All posts by Wendi Muse

SBF Seeks Social Validation: Why Are So Many Black Women Single?!?!?

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

I am 26 years old, have a college degree, and middle class. I am typically well-dressed and well-groomed. I have never been called ugly, quite the opposite, and I speak several languages. I am nice, courteous, and well-spoken. My big “flaw”? I’m black, female, and single.

At least according to the world of Helena Andrews, whose classist, heteronormative, and strikingly self-defeatist attempt at explaining the “Big Marriage Gap” (from now on referred to as the “BMG”) for black women in comparison to their non-black female peers in their 20s and 30s, is not only oversimplified, but a typical regurgitation of anecdotes about black female dating (or lack thereof) we see in the news every few months. While Nadra pointed out most of the flaws in Andrews’ reasoning in her piece “Successful, Black and Lonely,” the first of several Racialicious pieces on Andrews’ original article for the Washington Post, I plan to venture away from criticism and more into the territory of uncovering the elusive “why” Andrews so poorly investigates.
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Dear SNL, It’s Time to Retire Virginiaca

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

“There’s mama drama at the mall!”

Do you ever just want to throw a very heavy object toward your television? I don’t even own a functioning television at present, using my laptop instead to get caught up on all the shows I miss (thanks Netflix, ABC, NBC, MTV, etc etc), but I still want to throw something very heavy and with a lot of force towards the LCD screen when Keenan Thompson comes onto the set of Saturday Night Live. Most of his depictions of black people, be they male or female, are racist and steeped in tired, overused stereotypes. When I see Keenan in drag, however, I become even more enraged because, considering the already heavy dark cloud of negative stereotypes of black women in film and on tv, I don’t think a black man needs to be adding to the fray simply because SNL hasn’t cast a black woman since, to the best of my recollection, Ellen Cleghorn (it’s sad that I even had to GUESS this!). Former cast member Maya Rudolph, who is of a multiracial background (she is the daughter of  the late singer Minnie Riperton and producer Richard Rudolph), often played black female characters, but in a way that I felt was often humorous without being offensive. Thompson, however, cannot seem to follow in Rudolph’s footsteps. Continue reading

The Melting Pot 2009: Job Applicants Choose Assimilation as Means of Economic Survival

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

melting potWhen I hear the words Ellis Island, one of the first things I think of is not the New York point of interest or tiring travel across waters to reach the grand goal of the U.S. of A. and its related Dream. The first words that come to mind for me are “name changes” and “assimilation.” But with the recent economic crisis and the lagging recovery process, Ellis Island comes to mind. Only this time, instead of Eastern Europeans, Italians or the Irish knocking on the door of American opportunity, only to learn that their identities must be altered or ensconced, their traditional cultures erased for the sake of infinitely approaching some Nordic white ideal, the group scrambling for the promised land of economic security and job market acceptance is black.

That’s not to say that blacks in America have never sought assimilation as a means of achieving social acceptance and equality, in fact both during and following slavery, some black Americans employed various methods of mirroring the white majority as they recognized it could mean a chance at social and class mobility. Black immigrant groups arriving to America also faced a similar challenge. Having lived in countries where race-based terminology and categorization, media representation, and general opinion of blacks may have varied from those in the United States, only to arrive and gain an externally-defined identity based on perceptions of black Americans, black immigrants may also have felt or still feel the pressure to change or deny elements of their culture, nationality, ethnicity, and ultimately race.

In the aftermath of the recession, as the competition for the limited jobs that are available has sharpened, few applicants have room for error. Unfortunately for blacks living in the United States, one possible means of avoiding the potential disaster of not even getting a foot in the door at hiring companies is deleting any and all signs of their race. It is common knowledge that “ethnic sounding” names or, in other words, names that are not of Western European, particularly Anglo-Saxon origin, often lead to discriminatory hiring practices.* Even among these names, there are specific ethnic groups whose names are least welcome in the corporate world. Unfortunately, blacks are often the common victims of this discrimination, the bearers of African-American names, despite their qualifications, often being relegated to the bottom of the résumé stack. 

