Tuesday, June 30, 2009

wonder whether describing a condom as a "sombrero" is racist

Wear Your Sombrero Condom Pal™ Assortment

Yesterday I was talking to a young woman -- I’ll call her Terry -- about her current part-time job. She’s part of a team that visits local high schools, in pairs or individually, to do presentations on sexual health and awareness. She had a complaint about her boss to ask me about, since she knows I write this blog.

“I definitely try to be careful about anything even potentially racial when I’m presenting,” Terry said, “but then our boss said something that seemed to me like just, too much.”

“Yeah?” I said. “About what?”

“Well, when we’re explaining how to use a condom, we’re supposed to describe the shape it should have when you first put it on. So, we always say it should look like a sombrero, instead of a beanie.”

“Okay. I get it. It gets that shape because there’s supposed to be more air left at the end, right?”

“Right. So my boss says, ‘We really need to stop saying sombrero, and we need to come up with some other description.’”


“Because she says sombrero is racist!”

“Maybe it is. But you disagree.”

“Yes. I mean, I get that a sombrero is a Mexican thing, and a beanie isn’t racial or ethnic. But a sombrero IS a Mexican hat, isn’t it? And most people know what it looks like, right?”

“Most people, I guess. But I’m not a kid anymore, like the ones you’re presenting to. Do they know what a sombrero is?”

“Sure, I think so. But I don’t get how comparing a condom that looks the way it should to a sombrero is racist. A sombrero isn’t a person, it’s a thing. And it’s an ACTUAL thing.”

“Hmm. That’s true. So, you’re asking me if I think that’s racist too?”

“Right. Because I don’t think it is racist.”

I know Terry well, so I know that she cares and thinks about these things in a deeper way than most white Americans do. That is, she’s not one to throw around charges of “political correctness” when people claim that something is racist. In fact, I’ve never heard Terry describe anything as “politically correct.” So I knew she wasn’t just saying that her boss was being “pc,” and over sensitive, and brushing off her claim about the word “sombrero.” Terry really wanted to figure out HOW using “sombrero” in a presentation on sexual awareness is racist.

“Okay,” I said, “Let’s see.”

I was stalling. I wasn’t sure myself that “sombrero” in this situation is racist, and if it is, just why that’s so.

Terry was waiting.

“So you said most or all of the kids will easily know what a sombrero looks like.”


“Well, how do they know that? Wouldn’t they get those ideas from movies, and TV shows? Maybe from their textbooks too.”

“Right. It’s just common knowledge, you know? A sombrero is just a hat. That happens to be a Mexican hat.”

“Well, that’s true, but I bet these kids have common stereotypes in their heads about Mexicans.”

“Maybe. Probably.”

“And what would those be?”

“Um, lazy. Illegal immigrant.”

“Yes, I think so. So, does the image of a sombrero bring those associations to mind for your audience? I mean, when I was a kid, we had this kind of cartoon image of a Mexican person taking a siesta under a huge, cartoonish sombrero. The word ‘sombrero’ brings that image to mind, and the stereotype of Mexicans as lazy. Do you think it does that for your audience too?”

“Hmm. It doesn’t for me. I mean, I’m seventeen, so I’m not much older than these kids.”

“Okay, well, maybe it’s not racist to say ‘sombrero’ then.”

“Right. So far, I don’t see anything wrong with saying ‘sombrero’ when I’m talking about condoms. It’s a useful image because just about everyone knows what they look like.”

“Okay, let’s see. I’m not trying to find a way to defend your boss’s claim. And you know I’m not reflexively ‘pc’ either.”


“I’m just trying to see how it could be racist. So far, for me, I wouldn’t use it because even if the same stereotypes don’t come to mind for you that do for me, they might come to mind for someone in your audience. Maybe just for the older people in the room, like the teacher whose class your visiting.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Also, a sombrero is considered a Mexican thing, right? So, let’s say that you have someone in the class who’s from Mexico, or even somewhere else, in Latin America? Or what if they’re just, Latin American, period?”

“Yes, that happens. I do have students like that when I’m presenting.”

“So, I think it’s possible that you’re singling those students out with that word. I mean, the idea of a sombrero might bring that student to mind for the other students. They might even turn around and look at that student, or like, smile or smirk while they’re thinking about a sombrero, and also thinking about that student.”

“Hmm. I can see that. I mean, I can imagine that. But I’ve never noticed any students acting like that when I did say sombrero.”

“Well, yeah, but who knows what they’re thinking. Anyway, that might be a reason not to use that word.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Terry said. “I don’t want to single anyone out.”

“Right. It seems like that might happen, even though you’re not directly talking about this or that student when you use that word.”

“Actually, come to think of it, it’s true that sombreros get used for humor a lot. I mean, I see them on like, ‘Family Guy,’ and ‘King of the Hill.’ And they’re supposed to make the white person wearing them look ridiculous.”

“True," I said, "and that happens in other situations too. It’s like, there’s supposed to be something funny about sombreros. And yet, like you said, they ARE a real Mexican thing.”

“True,” Terry said. “Like those stupid racist ‘taco-and-tequila’ parties.”

“Yeah,” I said, “dressing up like that is supposed to be fun, and funny. A white person in a sombrero, again. It’s making fun of a real thing from Mexico. But then, you’re not making fun of sombreros in your presentations.”

“Right! So I still don't get what’s wrong with comparing a condom to a sombrero in that situation.”

“Well, it’s true,” I said, “that a sombrero is just a hat that happens to be from Mexico. But suddenly throwing the idea of a sombrero into unrelated situations brings certain associations or ideas to mind for people. Things that ridicule or trivialize Mexico and Mexican people. And Latinos more generally, I think. And also, you know, maybe those are things that distract from your presentation, too.”

We fell silent for a moment. I don’t know how fully convinced either one of us was.

“Well,” I said. “If you come up with any more solid ideas about it, I hope you’ll let me know.”

“Sure thing, you too. Thanks for the input.”

“You’re welcome. I think there’s more to say about the topic. Tell you what -- I’ll do a blog post and ask my readers about it.”

“Great idea. I’ll be sure to read it.”

“And by the way, did your boss suggest some other word? Something else besides sombrero, to describe how the condom is supposed to look?”

“No! That’s the other thing -- she doesn’t think we should use it, but then she didn’t come up with some other suggestion.”

“Dang. Thanks a lot, eh?”

“Yeah. That’s what I almost said.”

So, dear readers, what do you think -- should those who explain to a high-school audience the proper shape for an about-to-be-deployed condom avoid saying that it should look like a sombrero? And if so, can you suggest a viable substitute?

And finally, on a lighter, somewhat related note, since I do want to promote safe sex, here's one of the best condom ads I’ve ever seen.

Unless, that is, it’s racist . . .

