Book Review #1: iVenceremos?

Jafari Allen’s book seeks to examine the ways in which Afro-Cubans engage in self-making. He argues that self-making in Cuba, whether it is gendered, raced, or sexed, is constructed in response to interaction with foreigners and global discourses and by individual and group desire for freedom. The book combines historical analysis, personal observations, and interviews in order to provide a complex picture of life in Cuba. He draws from literature in the social sciences and humanities, combining them to provide an overarching framework to elucidate and contextualize the lived experiences of Afro-Cubans. A major theme in the book is erotic subjectivities. Erotic subjectivity refers to the way in which individuals scrutinize all aspects of their lives in order to find their deeper meaning within these individuals’ lives. In this sense, erotic goes beyond the sexual and is indicative of a deep longing for meaning.

Allen begins with giving an overview of the historical context in post-revolution Cuba and Afro-Cubans’ place within it. He provides evidence that while Cuba has made significant gains in the time since Castro came to power, some of the racial, gender, and sexual hierarchies that were in place during pre-revolution Cuba were maintained and reified. Present throughout the book is a theme of the gaze. The state’s gaze on Black bodies was vital for helping to maintain and control the revolutionary image that it sought to portray to the rest of the world. The combination of political and economic pressures structured the ways in which Afro-Cuban could create their own identities.

The work centers the everyday lived experiences of individuals. Rather than relying heavily on participant interviews and distant observations, iVenceremos? relies on very intimate and involved experiences. It is strengthened by the fact that Allen immerses himself within several different aspects of Cuban life and includes observations from each of these spheres. The relatively informal nature of the interviews seemingly leads to more open and honest dialogue, which is definitely aided by the fact that Allen significantly embedded himself as a part of the community. He is also very descriptive and detailed in his recollections of the settings around him. The amount of detail allows the reader to feel as if he or she is there with him in Cuba.

In addition to the detail provided in his observations, he employs the use of metaphor throughout the book in order to describe both macro level and micro level phenomena. He uses the phrase “sleight of hand” in reference to the post-revolution discourses of race, gender, and sexuality that serve to suggest that these issues do not matter anymore while simultaneously reinforcing these systems of subjugation. Another instance is his positioning of men’s interactions with women en la calle as being similar to the dance form of rumba. In this dance, women are expected to portray a sense of sexual agency and desire while simultaneously portraying a sense of chastity. A similar dynamic occurs on the streets in which men attempt to get the attention of women through various creative means. Both instances are performances of some form in which the men seek the favor of women in the presence of an audience and in which women engage in the “dance” while still maintaining a level of distance.

The theme of gaze reemerges in the discussion of sex laborers. In this situation, the gaze comes from American and European tourists who seek out erotic and exotic experiences. This is reminiscent to Joanne Nagel’s concept of ethnosexual adventurers. These potential ethnosexual encounters are motivated by monetary and other currency exchanges. The sex laborers in iVenceremos? may receive money, but in many instances they receive job opportunities, chances to leave the country, and other non-monetary benefits. These individuals are very well aware of the stereotypes that tourists may have of them and in many cases they play up to those stereotypes in order to gain more from the tourists. In this sense, the gaze reflected back onto tourists.

iVenceremos? is an important work for understanding how people on the margins construct their own identities and senses of self. Allen manages to show how each of these individuals possesses agency within their lives while also still making it clear that racial, gender, and sexual hierarchies interact to constrain the options available to these agents. In this work, they are not victims, rather they are people who are taking whatever they are given by society and using those resources for the purpose of their own self making.

Article Summary #3: Race Socialization Messages Across Historical Time

Brown, T. N. & Lesane-Brown, C. L.  (2006).  Race socialization messages across historical time.  Social Psychology Quarterly, 69, 201 – 213.

The study proposes that what children are told is a function of their parents’ appraisals of the racial climate during which their children are coming of age; are certain messages about being Black more likely to be transmitted from parents to children during particular historical periods?  The study is based on the life course perspective because it describes how individual lives are shaped by social change. 

Racial socialization responses were coded into 5 categories.  Individual pride messages emphasized hard work, individual achievement, and personal character development in spite of racism.  Racial group pride messages emphasized black unity, positive feelings about one’s racial group, and teachings about blackness.  Messages emphasizing self-subordination made up the category of deference to and fear of whites.  Color-blind messages emphasized equality among all racial groups.  “Whites are prejudiced” messages emphasized recognition of racial inequalities and ways to deal with whites. 

Three historical periods were focused on.  Pre-Brown v. Board of Education (roughly before 1957): blatant segregation of the races, racial terrorism, economic exclusion, and “Whites Only” signs.  Protest period (shortly after Brown v. Board of Education): civil rights movement.  Post-protest age: increasing economic opportunities for large segments of the black community, integration of predominantly white spaces and thus more interracial contact, the emergence and isolation of an urban black underclass, and the institutionalization of covert racial discrimination.  Racial attitudes were also examined. 

