All posts by Thea Lim

Dear Olivia Munn

By Thea Lim, cross-posted from Bitch Magazine

While I was writing our weekly True Blood roundtable with my Racialicious peeps on Tuesday, Tami Winfrey Harris said:

Watching King Russell go rogue on national TV made me think of the dread many POC feel when the media spotlights a member of our race doing something bad, dysfunctional or stereotypical–that sense that the bad behavior of another will stick to you in a society that lumps every brown person together. I just pictured vamps across the States watching Russell and shaking their heads. Aw, shit! This motherfucker…My neighbor is going to be giving me all kinds of side-eye tomorrow!

Don’t worry if you don’t get the King-Russell-going-rogue reference: what I wanted to share with you was Tami’s observation that people of color often feel anxious, sad, angry or personally hurt when a member of their race does something stereotypical in public.

I rarely feel this way, despite the fact that I proudly identify as a woman of color. The reasons for this are various—the shorthand version is that, in the genetic lottery that was my parents’ interracial English-Irish-Chinese-Singaporean union, I came out looking pretty ambiguous. Unlike my sibling who looks pretty mixed but also clearly Chinese, I have Inverted Chameleon Face: wherever I am, I look like I’m from somewhere else. People can tell I’m mixed, but they’re not totally sure what I am. (So yes, this means that many a time people have asked me what are you?… the worst time was when dudes at a bar where I worked placed bets on “what I was” and then called me over to settle the debate.) Thusly, growing up in Singapore, folks always thought I was white. Now that I live in North America, I am never really sure if people read me as Asian, white, or Other.

So, I don’t know whether or not others associate me with any public bad behavior carried out by my people. And usually, because I identify as a mixed race woman of color, I feel equally steamed about racist or sexist or racist sexist behavior directed against any group—and this is why I write for Racialicious, pan-ethnic space for people of color extraordinaire—whether it’s the Oscar Grant verdict or the politics of transracial adoption. But I rarely feel personally hurt.

And then I came across Olivia Munn.

So I decided to write Olivia a letter.

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Sympathy Grifting: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Fraud

By Thea Lim, originally published at bitchmedia.org

I am living in Toronto for the summer, where the press is going wild over a local case of sympathy-fraud:

Ashley Anne Kirilow, a 23-year-old Burlington native, admits she faked cancer, ran a bogus charity and collected thousands of dollars from hundreds of people. She shaved her head and eyebrows, plucked her eyelashes and starved herself to look like a chemotherapy patient. She told anyone she met she had been disowned by drug-addicted parents, or that they were dead. Both parents are alive and well, each in separate marriages with three young children… While volunteers claim she raised $20,000, she said it was less than $5,000.

Since this newspiece a fourth fraud charge has been added to Kirilow’s list.

Kirilow is young, thin, sweet-faced and white: over the year that she convinced people to donate money to her cancer cause, she was given trips to Disneyworld and took a paradise trip to Australia; she is alternately described as an angel and a princess.

When I first saw this news case, I thought to myself (yes, rather cynically): there is no way that anyone other than a young, attractive, normative person could have pulled this off. If Kirilow had been—for example—fat, in her 30s, plain-looking and homeless, few would’ve given her the time of day. Much of Kirilow’s success seems attributed to the fact that she easily roused pity with her little lost girl story and her brave smile. Kirilow embodied a version of white womanhood that we want to believe in (or at least we’ve been socially conditioned to embrace it): pretty, plucky, determined, and in need of rescue.

Kirilow is a prime example of a sympathy grifter: a grifter who uses racist/sexist/classist/etc beliefs in their favor, to get money, affection and attention, or to (literally) get away with murder.

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Wooden Bullets, “Exotic” Accents & Human Masculinity: True Blood S03E09

Hosted by Thea Lim, and featuring Joseph Lamour, Andrea Plaid and Tami Winfrey Harris (Latoya Peterson sadly missed)

Tara: Trauma and Healing

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Thea: Ok, so after all the hating on this show’s treatment of Tara – or, as has been argued, heterosexual women in general – there were definitely things that True Blood did this week which I actually liked. For one, I appreciate the way the show is allowing Tara continuous episodes to show grief and trauma over what happened to her. I also like the way Rutina Wesley has been able to (finally! and consistently!) show other sides of Tara. There were multiple quiet and delicate moments this episode and last, where Wesley did an amazing job of communicating, through that quiet, the anguish that Tara was/is feeling. To me those sorts of scenes required much greater acting chops than any of the shrill, yelling stuff that Wesley was given for the first two seasons. So nice to see Wesley finally given the chance to show how great she is.

