Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture http://www.racialicious.com Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World Fri, 28 Aug 2015 14:00:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 Summer TV Recap: Reflections on HBO’s Ballers http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/28/summer-tv-recap-reflections-on-hbos-ballers/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/28/summer-tv-recap-reflections-on-hbos-ballers/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 14:00:47 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=40022 by Kendra James HBO’s Ballers is one of the most confusing yet simplistic shows to debut this summer. It doesn’t require more than 30 minutes of your attention a week, and if asked what it’s about you need only three words to explain: Entourage with football. Starring Dwayne Johnson, John David Washington, Dule Hill, Omar […]

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by Kendra James

HBO’s Ballers is one of the most confusing yet simplistic shows to debut this summer. It doesn’t require more than 30 minutes of your attention a week, and if asked what it’s about you need only three words to explain: Entourage with football.

Starring Dwayne Johnson, John David Washington, Dule Hill, Omar Benson Miller, and Rob Corddry, the show was billed as a comedy about the lives of current and retired football players in Miami that would entertain while also highlighting some of the issues the NFL has faced (or tried to quietly sweep under the rug) over the past decade.

In reality, calling it a comedy would be an overstatement. It is better described as a show with an occasional guffaw. The pilot was directed by Peter Berg, who also directed the film and eventual pilot for Friday Night Lights before sticking around to executive produce that show’s entire run. That pedigree, and the fact that Ballers debuted before Berg shared a transphobic meme about Caitlin Jenner, had me inclined to at least give the pilot a chance.

The confusion in watching Ballers comes when you realise that you are still watching Ballers. By the time you’ve reached the finale you’re done trying to explain why you’re watching Ballers: an uneven show being kept afloat by nothing (really, nothing) more than the charm of the cast and the frustration of knowing that underneath the luxury porn and sex jokes there could be something there.

Wyatt Cenac on Twitter- -There's maybe only one response to being in a Miami hotel when room service finds you watching 'Ballers.' Holler out -YOLO- and over tip.-.clipular

 

Johnson is the ostensible lead as Spencer Strasmore, a former football player who’s moved into sports wealth management in his retirement. The two players he manages, Vernon Littlefield (Donovan Carter) and Ricky Jarrett (Washington) represent two distinct, if broadly drawn, tropes of NFL player. Vernon is new to money, and so is his entire family who he spends it on indiscriminately. His friend Reggie (London Brown) from the old neighborhood is his ‘financial manager’, and yes, that goes as badly as you think it will. Ricky is another young player, but his problems are self-imposed: He has a temper, a preoccupation with sleeping with every woman he comes across, and a chip on his shoulder the size and shape of his absentee father.

Johnson’s character is not a challenge to play, and the setting of Miami is a familiar one. He played football for the University of Miami and his former wife ran a Miami based wealth management company. Spencer requires very little dramatic stretch. He’s the straight man, trying to maintain his cool while navigating through a sea of idiocy– and his own issues.. When we meet Spencer in the pilot he’s downing a handful of pills for the headaches that plague him in his retirement. Ballers is subtle about very little, and it doesn’t take a huge jump to figure out that he is representative of the many NFL players who suffered possible severe head trauma during his playing days. A large portion of the season is taken up with Spencer’s reluctance to get an MRI to find out the extent of his potential brain damage. When Spencer finally does go in for the MRI he is given a clean bill of health. His headaches are psychosomatic and his time in the NFL will have zero consequences.

Zero consequences” quickly becomes a recurring theme on Ballers. The finale sees the Dallas Cowboys come back with the offer Reggie and Vernon wanted. Vernon signs the contract, Reggie makes good with Spencer, and the entire family sits down to a steak dinner and a $21 million advance check.

Reggie, Vernon, and the chains they can't actually afford yet.

Reggie, Vernon, and the chains they can’t actually afford yet.

Between Spencer’s player clients, I’d assumed that Vernon’s storyline would be more interesting. Watching a young man deal with his perceived obligations to his family and maintain ties to his community while struggling a new career and new money in the NFL seemed more promising than “haha, Ricky accidentally sleeps with his new Miami Dolphins teammate’s mother.” With Sports Illustrated estimating that 76% of NFL players are under financial stress in retirement despite being paid millions of dollars in just a single season alone, writers should have had plenty to work with. It starts off promisingly, as we meet Vernon’s huge family who has followed him (and his wealth) to Miami expecting to be taken care of with houses, cars, and lobster dinners.

When you have characters like this, you want them to learn something. You want growth. You want consequences. Reggie starts off as a character who’s fun to hate as he unintentionally sabotages Vernon’s career, and spends the season urging Vernon to continue to reject $40 million offers from the Cowboys in the naive hopes of receiving something higher. As Vernon continues to listen to Reggie instead of Spencer and his agent, I assumed the contract would fall through and it would be a lesson learned. I thought Reggie would get the boot, and they’d take the plot into the next season and start rebuilding Vernon’s career.

On the other hand, when we meet Ricky, he’s been caught having sex in a strip club, which gets him released from his contract. He manages, after screwing up a few times in the process, to secure a spot on the Dolphins. Once on the team, he begins cheating on his long term girlfriend with the mother of one of his teammates which, predictably, causes some locker room friction. Ricky’s entire arc revolves around him making childish decisions and getting Spencer to help him clean them up. We learn that Ricky blames much of his pathos on his absentee father, also an NFL star.

Ricky reveals secrets about his father during a one-on-one interview.

Ricky reveals secrets about his father during a one-on-one interview.

But even this fails to pay off. Ricky’s father, played by Robert Wisdom, shows up in the final episode and claims he was an absentee parent on purpose in order to give his son the drive he needed to be good at football. This bit of questionable reasoning is enough for Ricky to finally remove the specter of his father from his life and show up at training camp ready to take the season seriously. He’s still a diva, as demonstrated in his strange, possibly offensive costumed camel-top arrival to camp, but faces no consequences or problems going into the new football (or show) season.

Miami Entourage debuts after the NFL’s most tumultuous public relations year in recent memory. Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend before killing himself in 2012. In 2014, after his mother filed an unlawful death suit against his former team the Chiefs, a medical examiner determined that Belcher had brain damage likely incurred from taking too many hits on the field. His diagnosis, the degenerative disease CTE, affected the centers of the brain that controlled emotion and could have contributed to his actions. One only need mention the names Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson to conjure up an image that doesn’t reflect well on America’s pastime. Peterson’s charges of child abuse and Rice’s recorded physical abuse of his wife resulted in suspensions of 1 and 2 games respectively (Rice’s indefinite suspension was overturned in federal court). While already embroiled in ‘Deflate-Gate’ Tom Brady destroyed evidence, and still only received a 4 game suspension.

