Are You a Credit to Your Race?

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

As last week’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta” post has played out here and on What Tami Said and Racialicious (where it was crossposted), I have been thinking about what it means to represent the black race and how black people act as ambassadors to the mainstream world. There is this tendency, from which I am not immune, to feel embarrassed by and to make excuses for black folks who behave badly, or rather, act in a way contrary to a certain set of values and accepted norms. There is a real reason for this compulsion: Black people and other people of color are often unfairly judged as group by the mainstream. In other words, the actions of one equal the actions of all. And so, many of us, learn from the time we are children to mind ourselves around white folks–to not do anything that brings discredit to black people and, ideally, to live life with the goal of uplifting the race through our actions. Admittedly, this idea of being a proxy for the entire race has been tied to excellence and achievement–both wonderful things. But, ultimately, this way of thinking is a tyranny and a perpetuation of race bias.

Whose standards are these?

I am the middle-class child of two degreed educators. I grew up in the suburbs in a mixed-race neighborhood. I attended Gifted and Talented classes on Saturdays and academic camps in the summer. My family was a member of Jack & Jill. My mother is a Link. Both parents were involved in black Greek organizations. We had all the markers of a middle, upper-middle-class African American family. I grew up in the Midwest, but my father is the son of Mississippi farmers (grew up during Jim Crow) and my mom is the daughter of a steelworker and housewife, who both immigrated to Indiana’s rust belt from the South. All of these influences made me who I am today, which is a Midwestern, suburban, secular, progressive, married woman. Of course, there are myriad other things that impact who I am and how I believe I should live my life. And so it is with all human beings–we are all the product of many influences, including race, but also class, gender, sexuality, region, age and on and on. So, who will be the judge of acceptable black behavior? Should we judge by the values of my rural, black friends? My urban ones? My gay friends? My straight ones? My Southern friends? My Northern ones? My conservative friends? My liberal ones?  My college-educated friends? My high-school educated ones? My religious friends (and is that Christian, Muslim, B’Hai?)? My secular ones? We are not a monolith. That society judges us as one is an example of race bias–a bias we perpetuate and acquiesce to every time we ask a black person to follow a nebulous set of values for the sake of the race. Continue reading

“Quintessentially Chinese”?: “China Doll” Edition

by Guest Contributor Jha, originally published at Rebellious Jezebel Blogging

So my dad said the other day, “you could do better than the stereotypical China Doll makeup, but I know that’s not your usual style.”

This was in reference to a shoot I did a while back. (Yes, I model, but that’s neither here nor there.) The theme of the shoot was “light fetish / pinup” and I was made up according to a reference picture of a retro pinup – plenty of blush, fake lashes, dark eyebrows, and red lipstick.

So, think about that combination for a moment. They’re not exactly typical “China doll” makeup things, not in my mind. When I hear “China doll”, I personally think “porcelain skin, large eyes”.

So I had a look at the pictures, and I went, “huh. I guess I kinda do look China doll-like, especially from certain people’s perspective.”

It’s the red lips, I figured. The red lips and red cheeks are reminiscent of Chinese opera.

My friend, the excellent Katherine o’Kelly, said that it had to do with my pose and expressions – the first set I posted were demure, avoiding the camera, shy. (And here, again, I differ in opinion – looking away from the camera does not necessarily mean demure and shy.) But she noted, with the next set of pictures, that with more spunkily-posed shots, despite the makeup I was wearing, the “China doll” look and feel was gone.

The term “China doll” unsettles me. It unsettles me because I’ve met people who coo and squee over Asian girls because “they are so cute”. I have trouble with the term because it ties into the whole “submissive Asian” trope. It bothers me because I am Chinese, and the term “China doll”, which could characterize all Chinese women who fit a certain physical look, effectively strips us of our agency in the eyes of others, rendering us, well, dolls.

I took a hard look at that set of pictures. I also thought back to other times I wore similar makeup. I generally avoid heavy makeup for this reason: looking like a China doll. But even as I was avoiding the “China Doll” look, I neglected to ask what the hell, exactly, a “China doll” looks like.

