All posts by Guest Contributor

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What’s the Verdict? Racism and the Case Against Serial

By Guest Contributor Priya R. Chandrasekaran, special to Racialicious

A month or so ago, I got into a debate with a friend at work about racism in the podcast Serial.

Serial, a widely popular production of WBEZ Chicago, follows journalist Sarah Koenig week to week as she investigates a fifteen-year old case in which an eighteen year-old Korean American girl was found strangled after she went missing. Her then eighteen year-old Pakistani American ex-boyfriend was charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping. He has been in prison since 2000, all the while maintaining his innocence.

Specifically, my friend and I had different responses to an article by Jay Caspain Kang accusing Koenig of “white reporter privilege.” She felt that Kang was too quick to read an exoticizing impulse into Koenig’s reactions when, for example, Koenig was probably startled by how “normal” a young woman’s diary seemed on the eve of its author meeting a violent death. Also, she said, Koenig the storyteller has to make her characters relatable to her listeners. But “relatability” is precisely what Kang problematizes, I replied, it assumes an underlying “colorblind ideal” that “reads ‘white.’” I brought up Julia Carrie Wong’s charge that Koenig “fail[s] to draw an distinctions between…. a first-generation Korean immigrant [experience] and [a] second-generation life in a Pakistani-American family,” and that she gives her subjects “model minority treatment.” But then… the descriptions Koenig uses were offered by the people she interviewed, not ones she coined.

So is she accountable for them?

A colleague joined in: Koenig probably assumes her audience has racial sensitivity.

I disagreed: Kang is right that the journalist comes “from the same demographic as her ‘intended audience’” in a context where “staffs of radio stations, newspapers, and magazines tend to be overwhelmingly white.”

But if being white is the fact of her experience, this colleague said, do we hold it against her? Continue reading

I Die a Little Bit Each Day

by Guest Contributor Aaron Goggans, originally published at The Well Examined Life

I can barely express the depth of the pain and the anger I feel right now. I feel so helpless and powerless and hated. I feel so constantly plagued by doubt. I am constantly being messaged that I am a problem that society has yet to find a solution for. This world seems so afraid of me and what I will do next…so why am I the one paralyzed by fear? Why I am I the one afraid to walk down the street at night? Why am I the one that nearly has a panic attack every time I see the police? How it is it possible that I am this powerful, haunting menace that America fears so deeply yet am so…powerless.

They tell me that I’m different. That my family made it. That my parents got out of the hood and moved to a white town and sent me to a good school. They are constantly messaging to me that I’m the epitome of the Black middle class success story. Young, no kids, no record, employed with benefits and a future. The cops have never thrown me up against the wall. I’ve never been stopped or frisked. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never been seriously questioned by the police. It is supposed to make me feel safe. I’m supposed to understand the plight of the ghetto is not my plight. I’m supposed to feel pride that I’m not one of them. Yet I feel that all this messaging of success is a lie.

I remember the cops following me through campus at the University of Chicago. I remember them eying me as a group of white students walked towards me. They drove off when it was clear that I was not going to rob anybody. I get the sense, its imaginary I know, but I get this sense that the Black cop in the police car were surprised or disappointed or even anxious that I didn’t hurt anyone. As they drove off, I wondered if that cop wanted to prove he wasn’t one of them too? Continue reading

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White Privilege in Spanish

By Guest Contributor Ray Heath

After hearing that a grand jury decided not to indict Mike Brown’s killer, I took some time to meditate, cry, be angry, and shake my fist at the sky. I thought I was okay. But this morning when I got up and did my morning meditation, the tears came back again. They wouldn’t stop. On my way to work, my steps felt heavy, weary. I kept seeing my grandmother’s face, my father’s face, my brothers… I kept thinking about all the Black lives that have been stolen over the years. By the time I got to work, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay. Which brought on the next challenge of the day: how to explain to my white boss that I was going to need to take a personal day.

Let me explain. I live in Mexico. And while I read the news every morning to keep abreast of what is happening in my country, most people here are not so diligent. Many keep up on their local news and the national headlines, and occasionally the U.S. will make a decision that appears on that little ticker tape that runs at the bottom of the nightly news, but otherwise there’s not much talk of foreign affairs.

