Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture http://www.racialicious.com Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World Mon, 29 Jun 2015 14:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 Don’t #AskRachel — She Checked Out Long Ago http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/29/dont-askrachel-she-checked-out-long-ago/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/29/dont-askrachel-she-checked-out-long-ago/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 14:00:10 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39772 By Guest Contributor Dorothy Attakora-Gyan First things first…wait! I probably shouldn’t open a piece on Rachel Dolezal with the only Iggy Azalea lyric I know. Goodness, let’s try this again. I advocate letting folks self- identify how they want to—ethically. Rachel Dolezal it seems, has not self- identified ethically and it is fair to hold […]

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By Guest Contributor Dorothy Attakora-Gyan

First things first…wait! I probably shouldn’t open a piece on Rachel Dolezal with the only Iggy Azalea lyric I know. Goodness, let’s try this again.

I advocate letting folks self- identify how they want to—ethically. Rachel Dolezal it seems, has not self- identified ethically and it is fair to hold her accountable and ask her to do better.

A few weeks ago, I presented at a conference in New Orleans. During my visit to that magical city, I had the honour of meeting a French researcher with whom I quickly connected, and remain in touch with today. This isn’t altogether unusual; at conferences people meet each other, exchange contacts, hope to continue networking. What was new for me, however, was how easily I connected with said researcher, who not only researches Rastafarianism, but identifies as Rastafarian herself—and is a white woman.

I’ll be honest: Folks who read as white and seem to perform the racialized other tend to rub me the wrong way. I’m suspicious and wary of them. I’m not afraid to tell them this, and this includes the Rachel Dolezals of the world.

Why, you ask? Because such white folks often try to pass off as innocent and benign what is actually ignorant and entitled. They tend not to acknowledge how their white skin affords them easy access to black masks. The thriving legacy of American colonialism allows white entry into another culture for the purposes of consumption—and similarly easy exit. Rachel can perform “blackness,” yet still stand in stark contrast and opposition to the very community she claims an affinity with.

People of colour exercise choice in our embodiment and performance of our racial identity, when we exercise choice in our lives, we are largely punished for doing so. We can barely navigate white spaces without risking our lives. Just ask Trayvon’s family.

Given all that, I tend to view with skepticism white people who voluntarily don racialized identities that people of colour often have imposed on us to some degree.

Which brings me back to my new friendship with the French researcher This woman, born in Europe and of Italian-French descent, seemed to consciously own her whiteness. But reading race off the body can be tricky—as social constructions often are; with olive skin and flowing dreadlocks that fall well below full hips, my friend could be easily be read as a light-skinned person of colour on first glance. The sounds that escape her lips when she speaks are a mixture of English and Jamaican patois, with a hint of a French accent. From experience I know assuming race based on apparent signs can lead to uncomfortable scenarios; so, I allowed her the opportunity to self-identify.

And she did, as white European. She further acknowledged that while Rastafarianism is now her way of life, it hasn’t always been—and as a researcher, it’s her livelihood as well. She discovered it, fell at home there and is intentional about how she lives and how she uses her white privileges for the betterment of the communities she works with.

Truthfully, I wasn’t confused by her appearance, her speech, or how she identified. I’ve seen white men and women wear their hair in locs before (though often not tending to them diligently, nor understanding the rich history behind them). There’s no shortage of white people whose frame of reference for Rastafarianism is Jamaica, Bob Marley and marijuana, and little else. These performances of difference are a kind of rote memorization, a mechanical adoption of “culture” from another world that is equated with claiming that culture as one’s own. Such performances are quite common.

As an African woman who grew up in small town in Canada, I have had my fair share of encounters with women like Rachel Dolezal. I had plenty of white acquaintances who performed ‘blackness’ proudly—better than me, they claimed. White acquaintances who never seemed to actually talk about race, with comfortable homes where I wasn’t invited, because I was a dark-skinned Black girl.

I’ve been told by countless white folk that they are objectively “more Black” than I am because, well, they can recite rap lyrics from the ‘80s and I can’t. (If you ask me, I have a pretty good excuse going. You see, back in the early ‘80s when rap was making a splash here, I was but a toddler living in Kumasi or Takoradi, with no clue North America existed, let alone rap music.)

In my 30’s I can now joke that Canada’s own Rachel Dolezals are right, in a sense. In their imaginations, which white supremacy has taught them is the same thing as the real world, they are more Black than I am. Consider: I didn’t even know I was “Black” for the first 5 years of my life, before my family emigrated to Canada . Perhaps white Canadian-born people think they have a head start on what ‘Blackness’ is? Congratulations, I guess,

Here is my truth, I am West African, a daughter of the Gold Coast, what is now known today as Ghana. I am of and belong to the Ashante and Fanti tribes. My peoples never had to raise me to identify as Black; we didn’t have to fit neatly into North American standards of racial categorization. My skin has always been a badge of pride. I have always existed outside of the North American context, as a dark skin African girl. And I thrived.

But my life did bring me to Turtle Island, known today as Canada. Here I am, on un-surrendered lands, in all my Black woman glory. I have come to claim the term Black. But I will be clear, it was forced on me; I could not, and still cannot escape it. Nor do I want to by any means, but that is not the point.

The point is, as a Ghanaian-Canadian girl child, this identity of “blackness” was foreign to me. It was violently thrust on me. Once in Canada, the names of the tribes I was born into quickly faded in importance and visibility next to the fact of my Blackness.

I have been punished here in Canada for this black skin, for this Black label. I have been called the N-word for it, spat at in defense of the word. For this label I have experienced and continue to endure traumatic surveillance while crossing borders. I am policed daily by others. My hair and skin touched without consent because I am “different.” Teased for being too dark. Blackness, even if you own it, means facing what many of us are taught to run from.

Into this picture comes sweet, innocent Rachel Dolezal. Rachel wants the world to know that she can and wants to choose (consume) blackness. Call me bitter, but this the epitome of white privilege.

And here is where my new white French Rastafarian friend did disrupt something for me in New Orleans. She was conscious of the reality that whiteness gives her freedom denied others to move in and out of cultures.

She identified as a white woman, but also as a Rastafarian, one who spent some years in both Jamaica and Ethiopia, birthed a daughter in Ethiopia and raised her children there. She speaks Amharic, Jamaican Patois, French, Spanish and English. And while she has gained access to and built trust in these communities, she knows well that she was able to so because her skin carries capital. I had met white Rastafarians who wanted the aesthetics, the caramel babies, the exotic partner of colour. I’d never met one willing to acknowledge that she came to this lifestyle more easily than those around her, that most of the community lived a different reality. My new friend spoke candidly of white supremacy, her whiteness, and her white privilege. With Rachel, we still wait for her to do the same.

I’m not arguing that simply stating one’s privileges upfront permits appropriation. What I am saying is accountability is rare. We women of colour, we Black women, are not used to these white women who speak the truths of their reality. They are rare, and Rachel Dolezal is not one of them.

It seems that as Black women, we have grown used to, even been taught to expect, the entire world feeling entitled to us. Everyone can voice their opinion on who and what we are. Tell us how to identify. Our expressions of gender and sexuality are put on display. We are hypersexualized, or made asexual. The white gaze, we are taught, is more than acceptable; it is our normal. The world doesn’t give a damn about how we self-identify, or labels freely thrust upon us. Welcome to the other face of blackness, Rachel.

The black female body specifically is open terrain, entered by all, a common possession and consumer item.[i] Rachel Dolezal and other white women are able to embody and move in and out of blackness (or what we signify as black attributes) and yet black women are demonized for performing blackness. The Black woman’s body is regulated; blackness makes our bodies fixed and immobile.[ii] And herein lies the issue with Rachel’s claims to self- identify—she has used both her white privilege to choose and embody different identities, and white supremacist constraints on Black women, to appropriate and legitimate a claimed Black identity. Isn’t the question of her blackness moot when she hasn’t even been a decent white ally to people of colour?

I hope we all know that the concept of race is socially constructed, an illusion, a God-awful science experiment gone wrong, but we in Black bodies know that our experiences of white supremacy are not imagined. White men and women have long known they are not imagined. Laws have been built to enshrine white supremacy, which with slavery and free labour have been engines of capitalism.

Racism was created to serve particular bodies and we have bought into it. It is a thriving business with unimaginable causalities. It is insidious; everywhere, and we in black skin have felt its pain. So it’s not that absurd that communities of colour are wary when white folk want to escape their roots and “become” us. We were never depicted as the Promised Land. Whiteness still is.

Let’s humour Rachel for a minute. Even if we accept her self-identification, she refuses to own up to her privileges. There is something disingenuous about her process, whether conscious or unconscious. Her desire to escape whiteness has become so real for her that she fears the truth of herself.

For years whiteness—whether represented by anthropology, science, politics, law, or “the public”—has interrogated communities of colour, mined us for our stories. Probed our genitals, researched us, learned us, made us open books. Yet Rachel Dolezal doesn’t want to be subjected to same rules, now that she faces an interrogation arguably similar to black people, bodies, and communities have long endured. The black woman’s body, has long been placed on scaffold for all to ogle and criticize. We have long been trending hashtags, but because we are murdered by the state. We live these narratives. One does not merely pick the positive experiences of Blackness and hand back the negative. Perhaps some Black people believe that financial wealth will allow them this mobility, but that is an illusion, and a colonized way of thinking.

With the delicious melanin comes oppression. I was born with this skin, regardless where I am in the world; this dark skin marks me as at the bottom of the totem pole. And I mean every totem pole, including within my own community. But Rachel? Will never actually ever have to be Black. If Rachel were Black, she would know. The world would have long reminded her.

We are asking Rachel to consciously remember her whiteness, which comes with privileges and guilts. True healing and transformation requires a community or person to remember what they have decided to unconsciously, or consciously forget (Smith, 1999). Rachel Dolezal refuses to speak the truths of her history. She hasn’t been accountable. Her white skin carries with it a particular narrative, one of colonialism, imperialism, and oppression—likely the very reasons for her departure in the first place. So don’t ask Rachel anything, she checked out long ago.


[i] Brand, D. (2001). A Map To the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging. Toronto: Vintage Canada.

[ii] Razack, S. (2005). How is White Supremacy Embodied? Sexualized Racial Violence at Abu Ghraib. Canadian Journal of Women and Law , 17 (2), 341-363.


With identities as hyphenated as her last name, Dorothy Attakora-Gyan is currently completing her Ph.D. at the Institute for Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa. She is invested in studying solidarity building across differences within transnational feminist networks. She can be found on twitter at @deearchives.

 

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Watch It Again: President Obama’s Eulogy For Clementa Pinckney http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/29/watch-it-again-president-obamas-eulogy-for-clementa-pinckney/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/29/watch-it-again-president-obamas-eulogy-for-clementa-pinckney/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 12:00:27 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39783 Transcript courtesy http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/06/26/transcript-obama-delivers-eulogy-for-charleston-pastor-the-rev-clementa-pinckney/ Giving all praise and honor to God. The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died, the scripture tells us. They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, […]

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Transcript courtesy http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/06/26/transcript-obama-delivers-eulogy-for-charleston-pastor-the-rev-clementa-pinckney/

Giving all praise and honor to God.

The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died, the scripture tells us.

They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance, a man of service, who persevered knowing full-well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed, to Jennifer, his beloved wife, Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters, to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.

I cannot claim to have had the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well, but I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina back when we were both a little bit younger, back when I didn’t have visible gray hair.

The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor, all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.

Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived, that even from a young age, folks knew he was special, anointed. He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful, a family of preachers who spread God’s words, a family of protesters who so changed to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.

Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching. He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth nor youth’s insecurities. Instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith and purity.

As a senator, he represented a sprawling swathe of low country, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America, a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment — a place that needed somebody like Clem.

His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long. His calls for greater equity were too-often unheeded. The votes he cast were sometimes lonely.

But he never gave up. He stayed true to his convictions. He would not grow discouraged. After a full day at the Capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him. There, he would fortify his faith and imagine what might be.

Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.

No wonder one of his Senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us, the best of the 46 of us.”

Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of AME Church.

As our brothers and sisters in the AME Church, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation but the life and community in which our congregation resides.”

He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words, that the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week long, that to put our faith in action is more than just individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation, that to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.

What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized, after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man.

You don’t have to be of high distinction to be a good man.

Preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith.

And then to lose him at 41, slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God — Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.

Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people.

People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, who persevered, people of great faith.

To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church.

The church is and always has been the center of African American life — a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah.” Rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.

They have been and continue to community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harms way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.

That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.

There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes.

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherers, services happened here anyway in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.

A sacred place, this church, not just for blacks, not just for Christians but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country, a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.

That’s what the church meant.

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history, but he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress, an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.

God has different ideas.

He didn’t know he was being used by God.

Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.

The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley, how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond not merely with revulsion at his evil acts, but with (inaudible) generosity. And more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life. Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.

The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know — Amazing Grace.

How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.

As manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace — as a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.

He’s given us the chance where we’ve been lost to find out best selves. We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace.

But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens.

It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise, as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.

For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression, and racial subjugation.

