by Carmen Van Kerckhove
I’m continuing my series breaking down the top trends in race and pop culture of 2006. So here we go with numbers 7 through 4 of my list. Check back tomorrow for the top 3, and if you missed it, check out yesterday’s trends 10 through 8.
7. The new minstrel show
6. Racism on college campuses
5. Fear of a Latino takeover
4. The return of the white man’s burden
7. The new minstrel show
North Carolina hip hop group Little Brother titled its late 2005 release The Minstrel Show, and they couldn’t have been more prescient because minstrelsy made a huge comeback in 2006 in all forms of media: movies, television, music and even the internet.
- MOVIES: Tyler Perry made a killing by cashing in on the public’s love for black men in dresses. Diary of a Mad Black Woman was nominated for an NAACP Image Award (yeah, I know) and its sequel, Madea’s Family Reunion, opened No. 1 at the box office with $30 million.
- TV: Flava Flav, the new millenium’s Stepin Fetchit, ruled reality TV in 2006. The March finale of his VH1 show Flavor of Love drew 6 million viewers, making it the highest-rated show ever for the cable channel. And when the show returned in early August, 3 million people tuned in for the premiere. But Flavor of Love is just the tip of the iceberg in Viacom’s not-so-classy depictions of black folks, as I outlined in this post. In November we heard a rumor that BET was going to start a reality show starring Bobby Brown and Karrine “Superhead” Steffans (author of Confessions of a Video Vixen). And TV commercials continued to rely on the archetype of the big black sassy mammy for humor.
- MUSIC: Byron Crawford really nailed it when he wrote: “Flush with revenue from the likes of Mike Jones’ Who Is Mike Jones?, the Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song),” Three-Six Mafia’s Academy Award-winning theme to Hustle and Flow, and D4l’s “Laffy Taffy,” record labels are rushing out to sign the most coon-like negros they can find.” Cases in point: DJ Webstar and Young B’s Chicken Noodle Soup, Ms Peachez’ Fry That Chicken, but perhaps the most egregious example is Jibbs’ Chain Hang Low, which is set to an actual minstrel tune known as “Zip Coon” or “Turkey in the Straw.” No subtlety there. And don’t forget the ongoing tradition on The Maury Show known as the Not a Baby Daddy Dance. Of course, rapper NYOIL tried to address the minstrelsy problem in hip hop with his problematic and controversial video, Y’all Should All Get Lynched. See varying analyses of this video here and here.
- INTERNET: Not content with minstrelsy on television, in movies and music, the same knucklehead who brought us the god-awful movie Soul Plane decided to launch a social networking site named CrackSpace, because “MySpace is great but it doesn’t even come close to fully satisfying the hip-hop generation.” Not to be outdone, some genius decided to take it a step further by launching NiggaSpace: “We just want to embrace the black culture that continues to innovate and strive!”
6. Racism on college campuses
It seemed like a wave of racist incidents swept across college campuses all over the country in 2006. Just between October 1 and January 4 I bookmarked no less than 19 items relating to campus racism. Of course, it’s impossible to know whether racism is on the rise, or if we’re just hearing about it more often. Here are just some of the incidents we covered on Racialicious. See my del.icio.us page and this post from Rachel for even more stories.
- The Duke Lacrosse rape case has turned into a total mess, but right from the get-go it shone a spotlight on the many dicey issues surrounding race and class on the Duke campus.
- Two white students at Colorado University sent a Latino student an email calling him a “river rat” and “border hopper” and “bean eating peace of (expletive).” The message suggested O’Neal would drag Castro behind his car, an apparent reference to the 1998 dragging death in Texas of James Byrd Jr., a black man.
- The Asian American Students Alliance at Yale University issued a formal complaint against student publication Rumpus for two supposedly satirical articles they ran chock-full of racist statements about Asian-Americans and interracial couples. Like this one: “Asian girls are like SARS — they take my breath away…”
- One of Rice University’s student papers, The Rice Thresher, ran a “humor” column which declared that Asian people’s “eyes are so squinty that it is difficult for our friends from the Orient to see the page, so they must stare longer.”
- The University of Michigan’s College Republicans decided to plan a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day.”
- A video surfaced made by two white Texas A&M students. One of them is in blackface, playing the role of the “slave” and is put through a mock whipping and sexual assault.
- I commended Whitman College for their reaction when photos were found of students putting on blackface at a party to mimic the racially segregated cast of Survivor: Cook Islands. Instead of merely denouncing this act, Whitman College cancelled classes for an entire day and organized a full-day symposium on race relations which every single student had to attend.
- And of course, conservatives continued to the win the war against affirmative action. From Inside Higher Ed: “Michigan voters on Tuesday approved a ban on affirmative action at the state’s public colleges and in government contracting. The vote came despite opposition to the ban from most academic and business leaders in the state — and the history in which the University of Michigan played a key role in preserving the right of colleges to consider race as a factor in admissions.”
5. Fear of a Latino takeover
Immigration reform was all over the news last year. And though it was rarely addressed openly, racism often reared its ugly head when it came to anti-immigrant sentiments.
