It’s a predictable pattern: Tragedy strikes, and the volume of racism gets loud on the Internet. After Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed in San Francisco last weekend, leaving two dead and many others injured, some folks thought it was appropriate to resurrect the dated trope that Asians are bad drivers. The pilot flying the plane when it crashed was identified as Lee Gang-guk, according to Korean authorities.
The stereotype that Asians aren’t great behind the wheel isn’t new, of course. I mean, it’s been featured in Family Guy. It has its own special place in the revered Urban Dictionary. It’s entrenched enough that it’s been the focus of multiple studies, which compared crash rates of immigrant drivers with those of native drivers. (One Canadian study from 2011 found that immigrant drivers — the biggest groups of whom were from China and India — actually had fewer accidents than “long-term” drivers.)
What’s confounding, though, is that the whole “Asians are bad drivers” stereotype clashes with another beloved Internet meme: that Asians are good at all the “hard” things, especially things that include math, technology or coordination.
Some folks might ask, Wait! Isn’t a positive stereotype, like the tech-wizard ninja one, actually kind of good? Some folks might also never have been asked to calculate the tip at a restaurant because of their assumed Asian math prowess. (Ahem. I’m just sayin’.)
How can a group be stereotyped in such diametrically opposite ways? If folks are going to say racist things after a fatal tragedy, is it too much to ask that at least the stereotypes be consistent? Because, you know, we can’t possibly be bad drivers and good at All The Things.
But I’d prefer neither.
–Kat Chow, “Dueling Stereotypes: Bad Asian Drivers, Good At Everything,” Code Switch: NPR 7/11/13
Growing up as a black gay boy in Youngstown, Ohio, my mother always said “Son, you must operate in this world intentionally, you must treat others with respect, and you must keep your hands to yourself.”
My fellow gay men, I want the best for all of us. We are not automatically granted access to a woman’s body. This letter is even for me as a reminder of my male privilege regardless of my sexual orientation. This is why I humbly ask for you to examine how we operate in this world and how we utilize the space of others.
We cannot touch a woman without her permission. We are not the exception and her permission to us is not implied. We, too, can promote rape culture. We do not get a “pass” to touch her hair or her body or her clothes. We do not have an automatic right to critique her weight or texture of hair. We are still men, and women will always deserve our respect. Despite the cultural context, women still speak for themselves. We must learn this, and we must understand this. Women have autonomy over their own body. For those of us who consider ourselves feminists, we cannot constantly promote feminism and women’s ownership, then be bent out of shape when she decides that she does not want to be subjected to touching, feeling, or unwanted contact.
Fellow gay men, we cannot invade a woman’s personal space because there isn’t any sexual attraction. Regardless of us not wanting to be sexually intimate with women, we, too, must seek permission and be given explicit consent to anything on their body. We must realize that no still means no. It always will.
–Preston Mitchum, “An Open Letter To Gay Men: We Need A Woman’s Consent, Too,” Role/Reboot 6/17/13
John Amos in Good Times. Via obnug.com.
With Father’s Day this Sunday, I’ve been thinking about how fathers have been portrayed on television over the years.
As a child growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s, the TV fathers who I best remember were Jim Anderson, Robert Young’s character on “Father Knows Best,” and Mike Brady, portrayed by Robert Reed in “The Brady Bunch.” Both men were typical of the kinds of men that many expected to be the “head of the family” in 20th-century American society.
Mr. Anderson and Mr. Brady were also in stark contrast to my father and many of the working-class black men I knew in my neighborhood or saw on TV, characters like Redd Foxx’s Fred Sanford and John Amos’s James Evans, Sr., who was much closer in spirit to my own dad.
That all changed in the fall of 1984, when America was introduced to Bill Cosby’s Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, who quickly took on the unprecedented role for a black man as America’s “favorite dad.”
There was a need to celebrate a character who challenged historic stereotypes of black men as fathers — often portrayed as absent, shiftless, unemployed and overly chauvinistic. But was an upper middle-class professional not dramatically different than his white male peers really what black audiences were looking for? Where were the black male characters who represented the complexities of what it means to be a black in contemporary America? Would we even know them if we saw them?
In my recent work researching the intersection of African-American and pop cultures, I have been examining the ways that black men are legible to us in the popular imagination. In the ways that seeing a black man on television with a basketball or on a newscast about crime is terribly familiar to us, more complex images of black men as fathers seem few and far between. Indeed, the recent Samsung Galaxy II commercial–featuring basketball star LeBron James engaging with his sons over breakfast–seems almost revolutionary.
–Mark Anthony Neal, “On Occasion, TV Captures Complexities Of Black Men As Fathers,” The Herald-Sun 6/12/13
Queen Bey–Too hot for feminism?
In Bitch magazine, Racialicious senior editor Tamara Winfrey Harris weighs in on feminist criticism of singer Beyonce:
Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “The idea that Beyoncé being sexy is only her performing for male viewers assumes that embracing sexuality isn’t also for women.” Jackson adds that the criticism also ignores “the limited choices available to women in the entertainment industry and the limited ways Beyoncé is allowed to express her sexuality, because of her gender and her race.”