Continue reading

Addicted to Race 116 – black kids white community, bluest eye, international adoption and culture

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Addicted to Race is New Demographic’s podcast about America’s obsession with race. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll find in this episode:

How do we raise black children in an all-white community and still maintain a healthy sense of identity? How do we combat Eurocentric standards of beauty? Do internationally adoptive parents go too far with the cultural activities, at the expense of talking to their kids about race? Carmen Van Kerckhove, Tami Winfrey Harris, and Jae Ran Kim discuss.

Addicted to Race is broadcast live every Sunday afternoon at 12 pm Eastern. You can listen live on our BlogTalkRadio page and call in by dialing 347-996-3958.

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Moonwalk and Goose Bumps [The Germany Files]

by Guest Contributor Elisabeth Schäfer-Wünsche

We, Carolina and I, very much enjoyed reading Carmen Kerckhove’s inspiring comment on Michael Jackson and the contradictions of race. Here in Germany, most people are probably even more at a loss with Jackson’s constant re-making of himself than in the U.S. Comments range from questions such “Why did he turn from a good-looking black man into a weird-looking white woman?” to outright insulting remarks about the supposed monstrosity of his facial features and his pale skin. There has been at the same time though a sincere sadness about Jackson’s death. The special editions of magazines – at least the ones I saw – seemed to be almost lovingly done, and that is rare.

Given the diverse reactions around me I do feel that it was Jackson’s incredible dancing which allowed him to defy physical boundaries in ways that race, gender, and age didn’t. Surely his dancing and his videos, along with his music of course, were able to link a global audience. Upon the news of Jackson’s death German MTV started to play his songs and show his videos for days. And men whom nobody suspected to be Jackson-fans were doing a fancy moonwalk for their wives and family. Kids were trying it on sidewalks. A white woman in her mid-fifties – truly into anything that has to do with beauty: hair, make-up, fashion, the ever-changing tasteful furnishing of her home, good food – came to my place and saw my daughter watching one of Jackson’s videos. When he went into one of his famous moves the woman just shivered and looked away and said: “Now that gives me the goose bumps.” She reacted in her body to the total perfection that at the same time looked like a crazy rejection of rules: gracefully moving forward, backward, and somehow even upward at the same time. I guess she saw something powerful she couldn’t name.

In the course of his life, Jackson went to all kinds of extremes. And his complex ways of dealing with race perhaps represented the most visible extreme. But in his dancing, this rejection of limits showed a magic creativity. I guess in many parts of the world and across the generations people reacted to that crossing of boundaries and admired him for it. During those moments of watching him sing and dance – in his videos or on stage – the other extremes were forgotten or considered less important. Encouraged by Stevie Wonder’s borderless music (it was incredible!), the millions around the globe who watched the memorial service at the Staples Center felt that they could connect.

DISGRASIAN OF THE WEAK! Asian-American Women Most Likely to Attempt Suicide

by Guest Contributor Jen, originally published at Disgrasian

Asians love being the best. But here’s one superlative we don’t love–Asian-American women are most likely to think about and attempt suicide, more than all other Americans, according to a new University of Washington study.

The study, published in the current issue of the Archives of Suicide Research, found that 15.93 percent of U.S.-born Asian-American women have contemplated suicide in their lifetime, as opposed to 13.5 percent for all Americans, and that suicide attempts among us were also higher than the general population, at 6.29 percent vs. 4.6 percent. It did not attempt to explain why Asian-American women have more suicidal tendencies, however:

It is unclear why Asian-Americans who were born in the United States have higher rates of thinking about and attempting suicide,said Aileen Duldulao, lead researcher of the study.

But if you’re an Asian-American woman who has struggled with depression her whole life like I have, it’s not unclear to you, is it? You don’t need this study, published in 2007, to tell you that we own some of the highest rates of depression and suicide because we’re pushed to achieve. Or this one, published in 2008, to tell you that Asian-Americans are less likely than any other group to seek treatment for mental health disorders. You know this already. You know it in your bones. Personally, not scientifically. Continue reading

Germany’s Next Top Model and the Psychology of Privilege [The Germany Files]

by Guest Contributors Carolina Asuquo-Brown and Elisabeth Schäfer-Wünsche

Heidi Klum may have never exactly been a catwalk super model like fellow German Claudia Schiffer, but she is definitely one of the country’s most savvy business women and biggest advertising stars.