All of this considered, Ballers’ commitment to making sure each one of it’s characters gets away with poor behaviour and bad choices is either the result of one of the laziest writer’s room currently working on television, or one of the most brilliant. Poorly written or not, the show can be a disturbing mirror of the NFL’s reality. This is a stark contrast to ESPN’s short lived Playmakers (2003), an hour long more inclined to taking on deeper issues and the players who suffered because of them. 

I hesitate to give too much credit to a show where ‘two grown men get caught throwing a rager on their bosses’ yacht’ is a critical plot point. But Ballers is also the first show that takes place in a reality concurrent to our own where I’ve seen the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on screen– a quick shot, but clearly purposefully staged. In that way, the show also mirrors our reality where athletes have taken some of the most public stances in support of the BLM movement. Like the athletes who walked out to practices in ‘I Can’t Breathe’ tees in visual solidarity, Ballers only lets the camera linger on the words in the scene before panning away. In some ways I do believe that Ballers, a show with a cast made up by a majority of Men of Color, has a point of view that aligns with the reality those actors live in. On the other hand the things they (like the NFL, to some extent) have chosen to ignore, like the complete absence of domestic violence, are just as conspicuous.

HBO GO. It's HBO. Anywhere..clipular (1)

As much as I enjoyed the season’s lite-fare, I spent a lot of time frustrated with all that it didn’t do. Vulture suggested that the lack of consequences and the neatly wrapped up finale was the writers thinking they’d only have the talented cast for a single season. After all Dwayne Johnson is a Hollywood leading man, and someone like John David Washington (Denzel’s son, by the way) should have his pick of roles after showing that he can shine even through mediocrity. This fear proved unwarranted, however, when Ballers was picked up for a second season before the first had finished airing. It was recently declared HBO’s most watched comedy this decade, which is significant for a show where there were only two white characters who recurred in all 10 episodes.

Next summer on Ballers I’d like to see the show’s Bro Gaze shift– there are barely any women on this show, and aside from a glorious ten seconds of The Rock’s backside, female nudity was plentiful. I’d like to have someone address the entitlement displayed by players like Tom Brady, or maybe they could talk about the bullying that went on in the real life Miami Dolphins. I was surprised that they didn’t get around to addressing the fines Black players can get for saying “nigger” on the field, if only because in the right hands that could be comedic gold. I’d love to see someone address domestic violence, even if it is tied into the already existing threads about brain trauma.

I was confused about why I was enjoying Ballers, but the fact remains that I enjoyed it and I want it to better. There’s a lot left for this show to cover. Season 1 was the mirror. Season 2 has the chance to be a moment of reflection.


 

[Ballers is currently airing in reruns on HBO, and is available for streaming on HBOGo. It’s a great quick, rainy Sunday binge watch. Be prepared for nudity, coarse language, and repeatedly having to yell back up the stairs to the older Black women in your life that, no, you are not watching a Denzel Washington movie, his son just sounds exactly like him, so please don’t come downstairs because the last thing you want to do is watch Ballers with your mother.]

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Straight Outta Compton, Black Women, and Black Lives Matter http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/27/straight-outta-compton-black-women-and-black-lives-matter/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/27/straight-outta-compton-black-women-and-black-lives-matter/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:00:29 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=40016 By Guest Contributor Marquis Bey A friend of mine asked, two days before the theatre premier of Straight Outta Compton, what impact I thought the N.W.A. biopic would have on the Black Lives Matter movement. My answer, since I had not seen or read much about the film, was insufficient and characterized by stock hip-hop […]

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By Guest Contributor Marquis Bey

A friend of mine asked, two days before the theatre premier of Straight Outta Compton, what impact I thought the N.W.A. biopic would have on the Black Lives Matter movement. My answer, since I had not seen or read much about the film, was insufficient and characterized by stock hip-hop feminist answers: white viewers and critics of the Movement may very well use the film to say, “See! They’re advocating violence, glorifying it even!”; hopefully it’ll give historically contextual backing to the legacy of violence visited upon Black bodies to which Black Lives Matter is speaking directly; and, of course, as with all things venerating hip-hop, I worry about the gendered violence and erasure of (Black) women.

This last point — the violence and erasure of Black women in particular — is what the conversation in the car ride with a few other Ph.D. students at my graduate school revolved around. And rightly so.

If we are to allow the film to speak to the plight of Black bodies in contemporary America and use it to do the work of Black liberation, then we must honor the aims of the Black Lives Matter Movement—and the three queer Black women who founded the movement—by critiquing the normalization of violence against Black women.

As Kimberly Foster explains, “One must be invested in dismantling a culture that normalizes violence against Black women before we talk about reconciliation. We’ve yet to see that from these men, and unless they’re going to do this work, linking the group to #BlackLivesMatter is an affront to the movement’s intersectional foundations. The current fight for Black liberation is for all of us—not just men.”

Among other key issues and erasures, one might think of the glossing-over of Ice Cube’s (O’Shea Jackson) coming from — as depicted in sociologist Patricia Hill Collins’ book Black Sexual Politics — a wealthy white neighborhood, in a gated home, raised in a two-parent family in a middle-class residential area of south central Los Angeles, never going to prison, and graduating from the wealthiest high school in Los Angeles. But that’s not “’hood” enough for “Niggaz” with attitude. The treatment of Black women in the film, hip-hop in general, and by the artists of N.W.A. deserves much attention.

For sure, many might see a critique of N.W.A.’s misogyny as a slight against the film’s quality, the artists’ talent, or the overall value of hip-hop, the assumption of which being that the film and N.W.A. are saintly racial heroes speaking for the oppressed Black youth and any critique of them an unjust critique of their entire enterprise. To be clear, then, my critique as a radical Black cisgender male feminist is a critique not of the quality of the film or artists’ lyrical talent (which is actually rather dexterous) but rather a critique of their perpetuation of violent narratives that endanger the lives and subjectivities of Black women, and the truncation of Black women’s humanity.

It is certainly easy to condemn wholesale the sexist lyrics of N.W.A. as they are riddled with “b*tches,” “hoes,” and said “b*tches” and “hoes” being assaulted sexually and physically. In their song “She Swallowed It,” the group rhymes, “And if you got a gang of niggas, the bitch would let you rape her / She likes suckin’ on d*cks, and lickin’ up nuts.” Throughout the song women are “punch[ed] in the eye” and told “You little ho’ hurry up and suck my d*ck!” demonstrating that women in the group’s lyrics are used as means to bolster the “authentic” (Black) masculinity of the artists via being a “down ass chick,” i.e. a woman who submits to the primarily sexual whims of these “real niggas.” And this, to be sure, is no new critique.

But what is often more insidious is how any woman is readily read as a “b*tch” on the basis of how quickly she succumbs to the wishes of the rapper. In a word, women in the minds and lyrics of N.W.A., with celerity, can go from “lady” to “b*tch” in one lyric flat if the artist is dissatisfied with her.

