Open Thread: Homeland Security and Racism

by Latoya Peterson
While skimming through my news feeds, I noticed this article in the New York Times:

After federal border agents detained several Mexican immigrants in western New York in June, an article about the incident in a local newspaper drew an onslaught of vitriolic postings on its Web site. Some were racist. Others attacked farmers in the region, an apple-growing area east of Rochester, accusing them of harboring illegal workers. Still others made personal attacks about the reporter who wrote the article.

Most of the posts were made anonymously. But in reviewing the logs of its Internet server, the paper, The Wayne County Star in Wolcott, traced three of them to Internet protocol addresses at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border protection.

Yeah, now I feel *really* secure.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Media Justice for Sotomayor

by Latoya Peterson

The Senate vote for potential Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is happening today, so I am sure the pundits will be going wild. With that in mind, I wanted to point you all to the Women’s Media Center’s campaign for Media Justice for Sotomayor.

Since the announcement of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, some in the media have engaged in sexist and racist attacks against her. Attacks have been overt and blatant. Some have been the repetition of extreme far right commentary, often packaged as “news” and endlessly discussed in mainstream media outlets.

The Women’s Media Center is releasing its new video, “Media Justice for Sotomayor.” It documents some of these racist and sexist comments already delivered on high profile television programs, radio, print and online outlets.

As Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings approach on July 13th, The Women’s Media Center expects vigorous debate of Sotomayor’s qualifications & abilities. But we call on the media to refrain from allowing sexist and racist remarks to go unchecked.

You can help the WMC in our campaign for fair media coverage for Judge Sotomayor by contributing in the following ways:

1. Sign on to our WMC statement (listed below) supporting Media Justice for Sotomayor.
2. Pass this video on to friends, family, and members of the media through Tell-A-Friend.
3. If you are a journalist, contact the WMC for sources and experts on Sotomayor from our Progressive Women’s Voices program or
4. If you see examples of sexism, racism or classicism against Sotomayor in the media’s coverage of her confirmation hearings, please send them to us.

Head over to the WMC site to sign the statement and check for updates.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

by Guest Contributor Jehanzeb Dar, originally published at Muslim Reverie

If you’re having trouble trying to figure out what’s wrong with this newly revealed poster for Disney’s upcoming film, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” it may help if I pointed out that the title character is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. In other words, the prince of Persia is not played by a Persian/Iranian. Big surprise, huh?

Why is this a big deal? Well, considering that negative perceptions of Middle-Easterners and/or Muslims have increased since 9/11 (and haven’t gotten better according to statistics and civil rights incidents reported by CAIR), a relatively anticipated film like “Prince of Persia” would seem like the perfect opportunity to help break stereotypes and misconceptions about Middle-Easterners. The film is based on a very popular video game of the same title, which allows you to play the role of a Persian prince who has to save his kingdom (or world) from a time-altered reality. I remember playing the game when it was released in 2003 and even though it’s filled with Orientalist stereotypes, I always felt the story and character depictions could be tweaked into a mainstream film with serious potential (and by that, I mean a film with an actual story, real character development, and appreciation for the culture it intends to represent).

Unfortunately, Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t the only White actor playing a Middle-Eastern character. Gemma Arterton, who plays Tamina, the film’s version of Farah, an Indian character from the video game, is also White. Ben Kingsley is also cast as a Persian character, and while he is of half-Indian descent, many Iranians recall how poorly he played an Iranian father in “House of Sand and Fog.” The best part (sarcasm) is that Alfred Molina will play a Persian again after his abusive and oppressive Iranian husband role in the 1991 propaganda film, “Not Without My Daughter”! As a user on IMDB commented: “Tamina = Indian / Gemma Arterton= White; What the hell is going on?”

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Don’t Put Yak Hair Up In My Weave: Developing a Test for Racism in TV Ads

By Special Correspondent Thea Lim

yakky In which I bravely attempt to come up with a single test that explains just why an ad is problematic.

Reader Alralei tipped us off on these 542542 TV ads, where everyday Americans come across a conundrum (like “How can I tell my girlfriend’s bra size?” “Can you milk a hamster?” and “Where do natural extensions come from?”) and then text their question to 542542, where a suave geek and a busty brunette make clever banter until they find the answer.

542542 sounds like a pretty cool service, but their ads are kinda…ick. They’re all cleverly titillating – coy enough to be safe for TV – yet, like many things that trade in taboos, every video I watched teeters on offensive.

In the video Alralei highlighted for us, two black women are in the salon. What kind of hair is in a natural extension, they wonder. They text 542542 and lo and behold, our urbane investigators are standing in a Eastern European (?) village, watching locals shave a yak for natural extensions.

TV ads on average are 30 seconds long – sometimes the problematics whiz by so fast you don’t know where to start.