Add to that the fact that very few people have a context for the institutionalized racism that still perpetuates itself in the U.S. today, and you can begin to see the trouble a very emotional me faced in trying to explain why I was not going to be able to stay at work. You see this is the perfect environment to shed obligation. When in Mexico, be in Mexico. And I suppose some people will wonder why I even bother keeping up on the news, but my family still lives stateside. What happens in the news affects them, which means it affects me.
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The Producer and the Anarchist: Dear White People’s Critique and Vision of Film

by Guest Contributor Mario Fitzgerald

In one of the many footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Yunior opines:

“Rushdie claims that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, but I think that’s too simple; it lets writers off pretty easy. Dictators, in my opinion, just know competition when they see it. Same with writers. Like, after all, recognizes like.”

Through the mind of Yunior, Junot Diaz expresses a core truth about writing: Despite being a tool of dissent for justice and equality, writing is also a powerful and thoroughly successful method of erasure, revision, and domination.

Through his first feature film, Dear White People, director Justin Simien has demonstrated how film can similarly be a tool for either justice or domination. Through the characters of Helmut West, a reality television show producer and Sam White, an independent documentary filmmaker, Justin Simien dramatizes the different ways in which the film industry has responded to racism and white supremacy.

Helmut West drifts in and out of the film searching for “conflicts” on the campus of Winchester University from which he can create a reality television show. Despite the title of the film directing viewers’ attention towards the many documented micro-aggressions of White characters towards the film’s Black characters, West is a Black man.

His presence raises a critique against the constant search for anti-Black racist acts committed by White people rather than manifestations of White supremacist thinking which, as bell hooks has so eloquently written, operates within us all. Continue reading

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I Used To Be Excited for Big Hero 6: An Asian-American’s Perspective

By Guest Contributor Sunny Huang

Two weeks ago, Big Hero 6 premiered to critical acclaim at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Even earlier, it made a big splash at New York Comic Con. And it will open tomorrow as a likely box-office success — a projected $51 million in its first weekend — in the U.S. But with less than a full day to go, I am surprised by the lack of substantial criticism for it.

Frozen generateda firestorm of controversybefore it was released in mass and niche publications, yet there is little for Big Hero 6, which goes to show just how much Asians and Asian-inspired media are pushed out of the conversation. And the only criticisms that have appeared focus on the film’s episodic storytelling and choice of Fall Out Boy for the soundtrack, instead of its lackluster Asian representation and continued cultural appropriation by Disney. In fact, Big Hero 6 is being lauded for transcending these problems, when it is the very embodiment.

Don’t get me wrong. I used to be excited for Big Hero 6.When the first trailer and voice cast were released, I cried.

After spending my childhood barely seeing myself and my people represented on screen, I immediately made my brother watch the trailer. As a 20-year old, I was so happy that my 10-year old brother would have the chance to grow up without self-resentment. I was so grateful to know he would have the chance to not loathe his race because he would see characters who looked like him be appreciated. It was a chance I did not have.

When the trailer was over, I yelled at him. Look, look!An Asian character! Another character who’s Asian besides Mulan! From the biggest animation studio today! Do you know how many people like us will see how progressive this movie is?! To that, he just stared at me and said—

What? I thought he was white.

It was then I realized something was wrong. This movie was being marketed as progressive and beyond its time for giving its studio the opportunity to address “its historical reputation for ethnic homogeneity and cultural appropriation.” But if an Asian-American kid could not identify the main character as Asian, as part of his own group, then what else was wrong?

Turns out, a lot. The protagonist’s racial ambiguity just started the conversation.

The film is based off the Marvel Comics characters of the same name, but with major differences—many of them questionable, and some of them outright wrong.

SPOILERS for both the movie and the comic under the cut.

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The Statement We Wish We’d Gotten from the White Mother Who Mistakenly Ended Up with a Black Sperm Donor

by Guest Contributor Aya De Leon, originally published at Mutha Magazine

All parents have hopes for their children. We have concerns about the world we’re bringing them into, but somehow, in an infinite number of circumstances, we become parents. Some of us use technology on the road to our parenting. This creates a complex layer of medical and commercial issues in our experience. Recently, a woman in Ohio got the wrong sperm from a bank in Chicago.

