Black Supremacy

Even though the Supremes' performances on The Ed Sullivan Show cannot be rightfully understood without addressing Motown's strategy of integration into mainstream American popular culture, such a perspective often leads to problematic assumptions. First, such a perspective implies that the presentation of the Supremes on television is to be perceived as a "practice of delegation," meaning that the Supremes become representative of the African American artist, the African American woman, and the black standard of beauty. Second, such a perspective implies that the Supremes merely presented or "appropriated" a white standard of beauty rather than a sophisticated image of black beauty. In both cases, the image of the Supremes is solely interpreted as the construction of a marginalized black beauty in relation to a hegemonic white beauty. As I argue, to fully understand the impact of the Supremes' beauty on an African American woman such as the young Oprah Winfrey, one needs to perceive the image of the Supremes not as an example of black imitation of white beauty but rather as a presentation of an evolving black beauty based on style, music, and the body. The Supremes' image - evolving from innocent elegance to excessive extravaganza - proved to be so powerful because it challenged the preconceived notions of black beauty, promising a more diverse perspective on African American identities and the possibilities beyond racial stereotypes.

(from my essay "From Elegance to Extravaganza: The Supremes on The Ed Sullivan Show as a Presentation of Beauty," in The Velvet Light Trap 49, spring 2002, pp. 4-17)

Operation Coffee Cup

In 1962, two decades before he would become president of the United States, former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan recorded a speech for the American Medical Association's Women's Auxiliary in which he "speaks out against socialized medicine." This record was used in the so-called "Operation Coffee Cup" project. The physicians' wives were to invite their friends and neighbors for an afternoon of drinking coffee, listening to the record, and writing letters to the members of Congress. "Write those letters now," as the smooth voice of Reagan told the women. "If you don't, Medicare, I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. If you don't do this, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free."

(from my book ... And the Pursuit of National Health, Rodopi 1999, p. 180, available online)

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