The Los Angeles Times has a story today on whether Obama’s speech will be able to change the way this country talks about race.
I spent some time on the phone with the reporter as well, giving my views. Here are a few excerpts:
In his recent address on race relations in America — prompted by his minister’s explosive sermons on that topic — Sen. Barack Obama declared that whites must understand the black experience in America and blacks must appreciate the white perspective. Otherwise, he said, we face a grinding “racial stalemate.”
His remarks struck a nerve: More than 4 million people watched the Democratic presidential candidate on live TV, and the speech is now a top video on YouTube, viewed nearly 3 million times.
Preachers and teachers across the country have been trying to figure out how to leverage that interest to launch deep, authentic discussions about race. In some quarters, there’s strong interest…
Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder of a diversity consulting firm in New York, described the dynamic this way: “Human beings tend to be really focused on their own oppression, and tend to be less interested in hearing about the oppression of others.”…
In her small beauty salon in Franktown, Charlotte Britton, 65, serves white and black customers. But Britton, who is white, wouldn’t dream of talking with them about race. Part of that is business: She likes to keep chatter in the salon light — no politics, no religion.
But the deeper truth is this: She never dreamed that anyone would want to talk about race. Until she saw video clips of Obama’s pastor sermonizing about black oppression, Britton said she had no clue that anyone other than a few hard-core white supremacists thought much about skin color.
“I thought we were past that,” she said. “I didn’t realize this was going on in the United States. In this day and age? I was shocked.”
Why do I always find the best things when I am procrastinating?
Screwing around on an article I am writing, I happened to catch up with Fatemeh, who let me know about a truly fabulous blog, Sex & The Islamic City.
The writer, known as English, paints a gorgeous description of her expat life in Iran:
The cultural life of Tehran is surprisingly rich, with private views of art, secret screenings of controversial documentaries and movies, underground rock concerts, officially sanctioned classical concerts, and even illegal fashion shows on offer almost every night, as long as you know the right people. Alternatively you can get on the party circuit with Tehran’s rich and beautiful, those expensively-suited men and their glossy, whippet thin wives who live in penthouse suites of marble towers or behind the walls of sprawling villas in the north of Tehran in the lap of the mountains. If this isn’t your scene then you can penetrate the circle of foreign journalists, diplomats and NGO workers with their unkempt hair who observe life in the city with a wry detachment always amusing to a girl missing the dry British sense of humour and longing to party in jeans with a face bare of the thick make up that is de rigueur in society here. Continue reading →
So, I’ve been watching the flow of this conversation with great interest.
Racial identity is a tricky thing. For some of us, it’s something we were born into, with relatives coaching us into an understanding of our race and how it may work against us in society. Others have to find their own way, as their relatives either can’t or won’t be able to equip them with this knowledge. Coming to an understanding with your racial identity is a difficult process.
And I say this as someone who was indoctrinated into blackness from day one. My mother provided me with piles and piles of books and information to demonstrate how wonderful it was to be black, how big of a burden we carry, and how to recognize your blessings. I was often taken to cultural events based around my blackness, and my mother attacked ideas, historical “fact,” and white beauty standards so that I did not feel inadequate. As a result, I never really felt any problems with identifying as black.
The only friction I felt was when I decided to do something that wasn’t “traditionally black.” But to me, it was a simple matter of having a very narrow definition of blackness that some people choose to adhere to, like they were be paid to police the actions of others. I never had a problem with my blackness – I just decided that I would need to expand the parameters a bit.
For other people, this decision is not quite so simple. I remember a girl who I was in school with from middle school to high school. She was a very nice person, funny and kind. But she acted like being Asian was a curse. She made sure that outside of her name, everything else about her was normal (read: white) and would not talk about anything that had to do with her culture or her parents. I am sure that was a kind of survival tactic. A few months back, I looked her up online and saw that her page was covered in Korean pop stars, she had Korean hip-hop booming, and her tagline was “100% Korean!”
I had mentioned this to Hae and she confirmed this was a common experience.
“In high school, you just want to fit in,” she said. “A lot of people embrace their identity after it is over.” Continue reading →
Paging through an older issue of Pride Magazine, I noticed something that initially stood out to me as strange.
Hmm, I thought to myself, they have a lot of dark skinned women in this magazine. Wonder why?
Then I wondered to myself why I thought it would be strange to have dark skinned women in a magazine that caters to black women. That should have been a no-brainer. So why was I surprised?
It wasn’t until I got home and paged through a few other magazines when it hit me – I thought it was strange because I normally don’t see many women featured in fashion magazines that are darker than myself.
Gabrielle Union and Kelly Rowland tend to illustrate darker complexioned women in mainstream magazines and black based magazines may feature a darker skinned model or two, but representation is seriously lacking.