This distinction between good and bad women was captured succinctly as far back as 1996 by historian Robin D.G. Kelly in his essay “Kickin’ Reality, Kickin’ Ballistics: Gangsta Rap and Postindustrial Los Angeles”: “Distinguishing ‘bad’ women from ‘good’ women ultimately serves to justify violence against women by devaluing them.”

In this scenario, the “good” woman becomes bad the second the rapper wants to commit or justify violence against her, or she falls outside of his desired use. Ice Cube committed this exact bifurcation in an interview promoting the film, saying, “If you’re not a ho or a b*tch, don’t be jumping to the defense of these despicable females. Just like I shouldn’t be jumping to the defense of no punks or no cowards or no slimy son of a b*tches that’s men. I never understood why an upstanding lady would even think we’re talking about her.”

The distinction Ice Cube makes is a false one, used simply when any woman deigns to assert her humanity and lack of male ass-kissing (or, more accurately in this context, oral sex). To make a parallel that he may understand: you weren’t a “boy” or a “nigga” or a “banger” when those cops had you and your crew spread eagle on the ground about to arrest your ass, were you? Let me respond, with your own logic: “I never understood why an innocent, truth-telling young Black man like yourself would even think those words apply to you.”

Bottom line: Under this worldview, the valid humanity and due respect and integrity afforded to female bodies undergoes extreme doubt as soon as she falls away from male validation. Men, in a nutshell, are the arbiters of women’s social worth, and any action committed by a man against a female body is deemed just. Just devalue her, call her a b*tch, and it’s all good, have your way with her. After all, according to N.W.A. logic, why should anyone be jumping to the defense of slimy b*tches and despicable females? By virtue of a woman’s “b*tchness,” all assaults against her body are okay.

Now, surely not all the members of N.W.A. have been as crass as Cube. Dr. Dre, who assaulted TV host Dee Barnes in 1991, said that he has “made some f*cking horrible mistakes in [his] life,” and that “Those are some of the things that I would like to take back. It was really f*cked up. But I paid for those mistakes, and there’s no way in hell that I will ever make another mistake like that again.”

But still, Dre doesn’t reference the specific sexual assault, generalizing and glossing over it as “some f*cking horrible mistakes.” Dre, angry with Dee Barnes’ Pump It Up! segment in which Ice Cube is depicted dissing N.W.A., trapped her in a bathroom and slammed her head against a wall multiple times (for which, by her account, she still suffers migraines to this day) because, according to him, Barnes, not Ice Cube or the show’s producers, made N.W.A. “look like fools.”

Dre’s attempted contrition can be read as sincere or disingenuous politician-like apology, but it remains that he is still venerated as a hip-hop saint, which then invalidates the bodily integrity of Dee Barnes — and, by extension, all women — and sloughs off her assault as un-noteworthy, minor.

The film’s director, F. Gary Gray, who was actually the cameraman for the Pump It Up! segment that enraged Dre, highlights the unworthy depiction of the pervasive domestic violence committed by N.W.A. members as “side stories”: “The original editor’s cut was three hours and 30 minutes long, so we couldn’t get everything in the movie. We had to make sure we served the narrative; the narrative was about N.W.A. It wasn’t about side stories.” Uh huh, sure, and the scene where we see Ice Cube telling off an unidentified journalist (“Eat a d*ck, Brian”), the part where Ice Cube is laughing at his own script to Friday, or the scene in which some random ass buff Black dude ominously says to Jerry Heller “Nice house” are super integral to knowing the vagaries of N.W.A.’s career, right? F.O.H.

So for those who wish to use the film as a piece of the Black Lives Matter movement’s Black liberation discourse, this, I think, shows how much more inclusive and honest the proclamation that “Black Lives Matter” must be.

So to my friend’s question: what might the impact of Straight Outta Compton have on the Black Lives Matter Movement? My answer now is two-fold: I think the film does a phenomenal job of giving historical links to contemporary police brutality by depicting the numerous times N.W.A.’s members were racially profiled by police and the Rodney King beating, followed by the L.A. riots. An early scene in the film in which Ice Cube is innocently walking home and is subsequently slammed onto the hood of a police car by an officer and called a nigger is an external manifestation of contemporary sentiments between the US’ militarized police force and Black bodies. We can use this to speak to the contemporary moment and show that Black bodies have been criminalized long before Trayvon Martin. This discourse, given theatrical clout by a blockbuster film, needs to be out there, for real.

However, not to my surprise, the movie continues to denigrate the bodies of Black women. Whether it be in hotel room scenes where the group has throwaway sex with “groupies” the names of which none of them know; reducing women’s worth to their genitals and how much they let members f*ck; or rhyming about f*cking other men’s girlfriends as a means by which they become Über-men, the film fails to critique the pervasive sexism and truncation of female subjectivity.

N.W.A.’s manager, Jerry Heller, initially thinks the acronym stands for “No Whites Allowed.” Funny, and perhaps not entirely incorrect, but perhaps a more telling misnomer would be “No Women Allowed” … except when their only purpose is to please the members (pun intended). Black lives must matter if they are all to be liberated. That includes Black women’s lives. If Black life is continually coded as Black male life, then those who proclaim it are doing a disservice to the Black queer women who started the movement, and to the humanity for which Black liberation movements have been fighting for centuries.

Ayo Dre, I got something to say too: f*ck tha misogyny.

Marquis Bey is an English Ph.D. student at Cornell University. His work focuses primarily on African American Literature, Black Feminist Thought, and Transgender Studies. He hails from Philadelphia, PA, and his work can be found at https://cornell.academia.edu/MBey.

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Photo Gallery: Back in time on Governor’s Island http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/18/photo-gallery-back-in-time-on-governors-island/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/18/photo-gallery-back-in-time-on-governors-island/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 12:00:50 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39974 There are two weekends each summer in New York City when you might find yourself riding the downtown subway next to a flapper and her bootlegger dressed partner. They’re not elaborately costumed film extras, and you haven’t found yourself stuck in an episode of Doctor Who. This was the 10th year for the Jazz Age […]

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There are two weekends each summer in New York City when you might find yourself riding the downtown subway next to a flapper and her bootlegger dressed partner. They’re not elaborately costumed film extras, and you haven’t found yourself stuck in an episode of Doctor Who. This was the 10th year for the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island, and August’s Saturday date didn’t disappoint when it came to fashionable attendees.

For your enjoyment this morning, a lighter side of Racialicious. Check out our gallery of Gatsby era attired POC attendees below.

