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BL: redskin, redman
Posted: 23 June 2014 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Trying to get this one in before it fades from the news cycle

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Posted: 24 June 2014 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Regarding use of the name Redskins by the Washington, DC National Football League team, the name was never intended to be disparaging, and is part of a long tradition of using Native Americans as mascots of sports teams.

Still, as Nunberg points out, it is freighted with the same patronizing sense as “nigger” which also “might” have been innocent but ugly in ways that whites would filter out. The “never intended to be disparaging” is clouded in a history that is not pretty. The key point is the question, “would you use that name to a Native American’s face?”

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Posted: 25 June 2014 04:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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At the risk of derailing this thread:

For the last twenty years and more, British educators and councils have been dredging out every possible (and frankly impossible) reference to black and brown people living in Britain in past ages, and promoted ‘Black History Awareness’ in an attempt to make black and brown children feel ‘British’ and ‘included’ in their country’s history. All very laudable of course, but the inevitable result is that young people come out of the school system with the impression that black and brown people had been an everyday part of the population in pre-modern England. They post furiously on IMDb to complain that this or that movie set in, say, Roman Britain had no black actors in it. And the other day I came across a university student who was outraged at the ‘racism’ of this traditional proverb:

With a red man rede thy rede [give your opinion, i.e. speak openly];
With a brown man break thy bread;
On a pale man draw thy knife,
From a black man keep thy wife.

I could not by any means convince her that in the 18th-century Borders (this proverb was cited by Sir Walter Scott) 99.9% of the population had never seen a person of non-European ancestry and never expected to see one, so that for them the only meaning of ‘red man’ and ‘black man’ referred to hair colour.

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Posted: 25 June 2014 07:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I think the student was right on this one. Scott uses that proverb to expound on a stanza by Dryden. The stanza is:

For, from all tempers he could service draw;
The worth of each, with its alloy, he knew;
And, as the confident of Nature, saw
How she complexions did divide and brew.

Scott comments:

It was still fashionable, in the seventeenth century, to impute the distinguishing shades of human character to the influence of complexion. The doctrine is concisely summed up in the following lines, which occur in an old MS. in the British Museum:

Scott goes on to repeat the proverb.

(The Works of John Dryden, vol. 9; Walter Scott, ed.; London: William Miller, 1808, pp. 12, 21–22. [The book is available on Google Books.])

There is also quite a bit of medieval English commentary on the characteristics of different races, using skin color as the basis of distinction. Encounters with people of other races were much rarer than they are today, but people did get around much more than one would think, so an African in the Scottish border country of the seventeenth century, while highly unusual, wouldn’t have been unheard of. Plus, travelers’ tales were another source of lore on the topic.

And the OED does not include senses relating to hair color for red man or black man.

As to the complaint about lack of people of color in historical movies, those may or may not be valid depending on the film. If the movie is one that strives for historical accuracy, then inclusion of actors of color is probably inappropriate. But if the film is, say, an episode of Dr. Who that is set in Roman Britain, then there is absolutely no reason for not including black actors—anything with a Dalek can’t hide behind the skirts of historical verisimilitude. There’s a lot of discrimination against actors of color that uses historical accuracy as an excuse.

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Posted: 25 June 2014 07:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Prejudices die hard --- even in opera, where suspension of belief is a sine qua non (think of John McCormack, knees buckling under the weight of Tetrazzini as the consumptive Mimi). Leontyne Price would sing arias from Othello in concert, but she would not sing Desdemona on stage, because she didn’t think audiences would swallow it (in Tonga, they might; in New York or London, who knows).

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1350&dat=19841209&id=LG4xAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wwIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5786,7220709

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Posted: 25 June 2014 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Othello is an example where casting by race matters. If you cast a black woman as Desdemona, the entire thematic direction of the play changes. Suspension of disbelief isn’t enough. You can cast a black man as Hamlet, however, and it wouldn’t make much difference.