In Germany, Heidi’s face sells sweets, shoes, fast food and almost every other product you could come up with. But her biggest media success so far has definitely been to follow Tyra Banks’ footsteps and host a show called “Germany’s Next Top Model,” a show that in most respects is the exact copy of its big sister “America’s Next Top Model.” We all know the story: Young hopefuls from all parts of the country flock to Heidi’s castings (conducted strict governess style), strut their stuff on the catwalk and undergo various photo shots and challenges before, in the end, one young woman is crowned the next Heidi.

One thing that is strikingly different though is the ethnic make-up (no pun intended) of the contestants. Though a look at any shopping-mall or classroom will suggest that Germany is an ethnically quite diverse nation, up to season 3 (this summer) no brown face made it to the final stages of the show. In last year’s show, a girl with a Brazilian mother came fifth. But it was not until the 2009 season, that Sara Nuru, Bavarian-born with Ethiopian roots, did not only crash the Top 10 ranks but also won the contest.

Interestingly enough, another hugely popular German TV format (also adapted from a US show, namely from “American Idol”) is well known to draw its contestants mainly from Germany’s migrant population. It has consequently elicited quite a number of vitriolic remarks from the media, branding it Germany’s “Migrant Idol.” But most Germans (at least those who admit to watching the show, as it is considered quite a bit of a guilty pleasure that most intellectually demanding German TV viewers deny watching), for 5 consecutive seasons have happily been going along with the highly diverse crowd of aspiring Idols.
Things seem to be a bit different though, when it comes to reactions to Sara Nuru’s victory and to modeling, a business that is almost solely based on looks: features, hair, body and the iconography created around those attributes.

Based on comments from German online communities, it seems that the majority of participants in those virtual discussions happily accepted the fact that the arguably prettiest contestant won, some voicing that they especially appreciated the fact that a not stereotypically German looking girl made it.

Of those that did not agree, only few were blatantly racist, but quite a few more flaunted an only slightly more subtle racism. Continue reading

Religious Major: Undeclared [Racialigious]

by Latoya Peterson

“What do you mean you don’t know what Easter is?”

I appraised Best Boy with all the understated annoyance I could muster at the ripe old age of fifteen.

“Again,” I said with an eye roll, “not raised with a religion.  And all that comes out around Easter time is new patent leather shoes, dyed eggs, and ham.”

He would not drop the subject.

“How do you not know what Easter is?”

“Did the Rugrats make a special about it? Then no, I don’t know.”

Since I had opened up the lines of fire, he launched his own smart ass attack.

“How do you not go to church, anyway? What kind of black person are you?”

His words struck me deeply, and from time to time I’ve revisited that short conversation and wondered about his motivations and beliefs.  This is not a new idea, but one I am starting to hear more and more often:

What kind of black person am I, if I grew up without a religion? Continue reading

Is the Caster Semenya Sex Controversy Racist?

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem, originally posted at Nadra’s Race Relations Blog

Caster Semenya is making headlines after winning an 800-meter race in the World Championships in Berlin on Wednesday by 2.45 seconds more than the second-place athlete. The fact that the 18-year-old South African literally left her rivals in the dust during the competition has led some of them to accuse her of being a man.

Both Italian runner Elisa Cusma Piccione and Russian runner Mariya Savinova made the accusation, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Now, the International Assn. of Athletic Federations is requesting Semenya to take tests to determine if she’s indeed female. If found not to be, she would be barred from racing and stripped of her medals.

The request has not only infuriated Semenya’s family but South African dignitaries as well. The L.A. Times printed a statement issued by the Young Communist League of South Africa, which supports Semenya.

“It feeds into the commercial stereotypes of how a woman should look, their facial and physical appearance, as perpetuated by backward Eurocentric definition of beauty,” the league stated of the accusations against Semenya. “It is this culture which has forced many African women to starve themselves with the objective of reaching the model ramps of Paris and Milan to become the face of this or that product or magazine.”

Continue reading