The Implications of “Note to White People”

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse, originally published at The Coup Magazine (blog)

In light of Reverend Wright’s speech, which you can view in full via the post below, Washington Post guest columnist Jacques Berlinerblau, the program director and associate professor of Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., wrote an article entitled “Note to White People,” in which he discusses the meaning, or lack thereof, behind Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s recent comments. He notes the following in response to Barack Obama’s mentioning that “Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear”:

I was critical of Obama’s speech but it strikes me that this point, in and of itself, is true. Things are often said in African-American oratorical contexts—sometimes the most lyrical, provocative and over-the-top things—which are rarely intended to be marching orders. Those who hear these things may indeed be dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting, but they are acutely aware that they are not hearing fighting words.

Berlinerblau goes on to discuss his initial shock and discomfort at a meeting of racial Afrocentrists during a research project on African-American oratory with relation to intense and incensing speech used by the group leaders, only to be comforted by a friend who explained that their oratorical styles greatly differed from those in conventional (read: white) environments. In addition Berlinerblau asserts that while he recognizes that many black leaders may say things that could be interpreted as dangerous by the outside public, in the end, they are “just talking.”

While the columnist assures his readers at the end that he is not on a mission to dismiss the power of speech in the hands of black orators, nor is he implying that black leaders’ suggestions and calls for unity fall on deaf ears (he cites the highly successful community outreach performed by the Trinity Church congregation as evidence to the contrary), it is difficult not to come away from this article feeling a little raw for several reasons:

1) It speaks in general terms with relation to public speaking and presentations administered by African-Americans.

2) Despite its best efforts to show otherwise, it trivializes black speech and, in turn,

3) insults the intelligence of the black audience (by, in some ways, implying that while we may hear commands or assertions we should put to use, we ignore them or simply dismiss them in our own way of acting out #2 in this list). Continue reading

The man behind Long Duk Dong speaks out

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

NPR did an interesting story on Long Duk Dong recently – the Asian exchange student in the movie Sixteen Candles – a racist caricature of a character who has become a thorn in the side of pretty much every Asian-American male born after 1970. (Hat tip to Angry Asian Man.)

They also interview actor Gedde Watanabe (who is now 52!) and ask how he feels about having taken the role:

“People still come up to me to this day and quote my lines,” he says. “‘What’s happenin’, hot stuff?’ ‘Oh, sexy girlfriend.'”

Watanabe says making Sixteen Candles was a great experience, but one that, in retrospect, he realizes he was “a bit naive” about.

“I was making people laugh,” he says. “I didn’t realize how it was going to affect people.”

In 1984, when Sixteen Candles came out, some Asian-American groups decried Long Duk Dong as stereotypical, racist and part of a long history of Hollywood’s offensive depictions of Asian men.

“It took me a while to understand that,” Watanabe says. “In fact, I was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I was accosted a couple of times by a couple of women who were just really irate and angry. They asked, ‘How could you do a role like that?’ But it’s funny, too, because at the same time I laugh at the character. It’s an odd animal.”

We know that actors of color have to eat, like everyone else. But what responsibility do you think they should take for perpetuating racist stereotypes in the media? What factors should they keep in mind as they decide which roles to accept and which to pass over?

Damned If You Do: Jews in the Spotlight, Stereotypes, and Identity (Intro)

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

Despite all the Easter hype, I found myself thinking a lot about Judaism in America this past week. Eliot Spitzer, New York’s Jewish political golden boy and possible presidential hopeful, had been outed for a prostitution scandal, New York Magazine had run an extensive article on actress, singer, performer extraordinaire Bette Midler, Dick Cheney had traveled to the Middle East, one of his topics of discussion being the state of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the New York City version of Bravo’s reality show Real Housewives featured a Jewish-American family. It seemed as if everywhere I turned, I noticed some element of Judaism, be it people, politics, or general culture.

In the meantime, I also began to contemplate the state of Jews in the media, their portrayals therein, and how Jewish-American identity was being shaped as a result. Despite the frequent, conspiracy theory-steeped accusations of Jews having a media takeover, it’s quite a wonder that the portrayals of Jews, including Jewish-Americans, are not exactly the most flattering.

