Modern Love In Mumbai’s “Wild West”: A Critique Of Orientalist Fantasies In Contemporary Travel Narratives

by Guest Contributor Aditi Surie von Czechowski

Recently, the New York Times has been beefing up its coverage on India.

Presumably, there is no quality journalism about India that isn’t produced by an American news outfit. Associate Managing Editor at the Times Jim Schachter notes “…I don’t want to cast dispersion [sic], but there is not a great media diet for the non-resident Indian.” The assumptions embedded in his statement are staggering. What would a “great media diet” look like? Is it only constituted by bourgeois forms of media consumption? Are NRI’s unable to seek out a “great media diet” for themselves? Must they be spoon-fed by the venerable New York Times? It appears that knowledge about India from India (or the Indian diaspora) just doesn’t cut it.

In addition to the new blog entitled “India Ink,” which has been operational for just under a year, I’ve seen an uptick in articles on India recently–a very unscientific and cursory perusal of the more recent articles reveals news on “dirt-poor farmers,” sex crimes, and corruption, or about how India is a growing economic powerhouse. This is of course, followed by discussions of how India is “between two worlds,” with respect to “tradition” and economic disparity–with no indication about how neoliberalism is complicit in the widening income gap, not just in India, but worldwide. Combined with Nick Kristof’s regular martyring operations to rescue underage trafficked prostitutes in Kolkatan brothels, what we have here is a consistent picture of an India that is not yet “fully modern,” informed by the liberal discourse of rights and progress. It seems that the New York Times will never, ever tire of incessantly replicating imperial tropes.

So, I was naturally curious to see whether there might be an alternate, less polarizing narrative about India when I came across this New York Times Modern Love column; a Canadian woman’s account of her trip to India and how she (maybe) fell in love with an Indian man nearly twice her age. At first pass, I found myself caught up in her stylish prose. But there was something about her essay that unsettled me: Jeong’s writing is of a piece with that familiar eroticization of India–Orientalist imaginings of the lushness of nature combine with the well-worn tropes of India as chaotic, as a seductive and sexual place of pure experience, spirituality and true self-knowledge, with sinewy yet docile natives. If I had a penny for every time a (usually white and almost always North American or European) person has gushed to me about how much they love India because they found God or themselves there/how it was wild and filthy and beautiful all at the same time, I’d have a serious amount of change by now. Continue reading

Quoted: Kiese Laymon On Slowly Killing Yourself And Others In America

I enroll at Jackson State University in the Spring semester, where my mother teaches Political Science. Even though, I’m not really living at home, everyday Mama and I fight over my job at Cutco and her staying with her boyfriend and her not letting me use the car to get to my second job at an HIV hospice since my license is suspended. Really, we’re fighting because she raised me to never ever forget I was on parole, which means no black hoodies in wrong neighborhoods, no jogging at night, hands in plain sight at all times in public, no intimate relationships with white women, never driving over the speed limit or doing those rolling stops at stop signs, always speaking the king’s English in the presence of white folks, never being outperformed in school or in public by white students and most importantly, always remembering that no matter what, white folks will do anything to get you.

Mama’s antidote to being born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi is not for us to seek freedom; it’s to insist on excellence at all times. Mama takes it personal when she realizes that I realize she is wrong. There ain’t no antidote to life, I tell her. How free can you be if you really accept that white folks are the traffic cops of your life? Mama tells me that she is not talking about freedom. She says that she is talking about survival.

One blue night my mother tells me that I need to type the rest of my application to Oberlin College after I’ve already hand-written the personal essay. I tell her that it doesn’t matter whether I type it or not since Millsaps is sending a Dean’s report attached to my transcript. I say some other truthful things I should never say to my mother. Mama goes into her room, lifts up her pillow and comes out with her gun.

It’s raggedy, small, heavy and black. I always imagine the gun as an old dead crow. I’d held it a few times before with Mama hiding behind me.

Mama points the gun at me and tells me to get the fuck out of her house. I look right at the muzzle pointed at my face and smile the same way I did at the library camera at Millsaps. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

“You gonna pull a gun on me over some college application?” I ask her.

“You don’t listen until it’s too late,” she tells me. “Get out of my house and don’t ever come back.”

I leave the house, chuckling, shaking my head, cussing under my breath. I go sit in a shallow ditch. Outside, I wander in the topsy turvy understanding that Mama’s life does not revolve around me and I’m not doing anything to make her life more joyful, spacious or happy. I’m an ungrateful burden, an obese weight on her already terrifying life. I sit there in the ditch, knowing that other things are happening in my mother’s life but I also know that Mama never imagined needing to pull a gun on the child she carried on her back as a sophomore at Jackson State University. I’m playing with pine needles, wishing I had headphones—but I’m mostly regretting throwing my gun into the reservoir.

When Mama leaves for work in the morning, I break back in her house, go under her pillow and get her gun. Mama and I haven’t paid the phone or the light bill so it’s dark, hot and lonely in that house, even in the morning. I lie in a bathtub of cold water, still sweating and singing love songs to myself. I put the gun to my head and cock it.

