Month: May 2007

May 26, 2007 / / Uncategorized
May 25, 2007 / / Uncategorized

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to give my overly analytical brain a break and delve into some light reading.

I love to read, and as a result of being willing to read anything and everything, I have picked up a few interesting habits.

Case in point being my affinity for paranormal romance novels. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I love reading about the exploits of women with supernatural powers. After blowing through most of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the OtherWorld Series, and waiting on the library to stock Kim Harrison’s For a Few Demons More, I was drawn to pick up MaryJanice Davidson’s work.

A bit fluffier (and more in line with the typical romance novel) than I am used to, I picked up the first few novels while smirking at the ditzy Valley Girl Vampire Queen Heroine. I was amused for three books, but was brought up short at the fourth. In fourth friend, the protagonist’s token black friend is riding in a car, and instigating a coversation about the n-word, much to the chagrin of the other white characters in the car.

“It’s just a word, I’m past it…” says the black character, before turning to a white character and saying, “You can call me it just once.” The white character stutters on the page.

I take a break from reading. I flip to the back flap to check out the author’s photo. Yup, just as I suspected…white. I continued reading the book to see how the situation was handled. Luckily, the conversation was dropped in favor of other pressing matters – like staking the undead.

Still, I felt a little shaken by the exchange. Can an author realistically portray someone of another ethnicity?

As a writer, I would say I hope so. Having cut my teeth working on short stories and screenplays (non-fiction writing didn’t happen until recently), my stories do not work in a mono-racial bubble. Some of my characters are black, some are Americanized Latino, some are mixed race-Asian, some are white…the character’s racial background and physical characteristics are chosen with care. The images that are afloat in my mind become realized on the page in the form they shaped. It is almost as if I do not choose a character’s ethnicity – it is simply there, one small part of the overall character. And while I do occasionally assign racial characteristics to my characters for social commentary purposes (i.e. the token white character in my screenplay, office friend to my two protagonists, largely serving as the sidekick/comic relief), for the most part, I let the story unfold as it will. Read the Post White Authors, Ethnic Characters

May 25, 2007 / / Uncategorized
May 24, 2007 / / Uncategorized

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

Lily Allen rocks it (kinda), Will Smith used to, and about 8 out of 10 hipster 20-somethings I see every single time I walk into an “up and coming” neighborhood in NYC seems to have filled their closets with it. Door-knocker earrings, yellow gold chains, hoodies with loud neon prints, and even grills are popping up everywhere. The 80s are back with a vengeance in NYC, but tinted more the color of Salt N Peppa than The Bangles. It’s no surprise that some of the more decadent style choices of the black and Latino working class from 20 years ago are reflected in H&Ms worldwide or seeping their way into the minds of the fashion conscious. After all, the history of fashion has shown us that cross-cultural appropriation (race, class, and nationality-based) is a common catalyst for the next big trends. Yet no matter how cute so-called “ghetto chic” may be, I just can’t bring myself to wear it.

Maybe it’s because I’ve reached that certain period in my life at which the combining of “work” clothes and “play” clothes has become a necessity to keep down costs and save closet space, but I feel that there is something deeper inside that prevents me from embracing my inner old school rap star. For one, it’s a matter of nomenclature. The term “ghetto” is evocative of “negative” images (poverty, housing projects, crime, drug use, lack of education), and remains racialized by the media. Ghettoes and poverty are typically associated with blacks and Latinos, even though as a result of the racial demographics of the United States, there are technically more poor whites. According to a U.S. Census Bureau Press Release from 2003, though “non-Hispanic whites had a lower poverty rate than other racial groups, [they] accounted for 44 percent of the people in poverty,” which makes me wonder why whites are virtually ignored in discussions of class and blacks and Latinos are always assumed to make up the majority of the poor population in this country. . . but that’s another article.

Over time, the term “ghetto” has been used in a way that separates it from its history, a dark one of ethnic exclusion (i.e. forced isolation of Jewish communities) and government-sanctioned segregation (i.e. communities of color in the United States). Little thought is given to the true meaning of the word and how people ended up in ghettoes to begin with when it’s used. Along the same lines of a proposition made by Robert B. Moore in his essay “Racist Stereotyping in the English Language,” I’d like to make a little proposal of my own. Moore challenges typical methods of teaching and discussing the history of the United States by making his readers take a closer look at those who were oppressed in order to create it. He suggests that the “next time [we] write about slavery or read about it, try transposing all “slaves” into ‘African people held in captivity,’ ‘Black people forced to work for no pay,’ or ‘African people stolen from their families and societies.’” Imagine if we replaced “ghetto” with something like “the only place African-American men (who had fought for their country’s freedom from totalitarianism) and their families were allowed to live due to redlining, racist real estate monopolies, and restrictive covenants” when used as a noun. Or what about “a type of behavior I associate with the poor even though I don’t know anyone who lives in the projects or has had to struggle to make ends meet”/ “a style of dress that I associate with poor blacks and Latinos becauseI am racist and classist deep down inside, but cover it up by using this word instead of saying what I really mean because it’s more socially acceptable” when used as an adjective. So that’s a little harsh, but it would put a whole new spin on saying something or someone was “ghetto,” now wouldn’t it? It might make people think twice before applying it to any and everything that they deem as sub-par.

Another reason I would feel a tad bit uncomfortable clothing myself in “ghetto chic” is the manner in which the style itself is carried out. There is a hint of irony in middle to upper-middle class young people co-opting a style of dress that by name alone is associated with those who find themselves limited by their economically precarious existence. Clothing that is now used to evoke “ghetto fabulous-ness” is based on a style that has its own history. It was a style of adornment that came about as a result of the poverty itself. Considering that the poor found it challenging to invest in forms of real wealth, liquid commodities like clothing became currency, a sign that even though some may be on the bottom when compared to the rest of society, they could take styles (like jewelry and “preppy” fashion) from those who had solid wealth and make it their own. So I would feel strange wearing a style that originated as a way to prove oneself as worthy and equal in the face of adversity when I don’t face challenges in the same way as a result of my economic privilege. Read the Post Ghetto Chic: To Wear or Not to Wear?