Showing 121 - 130 of 176 annotations tagged with the keyword "Racism"

Birthmates

Jen, Gish

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Art Woo, thirty-eight years old, Asian-American, and a salesman in a dying industry, finds himself housed in a welfare hotel during a sales convention--the unexpected result of trying to limit travel expenses for his company. His modus operandi is to "maintain a certain perspective," so he attempts to make the best of the situation.

We learn that his wife, Lisa, has divorced him--the outcome of Art's inability to grieve along with her when, after many months of fertility treatments and two miscarriages, Lisa's successful pregnancy was medically terminated at four and a half months because the fetus was afflicted with a severe genetic abnormality. Whereas Art reacted with hope for having another child, Lisa had seen only loss. Likewise, when his boss had insulted Art with a racial slur, Art had maintained "perspective," while Lisa thought he should have quit his job.

The "birthmate" of the title is Billy Shore, four years younger, American, and a business rival. Billy is obnoxious, but has advanced to a new job. Art thinks that if Billy can get ahead, so can he. But Art's equilibrium is ultimately destroyed by an experience in the welfare hotel. He realizes that he has lost not just a job opportunity and his wife, but also his child.

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The Lynching

McKay, Claude

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The title announces the event described in the poem: the lynching of a black man, already burned to a char by an angry mob. Opening lines emphasize ascendency of spirit, from the "swinging char" to the father in heaven in whose bosom the hanged man will dwell. The spiritual tone is replaced, however, by an account of the cruelties inflicted on this tortured man and the behavior of sorrowless women and children dancing around the "dreadful thing in fiendish glee."

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Peter Selwyn spent the first ten years out of medical school at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, caring for HIV-positive patients--mostly intravenous drug users and their families--in the early years of the AIDS crisis. As he worked with dying young men and women and their families, Selwyn returned to his own unexplored pain surrounding the loss of his father, who fell or (more likely) jumped from a 23-story building when Selwyn was a toddler. Mirroring their function in Selwyn’s life, the stories of the five patients who most affected him serve in this book as the threshold to the narrative of how Selwyn investigated, mourned, and commemorated his father’s death, finally revaluing it as central to the person and doctor he became.

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Disgrace

Coetzee, J. M.

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

David Lurie is a scholar of the English Romantic poets, now professor of communications in Cape Town in newly post-apartheid South Africa. He is fired in disgrace for sexual harassment after having an affair with one of his students, Melanie Isaacs, or raping her (our definition of the act is deliberately blurred until later). He goes to stay with his daughter, Lucy, who kennels dogs and grows flowers on a smallholding in the Eastern Cape, and he passes his time helping Lucy's friend, Bev, in the euthanasia and disposal of sick and unwanted dogs.

Then he and Lucy are attacked by three black men who arrive at the farm. They pour lighter fluid over him and set him on fire, and they gang-rape Lucy. One of the attackers is a relative of Lucy's neighbour, a black man named Petrus, and protected by him. Lucy refuses to press charges or to leave, but Lurie drives back to Cape Town.

On the way, he stops at the home of Melanie Isaacs and meets her father, who invites him to stay for dinner. He apologizes to her father, who asks him some difficult questions about forgiveness and about being in disgrace. There are parallels between him and Mr. Isaacs in relation to their respective raped daughters. In Cape Town Lurie finds that his house has been broken into and everything stolen.

When Bev calls him to say that Lucy is not well he goes back to the farm, where he discovers that she is pregnant as a result of the rape, has decided to keep the child, and intends to agree to Petrus's offer of marriage: if she becomes one of his wives, in name only, she will be allowed to stay on the farm (which he will now own) under his protection.

She resists all her father's objections. He finds a room in the town near her farm, continues to help Bev killing the dogs, and, while he awaits the birth of his grandchild, works on an opera he is writing, about the abandoned mistress of the poet Byron, who yearns for a time that is past.