From “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance” by Kiese Laymon, published on Gawker. Read the rest.

Fashion As Resistance: The Case Of Mali

by Guest Contributor Eren, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post discussing the attempt among Muslim leaders in Russia to prove that Russian Muslim women are modern and fashionable, unlike Muslims elsewhere. Soon after, fashion made headlines again, this time in the case of Mali, with Yahoo! News reporting on Dakar Fashion Week 2012.

Design by Alphadi. Image via Mirage A Trois.

The event, which takes place in Senegal, has been attracting designers from all over Africa for the past ten years. The event has been reported to attempt to bring Africa forward in the fashion world, and to counter Western fashion houses stealing African aesthetics and motifs.

Nonetheless, the Yahoo! News article focuses on Malian designers and the fact that fashion seems to be too colorful and perhaps too showy for the Islamists. Mali, a country that is rarely featured in the fashion section of the news, went through a coup d’état earlier this year, and now the northern region is under the control of Ansar Dine, a group commonly identify in the Western media as Islamist rebels, who have also recently attacked Timbuktu.

The article suggests that fashion is too “cool” for these Islamists, as they have taken the conservative approach in endorsing hijab and banning trousers for women. To some degree, the article portrays angry Islamists getting back at fashion designers and perhaps even women. Nonetheless, the issue may be a bit more complex than Yahoo! News analysis. The issue with fashion may be not its colors and uncovered arms, but what it represents. In an interview, designer Sidahmed Seidnaly, aka Alphadi and also known as the Magician of the Desert, expresses his discomfort with the situation in Mali and the push for Shari’ah law in the northern region. Similarly, designer Mariah Bocoum made her five-piece collection to represent the struggle of Malian people and as a way to resist the restrictions now imposed in Mali’s north.

Designs by Mariah Bocoum. Via Tumblr.

Fashion in this setting has become a symbol of resistance, and it is a powerful one because fashion these days is quite mobile. It travels from east to west and from north to south and it is easily picked up by the media, as previous MMW posts have shown. In addition, this fashion is mainly guided towards a female market, and as scholars like Nira Yuval-Davis and Jasbir Puarhave theorized, in nationalist struggles women’s bodies are the first ones to be controlled, secluded and excluded. In situations of conflict, women become a source of either pride or defamation as they also become symbols of the nation.

Thus, the current situation in Mali is perhaps following the path that many nationalist struggles follow in terms of gender (more in Gender and Nation): women become symbols, and the resistance that fashion brings along may be threatening for an Islamist movement that just gained power. Although perhaps ironic, because fashion in the Western world and in other places like Latin America may just do the opposite, Mali’s designers seem to bring a new proposal for countering the situation.
Unlike the Russian and the Chechen cases, where fashion is being adopted by religious institutions and governments (who then engage in the fashion world in order to put forward an image of the “appropriate” ways for Muslim women to dress), the situation in Mali is following a different route. Fashion as resistance is something what we do not get to see very often, but perhaps it will be a successful way to engage the international community with the situation in Mali, especially the Western world, which can be oblivious to other types of resistance, but seems to respond well to the runways.

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Faye Wattleton

By Andrea Plaid

I knew I was “pro-choice” since about the age of ten. I remember watching the nightly news at my aunt’s house (this was in the late 70s), and there was a segment on about the abortion debates. I don’t remember the images, just the words, “a woman has the right to bring a child into the world.” I thought no truer words were spoken and, thus–with some permutations, like understanding the nuances of “pro-choice/pro-reproductive rights” and “reproductive justice” and moving my thinking toward the latter–I’ve stayed in that stance ever since.

And–yowza!–I remember conversations my mom and I would have about it throughout my ‘tween and teen years. I told my mom–she was the only grown person I could talk to about this–that I wasn’t going to have kids, full stop, and would seek an abortion if necessary in order to remain childless. (I thought my love life at that time would consist of a series of lovers, none of whom I knew I wouldn’t want to be attached to via a child. A husband? Yeah, perhaps, but I thought the lovers thing sounded infinitely sexier in my head.) Mom wasn’t hearing any of this. And her trump card in this argument? “Only white women kill their children. We”–meaning Black women–”don’t do those things.” I didn’t know how to argue against respectability politics then. I just knew that it wasn’t going to by my life, dammit.

And I knew not every Black woman believed what my mom believed about abortion and its role in our lives.

So, imagine my joy when I saw Faye Wattleton.

Faye Wattleton. Courtesy: Black Enterprise Events

Continue reading

Close To The End: The Racialicious Roundtable For True Blood 5.7

The summer heat is closing in, and this season drags on. Each week, we lose more roundtable members. For episode 5.7, “In the Beginning,” only Joe, Tami, and Alea are with me to share their thoughts on an increasingly dull season.

Sookie’s Fae Powers
Joe: Half fae? That’s a marked increase from the books of about 30%.
Alea: There has to be something else that makes her special. Just being half-fae doesn’t seem to be enough.
Latoya: Be interesting if the vamp who killed her parents was Bill. Or maybe Eric.
Joe: It will be. That’s the only reason they aren’t showing the face. She’ll find out as her and Eric have sex up the stairs again, cue crying, woe-is-me stances, and the like.

