Nafissatou Diallo, Dominique Strauss Kahn, Race, Immigration, and Power

Newsweek DSK Maid CoverI haven’t had much time to write this week, but I wanted to quickly take a look at the unfolding DSK sexual assault case.

The framing of cases is so important, as it shifts judgements in the court of public opinion. Since Diallo has chosen to step forward as the accuser (perhaps in response to the media backlash around her life and reputation), news outlets have clamored to get the scoop. Newsweek published an exclusive interview a few days ago, with some telling language:

“Nafi” Diallo is not glamorous. Her light-brown skin is pitted with what look like faint acne scars, and her dark hair is hennaed, straightened, and worn flat to her head, but she has a womanly, statuesque figure. When her face is in repose, there is an opaque melancholy to it. Working at the Sofitel for the last three years, with its security and stability, was clearly the best job she’d ever hoped to have, after years braiding hair and working in a friend’s store in the Bronx as a newcomer from Guinea in 2003.

Only in cases involving rape or assault is how the victim appears a subject for commentary. This is part of rape culture, the idea that we have to evaluate the attractiveness of a person alleging assault along with the other facts in the case. Melissa McEwan so succinctly put it, rape is not a compliment. Neither is sexual assault. Yet time and time again, we see people accused of sexual assault, abuse, or rape try to weasel out of it by saying that they weren’t attracted to the person in the first place. (We see you, Albert Haynesworth.) It’s disturbing to see reporters play into the same idea. This is why feminists continually stress that rape is a crime of power, not desire. Rape is not related to the attractiveness of the victim. Rape occurs because one party does not consent to a sexual encounter, but they are forced into it anyway.

Also, that first discussion of “clearly the best job she’d ever hoped to have?” It sets the stage for more prejudical plays on class, race, and immigration status later in the piece. Continue reading

Quoted: Diane Farr on White Privilege and Interracial Relationships

Diane Farr and Family

 Seung had been told, all his life, more or less, that he was not allowed to marry someone like me.

Pronunciation aside, it hadn’t occurred to me that Seung and I made a mismatched couple. Mixed-race yes, but I couldn’t fathom that my race could make me the “wrong kind of girl” for anyone.

Yes, it was white privilege that blinded me to the fact I might be the bottom of the barrel on someone else’s race card.

Perhaps even more so because I have been listening to the dialogue about how to make America more post-racial — mostly as it pertains to black and white culture — for so long that it never occurred to me that an Asian immigrant family might cry foul when their son fell in love with an all-American girl like me. […]

This man I had woken up with earlier in the day now seemed like a stranger to me. Specifically, he seemed like someone of another culture that I didn’t know or understand. Which was in fact true, because as much as we had in common, I was completely unaware of what it meant to grow up Asian-American — both in his home and in the outside world. […]

Using my words, gently and respectfully, in many, many, many subsequent conversations about how I felt did in fact lead Seung Yong and I to marry — with the full support of all our parents.

But it was only through continuous dialogue — at the dinner table with friends who could advise us, and using calm voices in the bedroom with one another, and keeping an open mind on the couch at the therapist’s office — that we were able to find a way to make our familial cultures meet in the middle at our mutual American one.


“His parents said, ‘Not with a white girl’,” Dianne Farr writing for CNN’s Defining America series

(Image Credit: CNN)

(Thanks to reader Mickey for the tip!)

links for 2011-07-27

  • "Peru's president-elect, Ollanta Humala, has chosen the singer Susana Baca as culture minister, making her the country's first black government minister since independence from Spain in 1821."
  • "Based on data from the Census Bureau, the study highlights how blacks and Hispanics have been disproportionately affected by the collapse of the housing market, the financial crisis and the recession that marked the period from 2005 to 2009.

    "It found that the wealth gap between white households and their black or Hispanic counterparts was the widest it has been since the government began publishing such data by ethnicity in 1984.

