The following is a main outline for a speech I wrote for my Speech Foundations class. The information presented is true and includes a works cited section at the end of the blog post. However, the information was presented in a fictional setting, with myself as a Professor of History at UGA speaking at the Jazz Education Network annual conference, which is a real conference. Three other people presented speeches on the social impact of Jazz, besides myself. The first person talked about the birth of Jazz in New Orleans. The second person talked about the Harlem Renaissance. I gave my speech, and then the last person spoke about how Jazz has spread to other countries, and about how it’s empowering. The purpose of the assignment was to determine our ability to give an informative speech, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this research and presentation. It gave me a new appreciation of Jazz music.
At the top of the speech text I’ve embedded the PowerPoint slides I used during my presentation. Cues for changing the slides are in the text. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed learning and speaking about it.
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Title: The Effects of “Strange Fruit”
Speaker: Professor of US History, University of Georgia
Specific Purpose: Recognizing the cultural influence of Strange Fruit, a Jazz song, at the third annual Jazz Education Network (JEN) conference.
Thesis Statement: The Jazz song, Strange Fruit, played an important role in raising public awareness regarding the horrors of lynching and the necessity of ensuring civil rights.
1) Attention Getter: In 2009, a group of Caucasian and Latino firemen sued New Haven, Connecticut, for racial discrimination when a promotion test was thrown out, simply because no African Americans were able to pass (Tedford). The fight to find equality between the races is far from over, but these days conflicts are usually resolved in court. That wasn’t always the case. There was a time when the answer to race conflict usually ended with a public lynching. (slide 2)
2) Establishment of Ethos: As a professor of American history, I have been studying and teaching civil rights issues and how they have affected US History for almost 10 years. What I’ve discovered is that…
3) Thematic Statement: … Jazz music, through Billie Holiday’s rendition of “Strange Fruit”, played a significant role in raising public awareness of civil rights issues.
4) Preview of Main Points:
a) Despite efforts and progress made during Reconstruction, racism increased dramatically, to the point it became publically acceptable and a source of pride among Caucasians.
b) Racial tensions were running so high that Billie Holiday didn’t even want to sing “Strange Fruit” initially, but after agreeing, it became a huge success.
c) Billie Holiday’s song, “Strange Fruit”, became an important reminder to the public of the horrors of lynching and a reminder to African Americans of what they were fighting against.
(Transition: (Open image of lynching). To get an idea of the social climate when “Strange Fruit” was first sung, let’s take a look at this photo of a lynching.)
1) If you look at this photo, you can see how widespread and publically acceptable it was to lynch African Americans during the years following Reconstruction. If you look closely, (point to man pointing at bodies) you can see that for many people, it was even a source of pride. This man definitely wants his peers to know he approves of what’s being done. After the Reconstruction Era, race relations quickly degraded. Gone With the Wind, first published in 1936 and often considered one of the best books ever written (Loewen 144), even “suggests that slavery was an ideal social structure whose passing is to be lamented” (Loewen 137). (slide 3) A passage from that book reads: “The former field hands found themselves suddenly elevated to the seats of the mighty. There they conducted themselves as creatures of small intelligence might naturally be expected to do. Like monkeys or small children turned loose among treasured objects whose value is beyond their comprehension, they ran wild – either from perverse pleasure in destruction or simply because of their ignorance” (Loewen 144). (slide 4, I added this after writing the speech, at the last minute, and spoke about how lynching was so publically acceptable that it developed into an industry like modern day tourism) With so much positive social reinforcement for keeping blacks in their ‘place’, is it any wonder that whites engaged in lynching or that they were in fact proud of their participation, even posing in lynching photos like this one?
2) A picture very much like the one above prompted Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx, to write “Strange Fruit”, which was originally a poem (Strange Fruit: The Film). (Pass out lyrics to class). Billie Holiday was first approached to sing the song while working at an establishment called Café Society. When she read the lyrics, she was reluctant to commit to singing it. (slide 5, emphasize the climate of fear in the late 30s) She later said, “I was scared that people would hate it” (White 49-50). The café manager, Barney Josephson, insisted that she perform the song and turned it into a dramatic production. When she sang, all service would stop and the lights would be turned off, with only a spotlight on Billie’s face. Josephson said, “People had to remember Strange Fruit, get their insides burned with it” (White 50). People did remember it.
