Category Archives: appearances

“You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese”

“So, I asked my news director … over the holidays if anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in? And he said, ‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.’ He said ‘Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that because of your Asian eyes, I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, you look disinterested and bored.’

So, what am I supposed to say to my boss? I wanted to cry right then and there. It felt like a dagger in my heart, because all of my life I wanted to be a network anchor.”

– Julie Chen, host of “The Talk,” on her decision to get plastic surgery early in her reporting career

Originally Amalia

Image Credit: Suuraa Qeerroo

Image Credit: Suuraa Qeerroo on Flickr

By Guest Contributor Amalia Clarice Mora; originally published at Feminist Wire

Life is easier, kinder, and more lenient when you are white, and this may be why George Zimmerman decided to downplay his mestizo origins and identify as white/white Hispanic during the Trayvon Martin trial.  Zimmerman is a partially white half-Hispanic, and as such he was already closer to whiteness and the privilege it grants than Martin ever could have been. But perhaps Zimmerman knew that just being a partially white mestizo wouldn’t win him an acquittal, and so he decided to identify with a category of “really” or “fully” white people who would sympathize more with a white man whose actions reflected his (and their) fears of black America.

When I was growing up in Los Angeles during the 1990s, “really” or “fully” white meant Northern-European looking. Aryan looking. Those with the combination of an olive complexion, a “big” or “bumpy” nose, and black hair were not “really” white.  These “not really white” people included individuals belonging to groups officially labeled “Caucasian” (i.e., Eastern European Jewish, Arab, Middle Eastern, Southern Italian, or Central Asian), as well as mixed raced people with a partially white background. They were the “sort-of white” people, because of their official racial status or their mixed race background, but “not white” in the way people treated and perceived them. The “sort-of whites” were put into an ambiguous “other” pile and were constantly asked (like many other non-white Americans): “Where are you from? I mean—originally?” “Sort-of whites” never felt really truly American, and those of Middle-Eastern, Arab, and Central Asian descent faced the most discrimination from peers, not only because of the way they looked, but also because their families were recent immigrants.

Discrimination against “dark-ish” immigrants in the U.S. is as old as the country itself. White Americans have always had a socioeconomic interest in proving that they are the “real” Americans with the right to establish and control institutions. The category of white, in regard to European immigrants, was relatively fluid until the mid-nineteenth century, when it became restricted to individuals of Anglo-Saxon origin. Europeans perceived to be of the darker “variety” (e.g., Polish, Jews, Italians) occupied a kind of “in-between” space when it came to racial identity and designation. The official status of “in-between” “sort of whites” of European, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian descent changed to “white” in the twentieth century, yet many people belonging to this category still don’t feel “really” white. The more purportedly “Arab” or “ethnic looking” they are, the more they feel and are treated as non-white.

I have experienced what it is like to be a “sort-of white” person because of my racial background,  my upbringing, and the way I look. My dad is Mexican-American of mostly Amerindian descent and my mom is of German, Scottish, and Cherokee descent.  Ethnically and culturally speaking, in other words, I am partly white. Many Mexican-Americans I knew growing up were either poor or lower-middle class and experienced economic as well as cultural marginality. My family wanted my sister and me to feel American, not marginal. Ensuring this meant ensuring that we were imbued, at least partially, with what had become a Euro-centric English-speaking white culture. This culture has always been institutionalized as American. Other American traditions, other holidays, values, philosophies, and languages, have been systematically excluded, never allowed to become American. This is why black, Hispanic, and Asian cultures, despite having had a firm presence in America for generations, are still “hyphenated” cultures. Though I was surrounded by the Spanish language, Mexican food, music, and holidays growing up, I was also exposed to homogenized, anglicized, and middle-class American culture. And this may be why some of my Mexican-American/Chicano friends and acquaintances can’t always relate to me— to the part of me that has, in their eyes, “become white,” culturally speaking.

My physical appearance, however, has shaped the “sort-of whiteness” I experience most explicitly. Many people in the U.S. don’t think I look Hispanic, and usually assume I am of some other “dark,” “brown,” or “sort-of white” ethnicity.  As a result, white acquaintances often feel free to make invidious jokes or derogatory remarks about Mexican people in front of me. Some make these jokes and remarks knowing my ethnic and cultural background, but perhaps they assume that the access to whiteness I have because of my physical appearance will make me indifferent to their cruelty.