What did y’all think of the rape survivor group scene? What did you think of Holly’s speech? I was slightly taken aback to see Tara visit a rape survivor group — just because it disturbed me (and we discussed this in detail) how much Franklin’s abduction and rape of Tara was treated as comedy…I questioned at times whether or not the writers even knew they were writing rape scenes. So to see the writers flip that upside down, and validate that this is what the character went through, was surprising to me.

And then, after both Holly’s speech at the rape survivor group and her reproductive choice moment with Arlene, could it be that Holly’s supernatural power is that she’s a…feminist? What’s this week’s verdict on Holly?

Tami: Agreed. I think the aftermath of Tara’s kidnapping, bondage and rape is being handled well by both TB’s writers and actors. In fact, this treatment brings the early poorly-drawn relationship between Tara and Franklin in stark relief. I think the problem lies in what TB did to the character of Franklin. His first interaction with Tara was laden with menace. He was sullen, dark, attracted to violence and clearly a bad man to know. Once the pair arrived in Mississippi, Franklin was drawn as comic relief–a lovesick loon who happens to also be a predator–even as Rutina Wesley continued to portray Tara as a woman in fear for her life. Sunday, menacing Franklin returned. I think this is why, on True Blood threads not located on sites that analyze race and gender, some folks are mourning the death of Franklin, despite his role as the abuser of a main character. True Blood’s portrait of Franklin allowed viewers to be ambivalent about Tara’s abuse.

Andrea: I think that Tara’s kidnapping, bondage, and rape all falls under the umbrella of “abuse,” which is the term we’ve been discussing ever since we saw Franklin go that route in his interactions with Tara after he glamored her into getting into Sookie’s house and getting the information that Sookie was in Mississippi. To that end, we’ve had hearty discussions about Franklin’s abusive behavior and how we weren’t cool with that.

Which brings me to Tara going to the rape survivors’ meeting: I. Loved. This. Scene. It rang true for several reasons: 1) as a Black woman who survived rape and felt a bit goosy about seeing a therapist for a while, I know that I received a lot of support attending such “lay” meetings, where I learned a way to form a vocabulary for what happened to me; 2) yes, I learned that vocabulary from white women because, like Tara, I grew up in a town where the people who were having such discussions and support were white. That doesn’t mean, ergo, that white women are “better” at it than black people or other PoCs. It simply acknowledges a reality that people will seek their healing in imperfect spaces that may not “make sense” racially speaking but makes perfect sense to them…as well as speaking to the simple fact of demographics; 3) it reminds me of the connections I’ve made on- and offline with women, especially women of color, who are surviving abuse and simply seek a voice that resonates with their own. Also, Tara was finally given space to tearfully lay her burden down and not be chastised for not being a Strong Negress, which sometimes happens at these meetings, too. Spot on, TB creatives…whether y’all realize it or not. Continue reading

The Snot Factor, Death And Sex, & Improper Firearm Use: True Blood S03E08

By Thea Lim, Joseph Lamour, Tami Winfrey Harris, Latoya Peterson and Andrea Plaid

The End of Bilkie set to music

Andrea: So….Sookie’s newly found fairy identity leads her to 1) her screaming her ass off (per usual) with the realization that her man’s been using her for her fairy juice and 2) her doing the first mature thing (in my estimation) since this show started: breaking up with the vampire. My question is: Bill is a couple of centuries old. Did he *really* think Sookie wouldn’t get hip to the fact that he’s just no good for her? And that weepy I-nearly-killed-you-but-I-lurve-your-ass-Sookeh speech just gave me bitchlips because of Bill’s (willful) naivete.

Latoya: Seriously. I was so ready for this cycle of dysfunction to end that I had prepared some theme music for the final farewell in the hospital, 1TYM’s “It’s Over”:

(For those of y’all looking for the translation, click here)

I suppose its kind of apropos most of the concert videos push together It’s Over and Put Em Up, following the sad song with the “I will not be defeated” joint.

Thea: I will say that I liked the symbolism of the blood line being broken between them. It looked nice. Yes, I can occasionally be mollified by a nicely shot bit of poetry.

Tami: I would have been more impressed by the breakup if it had lasted more than 24 hours. Yeah, Sookie and Bill’s parting was well acted, but I still cry foul on the reasoning for the split being “Well, we’ll never have picket fences and sunny days together” and not “You nearly killed me. I hear you have some creepy file on my family. My best friend says you left her in a life-threatening situation.” It all came down to Sookie not being able to have her romantic fantasy relationship. Harumph!

