Category: authenticity

March 15, 2010 / / african-american

by Guest Contributor Imani Perry, originally published at Afronetizen

Precious Poster

These are strange days indeed. We are firmly into the 21st century, and yet the 80s are haunting us. For African Americans it is yet again a decade of dream and deferral.

Back in the ‘80s, for the young Black and college educated, the doors of corporate America and other professions opened up and broadened the spectrum of the Black middle class like never before. But also, back in the ‘80s, crack cocaine and the aftermath of deindustrialization crippled areas of concentrated blackness in major urban centers.

Now in the 21st century, a new Black elite floods the popular imagination as Capitol Hill, the president and his administration become more and more colorful. But also now, in the 21st century, the recession hits Black communities hardest, and at the intersection of devastating rates of imprisonment, joblessness, and inadequate education lie a critical, hurting, mass of Black Americans.

Then came Precious.
Read the Post Embracing Precious: The nuances and truths in the individual and collective stories we tell

March 1, 2010 / / WTF?

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

I guess there are days when I’m thankful for having been an ice-skating fan in my younger days, though I was absorbing some floaty, dreamy, and cornball heteronormative crap against the white-ice backdrop.  So, as much as I did enjoy figure skaters Oksana Domnina’s and Maxim Shabalin’s technical excellence, I can honestly say they should have applied all that technique—and subsequent press–to another routine that didn’t involve offending people of color.

Here’s their original routine, if you missed it:

Bev Manton, a Worimi woman and chair of the Aboriginal Land Council, sums up the outrage:

From an Aboriginal perspective, this performance is offensive. It was clearly not meant to mock Aboriginal culture, but that does not make it acceptable to Aboriginal people. There are a number of problems with the performance, not least of all the fact both skaters are wearing brown body suits to make their skin appear darker. That alone puts them on a very slippery slope.

Australians know only too well the offence that can be caused by white people trying to depict themselves as black people during performance pieces. Last year’s domestic and international furore over the blackface skit on Hey, Hey it’s Saturday’s Red Faces is a recent case in point.

That said, I don’t think it’s the most offensive part of the performance. That honour belongs to some of the claims by Domnina and Shabalin that have accompanied it.

They are not, as they state, wearing “authentic Aboriginal paint markings”. They are wearing white body paint in designs they dreamed up after reading about Aboriginal Australians on the internet. The designs are no more “authentic” or “Aboriginal” than the shiploads of cheap, “Aboriginal” tourist trinkets that pour into our country from overseas.

This is not a particularly difficult concept. For art to be Australian, it must be painted by an Australian, and for art to be Australian Aboriginal, it must be painted by an Australian Aboriginal. Russian art is not painted by Italians, and I doubt Russians would be impressed if someone tried to pass it off otherwise.

And just as the designs are not Aboriginal, nor is the music to which the dance is being performed.

I acknowledge that Aboriginal people do not own the sound of the didgeridoo. That is one of our gifts to the rest of the world. Everyone is free to use it. But that does not mean it should be sampled and then presented as something it is not — traditional Aboriginal music.

Al-Jazeera English reports :

“The dancers have defended the routine, saying it’s not intended to represent Australian culture, but a mélange of ethnicities.”

Before anyone starts in with “but Domnina and Shabalin are racially ignorant exceptions” or that they don’t “get” racism because they’re Russians (or globe-trotting sportspeople), I’d say that, like many other human societies, Russia isn’t an othering-free country, though people of color in that nation may not call what they’ve experienced “racism” as how USians understand it:

Read the Post Cultural Appropriation Can Win You Olympic Medals

December 14, 2009 / / authenticity

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

Update: You can find a follow-up, clarification and response to the comments on this post here.

Thanks to Carmen, Andrea and Latoya for helping me flesh out my thoughts!

One night last summer, my Vietnamese friend Winston began recounting the number of top world athletes who also happen to be Asian. “Manny Pacquaio…Yao Ming…Ichiro Suzuki…Tiger Woods…”

“Hey wait,” another friend interrupted. “Can Asians really claim Tiger Woods? What, just because his great-grandmother is Asian he’s proof of Asian superiority?”

“Are you kidding?” Winston responded. “He’s more Asian than anything else.”  Immediately, multiple super phones were put to work verifying this.