We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.

The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.

It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.

It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.

By taking down that flag, we express adds grace God’s grace.

But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.

For too long, we’ve been blind to be way past injustices continue to shape the present.

Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.

Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias. That we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement, and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.

Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal, that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote by recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin, or the station into which they were born and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American. By doing that, we express God’s grace.

For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.

Sporadically, our eyes are open when eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day, the countless more whose lives are forever changed, the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happening to some other place.

The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners want to do something about this. We see that now.

And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.

We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it.

But God gives it to us anyway.

And we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says, “We have to have a conversation about race.” We talk a lot about race.

There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.

None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.

It will not. People of good will will continue to debate the merits of various policies as our democracy requires — the big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates.

Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.

Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.

To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

What is true in the South is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.

That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.

That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”

That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible.

If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.

Amazing grace…
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
but now I’m found
was blind, but now, I see.

Clementa Pinckney found that grace.
Cynthia Hurd found that grace.
Susie Jackson found that grace.
Ethel Lance found that grace.
DePayne Middleton Doctor found that grace.
Tywanza Sanders found that grace.
Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace.
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace.
Myra Thompson found that grace.

Through the example of their lives. They’ve now passed it onto us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure.

May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His Grace on the United States of America.

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Killer Secrets: An Excerpt From Tamara Winfrey Harris’ New Book http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/26/killer-secrets-an-excerpt-from-tamara-winfrey-harris-new-book/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/26/killer-secrets-an-excerpt-from-tamara-winfrey-harris-new-book/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39747 By Arturo R. García Longtime readers of the blog will remember friend and alumnus Tamara Winfrey Harris: Tami’s voice, which many of us first discovered through her blog What Tami Said, has been essential reading in the POC justice ecosystem for years. But over the past few years, her reach has expanded, and she’s been […]

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By Arturo R. García

Author and Racialicious alum Tamara Winfrey Harris.

Longtime readers of the blog will remember friend and alumnus Tamara Winfrey Harris: Tami’s voice, which many of us first discovered through her blog What Tami Said, has been essential reading in the POC justice ecosystem for years.

But over the past few years, her reach has expanded, and she’s been published everywhere from The Guardian to Salon to — just last week — The New York Times.

Well, we’re proud and happy today to be able to share with you a part of her most pivotal work yet: The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, in which she takes on the stereotypes regularly used to deride black women in the US — their romantic lives, their mental health, their beauty and more.

“The more Americans face stereotypes about us in media, pop culture and other places, the more they are subconsciously ‘activated’ where real black women are concerned, affecting the way we are seen by potential employers, partners, the government and others,” she writes.

The book will be out on July 7, but is already available for order online; it’s already ranked as the No. 1 new Gender Studies release on Amazon. An excerpt can be seen below.

In 2003, the California Black Women’s Health Project found that only 7 percent of black women with symptoms of mental illness seek treatment. And, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health manuscript, a 2008 study of African American women’s perspectives on depression found that many “believed that an individual develops depression due to having a ‘weak mind, poor health, a troubled spirit, and lack of self-love.’”

A member of the mental health profession currently working in higher education, Adrianne Traylor says, “I am cognizant of our community being left out of mental health discussions, not having appropriate access to mental health support, the cultural restrictions and barriers that keep us from seeking that support and that there are really not enough competent therapists to deal with situations that are unique to the black experience in America.

Finding a black therapist to refer a client to is extremely difficult. Even when it comes to self-care, I think. ‘Who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to refer myself to? Who can I talk to who can really understand what makes my situation unique as a black woman?’ We really lose out in the mental health equation — particularly when it comes to areas of depression, stress, and anxiety.”

Members of the black community often learn that mental health care is something they neither need nor can afford — economically, socially, or culturally. Black folks are encouraged to take it to the Lord in prayer, but Adrianne stresses that many mental health issues cannot be ameliorated by a pastor, friend, or family. Some mental illnesses require intensive therapy or psychotropic drugs, and not getting that treatment can be devastating.

Her own family provided her with a strong example of this cultural challenge. Adrianne says she grew up surrounded by women who exemplified the positive aspects of “black women always being strong and resilient and always being able to carry everything.” But as she grew older, “I saw the [unwillingness to pursue mental health care] weighing more heavily on the women in the family, because it seemed they were the ultimate repositories for sanity and intactness for everyone.”

When she was a teen, the house where Adrianne was born burned down. It was her grandmother’s home and had been the center of many family memories. The loss was devastating to Adrianne. “But I remember watching [my grandmother], who was temporarily living in this itty-bitty house out in the country, and on the one hand admiring her strength. She had lost everything — her physical mementos of her life with her husband — everything. She seemed so strong and seemed on the surface to be coping. But I wondered what happened when she went to bed at night. What did she do then, when no one was looking at her? I started thinking if we were wearing a lot of masks to get through our lives and whether they were helping or hurting us.

“As you become older and more aware of family dysfunction . . . it is an awakening. You’re oblivious to things as a kid and then your eyes open. You realize that the things that seemed like such strength could have really been someone doing what they could to hold things together.”

Thirty-five-year-old Vivian St. Claire* is a high-achiever, perfectionist, and inveterate “good girl.” She earned a PhD before she was thirty “because I was bored.” Vivian also suffers from clinical depression. And three years ago, she had a nervous breakdown, driven in part by her relentless drive to meet societal expectations.

Despite her academic and professional success, Vivian couldn’t shake the notion that she was a failure as a woman. A late bloomer in affairs of the heart, who was always more confident in intellectual pursuits than romantic ones, Vivian was childless and single, having just broken up with the man she once thought she would marry. “I never wanted to be the single black woman, and I think that fear created that whole pressure.”

Her undiagnosed clinical depression began to spiral out of control as Vivian grappled with fears about her personal life, her weight, and other issues. She began taking Ambien to cure the insomnia it caused — Ambien, red wine, and occasionally marijuana.

“I would black out,” she says. “It was just all this very unhealthy mix of me trying to hide from a lot of different things. I know I was all over the place.

“Another part of my depression is I had a pact with myself: if I wasn’t married by thirty-five, I was going to kill myself. I very much planned everything out for my life. At thirty-five, my plans ran out,” she says.

“That came out when I had my breakdown. My parents were in the room. While I was being evaluated, my mom was just sitting there silently crying.

“I would like to be more open with my struggle with depression — let close friends and things know,” says Vivian. But she admits her openness is tempered with the realities of being an academic hoping for tenure and a desire not to “embarrass” her parents. Although they were there during her breakdown, they still have not processed her mental illness.

“My mom is fine with it for other people, but not her children— even though her brother is a paranoid schizophrenic.”

As her parents helped her complete paperwork that would commit her to the hospital, Vivian was surprised to hear her father answer in the affirmative when asked about mental illness on his side of the family.

“‘Oh, yeah, your Auntie So-and-So has this. Your uncle is paranoid schizophrenic and whatever.’”

Black families often keep mental health histories under wraps, treating suffering members like guilty secrets. Quoting author Nalo Hopkinson in the book Brown Girl in the Ring, Vivian points out, “We as a people — our secrets are killing us.”

It was a hard road back to mental health. Healing required that Vivian learn to be gentle with herself, to practice physical and mental self-care, to let go of her perfectionism, and to refuse to see her mental illness as a stigma.

“Today, I would say I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been — mentally and physically. I’ve come to a peace with myself. Yoga, therapy, being open about my mental illness and my medication, having coping mechanisms, and staying healthy — they are just part of my life now.”

Her voice catches as she describes her pride at making it through: “At this point, every day it’s a blessing that I’m happy, that I’m content with myself, and that I’m okay. I’m very proud of myself. I’m proud every day, because at least I keep holding on. It’s not so much of a struggle for me anymore.

“Putting other people’s pressure on me almost killed me. I’ve had to become comfortable with the uncomfortability of not being perfect. I’m amazed at the woman that I have become. . . . Sorry, I’m getting a little emotional, but it’s been hard. It’s been very hard. But I’ve earned a life beyond thirty-five years.”

Learn more about Tamara Winfrey Harris and The Sisters Are Alright at www.tamarawinfreyharris.com.

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Web of Spider-Men: Will Marvel Use Miles Morales To Stick It To Sony? http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/24/web-of-spider-men-will-marvel-use-miles-morales-to-stick-it-to-sony/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/24/web-of-spider-men-will-marvel-use-miles-morales-to-stick-it-to-sony/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39757 By Arturo R. García As of Wednesday morning, the mantle of Spider-Man has changed hands in both the comic-book and movie realms. And while Marvel Comics scored a win on the diversity front, it’s fair to wonder if the move could pay dividends in another realm. Because while it’s notable enough to see Miles Morales, […]

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By Arturo R. García

As of Wednesday morning, the mantle of Spider-Man has changed hands in both the comic-book and movie realms. And while Marvel Comics scored a win on the diversity front, it’s fair to wonder if the move could pay dividends in another realm.

Because while it’s notable enough to see Miles Morales, the Black Latino character introduced in an alternate comics universe nearly four years ago, named as the protagonist in Marvel’s new Spider-Man title, it will be particularly interesting to see how the company handles both him and his predecessor, Peter Parker, after a series of moves de-emphasizing characters who, like Peter, are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Sounds shady, you say? A little far-fetched? Sure. But don’t say your spidey-sense doesn’t ping just a little when you compare the cover to the first issue of the original Secret Wars comic, featuring members of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four:

With this new t-shirt, which subs in heroes from Marvel’s slate of Netflix series and Black Bolt from the Inhumans:

The Inhumans, by the way, have been positioned as Marvel’s resident diversity surrogates since 20th Century Fox is still making both X-Men and Fantastic Four films. The Inhumans now have both their own new comic and an increased presence on the Agents of SHIELD television series. That change looks more than a little disappointing when you consider how thoroughly the “House of Ideas” has appropriated civil rights terminology to trumpet the X-books as its Great Diversity Story.

On the bright side, a rather elegant switch is rumored to be in the works: as Bleeding Cool has reported, the Inhumans’ establishing their own way of life on Earth after decades living on the Moon could coincide with the X-Men — who were established in New York state — being shipped off to space for their next set of adventures.

Meanwhile, fans drawn to Fantastic Four comics by the movie featuring Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch have probably experienced some confusion: the comic was shelved while the movie was doing the promotional loop, following rumors that it was going to be canceled. And the team will still allegedly be split up when the title resumes.

That’s the situation greeting 19-year-old Tom Holland as he prepares to step into the role of Peter. One thing that sets his version of the character apart for the moment is that Sony and Marvel have a different deal in place regarding his use: Holland will play Peter in his own film for Sony in 2017, but his actual debut will come in Marvel’s next Captain America movie, Civil War, due out next year.

Unfortunately for Sony, Holland’s casting came after leaked emails showed the strict guidelines in place for any film depiction of Parker:

The Peter Parker character traits include: his full name is Peter Benjamin Parker; he is Caucasian and heterosexual; his parents become absent from his life during his childhood; from the time his parents become absent he is raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben in New York City; he gains his powers while attending either middle school or college; he gains his powers from being bitten by a spider; he designs his first red and blue costume; the black costume is a symbiote and not designed by him; he is raised in a middle class household in Queens, New York; he attends or attended high school in Queens, New York; and he attends or attended college in New York City.

Even before that rather reactionary bit of information came out, Marvel was trumpeting Miles’ entry into whatever comics universe emerges from the latest Secret Wars crossover/makeover in marketing materials, as seen here:

While somebody wearing the Peter Parker version of the Spider-Man uniform is visible in that picture, Marvel and Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis, who created Miles, are insisting to fans that the company is lending its full weight behind the character.

“It’s not Spider-Man with an asterisk,” Bendis said. “It’s the real Spider-Man for kids of color, for adults of color and everybody else.”

News of the solo book followed Marvel’s announcement that he would join Ms. Marvel and the new Thor as part of the latest Avengers title.

Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler also noted that Miles’ “promotion” comes as Marvel emerges from a cycle of nearly non-stop Big Events, driven by Bendis and other writers.

At the same time, Wheeler said, readers have shown a positive response to a wave of more diverse titles (Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, A-Force) that have shown they can stand on their own, and Marvel must now show that it intends to capitalize on them:

Diversity won’t flourish at a publisher that’s still tied to the idea that a select few writers get to shake up the landscape every six months — especially given that all of those writers are, to a man, men, and presumably straight and white men at that. Diversity depends on giving fresh, upstart voices the room to grow, and that’s tough to do when relying on an establishment of tentpole talents to set the course for a shared universe and dictate the swerve of other writers’ stories.

So while Miles’ new book may not come with an asterisk, it does have some questions attached to it for the weeks and months to come: Will Peter be part of Miles’ new series? Will the company keep Spider-Man running if and when Bendis leaves the book? And where will Miles fit into Marvel’s plans if Sony either renegotiates the film rights regarding Peter or — and this is a long shot — decides to sell them back to the MCU?

A little far-fetched, you say? Sure. But then, so was Miles himself at one point.