Though my appearance has often allowed me to avoid anti-Hispanic prejudice, it has exposed me to the kind of prejudice some “sort-of white” people face. Conflating nationality, race, and religion, many people in the U.S. lump Middle Eastern, Central Asian (and sometimes South Asian) nationals, Arabs, and Muslims together into one category of “darkish” or Muslim-ish” looking people. Many people in the U.S. assume I belong to this group, and have discriminated against me, accordingly.

When I was in my early teens, a few white acquaintances tried to insult me by calling me the “Armenian chick,” and made fun of the bump on my nose saying it was ugly and Persian or “Middle Eastern” looking. In college, I received an anonymous email, and attached to it was a picture of two naked women. Both women were lying down, legs spread, vaginas center stage. One woman was a blonde whose pubic and leg hair had been shaved. The other was an older dark-skinned Arab woman, unshaven. Under the Arab woman a caption read, “Here’s what they have,” and under the blonde woman, “Here’s what we have.” It hurt even more when some Hispanic and African Americans began discriminating against my sister and me post 9/11, perhaps eager to finally feel like they could become part of the American “us” versus the hyphenated “them.” In one incident, a man yelled at my sister while she was walking down the street, “Get out of my way, you Arab bitch.”

In no way am I implying that I have experienced what it is like to be Arab, Muslim, or Middle-Eastern in the United States. Moreover, I recognize the advantages I’ve had as a person perceived to be “sort-of white,” “part” white, or “brown-ish,” as opposed to the more explicit and cruel forms of hatred and institutionalized racism that those perceived to be “fully” non-white experience. My point here is to show how the mixed race, partially white, and/or “sort-of white” experience can reveal how problematic and exclusionary American understandings of whiteness are, and, therefore how real and severe the problem of race still is.

Even many individuals of Southern European and Eastern European Jewish descent still don’t feel fully American because of the way they look. Some of my friends and acquaintances that belong to this group have obtained plastic surgery or blonde streaks in an effort to “Aryanize” themselves. This means that even though they have, to a certain extent, become white culturally and in official rhetoric, they have not become white physically or psychologically. And if they still don’t feel American because they don’t feel fully white, then what does this mean for everyone else?

It means that whiteness has not become more inclusive. It means that whiteness welcomes and rewards those willing to hide, downplay, or remove traces of ethnic features, traditions, or origins (read: George Zimmerman). And it means that those who have no chance of being even semi-included in this exclusionary privileged club (read: African Americans), become even more marginalized and even more non-white than before. It means that the closer one is to being black, the harder, harsher, and more unjust life will be.

When they were growing up, my dad and step-mom both faced discrimination and feelings of inferiority because of their poverty and ethnicity. During a recent dinner table conversation, they told me that they have always hoped that I would never experience shame. Shame is debilitating yet persuasive in its ardor, like a jealous friend. Shame keeps us company in the hide-out it has forced us into. I didn’t want to upset my dad and step-mom, so during the discussion, I didn’t reveal to them that throughout most of my life I have experienced a great deal of shame in regards to the racism I have experienced. I have felt and still feel misunderstood by those who perceive me to be too “Middle-Eastern-ish,” “not Chicana enough,” or “not white enough.” I am often asked why my name, Amalia, isn’t spelled with an accent, the way it is spelled in Mexico. And I am often asked, “What kind of name is Amalia—I mean originally?”

Lately, I have been trying to use my personal experiences to help challenge understandings of American whiteness and race. Lately, I have been responding to this question by saying, “Amalia is an American name.” Its ambiguity is part of the Middle Eastern story I am assumed to have. Its lack of accent is part of my assimilation story, part of my white story. And its accent fills in the confused space that is my México.

They say shame starts to lose its poison when it is turned into a story. And so I try.

 

References

Behad, Ali. 2005. A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ignatiev, Noel. 1996. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge.

Jacobson, Mathew Frye. 1999. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Roediger, David. 2005. Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs. New York: Basic Books.

Samhan, Helen Hatab. 1999. “Not Quite White: Race Classification and the Arab American Experience.” In Arabs in America: Building a New Future, edited by Michael W. Suleiman. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

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Amalia Mora photographAmalia Clarice Mora is a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her doctoral research examines how tensions related to class, caste, and gender are negotiated within the context of music tourism in Goa, India. Her other research interests include interracial attraction and mixed race experiences in the U.S., and how sociocultural anxieties related to both manifest themselves in unofficial discourse and texts, such as rumor and internet comment sections.

Dark Girls: A Personal Story

By Guest Contributor Kiana Fleming

darkgirls

The OWN channel aired the world premiere of the 2011 documentary Dark Girls by D. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke that explores the prejudice and often-internalized feelings of self-hatred experienced by darker-skinned black women in the United States. As a fellow Dark Girl, the documentary shed light on a subject that is all too familiar.

