Category Archives: representations

Racialicious on Richard Thompson Ford’s “A Primer on Racism”

Compiled by Thea Lim, with Andrea Plaid and Wendi Muse

My day job takes me into some pretty non-anti-oppressive environments. Generally I try to steer clear of conversations that deal with any parameter of power in depth (race, class, gender, sexuality, ability…) because in my environment, I find these conversations excruciating. It’s not that folks necessarily say blatantly hateful things. It’s rather that we can’t even agree on the basis for conversation. Or to put it more bluntly, my interlocutors have no concept of – or respect for – certain Racism 101 concepts.

I think what is particularly frustrating is the way that critical race theory – if I can use that term to describe the basic tenets that we and many of our buddy blogs operate off of – is treated as if it’s a loose collection of unverified opinions. It is not recognised as an actual body of thought that people of colour and allies have been writing and thinking about since Sojourner Truth gave her Ain’t I A Woman speech in 18freakin51.

If a medieval scholar engaged me in a discussion on representations of the clergy in the Lancelot-Grail cycle, I wouldn’t talk over them and contest every single point they made just because I had seen Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. Yet white folks who have absolutely no concept of the fact that there is a whole body of books, blogs, speakers, academic departments and workshops devoted to a common understanding of systemic racism, feel free to talk over my observations, as if the things I am saying are just random observations I’ve made.

So I welcome Richard Thompson Ford’s assertion that we need some kind of commonly held notion of what racism is, in his Slate article, “A primer on the word racism”.

Ford breaks down five different commonly cited examples of racism – institutional, cultural, unconscious, environmental and reverse – providing definitions for them and then evaluating whether or not they really are racism.

But. It’s clear that racism gets in the way of us defining racism. I don’t think Rush Limbaugh would be down with Racialicious’ definition of racism. But is Racialicious’ down with Ford’s definition of racism? Our correspondents weigh in.

Thea Lim

My first issue with Ford’s article is that it is confusing. It would be easier to understand if Ford started out with a clear definition of what racism entails. Because it took me a few minutes to glean from this article that Ford thinks anyone can be racist – a claim that I flat-out reject.

Ford seems to conflate racial prejudice with racism: roughly, if you treat someone according to their race, you are being racist. Meanwhile, I think that it is only racial prejudice + power that = racism. So if I yell “cracker” at a white man walking down the street (which btw I wouldn’t do and also don’t condone), my action has far less impact than if a white man yelled “chink” at me while I was walking down the street. The first scenario is an example of racial prejudice and being a jerk. The second scenario is racism and a hate crime. This is sort of 101 stuff, but there you have it.

Because Ford and I diverge on this basic tenet, I have multiple problems with certain conclusions that wobble out of his analysis.

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Anti-Asian Bias in College Admissions?: Part 1 – An improper comparison

by Guest Contributor Jenn, originally published at Reappropriate

This post is broken into two parts for the sake of length:

Since the implementation of affirmative action in the college admissions process, opponents of the policy have alleged anti-White and anti-Asian bias that reduces the chances of White and Asian high school students applying to elite colleges. Recently, a study conducted by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade (published in the book No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life) presented data that appear to support this notion.

First of all, I should point out that the primary data Espenshade analyzed were collected in 1997. But, it’s likely that the trends that Espenshade report remain in effect, since there have been no major changes to the college admissions process nationwide since then, nor have we seen significant changes in student demographics.

The “Scary Graph”: what does it mean?

Espenshade shows that middle class Asian students have a reduced probability of being accepted into private universities compared to students of other races (I re-created the graph below from page 7 of this presentation of Espenshade’s data, eliminating upper- and lower- class students, but the trends are roughly the same).