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Revenge Of The Blerd: The Racialicious Review of Dope http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/22/revenge-of-the-blerd-the-racialicious-review-of-dope/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/22/revenge-of-the-blerd-the-racialicious-review-of-dope/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39745 By Arturo R. García What’s supposed to be a romantic moment in Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope ends up being one of its more problematic: we see the protagonist, Malcolm, tell his love interest Nakia, “Don’t sell yourself short” when she explains that, should she get her GED, she plans to attend a community college before, hopefully, […]

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By Arturo R. García

What’s supposed to be a romantic moment in Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope ends up being one of its more problematic: we see the protagonist, Malcolm, tell his love interest Nakia, “Don’t sell yourself short” when she explains that, should she get her GED, she plans to attend a community college before, hopefully, moving on to Cal State Fullerton or a school in that system.

Malcolm’s remark is meant to be encouraging, to spur her on to defying expectations. But there’s also a touch of unwitting condescension, of classism in play in that response. And the vexing thing about Dope is that it’s a coming-of-age tale that won’t let him see that other side even as it insists he’s maturing before our eyes.

SPOILERS under the cut

The movie has gotten some shine after scoring at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and the trailer makes it seem like a Feel-Good Hit Of The Summer. What we get instead is a story by writer/director Famuyiwa that wraps Malcolm’s journey to maturation around a social-media heist story, somewhat unevenly. And seeing that Pharrell — who coined the rather-criticized term “New Black” — is listed as an executive producer alongside Sean “Diddy” Combs puts its opening gambit in a different light.

As the film opens, an unseen narrator (producer Forest Whitaker) informs us that Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and buddies Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are ridiculed at their Inglewood high school because they are geeks for liking “white sh*t” (like Donald Glover, because subtle).

Famuyiwa frames things in such a way that the three friends are seemingly the only grade-smart people in their school at all. Malcolm’s apparent dismissal of public universities stems from his obsession with going to Harvard. In his best moment, he asks both the school and the viewer, “Why do I want to go to Harvard? If I was white would you even be asking that question?” Maybe not. But one gets the sense that he’s not just chasing the education — he’s after the idea of Harvard as a salve; you have to wonder what he would think if, say, nearby USC or UCLA offered him a scholarship.

At the same time, he doesn’t want to talk about where he came from in his application essay, calling it “cliche.” Instead, he pulls out a piece purporting to research the singular “Good Day” from the Ice Cube song. The idea isn’t just gimmicky as hell; as NPR’s Gene Demby points out, is literally a recycled AV Club piece.

Besides being a straight-A student, Malcolm also leads a punk band, Awreoh (pronounced like “Oreo” because subtle) with his friends backing him. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the film had let the music — supplied by Pharrell — do more of the talking, since the lyrics we hear give us more of a sense of his day-to-day than Whitaker can supply in his narration.

At the very least, there’s enough elements already in play to really dig into this take on the Blerd identity and navigating it in this kind of neighborhood — the performances by Moore and company lead you to suggest they could do more; rapper A$AP Rocky offers a promising antagonist as Dom, a local heavy who may or may not realize he wasted his own potential; and the film pops both visually and musically; a dream sequence where Malcolm confronts his friends and enemies on a bus home, set to Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where The Hatred Is,” stands out in particular.

But instead of maximizing any of these assets, the film sidetracks itself when Dom foists enough MDMA on Malcolm and his buddies to make selling the stash not just palatable in their eyes, but profitable. There’s enough tech-speak thrown around (Tor! Dark web! Bitcoin!) to nearly make you forget that the scheme (and thus, the film’s plot) only begins to play out because the right person talks himself out of settling the issue around 45 minutes into the story.

While this misadventure is meant as a way to put our heroes in danger, what ends up happening is that just about every character besides Malcolm suffers in the name of the plot, undercutting our reasons to root for him despite Moore’s efforts. The women in his life get the worst of it.

We see Malcolm’s mom (Kimberly Elise) for seconds at a time, yet his pop culture and sartorial style — the sources of his Capital-G Geekiness — are both drawn from a videotape sent by his off-screen father; Diggy doesn’t do much of anything besides show men she’s really a woman, tell us she likes other women, and slap a white guy for trying to get away with using the n-word; older women Nakia (Zoe Kravitz) and Lily (Chanel Iman) both express interest in Malcolm (because wish fulfillment), but the former doesn’t get to speak up for her educational choices, and the latter is literally turned into a meme promoting Awreoh after she suffers a drug-induced freak-out.

One might compare this movie to another recent festival darling, last year’s Dear White People. But while that movie questioned its primary characters at every turn, Dope goes all-in on Malcolm and a less-nuanced trial-by-fire. When Moore gets to show Malcolm speaking for himself, you at least want to hear him state his case. But when the conversation getting the most sustained screentime in the movie involves a white guy wanting to use a racist slur, it’s not the neighborhood stifling him — it’s the writing.

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Ex Machina Abuses Women of Color, But Nobody Cares Because It’s Smart http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/19/ex-machina-abuses-women-of-color-but-nobody-cares-because-its-smart/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/19/ex-machina-abuses-women-of-color-but-nobody-cares-because-its-smart/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 14:00:16 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39734 By Guest Contributor Sharon H Chang, cross posted from Multiracial Asian Families This past April, British science fiction thriller Ex Machina opened in the U.S. to almost unanimous rave reviews. The film was written and directed by Alex Garland, author of bestselling 1996 novel The Beach (also made into a movie), and screenwriter of 28 Days […]

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By Guest Contributor Sharon H Chang, cross posted from Multiracial Asian Families

This past April, British science fiction thriller Ex Machina opened in the U.S. to almost unanimous rave reviews. The film was written and directed by Alex Garland, author of bestselling 1996 novel The Beach (also made into a movie), and screenwriter of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let Me Go (2010).

Ex Machina is Garland’s directorial debut. It’s about a young white coder named Caleb who gets the opportunity to visit the secluded mountain home of his employer Nathan, pioneering programmer of the world’s most powerful search engine. Nathan’s ethnicity isn’t specified, but he reads as non-white, and the actor who plays him is Guatemalan.

Caleb believes the trip to be innocuous, but quickly learns that Nathan’s home is actually a secret research facility in which the brilliant but egocentric and obnoxious genius has been developing sophisticated artificial intelligence. Caleb is immediately introduced to Nathan’s most upgraded construct – a gorgeous white fembot named Ava. Mind games ensue.

As the week unfolds the only things we know for sure are (a) imprisoned Ava wants to be free, and, (b) Caleb becomes completely enamored and wants to “rescue” her. Other than that, nothing is clear. What are Ava’s true intentions? Does she like Caleb back or is she just using him to get out? Is Nathan really as much an asshole as he seems or is he putting on a show to manipulate everyone? Who should we feel sorry for? Who should we empathize with? Who should we hate? Who’s the hero?

Reviewers and viewers alike are melting in intellectual ecstasy over this brain-twisty movie. The Guardian calls it “accomplished, cerebral film-making”; Wired calls it “one of the year’s most intelligent and thought-provoking films”; Indiewire calls it “gripping, brilliant and sensational.” Alex Garland apparently is the smartest, coolest new director on the block. “Garland understands what he’s talking about,” says RogerEbert.com, and goes “to the trouble to explain more abstract concepts in plain language.”

Right.

I like sci-fi and am a fan of Garland’s previous work, so I was excited to see his new flick. But let me tell you, my experience was FAR from  the “brilliant” and “heady” trip multitudes of moonstruck reviewers claimed it would be. Actually, I was livid. And weeks later, I’m STILL pissed. Here’s why…

*Spoiler Alert*

Though you wouldn’t know it from the plethora of glowing reviews out there—telling in and of itself—there’s another prominent fembot in the film. About fifteen minutes into the story, we’re introduced to Kyoko, an Asian servant and sex slave played by mixed-race Japanese-British actress Sonoya Mizuno. Though bound in abusive servitude, Kyoko isn’t physically imprisoned in a room as Ava is, because she’s compliant, obedient, willing.

Kyoko first appears on screen demure and silent, bringing a surprised Caleb breakfast in his room. Of course I recognized the trope of servile Asian woman right away and, as I wrote in February, how quickly Asian/whites are treated as non-white when they look ethnic in any way. I was instantly uncomfortable. Maybe there’s a point, I thought to myself. But soon after we see Kyoko serving sushi to the men. She accidentally spills food on Caleb. Nathan loses his temper, yells at her, and then explains to Caleb she can’t understand which makes her incompetence even more infuriating. This is how we learn Kyoko is mute and can’t speak. Yep. Nathan didn’t give her a voice. He further programmed her, purportedly, to not understand English.

I started to get upset. If there was a point, Garland had better get to it fast.

Unfortunately the treatment of Kyoko’s character just keeps spiraling. We continue to learn more and more about her horrible existence in a way that feels gross only for shock value rather than for any sort of deconstruction, empowerment, or liberation of Asian women. She is always at Nathan’s side, ready and available, for anything he wants. Eventually Nathan shows Caleb something else special about her. He’s coded Kyoko to love dancing (“I told you you’re wasting your time talking to her. However you would not be wasting your time – if you were dancing with her”). When Nathan flips a wall switch that washes the room in red lights and music then joins a scantily-clad gyrating Kyoko on the dance floor, I was overcome by disgust:

I recently also wrote about Western exploitation of women’s bodies in Asia (incidentally also in February). In particular noting it was U.S. imperialistic conquest that jump-started Thailand’s sex industry. By the 1990s several million tourists from Europe and the U.S. were visiting Thailand annually, many specifically for sex and entertainment. Writer Deena Guzder points out in “The Economics of Commercial Sexual Exploitation” for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting that Thailand’s sex tourism industry is driven by acute poverty. Women and girls from poor rural families make up the majority of sex workers. “Once lost in Thailand’s seedy underbelly, these women are further robbed of their individual agency, economic independence, and bargaining power.” Guzder gloomily predicts, “If history repeats itself, the situation for poor Southeast Asian women will only further deteriorate with the global economic downturn.”

Nightlife at Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Nightlife at Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand [image source]

You know who wouldn’t be a stranger to any of this? Alex Garland. His first novel, The Beach, is set in Thailand and his second, The Tesseract, is set in the Philippines, both developing nations where Asian women continue to be used and abused for Western gain. In a 1999 interview with journalist Ron Gluckman, Garland said he made his first trip to Asia as a teenager in high school and had been back at least once or twice almost every year since. He also lived in the Philippines for 9 months. In a perhaps telling choice of words, Gluckman wrote that Garland had “been bitten by the Asian bug, early and deep.” At the time many Asian critics were criticizing The Beach as a shallow look at the region by an uniformed outsider but Garland protested in his interview:

A lot of the criticism of The Beach is that it presents Thais as two dimensional, as part of the scenery. That’s because these people I’m writing about – backpackers – really only see them as part of the scenery. They don’t see them or the Thai culture. To them, it’s all part of a huge theme park, the scenery for their trip. That’s the point.

I disagree severely with Garland. In insisting on his right to portray people of color one way while dismissing how those people see themselves, he not only centers his privileged perspective (i.e. white, male) but shows determined disinterest in representing oppressed people transformatively. Leads me to wonder how much he really knows or cares about inequity and uplifting marginalized voices. Indeed in Ex Machina the only point that Garland ever seems to make is that racist/sexist tropes exists, not that we’re going to do anything about them. And that kind of non-critical non-resistant attitude does more to reify and reinforce than anything else. Take for instance in a recent interview with Cinematic Essential (one of few where the interviewer asked about race), Garland had this to say about stereotypes in his new film:

Sometimes you do things unconsciously, unwittingly, or stupidly, I guess, and the only embedded point that I knew I was making in regards to race centered around the tropes of Kyoko [Sonoya Mizuno], a mute, very complicit Asian robot, or Asian-appearing robot, because of course, she, as a robot, isn’t Asian. But, when Nathan treats the robot in the discriminatory way that he treats it, I think it should be ambivalent as to whether he actually behaves this way, or if it’s a very good opportunity to make him seem unpleasant to Caleb for his own advantage.

First, approaching race “unconsciously” or “unwittingly” is never a good idea and moreover a classic symptom of white willful ignorance. Second, Kyoko isn’t Asian because she’s a robot? Race isn’t biological or written into human DNA. It’s socio-politically constructed and assigned usually by those in power. Kyoko is Asian because she has been made that way not only by her oppressor, Nathan, but by Garland himself, the omniscient creator of all. Third, Kyoko represents the only embedded race point in the movie? False. There are two other women of color who play enslaved fembots in Ex Machina and their characters are abused just as badly. “Jasmine” is one of Nathan’s early fembots. She’s Black. We see her body twice. Once being instructed how to write and once being dragged lifeless across the floor. You will never recognize real-life Black model and actress Symara A. Templeman in the role, however. Why? Because her always naked body is inexplicably headless when it appears. That’s right. The sole Black body/person in the entire film does not have (per Garland’s writing and direction) a face, head, or brain.