 

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In His Own Words: Julian Bond (1940-2015) http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/17/in-his-own-words-julian-bond-1940-2015/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/17/in-his-own-words-julian-bond-1940-2015/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39996 By Arturo R. García The American social justice movement mourned the loss of pioneer and lawmaker Julian Bond on Saturday, after he passed away at the age of 75. The Nashville native was at the center of two of the Civil Rights Movement’s most pivotal groups, helping to found both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee […]

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By Arturo R. García

The American social justice movement mourned the loss of pioneer and lawmaker Julian Bond on Saturday, after he passed away at the age of 75.

The Nashville native was at the center of two of the Civil Rights Movement’s most pivotal groups, helping to found both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center, while also serving as the first president of the latter. From there he served 20 years as a lawmaker in the Georgia House and Senate, and another 12 atop the NAACP.

But as The Root reported, there was a moment in time when he almost added another superlative to his record: presidential candidate. The executive council National Black Political Assembly approved a resolution calling for Bond to represent its party. However, Bond declined the nomination shortly before the group’s 1976 convention.

“Ironically, key elements of the NBPA’s platform were strikingly similar to the political agenda of Barack Obama, the man who became this nation’s first black president,” The Root stated. “Among other things, the assembly’s platform called for national health insurance and a livable minimum wage.”

America is race, from its symbolism to its substance, from its founding by slave holders to its rending by the Civil War, from Johnny Reb to Jim Crowe, from the Ku Klux Klan to Katrina.

— From an interview with The Providence Journal, February 2006.

“A Living Legend,” tribute by the University of Virginia, February 2013.

If you just look at a quick snapshot of when the Southern Civil Rights movement practiced nonviolence. Massive marches, protests, demonstrations, sit-ins – they changed the whole country. They could have adopted these techniques for other changes in our country. We lost that.

— Interview with KUOW-FM, February 2008.

For some people, comparisons between the African-American Civil Rights Movement [and] the movement for gay and lesbian rights seems to diminish the long Black historical struggle, with its suffering, sacrifices and endless toil. However, people of color ought to be flattered that our movement has provided so much inspiration for others, that our movement has been so widely imitated. That our tactics, our methods, our heroes, our heroines, and even our songs have been appropriated or served as models for others.

— From a speech for the Human Rights Coalition, March 2009.

I think our greatest triumph was that we existed at all, that these young people of college age, some of high school age, a couple a little older, put together an organization against the advice of our elders, dropped out of college, many of us — against the advice of our parents — created an organization that dared to go into the rural South, where resistance to racial justice was greatest. The fact that we were able to do this at all and do it successfully and win victories I think is a great triumph that all of us who had anything to do with this are immensely proud of today.

— Interview with NPR, April 2010.

Some of the critiques of this movement have been that they have no leaders. But of course, they have to have leaders. People don’t just show up and lie down in the middle of the street some place out of nothing. Somebody said meet me there, let’s get together, and let’s do this thing. The interesting thing is that we don’t know who all of the leaders of these groups are, but we know that they’re out there, and we know a new group of leadership is being created. It shows you that leadership can come from anywhere. You don’t have to be a certain type of person or have a certain type of education to be a leader. You just have to be willing to throw yourself into the fight. That’s all it takes.

— on Black Lives Matter, interview with Ebony Magazine, March 2015

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We already know: white liberal racism denies Black personhood http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/11/white-liberal-racism-denies-black-personhood/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/11/white-liberal-racism-denies-black-personhood/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 14:00:30 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39964 By Guest Contributor Danielle Fuentes Morgan Trauma often feels inevitable for bodies of color. It is the leitmotif of life in the United States. And regardless of the safeguards we may have, either intentionally-structured or as benefit of birth, the impact is real. We often speak in terms of macroaggressions and microaggressions, terms I hesitate to […]

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By Guest Contributor Danielle Fuentes Morgan

Trauma often feels inevitable for bodies of color. It is the leitmotif of life in the United States. And regardless of the safeguards we may have, either intentionally-structured or as benefit of birth, the impact is real. We often speak in terms of macroaggressions and microaggressions, terms I hesitate to use because they imply that without hoods and burning crosses the assaults should be tolerated. It feels like another way to discount the feelings of people of color—a nuanced way of telling us to get over it.

I am sitting in the doctor’s office where two older white men are talking very loudly and unabashedly about why Bernie Sanders is the only person with the common sense necessary to save the United States. I’m absorbed in my phone, reading articles on Sandra Bland and searching frantically to find if the rumors that she was already dead in her mug shot have any credence. Suddenly, one of the men says, more loudly than before, “This is the most important conversation. Everyone needs to pay attention. Including this young woman!” thrusting his finger in my direction.

I don’t respond. I’ve learned from previous racist and sexist encounters not to respond, although it goes against my immediate inclinations. I keep reading on about Sandra Bland because not today, Satan. This is the most important conversation? For whom? I’m familiar with Bernie Sanders. I find myself intrigued by many of his proposals and encouraged by the way he is engaging with young Americans. I haven’t been impressed by any candidate’s articulation (or lack thereof) of #blacklivesmatter or the importance of Black votes (or the importance of Black people, for that matter), but I remain eternally and foolishly optimistic that it is merely the beginning of the campaign season and candidates are grappling with how to approach these topics without seeming pandering or patronizing.

I am in a doctor’s waiting room and am not particularly interested in listening to the ramblings of a man who claims Bernie Sanders is “the nation’s savior” without offering any rationale to support this claim. Instead, I want to continue educating myself about the travesty inflicted on Sandra Bland so that I can continue to agitate against racism and injustice. This is the most immediate concern for me, not which of the candidates, none of whom have indicated they especially care about me or my life, ends up running the nation. [i]

Clearly flustered and angered by my decision not to fall in line with his first demand, the man continues even louder, “What on earth could she be possibly reading? I hope it’s studying her multiplication tables.” He audibly scoffs and clicks his teeth. This is in a waiting room full of other people. I’m not sure what this means, exactly, but I assume it has something to do with my race, gender, and his presumption of my youth. All of which, it seems, make him feel comfortable speculating on my intelligence.

Let’s start with the politics of respectability. I am dressed reasonably well—nice tank top, sweater, clean blue jeans, flats, cat-eye frames. My make up is done, for once, and done conservatively. I am a 31-year-old married mother. I taught high school. I currently teach college freshmen. I attend an Ivy League institution. I’m a PhD candidate. My mother is a pediatric nurse. My father is a minister. My husband works in higher education. I’m sitting in a doctor’s office in the Northeastern United States.

Not one bit of what I just described matters. At all. Some of these were identity choices I made. Others are identities I happened to be dealt. None of them were, at least consciously, decisions I came to in an aim of presenting myself as a respectable human. I don’t subscribe consciously to respectability politics. Respectability politics don’t matter. They have never been a life preserver for any person of color, and this is important to know and to reiterate.

Respectability politics are nothing more than a lie meant to control behavior. I deserve dignity and humanity, regardless of my presentation. And, ultimately, there is no way you can behave that keeps you unequivocally protected. Had Sandra Bland followed the officer’s unnecessary and illegal commands, she still may have ended up dead in a jail cell. Or dead by the side of the road.