3) “Strange Fruit” climbed to #16 (Kolodzey) on the US Billboard Chart and, according to a PBS documentary, “made it impossible for white Americans and politicians to continue to ignore the Southern campaign of racist terror” (Strange Fruit: The Film). According to Caryl Phillips, who wrote a stage play called “Strange Fruit”, based on themes in Billie Holiday’s song, “Those who heard “Strange Fruit” in the late 30s were shocked, for the true barbarity of southern violence was generally only discussed in black newspapers. To be introduced to such realities by a song was unprecedented…” (Phillips). What was truly revolutionary about this song was that it broke the traditional role of the café singer, which was to entertain (Phillips). Instead, Billie Holiday was able to use this song to promote an idea to her audience, to educate them and leave them unable, as PBS said, to ignore the problems of racism. Because of its high popularity, “Strange Fruit” is credited with a major role in increasing Caucasian social awareness of the fledgling civil rights movement (Kolodzey). When she performed the song for an African American audience at the Apollo, the end of her song was followed by a moment of heavy silence and then a rustling noise as 2000 African American patrons collectively sighed, perhaps after mentally reliving horrors in their minds that they had themselves witnessed (White 55). To Billie herself, the song came to symbolize “all the cruelties, all the deaths, from the quick snap of the neck to the slow dying from all kinds of starvation” (White 55).
(Transition: You’ve heard about the social atmosphere during the 1930s. You’ve heard about how the song was created and initially introduced to the public. You’ve heard about the impact it had on American culture. Now, I’d like to give you an opportunity to hear the song for yourself. )
(Slide 6, Play video. Note: Video doesn’t work in the embedded slideshow, so I’ve inserted it below)
1) (slide 7) Music is powerful. Billie Holiday’s use of “Strange Fruit” to excite the public imagination regarding the horrors of lynching and the need for equality prove that. In an atmosphere of fear, she was brave enough to sing it. Because of her passion, she turned it into a powerful call to action that affected Caucasian Americans across the country.
2) So, when you think of Billie Holiday, don’t just remember her for being an entertainer. Remember her for using Jazz music as a platform for promoting the necessity of one of the greatest accomplishments in our nation’s history, the establishment of civil rights.
Kolodzey, Jody. “Stranger Than Fiction.” 24 March 2003. In These Times. 17 June 2011 .
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: Touchstone, 2007.
Phillips, Caryl. “Blood at the root.” 18 August 2007. Guardian.co.uk. 17 June 2011 .
“Strange Fruit: The Film.” n.d. PBS: Independent Lens. 17 June 2011 .
Tedford, Deborah. Ruling on Firefighters Tests Tensions In New Haven. 1 July 2009. 15 June 2011 .
White, John. Billie Holiday: Her Life & Times. New York: Universe Books, 1987.
Did you know that there’s no such thing as ‘race’? Not in the traditional sense of the word anyway. I did some reading and watched a video lecture for an anthropology discussion assignment and that’s the idea that was being presented, just from two different angles. I thought the topic was fairly interesting, so I’m trying to combine my answers to the questions that were asked into a coherent post here. I apologize if it seems a bit disjointed.
In his essay, The Concept of Race in Physical Anthropology, C. Loring Brace presents evidence showing that people are biologically the same, and that we merely have physical differences that developed based on what part of the world we’re living in, or where our ancestors are from. He presents an argument of biological populations versus the idea of clines, which says that there are merely gradations of characteristics that flow from one place to the next.
Brace discussed how old travelers would move over land from place to place and they would slowly see people’s appearances change. He said that the idea of ‘race’ didn’t come into common usage until people started colonizing new areas. When you’re going on foot, the gradations of appearance are subtle and you hardly notice them, but when you get on a boat in one place and get off the in another, the difference in appearance is obvious right away. It also gives you a feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’. You can read more of the details by clicking the document icon at the bottom of the post to download the .pdf of his essay, but his argument against racism is that there is no biological foundation for ‘race’. We’re all the same species and merely have adaptations suited for the areas we came from. Brace stated in his essay that he found traits that crossed groups of people popularly identified as ‘races’.
Brace states that “‘race’ is whatever people think it should be”. Since ‘race’ has no biological foundation, the concept of race is culturally relative and is entirely dependent on the observer. That observer’s concept of race will be affected by what part of the world they’re from, the culture they grew up in, and popular ideas of the time. So, a person’s concept of race is completely arbitrary, and will be whatever they think it should be to fit their own world perspective and/or goals. An example is how Hitler, and many other Germans at that time, considered Jews and Gypsies to be distinct races.
