Policing Fashion in New York

by Guest Contributor Minh-ha, originally published at Threadbared

In New York magazine’s Spring Fashion issue, there are six feature stories on clothes, designers, and models including a story on a group of tenderfoot but fresh-faced white male models (“Fashion Week’s handsome rookies”), an interview with style icon Kate Moss on her clothing line at the much-anticipated and much delayed opening of TopShop in downtown Manhattan (recent reports have doors opening in April 2009), and a recession-minded article with an increasingly familiar theme, “Everything Here is Under $100”). In addition, there is the usual array of designer label advertisements and celebrity spokesmodels: Posh and Becks for Emporio Armani, Katie Holmes for Miu Miu, Gwyneth Paltrow for Tod’s, as well as an anonymous sea of puerile, well-heeled, ivory-faced Gothamites slinging everything from Marc Jacobs handbags to cocktails to lifestyles.

Jessica Lustig’s article, “The Fashion Thief,” was the only feature story or advertisement in the Fashion Issue that featured a person of color, any color. Lustig follows Kevahn Thorpe, an African American young man from Queensbridge Houses project in Queens, New York, as he is arrested and rearrested for shoplifting from high-end Manhattan shops like Prada, Bergdorf, Barneys, and Saks.

There’s a lot about this article that’s unsettling. Continue reading

China’s Transgender Community

by Guest Contributor Monica Roberts, originally published at TransGriot

Since the turn of the 21st century, China has begun making another ‘Great Leap Forward’ in terms of modernization and putting itself in the world’s spotlight.

We got a glimpse of just how much it has progressed during the recently concluded Beijing Games, and its space program continues to take giant leaps as well toward their ultimate goal of becoming the second nation to put a man on the moon.

One interesting thing that has come to light is that China, like ‘errbody’ else on our planet, has an estimated 400,000 transgender people in their midst. Over 1000 of them have had surgery, and we in the West have been getting introduced to them and their stories as well.

It’s not unusual now to Google ‘china transsexuals’ and see many links to various stories about transpeople in China. But all Chinese transsexuals probably owe a major debt to internationally acclaimed dancer Jin Xing. Her struggles and eventual SRS in 1995 basically opened the door that has made life easier for other transpeople across China to follow.

Chinese society has become more open and tolerant towards transsexuals to the point where in 2004, Chen Lili won the Miss China Universe pageant and was poised to become the first transgender contest in the 50 plus year history of the event that was being staged in Ecuador that year. But rules were quickly passed limiting the event to cisgender women and Chen was barred from participating.

Maybe the Donald should rethink that ban. Some of the biggest traffic days I get on TransGriot is when I post video or photos from various transgender pageants around the world.

As the examples of Jin Xing and Chen Lili show, Chinese transpeople are being fully integrated into society. They can now change their ID cards without hassles, their civil rights are protected by law, and after they have surgery can get married and have those marriages recognized by the state as valid.

They are examples that the rest of the judgmental Western world would do well to emulate, especially in my own country.

(Photo Credit: China Daily)

Open Thread: Racism 101, Beyond Bingo Cards

by Latoya Peterson

Regular reader Elton Joe recently sent around a Facebook message around a spate of comments over at Digg, about a New York Times opinion piece inspired by Eric Holder’s comments about being “a nation of cowards.”

After reading through the normal comments accompanying a piece about race – blacks are the real racists, an instance of bad behavior by one member of a certain racial group is equated to an entire history of discrimination and subjugation, the insistence that slavery was so long ago that nothing else is happening, accusations of “playing the race card” and the ever interesting “if whites are a nation of cowards, are blacks a nation of bitches?” question (with 41 diggs) – Elton had enough. He wrote:

I propose we make a cheat sheet with the most common arguments about racism followed by summary counterarguments. I’m not saying that answers to racism are short and easy, but I keep seeing and hearing the same inane, clichéd statements over and over and over again, on the Internet, in daily conversation, on TV, in movies, and in print, especially from deniers of racism who misunderstand what racism even is.

