All posts by Thea Lim

Gratuitous Slave Imagery, Hobbit-Troll-Vampires & Team Jesus: Roundtable for True Blood S03E05

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

The cable gods stopped Latoya from joining us this week, but she promises to rant from the comments section.

Thea: Praise be that this episode was plot heavy, and not as violence-against-women heavy as last episode. I have to say this is the first episode I have enjoyed in a while. Damn you True Blood, for having that once in a while alluring episode that keeps me viewing through the shlock!

Ok, but obviously first things first: dear lord, whose idea was it to have the black woman fleeing a white Southern mansion in a Sojourner Truth outfit then get mauled by a dog (ok it was a werewolf, but it looked like a dog)? Do we buy that that was not a slavery reference – could the writers really be that culturally tone deaf (to their own damn culture!) to not see the significance of that image? And if they did see the significance of that image, why on earth drop it casually into an episode (and show) that has nothing to do with American slavery?

Joe: Ah Thea, you forget, southern black woman running away from an opulent mansion, hungry, barefoot AND bound with rope. Oh yeah, and being chased by animals.

Thea: Ugh.

Andrea: And I thought for two seconds that Cooter was going to rape her once he pushed her on the grass. Just. Too. Much.

Joe: Two of my white friends, (one who’s southern by the way) both said to me after the episode “When we saw Tara ‘running for freedom’, we basically did a double take.” Surely Rutina Wesley must of said something. Right? The writers absolutely have to know what that looks like.

Tami: Could be because I’m currently reading Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, about enslaved black women forced into relationships with their southern slave masters, but that was some seriously loaded imagery. I can’t imagine the director and editors of this episode didn’t see what was clear to nearly every commenter in cyberspace.

Andrea: It’s like what Mollena said about the Ciara/Justin Timberlake interracial BDSM-y video, that moment, IMO, was a cheat precisely because the writers knew the imagery was loaded.

Tami: Also disturbing was the naked disdain everyone at Chez Edgington had for Tara. I understand that vampires view humans as insignificant, but what was up with that “dusky little blood beast” stuff from Talbot? Again, contrast this treatment to the way Sookie moves in the vamp domain. Yes, she has sometimes been ignored and condescended to, but never spoken to like a dog. “Who’s a pretty girl?”

Andrea: Tami, I wanted to knee-kick Talbot in the chin for mock-cooing at Tara like that. And saying that while Tara was getting tied up by her abuser did not sit well with me at all. But I’m going to give Tara props for the deadly side-eye she gives to Talbot while he came at her like that. I think, if Franklin wasn’t tying her up, Tara would’ve delivered a knee-kick herself, vampire strength or not.

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Tough Black Women & Women in Refrigerators: the Roundtable for True Blood S03E04

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

Thea: So to start with the moment that had your faithful Racialicious True Blood team scratching their heads, what was with Franklin telling Tara that she could take being bitten and tied up because “she was tough”? Apart from the fact that that seems like textbook abusive behaviour (abuse, then flatter, or simultaneously abuse and flatter?) telling a black woman that she is “tough” and can take it, falls in step with oh so many bone-wearying stereotypes. Did that line spring out of the racial imagination of the TB writers, or are we reading a racial moment where there isn’t one?

Andrea: For some really strange reason, the abusive behavior isn’t cultivating a racial analysis…yet. Yes, this is a white man abusing a Black woman, but I’m not getting the weight of the white race/white privilege/white supremacy on Franklin and the weight of the Black race/Black oppression on Tara. I’m not jumping up with a “that’s so racist!” because it feels so singular in that it’s Franklin and Tara, and Franklin has proven to terrorize younger women (I’m thinking of the time Franklin freaks out Jessica here). So, my initial thought is, “This is some misogynistic/sexually violent shit!” I think I may have to look at the ep again for a racial reality check.

Joe: The “white” Tara (from the books) went through the same thing that the show Tara is going through so I’m not sure the whole concept of her being in an abusive relationship is racial (I’m hoping that doesn’t give anything away, future book readers) however, after the episode all I could think about is that Sojourner Truth getup Tara is wearing in the preview for next week. (see picture above)

Joe (continued): Does Franklin think he’s dating Celie from The Color Purple? What is with that outfit?!

Latoya: Joe, you wrong! But I have to admit, I thought the same thing when I saw her running across the field. I was on the couch like “run, Tara, run to FREEDOM!”