The popular concept of ‘race’ is limiting because it can cause people to narrow their focus to trying to find differences and similarities between ‘races’, instead of across all people, everywhere. It can also be dangerous, in that it can be used as an excuse to commit atrocities toward other groups of people, or to place those people in positions of ‘justified’ subjugation.
Stuart Hall, on the other hand, argued in the video lecture embedded above that race is a floating signifier, or a badge. Hall states that ‘race’ is based on shared history and experiences and that our biological features merely act as a floating signifier, so that we can identify each other, and ourselves, with that same shared history. In the case of “blacks”, he used the heritage of the insult of prolonged slavery as the example of the shared history attached to the floating signifier of “black”.
As a floating signifier, we use ‘race’ to assign certain qualities to a group of people, thereby assuring ourselves of our own place in the social hierarchy and creating social stability. In that way, Hall’s ideas align with Brace’s, in that ‘race’ is “whatever people think it should be”, because according to Hall, what people want ‘race’ to be is a stabilizing force in society that lets them know who they are, or how they should be.
(We were then asked to apply Hall’s theory of race formation to the USA.)
Applying Hall’s theory of ‘race’ formation to the US is difficult, because the country is young and there are still large scale immigrations of new people from other parts of the world. A lot of people in the US put a great deal of value on remembering where they came from and holding onto and passing down those traditions, and brush aside new experiences in the US as inconsequential to who they are as a ‘race’. So, if the question is about whether or not an American ‘race’ might eventually form, then it’s possible, a long, long time in the future, if people stop seeing mere physical appearance as the only indicator of ‘race’, but for the near future I think the US will continue to be a collection of ‘races’, the same way that it’s a collection of States.
Another classmate, Henry M., had this to say about applying Hall’s theory to the USA:
In the US, it seems that racial formation is a part of popular culture. In many debates, the “race card” is more often than not misused as a sole basis and foundation for argument without really knowing the history behind it. By perpetuating this misunderstanding, the “code of common sense” Hall talked about is also made immortal by the very people fighting against racism
To which I replied:
One day, when the traditional idea of people being members of different physical races fades away, a new argument will arise to perpetuate traditional distrust and dislike along the same lines. I don’t think it matters whether the idea is one of physical differences or cultural differences, so long as there are people, or actions, perpetuating the stereotypes. The ideas of racism are so embedded into our culture that it would take generations of an aggressive education policy to even start stamping it out. I think one way to achieve that goal is to stop spending billions a year on foreign wars and instead pump that money into public education. How much better could the US be if tertiary education was not only free, but a legal obligation to complete?
The ideas are fascinating, and I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying being back in school. It’s nice to have some intelligent conversation and good education to broaden my horizons.
What do you think about these ideas?
Yesterday was Black Friday, a day notorious for being a retail hell, with people going crazy over sales. The shops weren’t the only place that crazy was breaking through to the surface though. After a long day at work, I was on my way home. I had just gotten back downtown and was waiting at a bus stop to transfer onto a cross-town bus for the last part of my trip. When the bus pulled up, a few people got off and then a woman went up the steps and started dropping change into the fare box, so I followed behind her, ready to dip my card into the machine. When the woman ahead of me finished, I dipped my card and paid my fare and right as I did, a woman with a cane pushed past the first lady boarding the bus and started shouting, “Getting off the bus! Getting off the bus!”
I stepped back as far as I could to give her room to get by. Now, I assume this woman was nuts, because instead of stepping past and going down the stairs, she spread her arms out and pushed up against me, then hit me with her cane repeatedly, all the while shouting, “Getting off the bus! Getting off the bus!” She didn’t continue on. She just stood there looking at me, whacking my legs with her cane.
Not being in the mood to be slowly bludgeoned to death by an old woman with a cane, I pushed her away from me and said, “Get off the fucking bus then.” She started yelling at me and hit me in the arm with her cane.
Right away, the bus driver said, “Hey, why you messin’ with dat old woman?”
My first thought was, ‘Are you fucking serious?’ and I said to him, “Because the bitch hit me with her cane.”
The driver replied, “She’s trying to get off the bus.”
I told him, “That doesn’t give her an excuse to start hitting me with her cane.”
The driver said, “Well, you should have let her get off the bus before you came up.”
So I said, “I was already up here and paid. I backed up and gave her plenty of space. She had plenty of room to get down.”
He said, “Well, you could have gotten back down and waited for her to get off.”