This graph looks pretty alarming until you consider the following applicant demographics, compared to national demographic information:

What this graph is showing you is that while Asian Americans are roughly 4% of the U.S. population, we represent nearly a quarter of all applicants to the institutions studied by Espenshade. For some universities, this can reach as high as 1/3 — and many of these applicants boast high SAT scores and high school GPAs. Many of these students also come from higher-income families compared to Black and Latino applicants, and therefore have access to better educational opportunities to help improve their scores. In addition, Espenshade’s data show that, compared to other races, Asian American applicants appear to preferentially apply to private institutions, which causes an even more dramatic increase in our applicant number.
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Secret Identities Superhero Contest Winner: Hush

By Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

I apologize that this took so long… At long last, here’s the final winner from our Secret Identities Superhero Contest, where readers were asked to submit their own original idea for an Asian American superhero. We would have posted this sooner, but understandably, superstar comic book artist Bernard Chang is a busy man. So without further ado, here is Hush by Juli Martin, as rendered above by Bernard Chang.


We apologize for the long delay, but we were set on having Bernard Chang, the superstar artist behind Greg Pak’s THE CITIZEN in SECRET IDENTITIES, bring this last winning hero to life–in part because he also happens to be the artist for DC’s WONDER WOMAN, making him the perfect guy to visualize this powerful female hero. Unfortunately, as you might guess, Bernard’s a busy guy!

As for why we picked Hush as a winner in our contest: We loved the uniqueness of Hush’s background–how many other lesbian, transracially adopted superheroines are there in comics? Not enough!–and the rich emotions at play in her characterization. We did end up editing aspects of her power and origin, however, both to make her code name make sense and to bring her power away from that of other characters.

We also liked the notion of turning a vulnerability into a power: In this edit, Jane goes from self-imposed isolation and emotional repression to becoming superhumanly empathic; we thought that it was really interesting that such an ability would turn her into a formidable opponent. Think about it: If you could instantly read a person’s emotions and responses, and react with exactly the right physical or verbal cue, you’d be both a killer hand-to-hand combat artist and a devastating manipulator, wouldn’t you?

All in all, a great character, like the other three we discovered through this contest. With any luck, this won’t be the last we’ve heard of any of them!


Abandoned as a newborn, Jane was adopted from Korea by a wealthy white couple at four months. After unexpectedly having two biological children, Jane’s adoptive parents feel they have no use for her, and when she comes out as bisexual at age 13, they kick her out. She is shuffled through the foster care system until aging out, at which point she moves to The Center, a cooperative home for homeless LGBTQ youth. Abandoned so many times, she now calls herself “Jane Doe.”

Jane is a queer femme woman, slim build, 20. Her black hair is cut choppy and asymmetrical, streaked with electric blue. Her style is edgy and futuristic, in black, gray and blue. Continue reading

Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Black Video

by Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual

When new technologies emerge a host of new companies tend to sprout up. Tons of independent radio stations catering to diverse interests before 1970s-style deregulation. Digital technology brought dozens of new channels to television; that same technology fostered numerous production companies making independent TV and films. Now the drive to create original web video — a trend that dates back to the late 1990s, but has gained new steam with broadband and YouTube post-2006 — has attracted  new voices previously unheard. We have corporately produced web series, but also black web series and series made with virtually no budget at all.

Well, that’s great. But how do you distribute and promote all these shows and videos? Anyone can create a video, but if, like my YouTube videos, nobody sees them, then there isn’t much a point. Sure, decently endowed websites now fund and promote web shows. But what about black content, in many cases prone to smaller audiences?

Enter the sites pictured above. Entrepreneurs, keen to the problem of distribution, have created sites where folks looking for black content can go. Surprisingly it looks like all these sites are coming out around the same time — now.  As noted in my article in The Root, is just now getting into the market for original web shows; there’s been a lack of visibility from major black media companies. In my interviews I found numerous black producers didn’t know of the other black shows debuting online. Continue reading

“Political Correctness” is a reactionary term against the loss of privilege.

By Guest Contributor Restructure!, originally posted at Restructure!

