[Blackstudies-l] Race/Related: Challenging Our Notions of the Black American Hero and Black American Sign Language, a rich variation of ASL that scholars say has been overlooked for too long.

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sat Jan 30 10:39:52 EST 2021


No one person can tell the whole story, no matter how heroic that person
might be.
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[image: More Race/Related]
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January 30, 2021
Photo Illustration by Aaron R. Turner for The New York Times
Do We Ask Too Much of Black Heroes?

By Imani Perry

This is an excerpt from the first piece in “Black History, Continued,” a
New York Times series that will continue all year. It will explore pivotal
moments and transformative figures in Black culture and examine how the
past shapes the present and the future:

In the early 20th century, before Negro History Week had turned into Black
History Month, African-American teachers and children in schools throughout
the segregated South would paste images of celebrated figures of Black
history on the walls of their schools. It was a public affirmation that
greatness existed among their people despite oppression. As a woman born
post desegregation, in 1972, I remember the photocopied programs featuring
a list of names to celebrate: Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. DuBois, Daniel Hale
Williams, with facts to go along with each. Even then, I knew these models
of aspiration were meant to guard me against any feelings of inferiority
that might come from not seeing my story in textbooks or on screens.

Though the world has changed a great deal over the past century,
celebrating heroes remains an important and familiar part of the Black
History Month ritual. It is consistent with the way Americans celebrate
history. As the historian Benedict Anderson notes in “Imagined
Communities,” his examination of the rise of nationalism, in a national
imagination the solitary hero is possessed of qualities and abilities that
exceed what we expect of a human being and he (and it is usually a he)
invariably succeeds. In the history of the United States, dominating the
landscape and vanquishing all opponents (think George Washington and Davy
Crockett) are classic hero’s traits. The hero becomes a proxy for the
nation.

Black historic and political figures have been rendered as vanquishing
heroes as well. Noble, brave and transcendent, they have remarkable
stories. We tremble in awe before the recounting of Frederick Douglass
escaping from slavery and Ida B. Wells narrowly evading the Klan in
Memphis, saving her own life — then, through her investigative journalism
into the practice of lynching, saving the lives of countless others. Martin
Luther King Jr., who survived threats, bombs and jail cells before falling
to an assassin’s bullets, has been rendered as the ultimate hero. His
depiction is messianic. And though he was a key member of a vast and
complex movement, he is often presented as singular. This is the way we
tell history in the American public sphere.
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The Black American hero is necessarily more complicated than the mainstream
“Great American heroes.” Both American and Black in a racially oppressive
nation, he is a figure of double consciousness, often put to cross
purposes. His greatness is trumpeted in order to reject the concept of
Black inferiority and to assert belonging in the nation — a sign of
legitimacy. “I, too, sing America,” he sings
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/a/9jmJf2DWrGmP1sKr0Mqmfg~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TKaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cucG9ldHJ5Zm91bmRhdGlvbi5vcmcvcG9lbXMvNDc1NTgvaS10b28_Y2FtcGFpZ25faWQ9MzcmZW1jPWVkaXRfcnJfMjAyMTAxMzAmaW5zdGFuY2VfaWQ9MjY1Nzcmbmw9cmFjZSUyRnJlbGF0ZWQmcmVnaV9pZD00Mjc0MDg5NyZzZWdtZW50X2lkPTUwNjgzJnRlPTEmdXNlcl9pZD0zOTM4ZjE3ZDgxODJhMjJmZGUxNDY3ZmY5ZDBiYjVjNVcDbnl0QgpgEWdKFWDVsmW2UhBsaW1hQGdlbmVzZW8uZWR1WAQAAAAA>,
as Langston Hughes once put it.

Or the hero might instead be a salvific figure, someone like Malcolm X or
Huey P. Newton, who rejects the racist nation. See, for example, the
embrace of Marcus Garvey, Garveyism and the Back-to-Africa movement in the
early 20th century. Another type of Black hero is one who survives untold
brutalities and lives to tell the tale, indicting white supremacy by his
very existence.

Heroes, as historians and activists have noted for generations, are often
made mythic in ways that are troubling. Social change is never wrought by
individuals. Movement is a collective endeavor and the romantic ideal of
the hero obscures that truth. Recent social movements like the Movement for
Black Lives have been deliberate about describing themselves as leaderless
or “leader-full,” in order to emphasize the importance of collective
organizing while rejecting the model of the charismatic male leader. “We’re
not following an individual, right? This is a leader-full movement,”
Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network
told NPR in 2015. “There [are] groups on the ground that have been doing
this work, and I think we stand on the shoulders of those folks.”