At this point, I’d reached the end of my patience, with the driver being a moron and the woman still yelling at my back so I said, “Fuck no. She had enough room. She can go fuck herself and so can you.”
Then I walked back into the bus to find a seat. As I was walking away, the woman yelled at me, “You asshole!”
So, I looked back over my shoulder and said, “Ya, fuck you!” Then I sat down and waited.
It took quite a while for other people to start coming on the bus. I guess the old woman was making a big show up there. The buses are double length, with a swivel section in the middle, so I don’t know what, if anything, more was said. Maybe she was being extra slow getting off the bus as her final act of retaliation for not putting up with her craziness.
The next guy to get on the bus came and sat down across the aisle from me and said, “Hey yo, I saw that whole shit go down. That bitch was crazy. Fuck that driver. He made an issue out of that shit because of the color of your complexion and that old lady’s complexion, tryin’ to make that shit all racial. That woman had no business hitting you with her cane. I saw it all man.”
Then a lady sat in front of me and said that the old woman is lucky she did that to someone with an even temper, because if I had been a “bad” person, I might have done something nasty to her. She said the woman must have a problem with her head.
It’s true. You never know what kind of person you’re talking to or what they’re capable of, especially in New York City, where crazy people are so common. I’m not going to beat up someone that’s obviously mentally imbalanced, but I’m not going to stand there and let them assault me and then just smile about it either.
To clarify what the guy that sat across from me was saying, the driver was black and so was the woman with the cane. I don’t know if it was a racial issue, but it seems odd to me that the driver just automatically assumed I was at fault. He didn’t seem to have a problem with the first woman who got on the bus, who was also black and in the old woman’s way. It was just me.
So, I guess you could say this was a double dose of crazy, crazy crazy and crazy racism crazy. Like I said to the guy that pointed it out to me, though, this is just another day in New York City.
via Yahoo! News:
Hani was rescued from her employers’ home a week ago. She was found by another Indonesian cleaner hired to replace her who noticed a foul smell coming from a locked bathroom.
Police said that when she was found she was tied up around her arms and legs, and was bruised all over her body. Among her injuries were a serious wound to the right leg that exposed the bone.
Local papers reported Hani had been abused by her employers almost daily during the two months she worked at their home.
One of Asia’s largest importers of labour, Malaysia depends heavily on domestic workers, mainly from Indonesia, but has been criticised for not passing legislation to govern their rights and conditions.
In May, the government announced plans for new laws to protect domestic workers from sexual harassment, non-payment of wages and poor working conditions.
Indonesian maids typically work seven days a week for as little as 400 ringgit (113 dollars) a month.
I hadn’t had much exposure to the practice of having hired help in the home until moving to Singapore. It’s apparently a very common practice in Asia, which surprised me. In the United States it would be nearly impossible for the average person to afford hired help, but in Asia even middle-income families can generally afford a maid. The reason for that is that the wages paid to these domestic helpers is very small in comparison to ‘normal’ wages made in the country where they work.
From what I’ve seen in the admittedly short time I’ve been in Asia, people rely on their domestic helpers to care for their homes and even their children in some cases. They work long hours, often 7 days per week depending on the employer. So, why is it that there’s no legislation to protect them? Why is it that they’re paid a wage that’s so small local children would reject it from a part-time job?
These women leave their homes in search of a better life and are often used as the butt of a joke, or abused, sometimes sexually. Then there is the rare occasion where a domestic helper is beaten to death, or commits suicide. It’s disgusting.
Sometimes it’s not possible for these women to pick up and leave and go back home. How could they if they’re paid so little they can’t afford the ticket? Or if their wages are being withheld? Or if they’re locked in the house and not allowed out?
If you’ve been keeping up with my blog recently you’ll have read that Singapore can be a pretty rough place for a foreigner. There’s plenty of racism and discrimination from locals. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is also common in the work place.
In Singapore business, appearance is everything. Companies want to present the best image they can, regardless of the internal cost and that’s usually going to be at someone’s expense, because they want a certain level of service to be rendered but at the same time they don’t want to put forward the capital or manpower required to adequately meet their goals. Someone winds up suffering, and those someones are typically foreign workers.
