Category Archives: latino/a

Racialized performances in pop music or Why are Beyonce and JLo so scandalous?

This image is approved for consumption by polite society.

This image is approved for public consumption.

Last week, Jennifer Lopez scandalized Britain with a “raunchy” performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Not only did viewers flock to social media (as you do) to complain about JLo dropping it like it’s hot in a French-cut one piece and thigh-high boots, but British  TV regulator OfCom confirmed that it has received complaints about the broadcast and is assessing the matter, but not investigating it.

For helpful context, here is the performance–labeled “disgusting” and “shameful” by some critics–that provoked an “assessment” of whether a competitive reality show violated the bounds of decency.

In my humble opinion, the only thing indecent about that performance was the tepidness of the dancing and the awfulness of the song. (But, hey, maybe it’s not for me. I’m an old–actually the same age as JLo–and I don’t spend much time at the club lately.)

I suspect the assessment of Jennifer Lopez’s performance is influenced by both race, size and age bias. But you know I’m conspiratorial that way, so I asked Andrea, my homegirl and fellow editor at the R to weigh in.

Tami: When I heard all the crowing about this performance, I recalled Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance earlier this year., which also prompted cries of outrage.

Both of these performances seem astonishingly tame in the face of criticism. “Disgusting” is a pretty strong word to describe booty shaking in a body suit. Folk are generally cool with sexy (and sexist) Go Daddy commercials during the Super Bowl, but Queen Bey causes parents to “shield their kids’ eyes.”

I think the response to these performances is very much influenced by racial bias. Brown and black bodies are routinely sexualized. Latinas bear the weight of the “spicy” and “exotic” stereotypes. And those stereotypes have dogged Lopez throughout her career. The nickname “J. Ho”–a reference to the singer/actress’ alleged promiscuity and mercenary character–even has a spot in the Urban Dictionary. And I should point out, these accused character traits seem to be based on little but the skewed way this culture views Latinas.

Lopez herself told US magazine of the controversy: “I think people are so much raunchier than I am. I feel like I’m so tame. [I] wore it at Billboard and Britain’s Got Talent said they wanted exactly the same. So I thought I’d wear the outfit in black. No one complained at Billboard. I think people just like to talk. It was a bodysuit. A lot of performers wear that these days. It is standard stage clothes. I’m not going to walk down the street like that!”

JLo’s act does not seem markedly different from any other pop spectacle–no different Britney Spears’ iconic performance at the 2000 VMA’s or what this Britney impersonator did during an audition for…wait for it…“Britain’s Got Talent” in 2011.

Andrea: I agree, especially about the relative tepidness of Lopez’s performance and the non-scandalousness of her outfit.

What I think  is at play here is Beyonce and Lopez are doing dance moves that are, whether done with Beyonce’s exuberance or with Lopez’s tepidness, sexy moves that they thought of and/or approved of. In other words, they’re expressing their sexual agency. However, that’s a major no-no in a society steeped in the sexist ethos of “I can touch you, but you can’t touch yourself,” which has a long structural history in the lives of women of color due to slavery and colonization.

And this “what about the children” reasoning as to folks’ disgust with the two women’s performance brings up not only women of color doing that stereotypical thing of ruining people’s sexual “innocence” but also something of–how shall I phrase this?–an unspoken notion of the influence of images not only affecting how a person will be “brought up” to express their own sexuality but also the kind of person their brain will be hard-wired to be attracted to. If the child–and let’s be really real, kids are indeed sexual beings–is connecting their erotic feelings to seeing a woman of color dancing like Lopez and moreso like Beyonce, the parents may be thinking that their child just may act upon that attraction and–gasp!–fall in love and–clutch the pearls!–bring “such a woman” home as a spouse.

Tami: And here’s the other thing: Jennifer Lopez (and Beyonce) are not only women of color, they are also women known for having curvy body types, which are often associated with Latinas and black women and are larger than the current ideal for celebrities. Unrestrained fleshiness and jiggle reads differently than hard and trim; Physical abundance is often mistaken for wantonness.

Media wrote about Lopez’s “bum-baring” performance, but the singer’s booty is covered; her outfit was less revealing than typical beachwear. Could the rub be that JLo’s rear is big and round vs. tiny and tight?

Andrea: I think Lopez herself has pointed out how her body shape get framed in this society: “People equate sexy with promiscuous. They think that because I’m shaped this way, I must be scandalous–like running around and bringing men into my hotel room. But it’s just the opposite.” To me, Lopez shouldn’t have had to say such a thing–her body, however it’s shaped, is hers to do with what she wants with nary a comment to the press. However, the burden of the stereotypes about Latinas and Black women keeps us defending our reputations in the public space in order to, as Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry says in her book Sister Citizen, keep our bearings in the face of the socially constructed crooked images of ourselves.