These organizers look to the tradition of the Civil Rights movement as
inspiration, such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which
oriented itself toward participatory democratic models, rather than the
model of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was
organized in ways consistent with the Protestant Church. They have taken a
lesson from the words of Ella Baker, the often-overlooked architect of the
Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee: “Strong people don’t need
strong leaders.”
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The decision to choose leaderless or leader-full models is a refutation of
the ideal of the traditional hero: martial, dominant and authoritarian in
style, if not substance. It also recognizes the ways in which so many
important figures have been excluded from being cast as heroes because they
don’t fit the standard image, whether because of queerness, gender
nonconformity, femininity, or mental or physical disability. The practice
of overlooking these heroic people is ironic, given that navigating
disadvantage often requires heroic labors. And although a few such
outsiders make it into the annals, generally it is only if they are seen as
“transcending” their very human qualities.

The traditionally constrained ideal of the Black hero is a challenge both
within Black communities and in the society at large. These lauded
individuals are anointed as proxies for all Black people and interpreters
of Black thought — which flattens the widely divergent ideas among Black
people about the political economy, social values, theology, racism, law
and so forth. Groundbreaking figures like Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice,
President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris are subject to
intense political debate, both within Black communities and without, over
their ideologies, their roles in American policy and their relationship to
communities of color even as we recognize the significance of being a
trailblazing “first” of such consequence. No one person can tell the whole
story, no matter how heroic that person might be.
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.
Cicely Tyson with the Emmys she won for her role in “the Autobiography of
Miss Jane Pittman,” in Los Angeles, in 1974.Associated Press
Remembering Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson, who died on Thursday
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/b1dwY-_WT_Eg03QaF2e7BQ~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TcaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yOC9vYml0dWFyaWVzL2NpY2VseS10eXNvbi1kZWFkLmh0bWw_Y2FtcGFpZ25faWQ9MzcmZW1jPWVkaXRfcnJfMjAyMTAxMzAmaW5zdGFuY2VfaWQ9MjY1Nzcmbmw9cmFjZSUyRnJlbGF0ZWQmcmVnaV9pZD00Mjc0MDg5NyZzZWdtZW50X2lkPTUwNjgzJnRlPTEmdXNlcl9pZD0zOTM4ZjE3ZDgxODJhMjJmZGUxNDY3ZmY5ZDBiYjVjNVcDbnl0QgpgEWdKFWDVsmW2UhBsaW1hQGdlbmVzZW8uZWR1WAQAAAAA>
at 96, was a powerhouse.

She was a talented stage, screen and television actress who won a Tony,
three Emmys and an honorary Oscar during her remarkable seven-decade
career. During a time in the film industry that often defaulted to
demeaning caricatures, Ms. Tyson only accepted roles that portrayed Black
women with dignity. She was an inspiration and an icon for so many people.
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We would love to hear from you. How has Ms. Tyson’s work and life shaped
you? How are you honoring her? We may share your responses in an upcoming
newsletter.

EDITOR’S PICKS

We publish many articles that touch on race. Here are a few you shouldn’t
miss.
[image: Article Image]

Christopher Lee for The New York Times
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/BxTPoLn1HM7klC4P2u5yBQ~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TsaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yOS9ueXJlZ2lvbi9ueWMtbWF5b3JhbC1yYWNlLXNjaG9vbC1zZWdyZWdhdGlvbi5odG1sP2NhbXBhaWduX2lkPTM3JmVtYz1lZGl0X3JyXzIwMjEwMTMwJmluc3RhbmNlX2lkPTI2NTc3Jm5sPXJhY2UlMkZyZWxhdGVkJnJlZ2lfaWQ9NDI3NDA4OTcmc2VnbWVudF9pZD01MDY4MyZ0ZT0xJnVzZXJfaWQ9MzkzOGYxN2Q4MTgyYTIyZmRlMTQ2N2ZmOWQwYmI1YzVXA255dEIKYBFnShVg1bJltlIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>
New
York Schools Are Segregated. Will the Next Mayor Change That?

By deferring decisions on desegregating schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio has
pushed those choices onto his successor — and into the race to replace him.