You see, being in Singapore on a work permit is a rather unique situation. People usually apply for jobs in Singapore through recruitment agencies in their home countries. If they’re approved they receive a card that designates them as being about to legally enter Singapore without needing their passport stamped and remain for the duration of their work contract. Now, people that do this sort of thing are either looking to improve their lives, or they have financial obligations at home, like a family to support. Either way, they have to maintain their job. If a person loses their job they’re only given so many days to find a new one before they have to leave Singapore, and sometimes that time-frame is only 2 weeks. You see what I’m saying? There’s a lot of pressure to make sure you stay in your employer’s good graces, because you’re almost guaranteed to have to leave the country if you leave your job. Moving from one country to another can be a big deal. It can be even more stressful when your income is cut off and you have obligations to meet.
In other words, there’s really no wriggle-room. You work, or you get put out and you have to leave the country.
Being the pricks they are, people like to take advantage of that here. They create unrealistic expectations in their KPIs. They ask employees to stay longer hours, often unpaid, to do more work, even if that employee has exceeded the target set for the day. This is done so that the company can get around hiring more people to manage the workload more effectively, but is an abuse to the worker. In the case of maids, I’m sure there are far worse abuses that happen despite the strict rules regulating maids in Singapore.
Regardless, there’s no much of a recourse for these foreign workers. If they decline the request to work the longer hours too many times, they’ll simply be let go and they’ll have to pack up the life they’ve made in Singapore and return to their country, often with not much to show for their efforts and no immediate prospects for work. If they file a complaint with the company? Same result. File a complaint with MoM? Well, something might happen in the future but the company would find a reason to fire that person. Change their job? Well, it’s not always that easy. Most foreigners come to Singapore on a contract, so they can’t change jobs. If they can, it could be hard to find one, and if they do, and there’s even the slightest delay in the paperwork, they could have to pack up and leave the country and then come back once the new contract is approved.
You see what I’m getting at here? The labor laws in Singapore regarding foreigners are either not strict enough or they’re not being properly enforced to protect the interests of the foreign workers that are being hired. These people are employees, not slightly paid slave labor.
I was thinking about this question because of something that happened earlier today. I woke up briefly in the morning and I thought I heard the maid crying. I’m sick, though, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. Later, I found out that there had been a problem.
She had recently bought a laptop computer. It was her first so I had to give her a few pointers, and she seemed really excited by things like Yahoo! Messenger and Facebook. This morning, she was on Facebook chatting with someone she had met. Apparently the guy was really into her. Then she told him what she does as a profession.
In her own words, “…then he ridiculed me and rejected me like a dog.”
Is it really that serious? A woman brought to tears and rejected out of hand just because of what she does for a living? She’s a maid, not a prostitute.
Let me quote something I wrote just recently:
As another example, maids in Singapore are typically foreign laborers and it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “You look like my Filipina maid”, with a voice full of derision and disrespect. While being a maid is by no means a glorious job, these women accepted an opportunity to better themselves by earning more money in a foreign country, far from their homes. To me, that shows a desire to progress and improve and is far from being a fault. Also, I’m not really clear what makes these people think that maids are inherently ugly, except that perhaps they associate profession with looks, class, and appeal. Or perhaps the average Singaporean equates attractiveness with the amount of a persons’ paycheck? I’d also like to highlight that this common saying emphasizes many Singaporeans’ real belief that they are better than foreign laborers, just because of where they’re from.
I really can’t express enough how disgusting and ridiculous this superior mentality is. A person’s value is not based on what job position they hold, or how many years they went to school. If you get along with someone, why shut them down just because of what job they hold? Our maid is one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever met. Ethnicity and education have nothing to do with that.
This is Singapore, not Nazi Germany. This country was built up by a collective of peoples from all over Asia and is today a fairly multicultural center. There are people from all over the world living in Singapore. So why is it there are still these ridiculous ideas that some people should be shunned based on where they’re from? A lot of Westerners would shun Singaporeans because they’re from Asia, and dismiss educational certificates because they’re from a second-rate country. Wouldn’t feel nice to be on the receiving end would it?
Also, just being born in an somewhat affluent country doesn’t mean you’re better than someone from a poorer country. It just doesn’t work that way. A difference in the value of a nation’s currency doesn’t indicate a difference in the value of the people. Singapore is just lucky. That’s all. The country is in a good location to make money from shipping, and the government instituted imported labor policies that allowed Singapore to become a wealthy nation. Imported labor. Ya, those same people that are being mocked and ridiculed are the people that made Singapore what it is.
I hadn’t planned on revisiting this topic, but after this fiasco with our maid, I had to speak up again.
The whole “We’re better than you because you’re not one of us” thing didn’t work for Nazi Germany. It didn’t work for Japan. It’s not going to work for Singapore either.