A 'Merely' Biracial Breakthrough?

By Tobin Harshaw

“Even if you vote for Obama, you’re still probably a racist, according to Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, in his remarks at a recent panel discussion at my alma mater,” writes Hans Bader at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s OpenMarket.org.

Ogletree, Obama’s top advisor on race issues, explains that since Obama is ‘biracial,’ his election won’t prove that racism has receded. White America won’t vote for blacks, Ogletree argues, and Obama’s election is possible only because he’s partly white. The ABA Journal predicts that Ogletree, who has long advocated race-based reparations, will be the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration.

(Audiotape available here.)

“It turns out that I’m wrong to think that Obama’s election would have even symbolic benefit,” writes a riled-up Ed Whelan at the Corner.

“So, under Ogletree’s drop-of-blood test, if you’re one of those folks who mistakenly think that the cases for Obama and McCain are reasonably close, there’s no symbolic achievement in electing Obama. You’d better wait for a real black candidate. Thanks, professor. … Maybe race-based reparations will be another way to ’spread the wealth’?”

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Now this sounds more like Brazilian race relations - they'll be talking about the 'mulatto escape hatch' next - SG


NY Times: Yoruba religious articles found in Annapolis, Maryland

Schematic drawing of a clay “bundle” filled with about 300 pieces of metal and a stone axe. The object dates to 1700 and differs from religious caches previously found in Maryland.

Published: October 21, 2008
Archaeologists have discovered what they say is one of the earliest examples of traditional African religious artifacts in North America.

Over the years of exploring the old houses and streets of Annapolis, Md., archaeologists have uncovered a trove of artifacts of early American slave culture. Among them are humble remains connected with religious practices, which bear the stamp of the slaves’ West African heritage.

Early in the 18th century, as they were being baptized, African-Americans clung to “spirit practices” in rituals of healing and the invocation of ancestral and supernatural powers. Sometimes called black magic, these occult rites would persist in America in modified form, later, as voodoo and hoodoo.

University of Maryland archaeologists have discovered in Annapolis what they say is one of the earliest examples of traditional African religious artifacts in North America. It is a clay “bundle,” roughly the size and shape of a football, filled with about 300 pieces of metal and a stone axe, whose blade sticks out of the clay, pointing skyward.

The bundle, found in April and dated to 1700, appears to be a direct transplant of African religion into what is now the United States, said Mark P. Leone, a professor of anthropology at Maryland who directed the excavations. The materials and construction, he said, differed from the hoodoo caches his teams had previously found in Annapolis.

“The bundle is African in design, not African-American,” Dr. Leone said in an announcement of the discovery. “The people who made this used local materials. But their knowledge of the charms and the spirit world probably came with them directly from Africa.”

In interviews last week, Dr. Leone and scholars of West African culture said they could not yet determine the bundle’s association with a specific religion or ethnic group.

Frederick Lamp, curator of African art at the Yale University Art Gallery, who was not involved in the discovery, said there was “no reason to doubt” the bundle’s direct link to the long tradition of West African religious practices. “But bundles filled with materials seen to have extraordinary spiritual power were used by many different cultures in Africa,” he said.

Dr. Lamp noted that X-rays of the bundle’s contents revealed an abundance of lead shot, iron nails and copper pins. “Some of the pins were bent, indicating this was a purposeful part of a ritual,” he said.

Metal worked in fire was widely seen as having special power, Dr. Lamp added, “and combining these materials in compacted clay was believed to increase the power of these objects.” The practice, he said, is well documented to this day among the Mande groups, principally in what are now Sierra Leone, Guinea and Mali, and the Yoruba people of Nigeria and Benin.

Nor should the Kongo people be ruled out as a source of these religious practices, scholars said. This culture, living in lands around the Congo River and in Angola and Cabinda, was a major source of African-American slaves. Kongo bundles contain stones, shells and other items that are supposed to hold the spirits of the dead for the use of the living in a custom that underlies hoodoo.

The bundle’s most striking component, the stone axe, was especially intriguing. Dr. Lamp said this brought to mind the Yoruba and the Fon people of Benin, who considered the axe blade a symbol of Shango, their god of thunder and lightning.

Matthew D. Cochran, a doctoral student in anthropology at University College London, who uncovered the bundle, said it would probably prove to be associated with Yoruba practices related to Shango.

In the lands of coastal West Africa then, and in its rural areas still, these rituals and materials were used by community practitioners, whose role was akin to that of American Indian medicine men. They were not attached to any world religion, or any institution. But people went to them at small sanctuaries in the woods in time of grief and distress. The practitioners, with one of these bundles at hand, rallied spiritual forces to deal with personal crises.

The Annapolis bundle, presumably made by a recent African immigrant, was excavated four feet below Fleet Street, which is near the Maryland Capitol and the waterfront. The object is 10 inches high, 6 inches wide and 4 inches thick. It remains intact, though an outer wrapping, probably of leather or cloth, has decayed, leaving an impression on the clay surface. The bundle is to go on display this week at the African American Museum in Annapolis.

