All posts by Wendi Muse

We Want You. . . To Think Just Like Us [The Throwback]

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our newest feature, The Throwback, where we’ll spotlight some of our favorite pieces from the site’s history. First up, this August 9, 2007 piece on the collisions between perceptions of race in the U.S. and South America.

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

When most people think of American imperialism, they think of planting the stars and stripes deep into the soil of foreign lands. They think of economic dominance, the forced removal of government leaders, the exploitation of labor and resources.

But what causes less protest is often a form of Ameri-centric thought that stirs in the minds of many who fight its more tangible effects: Identity Imperialism.
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It’s Complicated: DJs, Appropriation, and a Whole Host of Other Ish

by Former Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Diplo

I’ve been following Diplo for some time, observing his work with appreciation, other times disappointment, and sometimes both at once. Back in the early days, when he was throwing warehouse parties in Philly, and later profiling DJs from around the world on his Mad Decent podcast (now a full-on record label and official site), Wesley Pentz was brazenly admitting to pirate-everything, right down to the clandestinely operated podcast itself. There was something refreshing and almost alluring about the nature of backpacking around the world with a passport and a tape recorder. Often considered a modern-day, musical Columbus, though his reputation for “discovering” new musical worlds would be one that would soon bite him where the sun doesn’t shine, Diplo made a name for himself by appropriating a variety of music and presenting it all with chameleon-like efficiency.

Some of you may know him for his production work on MIA’s first, albeit bootleg, album Piracy Funds Terrorism, a mashed up, remixed set of tracks which would later find themselves cleaned-up and repackaged on the official studio album Arular, or later for the Clash and Wreckx-n-Effect sampling “Paper Planes.”

However, he ultimate climax in Diplo’s fame has been in recent years, arguably months, with his promotion for Blackberry…

…and his collaborative work with UK producer Switch (producer for M.I.A. and Santigold) for the dancehall outfit Major Lazer.

But this month, Diplo’s spike in popularity came from a place slightly removed from his music by way of scathing criticism by a DJ named Iceberg Venus X. You see, much like other forms of appropriation (see: imperialism, colonialism, and popular use of cultural artifacts), a backlash always follows. Continue reading

Coloring Whiteness: POC Community Building and Mistaken Racial Identity

by Former Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Nina Garcia

I can count the days following Fashion Week on two hands, the same abacus I could use to count the women of color featured on its runways. Despite constant cries from communities of color, models, the press, and even many designers to increase diversity on the catwalk, progress is slower than the careful steps taken in a pair of Alexander McQueen heels. The fashion world is working at a snail’s pace to color its image, and even then, only by way of appeasement, tiny bits to the masses so that they are temporarily satisfied. But among those scraps, people become desperate, sometimes seeing glimmers that hope that are far from it, and yearning for some acknowledgment from those who have little connection to their plight despite presumed allegiance.

To cite a specific example, one need look no further than the coverage of one of the most poignant protests of fashion’s alienation and exclusion of black fashion editors (and, not-so-tangentially, models and designers) on the opening day of Fashion Week. One of the participants noted that the only prominent woman of color in the business and publishing side of the fashion industry was Marie Claire Fashion Director and Project Runway judge Nina Garcia (pictured, at top).

I stopped reading for a moment. Since when is Nina Garcia a woman of color? Continue reading

Goodbye, Racialicious

wendi bio picAfter writing for Racialicious since 2007, when Carmen Van  Kerckhove asked me to come on as a Special Correspondent, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to end my time with the site. It was certainly a difficult decision for me, having been invested in its mission since my first read in 2006 after Carmen came to speak at NYU about race in the media. I remember realizing that when I agreed to write regularly for the site, I was signing onto something amazing, something that would certainly change the way Americans think about and discuss race, ethnicity, and many other factors of our daily lives through an easily accessible, though analytical, lens. Indeed, my realization was right.

Writing for Racialicious opened up many opportunities for me and helped shape the way I personally view race in America by allowing me to flesh out my thoughts with words for public consumption. I had an amazing time working with all parties involved in making the site what it was and has become, and I am forever appreciative of all the feedback, be it critical or full of praise from the readers here.

Though I am saying goodbye to Racialicious, I am not disappearing into thin air or becoming a hermit. In fact, I still write, though in a completely different facet. Focusing on the love affair between music and fashion, and in particular, music as a soundtrack of our lives, I now channel my thoughts and energy through the content of my own site Retail DJ. On Retail DJ, I post music from DJs all over the world and conduct interviews of designers, musicians, DJs, and even fashionistas right off the street from my own backyard (NYC) and other parts of the globe (I have interviews and photoshoots of folks in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the UK, and Brazil on the way!). It’s a truly exciting venture—my baby, if you will—of which I am very proud and honored to share with everyone.