Symara A. Templeman, Ex Machina's

Symara A. Templeman, Ex Machina’s “Jasmine” [image source]

“Jade” played by Asian model and actress Gana Bayarsaikhan, is presumably also a less successful fembot predating Kyoko but perhaps succeeding Jasmine. She too is always shown naked but, unlike Jasmine, she has a head, and, unlike Kyoko, she speaks. We see her being questioned repeatedly by Nathan while trapped behind glass. Jade is resistant and angry. She doesn’t understand why Nathan won’t let her out and escalates to the point we are lead to believe she is decommissioned for her defiance.

It’s significant that Kyoko, a mixed-race Asian/white woman, later becomes the “upgraded” Asian model. It’s also significant that at the movie’s end white Ava finds Jade’s decommissioned body in a closet in Nathan’s room and skins it to cover her own body. (Remember when Katy Perry joked in 2012 she was obsessed with Japanese people and wanted to skin one?). Ava has the option of white bodies but after examining them meticulously she deliberately chooses Jade. Despite having met Jasmine previously, her Black body is conspicuously missing from the closets full of bodies Nathan has stored for his pleasure and use. And though Kyoko does help Ava kill Nathan in the end, she herself is “killed” in the process (i.e. never free) and Ava doesn’t care at all. What does all this show? A very blatant standard of beauty/desire that is not only male-designed but clearly a light, white, and violently assimilative one.

Gana Bayarsaikhan, Ex Machina's

Gana Bayarsaikhan, Ex Machina’s “Jade” [image source]

Gana Bayarsaikhan who played “Jade” [image source]

I can’t even being to tell you how offended and disturbed I was by the treatment of women of color in this movie. I slept restlessly the night after I saw Ex Machina, woke up muddled at 2:45 AM and – still clinging to the hope that there must have been a reason for treating women of color this way (Garland’s brilliant right?) – furiously went to work reading interviews and critiques. Aside from a few brief mentions of race/gender, I found barely anything addressing the film’s obvious deployment of racialized gender stereotypes for its own benefit. For me this movie will be joining the long list of many so-called film classics I will never be able to admire. Movies where supposed artistry and brilliance are acceptable excuses for “unconscious” “unwitting” racism and sexism. Ex Machina may be smart in some ways, but it damn sure isn’t in others.

***

For another great critique of the film by a sister of color, please read “Ex Machina and the Puppetry of the Patriarch” by Carolyn Mauricette of Rosemary’s Pixie.

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Sense8 And The Failure Of Global Imagination http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/17/sense8-and-the-failure-of-global-domination/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/17/sense8-and-the-failure-of-global-domination/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39730 By Guest Contributor Claire Light, cross-posted from The Nerds Of Color How do you imagine a life you could never live? Though not really a theme, this problem is at the heart of Netflix’s new original series Sense8, created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, and heavily influenced by Tom Tykwer. Like many fantastical […]

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By Guest Contributor Claire Light, cross-posted from The Nerds Of Color

How do you imagine a life you could never live? Though not really a theme, this problem is at the heart of Netflix’s new original series Sense8, created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, and heavily influenced by Tom Tykwer. Like many fantastical or science fictional premises, Sense8’s premise is a wish fulfillment: not — as is typical of this genre and the Wachowskis’ earlier work — the wish fulfillment of the disempowered middle school nerd stuffed into a locker, but rather the Mary Sue desire of a mature, white American writer/auteur who has discovered that an entire world is “out there,” one that the maker doesn’t know how to imagine.

Yes, most of us are still white, but 3 outta 8 ain’t bad.

The premise in a nutshell (and mild spoilers follow throughout this article): humanity has evolved a new subspecies, the “sensate,” who can share the thoughts, feelings, memories, skills, and experiences of other sensates. A sensate can “give birth” to a group of adult sensates, tying them together into a “cluster,” that can and does access each other without having to come in physical contact first. The cluster must be composed of eight sensates who were all born at the exact same time, which necessarily means that they are scattered all over the world. They can use each other’s languages, knowledge, and skills, and experience each other’s experiences firsthand. You can see already how incredibly attractive these abilities would be to Americans who wish to depict a new global status quo, but grew up monolingual in an imperialist center.

I’m describing, of course, the Wachowskis, who share entire writing and production credits with J. Michael Straczynski, but are the obvious spiritual core and drivers of this piece. Very little of Straczynski’s earlier work in superhero cartoons, space opera, and short-arc TV drama shows up here, except his expertise with the television format. Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed with his light touch. You don’t see his hand in this at all, and I give entire credit and blame for this series to the Wachowskis, whose vision shines through. (Much more apparent is the influence of Tom Tykwer, who only directed two episodes, but whose pacing and elegiac grittiness is felt throughout.)

We contain multitudes.

The Wachowskis step onto the stage here as fully developed aesthetic internationalists, embracing the equality of diverse world cultures, and espousing the universality of the human experience. You can see the Wachowskis’ development into this — philosophy? — throughout their oeuvre, pushed by a desire to depict true diversity.

It’s something you can see in the Matrix trilogy already, which was limited by the Wachowskis’ extremely limited white American perspective. The works they adapted subsequently (V for Vendetta, Speed Racer, Ninja Assassin) were training wheels: the developing Wachowski worldview refracted through international pop culture artifacts. Cloud Atlas feels like a culmination of this growth, the moment they discovered where they really wanted to go: towards a philosophical simultaneity through extremely diverse global cultures. In Sense8 you see them finally taking the training wheels off and attempting to originate their own simultaneous, diverse-culture-unifying fictions.

It’s a beautiful vision, if you believe in universality. Let’s assume for a moment that you do. It’s a deeply worthy, exciting, and — dare I say it? — moral ambition. And it half-succeeds; which means it also half-fails.

There should be word for the exhilaration of a half-success coupled with the glowing disappointment of the half-failure, that two-sided coin. People who don’t speak German would say that there must be a long-ass German word for it. There isn’t, but German has the virtue of allowing someone to make a half-assed attempt at coining it. Ehrgeitzversagensschoene? I mention this, because this is one of the primary failures of the show: it attaches itself to Americans’ perceptions of how things are in other idioms, as much as, or more than, it attaches to how things actually are.

Even our tweets are clichéd.

To put it plainly: Sense8’s depiction of life in non-western countries is built out of stereotypes, and of life in non-American western countries is suffused with tourist-board clichés. The protagonist in Nairobi is a poor man whose mother has AIDS and whose life is ruled by gangs; in Mumbai we have a woman in a STEM career marrying a man she doesn’t love and engaging in Bollywood dance numbers; in Korea we have a patriarchally oppressed wealthy corporate woman who also happens to be a kickass martial artist; in Mexico City we follow a telenovela actor. London and Reykjavik are filmed using tourist locations and anonymous interiors.

Worse, the filmic clichés of each country are brought to bear on the production in each location — each organized by a different director: Nairobi is sweaty, garish, earth-toned, radiantly shabby; Mumbai is multicolored, and Hindu iconned, full of the jewelry, silks, flowers, and jubilant crowds that burst out of classic Bollywood; Seoul is clean to the point of sterility, with little patches of grass and mirrors and windows everywhere, a grey, hi-tech aesthetic; Mexico City is jewel-toned, rife with skulls, full of melodrama deliberately reminiscent of the telenovela; etc. I believe, quite literally, that the filmmakers primarily learned about these other cultures through their films, and considered that enough.

This is what bad guys look like in Mexico City.

And finally, the pop-cultural elements of the show are all American. There’s no evidence of local or national culture influencing how the non-American characters view themselves or live their lives. The Kenyan sensate idolizes Jean-Claude Van Damme (who is, granted, not American, but known for his role in American action films). The German sensate claims Conan the Barbarian quotes as his personal philosophy. The Icelandic DJ in London puts on 4 Non Blondes’ hideous anthem “What’s Goin’ On?” and infects the entire cluster with a dancing/singing jag. Where there’s no American cultural lead — in Korea and Mexico, and even in the Ganesh-worshipping Indian sensate’s life — the characters’ life philosophies are a blank.

The Wachowskis take advantage of the apparent international ascendancy of American pop culture to unify disparate cultures, when the way American pop works on non-western cultures is often counterintuitive to Western minds. Sense8 also displays a profound lack of recognition of local pop cultures even when they would definitely have influenced such characters. In the show, American pop is specific, non American pop is generalized and clichéd, as in the Bollywood dance, or entirely absent.

The universality being promoted here is a universality of Americanideas, American popular culture, American world views. It’s likeStephen Colbert’s idea of freedom of religion:

I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jew, or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

Violence is the universal language.

If the entire show were an even spread of such thin notions, I could dismiss the show, or even enjoy it as as a guilty or problematic pleasure. But Sense8 has two great counter virtues.

The first is in the depiction of the San Francisco sensate, which is the best representation both of the city and of that particular community that I’ve ever seen on TV. Nomi, a trans woman, is first seen wandering through a very locally-informed San Francisco cityscape during Pride weekend. At every level, the limning of Nomi’s character and the study of San Francisco are intimate, layered, nuanced, and above all, specific. Nomi doesn’t fall off a bike somewhere in San Francisco, she falls off a motorcycle in the Castro during the Dykes on Bikes parade, which she rides in every year with her girlfriend, a gesture of extreme importance to her identity. She doesn’t meet-cute her girlfriend in a random park; she remembers a key moment early in their relationship where her girlfriend stands up for her against a hostile TERF during a picnic in Dolores Park.

It’s the specificity that rings true to this San Franciscan, and that signals to all viewers that this world is real, and the character is alive within it.

No, it’s not the new Mad Max movie, it’s San Francisco.

It’s a vision of how the entire show could have been, if the Wachowskis could have figured out in time how to bring this level of intimacy and specificity to their depiction of all the characters, and all the cities. Because Tom Tykwer, himself a Berliner, directs the Berlin sequences, you see a little bit of this familiarity in the locations chosen for that city and in the character of Wolfgang — his East German origins, his family’s Slavic name and orthodox religion, etc.

But none of the other sensates, including the idealistic Chicago cop, bear anything close to the level of intimate knowledge or specific detail that Nomi or Wolfgang have. In fact, pay attention and you’ll see how generalizing the locations and incidents are. For example: in Nairobi, the sensate’s bus is robbed in what the characters themselves call “a bad area,” i.e. they don’t refer to the district by its name.

One of these things is not like the others. Must be sci-fi.

But even this failure in the rest of Sense8’s world is countered somewhat by its second great virtue, which is that it commits totally to its clichés and rides them out to their conclusions. Thank the slow pacing for this. The entire 12-episode first season covers a story arc that would generally be covered in the first two episodes of any other show (the sensates are introduced, discover each other, start to learn the rules of their condition, meet their antagonist, and finally successfully pull off their first combined action). The very deliberation with which the story unfolds forces the writers to unpack details of each character’s life and situations that bring a kind of life and reality to the clichés they’re embedded in. Details are forced into the narrative — one by one in each character’s arc — and each character eventually becomes rooted in these details, even though they often come late in the season.

For example, Kala, the Indian sensate in Mumbai, is characterized over simply at first: she is to marry a man she doesn’t love, and she is a dedicated worshiper of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh. We don’t actually learn more large details about her, but in drilling down on these two things, we learn a great deal of anchoring detail: the marriage is not arranged, but a “love match;” with her boss’ son; whom she met at work; at a pharmaceutical company; where she works as a chemical engineer; because she has a master’s degree in chemistry. She worships Ganesh; not because she’s a benighted third world person but because she sees no conflict between science and spirituality; and because she had an experience of being lost as a child and then discovering a literal new perspective of the world through the eyes of a papier maché Ganesh parade float; as a consequence, she takes her sensate role in stride because she trusts that she is still seeing the world through Ganesh’s eyes.

All of the characters get drilled down into in this way, to varying degrees, and all start to take on life and verisimilitude. The main problem with forcing this kind of life into characters is that the audience cannot trust its, for lack of a better word, authenticity. To return to Kala: we see her more than once visiting the temple of Ganesh where she has out loud, private conversations with the god, a la Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. I don’t know whether or not Hindus are taught to converse vernacularly with their gods in their temples, but the extreme Americanness of the depiction warns me that the Wachowskis probably don’t know either. My suspicion is that they transposed an American Christian moment into an Indian Hindu one, without really finding out if the translation held. Moments like this are sprinkled throughout.

We have sex with each other inside our heads. Group sex.

The Wachowskis fail to examine characters in the characters owncontext. These are some of the basics of fictional world building and character development: you create the rules of the world, create the worldview, situate the character in this worldview, pick out notes of the worldview for the character to hold as a personal philosophy, motivate the character according to that personal philosophy, and have the character act throughout the story in accordance with these motivations. Missing out on any of these layers — especially the first, broadest layer of cultural context — leaves you with a character that may or may not be alive, but whose motivations, worldview, and context are a blank. And most of Sense8’s characters are laboring within blankness. Again, they gain a certain amount of rootedness, but not one that is trustworthy, because they are rooted in this same cultural absence.

Again, we need that fictional German word, to describe how I feel about what I can only call a failure of global imagination. The fact that the makers conceived of having a global imagination in the first place is, in itself, a triumph. The fact that they attempted to embody a global imagination in a television show is breathtaking. Given their approach, their failure to achieve that global imagination was inevitable.

