, had to work for white women who they could not dismiss that finding a way behind their employer's back to put them in a category where they could be dismissed is very important. >> i'm taking issue with your word "dismiss." they're not dismissing them, they are describing them. >> okay. >> as being tyrants. all right? so that's really important. secondly, my father physically looked white and had green eyes. so he didn't pass, but people thought he was white. so that was a part of his life
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experience. so i'm hearing my mother say miss anne and listening, and watching my father, people think he's white with me a brown child. >> all right. >> so i think that -- >> i am happy that you did the book. >> well, good. >> i read some of it, not all of it. because i really have kunard as a negro. you know, the anthology -- >> you own the original? >> yeah, i've got one. when i came to new york, michelle's bookstore was open -- >> yeah? >> and he was still alive, and you could talk to him -- >> so you know what your copy's worth now right? >> negotiations will take place after. [laughter] >> if you don't know, can we meet outside for a moment? >> long story short, i do think this is important. i always admired lillian smith. her writings and what she did, i always admired her. people like kunard have real question marks about because i spoke to dorothy west who was
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hurston's roommate -- >> that's right. >> and dorothy west said wherever it was, it could be a political party, wherever, whenever a white woman walked in the room, it was trouble. >> yep, absolutely. >> all right? if you were in the southern states, it could mean -- [inaudible] if they spent the night over in somebody's home, when the people went back up north, the house got burped down. so i think -- i haven't finished your book. do you have the trouble in there? >> not only do i have the trouble, but one of the reasons -- i'm so glad you said that last piece particularly -- that this was a hard book to research is some of the white women who were most important and influential in harlem believed deeply and for good reasons that the only way they could contribute effectively to the harlem renaissance was not to draw attention to themselves, not to make it about them. and they went to great lengths
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sometimes to destroy their own papers or in other cases like mary white ovington to write what they yo so carefully that you can hardly get to the woman underneath this really, really constructed prose because they understood that. so there were women who understood that white women had so long been trouble, capital t in boldface type, 28-inch font, right? that they had to tread extremely carefully if they were going to do anything that they could feel good about. so it's a wonderful point. >> i think we have time for one more. >> okay. you yourself use -- you yourself used the word "complicated," that this is a very complicated issue. and yet i never once heard during the discussion whether or not you explored the
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psychological reasons why these women or these human beings would feel so strongly about wanting to, i don't know if we want to use the word pass, but if they wanted to experience blackness or be black. and to me, quite frankly, that's the more interesting part. >> one of the difficult things, and i know there are a lot of biographers in the room and any biographer faces this, is trying to thread that needle and to find a way between trying to imagine what somebody's motives might be and get inside their heads. and i did consider that to be part of my job without acting like an amateur psychologist and pronouncing or diagnosing them. and i guess i will just leave it to readers to determine how effectively or ineffectively i
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managed or didn't manage to thread that needle. one of the reasons i picked the six that i picked was i picked women who left enough of a record either in diaries or letters or in unpublished writing that i heard them talking about their motives, talking about their reasons, talking about how this fit their life, why they did it, what it meant to them. and women for whom i could not find that discussion at all, and one of them was mary white ovington, i ended up not making major characters in the book because i thought that question of why anybody steps outside themselves to try to step inside a world in which they were not entirely welcome is a very important question. >> and in my book there were some common thread, and one of them was music. there were a lot of musicians in my book who passed for black, and their reasons for doing so was connected to their art and the authenticity question of
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performing black music as a white musician or artist. so i think art plays a tremendous role here in terms of someone wanting the authenticity that they envision as coming with a different race. i think we're out of time, unfortunately, but we'll be here. carla will be, carla will be signing books, and you can chat to us then. so thank you, and thank you, carla, for a wonderful book. >> thank you for coming. [applause] ..


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