Category Archives: representations

Open Thread: What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Youth Issues?

Image by Timberland Regional Library via Flickr Creative Commons.

Latoya and Arturo had a conversation last night that started from this story about 33 high school students in California getting suspended for their involvement in a music video that involved twerking.

Besides the discussion on twerking itself–and it becoming popular in a majority-white space–two facts stuck out: a) the video was shot on school property, with school equipment, under the pretense of being an assignment (it was not), and b) many of the seniors involved have to petition to win back their rights to be part of their prom and graduation ceremonies, based on the school’s “zero tolerance” policy:

At Scripps Ranch High school there is zero tolerance for students who cause major disruptions at school or school activities. Any student who causes a major disruption will receive a five (5) day suspension, a possible new school placement and may be arrested.

But at the same time, it’s fair to ask: how are schools doing when it comes to teaching students not just how to use tech, but the implications and ethics associated with that? What happens when your image is in the public eye for some video or something you said on Twitter?

And considering that the video in question was shot with school equipment that somebody, presumably, was in charge of, how liable is the school for not being able to sniff out the problem beforehand? How well are younger people and their educators prepared to deal with  (Trigger Warning for upcoming link) a World Star world, and the consequences it can have on not just your educational career, but your professional prospects?

So let’s consider that a call for your thoughts, and your submissions–on not just that issue, but on the kinds of things that most directly affect our younger Racializens. What’s on the mind of the generation coming up?

[Image by Timberlake Regional Library via Flickr Creative Commons]

“We Will Not Rest”: UC Irvine Mobilizes Against Asian-American Frat’s Racist Video

By Arturo R. García

“DISCLAIMER: No racism intended.”
- Statement from Lambda Theta Delta’s original post of “Suit & Tie” blackface video, per The Huffington Post

That stunning “disclaimer” over a University of California-Irvine fraternity’s use of blackface to interpret the Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z track “Suit and Tie” makes the fraternity’s subsequent “apology” ring hollow.

“We sincerely apologize if we offended anyone whatsoever,” president Darius Obana told KCBS-TV. “On behalf of my brothers who were involved in the video, know that it was unintentional. But unintentional or not we do know that it was wrong.”
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Quoted: Al-Jazeera On Coverage Of The Boston Bombing Suspects

Muslims face prejudice, but Muslims from the Caucasus face a particular kind of prejudice – the kind born of ignorance so great it perversely imbues everything with significance. “There is never interpretation, understanding and knowledge when there is no interest,” Edward Said wrote in Covering Islam , and until this week, there was so little interest in and knowledge of the Caucasus that the ambassador of the Czech Republic felt compelled to issue a press release stating that the Czech Republic is not the same as Chechnya.

Knowing nothing of the Tsarnaevs’ motives, and little about Chechens, the American media tore into Wikipedia and came back with stereotypes. The Tsarnaevs were stripped of their 21st century American life and became symbols of a distant land, forever frozen in time. Journalist Eliza Shapiro proclaimed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “named after a brutal warlord”, despite the fact that Tamerlan, or Timur, is an ordinary first name in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Her claim is equivalent to saying a child named Nicholas must be named in honour of ruthless Russian tsar Nicholas I – an irony apparently lost on New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who made a similar denouncement on Twitter (to his credit, Kristof quickly retracted the comment).

Other journalists found literary allusions, or rather, illusions. “They were playing the nihilists Arkady and Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons ,” explained scholar Juan Cole, citing an 1862 Russian novel to explain the motives of a criminal whose Twitter account was full of American rap lyrics. One does not recall such use of literary devices to ascertain the motives of less exotic perpetrators, but who knows? Perhaps some ambitious analyst is plumbing the works of Faulkner to shed light on that Mississippi Elvis impersonator who tried to send ricin to Obama.

Still others turned to social media as a gateway to the Chechen soul. Journalist Julia Ioffe – after explaining the Tsarnaevs through Tolstoy, Pushkin, and, of course, Stalin -  cites the younger Tsarnaev’s use of the Russian website VKontakte as proof of his inability to assimilate, then ranks the significance of his personal photos.

- From “The Wrong Kind Of Caucasian,” by Sarah Kendzior

Why I Wrote A Mad Men Episode With Negroes

By Special Guest Contributor Erika Alexander; cross-posted from Showbiz Is Glamorous 

"Mad Men Remix." Illustration by Brian Sanders. Remixed by Tony Puryear.

“Mad Men Remix.” Illustration by Brian Sanders; remixed by Tony Puryear.