This is what Tiger Woods’ Wikipedia page says:

Earl, a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam War veteran, was of mixed African American, Chinese and Native American ancestry. Kultida (née Punsawad), originally from Thailand, is of mixed Thai, Chinese, and Dutch ancestry. This makes Woods himself one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Thai, one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch. He refers to his ethnic make-up as “Cablinasian” (a syllabic abbreviation he coined from Caucasian, Black, (American) Indian, and Asian).

As you know, I am not a fan of referring to mixed race people in terms of percentages and fractions. But I was startled to discover that
1) Tiger Woods is in fact more Asian than anything else.
2) Tiger Woods’ parents are also mixed race – both of his parents can (and probably do) identify as people of colour.

Actually, Tiger Woods is just as Asian as I am.  I was stunned by this information. Why had I not known this? I always assumed that Tiger Woods’ dad was black and his mom was white, and that his Asian connection was a little more indirect, a la Barack.

It seems like I’m not the only one who misconstrued the complexity of Tiger’s roots.  By now we’re all familiar with the outrage around Tiger Woods’ racial taste in women.  Newspapers, blogs and Twitter feeds have blown up with commentary that Tiger’s apparent penchant for white women is just more evidence of how he tries to create distance between himself and black folks.  In essence, because he chooses to bed white women instead of black women, Tiger is not a real black person.

I’m not going to talk about the fact that it is absurd and small-minded to try and mandate the lovelife of an individual by threatening them with explulsion from a racial community.  What I am bothered by is that in all this race vetting, folks can’t even bother to get Tiger’s race right.

Read the Post 100% Cablinasian: Getting the Race Facts Right on Tiger Woods

December 3, 2009 / / authenticity
November 16, 2009 / / authenticity

By Guest Contributor Madhuri, originally published at Restore Fairness

“Police officers giving drivers $204 tickets for not speaking English? It sounds like a rejected Monty Python sketch. Except the grim reality is that it has happened at least 39 times in Dallas since January 2007….All but one of the drivers were Hispanic.”

Reporting on the issue, a New York Times editorial asks the question – is racism alive and kicking in America? If this were a one off incident, it could be an aberration. But 39 times makes it a growing pattern of injustice.

So how does one question who or who is not an American? Does it have to do with language, race, ethnicity, how long one has been in the United States – or is it about the more legal aspect of possessing citizenship.

Recently, an incredible achievement by Meb Keflezighi’s, winner of Men’s NYC Marathon, kicked off a number of doubts about whether this is truly an “American” achievement, or one imported in from outside.

“Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he’s not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies.”

Comments from a CNBC Sports Business Reporter who half apologized in a post the next morning.

“Frankly I didn’t account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi’s running experience came as a U.S. citizen. I never said he didn’t deserve to be called American.”

Keflezighi came to the United States when he was 12 from war torn Eritrea. Is that enough time for him to be an American? Ironically the last American to win the marathon was also born in another country – Cuba. Alberto Salazar’s comments from a New York Times article are insightful.

What if Meb’s parents had moved to this country a year before he was born? At what point is someone truly American? Only if your family traces itself back to 1800, will it count?

Read the Post Are you an authentic American?

October 28, 2009 / / authenticity
October 6, 2009 / / authenticity

by Guest Contributor (and frequent commenter) J Chang, originally published at Init_MovingPictures

Ever since news of The Last Airbender’s casting broke, there’s been a lot of commotion in the Asian American community about casting and how it seems that Asians are losing to white people in playing Asian characters. Now, there are issues present in the overall casting scene that people are picking up on here, but before I go further in depth on how race fits into casting, I want to lay down some groundwork for the discussion so that we know how to properly frame the arguments.

The Actor’s Craft

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge what the actor’s job is. As an actor, I’m aware of the theoretical paradox that we are placed in when playing a role. An actor is essentially taking on the role of someone that they are not. This artifice even extends to the rare case when an actor is playing themselves, as they are still “playing” a character on a stage or in front of a screen, rather than being themselves in real life.

In acting, even core identity matters such as sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, of the actor, shouldn’t matter. Only that of the character. The actor’s job, their craft, is to play a character that is certainly not themselves. I’m not saying that an actor’s actual identity won’t influence the way they play their character, but that ideally, a talented actor will overcome their own identity to play the character believably.

But this is speaking only of the actual job of acting and not the negotiating between the actor, the audience and the medium.

Read the Post Casting & Race Part 1: The Tension [Essay]