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The Poisonwood Bible

Kingsolver, Barbara

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Southern Baptist missionary Nathan Price brings his wife Orleanna and his four young daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959, just before its turbulent passage into independence as the state of Zaire. The Prices’ stay in the tiny village of Kilanga occasions escalating conflicts of cultures and values. The differences between the social, religious, and political habits of the United States and Africa are a source of both wonder and strife.

Orleanna and most of her daughters develop bonds with the people of Kilanga whose dimensions are much deeper than they first realize. At the same time, the family finds itself increasingly at odds with each other. All the women are engaged in a passage to personal identity and independence from Nathan: Orleanna, the dutiful minister’s wife; materialistic teenager Rachel; fervent, idealistic Leah, who emulates her father until it’s impossible to continue; her brilliant twin sister Adah, who walks with a limp and perceives the world in palindromes; and adventurous five-year-old Ruth May.

While all the women are changed by Africa, Nathan becomes more and more zealous in his refusal to change. The novel draws Nathan as a man whose identity has been definitively shaped by a World War II trauma that launches him on a downward psychological spiral from which there is no exit.

The novel is broken into seven books, all but the seventh bearing the titles and epigraphs from books of the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha. Within the sections, the story is told as a round robin, with the Price women contributing alternating first-person narrative.

The daughters’ stories begin in 1959 in Africa and record events as they happen, gradually working their way forward to the 1990s. Their mother, in contrast, tells her story retrospectively, writing from Sanderling Island, Georgia, long after her return from Africa. Nathan is the only family member who never narrates.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As this highly original and provocative film once again demonstrates, John Sayles is not a traditional storyteller. Audiences are caught in the detective story focusing at one level on murders and abuses committed more than 20 years ago; but the filmmaker guides their attention to the survivors, the current and very ordinary folks inhabiting the small border town where secrets are closely kept.

Imagine a blank canvas on which seemingly unrelated splotches of paint appear; then imagine those splotches as members of various ethnic groups inhabiting Frontera on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. First, we have custodial white men who hang around the local coffee shop or fish on previously-owned Indian land transformed recently, and with some controversy, into a lake by the construction of a dam. Then we have Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon), a successful business woman and council member who curiously shows little compassion for "wetbacks" and those relapsing into the Spanish language. Her daughter, Pilar (Elizabeth Peña), of whom she is a constant critic, is a school teacher and single mother of two teenagers, a figure whose importance will increase as the composition develops.

Also, there is Otis Payne (Ron Canada), the African-American owner of the town’s black bar, a refuge for that minority group; and there is his estranged son, a rigid and unyielding colonel at the nearby base. Finally and less developed, are the Indians whose land has been claimed by the town’s ruling forces.

As fragments from the past and present provide dimension and meaning, increasingly the disparate colors are transformed into a representational form with clear connecting lines. Shapes and textures gradually become familiar and palpable. Within the context of good and evil, narrative lines blur and thicken. With tantalizing flashbacks, past and present fuse, allowing puzzle pieces to fit together; then engaged audience members realize that the narrative threads have twisted to expose unimagined patterns of sacrifice and love.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Sarah (Whoopi Goldberg) is an African-American woman who runs a bookstore, the "African Queen," in San Francisco. She has an adolescent daughter, Zora (Nia Long), conceived with donor sperm after the death of Sarah's husband, Charlie. Zora believes she is Charlie's daughter until she discovers a discrepancy while learning about blood types in biology class. Sarah tells Zora about her conception and Zora, determined to find out the identity of her "real father," breaks into the computer records of the California Cryobank.

She discovers the name of the sperm donor, Halbert Jackson, and tracks him down, discovering that he is a white truck salesman (Ted Danson). She and Sarah are both horrified (Sarah had requested the sperm of a black man), as is Hal, but after some comic conflict, Sarah and Hal fall in love and Zora begins to think of Hal as her father. They then learn that there was a mix up in the records and Hal is NOT after all Zora's genetic father, but by this point they have nonetheless become a family.