Monday, June 29, 2009

get upset when whiteness is momentarily bumped off center-stage

This guest post (which also appears here) is by Renee, who blogs at the excellent, prolific, and always powerful Womanist Musings. Renee lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada with her two "darling little boys" and her "unhusband." She writes about herself, "I am a committed humanist. I believe in the value of people over commodities. I believe in the human right to food, clothing, shelter, and education. I am pacifist, anti-racist, WOC. My truth may not be your truth, but I intend to speak it nonetheless."

"OOOPS The Blacks Are Chatting On Twitter"

Last night was the BET tribute to Michal Jackson. I am the first to admit that there are plenty of issues with BET in terms of plain old fashioned coonery and sexism, however their attempt to honour Michael came from a good place. I did not watch the show, as I refuse to pay for that kind of nonsense to be beamed into my home furthermore I am raising two young boys that do not need their heads filled with that kind of nonsense. A network that can produce hot ghetto mess is not worth five seconds of attention.

As one would expect many people watched the tribute and were tweeting their experiences. I tweeted my thoughts of the red carpet which was hosted by Don Lemmon on CNN. (Yeah I know, did you think you would see the day when BET was featured on CNN?) At any rate, with the number of people watching and tweeting, it quickly became a trending topic.

Twitter became a bridge for people to come together to share their impressions on the ever controversial BET. This interactive format gave many people of color an outlet for our frustrations, rather than the usual snarky commentary from a couch that goes nowhere. Twitter provided a platform for the voices of people of color.

There are those that found the trending topics disturbing. How dare black people have the nerve to communicate with each other in such large numbers. Did we actually forget that the internet was created for whiteness?

The above are just a sampling of the tweets posted last night. The rest can be found here. Dear God who let Black people on Twitter? Seriously, allowing these topics to trend is a legitimate threat to white hegemony….Whiteness must be the center of any and all conversations at all times, otherwise uppity people of color might come to believe that their issues are worth serious consideration.

We have moved to such a post racial state that it is not necessary to talk about issues that concern Blackness, Whiteness can function as the default for all. There certainly isn’t any racism or privilege involved in this at all. WHEEE… My, how things have changed since, slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement and the election of a Black president.

Update: Another one, via Nezua's Imaginando:

Nezua: "sez dickboy as he throws up a 'gang' sign. people are so confused its embarrassing."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

get inside the heads of non-white people

Michael Jackson
(1958 - 2009)

How do those in the oppressed group answer the question "who am I?" Albert Memmi writes that the oppressed internalize an identity that mirrors or echoes the images put forth by the dominant group. People come to accept and believe the images put forth about their group as part of their natural definitions of self. Moreover, in questioning their own positions in society, members of the oppressed groups often believe that the source of their problems lies not in the structural relations in society, but in themselves, in their own inadequacies and inabilities to be anything other than what the dominant image describes.

--Frantz Fanon,
The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

At a certain point in their existential experience, the oppressed feel an irresistible attraction toward the oppressor and his way of life. Sharing this way of life becomes an overpowering aspiration. In their alienation, the oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressor, to imitate him, to follow him.

--Paulo Freire,
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968)

I remember Michael Jackson for the internalized racism that he seemed to increasingly display, and for how the incredible light in his young eyes gradually faded as he grew older, perhaps in part as a result of that burden.

I remember him more, though, for so much amazing music, and for what was even more amazing to me, the many ways that he made his body move.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

think of asians in terms of faceless hordes

“The real yellow peril: Gold.”

--Mark Twain

Most of the white people I know get annoyed by watching television with me. That's because I can't stop myself from pointing out the constant racism, sexism, classism, and other -isms on display, the combined effect of which feels like a nauseating assault. I don't actually watch much TV (and thanks to my inability to keep my mouth shut, I'm usually alone when I do).

I did catch the following ad, though, and it literally made my jaw drop. I hesitate to post objectionable commercials here, because I don't want to help sell whatever they're selling. But I do post them when I can point out how they sell by appealing in particular ways to white Americans. I can thus help, I hope, to stomp out whatever it is in white Americans that makes racist advertising compelling to them.

So, here's the jaw-dropping ad. The person who posted it on YouTube wrote, "The first Palm Pre Commercial is called Flow. Great advertisement that features 1,000 Kung Fu students doing a very synergistic in-sync routine around a lady with a phone -- the Palm Pre -- in a dream world. Loved the ad."

A "dream world"? I guess. But then, who's the dreamer?

I think part of what the makers of this ad are trying to do is evoke the "magic" of last summer's opening ceremony for the Olympics, which were hosted by China. Indeed, as USA Today reports, the ad "features 1,000 dancers directed by three choreographers, including Sun Yupeng, who helped create the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony."

I don't see a problem with the Olympics connection, but why put a white woman at the center of all this vague Asian-ness?

And why make the group of apparently Asian people so homogeneous, and so individually faceless? Why portray them, that is, without a shred of the privileged, pedestaled, bowed-to individuality of the white, "first-world" woman at the center of things?

According to USA Today,

The message of the ad, by agency Modernista, is ease of use. Actor Tamara Hope sits on a rock in an open field surrounded by circles of dancers. In coordination with their synchronized dance moves, Hope shows some of the phone features.

The idea is that Pre is "a little more human and a little more approachable and about making your life better," says [Palm Marketing VP Brodie] Keast, who would not disclose spending. "This is not really for work or play but for one life with many dimensions."

Yes. An ad about "one life," that of a Western white woman, who's using an object that's made "a little more human" by placing it, and the individual holding it, against a faceless, dehumanized backdrop of 1,000 choreographed, synchronized . . . puppets.

And speaking of 1,000, and numbers like it -- the commercial doesn't tell viewers that it has exactly 1,000 faceless dancers, but still, I'm reminded of something else I've noticed, a trend, perhaps? That is, the marketing of things somehow related to Asians with big, round numbers.

What's up with that?

I imagine that Amy Tan, for instance, chooses her own titles, but her novel The Hundred Secret Senses resonates with other products this way.

There's also Mira Stout's One Thousand Chestnut Trees: A Novel of Korea:

There's also Sven Hedin's recent travelogue, The Silk Road: Ten Thousand Miles through Central Asia:

And it's not just books. There's a spa resort in Sante Fe, New Mexico that Orientalizes itself with the name of "Ten Thousand Waves" (and with such offerings as "Japanese Organic Massage Facials" and "Indo-Asian Hot Oil Treatment"). By the looks of the spa's site, it seems both relaxing and invigorating. If I went there, though, I'd wonder what part of my Western, Occidental imagination was being played up to by all that Asian-ness, and by that big round number, ten thousand.

There's also that chain of stores full of foreign-made "crafts," Ten Thousand Villages. Those stores may not be exclusively oriented toward Orientalized products, but they do offer this, um, lovely "Asian Harmony Chime."