For dialogue on racism to even get off the ground, we must require people who don’t know shit about racism, who have never experienced it, who, indeed, benefit from it, to SHUT UP FOR ONCE and let people who have something to say say something instead of having our voices
eternally stifled and marginalized. That censorship is at the core of the systematized oppression that is racism. Continue reading

Do Poor Whites Even Exist?

by Guest Contributor Average Bro, originally published at Average Bro

This post’s title is a rhetorical question. Of course poor whites exist, but not that you’d know so if you’re informed by the mainstream media. While Ronald Reagan was successful in painting urban black women as “welfare queens”, whites receive nearly 2/3 of all welfare benefits administered by the federal government. Still, Shaniqua Jackson, not Samantha McMullen, is the face of American poverty.

Last Friday’s edition of ABC’s 20/20 tried to shed some light on the woes of dirt poor rural white Americans, a group of folks so routinely (and IMHO, intentionally) ignored they’re damn near considered invisible. And while A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains is a fairly nuanced portrait of life in the hills of Kentucky, it both informs and pisses off at the same time.

The promo trailer:

A young girl discusses her Mom’s drug problem.

Continue reading

Links – 2009-02-23

Restructure turns an eye to “What PoC Do: Restrain Ourselves“:

The people who say these things appear to think that racism occurs rarely, and that when a non-white person complains about allegedly “trivial” instances of racism, it means that she is like a young child who hasn’t yet learned that not everyone in the world is obligated to be nice to her. In reality, however, I have experienced racial microaggressions since childhood, and I am well aware that the world is not a safe space for people of colour with respect to race. I point out racism not because I’m noticing it for the first time, but because I want to bring it to the attention of others who have grown up shielded from the daily realities that people of colour have to endure. I point out racism because I want to point out injustice, not because I am some selfish oversensitive child who wants the world to revolve around me and my feelings.

Instead of “I’m offended!”, I tend to say, “That’s racist!” However, this method has its own problems, because although you are not calling someone a racist, the accused perceives it that way, that you are personally attacking their character. Calling someone racist, they argue, is an ad hominem and therefore not a valid argument. They say that you are characterizing them as a bad person so that anything they say is characterized as illegitimate. They make it all about them instead of about the action being criticized. They claim that they are being silenced if I use the word “racist”, so that I even considered using the terms “racialist” or “racial discrimination” instead to make the criticism more acceptable. Sometimes I did this, until I realized that even if you use a less offensive word, they still became defensive because they could not accept the idea that racism isn’t over, or that they could be racist (adjective, which is a different concept than being a racist, noun). I also realized that I was bending over backwards as to not hurt their feelings, instead of the other way around, the latter being the illusion that they maintain through repetition.

Lisa Zhu attended an open casting call for Avatar:

[C]asting director Deedee Rickets advised prospective extras in Friday’s Daily Pennsylvanian article “to dress in traditional cultural ethnic attire. … If you’re Korean, wear a kimono. If you’re from Belgium, wear lederhosen.” Unlike the original series, which features almost exclusively Asian cultural influences, Shyamalan’s version will depict the four worlds as “ethnically and culturally” different, according to Rickets.

Alas, my Korean ancestors failed to leave me any kimonos – or saris for that matter – and my authentic Belgian lederhosen happened to be in the wash at the time. So, clad only in a mundane sweatshirt and pair of jeans, I looked around the room. There were about 50 to 60 people in this particular group (more aspiring actors were waiting in line outside), and they were all listening intently to Rickets.

“We’re trying to create these four different nations so we’re looking for different skin tones, and features, and bone structures,” she said. As she spoke, I counted about a dozen small children – as well as two grown men – who were wearing karate outfits. Another handful of prospective extras wore traditional Nigerian outfits (most at this particular casting call were African American), but the vast majority thankfully had on boring, contemporary Western clothing.

One middle-aged black woman, clad in a denim jacket and black slacks, raised her hand. “Are you at a disadvantage if you didn’t wear a costume?” she asked, evidently concerned about her “non-ethnic” outfit.

