One seemingly obvious, but still notable, aspect of Southern antebellum ladyhood, is the necessary and explicit disqualification of black women. The sphere of Southern ladyhood largely consisted of personal beauty and moral reform, with the first seen as evidence of the second. Personal beauty proved personal morality. In the 19th century white mind, whiteness was an essential component of female beauty, and thus, ladyhood.
From historian Mary Cathryn Cain's article "The Art and Politics of Looking White: Beauty Practices among White Women in Antebellum America"
Antebellum white Americans interpreted
visible whiteness as an outward projection of inner
virtue or, as the Toilette of Health, Beauty and Fashion
maintained, ''the face is the mirror of the soul.'' A
beautiful white face, then, reflected an unstained
heart, and the skin's translucence was no longer
valued solely for its physical beauty: it was valorized as
evidence of moral rectitude that allowed a woman's
inner light to shine for any observer. Likewise, the
Book of Health and Beauty declared that ''a hand white
and smooth, diversified with bluish veins, presenting
to the touch the softness of satin, and to the eye the
grateful color of milk'' could be read as a clear index
of a woman's ''moral accomplishments.''
Analysis of Female Beauty, Wilson Flagg reinforced
the attitude that female whiteness was incompatible
with negative personal traits. The book consisted
of a series of poems, each of which depicted
an ideal woman who bore the physical attributes
associated with a particular feminine virtue. Flagg
describes ''Sylvia,'' the personification of Innocence,
by alluding to ''her complexion's pearly hues,'' while
''Cecilia,'' the embodiment of Constancy, looked ''as
white and spotless as new-drifted snow.'' Perhaps
Flagg's characterization of Piety in ''Ophelia'' is his
most telling: ''You cannot think beneath a brow so
fair, /One sinful thought was ever harbored there.''
Here Flagg explicitly equates whiteness with the absence of sin.
In the Southern antebellum white mind, no black woman could ever qualify as a lady, because whiteness was beauty and beauty was moral cleanliness. But like most of the societal components of white supremacy, as surely as patrolling the boundaries of ladyhood meant keeping blacks locked out, it also meant keeping whites locked in. And so whiteness became not simply a sign of beauty and morality, but a sign of an aristocratic mien. Obviously being white does not, automatically, gift you with skin that is "spotless as new-drifted snow." For such an affect, a healthy industry of powders and cosmetics existed to help affect the illusion of moral cleanliness.
But many such cosmetics were railed against by the white aristocracy as unnatural, and the women who applied them were roundly denounced as "painted ladies." Instead, it was advised that white women find other ways to perfect themselves--like a ingesting white chalk and arsenic:
To achieve the desired complexion,
middle-class white women ritualized the practices
described in beauty manuals--not all of them well
advised. Some women dieted, slept with their
windows open, or abstained from sleep altogether.
Some women swore by warm baths. Others swore
by warm beverages; still others swore off hot drinks
completely. Some women ate chalk, drank vinegar,
wore camphorated charms, bled themselves with
leeches or even ingested arsenic to get the desired
result. Many refrained from drinking alcohol and
reading at night. And almost all middle-class white
women avoided the sun.
African-American women from the South, and perhaps from Detroit, Chicago and Harlem, might find that last bit about avoiding the sun particularly poignant. In another era, it was not at all atypical for black people to advise their children to do exactly that for fear of them moving from "colored" to "black."
Some of this was raised, a few weeks back, while discussing Kanye West's album, and hip-hop's occasional embarrassing reinforcement of aesthetics born of a phrenological age. Ladyhood isn't what it once was. But the notion that lighter skin confers upon the owner some deeper power is very much with us. We like to call it colorism. But this understates things. It's white supremacy. When black rappers exalt the "sexy young ladies of the light skin breed," they are participating in an exercise inaugurated with their arrival to the West in chains. They are patrolling the borders, caging off women for sure, but just as surely, caging off themselves.
Image taken from "The Three Species of Beauty, as affecting the head and face,'' Alexander Walker, Beauty: Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman (New York: W. H. Colyer, 1845), pl. 16. As cited in Cain's article.
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
As the world frets over Greece, a separate crisis looms in China.
This summer has not been calm for the global economy. In Europe, a Greek referendum this Sunday may determine whether the country will remain in the eurozone. In North America, meanwhile, the governor of Puerto Rico claimed last week that the island would be unable to pay off its debts, raising unsettling questions about the health of American municipal bonds.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks. Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent. The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
On Sunday, citizens will vote on how to move forward in the country's financial crisis.
On Sunday, the people of Greece will help decide the financial future of their country. With the nation already in default and capital controls in place to prevent a run on the banks, it’s up to Greece’s citizens to decide what road the country will take from here.
The referendum—which asks Greeks to either vote yes or no to a current proposal from Eurogroup leaders to extend financing to the deeply indebted country— was called for by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras amid meetings of Eurozone leaders as they tried to come up with a deal that would allow the country to avoid default. The call for a vote effectively ended discussions.
Opponents of thecurrent proposal from the Eurogroup feel that the austerity measures put forth by the Eurogroup’s leaders—which would includes things like tax hikes, pension cuts, and reductions in government jobs—are overly harsh and punitive, and could hurt Greeks more than help them.
An attorney who helped players file a gender-discrimination lawsuit over artificial turf in the World Cup proposes a way forward for the sport.
On Sunday, players from the U.S. and Japan’s women’s soccer teams will step onto the field in Vancouver to compete for the sport’s greatest achievement: the World Cup. But perhaps the bigger battle—one that started well before the final match and will continue well after—isn’t about a trophy or national glory. Women’s soccer teams have long fought for recognition and respect not just from the public, but also from the male organizers of the sport, and it’s a struggle symbolized by the very fields they’ve been playing on.
The co-hosts of the World Cup—FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association—failed to stage this year’s tournament to be played on real grass like every other World Cup previously, mandating that it be played on artificial turf instead. This is despite the dangers and inconveniences plastic turf poses. The synthetic pitches bake in the sun, with surface temperatures sometimes reaching 120 degrees. Clouds of rubber pebbles fly into players’ eyes, and the turf makes it difficult for the women to gauge the way the ball will bounce.