However, most of the fears of being rejected from job opportunities are spread through anecdotes or are the result of self-fulfilling prophecy based on a perception of inadequacy from simply being black (i.e. assuming the hiring party is white and would not be interested in taking on a black employee, thus not applying for the job at all), research often following as a result. Several studies comparing the successes (or lack thereof) of blacks and their white peers have been conducted (particularly as a means of measuring the success of affirmative action policy implementation and its continued need), though all ended with the same result: even with equal levels of educational and occupational experience, white candidates are more likely to be hired following the interview process than blacks. Continue reading

Shopping with Squaws: Irregular Choice Gives Itself a Bad Name

squaw shopper bagby Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

I have to give companies credit for coming up with unusual names for the merchandise. One such company that comes to mind is Irregular Choice, a flamboyant Britain-based shoe company who goes all out to wow consumers. With asymmetrical heels, bizarre accessories, and designs that stop traffic, Irregular Choice is the Lady Gaga of the shoe world. The company has worked diligently to combine a little humor, a lot of fun, and heaps of quality in its lines, year after year. With its flagship NYC Soho store, it graced American shores with one of the best British invasions since the Beatles. Let’s just say I’ve always been a big fan.

But every now and then, in their attempt to be cute, they sometimes go over the border of taste. And I am not just talking about the shoe designs. I am talking about the names.

On occasion, shoes pop up with ethnic names. Take, for example, their “Latin Lady” shoe from a previous collection. The black shoe was covered in tropical fruit (a la Carmen Miranda) and, while appealing to the eye, the name seemed a little off.

For this season’s collection, the mouth-open moment came with a (hideous) purse I noticed on the site. With its blue shredded shingles and background of miniature prints of cartoon natives, the “Squaw Shopper” takes the cake, winning an A+ in offensive. Maybe if this were the 1950s and this bag were geared to children it wouldn’t be so shocking, but in 2009, the jig is up. What’s most offensive is that they used the word “Squaw” in the name. They could have named it something else that touched on the whimsical indigenous theme without resorting to an offensive term. Maybe this is some sort of Thanksgiving joke I missed?

Although, offensive bag name aside, kudos for their snarky jab at MTV via men’s shoes “Justin Bobby” and “Prattster”  (in reference to the “reality” show The Hills) and “Gangsta Grill” (referring to almost any popular rap song from 2006-07 that came out of the South).

Can anyone else think of a better name for this bag, if that’s even worth it?

New Moon: Old Story?

new moonby Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Most people talk about the fans. They are typically teenage girls screaming, crying, fainting at the sight of the pallid Robert Pattinson (who plays the Byronic hero Edward Cullen, a vampire who strives to avoid his bloodthirsty desires for the sake of preserving humanity). Now with the post-pubescent buffing up of another of the film’s protagonists, Jacob Black, a werewolf of indigenous heritage whose newfound strengths provide him with the ability to preserve a treaty to quell violence between the werewolves and vampires (played by Taylor Lautner), there’s a new boy on the block for inducing total fan chaos. But with the onslaught of abs and a new love interest for Bella Swan (the pathetic protagonist and central female love interest played by Kristen Stewart), there is a recycling of roles for actors of color that are far from new.

If anything, the title itself adds an ironic twist to a tale that spirals into a stereotypical narrative to which we are all well-conditioned by now, both in films and other more readily-available media in our every day lives. Have you ever heard something along the lines of “dating someone who is [insert ethnic/racial group] ok, but you’d better not marry one!” or “Native Americans are so in touch with nature!”? Have you ever seen a film or tv show that relegated the person of color as the trusty sidekick, loyal friend, or temporary romantic plaything, only then to have the white hero enter in medias res and get all the praise and attention? Have you ever seen a piece from an ad campaign or historical policy discussions in which non-white people are portrayed as animalistic, in both their behavior, thought processes, and athletic ability? Have you, as a person of color, or if you are not, any of your POC friends, ever complained of feeling that their societal value was reduced to their physical appearance or a specific body part?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you have already seen New Moon. Continue reading

What Do We Want?

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

One of the things that is constantly on my mind while I am blogging here is, “What do we want?” It’s a question regularly flung at groups outside of the dominant culture when they launch a complaint against some effort to appease them. But I, too, often ponder what the end result, the ultimate ideal, would be for people like me who write about race and the readers who digest the work and diligently comment. While I recognize that the question itself is huge and can have a whole slew of answers, I tried to come up with some of my own in order to get the ball rolling.

The sad part is that this was a practically impossible task. In attempting to answer, I simply came up with more questions.

How can I put into words the future that I want for children growing up generations beyond mine? How can my own personal wishes even be reflective of what may be useful, necessary, or even relevant in a time that I cannot see materialized in front of me?

But then I thought that maybe there was a way to synthesize some of the things that the voices here express all the time into a set of values that we want for the future.

1. Fair and Equal Media Representation
Let’s face it: people of color in film, print, and televised media are not fairly represented, if represented at all. We often fall into a set of stereotypes, simple tropes that have been regurgitated for centuries. Some of them are so widely used and accepted that they are sometimes completely impossible to discern, particularly by those who do not have a vested interest in studying, writing, or thinking about this stuff in the first place.

