Category Archives: appropriation

Meanwhile On Tumblr: Taking The Piss Out Of White People Who Think They’re Not Racist

By Andrea Plaid

While Twitter is having a whole bunch of brilliant fun at the expense of Paula Deen and her racism (and rightfully so), Above Average Productions makes fun of those white folks who feel they should be congratulated for basic manners and human kindness toward people of color. (Though I’m not sure why the woman at the end of the vid is doing Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra…)

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Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.10: “A Tale Of Two Cities”

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and  Andrea Plaid

Gratuitous photo of Dawn being fabulous. You're welcome.

Gratuitous photo of Dawn (Teyonah Parris) being fabulous. You’re welcome.

Does Mad Men love L.A.? If their annual trips out there right about this time are any indication, the answer is sunny, sunglasses-wearing “yes.” However, does the Retrolicious Roundtable love Mad Men in L.A.? Weeeelllllll…

Tami, Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs For The Fantasy, and I debate the merits of these westerly jaunts, the naturalness of Joan’s and Peggy’s alliance, and the existence of moderate Republicans, complete with a bunch of spoilers.

Tami: I am usually the person who gets the conversation started on these roundtables. And my tablemates can attest that this week it took me several days. This episode of Mad Men felt like filler–the weakest of the season for me. I hate it when they go to Los Angeles!

Renee: I didn’t necessarily consider it filler this time because of everything that happened at the office while Roger and Don were gone. Seeing Joan assert herself was worth quite a bit to me, and I am so tired of them overlooking everything she does and treating her like a glorified secretary.

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Friday Foolishness: Selena Gomez Is Wearing A Bindi?

By Andrea Plaid

Image via The Aerogram

Image via The Aerogram.

Usually, this space at this time is reserved for the Racialicious Crush Of The Week. But sometimes we gotta keep our Fridays light by giving some side-eye to some face-palming foolishness.

This week’s features some old-school kyriarchy from former Disney star Selena Gomez, who’s been styling out with bindis since the MTV Video Awards in mid-April. Before folks jump in the comments and talk about how that’s impossible for a woman of color to appropriate from another culture of color…as we say around these parts, “If you’re not part of the group, then you’re more than likely appropriating.” And Gomez, who is the child of a Mexican-American dad and a white mom, wears the bindi with the privileges of a non-South Asian woman born and reared in the US.

The Aerogram’s Jaya Bedi wrote a great post eloquently summing up what’s all wrong with Gomez putting on a bindi:

 It is a problem when religious symbols become widespread and therefore lose their religious significance. But the fear of dilution isn’t really an issue here — the bindi has lost whatever religious significance it once had to Hindus some time ago, and is now used mostly for decoration. Madonna and Gwen Stefani didn’t turn the bindi into a fashion statement when they adopted it in the 90s — we desi women already did so years before that.

What makes the non-South Asian person’s use of the bindi problematic is the fact that a  pop star like Selena Gomez wearing one is guaranteed to be better received than I would if I were  to step out of the house rocking a dot on my forehead. On her, it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my Otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls. If the use of the bindi by mainstream pop stars made it easier for South Asian women to wear it, I’d be all for its proliferation — but it doesn’t. They lend the bindi an aura of cool that a desi woman simply can’t compete with, often with the privilege of automatic acceptance in a society when many non-white women must fight for it.

I understand being a little flummoxed at the rage that the bindi issue inspires in our community. The anger always seems disproportionate to the crime. But will I celebrate the “mainstreaming” of a South Asian fashion item? Nope. Not when the mainstream doesn’t accept the people who created it.

Related posts:

Cultural Appropriation: Homage Or Insult

Indigenous Feminism And Cultural Appropriation

On Cultural Appropriation: Halloween And Beyond

Miss(ed) Representations, Part One: “I’m A Culture, Not A Costume” Campaign

Open Letter To the PocaHotties And Indian Warriors This Halloween

 

The Rise Of Beyoncé, The Fall Of Lauryn Hill: A Tale Of Two Icons

By Guest Contributor Janell Hobson; originally published at The Feminist Wire

Lauryn HillFifteen years ago, the stardom of then-23-year-old Lauryn Hill had peaked when she released what would become her defining musical legacy.  After rising to popularity as part of the hip-hop trio The Fugees, with fellow members Wyclef Jean and Pras, she later released her solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which went on to garner multiplatinum sales and five Grammy Awards for the recognizably brilliant singer-rapper.  Such accomplishments made her the first female artist to be nominated for and to win the most Grammys in a single night and her album the first hip-hop-themed work to win the Grammy’s top prize of Album of the Year.