- Jenn at Reappropriate summed it up nicely when she wrote “this is not a controversy about laws, about immigration, or about border security reform. This is a controversy about race. This is a countroversy surrounding White nationals who insist that the American Dream should be reserved for their White bretheren who “deserve it” more.”
- Fox News openly called for white people to outbreed minorities. From Media Matters: On the May 11 edition of Fox News’ The Big Story, host John Gibson advised viewers during the “My Word” segment of his program to “[d]o your duty. Make more babies.” He then cited a May 10 article, which reported that nearly half of all children under the age of five in the United States are minorities. Gibson added: “By far, the greatest number [of children under five] are Hispanic. You know what that means? Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic.” Gibson later claimed: “To put it bluntly, we need more babies.”
- The Los Angeles Times asked if New Orleans, with its influx of Latino immigrants, would become the new Los Angeles: “No matter what all the politicians and activists want, African Americans and impoverished white Cajuns will not be first in line to rebuild the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast and New Orleans. Latino immigrants, many of them undocumented, will. And when they’re done, they’re going to stay, making New Orleans look like Los Angeles.”
- The Alderman of Springfield, Tennessee proposed banning Latinos from the town’s public parks because they cause crowds on weekends: “When asked to comment on the possibility that not every Hispanic using the park was an ‘illegal immigrant’, Alderman Cherry responded, ‘If they’re speaking Spanish, I tend to think they are illegal.’”
4. The return of the white man’s burden
A couple of you remarked on this trend and you were right on the money. Jason suggested the topic of “transracial adoption (re: white saviour/white man’s burden complex a.k.a colonial benevolence)” and Nina wrote: “All things Africa. Adoption in Africa (Madonna), AIDS in Africa (The I Am African and RED campaign), war in Africa (Darfur), lack of potable water in Africa (Jay Z and Beyonce) even disfugured smiles in Africa (Jessica Simpson. All of it brought to you in the vein of ‘wealthy (primarily) white Westerners must save poor black Africans.’”
From the absurd “I Am Africa” campaign to Kate Moss rocking blackface on the cover of The Independent’s Africa issue, from Bono’s (PRODUCT)RED campaign to Oprah’s $40 million school for South African girls, from Angelina Jolie birthing Shiloh in Namibia to Madonna adopting baby David from Malawi, Africa was everywhere in 2006.
- Dr. Marc Lamont Hill did a great job explaining why all these campaigns shouldn’t be uncritically celebrated: “My worry, however, is that such acts are prompted by a paternalism (in Pitt’s case, a literal one) that undermines African agency and prosperity. Instead of advocating the development of infra-strutures for increased self-governance and self-reliance, these acts reinforce the dominant notion that Africa needs to be saved by White heroes. Additionally, much of the philanthropic work being done obscures more profound and causal structural factors such as globalization, neo-liberalism, and environmental racism.”
- Richard Kim, writing for The Nation blog, suggested an alternative to buying one of the (PRODUCT)RED items: “Here’s my DIY solution that still involves shopping and branding. A red Sharpie marker costs about a $1. Go get one and mark up something you already own. A giant red A will suffice, I suppose, but don’t be afraid to stretch your imagination. Then send $198 (or $149 or whatever you can afford) to the Global Fund.”
- Adam Elkus drew a comparison between celebrity do-gooders and turn-of-the-century colonialist missionaries: “This brand of moral grandstanding suggests that Africa has become a kind of plaything for some campaigners, a backdrop against which they can make themselves feel good and ‘special’. They are searching for personal meaning and purpose in the deserts and grasslands of Africa, not kickstarting a meaningful debate about how to take Africa forward. There is little new about this. The 19th century missionaries and explorers who established European control over the continent saw it as an exotic and forbidding land in which a similar kind of personal meaning could be found (or lost). The actual thoughts and desires of the inhabitants mattered little.”
- Hannah Pool, herself adopted from an orphanage in Eritrea, also likened Madonna and co. with missionaries: “It’s arrogant to assume the only way to deal with poverty in the developing world is for westerners to adopt a few “lucky” children. Adoption can be a wonderful thing, but when it comes to inter-country adoption it’s easy to confuse what the parents want (a nice shiny, new baby) with what’s best for the child. Inter-country adoption might seem well-intentioned but when white people from rich countries adopt black children from poor countries it smacks of missionary-like behaviour.”
- With the Madonna adoption, we again saw people react to the complex issue of international and transracial adoption by saying things like “what, would you rather have the children die in orphanages?” I encouraged people to move beyond this simplistic either/or mindset by posing a series of questions that never seem to be addressed in media coverage of adoption: “Can a better standard of living, healthcare, education and loving adoptive parents ever make up for what is lost when a child is removed from his or her country and culture? Shouldn’t every effort be made to try and keep families together? Shouldn’t adoption be a final resort?”
- We also saw shades of White Man’s Burden in the resurgence of depictions of indigenous people as dumb savages. From the awful Bud Light Steve and Zagar ad campaign to the insulting Virgin Trains commercial with American Indians attacking the train, to Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, the underlying message was that these savages needed to be saved from themselves.
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
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Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
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