So the ad trades in stereotypes about what black women like, do and say. It makes a mockery of black standards of beauty. Like, can you believe those fools wear yak hair??? (And it goes without saying that the ad doesn’t recognise these standards are influenced by our history of slavery and colonisation.) Then the ad ends with one of the women cackling OH NO YOU BETTER NOT BE PUTTING YAK HAIR UP IN MY WEAVE, which really (according to me) is only offensive because of the context of our TV culture: does a black woman ever gets to be on TV when the topic of discussion is neither weaves, nor nails, ice cream/chocolate or black men?

But the ad also shows Eastern Europeans (honestly, I actually don’t know where the “village” is supposed to be -Eastern Europe? Central Asia? Greenland?) to be backwards and sneaky for lining unsuspecting Americans with vile animal hair.

This creates an odd hierarchy of Others; at the top of the tier we have the 542542 agents, the sophisticated white folks that the viewer is supposed to identify with (of course, the man is ultimately more trustworthy than the woman), followed by the black women who are laughable, but still familiar, and at the bottom we have the Eastern Europeans, who are essentially dehumanised. (And notice how this pits people who should have solidarity with each other – black Americans and non-white folks in other parts of the world – against each other.)

Yet these ads are worth discussing because they are confusing – even after diagramming the “Extensions” ad for you, I’m still not sure where the problem lies. The rest of the ads (I didn’t watch all of them) are more sexist than anything else, objectifying bodies and enforcing gender roles.

But here’s a suggestion. In criticising ads, maybe the ultimate test of Good or Bad comes down to this question: who has agency in the ad? Consumerism after all, is about power. I would argue that whoever has agency in an ad comes out ok in the end.

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links for 2009-07-27

  • "Conservative commentators like George Will like to portray their outrage over the Ricci case as a principled stance in favor of racial blindness, writing of "the predictable price of failing to simply insist that government cannot take cognizance of race." But looking at the record quickly reveals that Will, like most conservatives, rarely if ever bemoans instances of racial discrimination against nonwhites. They oppose racial classifications for the specific reason that they fear such classifications are being used to disadvantage white people, and seek to advance this pro-white agenda through, among other things, activist judging."
  • "A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last July asked: “Have you ever felt you were stopped by the police just because of your race or ethnic background?” Sixty-six percent of black men said yes. Only 9 percent of white men said the same."
  • "As the story unfolded in the press and on the Internet, I flashed back 20 years or so to the time when Gates arrived in Durham, N.C., to take up the position I had offered him in my capacity as chairman of the English department of Duke University. One of the first things Gates did was buy the grandest house in town (owned previously by a movie director) and renovate it. During the renovation workers would often take Gates for a servant and ask to be pointed to the house’s owner. The drivers of delivery trucks made the same mistake.

    The message was unmistakable: What was a black man doing living in a place like this?"

On Swimming Pools, Harvard Arrests, and Flash Point Racism

By Guest Contributor dumi, originally published at Uptown Notes

For the past few weeks, my inbox has been inundated with references to Whites Only swimming pools in Philadelphia, the arrest of Henry Louis Gates and things of the like. With each subsequent email, I’ve been reminded “this is post-racial America” 1, 2. The type of tongue-in-cheek commentary, I imagine, is meant to elucidate the continued significance of race in America. Unfortunately, I see three issues with this: 1) these emails and posts tend to go to the choir (this is not a new point so I won’t go into it), 2) these cases are extreme examples of racism and exclusion in contemporary United States, which makes them easy to dismiss for everyday people and 3) they don’t demonstrate the ways that race operates perniciously beneath the surface to include some and exclude many. I do think these cases need to be highlighted so pool owners, police, and everyday people can be aware certain behaviors will not be tolerated, but they’re also all to easy to disassociate from for the majority of Americans who identify with the idea of “postraciality.” They’re rationalized away as the actions of “a few bad apples” rather than be seen as symptoms of the national disease of racism. These incidents become flash points in the media and even talking points in our commentary on race and reality, but the issue with a flash point is that it is the lowest level at which our sensibilities around race will flare brightly, but then they quickly dim. Unfortunately, inequalities of race have not dimmed, nor should our fire to expose and fight them.

swimming pool protest

Now this is not going to be a “complain and blame” post, instead, I’d like to offer some humble suggestions (or as humble as one can be if they’re writing on a blog which is kinda an egotistical thing to start with, but ya’ll know what I’m saying). Continue reading

What to do about crazy Uncle Pat

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

You know back in the 90s when Pat Buchanan was launching failed bids for the presidency, the conservative politico was, in the minds of most folks I knew, synonymous with rabid, ugly, bigotry. But in the late oughts, the man who as late as 2006 still called Nixon’s race-baiting Southern Strategy a good idea, has rehabbed his image through regular appearances on MSNBC, where he is treated by the resident progressives like some batty-but-harmless uncle–a good guy who may be a little retro, but who for the most part simply holds a differing but valid political opinion. Hey, good analysis of a political issue requires evaluation from both sides, right? At least MSNBC, whose commentary has a decided leftward slant, bothered to add a real voice of opposition, unlike Alan Colmes, the cipher of Fox News. The problem is, Pat Buchanan’s isn’t a fact-based or harmless point of view, as his recent racist and sexist foaming demonstrates:


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