By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images
I featured the two-page ad below in one of the first posts I ever wrote for SocImages (it was October of 2007 and we’d written less than 100 posts; today we’re approaching 5,000, but I digress…). It’s still one of my very favorite images.
I use it in Sociology 101 when I argue that race, class, and gender are, among other things, performances. Activities, items, and behaviors carry class, race, and gender meanings. In order to tell stories about ourselves, we strategically combine these things with the meanings we carry on our bodies (a gendered shape, skin color, and hair texture etc., and signs of economic wealth or deprivation).
The ad for PhatFarm deftly balances Blackness (the body), upper-class Whiteness (the sailboat), and femininity (the pink sweater). In strategically using culturally resonant signifiers, he challenges popular representations of the Black body.
This happens in real life, too. Journalist Brent Staples powerfully discusses how he adds a signifier of upper-class Whiteness to his large Black body in order to avoid the discomfort of frightening people on the streets of New York.
…I employ what has proved to be an excellent tension-reducing measure: I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers. Even steely New Yorkers hunching toward nighttime destinations seem to relax and occasionally they even join in the tune. Virtually everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
“It is my equivalent to the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country,” Staples adds, referring to the fact that being perceived as dangerous can itself be dangerous, as we know from the example of Trayvon Martin and Rodrigo Diaz, who was shot in the head in January when he accidentally pulled into the wrong driveway thinking it belonged to a friend.
Thinking of class, race, and gender as performances gives us credit for being agents. We don’t have control over what the signifiers are, nor how people read our bodies, but we can actively try to manage those meanings. Of course, some people have to do more “damage control” than others.
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.
Use the "for:racialicious" tag in del.icio.us to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.
Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.
Follow Us on Twitter!
- ballewal on Quoted: Lucy Liu On Racial Image And Romantic Comedies
- racialicious on Friday Silliness: God (a.k.a. Morgan Freeman) Falls Asleep During An Interview
- Ruthie O on Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.8: “The Crash”
- littleeva on Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.8: “The Crash”
- SuperHyugaYoshichan on Friday Silliness: God (a.k.a. Morgan Freeman) Falls Asleep During An Interview
- Friday Silliness: God (a.k.a. Morgan Freeman) Falls Asleep During An Interview
- Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.8: “The Crash”
- Quoted: 100 Questions Toward Cultural Competency
- Book Review: Storm Warning by E.A. O’Neal
- The Racialicious Links Roundup 5.23.13
- Meanwhile, On TumblR: In Defense Of Beyoncé–Again
- Amitabh Bachchan In The Great Gatsby: Is Desi The New Jewish?
- Scandal Roundtable 2.22: “White Hat’s Back On”
TagsABC activism advertising african-american asian asian-american barack obama black blackface celebrities comedy culture diversity fashion feminism film gender glbt HBO hip hop hispanic history hollywood identity international interracial relationships latino media mixed race movies music muslim politics race racial stereotypes racism religion sex sexism sexual stereotypes stereotypes tv Uncategorized white youtube