All posts by Latoya Peterson

Hair, Apparently.

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Oh irony of ironies.

Friday night, I’m checking the comments for my last post. I had already responded to some of the posters, which involved a small segue about hair and hair politics. After finally leaving work, I headed home, changed clothes, and went to catch up with my friend KJ.

Now, KJ is the type of friend everyone hopes to have in their crew – she is loyal, caring, sweet, socially conscious and wickedly intelligent. We also happen to share the same crazy sense of humor, so hanging out with her makes it impossible to focus on anything else. We decided to walk around my neighborhood and run some errands.

We end up looking for the Marshall’s inside of City Place Mall. As we enter the mall, lost in conversation, an older black woman with gorgeous, red-tinted twists approaches KJ and asks about her hair.

Now, this is not an unusual occurrence. KJ has some of the most enviable hair I have ever seen. Fraggle Rock like in nature, her mix of kinks and curls circle the crown of her head like a chestnut halo. Whenever I am out with KJ, I am accustomed to listening to the finer points of natural hair, how to care for it, and what hairdressers service the hair. So when this woman approached us, I figured it was one of those kind of conversations.

I quickly found out that I was wrong.

The woman asked Kim about her hair first, and then asked her why she went natural. Kim discussed her reasons for going natural, making the comment that she felt like she was wearing a wig by relaxing her hair.

The woman then asked if she had any problems with men finding her attractive because of her hair. As the woman continued, pressing the subject about men and their issues with her hair in general. She seemed very self-conscious about her hair, as she kept asking if it looked okay.

Just as I opened my mouth to tell her I thought her hair was beautiful, and suited her face well, she said, “These people in DC are so hair conscious. It’s like they don’t understand why you would want to wear your hair natural and express your blackness- it’s such a house nigga mentality.”

I was stunned.

Now, the non-verbal cues I had been getting from her made sense. The whole conversation, she had blocked her body away from me – even though she approached us from my side of the hallway, meaning she was naturally closer to me. She did not cast a glance my way during the entire conversation, even when KJ tried to include me by asking me direct questions and listening to my answers. Continue reading

Open Mic Night: Enter At Your Own Risk

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

I always wonder why the hell white people go to open mic nights at Busboys and Poets.

Busboys and Poets is “a restaurant, bookstore, and gathering place for people who believe that social justice and peace are attainable goals.” Their website neglects to mention that they are one of the hottest intellectual chill spots in the U Street corridor, with comfy couches, free wi-fi, and a bookstore full of provocative titles. Combine that with sexy and eclectic people, good music, and a decent food and drink menu, and you have my home away from home.

Every time I take a seat in the Langston Room (the venue for events), I find myself scanning the crowd to check out the racial mix.

Neo-bohemians of varying shades of brown flow in, dreds bouncing, blue jeans and hoodies melding with city couture and drab business casual. Snatches of spanish float through the air, but are largely drowned out in the cacophony of voices talking about politics, social movements, classic novels and new media. I take my seat, order a mug of fruit-flavored tea, and sip quietly waiting for the show tonight.

Now, sometimes everything goes fine. The night is a mix of revolutionary poetry, tearful odes to lost love, humorous erotic pleas, and classic poetry interwoven into the frenetic pace of the evening. Poetry nights can be mixed affairs, featuring soulful poems and poignant reflections about society in general. But on other nights, well…

Let’s take my last visit to Busboys as an example. I sat, clicking away on my laptop between sets, waiting for the next poet to start. Then I hear:

“THE WHITE MAN THINKS HE’S GOD!”

The poet, one of my favorites, takes a decidedly antagonistic tone that evening.

After railing against war-mongering, the destruction of the environment, and the systemic eradication of native peoples, he closes the poem, last lines dripping with contempt:

“THE WHITE MAN THINKS HE’S GOD!

Spelled backwards is DOG!”

He abruptly departs the stage, leaving the mic reeling in the stand.