Andrea: I think Prince sums up my feelings about that outfit…

Joe, I haven’t read the books, so you didn’t ruin a thing for me.:-) But I think you may helped me with my racial analysis regarding Tara/Franklin. It goes back to my question that I asked on the last thread: even those this particular storyline is following the book rather closely (which I find interesting because I wonder how many other storylines are adhering to the book), doesn’t casting a Black actor color (no pun intended) some of what we’re viewing? Example: when Franklin is kidnapping Tara and driving her to Jackson, he tells her that she’s “tough” because he “could taste it in her blood.” If he would have said that to a white woman playing Tara, some white feminists would have been applauding and striking riot-grrl poses and typing riot-grrl posts. But he said it to Tara, played by a dark-skinned Black woman, which would get an “of course” from several white feminists and maybe a mixed reading from feminists of color, from the excoriation of the “Strong Black Woman” stereotype to the rah-rah-ing of same stereotype. And with a white guy saying it, it just falls into that corner of “liberal racism” in which some white people who sleep with PoCs think they can manifest it to us ‘coz consensual sex is, in their heads, license to say all sorts of assy things. Perhaps this is a case where “colorblind” casting goes awry?

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Quoted: Toi Derricotte on Cave Canem and Post-Racialism

By Thea Lim
We-are-Not-Post-Racial-Interview-with-Toi-Dericotte1

Toi Derricotte is one of the founders of the retreat for black poets, Cave Canem. Here are some excerpts of an interview with her by Elizabeth Hoover, for Sampsonia Way:

Derricotte: When I first started out as a poet, I was afraid of going to an artist colony because I was always the only person of color. The first time I went to one was in 1984. The day I arrived another black poet left. My whole time there, I was praying that another black poet wouldn’t come on the day I left—and they did. That’s the way people integrated then: one person at a time. It was degrading and not very compassionate.

Cave Canem gives poets a chance to talk about these types of experiences and form their own community. This way they know they are not alone and they are much more comfortable even in situations where they are the only person of color.

Hoover: Since the election of President Barak Obama there has been a lot of talk that we are in a “post-racial age.” Why do you think Cave Canem is still relevant?

Derricotte: Because we are not post-racial. This year at the Associated Writers Program’s conference almost no white people came to the Cave Canem panel. Things have changed in the sense that a lot of poets of color have been published and are teaching at great schools, but you can’t say that American literature represents in an integrated way the diverse voices of the American people. There are still these separations that have to do with class and money and power and race and all those things.

Hoover: Does Cave Canem implicitly support that segregation by being exclusive to black writers?

Derricotte: Look, the integration plan just hasn’t worked. In fact, this has worked better. There is more integration of black writers than before and that has to do with the visibility of Cave Canem. We have high quality writers because the program is so competitive. We get 150 applicants for 20 spots. People can’t buy their way in because we don’t charge tuition.

It also has to do with the way Cave Canem empowers its writers. Writers don’t grow in solitude. They get their confidence and they study their subjects in dialogue with other writers. If black writers are being forced into narrow categories then that dialogue is cut off. When you have brilliant people discussing literature or just the issues of being alive today, it’s very inspiring and it encourages you to keep writing.

Read the whole interview here.

Photo credit: by Alison Meyers, from Sampsonia Way

An Everyday Epic Battle: Pride Toronto, Blackness Yes, Israeli Apartheid and Sticking Together

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

I am from Toronto, though I now live in Houston.  I get most of my Toronto community news through Facebook, and I have been watching with disgust and amazement for the past two months as my Facebook feed has filled up with reports about Pride Toronto, Blackness Yes! – a community organization that celebrates black queer and trans history – and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

Long story short: Pride Toronto, which is an internationally famous week-long celebration of queer and trans pride, has made conscious or unconscious attempts to curtail the wholehearted participation of queer and trans folks of colour and their allies in Pride. They have attempted to relocate and shrink black-identified spaces, and they have banned QuAIA from participation in Pride 2010.  This year queer & trans people of colour (QTPOC) and their allies may participate in Pride, but only as long as they check their histories and politics at the door.  Short story long? Hang on to your hats, this is an epic tale.

Blackness Yes!

The first news I heard of this mess was in April, when the Blackness Yes! Blockorama party was asked to move by the Pride Toronto organizing committee for the third time in 4 years.