  • "An editorial in Philadelphia's Spanish-language newspaper Al Día criticizes a column in the Philadelphia Daily News that called a City Council resolution condemning the Secure Communities program “misguided, moronic or malicious.” In fact, Al Día editors write, it is the supporters of Secure Communities who are the ignorant ones. Under Secure Communities, local police are required to share fingerprint data of arrestees to federal immigration authorities.
  • "Anyone who’s grown up in a family restaurant knows that everything revolves around 'the restaurant.' You have to cut vacations short, reply 'no' to wedding invitations and drive through blizzards to make sure the kitchen pipes haven’t burst. But you’re also eternally grateful to the restaurant. It’s provided you a livelihood: shelter, food, and in my case, a college education. The loyalty I have to Italian food runs deep.

    "When many of us are feeling a bit nostalgic, we eat comfort food. It’s the food that reminds us we’re loved and a part of something bigger. In those moments, I eat kubideh, ghormeh sabzi or simply noon-o-paneer. But a hearty bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, made with my dad’s tomato sauce, works just as well. My people may not have been cooking pasta for centuries, but Italian food still feels like home."

Racism 101: Race and the College Freshman

by Guest Contributor Alana M. Mohamed

Experiencing Racism CoverMaybe I’m naïve, but when I stepped on the campus of my New England public university, I was dumbstruck by the whiteness of it all. I was literally the only person of color in a sea of white people. This had never happened to me before. I grew up in New York City and had never been to a school that was predominantly white. As such, I was partial to the color-blind politics of the day. This is not to say that I never experienced racism, but I was lucky enough to discount the few times I had encountered racism as the statistical outliers of my life. However, I was surprised to learn that my peers at university had rarely come in contact with people of color and often times lacked any sort of tact when dealing with people of color. After revealing that my last name is Mohamed, the questions and comments that followed without fail went something like: A) “You don’t look Muslim! Are you religious?” B) “Is your family…y’know, religious?” C) (A look of relief when I revealed that, no, they aren’t that religious) “Oh! Good, cause I know how crazy they can be.” My friends at other universities felt the same alienation and we started to really pay attention to the racism surrounding us.

Most of my class and dorm mates were white, middle class kids who lived in small, predominantly white towns. As a light skinned Guyanese-American woman, they found me hard to peg and I was privy to my share of racist “jokes.” Once, during Black History Month, our dining hall happened to be serving fried chicken and watermelon, in addition to numerous other options. A girl on my floor dim wittedly cracked, “What a way to celebrate Black History Month!” Half the room shared an uneasy silence, while the other erupted into laughter. I was shocked into silence and, looking back, I wish I could have said something. Since then, I’ve found that dealing with racist jokes is best handled by playing dumb. A simple, “I don’t get it,” and a couple of leading questions will encourage them to try and explain their joke and help them realize that relying on tired and racist stereotypes isn’t funny or clever in the least.

I’ve also encountered a very common situation: People saying racist things, but not realizing, or refusing to acknowledge that they’re racist. The most bizarre example of this occurred as a group of friends and I were walking back from a party. Shortly after chastising someone for using the word “Jiggaboo” to describe his black friends back home, my roommate and another girl began to discuss the physical differences between white people and black people. A snippet of the conversation? “And why does their hair do that? Like, why is it like that? It’s like they’re a whole different species! They kind of,” here she lowered her voice, “look like animals a little.” I shared a look with another friend and simply said, “Whoa, I’m not even gonna participate in this conversation.” However, my roommate and the girl she was talking to still didn’t understand why what they said was offensive. Continue reading

The Devil in Sookie Stackhouse: True Blood Roundtable S4, E5

Back when Tionna Smalls had a column  in Gawker, she warned one  foolish women away from the wrong man by asking “Is that all you want out of your life—hard dick and bubblegum?” Swap bubble gum for vampire bites, and that is Sookie. I need to ask Arturo about the moment that he knew Heroes was going down the drain.  Part of me feels like the vaguely orchestral swell when Eric and Sookie defy all logic and kiss is the beginning of the end.  Moreover, Alan Ball is exhibiting some disturbingly Tim Kring-like statements about future plot arcs…and saying Jason’s gang rape was his favorite part of the season.  While we are over here in a state of fanguish hoping True Blood hasn’t jumped the shark, Kendra Pettis, Alea Adigweme, Joseph Lamour, Amber Jones and Jordan St. John join me to solve the biggest mystery of the season: What the fuck is Sookie smoking?