Joe: I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I found their break up really well acted and rather touching. The one thing that Oscar winners know how to do best is weep uncontrollably, and boy did Anna Paquin get to show why she has that thing.

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Thea: Agreed. Sheepishly.

Andrea: But, Joe, what pushes mere weeping to Oscar-nabbing is what my moms calls The Snot Factor. Anna Paquin and Stephen Mowry didn’t snot; ergo, no awards. When they go home at the end of a day’s shooting they should rent Gladiator. Russell Crowe got that Academy Award on the strength on his nasal stream. Just saying. :-D

Joe: Ha! Halle, anyone?

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Frenemies, Magical Negroes & Biscuits: True Blood S03E07

Hosted by Thea Lim, featuring Joseph Lamour, Tami Winfrey Harris, Latoya Peterson and Andrea Plaid

Dearest Commenters, please refrain from sharing spoilers that come from the books. Feel free to talk openly about anything that has been already aired, but don’t share storylines from the books that have not yet made their way into the show, just for the sake of fans of the TV show who haven’t read the books.

Tara Would Never Turn Her Back on Her Friend

Thea: Once again Tara saves the day by kicking Bill in the face. Ok, maybe it was the arm but I like to think it was the face.

You know, as much as I don’t really mind Bill, I was like “yeeah!” when Tara did that, just because it moved the plot forward in a non-simpering way. I also really like this Getting Shit Done version of Tara. I do NOT care for the way we keep getting scenes with Tara telling Sookie how Bill betrayed her, and Sookie screaming “wahh wahh two wrongs don’t make a right.” Is the idea that an aggregation of these scenes will give the viewer closure for what Bill did to Tara? I think not. It’s infuriating.

I really dislike the way that Sookie is written. I believe (though I could be wrong) that her heartlessness towards Tara (while she accuses Tara of being insensitive) is not so much built into the character herself, but more the product of TB’s writers’ inability to write women who aren’t shallow and self-centered. For example, the only way that Sookie can think of to distract Debbie is by screaming? Can you be any more Damsel in Distress? C’mon.

Andrea: My eyes rolled when she did that. But–as y’all know–I’ve disliked the way Sookie’s been written and portrayed since I started watching this show. She becomes brattier and brattier as each week passes. Her reaction to what Tara expresses about Bill turning his back on her simply fortifies my opinion of her. As Tami rightfully pointed out last week, this is childishness masquerading as sassiness….which, as Sookie proves, has a tendency to curdle into said temper-tantrum throwing state.

I mean, Tara is supposed to be Sookie’s homegurl from back in the day, right? It would seem to me that Sookie could have at least paused when Tara told her what happened just to acknowledge that her dearest friend not only has gone through some atrocious shit but that the shit was exacerbated by her man. And that Tara still–still!–helps Bill out because Tara knows how much Bill matters to Sookie, then even kicks her man’s ass for almost killing Sookie. On the other hand, Sookie “not leaving without Bill” almost gets her supposed bestie Tara (not to mention her protector Alcide) killed. And that doesn’t register anything in Sookie but “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Again, Tara keeps proving she’s the better friend. I just think Tara needs better friends….like Alcide, who at least gave her the space to “relax” (and Tara nearly starts crying, which is a beautiful acting moment by Rutina Wesley) and put his arm around her when the doctor told Tara about Sookie’s condition and that Tara had to notify Jason’s dumb ass. Alcide barely knows Tara and still knows how to act like a friend.

Latoya: Yes, this episode was full of friendship fail.

I’m going to wash my brain out:

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Call for Submissions: ‘Dear Sister’ and ‘Occupied Bodies’

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Dear Sister: Call For Submission

Dear Sister is an anthology of letters and other works created for survivors of sexual violence from other survivors and allies.  It is a collection of hope and strength through words and art.

The pathway for a survivor of rape and sexual violence is an unlit road of pain, isolation, and doubt.  In the weeks, months, and oftentimes, years following, the healing process can be difficult to navigate without a community surrounding her. Imagine a compilation of literary arms bound together to offer words of understanding, solidarity, and love. Dear Sister is an accessible and inclusive offering of hope, voice, and courage; seeking writers and artists who wish to light a piece of that road and lift up other women in her healing.

