Required Reading

A few beats later, Chappelle declares “We Blacks, we look at the gay community and we go “Goddamn it! Look how well that movement is going.” Never mind that, in addition to being both Black and gay, I also happen to live in the state of Ohio, as does Chappelle himself, where our governor just signed a provision that will allow doctors and other medical professionals to deny healthcare to LGBTQ patients. As the activist Raquel Willis said on Twitter, “It’s convenient for Black cishet male comedians to talk about LGBTQ+ folks as if our group is only or even predominantly white. With that frame, they don’t have to contend with how Black cishet folks often enact (physical and psychological) violence on Black LGBTQ+ folks.”

By the time Chappelle declares that “gender is a fact” and that he’s “Team TERF” in solidarity with J.K. Rowling, I turned my television off because I wasn’t having fun anymore. And part of freedom as I experience it is that I don’t owe Dave Chappelle any of my time.

  • Soraya Nadia McDonald writes about the story behind the two Ku Klux Klan hoods on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She includes some important facts about this racist “uniform” and how it was popularized:

A full-color catalog of Klan regalia from 1921 (which is not on display in the museum) reveals that Klan robes and hoods came in an array of colors that designated various ranks. But it’s the white uniform that has become a metonym for racial terror, thanks almost entirely to the popularity of The Clansman, the 1905 book by Thomas Dixon, which became a play and was later adapted by D.W. Griffith into the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation.

Dixon’s book contained a detailed description of the Klan uniform far different from the Klan garb of the Reconstruction era, which was a more hodgepodge affair that included women’s dresses, flour sacks, or other clothes turned inside out and often incorporated animal horns, skins, and polka dots. Reconstruction-era Klan garb was closer to Mardi Gras or Junkanoo costumes than the later-period robes.

  • Jenny Zhang’s “Identity Fraud” in Gawker is a must-read. She writes:

You can witness Identity Fraud happening most often in spaces that operate primarily in the attention economy, which is also what this rhetorical strategy is predicated on: optics over substance, awareness equated to action, the loudest people in the room drowning out others who can’t match their volume. Let’s take, for instance, the media industry, which like many other fields, is undeniably, frustratingly white. When this very website relaunched with a letter that listed all its editors and writers, I saw onlookers — some of them my own peers in non-white spaces — condemn the venture as yet another vanity media project with zero people of color. When those claims failed basic fact checking, the critics changed their complaints to say that there were no Black people employed by the site. When those allegations were shown to be untrue, our critics amended their grievances once again, this time to declare that clearly the non-white people involved had no real power, and besides which, it was actually pretty rude of the white employees who corrected them to embarrass them by doing so?

What are we asking for when we say there aren’t enough people of color in a place of cultural power and influence? Where I would have once staked my ambition on becoming one of the few diversity hires (😉) atop a masthead, or joining the few accomplished names winning prestigious awards, I now see that so much of how I and others talk about diversity, inclusion, and progress in this context is rooted in barely couched professional self-interest rather than a real commitment to upending the insular elitism that defines so much of how this industry works. There are newsroom leaders, like disgraced Ozy CEO Carlos Watson — and plenty more, I promise you that — who make diversity essential to their image to mask ineptitude, dishonesty, or mistreatment of employees. It’s hard not to feel that much of the endeavor, while perhaps worthwhile in some regards, ultimately rings hollow.

There are countless other examples of how identity is used as a shield and a tool. Some of them date back decades; it was 30 years ago that Clarence Thomas, accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, called the hearings against him “a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” There are still more these days: Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, regularly panned for how she has handled protesters and the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old by a police officer, dismissed “99 percent” of the criticism as motivated by her race and gender. Bill Cosby, upon being freed from prison after his sexual assault conviction was overturned this year, called the decision “justice for Black America.” Residents of San Francisco’s Japantown argued that they were being marginalized in their attempt to block the conversion of an area luxury hotel into housing for homeless people, citing the sacrifices of their “ancestors [who] rebuilt Japantown after returning from their unjust incarceration during WWII.” The pride that Alejandro Mayorkas — who this year became the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — has said he feels in his identity cannot erase how his role in policing the country’s borders perpetuates violence against fellow immigrants.

Sanderson’s main objective is to cast Dada as a destructive force that not only attempted to destroy all art that came before it, but also, because of Lenin’s residency in Zurich at the time, to implicate Dadaists as Communists whose influence was felt in Russia, and later in western Europe and America. But in reality, Lenin had no effect whatsoever on Dada or abstract art. In fact, he and the other Bolsheviks were against abstract art, since its emphasis on individualism was diametrically opposed to Communist ideals. As Marcel Janco told me when I interviewed him in 1982, “Lenin was opposed to anything that could not serve the Communist cause.”

Sanderson discusses the expansion of Dada to Paris, Berlin and New York, citing a list of participants he believes were Jewish in a way that is reminiscent of the naming of Communists during the McCarthy era. After telling us that the American artists Morton Schamberg and Man Ray were Jews, for example, and saying nothing else about them, he writes that “the work of the New York Dadaists was focused around the gallery of the Jewish photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his publication 291, and the Jewish art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg.” The fact is that Walter and Louise Arensberg were not Jewish; they were both White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (Walter was brought up Episcopalian, but never practiced a religion). Sanderson likely guessed they were Jewish from their surname, which might lead him to conclude that the present author is also Jewish. But he would be wrong again. You do not have to be Jewish to deplore the demonizing of Jews. 

In describing his scheme in court, Mr. Sadigh said that to hide his deceptions he had hired a company to flag, remove, and bury Google search results and online reviews that suggested that some of what he had sold might be inauthentic.

Mr. Sadigh also admitted to getting others to post glowing, but false, reviews of his gallery, inventing dozens of appreciative customers.

If a racial reckoning is underway, the gender reckoning is still struggling. Back when I started trying to be a professional playwright, in the early ’90s, I spent a lot of time working odd jobs for about $11 an hour and being told there was nothing wrong with my work but that it was just going to be “hard” for a female playwright. This advice came from friends and mentors as well as artistic directors and literary managers, who bemoaned the situation but had no solutions. “Women don’t write good plays, do they?” a rather famous director said to me, over drinks. “They write good novels.”

Another told me to write under a male pseudonym, like George Eliot. Yet another director looked me in the face and said, “But where are the female playwrights, Theresa?” I mean, I was sitting there. Right in front of him.

The justifications for holding women back, for not hiring them or promoting them, as articulated by those in power, were many, all of them lame. Ultimately I was told that women can identify with male characters but men don’t identify with women! I would later hear the same idiotic refrain come out of the mouths of many Hollywood producers. But after I clawed my way through that minefield, I got to work on television shows where I was absolutely used for every script they could get out of me, even while I was shut out of meetings, dinners and editing sessions.

King’s modern-day assassins disregard everything he said about education. “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance,” King wrote in 1967. “It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

They disregard King’s worry about the effects of not teaching Black history, including white people internalizing notions of superiority and Black people internalizing notions of inferiority. “The history books, which have almost completely ignored the contribution of the Negro in American history, have only served to intensify the Negroes’ sense of worthlessness and to augment the anachronistic doctrine of white supremacy,” King wrote in 1967.

But all of this disregarding of King’s words has not been the worst of it. The distortions are what’s truly lethal to his legacy, such as the claim that King’s dream was for his four little children to live in a nation where despite numerous racial disparities, no one judges racism or mentions skin color and everyone judges only character, because a hierarchy of character is apparently causing the inequities. King’s nightmare of racism is being presented as King’s dream.

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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