Is this the "Asian" version of a supposedly Native American "dreamcatcher"?

Okay, I won't stray too far from my point, which is this -- I think the Palm Pre commercial above is one example among many of how the white American imagination often thinks of Asians in terms of large, faceless crowds. Big, round numbers also sometimes seem to work the same way.

Such crowds, whether imagined or real, can be beautiful, efficient, and powerful when their members all work together. And, of course, they don't only assemble for a white audience.

But for the collective American psyche, with its history of dehumanizing various groups of other people in particular ways, images of Asian crowds continue to perform what amounts to the obliteration of individualized humanity.

And advertisers seem to know how to play up to that.

Monday, June 22, 2009

white quotation of the week (diane burns)

Diane Burns (1957-2006)

Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question

How do you do?
No, I am not Chinese.
No, not Spanish.
No, I am American Indi-uh, Native American.

No, not from India.
No, not Apache.
No, not Navajo.
No, not Sioux.
No, we are not extinct.
Yes, Indian.

So, that's where you got those high cheekbones.
Your great grandmother, huh?
An Indian Princess, huh?
Hair down to there?
Let me guess. Cherokee?

Oh, so you've had an Indian friend?
That close?

Oh, so you've had an Indian lover?
That tight?

Oh, so you've had an Indian servant?
That much?

Yeah, it was awful what you guys did to us.
It's real decent of you to apologize.
No, I don't know where you can get peyote.
No, I don't know where you can get Navajo rugs real cheap.
No, I didn't make this. I bought it at Bloomingdales.

Thank you. I like your hair too.
I don't know if anyone knows whether or not Cher is really Indian.
No, I didn't make it rain tonight.

Yeah. Uh-huh. Spirituality.
Uh-huh. Yeah. Spirituality. Uh-huh. Mother
Earth. Yeah Uh'huh. Uh-huh. Spirituality.

No, I didn't major in archery.
Yeah, a lot of us drink too much.
Some of us can't drink enough.

This ain't no stoic look.
This is my face.

Diane Burns (Chemehuevi and Anishinabe) was a poet and painter. She published one book of poems, Riding the One-Eyed Ford, in 1981. When she died in 2006, she was working on a novel about a Native American beauty queen. You can read more about her in this remembrance, and some of her other writings appear here.

[This poem also appears online here, here, here, here, here, and other places.]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

think that apologizing officially for slavery makes a big difference

probable actual source:
damali ayo's "Living Flag")

This post is actually an open thread -- a request for your input on some recent events and such that white Americans should at least be thinking about. Feel free to offer your input on whatever else related to this blog's topics that you've been thinking about.

My first proffered possibility for commentary -- what do you think about the American Senate's muted, "nonbinding" apology this week for slavery? Is it really going to make any difference? Is its explicit dismissal of reparations an appropriate nail in the coffin of that idea?

Personally, and as I've said before, I don't think so -- I think white Americans should pull that coffin back up and apply some electroconvulsive therapy. After they learn, that is, what "40 acres and a mule" and "generational transference of wealth" mean, and after they read such things as Randall Robinson's The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, and such explanations of seemingly invisible collective white wealth as George Lipsitz's The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, or Karen Brodkin's explanation of "the largest [white] affirmative action program in U.S. history," the GI Bill, in her book How Did Jews Become White Folks.

What I think white America needs to do instead of merely apologizing is acknowledge, understand, and work to counteract the ongoing effects of slavery. And of the de facto slavery and apartheid that took place after "real slavery" officially ended. (I do remain a wishful hopeful thinker.)

We have some Australian readers/commenters here -- can you tell us if white Australia's official apology to aboriginal people last year has made any tangible, substantial difference?

One other question/topic -- are you going mark or celebrate Juneteenth somehow? And if you're a white person, have you even heard of such a thing?

And just one more -- there's so much to talk about -- do you too get a lot of forwarded emails from friends and family members about what a great job Sheriff Joe Arpaio is doing? How he keeps coming up with creative and "finally, effective!" ways of cracking down on prisoners?

I get a lot of those, always from white folks who just love good ol' Sheriff Joe -- is forwarding praise for his draconian ways another example of stuff white people do?

I usually respond to those who forward me such unwittingly racist foolishness with long explanations of why Sheriff Joe's methods are barbaric, counterproductive and racist (only to get another "Go Sheriff Joe!" message from some of these folks a month or two later).

And now, thanks to Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican, here's something else I'll be forwarding in response:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

rescue dark kids (who would never have a chance otherwise)

Are you a Nice White Lady?

If so, there's a LOT of work to do!

The dark kids are waiting for you.

Don't be afraid -- underneath that intimidating facade of self-protective attitude, they're really good kids.

This parody reminds me of that condescending, sanctimonious Michelle Pfeiffer debacle, Dangerous Minds.

I've never seen Freedom Writers -- was it this bad too?

(Not to knock the real nice white people who decide to Teach for America.)

h/t: scsubulldwg92

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

think that blackface is okay if white people are the butt of the joke

Chicago-Lake Liquors
Minneapolis, Minnesota
(click here for larger version)

On the absorbing and informative blog Kiss My Black Ads, Craig Brimm responds to an ad campaign currently being run by Chicago-Lake Liquors, a store located in a largely black area of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The images above are apparently billboards, and I've embedded below the three TV commercials also included in this campaign. (If you can't view them, they're also running now on the store's site here.)

The ads include "black" language, gestures, body language and so on, as performed by white, middle-class men (why no white women?). As I understand it, the joke is that these white folks are making fools of themselves by imitating black people.

Are these ads racist? Or are they making fun of racist white people? And if they're "only" doing the latter, does that really make the contemporary blackface here any more acceptable?

Does context matter here, with Chicago-Lake Liquors located in a largely black area? Given that, perhaps the ads allow black people to feel superior in a way to these white people, by laughing at their silly efforts to get hip by acting "black." Maybe, but that seems like a stretch.

Speaking of context -- while blackface is largely condemned in the U.S., because it perpetuates and solidifies racist stereotypes, it serves other purposes in some other countries. Take a look at these other examples; as a United States citizen trying to become more aware on a daily level of racism and my own whiteness, I have increasing trouble ever seeing blackface, literal or otherwise, as acceptable. And yet, I'm a strong believer in the meaning-generating significance of social, historical, and cultural context. Many things have different meanings in different contexts.

Last summer, I posted a video in which British TV star Tracey Ullman donned blackface, in order to satirize (effectively, I thought) self-aggrandizing white people who adopt African children. Now, though, I'm not so sure this skit is worth applauding, despite the good point that I think it makes.

Is that acceptable blackface?