Blackness Yes! organizer Syrus M. Ware describes Blockorama and Blackness Yes!:

Since 1998 Blockorama has been a party at Pride where black queer and trans folks, their allies, supporters and people who love them came together to say no to homophobia in black communities and no to racism in LGBTQ communities. To say Blackness Yes at Pride – loud and proud…We have built Blockorama out of love, through sweat and toiling. For 12 years, we have claimed space, resisted erasure, found community, shared memories, built bridges, embraced sexuality, and found home. Blockorama is not just a party or a stage at Pride. It is a meeting place for black queer and trans people across North America- Blockorama is the largest space of its kind at any Pride festival on the continent.

Yet Pride Toronto has multiple times tried to move Blockorama further away from the main events, or relocated the party to smaller spaces that will not fit the huge crowds Blockorama draws.  Blockorama is a hugely important part of Pride, not only a black space where queer black folks go to party, but also a space that has always been immensely welcoming to non-black folks of colour.  Pride Toronto’s moves – whether or not they are racist – indicate a lack of sensitivity, care or even basic awareness of the size and meaning of Blockorama.

University of Toronto professor Rinaldo Walcott wrote this letter to the Pride Toronto organizing committee, upon news that Blockorama was to be moved again:

…at the same time that Pride Toronto has moved Blocko three times, Pride Toronto has also taken on the mantle of global human rights as its signature issue.

It is in fact the discrepancy between Pride Toronto’s treatment of local black communities participation in pride events and its attempt to position itself as a global player in the LGBTQ global rights movement that I find particularly offensive, disrespectful and unmindful of the very communities residing here that Pride Toronto would seek to champion overseas.

How can this be? How could it be that Pride Toronto did not see this ethical dilemma before it? Is it because Blocko is the last non-commercial space at pride? Is it because like much else in this country Pride Toronto too believes that black people as a constituency can be ignored? These are genuine questions, not accusations.

…We will not as black people here and globally stand to be exploited by white folks who now want it to appear that all is well at home, but not elsewhere.

On April 13 Blackness Yes! held a community meeting to protest these moves.  Deviant Productions, an alternative youth media collective, made a video of the meeting:

You can read a transcript of the video here.

In many ways this community mobilisation was successful.  3 days after the meeting, Pride Toronto agreed not to relocate Blockorama to a smaller venue for this year, and agreed to work with Blockorama, starting in July, to put a stop to the yearly migrations and find a permanent home for Blocko at Pride.

However negotiations are stalled around the matter of a dancefloor. This is a queer dance party, after all.

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Racialicious Presents…The True Blood Roundtable

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

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

We proudly (or shamefully?) present the True Blood roundtable.  And don’t worry, if the Racialicious Roundtable hex gets True Blood canceled, we promise to never roundtable another TV show again. And now, let us begin with True Blood Season 3, Episode 2: Beautifully Broken.

WARNING: SPOILERS!

Black Family Dynamics

Thea: So the first thing that popped out to me about this episode was Alfre Woddard as Lafayette’s mom…and of course the fourth member of this family would be institutionalised*, homophobic, xenophobic, racist and full of general hatred. Now, I don’t expect some kind of Cosby Show happy black family, but it continues to rankle me that the only family of colour on True Blood is so messed up. Or perhaps it’s not that they’re messed up, but that they’re messed up in a very flat, monochrome way, while the other families (if you think of Eric and Pam, Bill and Jessica, and Sookie and Jason as all families) seem to have much more fleshed out, good-and-bad dynamics.

And sidebar: There’s not much love or compassion for the mad people’s/people with disabilities movement on True Blood either…Lord, I hate it when TV shows use mental health institutions (I officially stopped watching House over their representation of an “asylum”). At least Meadowlands looked like a nice enough place.

Tami: Can we get a functional, true-to-life black person on True Blood? Just one? See here’s my problem with the “diversity” on TB: It’s like Alan Ball realized he had to do better than Charlaine Harris’ whitewashed Sookieverse (Harris wrote the books on which the HBO show is based.), but his solution was just to toss some stereotypical, one-dimensional characters into the town. Sassy, tough-talking, angry black chick? Check. Bible-thumping, “Oh, lawd!” hollering mama? Check. Large, stern black woman in public service profession? Check. Drug-dealing black man who frequently calls women “bitches” and “hookers?” Check. Ex-con who winds up with bullet in his brain. Checkitty check check. You know I love me some Lafayette as much as the next TB fan. His bon mots are my favorite. And I have been thankful that they have allowed him some depth and humanity. Nevertheless, when I look at Lafayette together with all the other black folks in fictional Bon Temps, I get a little queasy at how “typical” and uninspired the show’s portrayal of my people is.