Despite my new direction, however, I still think about race, gender, sexuality, and all those –isms that many of us know well because, quite frankly, I live them. At least now I have had Racialicious as an outlet through which I could try to gain more understanding of what all those aspects of my identity and those of others even mean. Let’s just say, “it’s been real.” I will miss all of you and wish you continued success in both writing and taking the risk to discuss this thing we call race.

- Wendi Muse

Confusion in the Come-on: Racial Assumptions in Random Places

confusion-newby Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

From the annoying “hey shorty” and vulgar comments about my pouty lips to the more polite “Good morning, beautiful,” catcalls are a nuisance. Much like stereotypes, even the so-called “positive” ones can be frustrating and equally as demeaning as they reduce one’s existence solely to the physical. In addition, they remind those on the receiving end of the comments or calls that they are there for the speaker’s visual—and in some extremes, physical— indulgence. Despite whatever clever or biting retort the receiver of the comments or calls may deliver, the person is still only reacting, not having delivered the initial blow that can have long term effects on one who is often subjected to engaging in such an unwarranted exchange of words.

Yet beyond catcalls and more public displays of adoration, there is the party approach. More intimate and certainly holding more potential, being approached at a party makes the stakes go up a bit. The possibility of seeing this person again or something real developing from a conversation, even if it just means a good friendship, is far more likely in this case than in an exchange with some stranger on the corner or someone ogling you on the train.

The negative side of this is that in the development that comes from this closer contact, there’s also more of a likelihood for things to get deeper in a way that is far less enjoyable. One of those uncomfortable topics for me is race.

I’ve written about this before— from being mistaken for other ethnic or racial groups to being mislabeled and forced to defend my own heritage both here and in other countries. In other words, it happens a lot. Questions like “What are you?” “Are you certain you’re not____?” and “Are you part______?” come up all the time, contingent on little phenotypic changes like my hair, my skin color, and facial features to even more superficial things like my makeup choices, my accessories, and my outfit. Going further, however, even things like my speech pattern, education level, and group of friends can contribute to the outside world’s determination of which ethnic/racial group(s) I belong for the day. As frustrating as this may be, it’s telling of something that extends far beyond a mistaken identity. It’s also a testament to the changing way we determine racial groupings in this country—particularly in ways we often attribute to other countries but rarely give thought to our having used in our own.
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Will Race Matter? Projections on America’s Racial Future

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Latoya recently alerted me to a piece in Newsweek on the changing face of race in United States. Author Ellis Cose opines in his brief but compelling piece “Red, Brown, and Blue” that, as a result of the shifting statistics of people of color vs. whites in the U.S., the nation needs to pay closer attention to what the implications of such data could be and push beyond the oversimplified assumption that this means that whites will magically become a numerical and political minority:

So what [do these statistical projections and evidence of more interracial interaction] mean for the future America? At the very least, it means two things: that whites are not in danger of becoming a minority in the foreseeable future because the white category (or its equivalent) will likely expand to encompass many we now consider to be minorities. But more important, race is not going to be quite as big a deal as it is now; in the America of tomorrow—whatever people decide to call themselves—race will not be synonymous with destiny. That’s a future worth embracing.

In recent weeks, I have covered the impact of 19th century assimilation on the present generations of Euroethnics/”white ethnics” (i.e. descendants of Italian, Irish, or Eastern European immigrants, among others) and its subsequent contemporary rejection by some subcultures in my piece “What MTV’s Jersey Shore Means for White America,” and earlier, noted the resurrection of such whitening tactics as utilized by black job seekers in light of the recession in the piece “The Melting Pot 2009: Job Applicants Choose Assimilation as Means of Economic Survival.” So after reading the Cose piece, I jumped at the chance to discuss it. Here, we have an author who, after taking statistical information about race among other data, goes on to theorize that, one day, race will not be “quite as big a deal” and “not synonymous with destiny.” Yet is his projection a bit premature? Continue reading