But we’re not only defending our reputations that folks assume comes with our bodies; we also need to defend our bodies, literally, as seen by the clip of Beyonce whipping around and firmly telling a white-appearing concertgoer in Denmark that she’d have him removed because he smacked her butt–and this happened last week!

This brings me back to what you said about our bodies being routinely sexualized. It’s not just that bodies of color are routinely sexualized; it’s that our bodies are furthermore seen–still–as public sexual property to be discussed and publicly contested to be the figures that people shouldn’t aspire to desire sexually, though I’ve heard quite a few non-Black and non-Latin@s say that Beyonce and Lopez inspired them to “love their curves” and/or “embrace their booties” in light of the contested reality that Beyonce’s and Lopez’s curves are seen as a physical and sexual ideal.

Tami: Lastly, I think age is a factor in this discussion as well. Western culture worships youth. Women past a certain age aren’t supposed to sexy; we are supposed to cover up. Madonna is routinely told to put it away. And, to hear some folks tell it, Janet Jackson’s biggest sin wasn’t showing booby on primetime television, but showing over-40 booby. Sexy dressing may be fine for the 20-somethings, but for women north of 40, it is unseemly.

Andrea: *Sigh* I think part of this is the association of age and motherhood. Lopez and Beyonce are both mothers. Forty-something women especially (Bey is in her 30s) are cast as matronly–whether or not we have children–and being sexually attracted to a woman of that age is seen as MILFing, which, as the phrase states, is all about desiring a woman old enough to be (some)one’s mom, who are always constructed as non-sexual beings in this society. (Thus, the porned-out “shock” of the attraction.)

But, as we talked about in an earlier conversation, pop is relentlessly marketed as the “music of youth”–and “youth” is relentless hyped as the desired, if not ideal, stage of life, partly because of its able-bodied physicality–that very few people have a career in pop music in their late 30s and especially in their 40s and beyond, especially women of color. The brilliant singer Cassandra Wilson can enjoy a long career in jazz. Jill Scott can stay a neo-soul singer for a good long time, especially since she can always cross over into jazz (which she has). Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops will have longevity in the alt-country/bluegrass scene. Tina Turner, who had a string of pop hits in the 80s, is idolized as a rock icon who here lately rocked out as as torch singer. Grace Jones is lionized as a black proto-AfroPunk goddess who can shame all pop performers with a hula hoop. And I highly doubt any of them would get whapped on their asses at their concerts.

No, it’s pop goddesses who are so deeply degraded when they aren’t meeting the physical ideals of youth, like, well, getting older. And it’s Black and Latina pop goddesses–like Beyonce, Jackson, and Lopez, who’s still fondly remembered as one of the Fly Girls for In Living Color–who are degraded so roundly and so publicly.

A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness

By Arturo R. García

Poster for “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Image via thetrekcollective.com

Kendra and I will have a more thorough discussion regarding Star Trek Into Darkness on Wednesday. But, now that the film is out and a rather big racebending cat is out of the bag, I figured we’d open things up for a bigger discussion. Spoilers under the cut.
Continue reading

Friday Foolishness: Selena Gomez Is Wearing A Bindi?

By Andrea Plaid

Image via The Aerogram

Image via The Aerogram.

Usually, this space at this time is reserved for the Racialicious Crush Of The Week. But sometimes we gotta keep our Fridays light by giving some side-eye to some face-palming foolishness.

This week’s features some old-school kyriarchy from former Disney star Selena Gomez, who’s been styling out with bindis since the MTV Video Awards in mid-April. Before folks jump in the comments and talk about how that’s impossible for a woman of color to appropriate from another culture of color…as we say around these parts, “If you’re not part of the group, then you’re more than likely appropriating.” And Gomez, who is the child of a Mexican-American dad and a white mom, wears the bindi with the privileges of a non-South Asian woman born and reared in the US.

The Aerogram’s Jaya Bedi wrote a great post eloquently summing up what’s all wrong with Gomez putting on a bindi:

 It is a problem when religious symbols become widespread and therefore lose their religious significance. But the fear of dilution isn’t really an issue here — the bindi has lost whatever religious significance it once had to Hindus some time ago, and is now used mostly for decoration. Madonna and Gwen Stefani didn’t turn the bindi into a fashion statement when they adopted it in the 90s — we desi women already did so years before that.

What makes the non-South Asian person’s use of the bindi problematic is the fact that a  pop star like Selena Gomez wearing one is guaranteed to be better received than I would if I were  to step out of the house rocking a dot on my forehead. On her, it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my Otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls. If the use of the bindi by mainstream pop stars made it easier for South Asian women to wear it, I’d be all for its proliferation — but it doesn’t. They lend the bindi an aura of cool that a desi woman simply can’t compete with, often with the privilege of automatic acceptance in a society when many non-white women must fight for it.