I distinctly remember my first high school dance. It was held at a Catholic high school for their African-American students. I was a freshman at an all-white secondary school in the Midwest, and needless to say, I was excited. St. Louis still gives off the chills of a racially polarized and sometimes overly conservative city. I stuck out at my school not simply because I was black but because I was a tad bit too ‘radical’ to conform. That year, my history teacher informed me that my assigned paper on my family’s “immigration” to the United States was too harsh and had to be altered. It was about slavery. Later in college, I was given the nickname Malcolmina X by my friends. But I digress.

For the party, I decided on black capris and a black crop top with silver glitter. I looked cute and the outfit showed off my athletic build. The party was full of hormone raged teenagers who dipped off into dark corners or huddled in packs with their friends. I was able to dance with a guy, who was known to be attractive and popular around the Catholic school black scene. He was tall, light-skinned and at the time I thought he was cute. A few days later, my girlfriend, who I attended the party with, and I chatted late into the night as most teenage girls do. She had gotten the 411 on the boy I danced with among other juicy gossip. I can’t remember much about the conversation but one thing: “he said you were too dark to wear all black.”

What? I was confused, hurt and embarrassed. What did that even mean? How was I too dark to wear all black? That quote sticks out to me to this day as the moment I knew my dark skin was perceived to be an issue. I struggled with self-esteem throughout high school and to make matters worse, my closest friends were both very light-skinned with long thick hair, the epitome of attractiveness in the black community. It seemed when we were out together, no one saw me. I didn’t exist. It became clear that my skin color put me in a box of unattractiveness by default, as many would prefer their coffee with cream rather than jet black. Compliments of “you’re pretty, for a dark-skinned girl,” “I don’t usually date dark girls,” “pretty black” and “pretty chocolate” never felt the same as simply being called pretty or someone being genuinely attracted to me rather than fetishizing my dark skin or being an exception to the rule. Once at Burger King, a man walked up to me and said: “I like my women like my meat, well done.” I was disgusted. And even more disgusted, when in college, a suitor thought calling me tar baby was a cute and playful nickname. It seemed also with my dark skin, I was sexualized and not worthy enough to date seriously. As my lighter-skinned friends went on extravagant dates, I was only asked to “kick it” at the guy’s house and it seemed they only wanted to experience what was between my legs rather than what was between my ears. While in college, I had a boyfriend from high school shamefully confess that his friends pressured him to break up with me because I was dark-skinned. He obliged. These differences in dating and mate selection followed me through college. The only time I felt beautiful, and I mean really beautiful – that it radiated in my smile and in my step – was when I lived in Europe for grad school. There, it seemed men of all walks of life, nationalities and colors were attracted to me, just me. My skin color made no difference at all.

After the eye opening experience at the dance, I wrote a research paper exploring the origins of the word black, its negative connotation, the development of its use to describe a group of darker-skinned people and colorism in the black community. I coupled that with a visual, thematic analysis of rap music videos to show the prominence and preference for light-skinned women in our society and often the media. Senior year, I wrote my college essay about this same experience for Spelman College, an all-women’s HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia, I later attended.

At 26, I still see how my skin color affects my dating experience and my overall perception of the world and my place in it. Skin color and hair texture are still as important as ever in the black community and people act accordingly and treat you as such, if just subtly. But with all that, I have learned to love my skin. I love the smoothness of it. The richness of its tone. I love the dark, reddish tint my skin gets in the summer, when I used to cringe at the possibility of tanning. I now sit with my fellow dark-skinned warrior sisters and discuss our pains, our triumphs and our still deep rooted insecurities that pop up from time to time that only we understand. No one but a dark skin girl knows how to feels to be the dark skin girl in the room.

The black community has a long way to go to remove the shackles of slavery’s ghost, of the undisputed effects of European colonization and Eurocentric beauty idolization. We, dark girls, must work to empower those following in our footsteps and let them know that it will be okay, it gets better. As a people, we must learn and teach others to appreciate one another and to respect differences locally, nationally and globally. If not for us personally, but to work collectively to change ideologies and encourage tolerance among all people. I wear my dark skin as a badge of honor and when asked how I would identity myself, I respond: I am black, I am a woman and I am dark. I have learned to embrace my beauty, to bask in all its glory, to appreciate its lessons on self-worth and acceptance. It has shaped me into who I am and I am forever grateful for all it has taught me.