It is an impossible task to write a letter to every survivor of rape, to every woman who lives with an invisible scar.  Instead of thinking of the face of the person you are writing to, reflect on the image of an unlit path, a road with no clear footing. Your offering will be one light, among many, to make visible what was previously unseen, to illuminate what was hidden.  You are providing a few more steps for someone to walk steadily toward their own recovery.  Your words can be an anchor, a meditation, a prayer, a strong embrace or a gentle touch. The purpose of this anthology is not to retell stories of assault, but to help others regain a sense of balance and wholeness. Continue reading

Off with his head, hipster racism & scapegoating poor folks: True Blood S03E06

Hosted by Thea Lim, featuring Tami Winfrey Harris, Joseph Lamour, Latoya Peterson and Andrea Plaid

Tara’s Escape, Sookie’s Rescue

Thea: Was it just me, or were there like a bazillion storylines going on this episode? I don’t remember ever seeing so many concurrent plot lines on this show before. I am impressed that they can all keep in straight. (What?? Did Thea just say something nice about True Blood??) But to start with our girl, goooooo Tara! I was pretty thrilled not only to see Tara taking her power back, but to see a woman rescue Sookie for once. What did we think of the scenes where Tara attacks Franklin and where Sookie and Tara take out the werewolf?

Latoya: I’m not going to lie: my very first, immediate reaction when Tara was like “Sookie, I’m here and we are going to get out of here-” was to put up the black power fist. Go Tara! Then my immediate, second, sarcastic thought was “Okay, so wait, Tara, after all she’s been through, *still* has to save Sookie? She has to fuck her abuser to get away and pluck Sookie from the pedestal?” Then Tara grabbed the mace and silenced my internal squabbling.

Andrea: I was thrilled how Tara used Franklin’s weaknesses–his “freakiness” and his vampiric aversion to daylight–to get away from him. (Though I’m going to be honest: James Frain’s voice is pure aural sex; this scene sealed this for me. I just wish this scene–really, all the Tara/Franklin scenes since their night at the motel–was much more consensual so I could hear his voice being better utilized, like agreed-upon dirty talk while sexing it up.) But I just thought Tara using the mace was like Tara being tied up: all for the visual shock. I just think Franklin’s going to wake up with a bad headache and even more physically vicious.

Thea: My movie watching companion was yelling “use the ax! take off his head!!” while Tara was bashing in Franklin’s skull. Methinks Franklin might survive the bludgeoning. In any case this was the goriest episode I’ve seen in a while.

Latoya: Oh me too – I was yelling at the TV “take the mace! Stake him to make sure he’s dead!”

Joe: Finally, this is the kind of Tara I love! Cunning, quick on her feet and clever. One thing though- you can only kill a vampire in the Sookieverse by cutting off the head or staking. Frankly, if you lived in a world with vampires, wouldn’t you think to know that, just in case? I’m totally afraid that he’s going to wake up and become abusive like we never have seen from him before- and coming from Franklin, that must and will be something awful.

Thea: Were the scenes of female kickback gratifying, hyperviolent, or just gross? Or all three?

Andrea: I didn’t feel a swell of girl power watching Tara and Sookie whupping that were-guard’s ass and escaping. I know that some commenters think I’m being a bit harsh about Sookie (like I care), but I think that sequence underlines off-centeredness about Sookie and Tara’s friendship: Tara’s trying to rescue her friend and Sookie’s trying to rescue her betraying (and quite foolish) man.   Continue reading

Looking at ‘Why Misogynists Make Great Informants’

By Thea Lim, cross-posted from Bitch Magazine

A lot of folks have been talking about Courtney Desiree Morris’ article in make/shift, “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements.” I read the whole thing over at the INCITE! blog. Starting from a discussion of Brandon Darby, an FBI informant who infiltrated groups protesting the Republican National Convention in 2009, Morris suggests that left wing movements are easy to infiltrate because they are uncritical of themselves. The uncriticalness that allows informants to infiltrate as long as they can appear devoted to the cause, is what also allows gender violence to go unchecked. Morris’ article provides definite food for thought, in terms of what we will put up with “in service of the movement” that we would never put up with elsewhere.

Morris says:

Maybe it isn’t that informants are difficult to spot but rather that we have collectively ignored the signs that give them away. To save our movements, we need to come to terms with the connections between gender violence, male privilege, and the strategies that informants (and people who just act like them) use to destabilize radical movements. Time and again heterosexual men in radical movements have been allowed to assert their privilege and subordinate others. Despite all that we say to the contrary, the fact is that radical social movements and organizations in the United States have refused to seriously address gender violence [1] as a threat to the survival of our struggles. We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils—secondary issues—that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues—racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression—are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities. Scratch a misogynist and you’ll find a homophobe. Scratch a little deeper and you might find the makings of a future informant (or someone who just destabilizes movements like informants do).

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