Why did I write an episode of Mad Men with Negroes? And by that I mean with “Negro” characters in it, not with.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Anyway, why did I write an episode of TV that I know will never be made? 

Though I work as an actress and have pitched and sold a television series or two in my time in Hollywood, I’m not a writer on Mad Men, so this episode won’t appear anywhere but here. Why, then? And why negroes? Aren’t we finished with all that? In honor of the Season 6 premiere, let me tell you about it.

I like Mad Men. A lot. I like the subject matter (advertising); I like the cast (Don Draper is hot); I like the look (sexy Eames meets Op Art); I like the writing (Matthew Weiner is a storytelling beast). I love the writing.

I have only one issue with Mad Men (OK, with a bunch of shows, but let’s stick with this one): I’d love to see more diversity. I’m a Black actress, so diversity is an issue that comes up for me. A lotMad MenGame Of ThronesGirlsVeep–these are cool shows, except for the fact that they would really rock with more people of color, series regulars or otherwise. I complain, wtf?…and bemoan, WTF!…but alas, for all my years in TV, I’m not able to make a difference in my own living room. Or am I?

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Controlling Portions, Controlling Pregnancies: Race And Class Panic In New York City Public Health Campaigns

Poster for New York City’s “Real Cost of Teen Pregnancy” campaign. Via NYC.gov

By Guest Contributor Sayantani DasGupta

This month, New York City launched a new campaign called “The True Cost of Teen Pregnancy.” The 4,000 bus and subway posters, which reportedly took two years of planning and cost the city $400,000, feature wailing toddlers and babies (mostly of color) next to captions such as Honestly, Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you… and I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.

Yes, teen pregnancy is experienced disproportionately by girls of color and girls living in poverty. Yet data shows that national teen pregnancy rates across ethnicities are dropping not rising, including in New York City. So why this public health campaign? And why now?

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Quoted: Jamin Warren on Race in Gaming

An oldie but a goodie. From the January 2013 article, “Touching Obama’s Hair and My Hope for the Future of Games” on Kill Screen:

Last month, I did an interview with KALW in San Francisco alongside game designer Anna Anthropy. She made a point to a caller that she couldn’t relate to games like Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid because the main characters didn’t reflect her own experience as transgendered. 

I found this position extreme (if I’m not transgendered, couldn’t I levy the same critique of her games?), but Anna did point out something that should be glaringly obvious. If games are to claim their mantle as the most important medium of this century, then their subjects need to reflect the breadth of human experiences that exist across a range of identities.

If you are mixed race like I am, you no doubt had moments of confusion about your place in the world. Why does grandpa send tamales each month to your mother? Why do I need to wear lotion? Why does dad take so long at the barbershop? These are resolved in later life and I was fortunate enough to have parents who walked me through those answers.

But I also grew up on the cusp of the Internet age and before a time when 99% of all teens play games. When the time comes for a child to ask “Who am I?,” games, like all great art forms, should have an answer. The worry is that the response, more often than not, is nothing at all.

Managing Stigma: Doing Race, Class, And Gender

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images

I featured the two-page ad below in one of the first posts I ever wrote for SocImages (it was October of 2007 and we’d written less than 100 posts; today we’re approaching 5,000, but I digress…).  It’s still one of my very favorite images.

I use it in Sociology 101 when I argue that race, class, and gender are, among other things, performances. Activities, items, and behaviors carry class, race, and gender meanings. In order to tell stories about ourselves, we strategically combine these things with the meanings we carry on our bodies (a gendered shape, skin color, and hair texture etc., and signs of economic wealth or deprivation).

The ad for PhatFarm deftly balances Blackness (the body), upper-class Whiteness (the sailboat), and femininity (the pink sweater).  In strategically using culturally resonant signifiers, he challenges popular representations of the Black body.

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This happens in real life, too.  Journalist Brent Staples powerfully discusses how he adds a signifier of upper-class Whiteness to his large Black body in order to avoid the discomfort of frightening people on the streets of New York.

…I employ what has proved to be an excellent tension-reducing measure: I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers. Even steely New Yorkers hunching toward nighttime destinations seem to relax and occasionally they even join in the tune. Virtually everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

“It is my equivalent to the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country,” Staples adds, referring to the fact that being perceived as dangerous can itself be dangerous, as we know from the example of Trayvon Martin and Rodrigo Diaz, who was shot in the head in January when he accidentally pulled into the wrong driveway thinking it belonged to a friend.

Thinking of class, race, and gender as performances gives us credit for being agents.  We don’t have control over what the signifiers are, nor how people read our bodies, but we can actively try to manage those meanings.  Of course, some people have to do more “damage control” than others.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.