Category Archives: exoticisation

Table for Two: Kumaré, Or How A Guru Is Born Out Of Orientalism

kumare2-1024x658

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid with featured guest, Sikivu Hutchinson, author of “Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars”

Tami: Kumaré follows a filmmaker, Vikram Gandhi, who transforms himself into a fake guru to explore the concepts of blind religious faith and devotion to spiritual figures. It is interesting that Vikram and his assistants–all American-born and -raised–adopted accents in the subterfuge, playing off the magical brown person/foreigner trope.

Andrea: Would he be believable if he didn’t take on the accent?

Sikivu: Channeling the authentic brown magical mystery tour exotic (and I’m thinking specifically here of the sixties cult of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi legitimized in the West by mega-celebs like the Beatles) wouldn’t be complete without the right “Orientalist” lilt.

Tami: There are plenty of American religious/spiritual figures who inspire a devotion similar to that demonstrated by Kumaré’s followers. But I also think his race and faux accent provided a short cut of sorts.

Andrea: And I think that shortcut allowed the subterfuge to be more successful. Deepak Chopra wouldn’t be where he is if he didn’t have his accent.

Tami: …or if he were named Bob Henderson. It’s the otherness that adds credibility.

Andrea: Great minds, sis! That’s why I see some white people adopt “exotic” names when they become gurus or get deep into yoga.

Sikivu: Yes, and the drooling idolatry of Kumaré’s mostly-white female acolytes underscores this—I know a number of lib/progressive white women who have adopted trendy “yogic”  names to buttress their devoutness and confer them with the Eastern mystic equivalent of “street” cred.

Tami: This ties into the biased belief that brown people (and I say that meaning all brown peoples–black folks, Native Americans, etc.) are inherently plugged into something

Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi

Jersey-born filmmaker Vikram Gandhi outside of his Kumare costume

beyond the physical world…some magic. And that “magic” can be positioned positively or negatively, but it is part of the mantle of “other.” By adopting guru “drag,” the filmmaker successfully plugs into that idea. A brown guy with short hair and a clean-shaven face in jeans and a button down, may be too Americanized (read: normal) to work his magical mojo.

We went to see this awful movie, The Last Exorcism II, and at some point (of course) the protag goes to visit a black roots woman in New Orleans. I commented to my husband about the character’s vaguely African headwrap and her exaggerated accent. But the viewer would likely not have accepted that part if she had a Queen Bey lace-front and sounded like a black Brooklynite or had my Midwestern twang. We like our magical brown people unassimilated.

Sikivu:  And the noble savage sexuality of Kumaré goes hand-in-hand with the way the film trots out and parodies the West’s eternal fascination with the Magical Negro/Indian/Asian (take your pick) other.  The blond woman gushing in her living room about how Kumaré has “touched her life” looks practically orgasmic.  So much of this guru shtick is tied up with the charade of liberating the repressed uptight “rationalist” white folk from their shackles a la Norman Mailer’s “White Negro” paradigm pimping “black soul” as antidote to all that ails the modern white man.  A brilliant send-up on this theme is “The Couple in a Cage,” by Guillermo Gomez Pena and Coco Fusco—they mounted a performance piece where they pretended to be indigenous primitives displayed in their “native habitat” for the delectation of mostly white museum-goers seeking authentic savage artifacts.  While there was no overtly religious element to it, the Western impulse to gain validation through the body/essence and “shamanic” wisdom of the other is similar.

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Suheir Hammad

By Andrea Plaid

Since it’s National Poetry Month, let’s talk about one of my favorite poets: Suheir Hammad.

Of course, Hammad speaks quite a few women of color’s truth with her classic piece, “Not Your Erotic, Not Your Exotic”:

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The Least Happy Jamaican: On Volkswagen’s Super Bowl Commercial

By Guest Contributor Suzanne Persard

Am I the last Jamaican to miss the happiness train?

After millions of hits on YouTube and a whirl of international attention, arguably the most popular commercial Volkswagen has ever aired, has been approved by “100 Jamaicans,” hailed as humorous by hundreds of other Jamaicans, and endorsed by the Jamaican Minister of Tourism.

The ad features a white man from Minnesota speaking exaggeratedly in patois, urging his unhappy coworkers to become happier with phrases like, “Yuh know what dis room needs? A smile!”  Clearly, this is Volkswagen’s way of telling you, Jamaicans are happy! You should be happy, too! Buy a 2013 Volkswagen Beetle and get happy!
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Race + Fashion: Life, Labels, And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Michael Kors bag.

By Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn Eaton, cross-posted from Digital Femme

“Cheryl Lynn, you will have your first and last dollar.” My mother says it with blend of mirth, surprise, and exasperation–as if she cannot believe she produced a child who behaves in such a practical manner, a child who would dare complain that she had to spend twenty-four dollars on a purse due to the old one falling apart at the seams. My mother possesses a walk-in closet full of purses. Not one could be purchased for twenty-four dollars. The glint of a gold circle surrounding a bold M and K–the lack of one separating my leather satchel from her assortment–costs a great deal more.

