Yes, I am proposing that a major comic book institution change the race of one of its popular characters as it transitions to a new form of media. In this case, I want Marvel Studios to cast an Asian American actor to play the lead in the upcoming Iron Fist show it is developing for Netflix. It seems logical enough to me, though as always, there are fans who are urging Marvel to resist changing his race.
In early January, you took a step — a big step — to address your lack of diversity by bringing aboard new castmember Sasheer Zamata, the first African American woman player for nearly six seasons, and two African American female writers, too: LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones. But last Saturday was a reminder that this big step is only the first one.
That’s because, in a show being hosted by the awesome Melissa McCarthy, you turned her opening monologue into a skit about her feud with castmember Bobby Moynihan — a feud that erupted into a high-flying, wire-swinging martial arts duel between the duo. Now, let’s set aside the fact that the humorous context of their fisticuffs seems to have been anchored in the comic sight of a pair of lovably large people pirouetting through the air; they were game and graceful, and I tip my hat to the midair somersault McCarthy managed to pull off.
But it was almost as if you knew there weren’t enough yuks in just having McCarthy and Moynihan punching it out, Shaw Brothers style (and you were right). So to underscore the joke, you put a little yellow icing on the cake, bringing in a squinting, eyebrow-quirking Taran Killam in a Nehru jacket to play the fight’s narrator, complete with stilted accent and gong. (Taran Killam — Cobie Smulders’s husband. You know, the actress on CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” who was just slammed for doing yellowface two weeks ago?)
Whoa, SNL. That wasn’t cool, and it wasn’t particularly funny, either. It looked like a desperate move to save a skit that was going nowhere. It was embarrassing. And even Killam himself seemed to look vaguely uncomfortable, as if he was saying in his head, “I’m only doing this because I’m the closest thing this show has to an actual Asian dude.”
This book, while almost 7 years old, is continuously recommended across the web for adoptive mothers — it’s pinned on Pinterest and a regular on the book club circuit. In an era obsessed with memoir, it seems only natural that Russell would choose to chronicle her journey as such, particularly considering the major surprise (read: book sales) that characterizes her trip: Russell’s friend changes her mind. Quickly becoming the heroine of her own story, Russell looks down at the little girl she has only just met and begins conceiving a history in which the two of them were meant to be together. Eager to substantiate her sudden role as Lily’s mother, Russell proclaims that “there was a past life connection between [her] and Lily,” and that her “longing brought [Lily] into being.” To suggest that this child living in an orphanage in China exists because Russell willed her into being is problematic to say the least, but Russell goes one step further in her desire to feel permanently and unalterably connected despite her and Lily’s cultural and racial differences.
White adoptive families are regularly challenged by the idea of incorporating their child’s birth culture into their family. Researchers have long questioned whether an adopted child’s birth culture should be ignored, as in cases when families essentially raise their child of color as white, or whether it should be embraced, even to the point of trying to mimic a Chinese upbringing in the United States (think Chinese New Year parties and Mandarin lessons). In Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant observe that “there is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete, and objective. And there is also an opposite temptation: to imagine race as a mere illusion, a purely ideological construct which some ideal non-racist social order would eliminate.” Because Russell sees Lily’s race as an essence, something unalterable, and she needs to feel she was meant to be Lily’s mother, she relies on personal epiphanies and memories that confirm that, in some way, she is also Chinese. Continue reading →
Just about three months after leading a discussion on #POC4CulturalEnrichment, activist Suey Park hosted another critical Twitter talk on Sunday with #NotYourAsianSidekick.
But this time, the impact spread beyond social activism circles. NYAS was covered not only on sites like Race Files and Angry Asian Man, but the tag trended so highly that Buzzfeed,the Washington Post and the BBC, among others, covered it. Park was also contacted for an interview with CNN anchor Don Lemon.