Then there's this recent blackface performance by a Turkish newscaster. Apparently, according to ScoopThis.Org, this is a complicated joke of sorts, mostly meant to pay homage and gentle respect to Obama, and also to criticize Turkey itself for recent dealings with the U.S. BuzzFeed adds this: "Apparently, it's actually a metaphor for the way the Bush administration 'darkened' the face of the Turkish public, and how the anchor hopes Obama will turn things around."

Within a Turkish context, is this acceptable blackface?

Whether your answer is "yes" or "no," it does seem worthwhile to interpret this performance in light of the strong probability that Turkish society in general has little sense or understanding of the particular, deeply racist history of blackface in the United States.

I'm also reminded of the Japanese teenagers who used to dress up, and maybe still do, in a fashion known as Ganguro (ガングロ), which literally means "black-face."

According to a Western video report on this phenomenon, this look does not come from people of African descent; instead, its origins are traceable to a Japanese comic's donning of blackface in order to clown around in a loincloth in the guise of an aboriginal Australian.*

So, I do find the Chicago-Lake Liquors ads racist. Even though the satiric butt of their central joke is clueless white people instead of black people, their version of blackness is insultingly cartoonish. They also basically revive what amounts to an American white supremacist tradition that deserves to die, blackface minstrelsy.

Still, I wonder -- if we consider geographic, sociohistorical context, are some versions of blackface okay? Perhaps even, given its urban location, the contemporary American version in Chicago-Lake Liquors' ad campaign?

* As Restructure! notes in a comment, Ganguro is one of three such modes of teenage blackface identified in the video; Yamanba, which means "mountain hag," is the name of the one that's tied to a comic's racist parody of an aboriginal Australian. Jonathan Ross, the narrator of the video, notes that when Ganguro appeared after Yamanba, "many thought it was simply an homage" to the comic's "beloved creation," but apparently it's not.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

claim they have native american blood

But here methinks I can hear you observe What! Englishmen intermarry with Indians? But I can convince you they are guilty of much more heinous practices, more unjustifiable in the sight of God and man. . . for many base wretches amongst us take up with negro women, by which means the country swarms with mulatto bastards, and these mulattoes, if but three generations removed from the black father or mother, may, by the indulgence of the laws of the country, intermarry with the white people, and actually do every day so marry.

Now, if instead of this abominable practice which hath polluted the blood of many amongst us, we had taken Indian wives in the first place, it would have made them some compensation for their lands. . . . We should become rightful heirs to their lands, and should not have smutted our blood . . .

The Reverend Peter Fontaine of Virginia,
in a letter to his brother Moses,
dated March 30, 1757

There's long been a belief among the many family members on my father's side that my father's grandmother was "part Indian." From what I've gathered, such claims are common in white families in the United States. White claims about what may be just as likely -- being part black -- are almost non-existent.

I would like to know what percentage of Americans who self-identify as white contain non-white blood, but reading around on the topic tells me that any particular statistics are not universally accepted by genealogical and DNA experts.

Also, since so many people who did have African or Native blood and could pass for white did so, only DNA tests for a large percentage of white Americans could provide reliable percentages (but even then, the tests themselves aren't necessarily reliable -- the "Native American" results, for example, could be confused with Asian ancestry, given the geographic origins of Native Americans).

According to a Guardian article by Paul Harris on the increasing popularity of genetic testing, "One-third of white Americans, according to some tests, will possess between two and 20 per cent African genes. The majority of black Americans have some European ancestors." (I've yet to find informed estimates of white Americans with Native American genes -- please tell us in a comment if you know of any.)

Harris points out that "Native Americans are growing in numbers, not because of a high birth rate, but because many Americans are discovering unknown native ancestors written in their DNA."

I doubt the same discovery about African American blood is causing that recorded population to increase. Given the regularity with which white Americans impregnated slaves in order, among other reasons, to increase their "property" (and then going on, in some cases, to sell their own children), and again, given the ability of many light-skinned "black" Americans to pass into white society -- given these and other factors, I would think that DNA tests for whites probably turn up more African American than Native American blood. And yet, few white people who find black blood probably go on to proclaim their black ancestry, while many who find Native American blood do go on to proclaim that ancestry.

I should also note that white people in the United States are not the only ones who hope to find Native American ancestry. Many African Americans seek it as well, and significant interaction between the two groups means that some find it. And many Latino/a Americans, of course, don't have to search far at all to find their Native American roots.

Some of the white Americans who take DNA tests or search census and birth records for Native American ancestry do so in the hopes of claiming financial benefits. As Harris writes,

Native Americans often complain they are swamped by "American Indian Princess syndrome," because every white person wants native DNA in their past. In a world of minority grants, scholarships and Indian gambling rights, any debate over DNA and race could easily also become an argument over resources.

Some of these questing white Americans just want to know "who they are." This strikes me as a a dubious quest -- would finding some Native American or black blood really make a person who was raised white, looks white, and gets taken and treated as white, any more "black" or "Indian"?

It's also clear that most white people looking for Native American ancestry are hoping to establish a more romanticized connection to Indian-ness. A connection based in, and stuck in, the past, much more so than the present.

These are the white searchers (sometimes called "pretendians") who hope to fill up a certain emptiness in their bleached-out, whitened identity, but want little part of actual, ongoing Native American struggles. Many of them will never go to a reservation to experience the results of white genocidal practices, even if they do find Native American blood in their DNA. They're rarely willing to fight for treaty rights, nor help with such contemporary problems as compulsory sterilization or substance abuse. Indeed, they're rarely willing to even acknowledge these problems, or do much of anything else that goes beyond vague, sentimental ideas of supposedly authentic Indian-ness.

So why do a lot of white people cherish the possibility of Native American blood so much more than that of African American blood, even when the latter may well be a more likely part of their background?

I think as with the cherished Native American possibility, their distaste and sometimes even disgust for the possibility of black ancestors is based on received notions from the past, but also on those of the present. Ever since slavery in the U.S. was limited to black people in order to divide them from working white people, they've been the most despised racial group. Any sober look at today's American culture in general -- the primary source of our received notions about other people -- would reveal that disdain for racial minorities continues to be strongest for black people.

Actually, common white notions of American Indians are also largely ingested from current cultural imagery, from "brave" or "noble" team mascots, to the continued predominance of TV and movie images of long-gone Indians over accurate representations of the remaining ones actually living today. As gwen notes in a Sociological Images post on this anachronistic tendency in non-indigenous appreciation of "Indian art,"

This tendency is apparent in other elements of U.S. culture, of course: movies like “Dances with Wolves,” books about “noble savages,” and conflicts over what types of technologies American Indians can use when spear fishing (with non-Indians arguing Indians should only be able to use the methods that their tribes used in the 1800s) all indicate a wider perception that “authentic” Indians should inhabit a time-warp universe in which their cultures and lifestyles have remained basically unchanged since the late 1800s or early 1900s, a requirement we don’t ask of other groups.

