Participants in the upcoming exhibition, ‘A Different Mirror.’ Images and video by Martyna Przybysz.
Earlier this summer, my beautiful then five-year-old Nepali nieces sat with me in our garden enjoying the warm and easy sun. What started as a conversation about what happens to melanin when it finds home in all that glorious vitamin d, looking at our skin browner than it’s winter shade, turned into a difficult conversation about race, gender and diaspora.
One of them began to talk about wanting white skin and blonde hair, and what she would do if she had it. Whilst her twin sister disagreed, responding fervently that she actually liked her brown skin and her black hair, I needed to know what exactly had triggered the other’s denigrated thinking. Her answers, however, were unsurprising – a consequence of not only the (gendered) shadeism (and anti-blackness) that holds dominance in Asian communities but her experiences as a brown girl in a white supremacist society.
Upon my questioning, she responded with a resolute and yet strangely logical answer:
but everybody on TV is white and all the nice people are blonde. Nobody wants to be brown.
With All Saints Day & Día De Los Muertos approaching, Mayitzin’s 2012 look at the holiday is worth a look for anybody curious about how the tradition has evolved into the day of rememberance we know today. (Also, the musical selection that opens the video, the 4th Movement of “Noche de los Mayas” (Noche de encantamiento) as performed by Mexico City’s Philharmonic Orchestra, is definitely a compelling choice.)
Artist Dawolu Jabari Anderson is putting a new spin on the racist caricatures of the shuffling, folksy Uncle Remus and jovial, servile Mammy. His illustrations for the fictional Gullah Sci-fi Mysteries–a melange of science fiction and steampunk–turn the reviled characters into muscled, battling freedom fighters. Mammy’s broom becomes a weapon; her washboard a shield. But while the art elevates Mammy and Uncle Remus from docility, it (perhaps necessarily) casts them at the other extreme of the stereotype spectrum–aggressive, violent and animalistic. Mammy becomes Sapphire with a headwrap. There is even an illustration in the series that depicts Mammy battling Uncle Remus, castigating him for “stir’n up trouble for these good folk,” while he tries to go about the business of “liberat’n.” (Shades of the wrong-headed black woman, holding back black progress by fighting black men?)
In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “white Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”
As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”
While similarly embracing hedonistic pleasures, the idea of frat rap positions these artists apart from those other artists, those of color, who may offer a similar style and performance. Akin to going uptown during the jazz era without having to leave the confines of white spaces, frat rap is nothing new. Whereas the other rap purportedly celebrates violence, sexism, and materialism, and pollutes hearts, frat rap is fun. What happens in college stays in college.
Historically white colleges remain immensely segregated. The growing popularity of frat rap, which has seized upon the power of online technologies and the stigmas associated with (black) hip-hop, continues not just a history of appropriation and the idea that blackness is merely a culture or an aesthetic that can be borrowed or purchased at the local dollar store; it also continues the American tradition of segregation that is a cornerstone of American colleges and Universities.
I get really frustrated when people decide to make R&J “relevant” by casting the two families as members of modern ethnic [groups] that are experiencing conflict. Not just because it’s boring and overdone and never as insightful as the directors and producers think it is.
It’s because the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets is explicitly a stupid bullshit pissing match between two powerful families that no one else takes seriously (and that even some members of the family think is silly).
So anytime someone decides to make R&J “relevant” by making those families black/white or Israeli/Palestinian or something along those lines, they a) undermine the seriousness of those conflicts by implying that a little kumbaya can prevent the deaths of young people, and b) erase the fact that, unlike the Montagues and Capulets, one of those real world groups is invariably guilty of violence and oppression against the other.
See who and what else is giving us Racializens something to think about on the R’s Tumblr!
One of my favorite Tumblrs, black beauty, featured photos submitted by Tumblrer Indigo, who dressed in an homage to legendary artist Frida Kahlo. (The headline comes from the caption she wrote to describe her picture.)