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Posted: 26 June 2014 12:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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You can even cast a black actor as Henry V. Possibly Shylock and Othello are about the only Shakespeare roles where ethnicity is actually central.

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Posted: 27 June 2014 05:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Prejudices die hard --- even in opera

I vividly remember the debates I had forty years ago in grad school with a couple of opera lovers (one who didn’t care about operas as such but worshiped coloratura singers and had a huge collection of Galli-Curci, Tetrazzini, etc., and one who only cared about operas as such and didn’t see the point in listening to old recordings of individual arias—between them, they gave me a tremendous education); neither of them could accept race-blind casting, and it did me no good to point out all the counterfactual things they swallowed without a murmur when they watched opera.  It taught me a lot about how ingrained and hard to dislodge racism is.

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Posted: 27 June 2014 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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languagehat - 27 June 2014 05:58 AM


I vividly remember the debates I had forty years ago in grad school ........

That’s astonishing. I’ve loved opera all my adult life and one of the first things one learns is that in opera anything goes. Castrato roles are now played by a soprano or contralto, thus we quite happily watch, for instance, Romeo and Juliet both played by women in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi without a qualm. In fact one of the greatest performances I’ve seen in the last few years was the 62-year old Polish contralto Ewa Podles as a vigorous young Cyrus in romantic scenes with Jessica Pratt in the Pesaro production of Ciro in Babilonia. In opera the magnificent music and voices wash away all such inconsequentialities as age, gender, skin colour, etc.

It really surprises me that any lover of opera would not see that.

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Posted: 28 June 2014 05:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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You’ve never known a lover of opera who was racist?  Lucky you, but that surprises me.  Opera lovers tend to be both older and socially conservative.

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Posted: 28 June 2014 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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languagehat - 28 June 2014 05:18 AM

You’ve never known a lover of opera who was racist?  Lucky you, but that surprises me.  Opera lovers tend to be both older and socially conservative.

Oh, some were surely racist but I’ve never heard them oddly enough apply that racism to opera. I’m thinking in particular of an old friend of mine, unashamedly racist although not virulently so, who much appreciated, as I did, the singing of the Afro-American countertenor Derek Lee Ragin in Handel’s Tamerlano. I know there must be opera-lovers out there who dislike incredible singers such as Grace Bumbry, Leontyne Price, Lawrence Brownlee, Jessye Norman and many more because of their hue but I can’t say I’ve run into them. Perhaps they order these things differently in the US.

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Posted: 28 June 2014 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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How very odd.

Do these haters of race-blind opera insist that Japanese singers be used for the Japanese characters in Madama Butterfly? That Otello must be played by a black man?

Or does it only cut one way?

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Posted: 29 June 2014 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I know there must be opera-lovers out there who dislike incredible singers such as Grace Bumbry, Leontyne Price, Lawrence Brownlee, Jessye Norman and many more because of their hue but I can’t say I’ve run into them.

Oh, they didn’t dislike those singers, and I’m sorry if I gave the wrong impression.  Their racism wasn’t of the blatant “I hate black people” variety (if so, I wouldn’t have been friends with them), it was the much more common “Black people are great! In their place! Which is not performing white roles!” I’m pretty sure they had no problem with black singers recording any arias they wanted to; they were just uncomfortable with actually seeing performances where the races onstage didn’t match the races in their minds.  Sort of like the heterosexual who has no problem with gay people but wishes they wouldn’t hold hands or kiss in public.

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Posted: 30 June 2014 05:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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It was still fashionable, in the seventeenth century, to impute the distinguishing shades of human character to the influence of complexion.

First off, the rhyme is entirely independent of the discussion about ‘complexion’ (which, of course, he and Dryden were using in Galen’s sense of ‘mixture of the four humours’, not skin colour) that that terrible old faker Scott chose to drag it into.

people did get around much more than one would think, so an African in the Scottish border country of the seventeenth century, while highly unusual, wouldn’t have been unheard of.

