All posts by Nadra

“Compton Cookout” Party at UCSD Ignites Racial Firestorm

By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem, originally published at Race Relations on About.com

The University of California at San Diego is still feeling the aftermath of an off-campus party organized by students dubbed the “Compton Cookout” in which racial stereotypes of blacks were used in flyers and a Facebook invitation. According to the Los Angeles Times, “the invitation included references to ‘dat Purple Drank,’ an apparent mix of ‘sugar, water, and the color purple, chicken, coolade, and of course Watermelon.’ Party organizers aimed to have a “ghetto” theme Feb. 15 poking fun of Compton, a community near Los Angeles made famous by rappers and films about urban blacks.

When word spread around campus about the party, black students were outraged, as were administrators who worry that prospective students of color may decide not to apply to UCSD because of the incident. Presently, fewer than 2% of UCSD students are black.

“I’m most touched by the fact that students who personally felt stereotyped are hurting,” UCSD Vice Chancellor Penny Rue told NBC San Diego.

Imagine how you would feel if you were an African American student who rose from the ranks of a place such as Compton, only to have white classmates stereotype you as being “ghetto.” And ghetto in these situations always means tacky, boorish, classless, ignorant and laughable, not to mention a drain on the system or the single parent of multiple children from multiple mates. The Los Angeles Times posted verbatim what women attending the party were told to wear and how to act. I’m choosing not to re-post the hatred it contained on the Race Relations site.

In short, those who planned the party took the worst stereotypes of African Americans and threw them in the face of black students who embody exactly the opposite. Making it into an institution such as UCSD requires intelligence, talent and hard work, but “ghetto” parties are more interested in showcasing blacks who fit stereotypes such as gold chain-wearing pimp or welfare queen. It’s unfortunate that no one had the foresight to see how planning such a party would be a slap in the face to the small number of African American students at UCSD. Being part of a community is a huge part of college life. It’s hard to feel like you belong when you’re a minority, however, and even harder when you discover that students from the majority culture view you in terms of racist caricatures.

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Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen, Race and Domestic Violence

By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem, originally posted at Bitch Magazine
chris-brown

Which celebrity has earned more bad press for reported acts of domestic violence—Chris Brown or Charlie Sheen?

When gossip Web site TMZ.com criticized Brown Jan. 21 for appearing with designer Jean Paul Gaultier, in makeup that made him look bruised and bloodied for a “warrior-themed runway show,” visitors to the site accused TMZ of vilifying Brown while giving Sheen a pass for allegedly battering his wife on Christmas.

Take a commenter who wrote: “Charlie Sheen beat his wife’s ass and tried to kill her only one month ago!! The only thing you guys seem to want to cover is him visiting the wife he beat in the hospital, but Chris Brown one year later is still being criticized. That is simply racism to the fullest extent. …So my question is, where is all the bad press for Charlie Sheen…?”

Another wrote: “TMZ STOP IT!! Love Gaultier and love Chris Brown!! Leave this kid alone. You sure did a nice write up on Charlie Sheen earlier. You people love to rip black people apart, while you allow white people to redeem themselves. It’s sad…”

And still another remarked: “Give it a rest people…Funny how you constantly slam Chris Brown, but praise Charlie Sheen and attempt to garner sympathy for him. So biased it is ridiculous.”

If you’re wondering why I’m highlighting comments left on a gossip Web site, it’s because TMZ.com played a significant role in influencing public opinion about Chris Brown’s battery of Rihanna. TMZ was the first media outlet to release the photo that the Los Angeles Police Department took of Rihanna following Brown’s beating of her. Moreover, by breaking big news stories (however unscrupulously) such as Michael Jackson’s death or the medications found in Brittany Murphy’s home after her demise—TMZ has come to be seen as a reliable source of information on celebrity news. That said, I think it’s fitting to weigh in on the site’s coverage of Brown and Sheen.

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A Racialicious Dialogue on “The Princess and the Frog”

By Special Correspondents Nadra Kareem and Andrea Plaid

More than a year before its debut, “The Princess and the Frog” set tongues wagging. Some were overjoyed that Disney finally dedicated a feature to a black princess. Others criticized the studio’s history of racial gaffes in films such as “Aladdin” and “The Jungle Book” and wondered if Disney could change its track record with the “Princess and the Frog.” Some specifically took issue with “Princess” because the heroine, Tiana, spends more time on screen as a frog than as a black woman; because her prince, Naveen, isn’t black; and because the film portrays Voodoo questionably.