We will never know, but we already know.

This man decided I was too stupid to know who Bernie Sanders was (or at least how important he should be to me, as the token Black person in the room), that his ill-advised ramblings were sufficient to inform me, and that I was obligated to stop what I was doing to listen to him. He didn’t address anyone else in the waiting room. Just me. And no one said a word in my defense.

I was reading about Sandra Bland because I know her life mattered. I was reading to see if, in addition to the litany of horrors surrounding her arrest and death, her dead body had been staged and photographed, and if I had unknowingly been staring into her dead eyes for the past days and weeks.[ii] I was chastised by a man who couldn’t imagine anything mattered more than his paternalism. What’s upsetting to me even now is that I waited a moment while my face got warm—then hot—and then I left the office. I just left. That was my recourse.

Because I know, as we all know, that if I had cussed him out in the way he absolutely deserved I would have been at best asked to leave. But quite possibly arrested. Quite possibly assaulted. Maybe murdered. Maybe every miscue I’ve ever made from high school on would be examined by Anderson Cooper and become talking points for strangers to discuss quietly over brunch before moving on to “more pleasant topics,” for strangers to post about online to explain that I was “no angel” and brought my death upon myself.

My daughter’s face flashed before my eyes, in a split second, and I left. I allowed myself to be disrespected to keep my family and myself safe. I sacrificed my dignity in an effort to protect my life. I am struck even now by the fact that I left without my personhood respected to save my physical person. These are the choices people of color have to grapple with every day. I was able to choose to leave. Sandra Bland was not afforded that option.

Black Lives Matter Lexington:

Black Lives Matter Lexington. Credit: Tim Pierce

But this is the insidious nature of white liberal racism right here. And yes, it needs to be named, quite specifically and intentionally, as white liberal racism. Certainly racism is racism, and yes, of course all racism is bad, but liberal racism fills a particularly problematic space because it seeps in so stealthily and is denied so vehemently. This man who verbally assaulted me would, I can assume, be resistant to any claims that he was a racist. After all, not only does he live in a liberal town, but he is an active and vocal supporter of left-wing candidate Bernie Sanders. He might have left, telling this same story to a friend, of how he educated a careless young Black woman on Bernie Sanders. Perhaps even, he would argue, that given the time in which he came of age and the acquaintances with whom he grew up he still finds himself to be one of the more progressive members of his generation—and maybe he’s absolutely right. But none of that matters.

There is a strange comfort relegating prejudice to a geographic location or certain walks of life. It’s a southern thing. Young people aren’t racist—and young people of color don’t really experience racism. Liberals can’t be racist, by definition. It couldn’t be further from the truth. You aren’t awarded brownie points because you know someone whose racist, sexist, beliefs are more overt than your own. President Obama addressed this very idea recently to Marc Maron, his point conveniently lost as pundits debated his use of the n-word.

Anti-racism isn’t simply about avoiding hoods or the overt language of slurs. And it certainly isn’t about proclaiming yourself a liberal or a progressive. It’s about examining every situation and every interaction and dwelling in your discomfort with the prejudices you hold. It’s acknowledging that your view of what is best for another group holds less weight than what they know to be best based on their own experiences. And, most of all, it is about decentering whiteness from the narratives of the lived experiences of people of color. Otherwise, I fear all of our marching has only led us full circle.


[i] As of August 9, 2015, Bernie Sanders has added a section on his website regarding racial justice as a response to the #blacklivesmatter protests that recently occurred at his Seattle rally.

[ii] Waller County has since released footage of Sandra Bland’s booking at the county jail to dispel rumors that she died before her mugshot was taken.


Danielle Fuentes Morgan is a Ph.D. candidate in English literature, focusing on African American literature, culture, and satire. She hails from Durham, North Carolina and tweets at @mos_daf

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Racism Made Me Who I Am Today http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/05/racism-made-me-who-i-am-today/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/08/05/racism-made-me-who-i-am-today/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39955 By Guest Contributor Ellen Oh When I was a little girl, I was already very aware of what racism was. It felt like the cigarette burn to my flesh by the high school girl who called me a dirty chink. I was eight years old. Racism has been seared into my psyche, like the shame […]

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By Guest Contributor Ellen Oh

When I was a little girl, I was already very aware of what racism was. It felt like the cigarette burn to my flesh by the high school girl who called me a dirty chink. I was eight years old.

Racism has been seared into my psyche, like the shame that filled me when a white boy spat on me as he screamed “Go back to where you belong!” It sounded like the laughter of the crowd of middle school kids, both Black and White, that surrounded me and called me chink and gook. It looked like the jeers and smirks on the faces that pressed close, like nightmare images I couldn’t escape. I was 10 years old.

It was the fear I felt as I held my little sister’s hand tightly as we ran away from a group of Puerto Rican girls who pelted us with rocks and told us that slanty-eyed chinks don’t belong in their neighborhood. I was 11 years old.

It was the pain of my hair being torn out of my head by the middle aged Russian woman who spoke no English but knew every dirty, filthy word that she could use with “ching chong,”when I confronted her for stealing from my parents store. I was 15.

It was having a kind looking white grandmother scream at me to go back to my own country because she didn’t want my kind ruining the USA. I was 22.

It was having the managing partner of my law firm ask me if I had any relatives on the Golden Venture, the smuggler ship that ran aground in NYC with over 200 illegal Chinese immigrants. I was 24 and not Chinese.

It was having a group of white teenagers shout “Where’s my pork fried rice, bitch?” while I was walking with my little girls. I was 35.

It was going to Catholic mass and having the woman directly behind me shake everyone’s hand and then refuse to shake mine during the offering of peace. I was 40 years old.

Over the course of my life, I have learned that I was never safe. I learned to be wary. Racism is so damaging that when anything bad happens, you can’t help but wonder if race was a factor. Would that teacher have humiliated you in front of your fellow classmates if you were white? Would you have had better service if you were white?

Would that business colleague have thrown money in your face in such a contemptuous and disrespectful manner if you were white? Whether or not it is true, you can’t help but think it. And that is the insidiousness of racism. You are always wondering is that person just an a*shole or is that person a racist?

The pain of the racism I encountered was amplified by witnessing what my parents had to deal with. I at least spoke perfect English. But my immigrant parents with their broken English suffered far worse than I have ever had to endure. I weep more for what they have dealt with than for myself. And yet, they still love this country deeply. Immigrants who suffered humiliating racism and crippling poverty, and yet have never wavered in their love and support of their adopted country. They shame me. I was the one who hid my lovingly packed kimbap lunch from my classmates to avoid teasing.