But in practical terms pretty much unheard of, except in the environs of a ‘great house’ that had black servants – and not only are ‘great houses’ very thin on the ground in the Borders, but the slave trade was only just starting to gather momentum. Not anywhere near enough of a likelihood that it was worth devising proverbs advising how to deal with the eventuality. (FWIW, I was born in 1956 and I can still well remember when even in villages less than 50 miles from London the sight of a Real Live Black Person would have the local people gawking, even though they had all seen black people on television.) In any case, the rhyme is clearly about hair colour, not skin colour, unless we are going to argue that ‘brown man’ and ‘red man’ refer to Native Americans and people from the Indian sub-continent and that these could routinely be met in the Borders too!

And the OED does not include senses relating to hair color for red man or black man.

But, it does. Sense 2a of ‘black’ is defined as ‘Having black hair or eyes’, and these are some of the citations:

1661 S. Pepys Diary 30 Apr. (1970) II. 91 Took up Mr. Hater and his wife..I find her to be a very pretty modest black woman.
1715 tr. Thomas à Kempis Christian’s Exercise i. vii. 13 The Fair, the Black, the Learned, the Unlearned, do all pass away.
1749 J. Cleland Mem. Woman of Pleasure I. 150 He might pass for what is commonly called a comely black man, with an air of distinction natural to his birth and condition.

Context makes clear that Pepys’ Mrs Hater and Fanny Hill’s ‘comely black man’ were certainly not of African ethnicity: just black-haired.  Had they been, it would have been necessary to describe them as ‘African’, ‘Negro or some such term, since in the 17th and 18th centuries black did not clearly convey that. Here’s another example:

Of all the girls in our town,
The black, the fair, the red, the brown,
That dance and prance it up and down,
There’s none like Nancy Dawson

Anne Dawson became a star overnight when she danced the hornpipe in The Beggars’ Opera in 1760 (at which time the London theatre scene was certainly not swarming with black, Native American and Indian dancers!)

And sense 5a of red is ‘having hair of an auburn or ginger colour’.

But if the film is, say, an episode of Dr. Who that is set in Roman Britain, then there is absolutely no reason for not including black actors

I think there is. In any drama that deals with the irruption of something fantastic, surreal or farcical into a real milieu, that milieu must be portrayed realistically; if it is unreal or implausible, the premise of your drama fails. This accounts for the often-remarked (by historians) fact that the mises-en-scene of historical comedies are typically far more meticulously researched and created than those of serious historical dramas; their makers know that if you don’t ground farce in reality, it falls flat.

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Posted: 30 June 2014 06:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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But if the film is, say, an episode of Dr. Who that is set in Roman Britain, then there is absolutely no reason for not including black actors

I think there is. In any drama that deals with the irruption of something fantastic, surreal or farcical into a real milieu, that milieu must be portrayed realistically; if it is unreal or implausible, the premise of your drama fails.

That’s basically the same argument that’s used for not letting black people play non-black roles in opera: oh my, the unreality kills your immersion in the drama!  In the first place, that depends on the viewer; some won’t notice, some won’t care, some will be put off, and I’m not sure why it’s only the third group that should be catered to.  In the second place, I think giving nonwhite actors opportunities outweighs some people’s sense of unreality.  In the third place, who’s to say what’s a realistic portrayal of Roman Britain?  Vas you dere, Charley? We have no idea what Roman Britain looked and sounded and felt like—or rather, we have various ideas, virtually all of which would turn out to be partly or entirely wrong if we could visit the place.  An actual inhabitant of Roman Britain, if exposed to a modern reconstruction of that environment, however scholarly, would laugh him- or herself sick.  So what you’re really saying is “That doesn’t match my ill-informed idea of what Roman Britain might have been like,” to which one can only say “So what?”

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Posted: 30 June 2014 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Sense 2a of ‘black’ is defined as ‘Having black hair or eyes’,

”Black Irish” for example.
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