As far as I know, no one in my family has taken a DNA test to settle the question of whether we actually have Native American ancestors. If some of my relatives do decide to do it, I hope I get a chance to talk to them about just what it is they're really looking for. I'd also like to know what they plan to do if they find something else.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

get interested in black skin whenever summer comes around

This is a guest post by Doreen Yomoah, a vagabond currently residing in Shanghai. She's also a founding mother of the Women’s Liberation Army, a motley crew of women scattered throughout the globe who are sick of injustice and planning to do something about it. (She also wrote this popular swpd post: "fail to distinguish african immigration from slavery descent.")

Things you should definitely do to a black person this summer:

Make well-informed observations like, “You’re lucky, you can’t get sunburned.” Melanin isn’t just skin pigmentation; it’s magic! As everyone knows, even though PIGS and TREES can get sunburned, black people cannot.

If you see a black person applying sunscreen, you should ask them, “Why are you worried about skin cancer? You’re black!” As everyone knows, never in the history of time has a black person ever gotten skin cancer. And we are certainly not more likely to die from it than whites.

If a black person you know tries to stay out of the sun, you should say some variation of, “Why? You can’t get any darker.” That is a logical assumption to make because black people, in fact, do not have human skin. Therefore, it does not get darker in the sun, the way every other race’s skin does.

Something that black people absolutely adore is when white people grab our arms and hold theirs next to ours and say, “Look! I’m almost as dark as you are!!!” This makes us feel almost as human as white people.

You should make jokes like, “[insert black person’s name] should go tanning!!!” This is hilarious and gets funnier and funnier each time you hear it. It was amusing the first time I heard it, and now, 12 years later, I actually look forward to hearing people say it each summer, because it’s just so original and clever.

In general, make it a point to talk at every opportunity about how tan you are/are not. This is an incredibly fascinating topic to discuss ad nauseum.

These are things that white people do that black people look forward to each and every single summer.

Please don’t let us down by neglecting to do them, again, and again, and again, and . . .

Thursday, June 11, 2009

care more about token diversity than actual diversity

Token Black
from "South Park"
(voiced by Adrien Beard, who was recruited
by "South Park" co-creator Trey Parker
"because he was the only black guy we had in our building at the time"

Diversity has been all the rage in American institutions and workplaces for decades now, but many still fail to achieve it. The white people in such places often know they're supposed to be members of a less homogeneous workforce, or campus population, or cast of characters, so they sometimes find ways to create the appearance of diversity. This is much easier than finding ways to achieve actual diversity, which many white people don't really want anyway.

For a lot of white people, appearing diverse is more important than actually being diverse.

Such people can sometimes be heard repeating this mantra of the modern age: "Thank God for photoshop!"

Workers for the city of Toronto recently needed a photo for their city's "Summer Fun Guide," and they apparently wanted to represent their, ahem . . . "fair" city as a diverse place (okay that "fair" isn't fair -- Toronto is actually a very diverse place).

So, instead of finding some real diversity and taking a picture of it, they altered the following image:

Here's the final image that these folks working for the city of Toronto felt satisfied with. Did Token from "South Park" finally grow up, and find work as a diversity model?

Unfortunately, these civic-minded city workers got caught with their diversity down. Allison Hanes of Toronto's National Post even wrote a story about it, which says in part:

The smiling, ethnically diverse family featured on the cover of Toronto's latest edition of its summer Fun Guide was digitally altered to make the photo more "inclusive," which city officials say is in keeping with a policy to reflect diversity.

A spokesman for the department that publishes the guide listing recreation activities confirmed the publication was doctored to insert the face of a different father.

"He superimposed the African-Canadian person onto the family cluster in the original photo. It was two photographs and one head was superimposed over the original family photo," said John Gosgnach, communications director for the social development division.

"The goal was to depict the diversity of Toronto and its residents."

When asked about the altered photo, Kevin Sack, Toronto's director of strategic communications, said, "You won't find a more inclusive organization than us. We want everyone to feel involved and welcome to participate in everything. That's the only goal. Nothing wrong with that."

Right on, Mr. Sack! In these Politically Correct Times, very little is more important than appearing to embrace diversity. As every good director of strategic communications knows, that's much more important than demonstrating actual diversity.

This is pretty clumsy photoshopping, which should inspire a new term -- "photochop." (Oh, wait, that already is a new term. Or maybe an old one -- it's hard to keep up with the Urban Dictionary.)

This photographic insertion of a Token Black Guy -- and it always seems to be a black guy -- in the interests of appearing diverse is nothing new.

In September of 2000, the University of Wisconsin got caught trying to portray its campus as "diverse" with this brochure cover -- can you spot the awkward black guy?

for larger image, click here

As Professor Hany Farid writes at a site advertising his image-tampering detective service,

The original photograph of white fans was taken in 1993. The additional black student, senior Diallo Shabazz, was taken in 1994. University officials said that they spent the summer looking for pictures that would show the school's diversity -- but had no luck.

Which is no surprise, since like most "flagship" state universities, the University of Wisconsin is still struggling -- or supposedly struggling -- to make its student diversity somewhere near that of the state's overall population.

In their bumbling clumsiness, these attempts to keep up appearances might seem like something out of The Onion. Indeed, the writers at that venerable fount of shark-toothed satire seem to have been inspired by the U of Wisconsin's snafu when they wrote a faux exposé, "Black Guy Photoshopped In," accompanied by this image:

Interesting choice for this exquisitely bad photochop -- Iowa State. Iowa is a notoriously white state, but to its credit, many white folks there are anxious about that (after all, their selection of Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries really got his campaign ball rolling).

Are Iowans anxious enough to resort to photochop, in order to appear diverse? Well no, perhaps not -- that's an Onion parody.

The Onion article that accompanies this purposely awkward photo is priceless; it captures the face-saving hypocrisy of university, city, and other diversity-minded officials very well.

Here's part of it -- have you encountered other instances where white folks seem more concerned with the appearance of diversity than with actual diversity?

"Here at Iowa State, we have a remarkably diverse student body, with literally dozens of non-whites," Iowa State director of student affairs Andrea Driessen said. "We thought a picture with at least one non-white happily interacting with whites would be a great way to show off this fact. Unfortunately, we didn't have any pictures of whites and non-whites actually interacting, so we had to make one up."

Said chancellor Dr. Michael Arbus: "An unaltered, or 'real,' cover photo would not have adequately captured the glorious rainbow of multiculturalism that is ISU. We thought it best to take a more illusory, 'less-actual' approach in depicting this school's racial demographic."