Her confounding mainstream persona, Jackson points out, is one key to the entertainer’s success as a black artist. “You don’t see black versions of Lady Gaga crossing over to the extent that Beyoncé has or reaching her levels of success. Black artists rarely have the same privilege of not conforming to dominant image expectations.”
Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, who has gone for a natural-haired, boho, less sexified approach to her music, remains a niche artist, as do Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, like so many black female artists before them. Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello—talented all, but quirky black girls, especially androgynous ones, don’t sell pop music, perform at the Super Bowl, or get starring roles in Hollywood films.
Black women (and girls) have also historically battled the stereotype of innate and uncontrolled lasciviousness, which may explain why Beyoncé’s sexuality is viewed differently from that of white artists like Madonna, who is lauded for performing in very similar ways.
Last summer at age 83, my mother downsized from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment. She loves that her eight-unit cluster includes black, Indian, Middle Eastern and Jewish neighbors.
One day, she noted that someone — she thought it was the Indian couple upstairs — had bought a new car, and that someone had vandalized it. There was a swastika on it, she told me on the phone. She wanted to show her support or call security. She felt uncomfortable that creeps might be hanging around the complex.
When I visited her that Sunday, she showed me the car. Sure enough, there was the swastika, smack in the middle of the hood. I leaned in close and saw grains of rice in the symbol.
I stood up and used my phone to look up “Hindu, blessing, car.”
“Mom,” I told her, “when you see your neighbors, tell them that you see they have a new car and that you see that it has been blessed.”
I had heard about the Hindu blessing ceremony, or puja, at a temple as part of the work by my Michigan State University journalism class on a new guide titled “100 Questions & Answers About Indian Americans.”
The guide is the first in an MSU School of Journalism series on cultural competence. The class is called “Bias Busters.”
The idea is that, if we can answer 100 very simple questions about a culture, religion or ethnicity, we have taken the first small step toward greater understanding.
–Joe Grimm, “‘Bias Busters’ Class Publishes Cultural Competence Guide,” Maynard Institute 5/23/13
On New Black Man (In Exile), writers, academics and thinkers, including Mark Anthony Neal, Darnell L. Moore, Hashim Pipkin, Kai M. Green, Mychal Denzel Smith, Kiese Laymon, Marlon Peterson, and Wade Davis II, offer an open letter to newly out, black athletes, Jason Collins and Brittney Griner:
Jason: corporations, movements, and the like will quickly want to turn you into a commodity. They will want to sell your understanding of desire. They will want to anoint you the face of the LGBTQ sports movement. You made history and should very well be lifted up. But remember that there are black gay men (some of them athletes) whose lives and stories will never register among the very people who will praise you. Some other feminine-performing black man will still be someone’s “fag.” Some other non-athlete, non-celebrity, non-college educated, and non-wealthy black gay man may not receive support, let alone acknowledgement. Given that social fact, we ask that you please remember those black gay men and help those who will turn to you to do the same.
Brittney: that we have yet to make a lot of noise about your story says something about the way that we undervalue women and women athletes, especially black women athletes who defy rigid gender restrictions. We recognize that you have been on the receiving end of vitriolic homophobic, sexist and transphobic remarks and, yet, you refuse to allow ignorance to still your success and contentment. You exist in an intersection where your race, gender expression, and sexual identity opens you up to multiple forms of oppression and because of that we believe strongly that you would understand the plights of so many black LGBTQ people. Please remember the depth of their struggles when the movements and corporations knock at your door.
In a review, published in In These Times, about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, Racialicious senior editor, Tamara Winfrey Harris, writes:
Whether Sandberg, from her perch at the pinnacle of a tech behemoth, is the right person to lead a revolution for less-privileged women has been the topic of much debate. But bits of the author’s wisdom may “click” for particular readers in unexpected ways. Sandberg’s message about choosing supportive partners made me blink, because it stands in stark contrast to advice directed toward a particular segment of professional women. Thanks to concerns about low marriage rates among African Americans, professional black women are bombarded with warnings about careerism and success. A burgeoning genre of advice books instructs straight black women to, in effect, “lean back” in order to attract men.
In Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, (the basis for the film Think Like a Man), author Steve Harvey admonishes: “If you’ve got your own money, your own car, your own house, a Brinks alarm system, a pistol and a guard dog, and you’re practically shouting from the rooftops that you don’t need a man to provide for you or protect you, then we will see no need to keep coming around.” Elsewhere, Harvey warns women that if they travel for business, their left-behind husbands might understandably stray.
Black women, especially highly successful ones, are expected to sacrifice achievement for the alleged greater good of traditional marriage. And they are encouraged to think more about being chosen than choosing—making themselves attractive to men by conforming to an outdated template of femininity rather than, as Sandberg suggests, selecting a supportive mate interested in a 50/50 partnership.
Sandberg counsels that choosing a mate is one of the most important decisions a working woman will make. If that is true, lack of support, in addition to systemic sexism and racism, may explain why black women fare worse than their white counterparts in the halls of power. All women of color make up just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats and 5 percent of congressional seats. Snagging unsupportive life partners isn’t likely to improve these statistics (or the personal lives of women).