The white people in the audience shift uncomfortably in their seats. Quietly, after the sets finish, they begin to slip out of the wooden doors. By 10:30, the venue consists solely of people of color.

In the arena of political poetry, white people would be wise to tread lightly. While every evening does not feature verbal missiles lobbed at white privilege and a racist society, it can quickly become that evening’s theme. And that common theme, the bonding over shared outrage at a racist and oppressive society, can unite some poetry lovers and alienate others. Continue reading

Rise of the Culture Vultures

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

“Toya is more Asian than Asian people!”

My Chinese-Canadian coworker laughs. I, on the other hand, am chastened. I quickly make an excuse, and withdraw from the conversation.

Now, to some people in my circle, my coworker’s off-the-cuff accolade would have been something to be proud of. Otaku (or anime/manga fans to the uninitiated) live for compliments like those. We pepper our speech with common Japanese phrases, bend our minds around the playing of Go, memorize major Japanese holidays and customs, and refer to each other using the proper honorifics.

However, to me, the mad lust for some Otaku to approximate Japanese culture seems like just another way to fetishize another culture. My friends who have been into anime and manga longer than I have regale me with tales of Asian fetishes and white people who claim to be “eggs” – white on the outside, but yellow on the inside. My friend Hae, who is Korean, is viewed with abject lust by the younger boys at the ‘Con. She remembers the early 90s, before anime became mainstream, and she was followed around by freaky boys who wanted to take her picture or stroke her hair. (And for those in the know, Hae is not a cosplayer. She was simply an Asian girl walking in a land of Asiaphillia.)

That being the case, I have watched the evolution of Gwen Stefani with quite a bit of interest. As a teen rebelling from a hip-hop saturated reality, I was ushered into the world of alternative rock by No Doubt’s “Tragic Kingdom.” The pink haired, bindi sporting rock siren embodied a complete and total escape from bland suburban girlhood and her fashion sense was an interesting mix of Jamaican, Southeast Asian, and So-Cal culture. A decade passes and Gwen reinvents herself again, cavorting around in Alice and Wonderland get-ups and cooing about Harajuku style on multiple tracks. Completely co-opting Harajuku fashion, Gwen remade herself as the Great Gaijin Guru – importing Asian fashion and style, manifested in the pimping of the four Japanese girls who tour with her as a flesh and blood underscore to her credibility.

At first, the shout-out to Japanese style was cool – finally, we little Otaku had a voice. Fruits style was suddenly cool in America. And while I was underwhelmed at her fashion choices – as an onee-kei girl to the core, Harajuku fashion just wasn’t my thing – overall, I was pleased that someone so prominent on the world’s stage gave props to yet another cool aspect of our increasingly global culture.

However, after reading her interview in Bust Magazine’s “Love Issue” – which included yet another rehash of “Margaret Cho needs to stop talking shit and do the research!” – I started to wonder: how many of us anime-loving Otaku are actually appropriating Asian culture? We greedily accost people from Japan, asking to practice our elementary Japanese, eat sushi, ramen, and Pocky by the pound and consume everything we can find about Japanese culture. Are we “respecting the culture” as Gwen asserts, or are we trying to force our beliefs about Japanese culture onto Japanese reality? Continue reading

Where Da White Women At? Details Magazine Plays Up on Racial Stereotypes

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Oh, hell no.

I am staring at the editor’s page of the April 2007 issue of Details magazine. Staring up at me from the page are seven black men in various stages of undress, and one white woman, in the process of being groped, her face hidden from view.

The editor starts his letter by narrating his lack of experience with orgies, leading into the description of the feature article: “Meet the Mandingos.”

The sample quote provided?

“The women get to fuck our guys while their husbands watch, and we get to fuck rich white women, really mutt ‘em out.”

This quote was made by Art Hammer, apparent leader of the Mandingo tribe.

I read the rest of the article feeling like I was falling down a rabbit hole. Racial stereotypes from history has resurrected themselves, and were apparently alive and well in swinger’s clubs across America.