Excerpted from Whitey Don’t see that: The rising recognition of ‘white privilege’ in Western academia (PDF) by

Momoko Price at The Ubyssey, November 2006:

Laurence Berg, Canada Research Chair for Human Rights, Diversity and Identity, disagrees with the
idea that PC language and policies are oppressive. Why? Because he doesn’t really believe that PC policies existed in the first place.

“What [they]’re calling the ‘PC movement’ I would call a social movement by marginalised people and the people who support them,” he said. “[A movement] to use language that’s more correct—not ‘politically correct’—that more accurately represents reality.”

Berg is referring to a way of thinking that many of us students were too young to catch the first time around. For us, the term ‘politically correct’ survived the 90s, but the term ‘human rights backlash’ did not. Will Hutton, former editor-in-chief for the UK publication the Observer, described in his column how the term ‘PC’ was never really a political stance at all, contrary to popular belief. It was actually perceived by many as a right-wing tactic to dismiss—or backlash against—left-leaning social change. Mock the trivial aspects of human rights politics, like its changing language, and you’ll succeed in obscuring the issue altogether.

Berg believes this is what political correctness is all about: “The term politically correct is a reactionary term,” he said. “[It was] created by people who were worried by [social] changes…that affected their everyday understanding of the world in ways that pointed out their role in creating or reproducing dominance and subordination.”

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District 9 is racist [Alternate Perspective]

By Guest Contributor Nicole Stamp, originally published at [pageslap]

distric 9

Saw District 9 tonight, the alien movie by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson. I thought it was appallingly racist; here’s why. (Spoilers ahead.)

Basically, 20 years ago, a million crustacean-like space aliens arrived in Johannesberg. They’re forced to live in a horrible slum called District 9, and now the human citizens want them gone, so they’re about to be evicted from their slum and relocated to a concentration camp outside the city.

If you look at the film as an apartheid allegory, it has problems right off the bat. The aliens are loathsome, trash-eating vermin who fight endlessly, destroy property for no reason, and piss on their own homes, which isn’t a truthful or flattering allegorical comparison for actual black South Africans under apartheid. Apartheid is terrible because humans were denied rights. The “apartheid” of these aliens isn’t that terrible – it’s kind of justifiable, because they’re actually dangerous, violent and destructive. I think it would be a better allegory, and a more sophisticated movie, if the aliens weren’t unpleasant. If they were peaceful and kind, but the humans still demonized them, the film would be much more chilling; the horror would be “man’s inhumanity to lobster-man”, not “eew gross they eat pig heads!”

But to my knowledge, District 9 does not explicitly present itself as an apartheid allegory, and changing the nature of the aliens basically makes it a different movie, so I’m gonna give it a pass in this post (although I’m very open to hearing other people’s thoughts about the allegorical angle). I think the choice to make the aliens disgusting was mostly artistic license, designed to make the film’s tone and visuals more gritty and scary, rather than any attempt to actually be representative of black people oppressed by apartheid. So that wasn’t my problem with this film.

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b-activists: Filmmaker shows what it’s like to be black in Israel

by Guest Contributor Akshay, originally published at b-listed

Shmuel Beru arrived in Israel at age 8 with the first wave of Ethiopian immigrants in 1984. Classmates, who’d never seen a black person before, rubbed his skin to see if the color would come off. Growing up, they called him the “chocolate boy” and worse.

Today the actor-writer has turned his childhood struggle for acceptance into the first Ethiopian-made feature film exploring what it’s like to grow up black in Israel. Drawing inspiration from filmmaker Spike Lee’s stories about racial conflict in the United States, Beru examines sometimes-racist Israeli society. In a nation with so many competing well-documented narratives — Jewish, Palestinian, Christian — Beru’s “Zrubavel,” which premiered in June, and has already garnered international praise, offers yet another perspective.