Because the very act of conceiving a global imagination is itself a function of the specifically American imagination. I “assumed” earlier that we agreed with the Wachowskis’ philosophy of the universality of human experience; but do we? Universality is a deeply western humanist idea that attaches particularly well to the US’s brand of Darwinist individualism. We all have — or should have — the same opportunities, the same basis. What we make of this is a function of our individuality. Culture is just happenstance; what’s important is our actions, our choices, etc. It’s a familiar refrain, and much of American anti-racism and social justice is based upon the idea of the even — the universal — playing field as an ideal to aspire to.

But how universal is human experience, really? How empathetic can we be? We don’t really know how deep culture and environment go in the psyche. We don’t really know how different people can be. Our sciences — and especially our “soft” sciences, which are tasked with these questions — have barely scratched the surface of any answers, eternally stymied by their own deep-seated cultural biases, and the cultural bias of “science” itself. And the very idea of universalism is — o, irony! — too often a culturally imperialist idea imposed from outside upon cultures that share no such understanding of the world.

The world is a mirror that reflects yourself back to you… if you’re a white American dude.

The characters discuss their choices with one another, but nowhere is there any cultural misunderstanding of each others’ choices. Yes, they can each feel what the others are feeling, think what the others are thinking. But does that free each of them from their cultural context? Wouldn’t, instead, each of them be having profound identity crises based on the deepest sort of culture clash anyone has ever felt?

“Universing” everything under an American idea — an American set of choices — is a contradiction in terms; one the Wachowskis underlined in Sense8 through their collaborative process. All five directors who worked on the show are white men, except Lana Wachowski. All are American except Tykwer, who has been working in Hollywood for years. All episodes in all locations were written by the Wachowskis and Straczynski — again, white American men plus Lana Wachowski. There seems to have been no thought of reaching out to, much less collaborating with, writers and directors from the cultures here represented.

The great irony of this show is that it failed to do what the show itself depicts: allow people from disparate cultures to work together, influence each other, clash with each other, and to live moments of each other’s lives.

Am I a Korean woman dreaming of being a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of being a Korean woman?

In a discussion before I wrote this piece, I disagreed with a friend about the handling of language in the show. I really appreciated the choice of having all characters speak English without forcing them all to speak English in cheap versions of their “native” accents. And, given that this was an American TV show, I didn’t expect the makers to force American audiences to read subtitles. My friend, however, pointed out that it would have been… well, less hegemonic for everyone to be actually speaking their own languages.

Upon reflection, I have to agree that having the dialogue in non-English speaking countries translated would have offered the translators an opportunity for input about the content of the dialogue. And if the Wachowskis had hired writers from each culture to translate not merely the text but also the entire culture and idiom — up to and including changing plot points and points of view to better fit with the local culture of that character — this could have solved their whole problem.

Psych! We shot the whole thing against a green screen!

Whether or not you believe in the universality of human experience — whether or not you believe in a single global imagination — the only way to attempt to depict a true global imagination would be to create — in the writers room and on the directors’ chairs — a facsimile of a sensate cluster. Just imagine it: eight equal auteurs, each in their own physical location and cultural context, striving together — and frequently pulling apart — to achieve a single, complex story on film. Even the failure of such an enterprise would have been far more ambitious, far more glorious, far moreEhrgeizversagensschoen, than the Sense8 we actually got.

And if it had succeeded?

There are four more seasons to go on this show — if the Wachowskis get their way. Let’s hope that in the future their globalism is more than just an aesthetic decision.

Bottom line: yes, watch it. Binge it. Its failure is far more interesting than the success of almost anything else happening at this moment. And it’s truly one of the most diverse shows on TV right now.

They just better not all be dead.

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SDCC First Call: Are You A POC Creator Going to San Diego Comic-Con? http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/15/first-call-are-you-a-poc-creator-going-to-san-diego-comic-con/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/15/first-call-are-you-a-poc-creator-going-to-san-diego-comic-con/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 12:00:42 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39668 With less than a month until San Diego Comic-Con, we’d like to get the ball rolling on our annual coverage by promoting creators of color throughout the convention. If you’re going to be an exhibitor or presenter during the convention, or know someone who is, drop us a line in the comment thread here, or […]

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With less than a month until San Diego Comic-Con, we’d like to get the ball rolling on our annual coverage by promoting creators of color throughout the convention.

If you’re going to be an exhibitor or presenter during the convention, or know someone who is, drop us a line in the comment thread here, or at team@racialicious.com and we’ll boost the signal in our SDCC preview posts, including our looks at the programming and special SDCC Files post telling fans where to find you on the floor and online.

We’ll put up one more call for creators in a couple of weeks, but why wait? Let’s start getting the word out now!

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Quoted: Tauriq Moosa on Race and Witcher 3 http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/12/quoted-tauriq-moosa-on-race-and-witcher-3/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/12/quoted-tauriq-moosa-on-race-and-witcher-3/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 14:00:24 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39709 By creating digital representations of people who aren’t white, it indicates a culture and industry who view us as people. It counters the status quo that dehumanizes us by erasing us or casting us as a non-human. We want to be seen as people, too. There’s little more to it, for me. But seeing angry […]

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By creating digital representations of people who aren’t white, it indicates a culture and industry who view us as people. It counters the status quo that dehumanizes us by erasing us or casting us as a non-human. We want to be seen as people, too. There’s little more to it, for me.

But seeing angry responses to this simple request speaks volumes about the kind of culture we’re creating by not diversifying races, genders and so on. Consider: In Witcher 3, all humans are white and every other being is non-human. That’s not exactly friendly or inclusive of people of color. A game can include diverse number of monsters, but not a diverse number of skin colours or races for humans?

And then we see panic and anger when white gamers may be asked to play as people of color in Rust. The double standard is rarely addressed. Being white is apolitical, being a person of color, even simply by existing, is threatening to some players.

Read the rest at Polygon.

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A Quick Guide To Five Of The Cambodian Artists Featured In Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/11/a-quick-guide-to-five-of-the-cambodian-artists-featured-in-dont-think-ive-forgotten/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/11/a-quick-guide-to-five-of-the-cambodian-artists-featured-in-dont-think-ive-forgotten/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39697 By Arturo R. Garcia While a lot of rock documentaries focus on the “rise and fall” or coming and going of a particular artist or genre, John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll largely fulfills a more daunting — and ultimately more haunting — assignment: chronicling the blossoming and annihilation of […]

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By Arturo R. Garcia

While a lot of rock documentaries focus on the “rise and fall” or coming and going of a particular artist or genre, John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll largely fulfills a more daunting — and ultimately more haunting — assignment: chronicling the blossoming and annihilation of Cambodia’s entire musical identity, all within a 15-year period.

Pirozzi himself is invisible throughout the proceedings; instead, artists and officials who survived the period narrate the tale oral history-style, with film footage and recordings filling in the blanks and showing how vibrant the country’s musical scene became as it adapted not just North American rock but Afro-Cuban influences with its own traditions.

Under the cut, we’ll take a look at some of the more notable acts spotlighted in the documentary.

A substantial portion of the film’s first act is devoted to the country’s first pop star, crooner Sinn Sisamouth. The former medical student is credited with recording more than 1,200 songs, including Khmer versions of US hits, including “I’m Still Waiting for You,” his own take on The Animals’ “House Of The Rising Sun.”

Sisamouth was among the 1.7 million people killed in the onslaught by the Khmer Rouge, and it’s thought that all of his original studio recordings were also casualties of the regime’s purge of virtually all of Cambodia’s artistic output. But compilations of his work have been put together from cassettes and LPs sold during his career. Not only is he still played on the country’s radio stations, but several of them have been posted online in their entirety.

The documentary also takes care to not only highlight, but differentiate several of the country’s top female artists of the era. Among them is Ros Serey Sothea, who frequently collaborated with Sisamouth but also stretched out into other genres, like the go-go banger “Penh Chet Tae Bong Muoy.”

Another prominent singer, Huoy Meas, also doubled as the voice of the country’s national radio station and performed on a radio drama in the 1960s and 70s. Like Sothea, she could do ballads like “Srolahn Thai Bong Mouy”:

And also hold up in an up-tempo number like “Who’s Not Dancing?”:

If the scene had a clown prince, it likely would have been Yol Aularong, who injected jaunty guitar rock with an irreverent eye. It’s speculated in the movie that Aularong was among the first artists executed by the Khmer Rouge, since he made a name for himself playing among his countrymen in city streets, granting him way too much visibility for the regime to accept.

In closing, here’s a taste of one of the most influential groups of the era, the Drakkar Band. The group originally formed following a jam session at a house party, and quickly stood out by being able to bring a Khmer touch to American guitar rock, as it did on “Crazy Loving You.”

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten is well worth checking out, even if you’re not a music fan. For more of a taste of the project, the trailer can be seen below.

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Racialicious (Noir)stalgia: How To Maintain Your Black Identity While Having Three Very White Friends http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/09/racialicious-noirstalgia-how-to-maintain-your-black-identity-while-having-three-very-white-friends/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/09/racialicious-noirstalgia-how-to-maintain-your-black-identity-while-having-three-very-white-friends/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 14:30:16 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39713 by Kendra James The 90s nostalgia burden is real, and it manifests itself in a variety of unique ways amongst most 20-somethings. Whether we’re rereading a favorite Scholastic series or giggling over a popsicle stick with googly eyes on YouTube, the burden of rose-colored glasses lives with us all. My personal burden is the reality […]

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by Kendra James

The 90s nostalgia burden is real, and it manifests itself in a variety of unique ways amongst most 20-somethings. Whether we’re rereading a favorite Scholastic series or giggling over a popsicle stick with googly eyes on YouTube, the burden of rose-colored glasses lives with us all. My personal burden is the reality of existing as a 27 year old who unironically watches Girl Meets World in earnest.

When I claim that Girl Meets World  is a good show I fully expect my opinion to be taken with a grain of salt. If you know me at all, then you know how much I love the show’s precursor, Boy Meets World. Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Eric were my world when I was younger. I’m comfortable admitting that were it not for an extreme case of 90s Nostalgia Syndrome I would not have started watching (and rewatching) episodes of a Disney Channel Show aimed at the white tween girl demographic.

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Girl Meets World: Clearly a show for a very particular demographic.

That demographic categorization isn’t meant to be an insult, just a statement of what it is. I should reiterate: I genuinely enjoy Girl Meets World. Nothing tempers my innate, bitter New Yorker cynicism like the weekly reminder that Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence managed to stay married and reside happily in a huge apartment in the East Village with their two kids– one of whom is perpetually in adorable undone suspenders. I generally find tween stars cloying and unrelateable, but Rowan Blanchard and Sabrina Carpenter, who play Riley and Maya (the titular Girls meeting the titular World) have grown on me since the show’s 2014 debut. While, yes, I had to literally get up and take a walk around a park to gather myself and my emotions after Shawn Hunter’s return during the first season, I also enjoy the episodes that focus solely on the girls and their Disney-appropriate middle school adventures.

But the fact remains that despite the second season addition of ‘Zay’ (a new student at the middle school who sounds like he came up through the Hollywood Shuffle School of Black Acting, which could be more a fault of the Over-Acting Teen Aesthetic Disney employs than the scripts themselves. Time will tell.) Disney’s Girl Meets World is an incredibly white show.

Even aside from the obvious choices — take The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or Living Single — the 90s were chock full of shows with full or majority Black casts. I would sooner revisit the slightly goofy The Parent’hood (Director Robert Townsend’s 1995 sitcom vehicle, not to be confused with the NBC show Parenthood) than Boy Meets World if I were looking for for deep 1990s meditations on race relations in America. With a revolving door of vanishing Black supporting characters, Boy Meets World was hardly the most diverse show of its era either. Cory and Shawn had a Black friend, Ellis, for a few episodes during season one, and a Black teacher, Eli, during season three. Both were short lived and in typical 90s fashion, diversity focused solely on the presence of Black characters rather than exploring the vast diaspora of people of colour.

And yet, despite the fact that I watched Black led shows like Sister Sister, it’s Boy Meets World’s seven seasons that remain the most beloved television of my childhood. And it was Angela Moore, the girl that managed to jam that revolving door of blackness in season five, who I used as a point of personal validation of my own existence through high school and college.

o-ANGELA-CHET-facebook

Trina McGee and Rider Strong as Angela and Shawn

Angela Moore (played by Trina McGee) joined the core three characters, Cory, Shawn, and Topanga,  as a recurring character during their senior year of high school and main cast for the final two seasons. Angela was the only recurring person of colour on the show for those final three seasons and was often times the only person of colour who would speak during a 30 minute episode. She was also Shawn Hunter’s love interest.

Played by Rider Strong, Shawn was the uncontested Tigerbeat era heartthrob of Boy Meets World. He did this thing with his hair a lot, making him incredibly appealing to those of us in the tween set of the time.

And Shawn Hunter was dating a Black girl. A Black girl with perfect skin, hair I envied, and clothing I coveted who bagged the hottest guy at John Adams High and took no sh*t for it.