I understand being a little flummoxed at the rage that the bindi issue inspires in our community. The anger always seems disproportionate to the crime. But will I celebrate the “mainstreaming” of a South Asian fashion item? Nope. Not when the mainstream doesn’t accept the people who created it.

Related posts:

Cultural Appropriation: Homage Or Insult

Indigenous Feminism And Cultural Appropriation

On Cultural Appropriation: Halloween And Beyond

Miss(ed) Representations, Part One: “I’m A Culture, Not A Costume” Campaign

Open Letter To the PocaHotties And Indian Warriors This Halloween

 

Voices: Bloomberg, Stop And Frisk, And Consequences For NYC

Photo via The Atlantic

The closer we come to the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s term, the clearer it becomes that he’s more than comfortable with leaving a slew of issues for his successor to deal with. Bloomberg remains unwavering in his support of Stop and Frisk, even accusing the media outlets reporting on its opposition of being racist in their own right. The next mayor of New York is going to have to deal with the policy’s fallout and choose whether or not to finally acknowledge the toll it takes on Black and Latino communities throughout the city.

Continue reading

Are “Latina” Muslim Women The New Face Of Islam?

By Guest Contributor Eren; originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

What do you think when you hear the word Latin? Or Latina, to be more exact? Spicy? Or perhaps “loud,” “flamboyant” and “sexy”? Maybe the word just inspires images of women like Salma Hayek and J-Lo. Many of us are, sadly, very familiar with the image of what “Latinas” are supposed to look like. Just think of bombshell Gloria from Modern Family, hyper-sexual Gabrielle Solis from Desperate Housewives, or Michelle Rodríguez, the sexy tomboy, from Fast and Furious.

Sofia Vergara vs Eva Longoria – via Flickr.com

As a Latin American woman, these stereotypes have always bothered me, especially because, in some cases, the stereotypes surrounding “Latinas” are often perpetrated by some high-profile Latin Americans themselves who tend to abide by the sexualized stereotypes even outside their TV or movie characters.

Personally, I prefer the term Latin American to “Latina” which I see as a Western creation that conjures up these stereotypes.

Several things bother me about how Latin American women are portrayed in the media. It is not only that most of us look nothing like the women mentioned above, but also that I hate labels. I do not see myself as a bombshell, let alone as a hyper-sexual woman looking to please Western men. I do not see my self in the “Latina” image, which I see as a creation of the patriarchal Western imagination. Instead, I like to think of myself as a plain and simple Latin American woman… no one’s fantasy or stereotype.

Continue reading

Faltas De Respeto: Lupe Ontiveros And Soledad O’Brien Get Slighted

By Arturo R. García

After nearly a week of protests, Lupe Ontiveros will take her place among Hollywood’s dearly departed.

Fox News Latino reported that Ontiveros will be included in an online memorial gallery put together by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

But that’s likely only a partial salve for her being excluded from the televised tribute shown during Sunday’s Academy Awards.
Continue reading

Voices: RIP Trayvon Martin, One Year Later

It rained in Sanford, Fla., on Tuesday, just like it did exactly a year ago when Trayvon Martin died there.

The shooting death of an unarmed black 17-year-old at the hands of a part-white, part-Peruvian neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community catapulted the central Florida city into headlines around the world and launched heated discussions about race and guns and Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

George Zimmerman, 29, faces second-degree murder charges in the case after invoking that law, which allows the use of deadly force in some life-threatening situations.

Despite the damp conditions Tuesday, a crowd amassed outside Sanford’s Goldsboro Welcome Center and the Goldsboro Historical Museum by midmorning. Museum curator Francis Oliver said she opened the welcome center a few hours early to accommodate the score or so of people who gathered to get a glimpse at the items memorializing the slain teenager.

There are crosses and flags, dolls and pictures of the teenager, Oliver said of the items showcased at the permanent memorial made from the items that initially cropped up outside the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where Trayvon was fatally shot.
- Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times

Continue reading

Open Thread: 2013 State Of The Union Address

In a speech that built on the progressive agenda laid out by his second inauguration, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address touched on a wide range of issues: he called for the minimum wage to be increased to $9 an hour; he continued asking lawmakers for immigration reform. And in the clip above, he invoked the memory of Hadiya Pendleton as part of an appeal for gun safety legislation:

She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party turned to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)–himself at the center of the party’s own push to court Latino voters–to deliver the response. And this happened.

Your thoughts on this year’s latest bout of political theater, Racializens?