“Absolutely not!” Rickets reassured her. “It doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage if you didn’t come in a big African thing. But guys, even if you came with a scarf today, put it over your head so you’ll look like a Ukrainian villager or whatever.”

Continue reading

The Brazil Files: Conflict of Interest

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Before I utter any statements of depth in this piece, I have to present a bias. Though not meant to offend those who believe in proselytizing, I find myself firmly standing on the side of those against it. If you feel that religion and/or a faith tradition of some sort is your source of hope, guidance for life, and possibly even your ticket to eternal salvation, so be it. I respect that, and I fully honor the right we each have to practice some form of the aforementioned. However, the second you start telling me or someone else which form is best (read: which version will prevent me from burning in hell for the rest of eternity), we’ve got beef.

With that said, I want to go ahead and put it out there that I take issue with the bulk of missionary work (past and present), especially that which takes place in developing nations. It is a reminder of the power of nations who sit firmly and comfortably in their G8 seats, spectators in a game of international tennis. Only in the case of missionary work, the victory comes at a higher price, one that can mean not only renouncing one’s culture, but also one’s religion (or at least denouncing it in public) as a means of attaining vital resources. This is not to say that missionaries have not done good work. There are countless records of missionaries who have helped others in excellent ways, minus all the religious rhetoric. However, even if the message of faith lies in no more than an utterance or the simple presence of the mission’s name, missionary work nevertheless boils down to a political campaign in the name of God.

In light of my objection to this line of work, I find myself dealing with a mental conflict almost every day of my present job. My campaign has nothing to do with God, but in terms of international influence, the English language and American culture come pretty darn close. Though I have been teaching English in Brazil since July of 2008, there are still a few things about my current profession that rub me the wrong way. The source of my discomfort in teaching my mother tongue lies in implications more so than tangible, empirical evidence, thus making my inner turmoil all-the-more “inner.” Much like a mosquito bite on the sole of your foot, my conflict has been an itch I can’t quite scratch.

Before enrolling in the program in which I am involved, I already knew I wanted to live in Brazil for a few months to a year to have more exposure to Brazilian culture, particularly an aspect of it that involved more of the quotidian variety. I was looking to go beyond the favela-riddled, bikini-clad, beach bathing, rainforested Brazil with which we are presented on our television screens and in our Netflix queues. I wanted to be forced to speak Portuguese on a regular basis and pushed a bit beyond my comfort zone. I was not looking for a spoiled, privileged, escapist ex-pat experience of the Eat Pray Love genre.

The easiest way to achieve my goal was to teach English here, but I knew in the back of my mind, I would be presented with interesting challenges that I may not have faced if I had chosen another route to secure a job in Brazil. For one, I would have to be a de facto representative of American Culture TM. My language and my country would be placed center stage during class, but what Americans do, eat, buy, and think would be the main topic of conversation at all other times as well. I would be reduced to a living, breathing souvenir. Yet in actuality, I find myself to be a bit of a disappointment to my students and the Brazilian English teachers, not for lack of teaching skills, but for lack of conforming to their ideas of Americans and American life. Continue reading

Seismic Shift on Wall Street = “Artists”???

by guest contributor Karen Wang, originally published at Scarlett Cinema

It is a strange feeling to walk down the streets of New York these days. Though the hustle and bustle of commerce may still swarm all about you, it is noticeably quieter than usual. And though the sub-zero wind chills may easily explain why only the tourists and Broadway musical super-fanatics can be lured out to play, I would argue: it is more than that.

I’ve watched, listened, and noticed for quite some time now how things seem to be shaping up; and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are few other places in the country where the carnage and fallout from this blighted recession are more evident than in New York City. The Big Apple has been hit especially hard.

Condos and co-ops sit empty as their selling prices in the New York Times continue to plummet. Five or six businesses on my block alone– establishments that had thrived for years– all closed their doors forever within recent months. A cross-town bus ride or walk down 23rd Street will reveal more darkened storefronts. And perhaps most eerie of all: the empty trains.