Mr. Cochran said that as he dug at the bottom of the trench, the object first appeared to be a flat stone embedded in sediment. Then he saw small bits of lead shot scattered about. As the archaeologists freed the lumpy mass, a corner cracked open, exposing the pins and nails inside.

“I had seen hoodoo materials from Annapolis,” Mr. Cochran said, “and my sense immediately was that we had something African and important, but it was unclear what it was.”

In the next week, the bundle was examined and X-rayed by experts under the direction of Dr. Leone. The bundle’s age, from the turn of the 18th century, or no later than 1720, was estimated from well-dated pottery shards found in the excavations. But how the object survived the centuries is a mystery, though its placement on what was then the street surface suggests to Dr. Leone a surprising aspect of the practices of slaves at the time.

In previous explorations, material remains of African-related religion were almost always found buried in backyards or hidden under hearths and in basement corners. Early African-Americans seemed to practice their spirit rituals in secret.

A close examination, Dr. Leone said, showed that the bundle was probably originally placed in the gutter alongside the street, in the open for all to see. At the time the street was paved with logs and sawdust and only later covered with modern surfaces, burying the bundle.

Dr. Leone said the bundle’s visibility suggested “an unexpected level of public toleration” of African religion in colonial Annapolis. Most of the artifacts indicating that the practices were conducted in secrecy came from 50 years later. According to articles in a newspaper of the period, white people in Annapolis engaged openly in magic and witchcraft, of the English variety.

“So both European and African spirit practices may have been more acceptable then,” Dr. Leone concluded. “That changed after 1750 with the growing influence of the Enlightenment.”

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BBC: What does Medicine owe Africa?

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Bushmen. Pic caption:Credit: Chris Sattlberger/SPL
Bushmen use a plant to suppress their appetites
The contribution of European culture to medicine has long been recognised.

The Greeks are thought by many to be forerunners of modern medicine - they studied the progression of disease, they knew something of the inner workings of the body, and their language gave medicine many of its terms.

But the Greeks probably learnt much from the Ancient Egyptians who understood the workings of the body from practising mummification.

Imhotep, architect of the famous step pyramids, has even been dubbed the first "father of medicine" for his influence.

Egyptologist Stephen Quirke said that, although the information from the time is sketchy, Imhotep did have an important role to play.

He is credited with diagnosing and treating over 200 diseases and even performing surgery and dentistry. Some say his work even influenced Hippocrates.

There is a very close connection in African thinking between the spiritual and physical
Professor Peter Houghton, University College London

Katie Maggs, associate medical curator at London's Science Museum, said much of Africa's contribution to medicine had been overlooked.

"There is evidence that suggests African medicine, and primarily Egyptian healing cults and physicians, had an influence on Greek cultures and that there was a cultural exchange of ideas."

She added: "African medicine is a thriving enterprise.

"But there is a debate to be had about why Indian and Chinese medicines which you can get on the High Street, but African medicine is still very much a taboo subject. We need to go beyond that."

And she said Western medicine would not thrive in Africa if the medical knowledge built up there over centuries was ignored.

"The provision of bio-medical care won't happen unless people work very closely with traditional healers," she said.

On sale

Professor Peter Houghton, an expert in the study of natural medicines at University College London, said the medical establishment had traditionally dismissed herbal remedies as not having a scientific basis but that it was now possible to test the compounds involved.

A bronze statue of Imhotep next to a porcelain figure of Hippocrates
Imhotep: the first founder of medicine?

"We can analyse these complex mixtures and their complex effects on the body.

"There is a lot more interest in how we might be able to utilise these medicines."

He said a number of African herbal remedies were currently on sale in the UK or over the internet.

"One which is quite widely known is Devil's Claw, which is the root of a plant which comes from the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa, and is used for aches and pains.

"Then there is a cream made from an extract of the fruit of the sausage tree, that grows all over along the rivers in Savannah countryside, which I am doing some work on.

"The local people have used it for a long time for treating skin conditions, but you can get a cream on the internet in this country which some say is good for getting rid of pigmented areas and freckles and others say is useful for psoriasis.

"I would stress that this needs clinical tests, but that is the case for lots and lots of herbal medicines."

He added: "There was a lot of interest a few years ago in the anti-obesity properties of a South African plant called hootia, which looks like a cactus and was used by the bushmen to suppress their appetites when they went hunting."

Professor Houghton said the African contribution to medicine tended to be overlooked.

"It tends to be a continent, though not the only one, where you associate medicine with so-called witchcraft.

"But there is a very close connection in African thinking between the spiritual and physical.

"And now increasingly people are realising that you can't just treat people as machines, and that is one of the reasons for the popularity of complementary medicines - that people get treated more as people."

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Manuel Querino's tombstone

Photo: Ana Carla Nunes Pereira

Manuel Querino was originally buried in Quinta dos Lázaros Cemetery, but at some point his remains were transferred to the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos (Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black People), which means he probably belonged to the confraternity that is housed there to this day. The church was built by Black slaves and freedmen for their own use in the 17th century, when they were not allowed to worship alongside Whites.