Later on that evening, I was prepping a large batch of magazines for recycling. After thumbing through about 30 issues of various magazines, I made the following notes:
*One fashion spread featuring a darker skinned woman in the 2006 Vibe Vixen.
*An Azzure ad from that same 2006 era, also featuring darker skinned, plus sized woman
*Last month’s Essence included one profile of a darker skinned business woman, and a couple of advertisements containing a darker skinned woman.
*Self Magazine had a stock photo in January featuring a darker skinned model with a loose natural style.
That’s all I got out of 30 magazines? Unfortunately, the current crop isn’t much better. I also noticed some interesting trends.
To be represented, it appears that darker skinned women have to fit into a certain mold.
Mold 1 – Striking and Exotic
Or Mold 2 – Used for color contrast:
However, the women featured in the Pride Magazine broke these molds with a quickness.
Recording artist Mica Paris was featured with her hair loose (pictured below) and also in another photo with a white catsuit and large afro.
Model Rachael Williams was featured as the face of African Pride. This was the back cover ad:
Her MySpace Page also includes pictures from photo shoots, like this one:
Or this one:
After taking in these pictures, I reflected on the lack of comparable images in American glossies. This is not to say that models like Ajuma and Alek are not beautiful. It just seems like fashion has a specific look that is acceptable for dark skinned women. It is almost as if the woman is not dark with close cropped hair and a bone-thin physique, she simply does not exist. Seeing women like Rachael Williams and Mica Paris gracing the pages of a fashion magazine were a welcome change for hair and size diversity.
March arrived a couple weeks ago, and I quickly ran to the newsstand to pick up the newest copy of Pride. I skimmed through the pages eagerly, only to notice something was missing. Throughout the magazine, the models were mid-brown to fair. So were the subjects for the articles.
Do you remember when Vogue India hit the stands and Australian model Gemma Ward was front and center flanked by two presumably Indian models in what I like to call “the coveted Beyonce spot?” All I could do was laugh at how predictable that move was on the editors part.
In the months since that launch last year, Vogue India has featured a dazzling array of Bollywood actresses and models on the cover. It’s as if to say, “yeah, we thought the cover on that premiere issue was lame too but we fully intend to make up for it!”
Anytime I think about that launch I wonder if an African country will ever get its own Vogue. Maybe a Vogue Nigeria or a South African Vogue.
I’ve debated back and forth on message boards about who would be chosen for the imaginary inagural cover. Legendary Iman? Alek Wek? Liya? Oluchi? Gemma in a safari hat?
I read an article in The Times last week about Oluchi in which she was quoted as saying that top magazines in South Africa (like Glamour and GQ) refuse to put blacks on their covers. This in a country that is 79% black.
“As a Nigerian and an African I have done so much in my career to represent everything African in Western countries. There is a diverse group of people in South Africa, be it black, white, Asian. …If you pick up Vogue India everything about it, from the first page to the last, is very Indian…I would like to see that in South Africa. They [magazines] need to embrace diversity and show more love …It doesn’t give me joy to pick up a copy of South African GQ and feel like I’m reading American GQ.”
This saddens me. I recall seeing the cover of South African ELLE once with a dark skinned woman on the cover and for months I tried to find an issue at various newsstands only to come up empty. I was dying to know if the cover I saw was an anomoly. So far, I’m not willing to pony up the $90 or so for a subscription to find out.
Back to my magazine fantasy…I picture two covers. The first one featuring a mix of models from all over the continent with Iman or Liya Kebede, Alek Wek or Ajuma to show the very different types of African beauty. My second thought has editors mixing it up a bit more with the likes of a Jourdan Dunn, Emanuela dePaula, Chanel Iman, Chrystelle Saint-Louis Augustin, or Damaris Lewis to illustrate how there isn’t a corner of the world that hasn’t been touched by this so called dark continent’s beauty and influence.
Seriously, I could ponder this for hours. I am so much more satisfied by made up magazines than by their real conterparts. Maybe there’s an editor out there dreaming of this launch too, and of Gemma Ward posing on an elephant for the cover.