Angela had her own problems, of course. As an army brat she’d moved around a lot and didn’t seem to have a group of close friends as she entered her last years of high school until she met . Then there were her insecurities about being abandoned by her mother. In middle school though, I was more focused on the fact that despite being the one person of colour in this impenetrable group of friends Angela was always sure of herself. She didn’t seem to suffer from the anxieties about not being “Black enough” because of her white friends and boyfriend that always lurked in the back of my mind.  She joked about her group of friends, writing papers entitled “How To Maintain Your Black Identity While Having Three Very White Friends,” or making off the cuff remarks.

Shawn Hunter: My soap opera name is Patrick Trailer Park.

Angela Moore: Well, mine is Shawnene Martin Luther King Boulevard.

[Everyone stares]

Angela Moore: Gosh, I gotta get some black friends.

— Boy Meets World, Season 5

Angela was my original Carefree Black Girl.

In a time before pairings like Iris West and Barry Allen on The Flash were common on television (or, at least, less of note), Shawn and Angela were downright novel– especially when it came to realistic television aimed specifically at teens that wasn’t Degrassi. Their relationship followed more of the Iris and Barry model rather than, say, Olivia and Fitz (Scandal) in that race was rarely a factor mentioned. Bucking 90s sitcom tradition there was no explicit Very Special Episode About Interracial Dating. Instead, Shawn and Angela dealt with their individual abandonment issues, insecurities brought about by socioeconomic status (Shawn lived in a trailer park for much of the show’s run and had two transient parents), and got to do a Very Special Episode About Teen Drinking And Alcoholism.

I appreciated this. I still do on my many rewatches, and not only  because Angela’s life looks a lot like mine still does.

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Take a scroll through my instagram account. It’s this, but thankfully with fewer v-necked sweaters.

As much as I appreciate my Black Heroes of the 90s who overtly reminded us of their Blackness time and time again, Angela was equally important. Mine was not a sitcom household when I was young, and I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of shows like Fresh Prince anyway. My list of ‘real world’ role models was low, with many of my personal favorites existing on space ships and mansions filled with mutants rather than school hallways.

Existing in the common mythologies is important, but so is existence in the common realities. And, at least for me, Angela’s character and her six white best friends/co-stars made me feel better about my own reality. My friend group in middle school and 9th grade weren’t quite as lacking in diversity as Cory, Shawn, Topanga, Eric, Rachel, and Jack (all white, as seen above), but the racist class assignment system my public school district employed made it fairly close. The process of leveling students into classes by their supposed levels of intelligence (which, oddly, seemed to match very closely with their race) was more instrumental in building insecurities around my Blackness about being ‘the smart Black kid who acted white’ than actually being a smart Black kid was. Angela and her casual ease of existence in a sea of whiteness was reassuring. And while Angela and Shawn didn’t get Cory and Topanga’s committed ending, we at least knew that she graduated from Pennbrooke University (yet another space of almost complete whiteness) happy and went on to start her life in Europe.

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Still from Girl Meets Hurricane

Next Week, Girl Meets World is giving us the resolution I’m not sure I entirely want. Angela returns to the show in episode nine entitled “Girl Meets Hurricane,” seemingly stepping into a budding relationship between Shawn and Maya’s single mother. It’s just the sort of relationship I’d expect on a show aimed at that Tween White Girl Demographic. Angela has been mentioned, but unseen, and given my nostalgia for the Shawn/Angela pairing it’s been difficult to accept watching him with anyone else. Is that fangirl-ish and petty? Perhaps. But I put a lot of stock in that pairing and Angela as a character. Even if she walks away from the episode emotionally satisfied, it’s going to hurt to watch the most important ‘ship of my childhood get dealt a death blow.

I’m still glad she’s coming back. I don’t watch any other tween programming, but as I revisit Boy Meets World through Girl Meets World I find myself wondering who the Black girls of this generation are watching. Who is the realistic carefree Black tween idol of 2015 and is she on the Disney Channel? I had Angela Moore; girls coming up 5 or 10 years older than I am had the cast of A Different World, among others. Maybe the universe has something in the works that I’m unaware of, but so far I don’t see  The Powers That Be giving Willow Smith or Amandla Stenberg their own shows. Parents, I’d love to know what your tweens are watching and the options beyond Zendaya’s K.C. Undercover— a show I may attempt to give a chance this summer when I, a professional 27 year old woman, face an inevitable bout of Girl Meets World withdrawal.

Nostalgia’s a powerful thing, especially when your choices were limited to begin with.

‘Girl Meets Hurricane’ airs June 19th on The Disney Channel. Check your local listings then consider DVRing it to watch later when  you’ll have the time and daylight to walk off your feelings.

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115 Films By and About Women of Color – How Many Have You Seen? http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/08/115-films-by-and-about-women-of-color-how-many-have-you-seen/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/08/115-films-by-and-about-women-of-color-how-many-have-you-seen/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 14:30:37 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39704 Over the weekend, I found this excellent list of movies jai tigett complied on the Women and Hollywood blog that were created by women of color and center women of color characters. This list is exciting, especially since I’ve only seen a fraction. Here they are (with a few annotations): 35 Shots of Rum by […]

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Over the weekend, I found this excellent list of movies jai tigett complied on the Women and Hollywood blog that were created by women of color and center women of color characters. This list is exciting, especially since I’ve only seen a fraction. Here they are (with a few annotations):

35 Shots of Rum by Claire Denis (2008)

A Different Image by Alile Sharon Larkin (1982)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)

A Tale of Love by T. Minh-ha Trinh (1995)

Advantageous by Jennifer Phang (2015)

Ala Modalaindi by Nandini Bv Reddy (2011)

All About You by Christine Swanson (2001)

Alma’s Rainbow by Ayoka Chenzira (1994)

Appropriate Behavior by Desiree Akhavan (2014)

Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet (2013)

B For Boy by Chika Anadu (2013)

Bande de Filles (Girlhood) by Céline Sciamma (2014)

Belle by Amma Asante (2013) [On the “to-watch” list]

Bend it Like Beckham by Gurinder Chadha (2002) [Classic. Saw it in the theaters]

Bessie by Dee Rees (2015) [On the to watch list]

Beyond the Lights by Gina Prince-Bythewood (2014) [Most slept on movie in 2014. Great romantic drama, saw it in theaters.]

Bhaji on the Beach by Gurinder Chadha (1993)

Camila by María Luisa Bemberg (1984)

Caramel by Nadine Labaki (2007)

Chutney Popcorn by Nisha Ganatra (1999)

Circumstance by Maryam Keshavarz (2011)

Civil Brand by Neema Barnette (2002)

Compensation by Zeinabu irene Davis (1999)

Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash (1991)

Des étoiles (Under The Starry Sky) by Dyana Gaye (2014)

Descent by Talia Lugacy (2007)

Double Happiness by Mina Shum (1994)

Down in the Delta by Maya Angelou (1998)

Drylongso by Cauleen Smith (1988)

Earth by Deepa Mehta (1998)

Elza by Mariette Monpierre (2011)

Endless Dreams by Susan Youssef (2009)

Eve’s Bayou by Kasi Lemmons (1997) [Saw it as a kid, should rewatch.]

Fire by Deepa Mehta (1996) [On the to watch list.]

Frida by Julie Taymor (2002) [On the to watch list.]

Funny Valentines by Julie Dash (1999)

Girl in Progress by Patricia Riggen (2012)

Girlfight by Karyn Kusama (2000)

Goyangileul butaghae (Take Care of My Cat) by Jeong Jae-eun (2001)

Habibi Rasak Kharban by Susan Youssef (2011)

Hiss Dokhtarha Faryad Nemizanand (Hush! Girls Don’t Scream) by Pouran Derahkandeh (2013)

Honeytrap by Rebecca Johnson (2014)

How The Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer by Georgina Reidel (2005)

I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif (2008)

I Like It Like That by Darnell Martin (1994) [One of my all time faves. Own it.]

I Will Follow by Ava DuVernay (2010)

In Between Days by So-yong Kim (2006)

Incognito by Julie Dash (1999)

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge by Martha Coolidge (1999)

Invisible Light by Gina Kim (2003)

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife by Gurinder Chadha (2010)

Jumpin Jack Flash by Penny Marshall (1986)

Just Another Girl on the IRT by Leslie Harris (1992)

Just Wright by Sanaa Hamri (2010) [Watched in theaters.]

Kama Sutra by Mira Nair (1996)

Lady With a Sword by Kao Pao-shu (1971)

Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity by Mina Shum (2002)

Losing Ground by Kathleen Collins (1982)

Love & Basketball by Gina Prince-Bythewood (2000) [Watched, but deserves a reviewing]

Love the One You’re With by Patricia Cuffie-Jones (2015)

Luck By Chance by Zoya Akhtar (2009)

Mi Vida Loca by Allison Anders (1993)

Middle of Nowhere by Ava DuVernay (2012) [Meant to see this but couldn’t get into the screenings]

Mississippi Damned by Tina Mabry (2009

Mississippi Masala by Mira Nair (1991)

Mixing Nia by Alison Swan (1998)

Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair (2001)

Mosquita y Mari by Aurora Guerrero (2012) [Watched and reviewed]

Na-moo-eobs-neun san (Treeless Mountain) by So-yong Kim (2008)

Naturally Native by Valerie Red-Horse (1998)

Night Catches Us by Tanya Hamilton (2010)

Nina’s Heavenly Delights by Pratibha Parmar (2006)

Paju by Chan-ok Park (2009)

Pariah by Dee Rees (2011)

Peeples by Tina Gordon Chism (2013)

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2007)

Phat Girlz by Nnegest Likké (2006)

Picture Bride by Kayo Hatta (1994)

Radiance by Rachel Perkins (1998)

Rain by Maria Govan (2008)

Real Women Have Curves by Patricia Cardoso (2002) [Watched, liked.]

Saving Face by Alice Wu (2004)

Second Coming by Debbie Tucker Green (2014)

Sita sings the blues by Nina Paley (2008) [I remember this one being controversial, because it was a Jewish filmmaker serving a twist on a Hindu story.]

Something Necessary by Judy Kibinge (2013)

Something New by Sanaa Hamri (2006) [Saw in theaters]

Song of the Exile by Ann Hui (1990

Still the Water by Naomi Kawase (2014)

Stranger Inside by Cheryl Dunye (2001)

Sugar Cane Alley/Black Shack Alley by Euzhan Palcy (1983) [Watched this in french class back in 1998!]

The Kite by Randa Chahal Sabag (2003)

The Rich Man’s Wife by Amy Holden Jones (1996)

The Rosa Parks Story by Julie Dash (2002)

The Secret Life of Bees by Gina Prince-Bythewood (2008)

The Silence of the Palace by Moufida Tlatli (1994)

The Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye (1996)

The Women of Brewster Place by Donna Deitch (1989)

The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif (2007)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Darnell Martin (2005)

Things We Lost in the Fire by Susanne Bier (2007)

Ties That Bind by Leila Djansi (2011)

Toe to Toe by Emily Abt (2009)

Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour (2012)

Water by Deepa Mehta (2005)

Whale Rider by Niki Caro (2002)

What’s Cooking? by Gurinder Chadha (2000)

Where Do We Go Now? by Nadine Labaki (2011)

Whitney by Angela Bassett (2015)

Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day by Neema Barnette (2012)

Women Without Men by Shirin Neshat (2009)

Woo by Daisy von Scherler Mayer (1998)

Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl by Joan Chen (1998)

Yelling to the Sky by Victoria Mahoney (2011)

Yo, la peor de todas (I, The Worst of All) by María Luisa Bemberg (1990)

Young and Wild by Marialy Rivas (2012)

Which ones have you seen? And what would you add to the list?

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Yea ‘Aloha’ is Super White, But What’s Up With the Way We’re Talking About It? http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/05/yea-aloha-is-super-white-but-whats-up-with-the-way-were-talking-about-it/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/05/yea-aloha-is-super-white-but-whats-up-with-the-way-were-talking-about-it/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 14:30:04 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39695 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 […]

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Still from Aloha

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.'”

Salon

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.”

Complex

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:

“Say Hapa, With Care”

“Possessions of Whiteness: Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness in the Pacific”

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Link Love: ‘Our Brownness Does Not Belong Here’ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/02/link-love-our-brownness-does-not-belong-here/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/02/link-love-our-brownness-does-not-belong-here/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 10:25:33 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39691 An amazingly layered and nuanced long-read from Adnan Khan seeks to answer the question “How Brown should a Brown person be?” His prose strings together the all the stars of racial interactions and microaggressions that form our constellation of racial identity, moving effortlessly from Indian restaurants to Wu-Tang, whiteness and anti-blackness, love songs and Harold […]

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An amazingly layered and nuanced long-read from Adnan Khan seeks to answer the question “How Brown should a Brown person be?”

