The Racialicious Links Roundup 12.12.13: Nelson Mandela, New York’s Poor, Black Republicans and more

You will make out that apartheid was just some sort of evil mystical space disease that suddenly fell from the heavens and settled on all of us, had us all, black or white, in its thrall, until Mandela appeared from the ether to redeem us. You will try to make Mandela a Magic Negro and you will fail. You will say that Mandela stood above all for forgiveness whilst scuttling swiftly over the details of the perversity that he had the grace to forgive.

You will try to make out that apartheid was some horrid spontaneous historical aberration, and not the logical culmination of centuries of imperial arrogance. Yes, you will try that too. You will imply or audaciously state that its evils ended the day Mandela stepped out of jail. You will fold your hands and say the blacks have no-one to blame now but themselves.

Well, try hard as you like, and you’ll fail. Because Mandela was about politics and he was about race and he was about freedom and he was even about force, and he did what he felt he had to do and given the current economic inequality in South Africa he might even have died thinking he didn’t do nearly enough of it.

I’ll be 34 this year and we’re only beginning to see a change in the scenery when it comes to diversity and the fantastic. A recent UCLA study found that even though racial and gender diversity in television remains appallingly low, more diverse shows bring higher audiences while less diverse ones struggle. Meanwhile, some major networks may finally be getting the message. At this year’s annual Fox Broadcasting confab, titled “Seizing Opportunities,” the underlying theme was more diversity equals more money. Speaking to an invitation-only crowd of executives, producers, agents and media coalitions, Fox COO Joe Earley said this about welcoming more diverse shows: “Not only are you going to have more chances of a show being made here, more chances of a show being a success on TV, more chances of making it into syndication, more chances of a show selling globally and making you millions of dollars, but you are going to bring more viewers to our air and keep us in business.”

Cultural critics have rightly decried whitewashing in the name of social justice. Networks are now beginning to see dollar signs where they once imagined dearth. But beyond money and morality, diverse programming is also a question of quality. “Racist writing is a craft issue,” the poet Kwame Dawes said at this year’s AWP conference. “A racist stereotype is a cliché. It’s been done. Quite a bit. It’s a craft failure.”

Without an understanding of culture, power and history, diversity is useless; it’s blackface. And television has often given us nothing but that: cheap stand-ins and tokens to up their numbers and check off boxes.

As someone who once performed at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show, I’m sure Perry became aware of the war bonnet controversy. Perry has at least been intelligent enough not to pull another stunt involving Native Americans, but this did not stop her from her “fascination” with Japanese culture. Her remark about skinning Japanese people on the Jimmy Kimmel show was disturbing and about as flattering as a compliment from Silence of the Lamb’s Buffalo Bill.

Perry participated in a skit on SNL which mocked white teenagers obsessed with Japanese culture, implying that she knew how harmful appropriation could be. The professor character exclaimed “If there is such a thing as a loving version of racism, I think you found it”. Seem familiar? It really leaves one to wonder, did this skit even once cross Perry’s mind when planning for the AMA show?

Media outlets frequently interview those with white privilege to speak on issues which most affect people of color. Lady Gaga was interviewed and defended Katy Perry.

“I think people are generally too sensitive and they should just leave her be, but you know, I’m not really the person to ask.” –Lady Gaga

“It makes me feel like there’s something going on out there,” says the 11-year-old girl, never one for patience. This child of New York is always running before she walks. She likes being first — the first to be born, the first to go to school, the first to make the honor roll.

Even her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.

Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.

It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Earlier this year, the GOP released a self-generated autopsy report about what went wrong in the 2012 presidential elections, and how they failed to pick up any considerable percentage of votes from people of color. It urged the party to adopt the best practices recommendations of think tanks that have been researching how they can better diversify their ranks. They took some steps, opening offices of “African-American engagement” in North Carolina, and the same for Asian-Americans in Virginia. But the implementation hasn’t been without its missteps: Last week, the Republican National Committee celebrated Rosa Parks, releasing a statement, “We remember and honor Rosa Parks today for the role she played in fighting racism and ending segregation. At the same time we rededicate ourselves to the causes of justice and equal opportunity.” And then the RNC tweeted that racism ended with Parks’s defiant stand. And then there’s the Tea Party rallies in front of the White House featuring the Confederate flag. It’s been a clunky start to say the least.

However, a new crop of black Republicans are rising with the hope they can turn their party around on race. In running for Congress in next year’s mid-term elections, they are essentially saying to their party, “You’re rededicated to equal opportunity? Prove it. Help get us elected.”