She and her female partner are white. They mistakenly got sperm from a black donor, and found out when she was several months pregnant.

Unexpectedly, they now have a multi-racial daughter.

In her commercial relationship with that company, she has a clear right to sue for damages under the law. In spite of her lawsuit, the mom has been explicit about how much she loves her daughter and that she would not change her.

However, for people of color, particularly parents, it is painful and difficult to witness the journey of parenting brown children posited as a legal liability and a quantifiable set of damages.

Here is the statement I, as a mother of color, wish she had given:

“I had no idea how hard it is to face racism and to worry every day about how it will affect my family. I am totally unprepared for this, but I honor the work of all the mothers of black children that have gone before me. Continue reading

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Google to Latinos: We Will Define You for You

by Guest Contributor Roberto Lovato, originally published at Latino Rebels

MISSION DISTRICT, SAN FRANCISCO—A new age is upon us, the Age of Soy.

No, I’m not talking about some new genetically-modified organism that will (further) fundamentally alter the corn in our tacos, the gas in our cars or the farmland of the Midwest.

The development of which I speak has to do with how Mountain View, California-based Google’s launch of .SOY, a web domain targeting the country’s Latinos, was supposed to herald a new day on the Latino web, with some “Hispanic marketing experts” waxing triumphant about our (finally) getting some respect from a company that has a less-than-triumphant record of hiring Latinos or black people.

And then the Latino and vegan web responded: Hey Google, “soy,” (Spanish for “I am”) sounds more like a domain name for one of the tony vegan Mexican restaurants that Google and other Silicon Valley workers eat $15 tacos at than it does a hub for online Latinos.

Far from being the Latino web sensation Google and its “experts” expected, .SOY provides fodder for the amateur comedian in us all, with Latinos and vegans joining forces, taking the “.SOY” domain and applying it to different adjectives like quépendejo.soy (how stupid I am), #soyhispandering or calling .SOY “The must-have domain for the lactose-intolerant.” Continue reading

I’m Sorry: Reflections on Shootings on Parliament Hill

by Guest Contributor Dorothy Attakora-Gyan

By now I am sure most people worldwide have heard about the October 22 shootings that took place on Parliament Hill in the nations capital in Canada.

Tragically the event took the life of Cpl Nathan Cirillo, a young 24 year old father.

The very fact that this fallen soldier lost his life at the National War Memorial has the nation in collective mourning.

As a student residing in Ottawa, one privileged to live downtown, mere minutes and walking distance from Parliament Hill, I have witnessed the fear and uncertainly that throughout the day evolved into moral panic.

More specifically, I speak of panic that has led to some very racist depictions in the media, over social media, and in public domains, some riddled with undertones of Islamaphobia and anti- Indigenous sentiments. As the day came to an end and night approached few still had answers and I was only left with my reflections.

So many ‘feels’ that left feeling conflicted and unsettled.

All I could do was sit in this pool of sorry’s that still threatens to drown me.

I’m really sorry that today was so awful and triggering for so many people. I’m especially sorry for the soldier who lost his life today as well as those affected a few days ago in Québec. Sorry for their families and friends. I’m sorry for the collective fear felt by all, children, youth, adults, and elders alike. I’m sorry for the lockdown across downtown Ottawa and University of Ottawa that kept people indoors when they could have been out getting fresh air. Sorry for the pregnant and expectant mothers, those that are differently abled who were inconvenienced unexpectedly from the lock out. Sorry for the classes that were canceled. For the dogs that couldn’t be walked. That time stood still for so many.

I’m sorry for all the victims of today that won’t be written about. I’m simultaneously sorry for any ‘Aboriginal’/ ‘South American looking’/ ‘terrorist looking Muslim’ folk who fit the ‘description’ of the suspect as depicted and labeled by the media. I’m sorry for those who embody such descriptions and the experiences they will have in this world walking the streets the next few days as a result. Continue reading