Now that the film’s out, what’s the verdict? Were these concerns warranted? Racialicious correspondents Nadra Kareem and Andrea Plaid recently caught a viewing of the film and dialogued about its merits and shortcomings. They also discussed whether “Princess,” which grossed $25 million its opening weekend, will be the first and last Disney production to feature an African-American heroine. That’s because, despite topping the box office when it came out, “Princess” sold far fewer tickets than recent Disney fare such as “Enchanted” did upon its release.

Warning: This dialogue contains spoilers. Continue reading

“Successful, Black and Lonely”

By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

Who am I praying finds love? In recent weeks, a white woman, a black woman, a Korean-American woman and a Chicana have all made the cut. You wouldn’t know that from reading “Successful, black and lonely,” though. This Washington Post article profiles Helena Andrews and her new book about single black women, “Bitch Is the New Black.” Reading the article, I felt underwhelmed and somewhat irritated, as the piece tells the familiar tale of black women with MBAs and designer clothes who just can’t find a man. Move over tragic mulatto myth, you’ve been replaced by the myth of the tragic black women who’s professionally successful but is doomed to grow old alone.

Believe me, I’ve read the grim statistics about black women and marriage. We are the group least likely to marry. But I’ve also read the New York Times report about how the United States now includes more single-headed households than ever. Loneliness is a problem that transcends racial groups, but for some reason, there’ve been a slew of articles in recent years that peg black women as especially lonely.

If the black community includes more singles than other groups, isn’t this because the community tends to be harder hit by all social “ills?” Take the economy. Americans are suffering across the board, but the unemployment rate for black Americans is twice that of white Americans. As a black newspaper publisher I know says, “If white folks got a cold, black folks got the flu.”

By not considering this phenomenon when reporting on marriage, the media ends up perpetuating stereotypes about black women and men, alike. Black women are bossy and intimidating. Black men need to get it together. Continue reading

On Amanda Knox, White Womanhood, Black Scapegoats and White Ethnics

By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

I first heard the name Amanda Knox nearly a year ago. As someone, who like Knox, traveled to Europe to study abroad, even visiting Italy during my time there, I sympathized with the young Seattle woman charged with killing her roommate while an exchange student in Perugia, Italy. Numerous articles portray the University of Washington student as an innocent wrongly targeted by a corrupt Italian prosecutor and victimized by Italians who were misogynistic and anti-American.

Despite my sympathy for Knox—found guilty of murdering Meredith Kercher by an Italian jury Dec. 4—I take issue with the articles written in her defense. They reveal that America’s ideas about white womanhood have changed little since the 19th century, the whiteness of Italians remains tenuous and black men continue to make convenient crime scapegoats.

I’ve no idea if Amanda Knox is innocent or guilty of the charges leveled at her—a jury’s already deemed her the latter—but some American journalists decided that she was innocent long before  a verdict was reached. What’s disturbing about some of these journalists is that Knox’s race, gender and class background played central roles in why they considered her innocent. Moreover, in defending Knox, their xenophobic and arguably “racist” feelings about Italy came to light. New York Times columnist Timothy Egan is a case in point. He wrote about Knox for the Times both in June and just before the jury issued its verdict in the case.

“All trials are about narrative,” Egan remarked in the summer. “In Seattle, where I live, I see a familiar kind of Northwestern girl in Amanda Knox, and all the stretching, the funny faces, the neo-hippie touches are benign. In Italy, they see a devil, someone without remorse, inappropriate in her reactions.”

What makes these “touches” benign—simply the fact that, to Egan, Knox was “a familiar kind of Northwestern girl?”  While waiting to be interrogated, Knox reportedly did cartwheels. Egan chalks this up to Knox being an athlete. But if Donovan McNabb or LeBron James were being investigated for murder and did cartwheels during an interrogation, would their behavior be taken as that of a benign athlete or make them look unfeeling and flippant? Egan attempts to undermine Italy by making it appear as if sinister Italians were angling to punish this girl who not only reminds him of numerous girls from the Pacific Northwest but also of his own daughter. Yet, non-Italian friends of British murder victim Meredith Kercher considered Knox’s behavior to be strange as well, counteracting Egan’s attempts to discredit Italian sensibilities. Continue reading

Why are Black Americans Playing Roles Meant for Africans?

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

“Invictus,” a film about Nelson Mandela’s efforts to unify post-apartheid South Africa through rugby, opens Dec. 11. The film stars Matt Damon as captain of South Africa’s 1995 rugby team and Morgan Freeman as Mandela.