I was the one who refused to speak Korean in public with my parents because I didn’t want to stand out. I was the one who was ashamed of being Asian in a white country. Not my parents. They were always proud of their culture of their heritage. And when people sneered at their broken English they could reassure themselves that they spoke two other languages fluently. When I think of all they endured, I am both brokenhearted and proud.

There are still well meaning people out there today who believe in equality and fairness and truly believe in their heart of hearts that they are not racists. Yet they are still a part of the problem. Hate is that thing that won’t go away if you ignore it. Hate doesn’t work that way.

We talk about the “silent bystander” effect in crimes and how it can promote an atmosphere of violence and bullying. Apply this to all kinds of hate of marginalized people. That is what a lot of well meaning “non-racist” people are doing. Do you stay quiet when people make racist jokes? Do you not speak up in the face of injustice for your fellow citizens? Do you get personally offended if someone points out that something you said or did is a little racist? Do you ever say, “it probably wasn’t about race” to a POC when they talk about an incident that troubled them? Are you a silent bystander to racism?

Some people love to say, “I’m sick of all this race talk.” That is the nature of having privilege. It’s like telling someone suffering from chronic debilitating pain that you’re tired of them talking about being in pain because you have the privilege of being able-bodied. POC don’t have the kind of privilege that allows us not to make everything about race, because to us it is ALWAYS about race. There is no such thing as being colorblind. Colorblindness was a feel good, altruistic theory that was developed by well meaning people who didn’t know any better. And sometimes well meaning people unknowingly cause harm.

Colorblindness is not our reality. We cannot change our skin color, our facial features, our background. We cannot pretend that a core part of who we are does not exist. Instead of colorblindness, what we need is real talk, real action from those who claim to be our allies. But it is a difficult conversation to have because people don’t like to feel that they are in the wrong. And while it may be as much my fault for not pointing out racism as it is your fault for not recognizing it, it is not my fault if your response is to become defensive and accuse me of being an angry POC.

Some people act like being called a racist is the worst thing in the world that can happen to them. When will they understand that living everyday of your life with racism is far worse? When POC talk about racism, the response should never be “But I’m not a racist!” or “It’s not always about race.” It should be “Yes, I recognize that we live in a world with systemic racism.” And instead of shutting down a conversation, you grow it, you learn from it, you try to become the advocate and the ally we need. We need to keep talking. So that maybe my future timeline, and those of my children, won’t be marked by racism anymore.

Originally from NYC, Ellen Oh is Co-founder and President of WeNeedDiverseBooks, a former entertainment lawyer, and a children’s book author with an insatiable curiosity for ancient Asian history. She also loves martial arts films, K-pop, K-dramas, cooking shows, and is a rabid fan of The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra series. She is the author of the YA fantasy trilogy, The Prophecy Series. Ellen lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband and three daughters and has yet to satisfy her quest for a decent bagel.

Top image by Seattle Pacific Archives via Flickr Creative Commons.

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The Netroots Nation Files: Daring To Internet While Female 2.0 http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/21/the-netroots-nation-files-daring-to-internet-while-female-2-0/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/21/the-netroots-nation-files-daring-to-internet-while-female-2-0/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 14:00:37 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39935 By Arturo R. García [View the story “NN15: Daring To Internet While Female 2.0″ on Storify]

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By Arturo R. García

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The Netroots Nation Files: Feminist Future http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/21/the-netroots-nation-files-feminist-future/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/21/the-netroots-nation-files-feminist-future/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 12:00:09 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39932 By Arturo R. García [View the story “NN15: Feminist Future” on Storify]

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By Arturo R. García

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The Netroots Nation Files: An Interview With Jose Antonio Vargas http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/20/the-netroots-nation-files-an-interview-with-jose-antonio-vargas/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/20/the-netroots-nation-files-an-interview-with-jose-antonio-vargas/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 14:00:55 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39926 By Arturo R. García Not long after the #BlackLivesMatter protest during Saturday’s town hall event at the Netroots Nation conference, I interviewed journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who moderated the event, and talked about his experience being — literally — in the middle of the demonstration, as well as his views on how […]

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By Arturo R. García

Not long after the #BlackLivesMatter protest during Saturday’s town hall event at the Netroots Nation conference, I interviewed journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who moderated the event, and talked about his experience being — literally — in the middle of the demonstration, as well as his views on how both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley handled their responses.

Were you prepared for [the protest]?
JAV: I was up all night trying to figure out a great mix of questions. For Senator Sanders, it was about immigration, because many people feel that’s something that he hasn’t talked about specifically. Gun control was a big one. Senator Sanders had talked about marching for civil rights in the March on Washington. That’s why I asked that question of, “Is there a specific bill you can point to” that had benefited the African-American community. So I’m just frustrated and disappointed that we weren’t able to ask this variety of questions.

But, having said that, the urgency that people of color — that Black people, that brown people in this country — feel about not only race but immigration, about policies that criminalize and dehumanize people in this country. It’s an emergency, somebody said, and it is. That’s what we saw. And I wasn’t about to stop that. As a person of color, as a gay man, as an undocumented person, I wasn’t about to stop that. You can’t silence people who have been silenced for far too long. I was just trying to figure out how I could keep the conversation going. I kept thinking to myself, “Man, handle this with as much grace as you can.”

I cannot overstate the importance of #BlackLivesMatter and the intersection of these issues. Remember, when [Phoenix activist Tia Oso] got up there, she talked about immigration, she talked about LGBT rights, she talked about civil rights. That’s the kind of conversation that we’re not seeing nationally. And that’s why it’s imperative that they get to hold that state. I just wish we could have known about it ahead of time, because I could have maybe found a better way to facilitate it, just so we could have had more questions and not just platitudes. So I was disappointed in myself for that.

Was it surprising to see the candidates that taken aback?

JAV: Hey, if you’re running for the presidency of the United States of America, you’d better be prepared for anything and everything, especially in the social media age. It was actually interesting seeing the layers of identity on that stage: you had two straight white guys running for the presidency, and you have a room full of people — people of color, people who are gay, transgender, documented, undocumented.

That’s actually one of the questions I didn’t get to ask them. I was gonna ask them, “You’re straight, you’re white, you’re a man — how has your privilege gotten you to where you are now?”

What was your reaction when O’Malley said, “all lives matter”?

JAV: You know, I’m sure the governor wishes that he could go back on that stage what he said when he said, “All lives matter, white lives matter.”

[In fact, O’Malley later apologized for doing so during his interview with TWiB:]

But is it a concern when party leaders still can’t articulate their concerns without using phrases that effectively silence people of color?

JAV: That’s the thing now — you have a Black man, President Obama. You have a woman running for the presidency. If you’re a straight guy who happens to be white, what is your responsibility to these issues that may not be personal to you, but may be personal to many, many people? I don’t know what the governor said when he got off that stage, but when he said “all lives matter, white lives matter,” what did he mean by that, exactly?