His prose strings together the all the stars of racial interactions and microaggressions that form our constellation of racial identity, moving effortlessly from Indian restaurants to Wu-Tang, whiteness and anti-blackness, love songs and Harold and Kumar, the meaning of ABCD and the subtle pain that comes with forging a sense of self. Here’s a short selection:

My parents were eager for us to assimilate and there was no surplus of Indian affectations around the house—Bollywood tapes were played on the DL and we never joined a mosque or came into regular contact with other Muslim Indians. Memories of family were left unopened and ignored. I learned nothing about the cousins, uncles, and aunties who remained on the subcontinent. My mother missed India silently but my father hated the country. She visited her family occasionally, but nearly 14 years passed before my father went. When my mother wanted to send me back for a month in Grade 10, my father asked, “What’s the point?” They grew up as the first generation after Partition, during a time of chaos and uncertainty. He didn’t look back because there was nothing to look at.

My high school, meanwhile, was so multicultural that post-9/11 racism barely made it flinch. One of my oldest friends, Korean, called me a terrorist in my grade nine yearbook, and I still think of him with abiding affection. Another kid who’d casually lob the word at me was so Muslim that his last name was Islam. But I felt there was a deep shame at being Indian, some of which came from my father, who spoke badly of the country whenever he could, and some from the “smelly Indian” legacy that trails us: our body odor, our stinky food, our houses marked by a mash of unknown spices. I tried to pass as Arab. Since I was born in Saudi Arabia, I thought I could latch onto that, even though we were like mercenaries in the country, living in an isolated compound and only there for work opportunities India didn’t have. I couldn’t escape my brown skin, but at least I could be rich like an Arab. The distinction between Arab and Indian was messy, but I didn’t know that—I was only looking for a way out. This fell apart when an Egyptian asked if I could speak Arabic and I replied, no, Urdu. To be Indian meant nothing good. I had picked up enough from stray White culture to understand that the “smelly Indian” stereotype had real world implications and that we were somewhere near the bottom of a structurally explicit hierarchy.

Even though I couldn’t say why I was imagining myself as White, adopting Black culture, pretending to be Arab, I could sense that there wasn’t a clear role for me. Life was cleaved neatly: white identity (Korn), black identity (Ma$e), and brown identity (Amitabh Bachchan movies in the background, the dull dishoom-dishoom sound of our noble protagonist punching out the bad guys). I didn’t fit into any of these, so I borrowed from all. This kaleidoscope identity made it hard for me to locate myself in the world, and I felt for a long time, an ache for definition.

Read the rest, it’s worth the investment.

(via HRD CVR)

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Quoted: Thoughts on Addy Walker http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/01/quoted-thoughts-on-addy-walker/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/06/01/quoted-thoughts-on-addy-walker/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 13:30:45 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39687 For seventeen years, Addy was the only black historical doll; she was the only nonwhite doll until 1998. If you were a white girl who wanted a historical doll who looked like you, you could imagine yourself in Samantha’s Victorian home or with Kirsten, weathering life on the prairie. If you were a black girl, […]

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For seventeen years, Addy was the only black historical doll; she was the only nonwhite doll until 1998. If you were a white girl who wanted a historical doll who looked like you, you could imagine yourself in Samantha’s Victorian home or with Kirsten, weathering life on the prairie. If you were a black girl, you could only picture yourself as a runaway slave.

Since 2013, a Change.com petition has gathered nearly seventy signatures demanding that the Pleasant Company discontinue the Addy doll. “Slavery was a vile, cruel, inhumane, unjust holocaust of Black Americans,” the petition reads. “Why would this subject matter ever be considered entertaining?” The petition accuses the Pleasant Company of “diminish[ing] the cruelty of slavery and instead glorif[ying] it as some sort of adventurous fantasy.”

I’ve never found Addy glib and insensitive, as the petitioners do—but she does trouble me. She is a toy steeped in tragedy, and who is offered tragedy during play? Who gets the pink stores and tea parties, and who gets the worms? When I received an Addy doll for Christmas, I was innocent enough to believe that Santa had brought it to me, but mature enough to experience the horrors of slavery.

“I didn’t even think about that,” my mother told me. “I just thought it was a beautiful doll.”

— Addy Walker, American Girl; by Brit Bennett, May 28, 2015

 


 

As a kid, I couldn’t really articulate what I didn’t like about Addy, other than the fact that her stories scared me shitless and her color palettes bored me. As an adult, it drives me up the wall that she was the first non-white doll the company ever made. It’s totes insane that young black girls were presented with violent stories of a malevolent slave owner, the selling off of Addy’s brother and father and the death-at-every-corner escape to Philadelphia that she and her mother made.

Non-black girls buy Addy, too, but the appeal of the franchise was, and is, that girls from different cultures have a doll of their very own, so Addy was effectively “our” doll.

Slavery’s 250-year stronghold on American people is unquantifiably important to the story of our country. In many ways, it’s how we learned to treat the other and there’s still more to learn and understand about the culture of the institution. As much as, if not more than, the American Revolution and the immigration of European people and World War II, slavery continues to influence the culture all of us live within.

The people who endured slavery were the bravest heroes our nation has ever birthed. Kids should learn about slavery. Black kids should learn about slavery. But, maybe, a doll isn’t the right way to do it. It just feels/felt…wrong.

I Secretly Hated My Addy American Girl Doll, by Whitney Teal; November 18, 2013

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WNYC Presents: Funny Or Racist? http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/28/wnyc-presents-funny-or-racist/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/28/wnyc-presents-funny-or-racist/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 15:19:23 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39676 by Kendra James There was a lot of good discussion on racial comedy at last night’s panel featuring Arun Venugopal, Desus Nice, Crissle West, Jeff Yang and Guy Branum and we’ve summed a good deal of that up in our Livetweet Storify below. The panel was broken up into sections with each new topic introduced by a different […]

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by Kendra James

There was a lot of good discussion on racial comedy at last night’s panel featuring Arun Venugopal, Desus NiceCrissle West, Jeff Yang and Guy Branum and we’ve summed a good deal of that up in our Livetweet Storify below. The panel was broken up into sections with each new topic introduced by a different video or comedic soundbite, and everything was going along swimmingly with very thought provoking (and hilarious) banter tossed back and forth between the participants.

It was during the Q&A that things got, as one might say, quite real after a discussion about Sarah Silverman’s use of blackface on her Comedy Central show.  A realness which made for the highlight of the evening as West was forced to keep it all the way 100 with an audience member who really did try it. The exchange can be found around 1hr 19min in in the livestream link, but also transcribed in part below:

Audience Member: My name is Alan Rich, I’m a discrimination lawyer … Crissle, one thing that you said about Sarah Silverman– I get the impression that you take her work at face value.  And I think that so many comedians who are really funny — I don’t think that she’s making fun of black people in any way shape or form about black people when she does blackface. Because those of us who know the history of blackface is that not only white people did blackface, black entertainers had to do black face to get jobs.

Crissle: Wow, so you have to be really white to make that statement. That is just the whitest thing–

Audience Member: It’s a comment about how ridiculous we as a society can be.

Crissle: Can we not? I’m really not about to do this.

Audience Member: I’ve never walked out on Paul Mooney, so you have to give me a pass.

Crissle: And you’re a discrimination lawyer? Holy God. Sooo… I’m  gonna go ahead and address that by saying first of all that I can absolutely say that you’re racist for being a white woman in 2014 or whenever it was that she did this to put in blackface and go on television. Yes I can absolutely call you racist for that. you know the history behind it and you did it anyway. That is racist. I can say that. I’m a black woman, I’m gonna just go ahead and take my word over yours on that. That’s racist. And I don’t like her for it.

Audience Member: [Sic] Tell her! But you don’t know her. You don’t know what’s in her mind.

Crissle: Where is my access to Sarah Silverman? I don’t have to know her– I don’t have to know what’s inside Sarah Silverman’s head. I’m looking at her actions because her actions are what she’s presented to me. She didn’t put put a book called Sarah Silverman’s Diary here read my innermost thoughts and see how I came to these fuck ass conclusions that I have here today. She got on TV in blackface and decided that that was funny and it was not. And you as a white man trying to tell me that my feelings are invalid because I don’t know her is a crock of shit … and that’s why I get on my show every week and say what I need to say because white people like you feel like you have a goddamn point.

Panel Q&A sessions can be difficult for anyone with Acute Second Hand Embarrassment Syndrome (ASHES, in my opinion the worst kind of ashiness a Black person can get), so I really appreciated how the situation was handled. Plus, having only just started listening to West’s podcast The Read (which she records alongside Kid Fury) about a week ago, I felt particularly privileged to be able to hear her give a Read live and in public.

It is a nonnegotiable fact in  my life that white people in blackface constitutes a racist act.  Context, intent, the word ‘subversive’, and the names Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman do nothing to change my mind in that regard. Context and intent don’t change the fact that there comes a time in every Black parent’s life where, for instance, they have to do something like sit down and explain to their children why there are radically different pictures of Black celebrities such as this,why one image is better and more appropriate to imitate and aspire to, and why such a beautiful woman was forced to allow herself to be treated as such.

Josephine Baker

Hi.Lar.I.Ous. (Images of Josephine Baker)

I suppose things are funnier when you have the luxury of skipping conversations like that altogether.

Colour commentary aside, WNYC and The Greene Space hosted a great night for us and all in attendance for their continuing Micropolis series. Readers of The R can look forward to another livetweet from the space next week when we head back to cover a live recording of Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu’s podcast “Another Round,” which will also feature The Butter editor Roxane Gay.

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Memorial Day: Remembering Soldiers of Color [The Throwback] http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/25/memorial-day-remembering-soldiers-of-color-the-throwback-2/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/25/memorial-day-remembering-soldiers-of-color-the-throwback-2/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39670 In honor of the U.S. celebrating Memorial Day today, we are reprinting this 2012 piece featuring veterans from many of our communities We’ll begin with a video that was shown here in San Diego earlier this year, at a celebration of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded two years ago to the 100th Infantry Battalion and […]

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In honor of the U.S. celebrating Memorial Day today, we are reprinting this 2012 piece featuring veterans from many of our communities

We’ll begin with a video that was shown here in San Diego earlier this year, at a celebration of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded two years ago to the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and and U.S. Military Intelligence Service (MIS). The unit, composed mostly of Japanese-Americans, would see heavy action during World War II in Europe, and would go on to produce 21 Medal of Honor recipients. This unit’s exploits were chronicled in fictional form in the film Only The Brave, the trailer of which can be seen here.

[Note: One video under the cut auto-plays, but is SFW.]

Shifting focus to Vietnam, here’s the trailer for As Long as I Remember: American Veteranos, Laura Varela’s documentary about Latino Vietnam veterans. While it focuses on three South Texas residents in particular, the statistics cited here reflect the sobering cost of duty in the conflict for many servicemen, particularly when it comes to PTSD.

Last year saw the birth of AIVMI – the American Indian Veterans Memorial Initiative, a campaign led by the Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida to add a statue of a Native American soldier along the Vietnam Walkway near the Vietnam Wall on the National Mall in the nation’s capital. Here we have an interview regarding the issue conducted by Kimberlie Acosta at Native Country TV with Tina Osceola from the Seminole Tribe.

Finally, here’s the trailer for Veterans Of Color, a documentary focusing on black veterans from the Vietnam and Korea wars and World War II. The film, which is coming off a screening at the Sarasota Film Festival in Florida, is the result of a collaboration between the Association For the Study Of African American Life And History (ASALH) and the Veterans History Project.

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Quoted: Race + Waco, Texas’ Real Life FX Drama http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/19/quoted-race-waco-texas-real-life-fx-drama/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/19/quoted-race-waco-texas-real-life-fx-drama/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 19:04:46 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39664 One of the most distinct characteristics of white privilege is the privilege to be unique. When white people commit violent acts, they are treated as aberrations, slips described with adjectives that show they are unusual and in no way representative of the broader racial group to which they belong. In fact, in much of the coverage […]

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One of the most distinct characteristics of white privilege is the privilege to be unique. When white people commit violent acts, they are treated as aberrations, slips described with adjectives that show they are unusual and in no way representative of the broader racial group to which they belong.

In fact, in much of the coverage of the Waco shootings, the race of the gang members isn’t even mentioned, although pictures of the aftermath show groups of white bikers being held by police. By comparison, the day after Freddie Gray died in the custody of police officers in Baltimore, not only did most coverage mention that Gray was black, but also included a quote from the deputy police commissioner noting Gray was arrested in “a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents,” implicitly smearing Gray and the entire community.

How did press reports quote the police in Waco? “We’ve been made aware in the past few months of rival biker gangs … being here and causing issues,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. Causing issues? Cops were reportedly so worried about the bikers gathering in the Waco strip mall that they had 12 officers as well as officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety stationed outside the restaurant.

Now there’s word that the biker gangs have issued repeated threats against the police in the aftermath of the Waco “melee” as The New York Times headline called it. During the uprisings in Baltimore, I saw a flurry of tweets about black people disrespecting property and throwing rocks at police. Now that these biker gangs have issued actual death threats, why am I not now seeing tons of Twitter posts about white people disrespecting the lives of police?