Interestingly, the same year of Lauryn’s solo album debut, a 16-year-old who would later be known only by her first name – Beyoncé – also emerged on the pop scene when Destiny’s Child released their self-titled debut album.  And in a curious one-degree-of-separation of the two icons, Destiny’s Child’s collaboration with Wyclef on their song “No No No” led to the group’s first successfully released single, which topped R&B charts.

In retrospect, it seems easy to trace what would become a commingled narrative: one star rises while another one declines.  One star (Ms. Hill) presumably declined a starring role in the Hollywood faux-feminist blockbuster, Charlie’s Angels, while the other star (Beyoncé), along with fellow group members, provided the necessary “girl power” anthem – “Independent Women, Part I” – for the movie’s soundtrack.  One star virtually disappeared from the mainstream media while the other star appeared ubiquitously, covering every magazine from Sports Illustratedto Vogue to GQ to the feminist publication Ms.

One star proved a lyrical genius – rapping and crooning on politics, love, religion, and the resistance of corporate media – while the other preferred more superficial fanfare concerning clubbing, looking fabulous, and having her own money to spend as she fends off heartaches and trifling lovers, while occasionally championing women’s empowerment.  One star refused the pop-culture make-over, preferring instead to rock her natural hair and bask in her dark-skinned beauty, while the other has made a signature look out of blond weaves and other variations on white beauty standards that her light-skinned beauty can more easily appropriate.

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Sorority Girls Must Twerk: Cultural Demands on Black Women

By Guest Contributor Shae Collins

“So you’re going to twerk right?” was a common question my sorority sisters and I got when we entered a dance competition this year at our school.

Not too long ago, the university I attend welcomed its first historically black Greek-letter organization. I had the privilege of becoming a member of this sorority and was curious to see how the students of a predominately white university in a wealthy area would receive a historically black organization on its campus.

The university was widely accepting of the sorority; however, as we became more visible on the campus, we experienced much cultural insensitivity.

This year, for the first time, we participated in a sorority dance competition that raises money for charity. During the week leading up to the dance-off, several people approached us asking if we were going to twerk — as if twerking is the only style of dance a black woman can do.

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Debbie Reese Takes On Hipster Racism In A Golden Calf In Weetzie Bat

When I was in high school, Weetzie Bat was the underground required reading for girls who wore pilly cardigans and name dropped fanzine editors. For those who read it, it almost so special that we didn’t want to tell anyone else about it. I remember feeling that way a lot actually; holding something so close to my heart that I didn’t want to give it away. It’s because these things had saved me, were saving me, and my biggest fear was that they would gain so much popularity that they’d get co opted by the normal kids and ruined (see “Nirvana”).When you love a book, you don’t just want to read it again, you want to BE it. At least that’s where I go. I didn’t just love Weetzie, I wanted to be her. If Bret Easton Ellis made LA seem like it was all rich kids and gay death human pinwheels, Francesca Lia Block turned the city into a magical punk fairy tale. To be fair, I wanted both versions to exist and sometimes couldn’t decide what I liked better (still feel that way).Weetzie had a boyfriend, My Secret Agent Lover Man, and a gay BFF. They made movies in “Shangri-L.A.” (Hollywood), lived in a cute cottage, and had weird drama that involved sexual trysts, unplanned pregnancies, and gay lovers with AIDS. DREAM LIFE!  Weetzie had bleached blond hair and was probably really thin. In my brain she sort of looked like a young Belinda Carlisle.Who owns the film rights? Does Francesca Lia Block still rule? All these questions and more can be answered on your local Wikipedia page (or by doing more research).LYMI, Lesley

The many covers of Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block, via. thereal90s.tumblr.com

By Guest Contributor Debbie Reese*

Years ago I started reading Weetzie Bat but put it down, in part, because of these passages in the first few pages of the first chapter (Note: To write this post, I read an e-book that doesn’t provide page numbers):

Sometimes she wore Levi’s with white-suede fringe sewn down the legs and a feathered Indian headdress… 

“She” is Weetzie Bat. Her friend, Dirk, who has “chiseled” features compliments her outfit:

Weetzie was wearing her feathered headdress and her moccasins and a pink fringed mini dress.

Weetzie replies:

“Thanks. I made it,” she said, snapping her strawberry bubble gum. “I’m into Indians,” she said. “They were here first and we treated them like shit.” 