305b689Kiana Fleming is a St. Louis native and received her BA in Sociology from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She holds a dual MSc and MA in Global Media and Global Communications from the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Southern California where her research explored the role of First Lady Michelle Obama’s media persona, First Lady political rhetoric and gender formation.  Her personal, research and academic interests include the media’s effect on contemporary social roles and identity, race & gender relations and social advocacy and engagement through media.

 

 

Late Update: Catch Kendra James On Al-Jazeera Today!

Just wanted to give everybody a heads-up: Our own Kendra James will be appearing on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream at 3:25 p.m. EST to discuss affirmative action policies in the U.S. in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to send Fisher v. University of Texas back to an appeals court. She’ll be joined in the panel discussion by Ari Berman from The Nation, Jerome Hudson from the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, Michigan Daily‘s Yash Bhutada and libertarian blogger Kristin Tate.

Added benefit for online viewers: Not only do you get 5 extra minutes at the start, but you can participate in an additional 10 minute post-show. Congrats, Kendra!

Meanwhile, On TumblR: Hart Explains Gender Expression And Sexual Attraction For The Cheap Seats

By Andrea Plaid

This video from vlogger Hart has had me ROTFLing all week. I came for the watermelon, stayed for the message, and got life from the saxophone, Hart’s mom, and Hart’s dimples. Just…just watch it.

Check out who and what else is giving Racializens life on the R’s Tumblr!

Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist Is A True Conversation Piece

By Guest Contributor Joyce Chen, cross-posted from Hyphen Magazine

Changez (Riz Ahmed) falls under the tutelage of Jim (Kiether Sutherland) in “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” Image via IFC Films.

When Mira Nair set out to make a film about post-9/11 New York City, her aim was simple, though her approach was not. The India-born director already had several noteworthy titles under her belt, including 1991’s Mississippi Masala, 2001’s Monsoon Wedding, and 2006’s epic coming-of-age story starring Kal Penn, The Namesake — and yet, she was still finding trouble getting the industry behind her latest project.

“When I approached people with my idea, I was told that I would have to make the film at most for $2 million because I had a Muslim protagonist, and I should just shoot it in Rockaway [Queens],” she told the audience at a Tribeca Talks event opposite Bryce Dallas Howard at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival. “[So] I didn’t go to the studios. And the trouble is, we only think there’s one way. But there isn’t. There are many other ways. But they’re damned difficult.”

“I have this weird thing with rejection,” Nair continued with a laugh. “I just want to prove them wrong.”

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Open Thread: What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Youth Issues?

Image by Timberland Regional Library via Flickr Creative Commons.

Latoya and Arturo had a conversation last night that started from this story about 33 high school students in California getting suspended for their involvement in a music video that involved twerking.

Besides the discussion on twerking itself–and it becoming popular in a majority-white space–two facts stuck out: a) the video was shot on school property, with school equipment, under the pretense of being an assignment (it was not), and b) many of the seniors involved have to petition to win back their rights to be part of their prom and graduation ceremonies, based on the school’s “zero tolerance” policy:

At Scripps Ranch High school there is zero tolerance for students who cause major disruptions at school or school activities. Any student who causes a major disruption will receive a five (5) day suspension, a possible new school placement and may be arrested.

But at the same time, it’s fair to ask: how are schools doing when it comes to teaching students not just how to use tech, but the implications and ethics associated with that? What happens when your image is in the public eye for some video or something you said on Twitter?

And considering that the video in question was shot with school equipment that somebody, presumably, was in charge of, how liable is the school for not being able to sniff out the problem beforehand? How well are younger people and their educators prepared to deal with  (Trigger Warning for upcoming link) a World Star world, and the consequences it can have on not just your educational career, but your professional prospects?

So let’s consider that a call for your thoughts, and your submissions–on not just that issue, but on the kinds of things that most directly affect our younger Racializens. What’s on the mind of the generation coming up?

[Image by Timberlake Regional Library via Flickr Creative Commons]

Race + Comics: On Alex Summers, Apologies, And Assimilation

By Arturo R. García

Alex Summers, a.k.a. Havoc, delivers his team’s mission statement in Marvel Comics’ Uncanny Avengers. Image via ComicsAlliance.com

As a fan of both the X-Men franchise and some of his past work, I’d like to believe the best from writer Rick Remender’s online apology over his mishandling of the recent criticism surrounding his latest issue of Uncanny Avengers.

Unfortunately, regardless of intentions, “sorry” needs to be the first word in these discussions, not the last. And his statements both before and after apologizing don’t engender any more trust in his ability to properly explore the theme his story introduced. Which is a shame.
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