Franchesca Ramsey is doing an interesting series for MTV called Decoded, debunking all kinds of racial stereotypes. This week, Ramsey takes on the racial bias that occurs when people think they are being complimentary. Explaining why people projecting their own thoughts on mixed race children is problematic, Ramsey also opens the floor to biracial people on Snapchat, allowing them to add their stories to the narrative.
By Guest Contributor Kristen Green
After talking with a group of writers about my new book—part memoir, part history—I was approached by a white woman who questioned my use of the term multiracial to refer to my husband.
“Is he Black?” she asked. When I said no, she firmly suggested that I “just call him American Indian.”
by Sharon Chang, originally posted at Multiracial Asian Families
Okay first let’s just get this out of the way. Aloha is a really, really bad movie. Like REALLY bad. It’s getting horrible reviews (as it should) for lousy directing, a terrible script, mismatched A-list actors, poor production etc. It’s boring as hell to watch. I’m not going to even bother giving a a story synopsis here because the plot is so pointless and uninteresting, it doesn’t matter anyway. If you want or need a synopsis, it’s easy to find one online. Just do a web search.
No all you need to know, if you don’t already, is this: Set in Hawaii where Native Hawaiians continue to be besieged by whites and the military, the movie centers white people and the U.S. military anyway, all of which is supposedly made better by the conceit of a military-serving mixed-race Hawaiian/Chinese/Swedish character, who is actually played by a white actress.
Yup. Pretty much.
I saw this movie not because I wanted to (believe me there were so many other things I’d rather have been doing on a sunny day in Seattle), but because I felt I needed to. It’s rare that any sort of discussion about mixed-race/Asian intersections enters public discourse. So when it does, it’s a really important opportunity to get a glimpse into how society views and thus treats people of multiracial Asian descent.
I think almost everyone acknowledges/agrees here that casting a white woman in the role of mixed-race woman of color is crap; that blatant Hollywood whitewashing against a Hawaiian backdrop merely renews the license on an insidious practice that keeps marginalizing people of color. But as the scathing reviews keep rolling in, here’s what I’m really noticing: “Why is Emma Asian”, “Emma Stone Isn’t Asian”, “Not Buying Emma Stone As An Asian-American”, “Emma Stone As An Asian”, “Asian Emma Stone”.
Do you see it too? This is a film set in Hawaii which yes, doesn’t depict the many Asians who live there and alludes to yellow peril, but ultimately is a place that belongs to (and has been stolen from) the Hawaiian people. And yet in our conversations somehow this crucial point seems to be getting subsumed under the shadow of politicized Asian America. Even multiraciality seems to be less interesting to the public than that a character was supposed to be a ‘quarter’ Chinese. To be fair, reviewers do mention Native Hawaiians, Hawaiian culture, history and oppression to varying degrees (they sort of have to), but it’s pretty clear the fact of Stone’s non-Asian-(sometimes-mixed)-ness, is the one calling shotgun:
“…[multiracial people] comprise the fastest-growing population in America. Which makes Crowe’s choice of Stone as the melanin-free embodiment of Hawaiian soul and one of the most prominent part-Asian characters ever to appear in a mainstream Hollywood film so baffling.”
– Entertainment Weekly
“Emma Stone, a white actress best known for her role as a white savior with a heart of gold in ‘The Help,’ plays a character who is ostensibly the result of an Asian penis interacting with a white vagina.”
– The Frisky
“‘IT IS THE YEAR 2015. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME HOW EMMA STONE, WHO IS WHITER THAN WHITE, GOT CAST AS A HALF ASIAN CHARACTER.'”
Aloha actually features one of the more prominent Asian/mixed heritage female leads in any studio movie in recent memory. She just happens to be played by Emma Stone.
– The Daily Beast
“In an industry that already severely lacks Asian representation on the big screen, they get EMMA STONE to play an Asian…Have you learned nothing from Breakfast at Tiffany’s? It’s offensive. And it’s offensive to let the talents of many Asian actors go to waste. Plus, it’s just plain rude pulling this during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”
As far as I can tell, none of these mainstream reviewers are of Native Hawaiian descent and less than half are of mixed descent.
This, I don’t like. At. All. I’m deeply invested in exploring the facets of a mixed-race Asian identity and looking at the many questions it raises in a raced/racist world. But I am notinterested in a conversation about that identity which moves towards anti-indigeneity. This is what I see as the Hapa narrative, where mixed-race gets used as a wedge to further divide people of color while advancing white supremacy; something I wrote about in “Say Hapa, With Care” for AAPI Voices (2014):
The hapa of [Native Hawaiian] people stands in stark contrast to a widely commodified version, which lumps together mixed-race Asians and Pacific Islanders and then somehow magically loses the Pacific Islander part. This is no accident (whether intentional or not). It stems from a history that has sought to forget and remove Native peoples for centuries.