“Yeah,” Dirk said, touching his Mohawk.

Weetzie Bat was published in 1989 and won several awards. Reading it today, what comes to mind is the hipster culture of the last few years and its appropriation of Native culture. While writing up this review, I did an image search of “Weetzie Bat.” In the grid of images I got (using Google image search), the first image in the second row I got is this one:

The source for the photo is a Weetzie Bat blog post at an art blog, A Beautiful Party. Dated September 16, 2010, the post is about a screenplay of Weetzie Bat and the photo is of someone playing the part of Weetzie Bat. If I didn’t know it was from Weetzie Bat, I would have thought, “Dang hipsters!”, because I’ve seen a lot of photos of hipsters in headdresses, feathered earrings, fringed clothing, or moccasins. Reading Weetzie Bat now, I wonder if it might have played a role in the 1990s emergence of hipsters and their appropriation of Native culture.

What, I wonder, was Block thinking about when she brought Native culture into her book? What did it mean to her or Weetzie Bat to say “I’m into Indians”?!

In my read of Weetzie Bat there is nothing to suggest that Block knew she was, in effect, having her characters embrace stereotypical “knowledge” about American Indians. (What she does with Jamaican’s gives me pause, too, but I’ll stay on topic.)

In the chapter titled “Jah-Love,” Weetzie meets the guy who will be her boyfriend. His name is My Secret Agent Lover Man (quirky names are everywhere in the book). He makes films of her doing things, like “having a pow-wow.” We aren’t told what she was doing, so we don’t know “having a pow-wow” means. That chapter closes with this:

And so Weetzie and My Secret Agent Lover Man and Dirk and Duck and Slinkster Dog and Fifi’s canaries lived happily ever after in their silly-sand-topped house in the land of skating hamburgers and flying toupees and Jah-Love blonde Indians.

Duck is Dirk’s boyfriend. Slinkster Dog is Weetzie’s dog. “Jah-Love” is, I think, short for Jamaica love but I don’t know what to make of it beyond that. There are, of course, blonde Indians, but the ones in Weetzie Bat are playing Indian–and doing it in stereotypical ways.

Early in the chapter “Weetzie Wants a Baby,” Weetzie, My Secret Agent Lover Man, Dirk, and Duck have finished their third film. It is called Coyote. In it, Weetzie is

a rancher’s daughter who falls in love with a young Indian named Coyote and ends up helping him defend his land against her father and the rest of the town. They had filmed Coyote on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. Weetzie grew her hair out, and she wore Levi’s and snaky cowboy boots and turquoise. Dirt and Duck played her angry brothers…

It is no surprise that the film makes some money for them. In the story–as in real life–white people defending and rescuing Indians from whites is a sure-fire hit.

Weetzie, as the chapter title tells us, wants a baby. My Secret Agent Lover Man isn’t at all interested in having a baby. He thinks the world is too messed up to bring a child into. While he’s away for a few weeks, Weetzie, Dirk, and Duck decide they want a baby together. They climb into bed together, and Weetzie ends up pregnant. My Secret Agent Lover Man returns, isn’t happy with her decision to get pregnant, and leaves. When the baby is born, Weetzie, Dirt, and Duck decide to name the baby “Cherokee.” There’s no explanation for why they choose Cherokee. All we know is that they considered these names: Sweet, Fifi, Duckling, Hamachi, Teddi, and Lambie.

At the end of the chapter, My Secret Agent Lover Man comes back. He gazes at Cherokee and asks who her father is. Weetzie says that she’s got high cheekbones like Dirk, and blonde hair like Duck, but that her eyes and lips are like his.

Ah, yes. high cheekbones like Dirk. Remember—he’s the guy with the Mohawk.

The last line in the chapter is:

Cherokee looked like a three-dad baby, like a peach, like a tiny moccasin, like a girl love-warrior who would grow up to wear feathers and run swift and silent through the L.A. canyons.

What does a tiny moccasin look like when you’re talking about a baby?! I know the book was/is much loved but–the stereotypical othering aside–the style doesn’t work for me.

In the chapter, “Chapter: Shangri-L.A.,” My Secret Agent Lover Man is making another movie. This one is called Shangri-L.A. Weetzie stars in it. She wears strapless dresses and rhinestones. And,

She made fringed baby clothes and feathered headdresses for Cherokee…

Sheesh! Now there’s headdresses for this baby girl?!

