Category Archives: Ask Racialicious

Ask Racialicious Special: Teen Vogue Edition

by Latoya Peterson

Rachel Simmons, advice columnist to Teen Vogue, sent me an interesting query from one of her readers. The question? “I Like Him, But What If He’s Not Into Black Girls?”

Jacqueline, a biracial girl who just transferred to a predominately white area, writes:

For the most part, I’m treated like everyone else. But when it comes to dating and someone asks, “What do you think of Jackie?” People either respond nicely or say “I’m not really into black girls.”

This comes across to me as extremely unfair. I have a great personality, I get good grades, I try my best to be nice to everyone. The point is, I’m more than the color of my skin, and what’s wrong with black girls anyway?

Poor kid – I sent it around to the team, figuring we could all relate. And we could.
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Ask Racialicious: How to Read and Respond to Literature of Colour

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

The Racialicious inbox received a very honest email from a writer currently enrolled in a creative writing program, with reference to the book Ms Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum.  Bynum waits until late in the book to reveal that Ms Hempel is a mixed race person of colour. This raised all sorts of queries for our questioner:

…when I write fiction, I write white characters.  When I read fiction I read them as white characters unless/until I am expressly told otherwise.  This feels like an ignorant move on my part but at the same time, I feel that that’s what I do because I am white, and that people of other ethnicities read fiction as their ethnicity (or perhaps not, since the field is dominated a lot by dead white guys, but that’s another issue), and they write characters as their ethnicity…

Which I suppose eventually comes to this question: am I to assume that a writer of color is writing stories about people of (their) color?  Am I to assume that the black woman in my class is always writing about black people?…[That] the gay writer is writing about the gay experience, or gay relationships? Was I supposed to assume that Shun-Lien Bynum was writing about an Asian character because her name is Asian?… (See how much of an ass I sound like right now?)This feels like a form of discrimination or stereotyping.  Why should I assume that just because a person is black that they’re going to write about black characters?  Do people of other races assume that white writers are always writing about white characters?  Or is that what we’re supposed to do, as writers and as readers?

I’m sure it’s obvious that I’ve been in a sort of bubble with this issue.  In my undergrad, there were only 2 nonwhite students in the creative writing classes I took, and in my MFA program there is only one.  It seems to be an issue that we skirt around in workshop, for fear of offending someone, perhaps…

This questioner had the fortune (or misfortune) of sending this to me: in case you didn’t already know, when I am not crusading on the internet, I too am a graduate student in a creative writing program.  Here are some amended excerpts from the earful and a half I sent back to our questioner:

As for your question: should we assume that all writers of colour are writing for themselves?

All writers have audiences that they are writing for, and it becomes evident who their audience is as soon as they get going. But because much of Great American Lit is written by white writers who are white-centric, much of Great American Lit is written for white folks. So the assumption grows that all audiences and all characters are white – sometimes readers are surprised when they realise all along they have been reading a nonwhite book.

I would say many white writers are not conscious that they are writing for a white audience, just as often in the media the word “everyone” or “regular American” or “the people” means (middle class, hetero, cisgendered, abled) white people. I have to disagree with your (qualified) assertion that generally readers will just assume that the character is of the same ethnicity as them. Rather, many readers of colour are hyperconscious of the fact that a Great Book is not addressed to them; for many of us* learning to appreciate literature requires an extra step that is not there for white readers: we have to learn how to find ourselves in work that may sometimes actively exclude us.
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“Are All Cult Movies White?”

by Latoya Peterson


Regular reader Charlotte wrote in with a very interesting question:

I’m in a class at my university that focuses on cult movies and gender issues, and my professor has been describing the cult movie phenomenon as specifically white and middle class. You guys have been running a lot of articles on fans of color recently, and I was wondering whether what my professor said was actually true. Do you know anything about the breakdown of cult movie audiences? Or are we just watching all the white cult movies and paying attention to the white cult audiences? The readings she’s assigned have agreed that audiences are certainly mostly white, but we’re also studying most of the more accepted/acceptable/entrenched cult movies, like Rocky Horror or Bladerunner.