The black guy, added using Adobe Photoshop, has been identified as Marcus Jamison. A Shreveport, LA, native, Jamison attended Iowa State for one semester in 1996 before transferring to Grambling University. His face was lifted from a photo of him attending a racial-sensitivity seminar during his freshman orientation and digitally added to the course-catalog cover by graphic designer Brian Tompkins.

"Believe me, this was not an easy task. We combed through hundreds of school-newspaper and yearbook file photos before we found a picture of a black guy," Tompkins said. "Even then, we had to keep searching, because we felt it was important that the black guy be smiling."

Added Tompkins: "If you think it's hard to find a picture of a black guy, try finding a smiling black guy!"

As many white folks know, diversity isn't just a buzzword -- it's important.

In fact, it's almost as important as appearing to have diversity.

Have you encountered this phenomenon, in terms of photos, or other ways of keeping up diverse appearances? Please describe for us in a comment any encounters you've had with these sorts of face-saving white folks.

UPDATE (9/2/09): For more on this, and especially on Diallo Shabazz, the awkwardly posed black guy used and abused by the University of Wisconsin, see Lisa's post at Sociological Images, where she writes in part,

Diallo sued. He didn’t ask for a settlement. He said that he wanted a “budgetary apology.” He asked that, in compensation, the University put aside money for actual recruitment of minority students. He won. Ten million dollars was earmarked for diversity initiatives across the UW system. The irony in the whole thing is that UW requested photos of Shabazz shaking administrators’ hands in reconciliation (i.e., photographic proof that everything was just fine). Oh, and also, the Governor vetoed part of the earmark and many initiatives wore off with turnover.

see white, right-wing terrorism as "isolated incidents"

Shepard Smith is a Fox News commentator who's currently being labeled an "undercover liberal" and a "traitor" on right-wing sites, to which I refuse to link, for occasionally calling out some of the extreme manifestations of right-wing ideology.

Thinking about Smith and what he says in the clip below, and what he doesn't say, helps me think about how whiteness works. It contributes to such terrorist incidents as James von Brunn's assault yesterday on the Holocaust Museum, by demonizing "Jews" and other minorities, but it also deflects our understanding of how more general and common white attitudes help to cause such incidents.

In the video clip below (a transcript appears at the end of this post), Smith talks about "scary" emails that he's been getting. He doesn't say that they're from right-wing extremists, even though that's clearly the case. In an effort to explain their hatred and their heightened frequency, Smith ends up blaming the blogosphere, rather than more proper targets, such as his own network and other corporate media outlets; conservative ideology; and America's more general white supremacist culture.

In terms of his own employer, Smith is overlooking or denying how the exaggerating blowhards on Fox News foment what he refuses to label "domestic terrorism." He also refuses to identify the political location of this extremism -- on the "Right," the conservative side, the side where Fox sits in all but name and slogan ("Fair and Balanced" -- Yeah, Right!). It seems to me that instead of denigrating the Right, Smith is serving more mainstream conservative interests, by trying to distance extremism "way out there on a limb," rather than within the Right Wing.

Nevertheless, some Fox fans have written on blogs and comment forums that Smith should "get his ass on over to CNN," or MSNBC, "where he belongs." But when it comes to race, and especially whiteness, other networks are nearly as bad as Fox. They too fail, not only by refusing to routinely call right-wing domestic terrorism what it is, but also by refusing to identify the overwhelming whiteness of that terrorism, and of their own blinkered perspective.

On Fox News and elsewhere in the corporate media, "terrorism" is what Arabs/Muslims do. Like most white people, corporate media workers see white people as individuals before they see them as "white." That tendency makes it less likely that they'll see violent white people who commit terrorism as members of a group, as people whose actions in any way represent that group.

Because corporate media workers view and depict the world through a white racial frame, they're more inclined to depict white people who commit what amounts to group-supported (and perhaps sponsored) terrorism as lone individuals. As "nutcases" whose horrendous acts are "isolated incidents."

But incidents of domestic terrorism are not isolated, and they're happening more frequently. As Alex Kingsbury writes,

In the past two weeks, the country has seen the bombing of a Starbucks coffee shop in New York City, the arrest of four men for allegedly plotting to blow up synagogues and shoot down planes, the shooting of two soldiers at an Army recruitment center in Arkansas, the assassination of a doctor inside a Kansas church, and the shooting at the Holocaust Museum. Although these are not all cases of right-wing extremism, each is an example of domestic terrorism.

Aside from their recent heightened frequency, these incidents are also not "isolated" in the sense that those who commit them are often informed by, or members of, right-wing groups that openly espouse hate, and even murder.

They're also not isolated in another sense. While the corporate media, and American culture in general, depict minorities in countless group-oriented and negative ways, white individuals are very rarely identified as white. And yet as a group, whites are implicitly identified as the ones who need to protect themselves from the supposedly encroaching and dangerous minorities. All of this promotes an "us versus them" mentality, which in turn encourages these supposedly lone actors to act.

It's easy to see that in glossing over the significance of the hateful email he receives, Shepard Smith is denying the complicity of his own, clearly conservative network in stoking the hatred of extremists.

But I think a bigger, and more crucial issue here is how the corporate media at large, and white Americans in general, fail to understand the common white tendency to view white individuals as merely individuals. That isolating perspective stops us from seeing the multiple pernicious forces that contribute to domestic terrorism by influencing those who commit it. Correcting that failure means focusing on and understanding all forms of whiteness that inspire violence, not just the extreme forms.

America itself is founded and grounded in white supremacist violence to all sorts of non-white people; Americans currently live in an empire (declining though it may be) that has long bolstered itself with the resources, sweat, and lives of non-white people. America's violently white foundations may be invisible to most of today's white people, but their influence continuously flows into all of us, and then out into our actions.


Video transcript:

Shepard Smith: I read a lot of email around here, and the email, to me, has become more and more frightening. It's not a new thing; it's been happening over the past few months. It's been happening, you know, to some degree since the election process went along. I mean, we had a woman, we had a black man, we had a lot going on. And there are people now who are way out there on a limb. And I think they're just way out there on a limb with the email that they send us, cuz I read it, and they are out there, I mean, out there in a scary place.

I'm gonna read to you a little bit from one -- and I'm not gonna read the name -- but this is, I promise, a representative sample of the kinds of things we get here:

Shepard, How dare you tell us to get over Obama not being a US citizen? Where is the birth certificate, where? He won't show it. So why are you so trumped up to believe it. I cannot stand Hussein, he is a socialist Marxist who is at fast rate destroying our country.

If you're one who believes that abortion is murder, at one point do you go out and kill someone who is performing abortions? Well, I think we just learned, for [sic] the murder of Dr. Tiller.

If you are one who believes these sorts of things about the president of the United States, and I could read a hundred of them like this, I mean, from today, people who are so amped up and so angry, for reasons that absolutely wrong, ridiculous, preposterous. Yet they are mad, and they're very mad that I just called it preposterous.