Waco Coverage Shows Double Standard on Race, by Sally Kohn; via CNN.com, May 19, 2015

 

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In His Own Words: B.B. King (1925-2015) http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/15/in-his-own-words-b-b-king-1925-2015/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/15/in-his-own-words-b-b-king-1925-2015/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 12:00:23 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39654 Compiled by Arturo R. García I would sit on the corners, and people would walk up to me and ask me to play a gospel song, and they’d pat me on the head and say, that’s nice, son – but they didn’t tip at all. But people who ask me to play the blues would […]

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Compiled by Arturo R. García

I would sit on the corners, and people would walk up to me and ask me to play a gospel song, and they’d pat me on the head and say, that’s nice, son – but they didn’t tip at all. But people who ask me to play the blues would always tip me. I’d make $40-50. Even as off in the head as I am, I could see it made better sense to be a blues singer.
The Telegraph, 2009

I used to play a place in Twist, Arkansas — it’s still there, Twist, Arkansas — and they used to have a little nightclub there that we played quite often. It used to get quite cold in Twist. And they used to take something that looked like a big garbage pail and set it in the middle of the floor, half-fill it with kerosene. They would light that fuel and that’s what we used for heat. And generally the people would dance around and they would disturb this container.

But this particular night, two guys started fighting, and one of them knocked the other one over on this container. And when they did, it spilled on the floor. Now, it was already burning, so when it spilled, it looked like a river of fire. And everybody ran for the front door, including yours truly. But when I got on the outside, I realized that I’d left my guitar inside.

I went back for it. The building was a wooden building, and it was burning so fast, when I got my guitar it started to collapse around me. So I almost lost my life trying to save the guitar. The next morning we found that these two guys was fightin’ about a lady. I never did meet the lady, but I learned that her name was Lucille. So I named my guitar Lucille to remind me not to do a thing like that again.

— Interview with Joe Smith, 1986; animation by ‘Blank on Blank,’ 2015.

I studied a little bit. I compose. I’ve been composing for years. I write a little bit. And people didn’t know it, but my early records, most of em I produced them myself. And then somebody said, when we did Blues on the Bayou or somethin, “Oh B.B. produced a record!” And I said, “Really?” Most of the things, I just didn’t get credit for the early ones. People would put names on my songs and I didn’t even know who they were. It would say The King and Ling. Who the hell is Ling? I don’t know, that was just the way they could claim part of the song. And so many of the things I produced, nobody mentioned it. I didn’t know then. I know today, but it doesn’t matter a lot. But it’s the way people make money off of em, which is fine. I feel that in this music business, everybody got to make their little taste. I just don’t want em to take mine.

Guitar Magazine

You’re mighty young to write such heavy lyrics.
— To U2 lead singer Bono, as seen in “Rattle & Hum,” 1988

Back when we was in school in Mississippi, we had Little Black Sambo. That’s what you learned: Anytime something was not good, or anytime something was bad in some kinda way, it had to be called black. Like, you had Black Monday, Black Friday, black sheep. … Of course, everything else, all the good stuff, is white. White Christmas and such. You got to pay attention to the language, hear what it’s really saying.

Esquire, 2006.

You continuously have to learn. If I — I’m off sometime like 2-3 weeks- I have to learn my routines in my head again or I’ll forget some of the songs. I forget. I have to go back and get them in my head again. Because I gotta have at least 14 or 15 songs to remember the lines in my head. It’s sort of like an actor or actress. I have to remember these lines and you kinda dramatize them you don’t just say them you know you got to make it make some sense. So to answer your question I have to practice just like everybody else. I don’t practice enough — never have.
MNBlues, 2000

I carried this song around in my head for seven or eight years. It was a different kind of blues ballad. I’d been arranging it in my head and had even tried a couple of different versions that didn’t work. But when I walked in to record on this night at the Hit Factory in New York, all the ideas came together. I changed the tune around to fit my style, and [producer] Bill Szymczyk set up the sound nice and mellow. We got through around 3 a.m. I was thrilled, but Bill wasn’t, so I just went home. Two hours later, Bill called and woke me up and said, ‘I think “The Thrill Is Gone” is a smash hit, and it would be even more of a hit if I added on strings. What do you think?’ I said, ‘Let’s do it.’

— On the making of “The Thrill Is Gone,” Guitar World, 2013

Top image via B.B. King official Facebook page.

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The Hollow Promise of “Inclusivity”: Saida Grundy and Boston University http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/14/the-hollow-promise-of-inclusivity-saida-grundy-and-boston-university/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/05/14/the-hollow-promise-of-inclusivity-saida-grundy-and-boston-university/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 14:00:10 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39613 By Tope Fadiran It’s hard out there for white men on college campuses. At least, that’s what American media would have us believe, given its coverage of the current controversy swirling around Dr. Saida Grundy, a Black scholar recently hired (effective July 1, 2015) by Boston University as an assistant professor of Sociology and African […]

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By Tope Fadiran

It’s hard out there for white men on college campuses. At least, that’s what American media would have us believe, given its coverage of the current controversy swirling around Dr. Saida Grundy, a Black scholar recently hired (effective July 1, 2015) by Boston University as an assistant professor of Sociology and African American Studies.

In reality, the way in which Dr. Grundy has been unceremoniously shoved into the spotlight proves the exact opposite: Black women on our campuses, even those who have reached the highest levels of educational achievement, are political and cultural targets simply for existing. There is no other explanation for the fact that this all began with a white man whose response to Grundy’s hiring was to go in search of something he could use to undermine her intellectual and professional standing.

Nick Pappas is a conservative student activist at University of Massachusetts Amherst (for those who aren’t familiar with my home state’s geography, that’s basically on the other side of the state from Boston). Pappas apparently saw BU’s hiring of Grundy as enough cause for concern that he decided to dig through her Twitter account. He then published some of her tweets online—taken out of their original context—to “expose the bias and factual problems with modern humanities classes, which are many, and common at colleges across the country.”

A sampling of what Pappas saw as evidence of Grundy’s “bias”:

Why is white America so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?

Deal with your white shit, white people. slavery is a *YALL* thing.

Every MLK week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. And every year I find it nearly impossible.

White masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s colleges.

The rest is predictable: conservative media picked up Pappas’ post and ran with it, lambasting her as “anti-white,” “anti-male,” a “major-league-twit…[and] a certified, dyed-in-the-wool, four-square, in-your-face racist.” BU’s initial response to all this was tepid support—”free speech,” etc. etc. In the last few days though, the school has seemed increasingly spooked by the furor. BU issued two statements in rapid succession—one of them from university president Robert A. Brown—essentially validating right wing smears of Grundy as “racist.”

Long story short, BU threw Dr. Grundy under the bus in a scramble to prove that it is an “inclusive” institution that “does not condone racism or bigotry in any form.” The irony.

As for Grundy, these smears and the ensuing online attacks on her have forced her to make her Twitter account private. She has also released a statement expressing regret for “depriv[ing]” the issues she raised in her tweets “of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve,” and assuring the BU community that she is ”professionally and ethically…unequivocally committed to ensuring that my classroom is a space where all students are welcomed.”

Dr. Saida Grundy

Dr. Saida Grundy. via Boston University

On the plus side: Grundy has gotten a wave of support online. #ISupportSaida and #IStandWithSaida have taken off on Twitter, and there’s a petition urging BU to stand behind her. There have also been several articles published in her defense.

It also looks like this controversy won’t cost Grundy the job she hasn’t even started yet, which, frankly, is a relief. It wouldn’t be the first time a scholar of color was denied a professional opportunity because of their inconvenient politics. Still, you can bet that Grundy will be under intense scrutiny and suspicion at BU, even beyond the already high levels that Black women academics routinely face.

Grundy earned her doctorate only last year; her job at BU would be her first appointment as a professor. Now, some might question the wisdom of posting the comments she did, in public, as a Black woman just starting her academic career. But so long as we recognize that white supremacy, patriarchy, and systemic racism are real forces in the world, the worst we can say of Grundy’s comments is that they were impolitic and arguably ill-advised.

It’s certainly the case that she didn’t use the often abstracted, punch-pulling language of academia. But it’s also the case that there’s a wide and deep body of scholarship that says exactly what Grundy said—white masculinity is a major source of societal dysfunction and violence—only more formally.

It’s also a mystery what is so “offensive” about a Black woman to choosing to exclusively support businesses owned by people of color, much less to do so for only one week out of the year. If only people were as scandalized by the fact that systemic racism makes building wealth and owning businesses a herculean task for many POC.

That’s not the world we live in. In this world, intentionally supporting POC businesses is “racist”; a system that entrenches whole communities of color in poverty is not. To add insult to injury, BU’s leaders have now signaled to students, staff, faculty, and the entire country that this perverse redefinition of “racism” is correct.

It’s worth looking a bit more closely at how right wing media especially have characterized Grundy’s comments to better understand what, exactly, BU’s leadership validated through its response.

Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros, for example, claimed Grundy’s tweets show that the “last acceptable [targets] of discrimination in this country” are “Christians…and white men.” Grundy can “get away” with such “discrimination,” she added, because there are no “organizations in defense of white men…Where are the marches? Where are the editorials penned?”

Hmm, organizations writing and marching in defense of white men. Gosh, what does that sound like? I’m drawing a blank…

Andrea Tantaros on Outnumbered, via Fox News

Lest we be confused about the intersection of anti-Blackness and misogyny here, Tantaros also connected Grundy’s tweets to Rolling Stone’s disastrous misreporting on rape at UVA. She suggested “rape culture,” is nothing more than a conspiracy to attack white men on college campuses, manufactured by an unspecified “they” who are also “feminizing [white men] even more to get rid of that masculinity.” In the same segment, Jedidiah Bila added that white men on American campuses “feel really unprotected, and Sandra Smith questioned whether Grundy can “subjectively [sic] grade white males in her class room” when “she’s got that kind of bias.”

Elsewhere Fox quoted notoriously anti-Black, anti-affirmative action, professional campus agitator David Horowitz: “I’m not surprised that Boston University is hiring a racist to teach African American Studies.” Why? Black Studies is apparently “rampant with anti-white racism” and “indoctrination programs in left-wing politics.” The kicker: “If she were a white racist rather than an anti-white racist, she would never be hired.”

So universities never hire racist white professors? I think more than a few schools might have missed that memo.

This is who Boston University’s leaders felt so compelled to appease:  racism and rape culture denialists who see any kind of “ethnic studies” as inherently invalid, who literally want to rewrite the history of this country to cover up our long, sordid history of white supremacist violence and oppression. In other words, misogynist white supremacists. Misogynoirists.

So there’s a bitter irony in BU’s scramble to say how “saddened” it is by Dr. Grundy’s “offensive” comments, and declare its “commit[ment] to maintaining an educational environment that is free from bias, fully inclusive, and open to wide-ranging discussions.” Because, y’know, distancing your institution from a Black woman scholar on account of the rantings of people who insist talking about racism is racist and talking about rape culture is anti-male, is kind of the opposite of maintaining an “inclusive” educational environment.

Boston University, via Facebook

In response to the railroading of Saida Grundy, current and former members of the BU community have been speaking out about exactly what kind of “educational environment” the university fosters for students of color.

Criticizing her alma mater for throwing Grundy under the bus, Michelle Huxtable notes the Boston Globe’s recent reporting on the overwhelming whiteness of higher education institutions in Boston. BU stands even out among its local peers on lack of representation:

  • Only 4% of the current student body is Black. In the Globe piece, BU’s provost justifies low Black enrollment with the argument that “the pool of academically qualified black students is slim.”
  • 2.8% of full-time faculty are Black, a number that has risen by a mere 1% in thirty years.
  • 7.4% of full-time faculty are from “underrepresented” racial or ethnic groups. The Globe adds: “Among local large private colleges, only Boston College had a smaller percentage of minority faculty.”

BU also recently announced that it would be closing its African Presidential Center for “fail[ing] to sustain itself financially,” a decision that “prompt[ed] the center’s director…to charge that the school lacks commitment to issues concerning black people.”

Alumna Huxtable charges the same, specifically calling the school out for profiting off its association with Dr. King (MLK earned his Ph.D. there) but failing to walk its talk on diversity:

Myself along with other Boston University alumni and current students have tried other methods. We’ve gone to the Dean of Students, Kenneth Elmore. In his own words, “I have tried – for a long time – to stay out of the conversations on races.”…We’ve tried running for office in the Student Government. We had a Black Student Body President. Not president of the Black Student Union. The Boston University Student Government. Nothing helped. So here we are. Cyberbullying Boston University into acting like they have some sense…

Boston University representative Colin Riley said, “The University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements”…Didn’t Boston University’s Provost just make some racist, bigoted, offensive statements? Oh. She’s not a Black woman. Cool. As you were.

As does former BU employee Christian Cho:

When I used to work at BU, I was pulled into a superior’s office. At the time, I was writing rather directly about the ongoing civil unrest in Ferguson and New York, trying to articulate opinions not highly present online. I was warned not to write these opinions. When I asked if this was coming from a specific person or not, he told me that I was to be the Assistant Director for all students. In other words, I should be quiet and whitewash my opinions to make white people more comfortable.

Huxtable and Cho are not alone. Among the many people contributing to the #ISupportSaida hashtag are students of color currently enrolled at BU. Read their tweets about how isolated, demeaned, and poorly supported they feel on their own campus, then decide for yourself how strong BU’s commitment is to maintaining an inclusive and bias-free educational environment.

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