by Latoya Peterson
International Blog Against Racism Week has once again come and gone. Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s batch.
Because clearly if we’re calm enough and nice enough in the face of offensive behavior then everything will get better right? After all that’s usually what’s implied someone trots out MLK Jr. as an example of how POC should behave in the face of racism. I heartily suggest the next person to feel that urge spend some quality time reading Letter From a Birmingham Jail and recognize that nonviolent protests didn’t include smiling sweetly and eating shit.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Now this might shock and/or offend some people, but I have to say that today is not a day when I give a fuck. Because when POC have teaching moments? It costs us. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. It’s a sacrifice that we choose to make in an effort to improve things.
Shadowyroses – Unacceptable Responses When Racism is Pointed Out
If you tell me to shut up because I can’t change anything, you, from your position as a white male, are telling me, a member of an already disenfranchised group, that my opinion means nothing to you, that you don’t care if my stories are heard, and that you don’t have to care about this issue because it doesn’t affect you. But it does affect me! If you are a white person, don’t tell me to shut up when I say that casting policies are racist. Don’t defend Hollywood. Don’t start making personal attacks at me because I’ve pointed out that you have the privilege of not caring, that you will always have people who look like you on tv, that I do not.
Imperial Artist – Creating Space and the Power Dynamics That Involves
Worse still are the cases where an outsider is allowed in and instead of listening and observing or even badgering people with questions instead decides to dictate the rules of the space to the people who’ve created it. This would be another reason that many people who will cry that they only want to come in and observe are given an even wider berth than those who bother everyone with rude questions. If someone from the majority wants admittance into a minority space I have to ask why that is? Are they genuinely, but rather naively interested or do they have an entire set of cultural norms and values that they’ve already decided upon for that space? Have they decided on some predetermined mode of behaviour for a group not their own? Are they trying to enter that group space to prove their point? And will they react with scorn and outrage if we don’t conform to their decided norms? Granted, everybody has assumptions and presumptions formed by their own knowledge and experience but if your presumptions are solely informed upon by your majority status they’re fairly likely to be wrong and you have no right to be angry when this becomes proven fact. You made a guess about a minority group of which you have no part, that’s akin to trying to guess what terms like ‘@echo off’ mean without any knowledge of where they even come from.
Of course this still doesn’t cover the argument that having a minority space is exclusionary in its entirety because the major argument, the one that’s always being thrown around focuses on exclusion not difficulties in integrating. The argument usually runs to the tune of ‘why can you have your minority space and not be called racist when if I created a white only space you’d accuse me of racism?’ That sentence alone betrays the flaws in this argument. A minority group are is the term implies: a minority in opposed to the majority. The majority sets the hegemonic norm. This is the default setting and in the vast majority of Western societies that default norm is white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered. You could also throw a ‘middle class’ in there but that unlike the other terms tends not to mean the same thing between countries. So if white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered is the default norm around which society builds itself then it makes sense that said society gears its operations towards the most utility for that norm. And what that results in is making it more difficult for everybody else, not even out of malice but because they don’t fit the norm that society is catering to. So yes, in those Western societies it is easier to be white because white is the default norm that society caters to. Everything around you caters to and celebrates that norm and overlooks anything else. It’s passive exclusion which makes minority spaces all the more necessary so that those of us who don’t fit that norm have a space where we don’t have to fight against that constantly, a space where we can celebrate our default norm, where we don’t have to make excuses or justify our continued existence in that wider society because we don’t fit that default.
I was chillin’ in an Asian gift store, because I wanted some wall hangings. Said store also happened to sell cosmetics, kitchen items, a gazillion Hello Kitty horrors, health and beauty items… really a very nice store, if heavy on the Sanrio kitsch.
A nice white lady came up to me, maybe in her 20s to 40s, I’m not one to judge, and said, “Oh! I have to ask you a question. Do you know the name of this kind of skin cream that all the pretty young Asian women are using?”
Now that was… awkward, although she didn’t seem to notice. Why should she?
She looked vastly disappointed. “Oh, I thought you’d know.”
As if there was some kind of telepathy between young Asian women.
Wouldn’t it be weird if I came up to a random white teenager and said, “Oh! Do you know the name of this lipstick that all the hot white chicks are using?” But it’s not weird if that lady asks me, because as we all know, Asians are all alike.
It’s pretty devastating stuff…lots of folks who think people of color aren’t (and won’t) do their part for the sustainability of the planet, who have no real understanding of how interconnected all people are, who can’t understand how decades long economic crisis in our communities makes it difficult to prioritize natural habitats over the home habitat, who seem perfectly comfortable with a majority-white environmental movement in a minority-white world, or who just seem really miffed about being called white.
I don’t have much to say to all of those folks, cause I will admit, the Sierra Club is not where I do my work.
But, perhaps, I can speak to you Allison, as a woman of color leader in a traditionally white environmental organization, in an overwhelmingly white environmental movement. From my own experience I offer this: Please ignore the hateful comments, and the divestment of hateful people from your organization.
Now, in general, I don’t like the idea that because a female character has a love interest that is all she is and/or that she is automatically reduced by it. It’s not that I don’t want female characters to have as wide a range of roles in the story as male ones because I absolutely do. It’s that, inkeeping with that, I don’t feel the need to restrict or limit female characters any more than they already are. Saying that a female character can’t be a strong character if she’s in a romance is just as shitty as various alternatives. In my aforementioned posts, I expressed this. I also made sidebar references to the idea that race was another issue particular to this situation that should be considered, but didn’t expand on it. Perhaps because I just wasn’t in the mood to explain or perhaps because I felt it should be self-evident or perhaps because I was just in a hurry.
However, the Just A Girlfriend nugget and the assertion that she is made less by her romantic involvement with Spock continues unabated, so I figured I’d give full voice to what I hadn’t before.
Simply put: Nyota Uhura is not a white girl.
While women of color are not necessarily embroiled in an entirely different feminist struggle than white women, they sure as fuck are not in the same place. [...]
Uhura being single in TOS was not empowering.
She was single because the male leads were all white and as a black woman she was less of a person than them, she was less of a person than a white woman, and the fact that this serendipitously ended up meaning that she didn’t have to spend all of her time mooning pathetically after dismissive men does not make that any more acceptable.
She got to sit in the back and rarely do anything and have her sexuality ignored not because they respected her so much as a colleague and a person, but because she was not a full, real human being and when you’re not a full, real human being the idea that actual people would ever desire you or romance you or love you is ridiculous. You are invisible.
I could go further with this and elaborate on what Nichelle Nichols was put through by the network, the infamous plea from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for her to stay on the show despite mistreatment, or even her recent acknowledgment that they actually wanted to do Spock/Uhura in TOS but it was made impossible by the times. But that’s too much for this post and really the central point is the same as pretty much all discussions about race.
Namely, please consider the point of view from which you are approaching your analysis because experiences vary wildly and one size does not fit all.
(Image Credit: Voxunion.com)