Like most people in New York who either have a hand in filmmaking or write about films on the internet, I have a day job. For the last two and a half years, I have worked at a financial firm located somewhere between Times Square and Rockefeller Center. It is this part of town that has, in a way, become the new Wall Street. In fact, the Wall Street of times yore no longer exists– at least, not in the sense of it being the end-all-be-all site of where all the major money makers are housed. Most firms such as Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley now have office space and trading floors as well as run their businesses in buildings all over Manhattan. Dozens of media corporations such as NBC Universal, Viacom, Time Warner, and Conde Nast are also based in the area of town in which I work. Consequently, up until the Dow began its terrifying descent last summer, it was a matter of routine, a normal sight, to wedge one’s way onto packed subway trains full of daily commuters headed towards the Great White Way. These days, however, in the wake of massive layoffs, my wait at the local halal food cart is practically non-existent; I no longer have to dodge and weave between as many brief cases and overcoats walking through Times Square; and most unsettling of all: as I look around during my morning and evening commutes, the subway cars are conspicuously roomier.

Why am I bringing all this up on a feminist-inspired blog about cinema and the media? Because last month, in the New York Times, there appeared an article written by Hannah Seligson about the recent mass exodus of bankers and Wall Street types from the financial industry as they look to the arts and entertainment industry for their future career paths. In other words, they are turning to their “creative plan Bs.” Continue reading

If not a nation of cowards, then certainly a nation in denial

by Carmen Van Kerckhove, originally published at CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 blog

In a speech at the Department of Justice yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder declared that when it comes to dealing with the issue of race, we are “essentially a nation of cowards.”

While his choice of words was harsh, he was absolutely right in pointing out the fact that honest, authentic, and productive conversations about race rarely happen in this country.

Following his historic speech on race last spring, Barack Obama was castigated by some cable channel talking heads for “throwing his white grandmother under the bus” because he had the audacity to point out that his own flesh and blood — the grandmother who had helped to rear him and loved him like a son — had herself been guilty of internalizing and reflecting racist stereotypes.

Should Obama’s revelation have come as a surprise? Not really.

We’ve been conditioned from an early age by advertising, pop culture, and the news media. We’re surrounded 24/7 by images steeped in racial stereotypes. There’s simply no way for us not to be influenced by them.

So why the denial? For the reason Holder explained: Once we open this particular Pandora’s box to the light, we’re going to expose notions and prejudices most people fervently wish we could put behind us.

Unfortunately, trying to relegate racism to the past is premature. We’re just not there yet.

Just look at the reaction to Holder’s comment. Instead of acknowledging his (somewhat obvious, really) remark about race with a silent, knowing nod, many are rushing to call Holder a troublemaker for stating an inconvenient truth.

People are far too eager to proclaim how colorblind and post-racial they are. Last summer, a Washington Post-ABC News poll posed the question “If you honestly assessed yourself, would you say that you have at least some feelings of racial prejudice?” Only three in ten of the respondents answered yes.

Apparently, many Americans of all backgrounds have convinced themselves that they are not any part of the problem, even though racism continues to deny people of color a level playing field in just about every aspect of our society.

We’ve fallen victim to denial because in the past twenty years, there has been far too much emphasis on “celebrating diversity” at the expense of taking a hard look at race and racism.

As Latoya Peterson recently wrote on our blog Racialicious, “The history that we currently teach is hopelessly sanitized to the point where people are still unsure exactly what happened at a lynching, and are unaware of the historical meaning of behind leaving nooses as ‘a prank.'”

School textbooks gloss over the unsavory realities of genocide, slavery, and other systematic forms of institutionalized racism. Every February, black history is boiled down to little more than a series of Trivial Pursuit™-like facts about who invented peanut butter.

What Holder said hit many as hard as it did because, down deep, we know he’s right. We don’t dare face our own deepest, darkest prejudices and bring them into the light where we might re-examine and eventually obliterate them.

Professing to be “colorblind” is not an answer; it’s a dodge. We need to stop pussyfooting around the issue and face it head-on.

It’s time for us to have a real conversation about race.