Sookie Highlights

Latoya: Sookie’s hair is nicer this season.  I just noticed that
Jordan: Yeah… i think everyone took a trip to the beauty shop – Laffy and Tara both have new dos
Amber: Yep, it seems everyone got a makeover this season. Arlene set up an appointment too and got that hair color refreshed and deepened.
Joe: And Crystal’s hair last week looked fanTASTIC. Two snaps TB hairdressers.

Tommy & Sam, for Better or Worse

Tommy and Sam

Jordan: Uh-oh…Guess that violent streak runs in the family
Alea: Damn.  Violence definitely seems to be a frequent occurrence in that family, but Tommy was acting in self-defense for a good part of it.
Jordan: What is it with them and trying to/killing family members…
Amber: Yeaaah. To be so stuck on “loyalty” they seriously have no qualms about fear and punishment. It’s sad that poor Tommy felt like he had no other choice. Joe Lee’s death = freedom (and crazy mama had to get in the way…). It’s so similar to Hotshot. Disobedience = (violent) punishment and freedom means someone has to die.
Alea: That’s a keen reading, Amber.  The “freedom = someone else’s death meme” seems very specific to the familial situations of those marked as more “southern white trash” than the rest of Bon Temps.
Latoya: Yeah, there’s an assimilation narrative to be unpacked there, but I’m trying to dredge up some sorrow…or something.
Alea: Yeah…
Kendra: Hah.
Amber: Yeah…I got nothing.
Alea: Though I do feel bad for his mother, and I don’t really blame Tommy for her death.  She wouldn’t have gotten in the way if she hadn’t been brainwashed by an abusive partner.
Latoya: Be cool if Tommy became the season 5 big bad. I’m calling it early.
Kendra: (I never realised how many above the title/regulars this show has. Gosh) Continue reading

Is Planking Racist? Probably Not.

plank fail

We’ve received a few requests to explore the planking phenomenon, based on Xzibit’s assertion that planking is racist since it had roots in the way slaves were stacked on slave ships.

Adrien Chen at Gawker writes:

Actually, “planking” is a rebranding of the years-old British meme “the lying down game”. It comes from Australia, and is something radio stations ginned up as a promotional gimmick earlier this year.

Turns out, Xzibit is not the first person to claim that planking is somehow inspired by the horrific conditions in slave ships crossing the Atlantic. A popular June 28th post on the entertainment blog seems to have kicked off the planking-comes-from-slavery panic.

But there isn’t any evidence to back that up, as far as we can see. Slaveships are one thing, but a plank is essentially a board, and an exercise move. Saying slaves were stacked like planks (or, more commonly, boards) or saying slaves were chained to planks of wood is an accurate depiction of what occurred on slave ships. It is probably not what people were thinking about when they named the move.

Some people love planking, some people hate it, but we’re not seeing anything racist on this count.

links for 2011-07-26

  • "They are the more than one million migrants who, fleeing from poverty, took to the road with no heed for the danger, even of losing their lives. Labeled as illegal, they defied the imperialist authorities and, after much sacrifice, arrived in the United States. Their remittances, beyond being a help for their families, are basic to the national economy.
    According to the analyst, Honduras’ macroeconomic balance came about beginning in 1994 as a result of the remittances from migrants and reached a peak in 1998, with the passing of hurricane Mitch.

    "Until 1998, Honduras was receiving 600 million lempiras [about 31 million US dollars] in remittances, but that natural event not only brought about the disaster of the moment but even revealed what had been happening all along. 'And it seems that that touched the migrants and they took on the habits of the Salvadorans, who had been the greatest source of remittances for their country, and then they began to send remittances,' he said."

  • "The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may not have had Camden Cove in mind when he spoke at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. But in that neighborhood, both symbolic and real progress is turning his dream into a reality for some.

    "But that change is not uniform. There are still plenty of neighborhoods today where all the faces are the same color, often defined as much by income as by race.