This is why, over the weekend, I called my fierce Native Hawaiian friend, scholar and activist Maile Arvin again to get her weigh in. And this is why, right now, I’m going to stop talking about my analysis immediately and let hers take final-center stage.
I’m not really interested in what they think is a more culturally competent movie but still is a white romance. It’s fundamentally flawed. It’s about a military contract and using Hawaii to protect the US from China and Japan…I haven’t seen critique of that. I’ve seen a lot of critique of the word ‘Aloha’ [but] more fundamentally it’s a settler/colonial movie. It’s not just about the name of it but the story they tell about Hawaii.
Maile was completely even-keeled, unruffled and unsurprised by the whitewashing of Aloha:
Hollywood doesn’t usually do well by Hawaiians. The tourism industry depends on all these movies about white romance in Hawaii. It’s not lucrative for Hollywood or tourism to tell any other story. There are so many movies that are shot in Hawaii and often they’re not identified as [being in] Hawaii, like Lost orJurassic Park. Hawaii is often used as the backdrop for all these stories that are about uninhabited islands – or – if it’s about Hawaii, it’s about white people falling in love.
She said she’d heard the movie-makers were claiming, in their defense, that Cameron Crowe loves, adores and respects Hawaii; that he researched his film for months and worked to incorporate the story of the Hawaiian people. But, she replied:
What Maile said she’s been far more interested to see is so many articles criticizing Aloha‘s whitewashing when, by contrast, Descendants (which also featured a mixed-race Hawaiian character played by white actor George Clooney) drew so little attention in 2011:
It seems like the Emma Stone character being Asian has sparked more critique than Descendants. Nobody seemed to have a problem with George Clooney playing a Hawaiian. [So] for a large audience, Hawaiians looking white isn’t a problem, but a mixed Asian person looking white is unbelievable. Which is kind of disturbing. The wider public thinks that Hawaiians could look like Emma Stone, but if they’re mixed with Asian, they can’t. It seems connected to larger problems like the API [Asian Pacific Islander] designation and Asian Americans speaking on behalf or over Pacific Islanders. It shows gaps in solidarity.
In conclusion, she powerfully spoke on the kind of intention/action it really takes to build coalitions and work in alliance with the Native Hawaiian community:
There are definitely a lot of mixed families and people who are Asian and Hawaiian. They are not necessarily always in conflict. At the same time, a lot of people who aren’t mixed [Hawaiian] grew up on the island and identify as Hawaiian. That’s the same problem. It just covers up Native Hawaiians again. And Native Hawaiians are erased from so many things. It’s important to be clear about how you represent yourself. For example, there are some Asian American activists [in Hawaii] that identify themselves as Asian settlers. Some people hate that idea. But it’s a way to express solidarity and really involve in activism with Native Hawaiians.
I think we need to be very very careful, aware, and far more thoughtful about the ways we critique this film. At this point I’m maybe even less concerned with Cameron Crowe (who’s an idiot) and his dumb movie, and way more worried about us. If we’re truly outraged by Hollywood whitewashing because it invisibilizes and erases, do we do much better when we erase too? Aren’t we just cloning the same that’s been done to us? Emma Stone should not have been cast in a person of color role. I one hundred percent agree. But let us never forget what that role was truly supposed to be. Not just an Asian one – but a very marginalized Indigenous and mixed-race one too.
Undoing racism is about uplifting oppressed voices, remembering forgotten histories, and not allowing our own suffering to become more important than the suffering of others. In thinking on Aloha, please make sure you are also hearing/centering Native Hawaiian voices and the story of Native Hawaiian peoples:
By Arturo R. García
It’s only fitting that director Amma Assante’s Belle, a movie that culminates in a court, makes its own case crisply, and clearly. There’s a sense of some romanticizing, mind, but even that is based on hard evidence: the real Dido Elizabeth Belle did have a happy life.
So, admirably, Assante and writer Misan Sagay don’t try to inject pathos where it’s not necessary. Nor do they overplay their somewhat stacked cast, instead keeping Gugu Mbatha-Raw at the center, which she ably holds up. Because her story — at least, this story — positions her at the intersection of her own nascent questioning of her place in the world and her mentor’s role in shaping its future.
Today, UC Santa Barbara will cancel classes to mourn George Chen, Katie Cooper, Cheng Yuan Hong, Chris Martinez, Weihan Wang, and Veronika Weiss, the six people whose deaths at the hands of a young biracial man — we will not print his full name in this space if we can help it — over the weekend brought sudden, needed attention to several particularly toxic strains of performative cis-masculinity.
But, while debates continue over the causes of the fatal attacks and the killer’s motivations, what cannot be argued anymore is that this is an outlier.
Driving that conversation were tags like #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen, and When Women Refuse, a tumblr created by activist Deanna Zandt to highlight other stories of men who felt so entitled to womens’ bodies and spaces that they responded with violence to their privilege being rebuffed.