They can’t figure out an ending for the movie, so My Secret Agent Lover Man suggests Weetzie visit her dad in New York to see if he has any ideas. While there, he takes them shopping and buys Cherokee a Pink Panther doll at F.A.O. Schwarz.

If you’re buying a doll at F.A.O. Schwarz—well, if you’re even inside that store, you’re of a certain income level. Even though Weetzie’s source of money is never mentioned, the things they do suggests there’s plenty of it.

While in NY, Weetzie thinks her dad isn’t well. Soon after Weetzie goes back to L.A., he dies, and Weetzie struggles with her grief:

Grief is not something you know if you grow up wearing feathers with a Charlie Chaplin boyfriend, a love-child papoose, a witch baby, a Dirk and a Duck, a Slinkster Dog, and a movie to dance in.

Wearing feathers. That’s what Weetzie does. Nowhere do we get any sense that she (or Block) know much about the many distinctions amongst Native peoples. With the use of “papoose” we see more of that ignorance. Papoose is the word for baby in one language. It is not the Indian word for papoose. With over 500 federally recognized Native Nations, there are hundreds of languages, too. The Cherokee word for “baby”, by the way, is not “papoose.”

Cat Yampbell, in “Judging a Book by Its Cover: Publishing Trends in Young Adult Literature” (The Lion and the Unicorn, 29(3)) says:

The text of Weetzie Bat celebrates those who are torn from society, individuals who find each other and find happiness outside of the box that society defines as the norm.

Michael Cart, in “What a Wonderful World: Notes on the Evolution of GLBTQ Literature for Young Adults” (The ALAN Review, 31(2)), calls it a classic of gay fiction, and says:

its largehearted embrace of every aspect of the workings of the human heart, it demonstrates, with art and innovation, that love is love, regardless of what society chooses to label it.

Though I’ve not done an exhaustive look, I’m unable (thus far) to find any critical essays in which the stereotyping of American Indians is discussed. The book is much celebrated for its affirmation of people who are “outside the box” and/or gay, but I wouldn’t hand it to a Native child who was outside the norm or gay. I can’t elevate one part of who they are and slam another part of their identity at the same time.

Granted, some Native readers would breeze past it and shrug it off, but not all would do that, and I wonder, too, about the readers (like Yampbell? Cart?) who didn’t comment on the stereotyping. Did they not see it because it reflects their “knowledge” of American Indians? Or, did they deem that content insignificant? And what does it mean to decide that one culture is insignificant?

Thinking about those questions is ironic, given what Weetzie said at the top of the story. “I’m into Indians. They were here first and we treated them like shit.” Does Block realize that she’s doing the same thing?

Honoring or being “into” anyone in a superficial way is, in my view, treating them like shit because it is lazy. It allows a feel-good moment to stand in for real learning, real understanding, and meaningful action that would make the world we all live in, a better world.

In doing the research for this post, I read that Block has a new book out–a prequel to Weetzie Bat. I’ll pick it up next time I’m at the library.

*Debbie Reese continues to write on the Francesca Lia Block series in her essays, “Indian American” in Francesca Lia Block’s PINK SMOG and A Native Perspective on Francesa Lia Block’s CHEROKEE BAT AND THE GOAT GUYS.

Let’s Get Ratchet! Check Your Privilege At The Door

By Guest Contributor Sesali Bowen; originally published at Feministing

A few days ago I had the–ahem, pleasure?–of seeing the video of Miley Cyrus twerking. I was a little put off by it but couldn’t immediately identify why. There was the obvious discomfort at the fact that she wasn’t really good at twerking in the first place, but there was something else that I just couldn’t get jiggy with. Then I saw her post this picture and it clicked…

 Miley Cyrus tweeted a photo of herself showing off her dancing skills with the hashtag #MCTWERKTEAM!

Via @mileycyrus on Twitter

Her skin and class privilege overfloweth in this poorly executed commodification of  twerking and subsequently “ratchet culture.” In an interview following the twerk video Miley said:

“You can’t really explain [twerking]… It’s something that comes naturally. It’s a lot of booty action… I haven’t really seen one bad comment about my twerk video… This is the first thing! I’m like, ‘I can’t sing, I can’t act, I’m dumb, I’m a hillbilly, but I can twerk, so, whatever.’”

Really Miley? Because there were plenty of bad comments posted about these young women (who twerk much better than you, I should add). It seems that only some people can get by solely on being a good twerker.

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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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