By Eliza Shapiro
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/BxTPoLn1HM7klC4P2u5yBQ~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TsaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yOS9ueXJlZ2lvbi9ueWMtbWF5b3JhbC1yYWNlLXNjaG9vbC1zZWdyZWdhdGlvbi5odG1sP2NhbXBhaWduX2lkPTM3JmVtYz1lZGl0X3JyXzIwMjEwMTMwJmluc3RhbmNlX2lkPTI2NTc3Jm5sPXJhY2UlMkZyZWxhdGVkJnJlZ2lfaWQ9NDI3NDA4OTcmc2VnbWVudF9pZD01MDY4MyZ0ZT0xJnVzZXJfaWQ9MzkzOGYxN2Q4MTgyYTIyZmRlMTQ2N2ZmOWQwYmI1YzVXA255dEIKYBFnShVg1bJltlIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>
[image: Article Image]

JerSean Golatt for The New York Times
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Black,
Deaf and Extremely Online

On TikTok and in virtual hangouts, a younger generation is sharing the
origins and nuances of Black American Sign Language, a rich variation of
ASL that scholars say has been overlooked for too long.

By Allyson Waller
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/7v0WFVNbbq9rWWejieyPrg~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TmaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yMy91cy9ibGFjay1hbWVyaWNhbi1zaWduLWxhbmd1YWdlLXRpa3Rvay5odG1sP2NhbXBhaWduX2lkPTM3JmVtYz1lZGl0X3JyXzIwMjEwMTMwJmluc3RhbmNlX2lkPTI2NTc3Jm5sPXJhY2UlMkZyZWxhdGVkJnJlZ2lfaWQ9NDI3NDA4OTcmc2VnbWVudF9pZD01MDY4MyZ0ZT0xJnVzZXJfaWQ9MzkzOGYxN2Q4MTgyYTIyZmRlMTQ2N2ZmOWQwYmI1YzVXA255dEIKYBFnShVg1bJltlIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>
[image: Article Image]

Laurence “Sketch” Cheatham
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These
Images Tell the Stories of American Blackness

The cut-and-paste montages of Black historical figures watching over
successful Black Americans serve as folklore to a community clinging to
their heroes.

By Sandra E. Garcia
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/Pfg7swBO7ZRnKiBmDOFsvg~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TgaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yNy9zdHlsZS9tZW1vcmlhbC1jZWxlYnJhdGlvbi1tZW1lcy5odG1sP2NhbXBhaWduX2lkPTM3JmVtYz1lZGl0X3JyXzIwMjEwMTMwJmluc3RhbmNlX2lkPTI2NTc3Jm5sPXJhY2UlMkZyZWxhdGVkJnJlZ2lfaWQ9NDI3NDA4OTcmc2VnbWVudF9pZD01MDY4MyZ0ZT0xJnVzZXJfaWQ9MzkzOGYxN2Q4MTgyYTIyZmRlMTQ2N2ZmOWQwYmI1YzVXA255dEIKYBFnShVg1bJltlIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>
[image: Article Image]

BET
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Tyler
Perry Gets Covid-19 Vaccine on TV to Reassure Black Skeptics

The Madea creator and studio head talks about the history of the medical
and government establishment’s exploitation of Black people.

By Cara Buckley
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/xT0q0lWRZmYV0yM4SJ-cWA~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TnaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yOC9hcnRzL3R5bGVyLXBlcnJ5LWNvdmlkLXZhY2NpbmUtc2tlcHRpY3MuaHRtbD9jYW1wYWlnbl9pZD0zNyZlbWM9ZWRpdF9ycl8yMDIxMDEzMCZpbnN0YW5jZV9pZD0yNjU3NyZubD1yYWNlJTJGcmVsYXRlZCZyZWdpX2lkPTQyNzQwODk3JnNlZ21lbnRfaWQ9NTA2ODMmdGU9MSZ1c2VyX2lkPTM5MzhmMTdkODE4MmEyMmZkZTE0NjdmZjlkMGJiNWM1VwNueXRCCmARZ0oVYNWyZbZSEGxpbWFAZ2VuZXNlby5lZHVYBAAAAAA~>
[image: Article Image]

Associated Press
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/nXrYDIc-6y-wUJzaJifGJw~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TgaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yOC91cy9yYXlzaGFyZC1icm9va3MtZ2FycmV0dC1yb2xmZS5odG1sP2NhbXBhaWduX2lkPTM3JmVtYz1lZGl0X3JyXzIwMjEwMTMwJmluc3RhbmNlX2lkPTI2NTc3Jm5sPXJhY2UlMkZyZWxhdGVkJnJlZ2lfaWQ9NDI3NDA4OTcmc2VnbWVudF9pZD01MDY4MyZ0ZT0xJnVzZXJfaWQ9MzkzOGYxN2Q4MTgyYTIyZmRlMTQ2N2ZmOWQwYmI1YzVXA255dEIKYBFnShVg1bJltlIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>
Prosecutor
Wants Rayshard Brooks Case Moved, Blaming Her Predecessor

Pointing to the conduct of the district attorney she defeated last year,
Fani Willis concluded her office should not pursue the case against a
former Atlanta officer who killed Mr. Brooks.