Other Guy: Well, if anybody wants to know the level of anger, or whatever you wanna call it, crazy, just take a spin around the blogs out there, on the Internet. Just take half an hour and go on through and randomly see what is being said out there. It is, it's frightening on a lot of different levels, and part of the problem is that they're feeding each other. People are not going out there --

SS: They are! They're on web sites, feeding each other, the same bunch of hate that's not based in fact. And it's ginning itself up, and I guess if that's what you want to do with your time, maybe that's what you do. But more and more, it seems that people are taking the extra step and getting the gun out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

only care about "gang violence" when it hits white people

Having thought for awhile now about how race works in the U.S., I know very well that in the mainstream imagination, "white" equals "normal." I also know that the most full-fledged "all-American" people are also thought to be white people.

Sometimes, though, I'm still shocked by how pervasive this kind of thinking is, and by the double standards it leads to.

I was struck again this way when I saw the following Good Morning America segment, about the death of 14-year-old Christopher Jones. He was a white suburban boy who was recently knocked off his bicycle, and then beaten and killed by a group of six kids. Two have been arrested; one, a 16-year-old, is black, and the identity of the other, a 14-year-old, has yet to be released.

For the makers of this Good Morning America segment, Christopher Jones' death is sad, but something else is the real story. That story is about the place he lived, "the suburbs," and the violation of that space by a contaminating element, a violent, racialized element that its residents thought they'd spent enough money to get away from.

The words "black" and "white" are never spoken here, and yet, that racial divide, with "normal," well-off whites on one side and "violent," impoverished blacks on the other, is what it's all about for the producers of Good Morning America.

I feel terrible for the family and friends of Christopher Jones -- no one should be treated like that, let alone die like that. At the same time, though, I can't overlook the unspoken white lens, or filter, through which this story gets told. I have to wonder -- would this story still be told this way by Good Morning America, or even at all, if Christopher and his parents were black?

Right from the start, the makers of this Good Morning America segment imply that the lives of well-off suburban white people are more noteworthy, more fundamentally valuable, than those of the implicitly non-white people who live in "the inner-city." Gang violence, and the misery and death caused by it, are presented as an old, boring story -- but not this time, because one white child died from it, in suburbia.

I find this story difficult to write about because I don't want to minimize the suffering of Christopher Jones' parents; their loss is horrific. The thing is, I think it's the producers of Good Morning America who minimize their suffering, by using it to tell a sensationalistic story about "all-American," implicitly white lives invaded by black gang violence.

The story of Christopher Jones' death is presented as a "cautionary tale" for the residents of "suburbia," an unspokenly white place where the residents have achieved "the American Dream," and thus a place where these kinds of things just shouldn't happen.

Never mind, dear viewers, that "old news" about how "gang violence" happens a lot more often in other places. To other kinds of people. And for all sorts of complicated, but addressable and workable reasons. We know you're bored with that story, about those people.

Never mind either that the relatively small group of kids who attacked Christopher Jones weren't really in what we normally call a violent, drug-dealing "gang." We're going to insist that it was a "gang," and that it committed "gang violence" against a "suburban" (and white, and thus especially innocent) child.

Among the many things Christopher's mother must have said during her interview, Good Morning America chose to highlight this statement:

"He died on our street. In suburbia. Where we paid $350,000 for a townhouse. In a neighborhood where our shutters have to match our doors."

So this becomes a story about the shocking invasion of supposedly safe suburbia. But again, this isn't just a story about people in general who've arrived at a cozy rung on the American class ladder, is it? It's really about white people who've done that; it's a safe bet that if non-white people who've done that were to lose a son in the exact same way, Good Morning America would not be in their spacious kitchen interviewing them.

To illustrate that the story being told here is also about race, that it's really all about race, imagine if a black child of black parents in that same neighborhood had been killed in this same way.

Would his story be covered by Good Morning America like this? I doubt it.

Would it even be covered at all by Good Morning America? I doubt that too.

Never mind asking if Good Morning America would cover an inner-city black or Hispanic or Asian American child's violent death with this same wide-eyed concern, and this same heart-tugging music. We know that'll never happen (though I do hope that someone will provide a link to a GMA video-clip that proves me wrong).

A quick Google search reveals that other major news outlet have also seen fit to treat Christopher Jones' death as a major story. The Washington Post, for instance, sent a reporter to his funeral. Again, I can't imagine a non-white child being described in the corporate media this way:

The images projected on the screen . . . were perhaps the most telling. Christopher appeared a normal, happy kid. He loved the Redskins. Made snowballs in the back yard. Had a boxy plastic play set. Mugged in pictures with mom.

"He was a boy's boy," said Anand Rawls, a longtime family friend. "You couldn't ask for a better son."

Again, Christopher Jones' death is horrible, and I feel for people who loved and knew him.

However, there's another horror here. As with the more familiar Missing White Girl stories, what I find appalling here is the loud-and-clear implication that Christopher Jones' story is significant because it happened to a certain kind of son, and not to another kind of son.

In other words, that other horror, which I consider symptomatic of a common white pathology, because so few white people actually see this horror, is this -- Christopher Jones was a child whose death is deemed more sad, and more alarming, than those of many other children who have died a similar death, merely because of his race, and merely because his parents live in the suburbs.

Monday, June 8, 2009

white quotation of the week (patricia smith)


From a tiny black and white television
an a sullen truck stop just east of Advance, Ind.,
a sports announcer screams his voice to a squeak.
Mike Andretti, six laps away from winning at Indy,
has pulled his machine over smoothly, without sputter,
without benefit for a final dramatic choking.
The announcer is clearly insulted by this affront
to American values, and is trying very hard
to remain objective, trying hard not to yell
“Get back on the road, you chickenshit sonofabitch!”

I tune out his feverish buzz and glance at the four
proprietors of this gastronomic hellhole . . .

All four have swiveled on the creaking stools
to stare at me, all of me much blacker than they
can imagine, much more of a show than the tiny
cars whizzing around the screen, much more shocking
than Mike Andretti’s white light moment of failure.

If it were summer, fat flies, drunk on bacon grease,
would drag their last across this tabletop. As it is,
I am sitting across from my white husband, and we are
hungry, angry, and for the moment, strangers.
I refuse to eat and amuse myself instead by watching
the Waltons try to figure us out -- me sipping
vehemently on lukewarm Diet Pepsi, my husband inhaling
three mutant pieces of country-fried chicken.

He picked that colored girl up at the race, and now
he regrets it. He’s a pimp from Ohio, a businessman
who picks up hitches. She fucks him for money.
She twists her body the way he wants it, for money.
They all agree I’m in it for the cash,
that he’s in it for whatever that song is
black women sing with their bodies. They’re all wrong. . . .