“Zrubavel” is a classic immigrant saga, showing a younger generation fighting for acceptance and an older generation striving to keep its children rooted in the traditions of home. The film follows the hard-working grandfather, a former Ethiopian army colonel reduced to sweeping streets in his new life; the son-in-law whose embrace of ultra-Orthodox Judaism alienates his family; the pony-tailed college dropout, trapped between his father’s dream that he become Israel’s first black fighter pilot and a society pushing him toward more “suitable” work as a restaurant cook.

Since the 1980s, more than 80,000 Ethiopians have immigrated to Israel, many escaping famine and poverty in the Horn of Africa nation. According to Beru, “The most disturbing thing is that even after 30 years, if you ask me if we’ve turned the corner for the second and third generations of Ethiopians, I can’t say we have with any real confidence,” he said. He also says he hopes his film would counter negative stereotypes about Ethiopian immigrants.

The film hasn’t premiered in the US yet, but you can already find and order it from any major retailer. Be sure to check it out…It really shows us how immigration and racism are problems even in societies we tend to ignore in such discussions.

(Image Credit:

“Jihadis”*, Skinheads and Film Representation

By Guest Contributor Fiqah, originally published at Possum Stew

Delta Force 1

A couple of weeks back,  AJ Plaid and I collaborated on a humor piece  for Racialicious about White guys who had received the Black Folk Stamp of Approval for Screen Time with Sistahs™.  It was a mostly tongue-in-cheek piece that was surprisingly popular (if the number of comments are any indication of how well-received it was, anyway).  As the comments came in with suggestions of who to add to the list, I noticed that quite a few actors were being noted as “hot” in their film roles as skinheads. Not the cool, Trojan skinheads. The regular, scary, violent, racist kind. Now, as a general rule, as I mentioned on the thread “hot skinhead” is an oxymoron to me, so this turn in conversation was one I found intriguing:

Hm. As a related aside, I find it interesting that the mainstream American film narrative allows for the (fictional) existence of the Hot Young WHITE Supremacist/Ideological Extremist…but NOT for the (fictional) existence of the Hot Young BROWN Religious/Ideological Extremist. Meh. Another post for some other day.

Over the last few weeks, I have watched people come running to defend the indefensible. I have heard and read defense of the officers who shot Marwa Sherbini’s husband as he was attempting to save his pregnant wife’s life, counterarguments to the blatant racism and sexism exhibited by certain senators during the Sotomayor hearings, dismissals of salient allegations of racist character coding in recent summer blockbusters , and protests  justifying the removal of little Black children – babies, really – from a swimming pool on a hot-assed summer day. ( “Change the complexion of the pool”?  Really? Newsflash: eumelanin doesn’t wash off. Good grief.)

I have to say that of all these, the story that has unsettled me most is the murder of Egyptian Muslim Mrs. Sherbini at the hands of White German Axel W.  Typically, mainstream media frames the “lone (White) gunman” as an anomaly.  However, in the aftermath of this tragedy, I  have read comments on blogs defending – to the point of applauding  – Axel W.’s actions.  (I am not providing links for these threads, but suffice it to say that is indeed an interesting experience to feel chilled to the bone in the middle of July.)

The overwhelming sentiment on some of these threads is that the monster who killed Mrs. Sherbini was just like any other nice young man who was so disturbed by the changing “face” of his country that he just snapped. And the husband being shot, well, don’t all those men beat the women anyway? Really, Sherbini, by thumbing her nose at outward assimilation as dictated by her choice of garb, kinda brought all of this on herself.

The callous dismissal of Mrs. Sherbini’s fundamental human value, and the simultaneous  public defense of her murderer, stunned me. What, I wondered, exactly IS “understandable rage”?  When is acting out of frustration – to violent, fatal excess – forgivable? Is it ever?  If so, then for whom? More urgently, how had the compassion of Axel W.’s supporters failed to be stirred by what to me is one of the tenderest representations of humanity: a pregnant mother?

The Black Folk Stamp of Approval for Screen Time with Sistahs™ got me thinking about film representations of skinheads, but what would it look like if we viewed representations of “Jihadis”* side-by-side with so-called dreamy Skinheads?

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