Under the cut, we’ve compiled portions of some of the most informative analyses of the situation.
Editor’s Note: Trigger Warning for the subject matter.
Amani Starnes’ new web series centers on what it’s like to be an “ethnically ambiguous” actress in Hollywood and the recipient of a host of stereotypes and biases. Starnes writes that she has “dealt with the ‘What are you?’ question her whole life. But what does it mean to be black, white, and everything in between as she navigates the entertainment industry and life in LA? The United Colors of Amani, a comedy with sociological undertones, sheds light on the uncomfortable, awkward, and outrageous constructions of race permeating showbiz.”
Episode 1: The Tryout
By Guest Contributor Amalia Clarice Mora; originally published at Feminist Wire
Life is easier, kinder, and more lenient when you are white, and this may be why George Zimmerman decided to downplay his mestizo origins and identify as white/white Hispanic during the Trayvon Martin trial. Zimmerman is a partially white half-Hispanic, and as such he was already closer to whiteness and the privilege it grants than Martin ever could have been. But perhaps Zimmerman knew that just being a partially white mestizo wouldn’t win him an acquittal, and so he decided to identify with a category of “really” or “fully” white people who would sympathize more with a white man whose actions reflected his (and their) fears of black America.
When I was growing up in Los Angeles during the 1990s, “really” or “fully” white meant Northern-European looking. Aryan looking. Those with the combination of an olive complexion, a “big” or “bumpy” nose, and black hair were not “really” white. These “not really white” people included individuals belonging to groups officially labeled “Caucasian” (i.e., Eastern European Jewish, Arab, Middle Eastern, Southern Italian, or Central Asian), as well as mixed raced people with a partially white background. They were the “sort-of white” people, because of their official racial status or their mixed race background, but “not white” in the way people treated and perceived them. The “sort-of whites” were put into an ambiguous “other” pile and were constantly asked (like many other non-white Americans): “Where are you from? I mean—originally?” “Sort-of whites” never felt really truly American, and those of Middle-Eastern, Arab, and Central Asian descent faced the most discrimination from peers, not only because of the way they looked, but also because their families were recent immigrants.
Discrimination against “dark-ish” immigrants in the U.S. is as old as the country itself. White Americans have always had a socioeconomic interest in proving that they are the “real” Americans with the right to establish and control institutions. The category of white, in regard to European immigrants, was relatively fluid until the mid-nineteenth century, when it became restricted to individuals of Anglo-Saxon origin. Europeans perceived to be of the darker “variety” (e.g., Polish, Jews, Italians) occupied a kind of “in-between” space when it came to racial identity and designation. The official status of “in-between” “sort of whites” of European, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian descent changed to “white” in the twentieth century, yet many people belonging to this category still don’t feel “really” white. The more purportedly “Arab” or “ethnic looking” they are, the more they feel and are treated as non-white.
I have experienced what it is like to be a “sort-of white” person because of my racial background, my upbringing, and the way I look. My dad is Mexican-American of mostly Amerindian descent and my mom is of German, Scottish, and Cherokee descent. Ethnically and culturally speaking, in other words, I am partly white. Many Mexican-Americans I knew growing up were either poor or lower-middle class and experienced economic as well as cultural marginality. My family wanted my sister and me to feel American, not marginal. Ensuring this meant ensuring that we were imbued, at least partially, with what had become a Euro-centric English-speaking white culture. This culture has always been institutionalized as American. Other American traditions, other holidays, values, philosophies, and languages, have been systematically excluded, never allowed to become American. This is why black, Hispanic, and Asian cultures, despite having had a firm presence in America for generations, are still “hyphenated” cultures. Though I was surrounded by the Spanish language, Mexican food, music, and holidays growing up, I was also exposed to homogenized, anglicized, and middle-class American culture. And this may be why some of my Mexican-American/Chicano friends and acquaintances can’t always relate to me— to the part of me that has, in their eyes, “become white,” culturally speaking.
My physical appearance, however, has shaped the “sort-of whiteness” I experience most explicitly. Many people in the U.S. don’t think I look Hispanic, and usually assume I am of some other “dark,” “brown,” or “sort-of white” ethnicity. As a result, white acquaintances often feel free to make invidious jokes or derogatory remarks about Mexican people in front of me. Some make these jokes and remarks knowing my ethnic and cultural background, but perhaps they assume that the access to whiteness I have because of my physical appearance will make me indifferent to their cruelty.
Though my appearance has often allowed me to avoid anti-Hispanic prejudice, it has exposed me to the kind of prejudice some “sort-of white” people face. Conflating nationality, race, and religion, many people in the U.S. lump Middle Eastern, Central Asian (and sometimes South Asian) nationals, Arabs, and Muslims together into one category of “darkish” or Muslim-ish” looking people. Many people in the U.S. assume I belong to this group, and have discriminated against me, accordingly.