Andrea: ::Stumbles in from watching all of the episodes in a week:: True Blood newbie joining the discussion here. So….those dysfunctional Negroes. I agree with you, Tami with every critique you have about Tara’s family. I also think a far more sinister message is getting played out via Tara’s fam: if Black folks don’t let go of their -isms and -phobias, they will be locked up in sanitariums. Bill having slaves? Groovy, because he’s renounced his evil ways and is trying to mainstream. Eric being a Nazi? Well, Eric *is* a vampire. Jason having all sorts of -isms and -phobias? Well, that’s aight because he’s, well, young, dumb, and full of cum. Arlene? Well, she’s coded as “poor white trash,” and, by extension, not having the educated sophistication to realize how “ignorant” she is. But none of the white characters suffer from debilitating mental illness because they’re holding on to bigoted views. They’re just quirky, lovable them. (/snark)

Latoya: I take a different view on this one . To me, the revelation that Tara’s family has a history of mental illness provided some much needed context and backstory to characters who were in danger of being sidelined. A lot of Tara’s development and characterization have been around how she has coped with her childhood – showing how her family has a history of mental illness provides even more depth to her mother’s struggle with alcohol, Tara’s own struggle, and why she and Lafayette can be so cold and secretive. They are doing it to protect themselves and hide their background. And considering mental illness in the black community gets so little attention (see here for some studies and discussions) I was glad to see it receive a frank discussion. These scenes weren’t played for laughs until Lafayette made that crack about the sexy attendant.

And while I will second Tami’s call for “a functional, true-to-life black person,” I have to say that any remotely functional, clear thinking person would have gotten the hell out of Bon Temps before the end of the first season.

Nazis and Political Subtexts

Thea: So, is True Blood taking inspiration from Twilight? Oh just kidding. Werewolves! Nazi werewolves! If vampire narratives are always about sex, what are werewolf narratives about?

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Danielle Evans on Talking Privilege While in Graduate School

By Thea Lim

From “Smart Conversations about MFA Programs” – though I believe you can apply Danielle Evans’ thoughts to many different academic programs:

4)      We should be able to have real conversations about privilege

We should be able to talk about both privilege within MFA programs and privilege that MFA programs grant attendants in the world at large. In workshop, I have seen women get talked over by men with louder voices, people of color pegged as militant for fairly pointing out a racist element in a story, even if they are echoing a critique made by white students, men praised for their empathy and ability to channel women’s voices in stories that would be dismissed as chick lit if they were turned in by female writers. More often though, I’ve seen a sort of benign neglect of work that gets pegged as “exotic,” – because of the author or characters’ class or ethnic background. I’ve seen people be very hands off on stories that needed a lot of work, because they weren’t quite sure what to do with them. It can be hard to get critical feedback from people who lack familiarity with the world you’re writing about…

I’ve also seen people argue with native speakers about words and phrases in other languages. Someone who had taken a few years of Spanish once insisted the word mija did not exist. For problems that are literally issues of the writer and the critic not speaking the same language,  there might not be much we can do beyond acknowledge it. However, at the level of character  motivation, we can be more insistent that workshop readers not assume the character’s race/class/sexuality explains why they make decisions the reader would never make, and not let demographic details stand in for actual characterization.  MFA programs didn’t invent hegemony, but that doesn’t mean they’re not an important place to look for ways to stop reproducing it.