Good question.

I suppose there are two questions at play – what defines a cult classic, and which things are considered cult to what types of audiences? Continue reading

Ask Racialicious: Should I Be Offended by this Joke?

by Latoya Peterson

Earlier this week, I received an email from a new reader:

Hi Latoya,

My name is B and I live in Florida. In fact, the neighborhood where I reside is a very desirable, mostly residential area centrally located near downtown and only a few short minutes to our lovely beaches.

The reason I am writing is because I just received the current issue of our neighborhood newsletter. The publication is several pages long and is in a glossy magazine style format. It is widely read not only by the neighborhood residents but also by other neighborhoods because of a general curiosity of all the events that take place here year round.

Well, each month, a regular feature is written called “Mr. Trivia, things you need to know, things you wanted to know, things you would care less if you ever knew!” I read it regularly and consider it mildly entertaining. However, this month, I was left with distaste after reading its opening paragraph.

It reads:

    “Senor Trivia est en Mexico on vacacione. He has ad to muy tequila. He as me too rite de newleter fo viktor pak. I not god en Englsh. He sho me ow to copy on cumputr. I hop u lik me yob. Senor Mex trivia.”

The article then continues in its regular format citing various facts and then ends with:

    “I ride burro now and bring this to u.

    Gracias.

    Senor Mex trivia.”

I mentioned my dissatisfaction about the article to a friend and she felt I was overreacting. I’d considered writing the editor of the newsletter stating that I thought it bordered on a negative racial stereotype, though I have held off from doing because of my friends comment about my “overreacting”.

What do you think?

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Ask Racialicious: Am I Overreacting to Ignorant Assumptions?

by the Racialicious Team

Our first question comes from reader F:

Yesterday I went to a nail salon with my mother. I’m mixed-race, of mostly Indian descent, and while we there, quite a while after (and it was very quiet in there) an elderly Indian lady came in. There was one other (white) lady in there, and she witnessed everyone coming in at separate times, my mother and I talking, and having no contact at all with the older lady. At some point, I accidentally left my book on a chair and the nail salon person asked whose it was. Before anyone could say anything, the white woman piped up that it was ‘your daughter’s’ to the old Indian lady (meaning it was mine). Ok. This really annoyed me – because I knew that that woman saw brown people and just assumed, despite all evidence to the contrary, that we all belonged together or were related. If I and the older lady had been white, she never would’ve randomly assigned me to be her child, I think, because she would’ve been able to see more than colour and to identify more than that. She just grouped any brown people together automatically. I know it’s not a major thing, but to me it feels the same as when someone assumes I’m from India (I don’t assume all white people are from Norway, for example), or tells me I look like some Asian actress/friend/individual I look absolutely nothing like (I don’t remark to random white people that they remind me of Madonna), or can’t tell the difference between myself and other people they know who are also ‘brown’, despite huge differences in every other aspect of our being. So was this a kind of ignorant racism, or am I just overreacting? And even if it wasn’t, why is it still so deeply irritating, despite being so minor?

Andrea responds:

Dear F–

I don’t think you’re overacting to this at all. What the white woman did was flatten or erased all of your uniqueness and relationships–yours, your mom’s, and the elderly woman’s–solely based on what you all looked like to her. So, not only did she make assumptions about all three of you on race (“all brown-skinned folks must know/are related to each other), she made an assumption about all of you based on age, too. (“Elderly brown-skinned woman must have a grown daughter. I saw a grown brown-skinned woman walking in/getting nails done here. The other woman that came in with the grown woman couldn’t possibly be the mother. That grown woman, therefore, must be the elderly woman’s daughter.”) I suss that was the woman’s reasoning because she stated it when asked to whom the book belonged. Continue reading