PBS: Brazil in Black and White

Obama in Brazil

Photo Credit: Cameron Hickey.

Senator Barack Obama may have won last night’s President debate in the U.S., but in Brazil, another Barack Obama just lost the election. That’s Claudio Henrique-Barack Obama, a candidate for municipal council in the city of Belford Roxo, in the state of Rio di Janerio. Claudio Henrique “Barack Obama” dos Anjos was one of six candidates in this week’s elections in Brazil to register their candidacy under some form of the name “Barack Obama.” None of the Obamas won.

Politicians in Brazil often adopt attention-grabbing names during the election season — this year, about 200 candidates named themselves after the popular president Lula da Silva; others chose Bin Laden, Zinedine Zidane or Father Christmas.

Sen. Obama’s historic run for the U.S. presidency has been enthusiastically embraced by a country where almost half the population is of some African descent. This entire blog is dedicated to the Brazilian perspective on the U.S. presidential race.

In Brazil in Black and White, WIDE ANGLE reports on racial disparity in Brazil, following five college hopefuls from diverse backgrounds as they compete for a spots at the elite University of Brasilia.


Getting more like Brazil all the time

Published: October 5, 2008
One of this season’s fallacies is that if Barack Obama is paying an electoral price for his skin tone, it must be because of racists. Not so — the evidence is that he is facing what scholars have dubbed “racism without racists.”

One of the fallacies this election season is that if Barack Obama is paying an electoral price for his skin tone, it must be because of racists.

On the contrary, the evidence is that Senator Obama is facing what scholars have dubbed “racism without racists.”

The racism is difficult to measure, but a careful survey completed last month by Stanford University, with The Associated Press and Yahoo, suggested that Mr. Obama’s support would be about six percentage points higher if he were white. That’s significant but surmountable.

Most of the lost votes aren’t those of dyed-in-the-wool racists. Such racists account for perhaps 10 percent of the electorate and, polling suggests, are mostly conservatives who would not vote for any Democratic presidential candidate.

Rather, most of the votes that Mr. Obama actually loses belong to well-meaning whites who believe in racial equality and have no objection to electing a black person as president — yet who discriminate unconsciously.

“When we fixate on the racist individual, we’re focused on the least interesting way that race works,” said Phillip Goff, a social psychologist at U.C.L.A. who focuses his research on “racism without racists.” “Most of the way race functions is without the need for racial animus.”

For decades, experiments have shown that even many whites who earnestly believe in equal rights will recommend hiring a white job candidate more often than a person with identical credentials who is black. In the experiments, the applicant’s folder sometimes presents the person as white, sometimes as black, but everything else is the same. The white person thinks that he or she is selecting on the basis of nonracial factors like experience.

Research suggests that whites are particularly likely to discriminate against blacks when choices are not clear-cut and competing arguments are flying about — in other words, in ambiguous circumstances rather like an electoral campaign.

For example, when the black job candidate is highly qualified, there is no discrimination. Yet in a more muddled gray area where reasonable people could disagree, unconscious discrimination plays a major role.

White participants recommend hiring a white applicant with borderline qualifications 76 percent of the time, while recommending an identically qualified black applicant only 45 percent of the time.

John Dovidio, a psychologist at Yale University who has conducted this study over many years, noted that conscious prejudice as measured in surveys has declined over time. But unconscious discrimination — what psychologists call aversive racism — has stayed fairly constant.

“In the U.S., there’s a small percentage of people who in nationwide surveys say they won’t vote for a qualified black presidential candidate,” Professor Dovidio said. “But a bigger factor is the aversive racists, those who don’t think that they’re racist.”

Faced with a complex decision, he said, aversive racists feel doubts about a black person that they don’t feel about an identical white. “These doubts tend to be attributed not to the person’s race — because that would be racism — but deflected to other areas that can be talked about, such as lack of experience,” he added.

Of course, there are perfectly legitimate reasons to be against a particular black candidate, Mr. Obama included. Opposition to Mr. Obama is no more evidence of racism than opposition to Mr. McCain is evidence of discrimination against the elderly or against war veterans. And at times, Mr. Obama’s race helps him: it underscores his message of change, it appeals to some whites as a demonstration of their open-mindedness, and it wins him overwhelming black votes and turnout.

Still, a huge array of research suggests that 50 percent or more of whites have unconscious biases that sometimes lead to racial discrimination. (Blacks have their own unconscious biases, surprisingly often against blacks as well.)

One set of experiments conducted since the 1970s involves subjects who believe that they are witnessing an emergency (like an epileptic seizure). When there is no other witness, a white bystander will call for help whether the victim is white or black, and there is very little discrimination.

But when there are other bystanders, so the individual responsibility to summon help may feel less obvious, whites will still summon help 75 percent of the time if the victim is white but only 38 percent of the time if the victim is black.

One lesson from this research is that racial biases are deeply embedded within us, more so than many whites believe. But another lesson, a historical one, is that we can overcome unconscious bias. That’s what happened with the decline in prejudice against Catholics after the candidacy of John F. Kennedy in 1960.

It just might happen again, this time with race.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, and to join me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristof.