Tuesday, April 14, 2009

applaud piracy when white people do it

Is the Somali pirate story being filtered to Western audiences through a racially white perspective? Are the pirates presented any differently to us because they're black than they would be if they were white?

Would Johnny Depp's beloved pirate character, Jack Sparrow, be less beloved if a black actor played him instead?

Here's one alternative view on the Somali pirate story, a post in the "rants and raves" section of Craigslist in San Francisco--is this writer writing any truth, or just ranting and raving like a crazy person?

Why is it that everyone is criticizing and condemning these brutally poor pirates from Somalia who were mostly abused and raped as children, beaten for hours, many had been tortured and starved, and then on the other hand, it's treated as a Noble, Liberal Cause when Johnny Depp does it, when the character he plays easily could have gotten a decent job, even is offered decent jobs in the movie, but it's noble for him to be a pirate because he didn't want to live the square life of everyone else, be limited in income. It's hands across America for a white pirate because he prefers a life of murder, theft, drunken-ness, debauchery and sex and adventure over a life of hard work and toil, and liberal white people in San Francisco even sell pirate goods in the Mission in the same place they tutor kids, so many San Francisco white people murder and steal and do piracy, there's even a store for them. Johnny Depp is a hero to the racist pseudo-liberals of San Francisco.

These people in Africa are just a black version of Johnny Depp. It should be hands across America for them, but everyone hates them because they're black. If they looked like Johnny Depp they'd be on death row where they'd never get executed and getting conjugal visits and free food and TV and a beautiful wife like the one who has sex with the Night Stalker Richard Ramirez every week, give me a break. This is pure racism!

As Americans learn in school--and on TV--bad acts are only bad when faraway dark people do them, not when big, good, mostly white countries do them.

As far as I can tell, that's a lesson that most adult Americans haven't forgotten.

Who says the American indoctrination education system is broken!

h/t for the viddie: Myca


  1. Well, I think the major difference is that one is a MOVIE character and the other is a REAL LIFE piracy situation.
    I don't think race has anything to do with it. I think it has more to do with piracy, and the guy the CList is just ranting to rant.....like me!

  2. hey now, let's not hate on mister Depp. let's also take this moment to acknowledge that he's not technically white: "He has said in interviews that he is of Cherokee, Irish, and German descent, with some Navajo as well." (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000136/bio). he's what we call "passing for white." anyway, i do agree with the rest of this, where white people uplift violence and rebellion when white people do it, and then get all freaked out and scared when non-whites engage in it.

  3. Freaky Jay is right about the comparison, but that's not enough to dismiss race in how the pirates have been covered. What is most concerning is how the media has essentialized the story to simply acts of 'terrorism' against 'us' by irrational, violent peoples... which only serves to reproduce and sustain racist representations of Africa in the Western imaginary. You wouldn't know there is anything but looting, poverty, warlords and crazy pirates in Somalia if all you've been watching is CNN. Al-Jazeera and other international networks, on the other hand, have been mentioning the illegal fishing and nuclear waste being dumped in Somalia's waters which gives important context.

  4. @Freaky Jay -- I think the issue is the romanticization of pirates in the West. Pirates, (stereotyped) pirate culture, pirate treasure, "avast, me hearties", all of this is romanticized to the nth degree in white society. People have grown up playing pirates, there are pirate-themed amusement parks, restaurants, museums, etc. We should really ask, would it be different if the pirates were white?

    Personally, I'm not sure. It MIGHT. On the one hand, the pirates story is being depicted as "would you believe such a thing exists in this day and age", in other words, something that's backwards, behind-the-times, regressive. Add to that the taking of hostages -- the shock value would still exist for the media, it's a "juicy" story for both of these reasons. On the other hand -- and maybe this betrays my own biases -- I would think that there MIGHT be a greater exploration and emphasis of the pirates' motives had it really been a white issue. The question would then become, "how could such rational people engage in such barbarism"?

    Ultimately, though, I think because pirates are always against whoever is in power, the mainstream media would have a hard time giving them a proper break. Think social justice groups, and their attempts to get media attention. So, not so much a race issue as it is a class issue, in my opinion.


    >>hey now, let's not hate on mister Depp. let's also take this moment to acknowledge that he's not technically white: "He has said in interviews that he is of Cherokee, Irish, and German descent, with some Navajo as well."<<

    FilthyGrandeur, I think you should explore the question of what white really is. Is it JUST a matter of your racial/ethnic background, or are you adopted into white society? This is a question that I think Macon D continually explores (doing a really good job of it too, might I add! I've been staying up reading your previous blog entries, hehehe).

    Macon, I would be interested to hear your perspective on this.

  5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/you-are-being-lied-to-abo_b_155147.html

    and @ filthygrandeur

    let's not forget the tendency of white people to claim a non-white identity (namely, that of an indigenous person. very often of the cherokee tribe) to feel relieved of at least some of their white responsibility. don't know about depp personally, and really he's not the point, but how many times have white people claimed to have a cherokee princess in their family (just google "cherokee princess")? there's a tendency of white people to do this either to feel some connection to the land by relying on blood ties with an indigenous community or to try to distance themselves from the bad aspects of whiteness. perhaps he is indeed passing for white, but I tend to air on the side of doubt with this argument.

  6. I don't think real-life pirates (whatever their race) have ever been liked by anyone (unless they were affiliated with *your* country, perhaps).

    The romanticized pirates of fiction are a different matter, of course...

  7. A second ago I was at alternet.org reading the comments to an article about the Somali pirates by Somali rapper K'naan. One poster asks about the pirate in America a.k.a. Wall St. bankers. Sounds like a good call to me.

  8. Thanks deb, K'naan's article provides a lot of useful context in a relatively short space. I also recommend this post by nezua--it has a couple of video-interview clips with K'naan on this topic.

    Echo wrote,

    FilthyGrandeur, I think you should explore the question of what white really is. Is it JUST a matter of your racial/ethnic background, or are you adopted into white society? This is a question that I think Macon D continually explores . . . . Macon, I would be interested to hear your perspective on this.Echo, I agree with what I think you're saying, that white is more than just a matter of racial/ethnic background. It's also a matter of how if one basically looks "white," as Johnny Depp does, then the world will treat that person AS white, and white privilege (and in many cases, accrued generational white privilege) will come that person's way. Ethnicity becomes largely an identity option that one can adopt or sort of wear, or not, as one chooses. This is of course an option that's not open to most non-white Americans. So in this respect, although Depp's racial and ethnic background might be interesting in some other contexts, most Americans see him as "white," so I think it's fair to say that they're applaud a pirate who's perceived as white when they enjoy that Disney franchise. I don't know if Depp is really "passing for white," as FilthyGrandeur put it; I wonder how extensive his Native American blood and background actually are (but then, even if I knew, I'd have a hard time saying whether or not he's "passing for white" instead of actually, by today's standards, "white"). At any rate, I don't hate on Mister Depp for playing an entertaining pirate.

  9. This may be an American (or Western) induced situation.
    Haliburton and Blackwater are now based in Dubai.
    The middle-men between the West and the pirates are (were) the moneymen in Dubai.
    Dubai World Ports failed to gain control over US ports.
    Blackwater and Haliburton are now being positioned to take control over world shipping for "safety" reasons.
    This ISN"T racial - it's financial.

  10. Lets be honest here; at no point during Depp's movies was he, or any of the other 'good pirates' shown to be fighting innocent cvilian ships or merchantmen. Only other pirates or the Royal Navy.

    And its a heeell of a step from "protesting illegal fishing in our waters" to "hijacking Philipino-flagged container ships and holding the crew hostage until ransomed". These things do not relate.

    And there are a hell of a lot of things that get cult followings in cinema but certainly don't get applauded in real life; try your average serial killer movie.

    This is some serious reaching.

  11. UBJ, if that were the case, would the pirates then be functioning as scapegoats? And if so, wouldn't their not being "white" make it easier to use them as a scapegoat? Seems to me that as with the simplistic-but-useful concept of "Arab terrorists," highlighting the "pirates" against the backdrop of what's seen as a perpetually chaotic, threatening Africa, full of crazed gun-wielders, would make it easier to impose what amounts to a neocolonial "order."

  12. macon,
    while i'm not disagreeing with what you're saying about depp's ethnicity, and i do get what you're saying about how we treat him as white, i don't think that gives anyone the right to attribute an identity on someone else, which many of us do almost without thinking.

  13. Not to beat a dead horse, but this discussion about Depp is troubling to me. Race and ethnicity are separate entities. Race is a social construct based upon the perceptions of other people - it is a label given to them based on what people think and assume that they are.

    Ethnicity, on the other hand, is whatever the truth is - the individual's actual identity based on nationality, language, religion, geographic region, collective history, etc.

    Depp obviously is perceived as white and is afforded privilege based on that perception and assumption. However, that doesn't make it true, nor does it make it fair to deem him be whatever 'we' think he is (and ignore his voice in the process).

    Erasing his heritage because we see him as white is an exercise in arrogance.

  14. I agree with most of what you're saying, Filthy Grandeur and suenami. However, I think that for a person who's perceived as "white" to focus instead on other racial or ethnic categories in their ancestral past is often a way of avoiding the significance of the white privilege they nevertheless have. I have no idea just what Johnny Depp has said about his ethnic and racial status; while he's basically free to declare himself whatever he likes, I'd rather hear him and other celebrities identify and discuss their classification as "white."