  • "OK, see if you can wrap your head around the (racist) logic here. Kymberly Wimberly was the top student at McGehee Secondary School in Little Rock, Arkansas. So, the school named her valedictorian. And then shortly after that they decided to name a co-valedictorian. Why? Because the other student had equally as high a GPA? Nope. The reason it seems has to do with the fact that Wimberly is a black student."
  • Shoutouts to Tami, Los Angelista, and Renee at Womanist Musings!–AJP "Blogger Los Angelista explained her response to a woman's incredulous 'Are you serious, I can't touch your hair?' by writing that no she couldn't, 'Because my black ancestors may have been your ancestors' property, and had to smile while they got touched in ways they didn't want to, but I am not YOUR property and never will be so you'd best move your hand away from me.'"
  • "I was excited for the panel, considering I am frequently frustrated by the media’s exploitative use of women (whether it be the host of a show, such as Olivia Munn, or booth babes at E3) to appeal to a market that they treat as exclusively male.  However, my expectations were quickly dashed when discussion of media literacy was tossed aside in favor of accusations of jealousy.  Bonnie Burton and Adrianne Curry mused that women who were critical of sexy geek culture in any way were just jealous, had no confidence, and were projecting their issues with self-esteem onto the women who felt empowered by walking the Comic-Con floor in a Slave Leia costume."

Mother Jones Falls Short with ‘My Summer at an Indian Call Center

by Guest Contributor Kirti Kamboj, originally published at Hyphen

Outsourced promo

Mother Jones recently published “My Summer at an Indian Call Center,” which looked at the other side of the “these people are stealing our jobs!” outsourcing scenario. It was written by Andrew Marantz, an American who spent a summer in India and took a training course for call center agents, and focused on his experiences during this training and his views of the industry. Some parts were interesting, such as the strange and amusing anecdotes from his cultural training bootcamp, and it provided a much needed counter to the idea that the current system of globalization brings greater happiness and prosperity to everyone.

Points like this were particularly insightful:

Call-center employees gain their financial independence at the risk of an identity crisis. A BPO salary is contingent on the worker’s ability to de-Indianize [16]: to adopt a Western name and accent and, to some extent, attitude. Aping Western culture has long been fashionable; in the call-center classroom, it’s company policy. Agents know that their jobs only exist because of the low value the world market ascribes to Indian labor. The more they embrace the logic of global capitalism, the more they must confront the notion that they are worth less.

But its critique was ultimately limited, full of over-generalizations, and at times contradictory. Below are four reasons I found it so, and why I would hesitate to recommend this article.

(1) Near the beginning of the piece, Marantz quotes a 2003 Guardian article which states: “The most marketable skill in India today is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else’s.” It’s factually correct that this is a marketable skill, but by labeling it the most marketable skill the article is overreaching. It also fails to make a distinction that few Indians overlook. Namely, that there’s very little money that a middle class urban Indian can earn by slipping into the identity of, say, a villager in Orissa, or a farmer in rural Nigeria. The marketable skill is the ability to slip into an affluent Westerner’s identity.

By itself, this is a small omission and overgeneralization, but there are similar ones throughout this article, forming a pattern indicative of a lack of awareness or concern for the underlying hierarchies that govern many aspects of a call center employee’s life, as well as a lack of nuance.

(2) The most interesting, as well as most questionable, parts of the article were those which talked about the cultural training call center agents are required to undergo. In this training, Marantz says,

trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call “international culture” — which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one.

While in this instance learning “international culture” is obviously corporate doublespeak for “If you sound too Indian, you’ll be fired,” to claim that there’s no international culture seems similar to the claim that white people have no culture, especially in its glossing over of underlying hierarchies. The point of this culture training, it must not be forgotten, is to give the Indians at these call centers names, accents, mannerisms, and cultural signifiers that help them to pass for Westerners, to circumvent the “protectionism” instincts of the callers. This isn’t a melding of two cultures into something no one is familiar with; it’s the attempted erasure of one to avoid instigating the anger and scorn of those from the other. Continue reading