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Recitatif

Morrison, Toni

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

"My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick. That’s why we were taken to St. Bonny’s." Thus begins Twyla’s narrative of her long-term, intermittent relationship with Roberta, another eight-year-old who shares her failing grades and "not real orphan" status at St. Bonaventure’s, the shelter where they live for a few months.

The two girls become fast friends despite the discomfort occasioned by the situation, their problematic mothers (Roberta’s is hyper-religious and unfriendly; Twyla’s is pretty but childlike, an embarrassment to Twyla because of her casual clothing and behavior), and their racial differences (one is white, one African-American). They also share a defining moment, in which they watch bigger girls assault Maggie, a disabled woman who works in the institution’s kitchen.

The girls meet by accident four more times; as young adults in a Howard Johnson’s, where Twyla works and Roberta stops in with two young men on the way to the coast for "an appointment with Hendrix"; in a grocery store in Newburgh, the blue-collar town on the Hudson river where Twyla lives (Roberta lives in white-collar Annandale); at a picket line against a busing plan (Roberta is protesting the busing; Twyla ends up picketing for it); and finally in a diner on Christmas Eve. Each time they meet, they piece together what has happened in their lives, but also return to the defining moment of Maggie, arguing about what really happened and what role they played in the abuse.

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Cracking India

Sidhwa, Bapsi

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Lenny's development from childhood to adolescence concurs with India's independence from Britain and the partitioning of India into India and Pakistan. The interwoven plots give each other substantial meaning. Partly because Lenny's family are Parsees, a religious and ethnic minority that remained relatively neutral in post-Partition religious conflicts, she has access to people of all ethnicities and religions, both within Lahore and in other locales. More significantly, she has access to a wide variety of viewpoints both pre-and post-Partition through her Ayah, a beautiful woman whose suitors are ethnically and religiously diverse.

Lenny's passionate love of Ayah and the loss of innocence that accompanies their changing relationship through the Partition is an energetic center to the plot. Lenny's relationships with her mother, her powerful godmother, and her sexually invasive cousin are also important to the novel. Lenny's polio forms a significant early narrative thread. Other minor but compelling subplots include Lenny's parents' changing relationship, the murder of a British official, and the child marriage of the much-abused daughter of one of Lenny's family's servants.

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Bad Medicine

Querry, Ron

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel is based on the facts of an actual hantavirus outbreak that took place in the southwestern US in 1993, retelling the events as medical mystery, as ghost story, and as meditation on the relationship between rationalist western medicine and the beliefs of local indigenous cultures.

Dr. Push Foster is part Choctaw and part white, raised in Oklahoma. He returns to Arizona as an Indian Health Services physician at the time an outbreak begins of what is later identified as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. Western medicine and traditional health beliefs and practices overlap in the investigation and response to the illness as it infects and kills Navajo people.

Querry presents us with a convincing epidemiological investigation into the virus, but also suggests an alternative, or complementary, etiology for the outbreak: an archaeologist has stolen a sacred stone from the Hopi people with the help of a Navajo witch, or shape-shifter, the title's "bad medicine" practitioner. This theft, the novel suggests, is the reason that only Navajo, and one white person (the archaeologist's partner) become ill.

The climax of the story is a showdown between the shape-shifter, a Hopi village headman, and the ghost of a woman killed trying to save her people from the 1805 massacre of Navajo by Spanish troops at Muerto Canyon. (The virus, when first identified, was named Muerto Canyon Virus.) This woman becomes a figure of both vengeance and reconciliation, an uneasy meeting of cultures that echoes and informs the work of Push Foster and his colleague, Sonny Brokeshoulder: both are men of Indian blood with a "white" upbringing and who return to their culture bearing Western medical training, but do not deny the traditional knowledge either.

Unlike most medical thrillers, this book does not offer reductive explanations and answers; instead, we are left with the certainty that traditional and western thinkers must collaborate, not only to care for patients, but to take care of the natural environment on which all our health depends.

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