    Are there any celebrities who do so? Basketball-star-turned-politician Bill Bradley is the only one I can think of--as a candidate awhile back, he explicitly exhorted Americans to deal with the significance of "white skin privilege."

    So yes, "Erasing [Depp's] heritage because we see him as white is an exercise in arrogance." Or maybe, ignorance? But as with other apparently "white" people, for celebrities to ignore or shove aside their "white" racial status as they assert other ones can be an exercise in arrogance and ignorance too, as well as irresponsibility.

  15. I'd rather hear him and other celebrities identify and discuss their classification as "white."I have never seen Johnny Depp talk about his ethnicity, nor do I really know how he self-identifies. His race is, undoubtedly, white. You are still confusing 'white' with ethnicity. White is a race. There is a difference.

    As someone who has native heritage, I can tell you that it is often erased, denied, doubted, and questioned. My race is white and I am afforded privilege because of it, but that doesn't reflect all of who I am.

    The reason that white people claim native heritage is because it is true, but it often cannot be proved as a result of the colonial history, the genocide, the attitudes that natives are 'less than' and the refusal of people (from past generations, especially)to acknowlege to their ethnic heritage out of fear.

    Who has the right to say who someone is, or what they should be? To think you know someone is arrogant. To impose an identity on someone is arrogance. That is why racism exists. That us how racist attitudes become instutionalized and systemic.

    The boxes are small and there is little room to move. That is why racial ambiguity makes people uncomfortable. If someone doesn't fit, then we make them fit, or we create a new box.

    The question is... what is the responsibility of the person whose race does not match her or his ethnicity?

    Celebrities struggle with racial ambiguity as much as anyone else. Other celebrities: Mariah Carey, Taboo (Black Eyed Peas), Prince, Jessica Alba, Derek Jeter, Cameron Diaz, Dean Cain...the list goes on.

    Why do they need to claim whiteness? One can acknowledge their privilege without claiming to be something they are not.

  16. Question: how does Taboo (Black Eyed Peas), Prince, Jessica Alba, and Cameron Diaz struggle with their ethnic and racial identity? As far as I know, Mariah is the only one who constantly goes on TV and cries about not knowing who she is which is annoying because it gives the impression that all or most mixed people have these struggles and most I believe don't.

    I don't know about Derek Jeter or Dean Cain.

  17. Taboo, Prince, Jessica Alba, Cameron Diaz, and Dean Cain all get attention for being "racially ambiguous," because their ethnicities don't match their perceived races. Tiger Woods is another example. (In response to MaconD's mention of Bill Bradley).

  18. I'm wondering where were the pirates when slave ships were bum rushing the West Coast of Africa and "trading" with African chiefs. :-?

  19. @ deb:
    if you know anything about the history of piracy, then you'll know that often times pirates attacked slave ships--many would be slaves were then given the options to remain slaves or join the pirate crew--which do you think they chose?

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  21. Don't suppose that it occurred to anyone that whether it is white piracy privilege or minority piracy privilege, anyone seen having it is bound to cultivate the practice. What then?

  22. Another thing that's left out is the real-life piracy that the Somali "pirates" are responding to. For years, foreign ships have illegally fished their waters. Peaceful methods changed nothing, and the people of the Somali coast saw their livelihood dwindle. Since no one was willing to lift a finger to help them, some Somalis took matters into their own hands.

    If it were the Texan Gulf Coast, and the illegal fishing were being done by Mexicans, the pirates would get human interest pieces on FOX and the major newspapers.

  23. They're ranting like a crazy person! Especially the last line. Whoever wrote that must not realize they are comparing a fictional Disney-fied 'pirate' character. Captian Jack Sparrow is an anti-villain (look the term up) a likable charismatic character that is entertaining (and not to mention very attractive. No offense to Geoffrey Rush, but females did not gravitate toward Captain Barbossa). I'm pretty sure I've never seen Jack Sparrow severely harm innocents in any of the three movies. Also note that Jack Sparrow has a darker skin complexion in appearance.

    Johnny Depp is not part Navajo, only Cherokee - his grandfather and great grandmother, whom he grew up with. This is only two generations back, which makes him a quarter Native American. Unlike the many white celebrities who claim some obscure Native ancestry to seem 'exotic', but do not participate in NA organizations (Depp does) or discuss Amerindian issues (Depp does). He is in deed mixed race [which he considers himself to be] and although most would point out that he can 'pass' for white, he looks very Native in appearance, especially his cheekbones. I did some research and made a post about it here.


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