The Hate Group, Revealed

Joe: “Lamestream media?” I’ll take “Go-to GOP Satiric Phrases” for 100, Alex.
Alea: This whole scene feels like such a cheap shot at rural Southern folk, a group the writers seem to think of as “real racists.”
Joe: This hate group seems like a bunch of whiny idiots. And they don’t even know why a hate group is called a hate group. I really hope they aren’t going to attack Jessica.
Latoya: Let’s discuss this hate group a bit more. Because WTF. What did they do, watch a couple old eps of Jerry Springer and pull together a plot arc around it?
Joe: Yes, lets. I love how they stuck in a token black guy (I see you, Damien from Harry’s Law) so that the hate group doesn’t read “racist” but “supernaturalist”. P.S. I’m totally claiming the supernaturalist.tumblr.com.
Alea: Token black guy, token hapa-looking guy. We finally get to see two types of PoC in a room together and they’re exercising their agency by being in a hate group [that’s all about love]. Clayton Bigsby they are not. Can the title of this roundtable be “O Hai, Shark! I’m Jumping You: Alan Ball Has Lost His GD Mind”? Continue reading

Jason Chu On The La Jolla Playhouse Controversy

Lyrics:
I hear “nothing’s more American than immigrating in
“Working hard is more important than the color of your skin”
But if that’s true, why are the faces that look like me
Always involved in takeout, kung fu, or exotic villainy?
I mean, we wear the same clothes and we do the same things
And we talk the same way – but it was never a real dream
For me to be Friends with Rachel, Joey, or Ross
And “Jason Chu” was not the answer to the question, “Who’s the Boss?”
Even on Cheers, where everybody was supposed to know my name
I never heard a Chu, Nguyen, Kim, Loke, or Chang
So I concluded that Asian faces are only right
If we’re talking about rice, or a high-tech device
I mean, I just saw the Dark Knight Rise
And I cheered every time that I saw an Asian face – twice
This is why we don’t win: the systems that we’re in
If we build separate communities, we’re viewed as aliens
But if we try to play along, we have no hope of blending in
They’ll never let John Wayne be played by John Kim
But The Airbender was Noah Ringer, and Goku was Justin Chatwin
And the whole cast of Akira was gonna be played by white men
But I have never seen a role with a European name
Be filled by an Asian with the excuse “we cast for talent, not for race”
So the La Jolla playhouse can say anything they want
In the end, I don’t see action, so I conclude it’s just a front
For the same attitude that I’ve always seen out there
Because “color-blind” is just a nicer way to say “we don’t care”

Background here and here.

Ethical Manhoods: Interview With Professor And Filmmaker Celine Parreñas-Shimizu

by Guest Contributor Terry K Park, originally published at Hyphen

Celine Parreñas-Shimizu begins her latest book, Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies, with a close reading of the controversial “Gay or Asian?” photographic spread from the April 2004 issue of Details. For those who need a refresher, the spread featured an Asian American male model accompanied with captions that conflated stereotypes of Asian American and gay men, such as this gem: “One cruises for chicken; the other takes it General Tso-style. Whether you’re into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial tastes.”

As you can imagine, this recycling of well-worn racist and homophobic images sold as “satire” did not sit well with a lot of folks, especially Asian American men, for whom this “straitjacketed” representation of Asian American male sexuality was a reminder of the many ways in which Asian American men have historically “fallen short.” But this crisis of masculinity, Parreñas-Shimizu warns, “must not lead to solutions that actually deepen and reemphasize Asian American masculinity as lacking such that the presumed and unstated racial problem is really the queer and the feminine.” Instead of beating up other men or conquering women to lick racial wounds, Parreñas-Shimizu wants us to consider “ethical” manhoods in which Asian American male sexuality is re-defined as the care for self and care for others.

Where can we find these alternative masculinities? In the same site of representational injury: the cinema. Parreñas-Shimizu, a professor of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara, takes her readers on a critical tour of Asian American films, characters, and actors past and present such as James Shigeta, Bruce Lee, and the Hmong American actor Bee Vang from Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. In fact, a fan of her work, I hope to work with her next year, on a fellowship at UCSB. I sat down with Professor Parreñas-Shimizu last March during the 2012 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, where she served as a respondent for a panel on Asian American media, to talk about her new book, the joys and challenges of being both an academic and a filmmaker, and of course, Jeremy Lin. Continue reading

New Film: Middle of Nowhere

Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, MIDDLE OF NOWHERE follows Ruby, a bright medical student who sets aside her dreams and suspends her career when her husband is incarcerated. As the committed couple stares into the hollow end of an eight-year prison sentence, Ruby must learn to live another life, one marked by shame and separation. But through a chance encounter and a stunning betrayal that shakes her to her core, this steadfast wife is soon propelled in new and often shocking directions of self-discovery – caught between two worlds and two men in the search for herself.

Ava DuVernay is back! And I have been dying to see this film.