Yet, my mother is a child of poverty; I am a child of the working-class struggle. She needs her talismans, her high-end upmarket logos, to make her feel as if she is of worth. I was taught to fear them, to believe that obtaining them would bring about financial ruin. I’ve jokingly told many friends that I’m glad I grew up working-class instead of rich, middle class, or poor because it has made me so paranoid about money that I’ll never purchase designer labels. Black working-class kids are raised to believe that one wrong move will have you back in the ghetto where your parents came from. Working-class kids are raised on fear.
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Quoted: Adios Barbie On Stereotypes And Body Image

Supporters of the “Black is Beautiful” campaign and several others similar to sought to redefine beauty in ways that both included and uplifted black women from what Princeton professor Imani Perry describes as the “generally degrading and unattractive, or hypersexual and less feminine” images of black women in society. The message was clear: as Bill Cosby famously put it, “It isn’t a matter of black is beautiful as much as it is white is not all that’s beautiful.” Could it be that black women ignore the dominant images of beauty and instead dance to their own tune, or have we simply flipped the coin and replaced one set of controlling images with another?

Being skinny was never a crime. Yet somewhere along the way, African American pop culture took over and a binary standard of beauty once more became dominant among black women. In a classic two-steps-forward-one-step-back scenario, the Washington Post announced what watching any rap music video will tell you: skinny is out, “thick is in,” and having some extra meat on your bones is a virtue (cue the parade of “fiercely real” women with curves, because “real” women obviously come with curves.)

One self-proclaimed “real” woman is the British TV and radio presenter Mica Paris, who, with her less-than-real hair, claims that black women are happier with their appearance. Paris wrote in the UK’s Daily Mail in 2012: “I don’t know any black women who aspire to be skeletal, and even if we did, nature decrees that we shouldn’t be. We’re made with breasts, bottoms and well-developed quads.” It doesn’t take a genius to know that aligning black women to the supposed naturalness of a fuller figure is not only incorrect but also horribly subjective.

- From “Binary Thinking About Body Image Hurts Us All,” by Vinjeru Mkandawire

Nothing Says Native American Heritage Month Like White Girls In Headdresses

By Guest Contributor Sasha Houston Brown

Gwen Stefani in No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” video. Via theinsider.com

There is something insidiously ironic about being American Indian during the fall of the 21st century. It all starts with Columbus Day to mark our “discovery,” then moves right into the “it’s totally not racist to dress up as a hypersexualized Indian” awkward Halloween party, and goes out with a bang on Thanksgiving when we celebrate the survival of the Pilgrims and that harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship forged between colonizers and Indigenous peoples everywhere! However romanticized or factually inaccurate, these holidays happen to be the three days when Native peoples actually enter the mass psyche of American culture.

I don’t know about you, but I usually spend this time of year parading around in my Navajo Hipster panties, feather headdress (on loan from Karlie Kloss and Gwen Stefani), Manifest Destiny T-Shirt and knee-high fringed moccasins made in Taiwan while watching a Redskins game, smoking a pack of American Spirits, and eating genetically modified Butter Ball turkey, because I’m just that traditional.
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Excerpt: On Halloween And ‘Native’ Costumes

The Wider Society Says: Totally cool. They are honoring Native Americans…they are just having fun…these people claim Native American ancestry…these are not racist costumes…so its okay…

I guess the Civil Rights Movement was only for certain groups and racism only counts against some minorities but not all.

Society as a whole does not condemn these outfits and they are even considered fashionable at the moment. While all hell breaks loose over other racist costumes, these tend to go without notice to the point that many consider it a legitimate or even fashionable option. Seriously, even progressive websites listing racist costumes conspicuously forget Native American costumes. I honestly did not attend a Halloween party yesterday because if I ran into a well-educated white and affluent peer of mine dressed as a Native American I do not know what I would do.
- From Speak Faithfullly

Racist Stereotypes At The Lupe Pintos Chili Cook-Off

By Guest Contributor Beth Frieden

[Editor's Note: Racialicious was contacted Monday morning and asked to remove the photos seen here due to copyright concerns. This piece has been updated in keeping with the request. - AG]

Lupe Pintos is a Mexican, Spanish, and American imports store in Edinburgh and Glasgow that I have enjoyed visiting from time to time since I moved to Scotland from the US, but I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw a flyer for their Chili Cookoff in my local social centre. Lupe Pintos are well-known and popular, having been open in Edinburgh for 21 years now, and started celebrating their fourth annual chili cook-Off this year on October 20th in Edinburgh, and will be in Glasgow on October 27th. So what’s the problem with this celebration of delicious food?

The poster advertised “Come dressed as Cowboys, Mexicanos, Wild West, Day of the Dead.” Come dressed as Mexicanos? Really? From a store that specializes in Mexican food? You would think the owners would have had ample opportunity to realize that “Mexican” isn’t a costume but rather a present-day real identity.

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