Racial socialization messages differed by birth cohort.  People born during the pre-Brown v. Board of Education period were less likely to receive individual pride messages and more likely to receive deference to and fear of whites messages and color blind messages.  Individuals born during the post-protest period were more likely to receive individual pride messages, racial group pride messages, or no messages and less likely to receive messages emphasizing deference to and fear of whites and color-blind messages.  Attitudes about voting for Black candidates and explanations for why Blacks do not get a good education or good jobs were linked to messages received.

Article Summary #2: Microaggressions and Psychological Functioning Among High Achieving African Americans: A Mixed-Methods Approach

Torres, L., Driscoll, M. W., & Burrow, A. L.  (2010).  Microaggressions and psychological functioning among high achieving African-Americans: A mixed-methods approach.  Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29, 1074 – 1099.

Torres’ (2010) study sought to identify the types of racial microaggressions described by high achieving African Americans and to investigate the way in which microaggressions influence mental health over time.  Racial microaggressions have been to come in three forms: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.  Microassaults are explicit, racially derogatory statements or actions with the intention of hurting the victim.  Microinsults are rude or insensitive comments that demean the person’s racial or cultural heritage; it is not always explicit.  Microinvalidations exclude, negate, or minimize the perceptions, thoughts, feelings, or other experiential components of targets’ realities. 

The qualitative phase of the study was based on the responses to the question “What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome in order to earn your doctorate degree?”  Concepts that were identified in this phase included assumptions of criminality/second-class citizen, underestimation of personal ability, and cultural/racial isolation.  Assumption of criminality/second class citizen refers to events in which the person of color was thought to be doing something illegal or was being treated as an inferior person.  Underestimation of personal ability included stereotypes and negative perceptions about an individual’s ability to succeed in academia.  This also included a need to prove oneself academically.  Cultural/racial isolation referred to being singled out because race or the lack of peers of the same race. 

Results suggested that individuals usually utilized active coping strategies and that they had moderate levels of stress during the month prior.  All three types of microaggression subscales were related to increased stress and depression.  Active coping was related to lower stress, fewer symptoms of depression, and less underestimation of personal ability.  Underestimation of ability predicted depression and perceived stress.  After accounting for the effects of microaggressions on depression through perceived stress, the direct effect of microaggressions on perceived stress was significantly reduced.  Results also suggest that the effect of underestimation on perceived stress depends on the level of coping behaviors.  High coping and low underestimation of personal ability were associated with the lowest perceived stress scores.  Cultural/racial isolation predicted depression.

Article Summary #1: Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus Racial Climate: The Experiences of African American College Students

Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T.  (2000).  Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students.  The Journal of Negro Education, 69, 60 – 73.

Solorzano’s (2000) study used a critical race framework to examine how the racial climate of a college influences African American students through racial microaggressions.  The argument is also made that stereotype threat plays a major role in academic achievement.  The study explored the relationships between college racial climate, racial stereotypes, racial microaggressions, and academic performance.  Campus racial climate is defined in this study as the overall racial environment of the campus.  A positive racial climate has the four characteristics, the inclusion of students, faculty, and administrators of color; a curriculum that reflects the historical and contemporary experiences of people of color; programs to support the recruitment, retention and graduation of students of color; and a college/university mission that reinforces the institution’s commitment to pluralism.  The study sought to answer four questions: “How do African American college students experience racial microaggressions?” “What impact do these racial microaggressions have on African American students?” “How do African American students respond to racial microaggressions?” and “How do racial microaggressions affect the collegiate racial climate?” 

The basic critical race theory model consists of five elements: the centrality of race and racism and their intersectionality with other forms of subordination, the challenge to dominant ideology, commitment to social justice, the centrality of experiential knowledge, and the transdisciplinary perspective.  The study sought to take these five elements and apply them to the study of microaggressions, racial climate, and the experiences of African American college students.  The research was done using focus groups of African American undergraduate students from three predominantly White, Research I universities. 

Many students spoke about feeling invisible in the classroom.  They also felt that their experiences were omitted, distorted, and stereotyped in the curriculum.  There was also mention of how faculty had low expectation of them, even when evidence proved otherwise.  These types of interactions often would lead to a sense of self-doubt within the students.  Their responses also illustrated a negative racial climate outside of the classroom, in other academic spaces on campus.  This seems to indicate that a negative racial climate promotes more covert and subtle racism within the classroom and more overt racism outside of the classroom.  Such situations left the student feeling as if they could not perform well academically; some even stated that they were driven to drop a class, change their major, and even transfer schools.  Their experiences show that even at levels of higher education, racism and discrimination still exist.