by Carmen Van Kerckhove
Stephen Duncombe, author of the fantastic book Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, just wrote a piece for The Nation about why progressive activists cannot afford to ignore celebrity. He was kind enough to mention Racialicious in the article:
It’s exactly this sort of gateway that longtime activist Patricia Jerido is trying to build with her progressive networking site, GoLeft.org. Prominently featured on its home page this summer was a curated list of news stories, briefs about an action staged by the NAACP in Detroit, another Republican politician denouncing the war and…Paris Hilton’s jail stint. When I ask, why Paris? Jerido responds, “Because that’s what people are talking about. Republican defections make the news, but Paris in jail makes it into popular culture.”
“We need to be talking about her too,” the founder of GoLeft elaborates, “using her as a starting point to move to the conversation we want to be having about who gets sent to prison and who gets out, about money, wealth and access.” Carmen Van Kerckhove, who runs the website Racialicious.com, calls this sort of thing a “teachable moment”–an approachable opening into larger, thornier issues like the inequities of the criminal justice system. In fact, Van Kerckhove points out, two such moments are opened up when politics and celebrity intersect. The first is the issue itself, and the second is how the mass media handle that issue. Both can be opportunities for political conversation.
Sometime what’s more interesting than the celebrity event itself (e.g., Michael Richards, Don Imus) is how the issue gets played out in the media. The Richards incident started with the racist ravings of a white man, complete with references to lynching, but ended up as a public discussion of why black people keep using the n-word towards each other. The Imus incident started with the racist and misogynist remarks of a white man, but ended up as a public referendum on misogyny in hip hop.
It’s fascinating to me that all roads seem to lead back to discussions of how black people are supposedly oppressing themselves.
I interviewed Duncombe in episode 78 of Addicted to Race. I encourage you to check it out – he’s got some great ideas.