But even then, the frequency of these stereotypes is tiring and affects us all in ways that are beyond our powers to remedy just in creating awareness. In fact, sometimes, the awareness itself can be dangerous. It makes viewing any form of media a tiring process, one from which all joy has been removed, any element of comedy or surprise absent. Additionally, viewing films, watching shows, and reading the paper and magazines can make us hyper aware. We can then suffer from media fatigue, a side effect of which is perpetual unhappiness regarding any and all portrayals of people of color in the media, even the ones that may be worthwhile. We begin to pick apart even the most honest attempts at creating change or presenting fair portrayals of communities of color, which results in even more stereotypes, one of them being that people of color are constant complainers who can never be satiated.

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The Brazil Files: Bela or Bust Part 3 – On Race

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Continued from “Bela or Bust Part 2 - On Class” . . .

“We always want what we can’t have,” so the saying goes, a saying that is most fitting to describe the intersection of race and the significance of beauty in Brazil. Though many Americans think of a raven haired, dark-eyed, sun-kissed, bronze “cutie with a booty,” the standard for physical beauty in Brazil is anything but. In fact, when it comes to looks, fair skin, light eyes, and straight, blonde hair spell attractive forwards, backwards, and sideways.

When asked of the women by my male friends, as I mentioned in the introduction of this series, my reply was often what they were not expecting to hear, nor were my descriptions of the food, weather, and my ability to walk around freely, unmolested by criminals. The Brazil so many people were expecting could not be found in the stories I told. But even I was in for some surprises, one of them being how white film, television, magazines, and many other forms of media happened to be.

The surprise was not that whites were all over the television. Brazil has a large white population, made up primarily of several generations of Italians, Germans, and Portuguese, not to mention Spaniards, Syrians, Lebanese, Britons, and a few more recent French stragglers. Yet the concentration of said whites is its highest in the southern region of Brazil which, as a result of having a less slavery-dependent more immigrant labor-dependent economy, happens to be more wealthy, developed, and progressive than most of the states in the northern region, where poverty is at its worst. The surprise for me was that in comparison to Brazil’s diverse population, even diverse in terms of what was deemed white, television did not come close. The majority of people who were protagonists on television programs, at least those set in Brazil and not including foreign-based film or television programs (i.e. imported American or European sitcoms and reality shows) were practically Nordic – light eyes, light skin, and light hair.

While Brazilian tv has become increasingly more diverse over the years, as has the business of product promotion and advertising, it nevertheless continues to rely on whiteness to sell an image of success, wealth, and happiness. When coupled with the reality that whites still hold the majority of the nation’s wealth and political power, this image is all the more unsettling. Not only does the whiteness serve as shorthand for all these things, but with class as a determining factor of general worth, whiteness comes at a special premium. It means you’re automatically beautiful as well.

If I had a dollar for every time someone fawned over olhos claros (light eyes) or loiras (blonde women), I would be a billionaire. Bottle blondes, or in other words, women with dark hair who ended up with that unfortunate orange hue on their heads instead of flaxen, sandy, or gold, could be spotted in high numbers, as could the men who broke their necks with their passing. But most of all, there is the business of hair straightening. If one is not already born into whiteness, and cannot fit into the quintessential beauty associated with those on the lightest end of the spectrum, hair is one way to come infinitely close. Continue reading

Barack Obama: Black & Lucky

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

I recall hearing once that success is where preparation and opportunity meet. Apparently this expression is not suited for the President of the United States. Obama’s moments of success in office, according to some, are occurring simply because he is, well, black and lucky . . . just like Felix the Cat:

President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US as he takes a well-earned summer break after just over six months in the world’s biggest and toughest job.

This quotation comes to us hot off the presses and a hop, skip, and a jump across the pond from columnist Niall Ferguson of London’s Financial Times. He has even blessed us with a nice little image in case some of the Financial Times readers are too young to know about the housecat named named Felix who is a cartoon and not a great club DJ:

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Felix the Cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat! Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks!”

So IS President Obama simply black and lucky like our lovable cartoon friend? Or is there actually something he learned during his academic experience and political career that may have helped him along the way? I am not sure what to think, really, or even how I am writing this article. After all, being literate must be a good case a luck, right?

For more info, check out these pieces in The Huffington Post and on The Cartoon Brew. Also, check out this follow up on the Joker piece: “Listen Up, Lou Dobbs: ‘Socialist’ and the N-Word” by Carlos Watson.