By Audra D. S. Burch and John Eligon
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/nXrYDIc-6y-wUJzaJifGJw~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TgaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yOC91cy9yYXlzaGFyZC1icm9va3MtZ2FycmV0dC1yb2xmZS5odG1sP2NhbXBhaWduX2lkPTM3JmVtYz1lZGl0X3JyXzIwMjEwMTMwJmluc3RhbmNlX2lkPTI2NTc3Jm5sPXJhY2UlMkZyZWxhdGVkJnJlZ2lfaWQ9NDI3NDA4OTcmc2VnbWVudF9pZD01MDY4MyZ0ZT0xJnVzZXJfaWQ9MzkzOGYxN2Q4MTgyYTIyZmRlMTQ2N2ZmOWQwYmI1YzVXA255dEIKYBFnShVg1bJltlIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>
[image: Article Image]

Associated Press, Getty Images, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, The Boston Globe, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers,
MLB
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/17MflB92EBXbpRRU-qTYKA~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TkaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yOS9zcG9ydHMvYmFzZWJhbGwvbWxiLWRpdmVyc2l0eS1raW0tbmcuaHRtbD9jYW1wYWlnbl9pZD0zNyZlbWM9ZWRpdF9ycl8yMDIxMDEzMCZpbnN0YW5jZV9pZD0yNjU3NyZubD1yYWNlJTJGcmVsYXRlZCZyZWdpX2lkPTQyNzQwODk3JnNlZ21lbnRfaWQ9NTA2ODMmdGU9MSZ1c2VyX2lkPTM5MzhmMTdkODE4MmEyMmZkZTE0NjdmZjlkMGJiNWM1VwNueXRCCmARZ0oVYNWyZbZSEGxpbWFAZ2VuZXNlby5lZHVYBAAAAAA~>
Hailed
as a Trailblazer, Kim Ng Stands Alone

Major League Baseball celebrated the hiring of a woman as a sign of
progress on diversity in its executive ranks. Every comparable hire over
the last two years has been a white man.

By James Wagner
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/17MflB92EBXbpRRU-qTYKA~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0TkaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yOS9zcG9ydHMvYmFzZWJhbGwvbWxiLWRpdmVyc2l0eS1raW0tbmcuaHRtbD9jYW1wYWlnbl9pZD0zNyZlbWM9ZWRpdF9ycl8yMDIxMDEzMCZpbnN0YW5jZV9pZD0yNjU3NyZubD1yYWNlJTJGcmVsYXRlZCZyZWdpX2lkPTQyNzQwODk3JnNlZ21lbnRfaWQ9NTA2ODMmdGU9MSZ1c2VyX2lkPTM5MzhmMTdkODE4MmEyMmZkZTE0NjdmZjlkMGJiNWM1VwNueXRCCmARZ0oVYNWyZbZSEGxpbWFAZ2VuZXNlby5lZHVYBAAAAAA~>
Who Owns Stocks? Explaining the Rise in Inequality During the Pandemic

Bad economies usually hurt both workers and investors. Only the first part
has been true this time.

By Robert Gebeloff
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/wffBjvRUkZFgcZgyRDD7Hw~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRh989nP0ThaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMS8wMS8yNi91cHNob3Qvc3RvY2tzLXBhbmRlbWljLWluZXF1YWxpdHkuaHRtbD9jYW1wYWlnbl9pZD0zNyZlbWM9ZWRpdF9ycl8yMDIxMDEzMCZpbnN0YW5jZV9pZD0yNjU3NyZubD1yYWNlJTJGcmVsYXRlZCZyZWdpX2lkPTQyNzQwODk3JnNlZ21lbnRfaWQ9NTA2ODMmdGU9MSZ1c2VyX2lkPTM5MzhmMTdkODE4MmEyMmZkZTE0NjdmZjlkMGJiNWM1VwNueXRCCmARZ0oVYNWyZbZSEGxpbWFAZ2VuZXNlby5lZHVYBAAAAAA~>

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