It also led to this image being circulated around Twitter and Tumblr:
“Even if the representation of women is changing in mainstream America, it’s not changing for Asian-American women,” Park told BBC News on Tuesday, and the segment as a whole is worth viewing. We’ll post Park’s CNN interview as soon as we can.
Quartz, a business and marketing website, recently released data on the Facebook dating app Are You Interested, which connects single people with others within the confines of their Facebook networks. Quartz’ data are based on a series of yes-or-no questions about who users are interested in, as well as response rates between users, once notified of a potential suitor. The data show that white men and Asian women receive the most interest, whereas black men and women receive the least amount of interest. The writers at Quartz summarize the findings as follows:
Unfortunately the data reveal winners and losers. All men except Asians preferred Asian women, while all except black women preferred white men. And both black men and black women got the lowest response rates for their respective genders.
Here’s what the data looks like:
As a sociologist, I am entirely unsurprised that race matters, especially in such a personal process like dating/mating. However, these findings may come as a surprise to the (quite significant) segments of the population who identify as color-blind; those who label contemporary society post-racial.
And this is why dating sites are so cool. Social psychologists know that what people say and what they do have little empirical connection. Dating sites capture what we do, and play it back for us. They expose who we are, who we want, and of course, who we don’t want. As shown by Quartz, “we” fetishize Asian women while devaluing black people.
With a schism between what people say and what they do; between what they say and what the unconsciously think, surveys of racial attitudes are always already quite limited. People can say whatever they want — that race doesn’t matter, that they don’t see color — but when it comes to selecting a partner, and the selection criteria are formalized through profiles and response decisions, we, as individuals and a society, can no longer hide from ourselves. The numbers blare back at us, forcing us to prosume uncomfortable cultural and identity meanings both personally and collectively.
Indeed, before anyone has answered anything, the architecture of online dating sites say a lot. Namely, by defining what can be preferences at all, they tell us which characteristics are the ones about which we are likely to care; about which we should care.
Both the user data and the presence of racial identification and preference in the first place are revealing, demolishing arguments about colorblindness and post-racial culture.
Jenny L. Davis, PhD, is in the department of sociology at James Madison University. She studies social psychology, experimental research methods, and new and social media. She is also a contributing author and editor at Cyborgology. You can follow her at @Jenny_L_Davis.
At Hyphen, writer Sharline Chiang tackles the stigma of post-partum depression and how her race influenced her experience with the condition.
Four years ago I had three miscarriages. “You’re not careful enough,” my mother said. “You’re too active.” While I was pregnant with Anza, I learned I had balanced translocation, a genetic condition. We needed to get lucky. Even after explaining this to her, my mother would insist: “Go on bed rest so it doesn’t fall out.”
I couldn’t risk hearing words that sounded like blame. I already felt it was my fault: I was too soft.
My grandmothers combined had birthed and raised 15 children while fleeing the Japanese, the Communists, and poverty. What right did I have to fall apart?
So I took selfies of me and Anza smiling and sent them to my parents every day.
I lied because even though depression is so common in Asian American communities, we rarely talked about it. The message I grew up with: your mental struggles are our own; it’s up to you to find the inner strength to “ren,” to endure.
The character for “ren” 忍 is the character for “knife” over the “heart.” Endure even when there’s a knife in your heart.
In my thirties I discovered talk therapy, tried to get my parents to go. Their response was basically: “That’s for white people.” “They hook you in,” my mother said. “You can never be cured.”
I wish mental illness didn’t come with stigmas. I wish I could have told my parents that my mind had broken just as easily as if I had to tell them my arm had broken.
Whenever my husband would say, “You really should tell them,” I felt that chasm again (he’s white, son of hippies). To him it was unimaginable to suffer the darkest period of your life and not tell your parents. Meanwhile, everyone in his immediate family knew. His mother and brother moved down from Canada to help take care of me.
The fact that I could get PPD never crossed my mind. I had no history of depression.