“Paramount Pictures is conducting a test screening for a few Hindu leaders to see whether they find Mike Myers speaking in a funny accent [in The Love Guru] while in brownface to be somewhat problematic”
“What Jeremiah Wright knows, and told his flock…is that 9/11 was neither the first, nor worst act of terrorism on American soil. The history of this nation for folks of color, was for generations, nothing less than an intergenerational hate crime”
Feb 26, 2008 8:12:59 PM katurtle says: I would first like to say, Hurah for putting yet another race-loving-be-yourself-being-black-is-beautiful idea out into the world. People need to know that, when it comes to different races, there are different styles and natural things that come with being said race. No, I am not raciest, however, I am not black, asian, or hispanic. And I would like to say, given all this “minorities are important and we need to stop racism” stuff that is out in the world, many Americans are forgetting the smallest minority, in my opinion the most important (seeing as I am in this minority.) of all. Native Americans, we have been on this beautiful land the longest, I’m sorry if I offend others, but we have been the most shunned apon, and down-casted race in America. Look up the trail of tears, how many of my people have been killed for this land, we don’t even get recognition. I think it is high time everyone stopped thinking Blacks are the only minority, becasue to be honest they aren’t even a minority anymore. Look how many black people are in this country, how many times people think they need to stand up and be heard, blacks are the most popular and heard of minority in the world. Forgive me, but I think Native Americans deserve to have collums in magazine’s dedicated to their hair, we need articles about how living on a reservation and being one of the poorest races has affected us. Do you know all that Native Americans have been put through, does anyone, No, and it is time we are thought of, it is time I get tips on how to make my hair shine(not that it needs to, it is Native American after all). I have never been able to take any of the tips in magazines and put them to use. Sure every other race gets their say, but what about us. It’s time Blacks step down from thier thrown, it is time they get over the horrible treatment they have endured 200 years ago and let us be heard.
“Go to Hong Kong, okay? I’ve been there. You want to see workaholics? Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out … that’s why they’re successful in life. … I’m telling you, Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over, because there’s no excuses for them. They’re hard, hard workers.”
My sincere apologies if you just spat your drink all over your keyboard. Toronto’s Mayor David Miller rightly demanded that Ford apologize and Ford refused. Victoria Shen (Co-President of the Toronto Chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council) wrote a brilliant open letter in response to Ford’s comments, stating, “It is not enough to deride and be outraged by racist comments. Words are empty. Sanctions are merely palliative. We challenge those who are genuinely offended by Councillor Ford’s comments to run for office at the next Municipal election. It is the only way.”
(I’m still trying to figure out the image choice that accompanies BlogTO’s reposting of Shen’s letter, but I’ll leave that alone.)
Now, Rob Ford is not exactly known for his ability to come up with the best ideas or say the most tactful things. Torontoist lets us know he had this to say about why Toronto shouldn’t fund an AIDS prevention program:
“If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you won’t get AIDS probably. That’s bottom line.”
Of course, when it was pointed out that heterosexual women are the fastest-growing group of AIDS patients, Ford postulated
“How are women getting it? Maybe they are sleeping with bisexual men.”
For reals? How is this man allowed to serve the city of Toronto? I’ll tell you how. There are so many people who just don’t see what the big deal is when leaders say these kinds of things. There’s been a lot of arguing on the blogs about how objection to his most recent statement is “nitpicky” and people who think he should apologize are overreacting. There are even people in the “media” who say crap like this:
“This preoccupation with what people say and how they say it and finding offense in everything said is happening, I suspect, for the same reason that dogs lick their genitals. It’s because they can.”
Again: for reals? But no, there’s more. Apparently those of us who appropriate words for self-identification are hypocrites. Again, from the Canada Free Press:
“Most recently radical feminist women have begun using the C-word (which to me is probably one of the most offensive words in the English language) as an identity tag. I recall an article by the columnist Barbara Kay wherein she quoted a woman who had emailed her a proud proclamation that ‘women are c–s.’ Kay was appalled at the idea that women would be using that term as a self-descriptive term.”
You know what, cunts? I’m not even going to go there. What I am going to say is that the reason we have to call out and condemn public officials for what they say is because they have the very public power to indicate what kind of speech is okay. And hate speech is never okay, regardless of the intention (Ford said he meant it as a “compliment.”)
Just to give you an idea of why I think public officials need to be called on their hate-filled bullshit before everyone feels like they have an all access pass to spew vile rhetoric – Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern didn’t know that she was being recorded in a meeting when she launched into a speech about what she thinks of her gay and lesbian constituents. What results is a real indicator of why it’s important that public officials be held accountable for their words:
As for Rob Ford:
“I don’t know why I should (apologize),” Ford said. “People aren’t asking me to.”
Well, why don’t you go ahead and ask him to? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Rob Ford says he has apologized to as many as 20 people who objected to his comments about “Oriental people.”
Ford, who is considering running for mayor in 2010, sparked controversy at last week’s city council meeting when he made comments which included “these Oriental people work like dogs, they sleep beside their machines.”
Called on by Mayor David Miller to apologize on the floor of council, Ford chose to say sorry personally to those who were offended.
Ford said yesterday that he has apologized to “15 to 20” people who contacted him.
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World