I’ve little interest in seeing this film, but the commercials for it caught my attention when I noticed someone attempting what I considered to be an atrocious South African accent. That someone was Freeman, an amazing actor, no doubt, but not convincing to me as a South African. A quick trip to the IMDB.com thread on the film, and I realized I wasn’t alone in my criticism of Freeman.

A thread devoted specifically to Freeman’s accent in the film began:

“HOLY CRAP…. Morgan’s accent sucks!! Not even close…. did he even try? Didnt hear to much of Matt but wow Morgan really missed the boat.”

And another poster followed up, “I came here to say the exact same thing after having just seen the commercial. Holy horrible. It sounds like Morgan Freeman in every movie he’s ever been in plus a hokey accent that couldn’t possibly be attributed to any ethnicity or area.”

After pondering how Freeman speaks in the film, I wondered why a South African wasn’t cast in “Invictus.” With Clint Eastwood as director and Damon in a starring role, would it have been that much of a gamble to cast an unknown in the role of Mandela? Then, I thought about other films set in Africa—“Hotel Rwanda,” “Cry Freedom,” “The Last King of Scotland” and “Sarafina!” All feature black Americans in starring roles as Africans. A recent exception would be 2006’s “Blood Diamond” in which Djimon Hounsou has a starring role.

I understand that casting African American film stars likely makes movies about Africa more marketable, but would African Americans be as accepting if roles designed for them were given to whites to increase a film’s marketability? Judging from the uproar surrounding Angelina Jolie starring as Mariane Pearl in “A Mighty Heart,” I think not. So why aren’t more people speaking up about the tendency of African roles to go to black Americans?

On IMDB.com, a poster who challenged the assertion that Freeman was born to play Mandela, arguing instead that an “actual South African” be given the role, received this response:

“There isn’t any South African actors that have Freeman’s acting skills though. Just because someone is from a particular country doesn’t make them automatically better for the role.”

I don’t know the ethnicity or nationality of the person who wrote this, but the idea that South Africa has no quality actors is ludicrous. But, say, we take the poster at his word. South Africa having no actors with the chops to play Mandela shouldn’t rule out the possibility of an actor from another African nation playing the role. Nigeria, for one, has a $250 million film industry, which puts it in the Top 3 film industries in the world, along with India and the United States. Clearly, Africa has its share of actors to go around. So, when will Hollywood shine the spotlight on them, and when will black Americans demand it?

Jon and Kate Plus Race

By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

Editor’s Note: The episode discussed in this piece aired about a year ago, but as Jon and Kate’s marriage publicly disintegrates while many onlookers wonder what will happen to the children, this issue seems worth a bit of discussion. – LDP

This year has no doubt been a trying one for Jon and Kate Gosselin. Not only did the couple file for divorce but also the rumor mill linked Jon to a slew of young hotties and Kate to her beefy bodyguard. Given this, it seems hard to believe that just last year the Gosselins appeared by all means to be one very big happy family. Take the “Korean Dinner” episode which debuted July 2008. In it, Jon—whose father is French and Welsh and mother is Korean—tries to teach his children about their Asian heritage. Unfortunately, Jon, along with Kate, does a pretty abysmal job in educating the children about culture.

For starters, the first scene from the episode is of Kate bowing in stereotypical fashion. Moreover, when discussing the ingredients needed for his Korean dinner, Jon assumes a stereotypical accent. “Ancient Chinese recipe,” he says as if he were Mickey Rooney playing Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” To make matters worse, Kate assumes the same mock accent later on.


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Is the Caster Semenya Sex Controversy Racist?

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem, originally posted at Nadra’s Race Relations Blog

Caster Semenya is making headlines after winning an 800-meter race in the World Championships in Berlin on Wednesday by 2.45 seconds more than the second-place athlete. The fact that the 18-year-old South African literally left her rivals in the dust during the competition has led some of them to accuse her of being a man.

Both Italian runner Elisa Cusma Piccione and Russian runner Mariya Savinova made the accusation, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Now, the International Assn. of Athletic Federations is requesting Semenya to take tests to determine if she’s indeed female. If found not to be, she would be barred from racing and stripped of her medals.

The request has not only infuriated Semenya’s family but South African dignitaries as well. The L.A. Times printed a statement issued by the Young Communist League of South Africa, which supports Semenya.

“It feeds into the commercial stereotypes of how a woman should look, their facial and physical appearance, as perpetuated by backward Eurocentric definition of beauty,” the league stated of the accusations against Semenya. “It is this culture which has forced many African women to starve themselves with the objective of reaching the model ramps of Paris and Milan to become the face of this or that product or magazine.”

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