You can read the article for yourself here.

Now, it is not a secret that most human beings are fascinated by sex. Vanilla sex is seen as passé, and orgies are no longer relegated to the farthest reaches of the porn universe. The Sexual Life of Catherine M rocked literary circles in 2002, and the last few Eric Jerome Dickey novels have featured sex parties, or some variation on sex with multiple partners. Hell, even Lynn on “Girlfriends” referenced multiple partner sex on prime-time TV.

What makes this particular article gag-inducing is the tired pandering of racial stereotypes to shock their audience.

Let’s start with the cover. The article tag line reads: “America’s Disturbing New Sexual Fetish.”

Uhhh…not quite new. As Carmen said, try googling the term “Interracial” and see what pops up.

The Details blog takes the stereotypes a step further, baiting readers with the following tag line:

“Do you know your wife’s secret sexual fantasy? An orgy with the mandingos: well-read, well-endowed black men.”

*gasp!* Oh dear god, not well-read, well-endowed black men!

The article’s summary statement reads “They’re gentlemen in the street, thugs in the bedroom, and your wife’s steamiest fantasy.”

Ok, so now we have a domesticated negro, ready to pound your white wife into orgasm induced oblivion. Even better.

All this, and we haven’t even got to the article yet. Continue reading

The Frog Princess – Open Letter to Disney

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Somewhere in the course of growing up, I learned that Disney was the devil. It wasn’t always that way. I gave the same rapt attention to Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Cinderella, Aladdin, and the Rescuers as did any other child growing up.

Hell, I think I had “The Work Song” from Cinderella stuck in my head while I was at work.

[Side Note: Do you remember that song? The lyrics were something like:

Cinderella/Cinderella/All they say is Cinderella/make the fire/fix the breakfast/wash the dishes/do the mopping/ and the stitching and the shopping/they always keep her hopping. She's going around in circles / till she's very very dizzy / still they holler /keep her busy /Cinderelly!

Anyway...]

As most of us are, I am quite familiar with Disney’s animated characters. When I got a bit older, my parents spoke to me about the issues they had with Walt Disney. The general whiteness of the Disney Princesses was topic of discussion. Just like the discussions that were had about Barbie being a tool to advance Aryan standards of beauty, the image of Disney was also called into question.

[Second Side Note: Yes, I realize how time period and societal norms impacted what Disney produces. However, the fact of the matter remains that the Disney Studio has only produced a handful of non-anglo human based characters: Mowgoli from The Jungle Book, Aladdin & Jasmin from Aladdin, Pocahontas of Pocahontas, Mulan of Mulan, and Lilo from Lilo and Stitch. Notice a trend?]

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thought Disney was a bit whitewashed in their reputation. Studio heads at Disney have recently announced a new animated tale set to take place in America during the Jazz Age. The new film, entitled The Frog Princess, has been called “An American Fairy Tale” and features Maddy, the first African-American princess.

While I am enthusiastic about the new release, I must admit that I am a bit concerned about how the movie will pan out. The costumes and animation look amazing. I must say I am quite partial of the Jazz Age, and Maddy’s pre-production sketches seem to capture the era quite well. Check out the images here.

However, I can’t help but be plagued by the images of jive talking frogs and crazy voodoo priests. Could this be a modern version of Snow White and the Sebben Dwarves? Okay, maybe not that bad…

[Side note 3 - I am also interested to see how they are going run with the Voodoo priest portrayal in modern day America, which has grown increasingly more concerned with Christianity in general. I feel an angry conservative Christian protest coming on. I know that they sure as hell didn't mention Islam in Aladdin - and that was released way before 9/11 shifted how we think about Islam.]

Maybe, maybe not. I suppose all things will be seen once the film is closer to production. I know one thing is for sure: I am pulling for Jennifer Hudson to get the voice role. I love Alicia Keys…but maybe she should have started doing voices for Shark Tales.