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Ask Racialicious: How to Read and Respond to Literature of Colour

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

The Racialicious inbox received a very honest email from a writer currently enrolled in a creative writing program, with reference to the book Ms Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum.  Bynum waits until late in the book to reveal that Ms Hempel is a mixed race person of colour. This raised all sorts of queries for our questioner:

…when I write fiction, I write white characters.  When I read fiction I read them as white characters unless/until I am expressly told otherwise.  This feels like an ignorant move on my part but at the same time, I feel that that’s what I do because I am white, and that people of other ethnicities read fiction as their ethnicity (or perhaps not, since the field is dominated a lot by dead white guys, but that’s another issue), and they write characters as their ethnicity…

Which I suppose eventually comes to this question: am I to assume that a writer of color is writing stories about people of (their) color?  Am I to assume that the black woman in my class is always writing about black people?…[That] the gay writer is writing about the gay experience, or gay relationships? Was I supposed to assume that Shun-Lien Bynum was writing about an Asian character because her name is Asian?… (See how much of an ass I sound like right now?)This feels like a form of discrimination or stereotyping.  Why should I assume that just because a person is black that they’re going to write about black characters?  Do people of other races assume that white writers are always writing about white characters?  Or is that what we’re supposed to do, as writers and as readers?

I’m sure it’s obvious that I’ve been in a sort of bubble with this issue.  In my undergrad, there were only 2 nonwhite students in the creative writing classes I took, and in my MFA program there is only one.  It seems to be an issue that we skirt around in workshop, for fear of offending someone, perhaps…

This questioner had the fortune (or misfortune) of sending this to me: in case you didn’t already know, when I am not crusading on the internet, I too am a graduate student in a creative writing program.  Here are some amended excerpts from the earful and a half I sent back to our questioner:

As for your question: should we assume that all writers of colour are writing for themselves?

All writers have audiences that they are writing for, and it becomes evident who their audience is as soon as they get going. But because much of Great American Lit is written by white writers who are white-centric, much of Great American Lit is written for white folks. So the assumption grows that all audiences and all characters are white – sometimes readers are surprised when they realise all along they have been reading a nonwhite book.

I would say many white writers are not conscious that they are writing for a white audience, just as often in the media the word “everyone” or “regular American” or “the people” means (middle class, hetero, cisgendered, abled) white people. I have to disagree with your (qualified) assertion that generally readers will just assume that the character is of the same ethnicity as them. Rather, many readers of colour are hyperconscious of the fact that a Great Book is not addressed to them; for many of us* learning to appreciate literature requires an extra step that is not there for white readers: we have to learn how to find ourselves in work that may sometimes actively exclude us.
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Mixed Race Mess: Alicia Keys and Unthinkable Interracial Dating [Mixed Media Watch]

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

Alicia Keys loves drama – and no, I am not referring to her current lovelife (you’ll have to read a different kind of blog to get that gossip, unfortch), I’m referring to her music videos.  When it comes to star-crossed histrionics, both Keys’ music and videos always deliver the goods. Which I kind of like, most of the time; woman’s got a good set of lungs and a nice scrunchy crying-for-the-camera face.

But her latest video just gets on my nerves.  ”Unthinkable” stars Chad Michael Murray as Keys’ white lover, and shows reincarnations of the same interracial couple across several different decades, suggesting that from the 40′s up to today interracial relationships still face prejudice.

While I appreciate the way Keys uses time to show parallels between the racism of the past and the racism of the present, there are a few things about this video that strike me as deeply dishonest.  Broken down for your reading convenience, here are my issues:

1. Only black people hate interracial relationships!

Okay Ms Keys, why do you only have black people showing prejudice in this video?  From the 50′s to 70′s to the 80′s to the 00′s, all we see are black faces looking on at the Murray/Keys pairing with fury and even violence.  Oh no wait, we get a split second of a white cashier looking at black/white flirtation with disgust…and then it’s back to black folks.

A video doesn’t just pop out organically from the brain of its creator: someone makes very specific choices and then very specific casting calls to mark race in a video.  So why did Keys and her team choose to only show black people getting mad about the interracial love in this video?

This seems particularly problematic and dishonest in the “50′s” section of the video, where the optics, if you really look at them, are disquieting: a group of angry, bloodthirsty black men circle a defenseless white man with a puppy dog face.

So not only do we get a very racist portrayal of black people as aggressive and irrational in contrast to a lover-not-a-fighter white man, we get a profoundly skewed version of history.  Anyone with a 101 knowledge of Black History Month knows that in the 50′s it was black men, not white men, whose lives were in danger if they so much as looked at white women.  For some of our readers this will be well-trod ground, but let’s do a refresher just in case: Emmet Till was a 14 year-old black boy who was tortured and murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman.  And his story was not an anomaly; this happened to many black men.  So much so that an all-white jury took all of 67 minutes to acquit both Till’s accused murderers.  This didn’t happen in 1897, it happened in 1955.

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