This is not my heartland.
However, this is my heart, pumping hard through
ribbons of cornfields and sleek shopping centers;
this is my heart, stopping whenever we walk
into a restaurant and clocks slam shut;
this is my heart
throbbing wild in those dim convenience stores
that sell hats embroidered with shotguns,
Confederate flag belt buckles and earrings,
stale cupcakes with bright pink frosting
and those cheap goddamned souvenirs you shake
to see fat flakes of white snow
fall on any one of a million American cities.

Patricia Smith is a four-time national individual champion of the Poetry Slam, the most successful competitor in slam history. She was featured in the film Slamnation and is the author of five books of poetry, including Blood Dazzler, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award. An instructor of performance, poetry, and creative writing, Smith is a Cave Canem faculty member, as well as a former Bruce McEver Chair in Writing at Georgia Tech University. She is currently at work on Fixed on a Furious Star, a biography of Harriet Tubman, the verse memoir Shoulda Been Jimmie Savannah, and the young adult novel The Journey of Willie J. "Heartland," excerpted above, is from Smith's book Big Towns, Big Talk. She performs another poem on whiteness here: "Skinhead"

Saturday, June 6, 2009

spice up blandly white entertainment with bizarre asian characters

Ken Jeong in The Hangover

Who went to see The Hangover this weekend? Show of hands please . . .

Okay, so, what did you think of that weird Asian guy?

I just paid cash money to see this movie, so I can tell you a bit about it, including the unaccountably weird Asian guy. I thought that overall it was pretty funny, and for those of you who haven't seen it, I don't think I'm spoiling anything if I say the following.

The Hangover is about four American men (all white guys) who go to Vegas for a sort of stag night, since once of them is about to get married. They rent a super-expensive hotel suite and wake up to the sight of a live tiger, a chicken, and a totally trashed suite. One of the four, Doug, is missing.

The three remaining guys head out and eventually find their lost car. As they moan and groan through their hangovers, missing teeth and so on, they continue to wonder where Doug could've gone, until they hear someone pounding and yelling in the trunk.

"Doug!" they all shout, but when they open the trunk, out leaps a naked Asian man! He has a tire iron in his hands, and some weird, Kung Fu-like noises are coming out of his mouth. He quickly flattens the three white guys with some jujitsu or karate or something, then runs off into the distance.

None of the guys can remember who this Asian man might've been in the wilderness of the night before. The weird Asian guy shows up later (I won't give away how and why), and he acts even more weird.

Mr. Chow (played by Ken Jeong -- you might remember him as a quirky doctor in Knocked Up) soon demonstrates that he's cruel, arrogant, and probably gay, which is also supposed to be funny; as reaction shots of the white guys help us see, Mr. Chow is just headscratchingly off the wall. Mr. Chow laughs repeatedly at one of the white guys, taunting him as "the fat one." This laughter is clearly supposed to be extra-humiliating and emasculating, given its source -- a man who's not only bizarre, short and gay, but also Asian (the sexualized racism here is further cemented at one point, when he grabs his crotch and invites the white guys to do something with "my little Chinese balls!").

So, I'm wondering, just what the hell is Mr. Chow doing in this movie? I mean, what purpose does it serve to make the one Asian character so weird? No one else in the movie is this flatout bizarre, not even Mike Tyson, who shows up in a cameo.

I think that for one thing, this movie is made for a target audience that's assumed to be white. Mr. Chow seems meant to serve as a bit of spice for the blandly white characters at the movie's center. As usual, the few, stereotypical minor roles for black actors also serve this purpose, including a street-talkin' black drug dealer and a large, bossy, black female cop (who shouts "Not up in here!" and so on). However, while these black roles are stereotypical, they're not also over-the-top, just-plain weird, like the role of Mr. Chow.

I'm reminded of the unaccountably weird Asian characters in a KFC ad that I posted about recently. In both that commercial and this movie, the mood is supposed to be bouncy and funny, and that mood is meant to be somehow enhanced by these zany, cartoonish Asian men.

Is this zany-Asian-character thing a trend in corporate entertainment? Maybe it's just an old standby. In either case, I don't like it.

As a good, happy citizen-consumer, I'm supposed to brush aside any negative, "PC" feelings brought on by such dehumanizing, racist portrayals, and just yuck it up along with the other white people. But I just can't do that anymore.

Because of Mr. Chow, I left this movie with a bad taste in my mouth.

And finally, on top of that, why couldn't they make at least one of the four lead roles a non-white guy? Would that be so implausible?

In case you're interested and haven't seen a trailer for The Hangover yet, here ya go (there's also a "restricted" version, with more glimpses of Mr. Chow, here).

Friday, June 5, 2009

calling out the boos (open thread)

The many comments you wrote in response to last week's Boo Radley post revealed that a lot of people read this blog, but don't normally leave comments. I don't necessarily blame anyone for that -- different people have many different reasons for commenting, and for not commenting.

I haven't tried an Open Thread here for quite awhile, because I wasn't sure if many people would step out from behind the drapes like Boo Radley, and actually do something (by leaving a comment). But since this blog clearly does have a lot of readers, I've decided to try again.

Feel free, and invited, to leave a comment on anything relevant you like. I also invite links to other items, including your own posts.

What's been on your mind in terms of race and whiteness this week?

Will either or both come up for you somehow this weekend?

Have you been doing anything in resistance to racism? Or, do you plan to?

Here's one more possible discussion starter -- what, more specifically, can white people do?

I think that what this white person -- Walt Staton -- did is good. To me, Staton and his cohorts are heroic "race traitors," white people who resisted the messages and rules of their culture about what they should and shouldn't do as white people (which is not to say, of course, that all of the people working with Staton are white) . . .

Activist Convicted for Leaving Water Jugs for Migrants

In Arizona, a human rights activist from the group No More Deaths has been convicted for leaving plastic jugs for undocumented immigrants crossing near the US-Mexico border. The activist, Walt Staton, says the water jugs were left to prevent migrants from dying of dehydration. On Wednesday, Staton was found guilty of “knowingly littering” in the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. In a move criticized by defense attorneys, the jury was ordered to reach a verdict after initial deliberations ended in a deadlock.

Staton is a member of No More Deaths, which has worked for years to provide migrants with humanitarian aid. Over the past decade, nearly 2,000 men, women and children have died while trying to cross the border into Arizona. In a statement, No More Deaths said, “By penalizing life-saving work, the United States is showing callous disregard for the lives of our neighbors to the south, whose only crime is to seek a better life.”



* "No More Deaths Volunteer to Be Arraigned for Littering"

* No More Deaths / No Más Muertes ("Humanitarian Aid Is Never A Crime")

* No Border Wall (further background information and reactions to Staton's conviction)

Spring break volunteers for No More Deaths
prepare water jugs for desert distribution

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