Take a moment to think to yourself of the Jewish stereotypes to which you have been exposed, or to go further, try to count the positive portrayals of Jews (Right off the top of my head, I can only think of Anne Frank and the cast of Fiddler on the Roof) in comparison to the negative ones. What do you come up with? (to be continued…)

*pictured above: a Goblin Banker from Harry Potter (more on this later)

Notes from the road

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

I was in Roanoke, VA on Thursday and stopped into a bookstore to pick up the latest novels by Haruki Murakami and Paul Auster, two of my fave authors. As the lady behind the counter rang up my purchases, we had this exchange.

Bookstore Lady: You must get it all the time!

Me: I must get what all the time?

Bookstore Lady: You know… you look just like her!

Me: Just like who?

Bookstore Lady: Oh no, I was afraid you were going to ask me her name. Um… You know… Her!

Me: I don’t know.

Bookstore Lady: You know…her…the famous one!

Me: [confused silence]

Intersectionality Extends to Fat Acceptance Too!

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

It appears that all the people of color who don’t feel quite a part of the fat acceptance movement have a new manifesto.

Tara, blogging on Fatshionista, penned A Different Kind of Fat Rant: People of Color and the Fat Acceptance Movement.

The post opens:

There are reasons why people of color aren’t flocking to the fat acceptance movement, and they’re probably not the reasons you’re thinking of.

I swear, if I read or hear one more comment about POC not participating in the fat acceptance movement due to “access,” I am going to scream. If we’re talking about internet communities, one only needs to do a quick Google search to find that there are vibrant pockets of the blogosphere where people of color are contributing their thoughts and stories and building online communities that work for them in droves. If we’re talking about in-person fat activism, people of color from all sorts of backgrounds have always found time and space to contribute to the anti-oppression movements that matter most to them. People of color know resistance.

So I don’t wanna hear it. We’re here all right; we’re just not with you. Continue reading

Discovering Coonskin

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Coonskin shirt

On the Cartoon Brew blog, it has been reported that clothing company Supreme is creating a line of tee shirts based on the 1975 film Coonskin.

Now, as an ’80s baby I had no idea what Coonskin was. So I did a bit of searching.

From the Wiki:

Production history

During the production of Heavy Traffic, filmmaker Ralph Bakshi met and developed an instant friendship with producer Albert S. Ruddy during a screening of The Godfather. Bakshi sold Ruddy on making a film based on the Uncle Remus storybooks,[7] which would also contain elements satirizing exploitation films with African American casts.[2] When Steve Krantz, the producer of both Heavy Traffic and Bakshi’s debut feature, Fritz the Cat, learned that Bakshi would work with Ruddy, Krantz locked Bakshi out of the studio. After two weeks, Krantz asked Bakshi back to finish the picture, quickly realizing no one could come close to the job.[7] In 1973, production of Coonskin began under the working title Harlem Nights,[1][4] with Paramount Pictures originally attached to distribute the film.[1][7] The title was eventually changed to Coonskin No More…[5] and finally to Coonskin. Bakshi hired several black animators to work on Coonskin and another feature, Hey Good Lookin’. At the time, there were no black animators working at the Walt Disney Company.[1]

Coonskin uses a variety of racist caricatures from blackface minstrelsy and darky iconography, including stereotypes featured in Hollywood films and cartoons, presented in a manner that was intended to satirize the racism of the material and images rather than reinforce it.[3] In the book That’s Blaxploitation! Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tuded X by an All-Whyte Jury), Darius James writes that “Bakshi pukes the iconagraphic bile of a racist culture back in its stupid, bloated face, wipes his chin and smiles Dirty Harry style. […] He subverts the context of Hollywood’s entire catalogue of racist black iconography through a series of swift cross-edits of original and appropriated footage.”[3] The film also features a number of equally exaggerated portrayals of white Southerners, Italians and homosexuals, also presented in a satirical context.[3] According to Bakshi, although producer Albert S. Ruddy was “fine” with the satire, it seemed that no one really knew what Bakshi was up to as he worked on the film. “Every one thought the picture was going to be anti-black. I intended it to be anti-idiot.”[6] Continue reading