When I was in my early teens, a few white acquaintances tried to insult me by calling me the “Armenian chick,” and made fun of the bump on my nose saying it was ugly and Persian or “Middle Eastern” looking. In college, I received an anonymous email, and attached to it was a picture of two naked women. Both women were lying down, legs spread, vaginas center stage. One woman was a blonde whose pubic and leg hair had been shaved. The other was an older dark-skinned Arab woman, unshaven. Under the Arab woman a caption read, “Here’s what they have,” and under the blonde woman, “Here’s what we have.” It hurt even more when some Hispanic and African Americans began discriminating against my sister and me post 9/11, perhaps eager to finally feel like they could become part of the American “us” versus the hyphenated “them.” In one incident, a man yelled at my sister while she was walking down the street, “Get out of my way, you Arab bitch.”
In no way am I implying that I have experienced what it is like to be Arab, Muslim, or Middle-Eastern in the United States. Moreover, I recognize the advantages I’ve had as a person perceived to be “sort-of white,” “part” white, or “brown-ish,” as opposed to the more explicit and cruel forms of hatred and institutionalized racism that those perceived to be “fully” non-white experience. My point here is to show how the mixed race, partially white, and/or “sort-of white” experience can reveal how problematic and exclusionary American understandings of whiteness are, and, therefore how real and severe the problem of race still is.
Even many individuals of Southern European and Eastern European Jewish descent still don’t feel fully American because of the way they look. Some of my friends and acquaintances that belong to this group have obtained plastic surgery or blonde streaks in an effort to “Aryanize” themselves. This means that even though they have, to a certain extent, become white culturally and in official rhetoric, they have not become white physically or psychologically. And if they still don’t feel American because they don’t feel fully white, then what does this mean for everyone else?
It means that whiteness has not become more inclusive. It means that whiteness welcomes and rewards those willing to hide, downplay, or remove traces of ethnic features, traditions, or origins (read: George Zimmerman). And it means that those who have no chance of being even semi-included in this exclusionary privileged club (read: African Americans), become even more marginalized and even more non-white than before. It means that the closer one is to being black, the harder, harsher, and more unjust life will be.
When they were growing up, my dad and step-mom both faced discrimination and feelings of inferiority because of their poverty and ethnicity. During a recent dinner table conversation, they told me that they have always hoped that I would never experience shame. Shame is debilitating yet persuasive in its ardor, like a jealous friend. Shame keeps us company in the hide-out it has forced us into. I didn’t want to upset my dad and step-mom, so during the discussion, I didn’t reveal to them that throughout most of my life I have experienced a great deal of shame in regards to the racism I have experienced. I have felt and still feel misunderstood by those who perceive me to be too “Middle-Eastern-ish,” “not Chicana enough,” or “not white enough.” I am often asked why my name, Amalia, isn’t spelled with an accent, the way it is spelled in Mexico. And I am often asked, “What kind of name is Amalia—I mean originally?”
Lately, I have been trying to use my personal experiences to help challenge understandings of American whiteness and race. Lately, I have been responding to this question by saying, “Amalia is an American name.” Its ambiguity is part of the Middle Eastern story I am assumed to have. Its lack of accent is part of my assimilation story, part of my white story. And its accent fills in the confused space that is my México.
They say shame starts to lose its poison when it is turned into a story. And so I try.
Behad, Ali. 2005. A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States. Durham: Duke University Press.
Ignatiev, Noel. 1996. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge.
Jacobson, Mathew Frye. 1999. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Roediger, David. 2005. Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs. New York: Basic Books.
Samhan, Helen Hatab. 1999. “Not Quite White: Race Classification and the Arab American Experience.” In Arabs in America: Building a New Future, edited by Michael W. Suleiman. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Amalia Clarice Mora is a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her doctoral research examines how tensions related to class, caste, and gender are negotiated within the context of music tourism in Goa, India. Her other research interests include interracial attraction and mixed race experiences in the U.S., and how sociocultural anxieties related to both manifest themselves in unofficial discourse and texts, such as rumor and internet comment sections.
By Arturo R. García
So late last week, this fake trailer for a live-action Daria movie started going around online:
The premise, which brings the eponymous anti-heroine back to Lawndale for her high-school reunion, is clever. And the casting of Aubrey Plaza is not only a great comedic fit, but it would be another great spotlight for her as a biracial actress in a lead role; if it were to come to pass, it wouldn’t be a bad follow-up at all to her work in The To-Do List.
But, while the trailer does maximize its time in showing us updated versions of Daria, Jane Lane, Daria’s family and representatives of the student body and town Daria was so glad to leave behind, Tanya at Geekquality noted the first glaring absence: no sign of Jodie Landon.