Two years ago while pregnant with Anza, I had spent thousands of hours reading about pregnancy and birth and exactly five minutes reading about postpartum depression.
On the cover of the brochure was a white woman with long brown hair. She was staring into space under the words: “Feeling Blue?” I took one look and said to myself: white woman, sad woman, that’s not me and that’s not going to be me.
When two famous black feminists take the stage to discuss social justice and feminism, or more specifically, how race and class impact African American women’s experiences in the US, why is it that I–an Indian American woman from pretty, affluent Briarcliff Manor, New York–feel at home? How is that this where I feel whole, recognized, and validated?
I don’t actually need the answers to these questions as some sort of navel-gazing exercise. But others seem to. When it comes to our position in social movements, identity is a big deal; it behooves us to acknowledge and take accountability for our inherent role, by default of who we are, in intersectional systems of oppression. So perhaps confusion is founded. As an upper-middle-class, straight, cissexual, conventionally feminine woman, whose ethnic minority status in America is mitigated by being part of the ‘model minority,’ it’s true that I have much going for me. I could ride the tide of my privilege. Easy.
But I started thinking about race at an early age. When we watched a video about MLK and the civil rights movement in second grade, I saw a binary and placed myself on the pigmented side of it. At 11-years-old, I adopted hip and hop and its surrounding culture as my self-expression in a white world. Would things have been different if my parents played Bollywood films in the house? I can’t be sure. Whatever it was, I identified clearly with non-whiteness. This made me an outcast in a way. I grew up around mostly white people, and the other Indians I knew seemed to see themselves on that side of the color line, or at the very least, they were more seduced by the power that came with our proximity to whiteness, as Melissa Harris-Perry put it. I am guilty of this too, but I still felt acutely that my brown skin was creating a vast gulf between my reality and that of my white friends. If I had to guess, this is where I got my sense of injustice in the world, despite my understanding that I was exceedingly blessed and shrouded in comfort, wealth, and opportunity.
I was more aware of my status as a person of color than as a woman. (It took me much longer to become aware of the endless benefits of my class position, because, well, that’s how it works). I became interested in anti-racism far before I felt drawn to anti-sexist, anti-patriarchal movements or cared about class dynamics. (Of course, I now get that it’s all connected.) But I think my internalization of my color is very telling for where I stand now when it comes to my personal feminist politics. Regardless of the particulars of the layering, all of this means I stand outside of my own ethnic community in the US–a community that, in my experience, often seems largely (not universally) brainwashed by the promise of ascending in a racist system.
Based on this, who could I have looked to as speaking to me–a little brown girl whose large suburban home had a Ganesha in a kitchen cupboard–about dissent and disruption of the status quo? What, you don’t believe in a white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy, you say? Who put these thoughts in your head?
There was no place for me there. My place was to be a good Indian girl.
A large part of last week’s talk between Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks at The New School (see above) was about black women’s voices: the avenues though which they convey their messages, the shift in how they are represented, why some mainstream spaces may be more open to promoting them, even if minimally (Harris-Perry on MSNBC). I had no access to these voices when I was younger. I had some Alice Walker and Toni Morrison in high school, and then college and beyond gave me the nonfiction radical texts of bell hooks and Harris-Perry, Audre Lorde, Dorothy Roberts, and more. However, I couldn’t see that I was allowed to turn their thoughts into action in my own life, no matter how deeply they touched my heart.
Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) tells Thor (Chris Hemsworth), “Hello, I must be going.”
World-building is at the heart of Thor: The Dark World, both in front and behind the camera: with the character’s first film and inclusion in The Avengers out of the way, director Alan Parker and the film’s five credited screenwriters show viewers more of the workings of Asgardian culture, and the connection between Asgard and the rest of the Nine Realms enables the filmmakers to provide a world-jumping final battle between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston).
Which makes it particularly sad when this expansive view of the Thunder God’s world can’t find any time at all for one of his series’ more stalwart characters, Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun the Grim. Again.