What MTV’s Jersey Shore Means for White America

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

I admit that, despite its train wreck-like qualities (which Racialicious Special Correspondent Arturo so dutifully detailed in his post ”Jersey Shore’: Believe the Hype“), I really enjoy watching MTV’s newest reality show Jersey Shore. In its attempt to portray the summer activities of a group of guidos and guidettes, the male and female versions of a subculture that sprang from groups of Italian-American youth only to spread like wildfire to a variety of other ethnicities, primarily in the northeastern region of the United States, MTV has created reality tv gold for people like me. In a voyeuristic way, I have always liked peering inside the television versions, albeit edited, of others’ lives. Jersey Shore is no different on the surface, really, though this show is a bit of an exception in another way. Unlike its glossy counterparts, The Real World, My Super Sweet Sixteen, and The Hills, Jersey Shore takes on an explicit case of ethnicity as its main focus. Sure, there are typical displays of salacious summer behavior: hot tub hook-ups, drunkenness, and a lot of semi-nudity. Where Jersey Shore differs, however, is in its cultural significance.

When I say “cultural significance,” I am not implying that archives of Jersey Shore episodes will make it into the annals of American life to be uncovered centuries from now. But what I mean here is that the show and those who participate in the guido/guidette subculture who also identify as Italian-American are making the choice to articulate their take on their ethnic identity through behaviors, styles of dress, and other aesthetic expressions despite Italian-Americans having been long-accepted as whites. In an odd way, this privilege of whiteness that was gained by the Jersey Shore cast’s ancestors by way of legal battles and hardcore assimilation in the past is exactly what gives them the privilege to then assert fabricated markers of their ethnicity in the present. Continue reading

Have a Merry Colored Christmas: Tales of Holiday Racial Exclusion

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

This weekend, my mother called me on my cell phone, a bit frantic over Christmas gift shopping:

Mom: I have no idea what to get Lacey [one of my young cousins]. She has everything!

Me: Why don’t you get her a book, Mom?

Mom: Well I am here at the store, and all the books I keep finding only have pictures of little white girls. No brown children like Lacey!

Me: Well, you could always color them in.

Mom: Yeah, but the fact that I even have to…

Almost every holiday involves a conversation that goes something like that in my family. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Easter, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day . . . you name it. Decorations, cards, and even gift wrap tends to forget that non-white people exist. When greeting card companies, toy stores, and all parties involved in the corporate holiday conspiracy to make us max our credit cards and pull out all our hair do decide to include people of color, they all look the same. All the black children have medium-brown skin and dark curly ‘fros (or Afro-puffs), all “Asians” become East Asian and are a faint yellow with straight black bobs, Latina/o children all become some derivative of Dora the Explorer, and children of other ethnicities somehow cease to exist. I give them credit for getting much better over the years. When I was young, even the aforementioned groups were virtually ignored, save the occasional black child featured on those “We Are the World” stick figure style Christmas cards.

It got to the point that just in order to make sure that holiday cards were appropriate for my family members, my mother and I would break out my box of Crayola colored pencils and use various shades of brown, yellow, and beige to get the skin colors right. Every momentous occasion involved a DIY craft project in the Muse household.

But now, in an era in which multiculturalism is more lauded by the powers that be in the merrymaking process (possibly because they recognized that POC had buying power and were active holiday consumers just like whites), it’s sad that we, as members of minority groups or even white parents and families who want to create a more inclusive environment for their children (and their kids’ friends), have to face the reality that there may not be a card, wrapping paper, or even a toy that is physically representative of non-whites.

Or if there is, there can be a tiring amount of digging involved. Mattel recently launched a new set of Barbies and have had Asian-American, Latina, and Black Barbies available for quite some time as well as their collectors’ set of international Barbies. Though Mattel’s nod toward expansion and inclusion has prompted several complaints, many of which you can find on this very site. The greeting card companies, as I mentioned earlier, have also improved, but I am still waiting to see people of color on cards beyond the special “ethnic” card section (which, even then, is only limited to black people, much like those ridiculously labeled “ethnic” hair care aisles. Wait, where are the Irish-American hair care products when you need them?!??!!). The same could be said of Christmas ornaments (painting the tree-topper angel was often easier than finding a brown one).

It is my hope that these improvements continue, and as I mentioned earlier, I give companies credit for their recent attempts to be more inclusive, particularly considering that some countries still face this issue in more glaring ways that we (For example, in Brazil, dolls of color are harder to come by. Most of the dolls are white with blonde hair and blue eyes, despite the significant phenotypic diversity of the population), but little moments like my mother’s phone call remind me that finding presents or gift accessories on which a person of color is one of the main points of focus, the protagonist, the central figure can be surprisingly still hard to come by.