The Sanders interview, did that end early?

JAV: It ended early because people around me were like, “end it, end it.”

So you were directed to end it.

JAV: I was directed to end it, yes. Believe me, if it was up to me, I had at least five questions that I wanted to ask. At that point, I thought the conversation was actually flowing better. So I wish that we could have just kept going.

There have been some concerns about his ability to outreach to communities of color.

JAV: That was something else I wanted to ask him: How many people of color does Senator Sanders have on his staff? I was gonna ask that question. I never got a chance to ask that question.

How do you feel he did today?

JAV: Under the circumstances, Senator Sanders has to be commended for addressing the root causes of inequality in this country. But when I asked, “I hear you there Senator, but there are people here who are talking to us about how much of an emergency race in this country is,” I don’t know if you caught his answer, but it was basically more of a non-answer.

Addressing a question of police brutality with economic policy seems like a dodge.

JAV: He was trying to connect the dots. But people need to hear more than that. They’re not [just] talking about somebody in the news. Yes, they are, but they’re also talking about themselves. When they say #SayHerName, it’s personal. And I think how politicians get up there and they get in their talking points — it doesn’t fit; it runs against this very visceral, guttural, urgent concern that people of color have in this country, who feel under attack.

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The Netroots Nation Files: #BlackLivesMatter Makes Its Presence Felt http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/20/the-netroots-nation-files-black-lives-matter-makes-its-presence-felt/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/20/the-netroots-nation-files-black-lives-matter-makes-its-presence-felt/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39923 By Arturo R. García The Netroots Nation progressive conference in Phoenix was marked this past Saturday by a powerful show of solidarity from #BlackLivesMatter activists, who effectively forced both the attendees and Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to talk about police violence against communities of color. I’ve included […]

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By Arturo R. García

The Netroots Nation progressive conference in Phoenix was marked this past Saturday by a powerful show of solidarity from #BlackLivesMatter activists, who effectively forced both the attendees and Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to talk about police violence against communities of color.

I’ve included a Storify under the cut with notes and images from the demonstration, as well as a follow-up discussion hosted by This Week in Blackness featuring, among others, the movement’s co-founder Patrisse Cullors. You can also read a synopsis of some of the day’s events from me at The Raw Story.

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Our histories, Our Selves: Poshida‘s Powerful Portrayal of LGBT Pakistanis http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/17/our-histories-our-selves-poshidas-powerful-portrayal-of-lgbt-pakistanis/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/17/our-histories-our-selves-poshidas-powerful-portrayal-of-lgbt-pakistanis/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39917 By Guest Contributor Sabah Choudrey To be honest with you, I was already a little won over. Before watching Poshida, a documentary on LGBT Pakistan I was already moved. As an LGBT Pakistani myself, I felt a connection with this film already, directed by an LGBT Pakistani person. I was feeling excited to rediscover Pakistan […]

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By Guest Contributor Sabah Choudrey

To be honest with you, I was already a little won over. Before watching Poshida, a documentary on LGBT Pakistan I was already moved. As an LGBT Pakistani myself, I felt a connection with this film already, directed by an LGBT Pakistani person. I was feeling excited to rediscover Pakistan and meet my “other” family. Maybe one day my families will meet. This film had already given me hope.

It’s still rare that we are allowed to take claim and pride over our culture. But no matter how hidden it is, pride is something that can still shine through. I think that the mainstream assumes that just because something is hidden, it is something to be ashamed of. Especially when it is involves a number of taboos – religion, sexuality and gender diversity, namely: Islam, Pakistanis and queerness.

It’s rare that we are allowed to write our own histories and document our own lives. To let others see us the way we see ourselves. To take control of the white Western gaze that is constantly dictating our not-so-happy endings. That is why this film is already so important, before even having watched it. I want to thank the director of this film for simply having made it. This is a milestone in our history.

Poshida really is a one-of-a-kind film. It is so different from any other LGBT documentaries I have ever seen, including ones on LGBT Pakistan. Poshida looks at the many different aspects and constructs of the identities of LGBT Pakistanis living there, and how these aspects all interlink with each other, reflecting the true colours of the queer umbrella. Here, the film maker tells us of stories through an intersectional lens.

The movie opens with the traditional story of an untraditional love between two men of different faiths. This old tale is recounted to us from the mouths of the locals at the Sufi shrine of Madho Lal Hussain where they rest. The narrator reiterates that Pakistan is a country of contradictions, and follows with something that is always missing from any documentation on LGBT South Asians: colonialization. The filmmaker exposes the root of homophobia and transphobia and how queerness became a sin and a criminal offence under the rule of the British Empire – and I feel a rush of validation. This history is never told. We are told our history began when the British set foot, when actually it was erased the moment they invaded our land.

Through the various tales of seven people, the film maker shows us the privilege of wealth and the reality of the class divide for LGBT Pakistani people just trying to survive, and what money can truly buy – the privilege of being “out” and safe. The director allows us to hear the honest stories of gay men, lesbians, trans women and trans men without the usual assumptions and stereotypes that shadow our understanding: “What did your parents say?” A shadow I can never escape from here in the UK, asked by those who already assume

I was rejected and misunderstood by my family. We are shown realities that are affected by what the community thinks, that are improved by financial status, and that are criminalized by the media. Soon after I came out as transgender to my parents, I dug through Pakistani media channels, looking for anything on trans men. I found a news article.

The only thing I could find was a piece on Shamial Raj, a transgender man. I showed it to my dad, but how does it help my case to say that this man was charged with lying to his wife and then the two were imprisoned. The film maker continues the story and tells us that Shamial and his wife has disappeared and gone into hiding for safety. It isn’t surprising then to hear that very few transgender men have come forward since.

The film maker interviews Malik, a trans man with a similar tale of being found out, forced to flee and threatened. For Malik, he was given a choice to either return to family or have his girlfriend kidnapped or murdered. I think this is the first Pakistani trans man I have seen on film, speaking in Urdu about coming out. It is the first time I am hearing someone talk about coming out as trans in a language so close to me. I have only ever learnt to speak about my own gender in English, using words of the people who invaded my country and colonised trans.

Poshida sticks to its aims, delving into the history of LGBT Pakistan, taking us right through to modern day culture, and what it is really like to be LGBT in Pakistan – a question that constantly crosses my mind, having spent a third of my childhood in Pakistan and a whole year in a secondary school in Lahore. I often catch myself thinking, “What if …?” I finally have a glimpse of what if. I have known that homosexuality and transgender people is not new to Pakistan’s history, but to see the shrine of Madho Lal Hussain in Lahore, a city where I spent hundreds of days questioning what I was and why Allah had made me this way, is life-changing.

This film has given me strength. Poshida has given me a reason not to hide.

“Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan” is currently under consideration at a number of international film festivals. Like “Poshida” on Facebook and follow on Twitter for updates.

Sabah is a Pakistani trans activist with a passion for his community. Raised in West London, England. He migrated South to Brighton for queerer pastures, and has now returned for browner pastures. His tiny head is full of big ideas, having founded Trans Pride Brighton in 2012, the first trans march and trans celebration in the UK, the QTIPOC Brighton Network for queer, trans and intersex people of color, and desiQ for queer South Asian people in London/South East area. Living a glamorous London lifestyle, he works for Gendered Intelligence as a mentor and facilitator for trans young people of colour. He likes talking about his feelings and likes to write about them even more at www.sabahchoudrey.com. Tweet him @SabahChoudrey.

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Who Gets To Decide? Multiracial Families and the Question of Identity http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/15/who-gets-to-decide-multiracial-families-question-of-identity/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/15/who-gets-to-decide-multiracial-families-question-of-identity/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:00:09 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39909 By Guest Contributor Kristen Green After talking with a group of writers about my new book—part memoir, part history—I was approached by a white woman who questioned my use of the term multiracial to refer to my husband. “Is he Black?” she asked. When I said no, she firmly suggested that I “just call him […]

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By Guest Contributor Kristen Green

After talking with a group of writers about my new book—part memoir, part history—I was approached by a white woman who questioned my use of the term multiracial to refer to my husband.

“Is he Black?” she asked. When I said no, she firmly suggested that I “just call him American Indian.”

Since writing Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, which outlines white leaders’ decision to close the schools in my hometown rather than desegregate, I’ve received unwelcome feedback about the way I describe Jason and our children, who are a mix of American Indian and white. My mom, tired of my use of the word multiracial, told me to “just let Jason be Jason.”

One person felt my kids were “so light” their race wasn’t worth mentioning. Another wondered how the race of my husband and children could be relevant to the story of my hometown since my husband wasn’t Black.

The comments, all made by white people, sting. Their feedback implies that my husband and children’s deeply personal racial identification is something they are entitled to have a say about. It also suggests they think they have an understanding of Jason and the girls’ lived experience. They couldn’t be more wrong.

The coverage of Rachel Dolezal’s decision to identify as Black, dishonest as she was, has put a laser focus on the topic of identity in this country. The issue at stake: who gets to decide how people of color refer to themselves?

For generations, whites have controlled these definitions of identity, stretching back to the one-drop rule, where anyone with a drop of “Black blood”—once called “Negro blood”—was forced by law to identify as black. The rule was used to justify slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Biracial children with one white parent could not claim any identity other than Black.

On the other hand, one drop of Indian blood has not historically made someone American Indian. The federal government has methods for classifying American Indians. In some cases, if their blood is too “diluted,” people of American Indian descent don’t qualify for land allotments or tribal membership.

With the population of brown people in the U.S. rising, the government, and the American public, will be forced to cede control of these definitions. Over the next four decades, people of two or more races are expected to be the fastest growing population of Americans. And there are more ways than ever for mixed-race people to define themselves.

My husband doesn’t have a cultural or tribal connection to his American Indian background. Yet his lived experience is as a brown person; his identity is tied to how the world views him and treats him. We know the same will be true of our two daughters.

I hear fear in the voices of whites that act as if they have some stake in how people of multiple racial backgrounds identify. When someone questions how I refer to my children, I think of the power whites have clung to by deciding how people of color are labeled.

When people challenge the terms we use, I hear this: there is so much power and privilege in being white, why would you undermine that? Why would you call your kids “mixed,” a term that many still associate with its historical reference to miscegenation, once widely considered shameful? There’s a lack of understanding that the definitions of mixed and multiracial no longer refer singularly to those who are white and black.

When a relative told me that I am placing a burden on my girls by referring to them as multiracial, I wonder what she would have me do instead. Let them try to pass for white? Why shouldn’t my girls proudly claim all that they are?

There is so much power in deciding how to identify oneself, and people of color rightly want to claim that power. This question of how people identify is increasingly relevant as more Americans marry and parent across racial and ethnic lines. People have the right to decide how to identify themselves and their children. They can call themselves mixed or biracial or multiracial. They can identify with one of their races or multiple races. It is a personal decision.

My husband and I want our daughter’s skin color, and their racial background, to be something they take pride in, something they are comfortable talking about. We want them to be aware that people have historically been discriminated against for the color of their skin.

As they get older, they will decide how they want to identify. I hope, by then, as people of color become the majority in this country, they won’t get so many unsolicited opinions from others about the way they refer to their own racial makeup.


Kristen Green (@kgreen) is the author of SOMETHING MUST BE DONE ABOUT PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, published by Harper in June. The book, a hybrid of memoir and history, describes the decision by white leaders in her hometown to close the public schools rather than desegregate and examines her family’s role. She has worked as a newspaper reporter for 20 years, including at the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Boston Globe.

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The SDCC Files: Milestone 2.0 [Updated] http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/14/the-sdcc-files-milestone-2-0-updated/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/14/the-sdcc-files-milestone-2-0-updated/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:00:55 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39903 By Arturo R. García [View the story “The SDCC Files: Milestone 2.0 ” on Storify]

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The SDCC Files: The Black Panel 2015 [Updated] http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/14/the-sdcc-files-the-black-panel-2015-updated/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/14/the-sdcc-files-the-black-panel-2015-updated/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 16:00:49 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39900 By Arturo R. García [View the story “The SDCC Files: The Black Panel 2015″ on Storify]

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The SDCC Files: Rep. John Lewis and March: Book 2 [Updated] http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/14/the-sdcc-files-rep-john-lewis-and-march-book-2/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/14/the-sdcc-files-rep-john-lewis-and-march-book-2/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 14:00:31 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39896 By Arturo R. García [View the story “The SDCC Files: Rep. John Lewis and ‘March: Book 2′” on Storify]

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The SDCC Files: Spotlight on Lalo Alcaraz http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/14/the-sdcc-files-spotlight-on-lalo-alcaraz/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/14/the-sdcc-files-spotlight-on-lalo-alcaraz/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 12:00:43 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39893 By Arturo R. García [View the story “SDCC Spotlight: Lalo Alcaraz” on Storify]

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The SDCC Files: Writing Transgender Characters http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/13/the-sdcc-files-writing-transgender-characters/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/13/the-sdcc-files-writing-transgender-characters/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 19:30:32 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39890 By Arturo R. García [View the story “The SDCC Files: Writing Transgender Characters” on Storify]

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The SDCC Files: Women of Color in Comics http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/13/the-sdcc-files-women-of-color-in-comics/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/13/the-sdcc-files-women-of-color-in-comics/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 18:30:28 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39887 By Arturo R. García [View the story “The SDCC Files: Women of Color in Comics” on Storify]

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The SDCC Files: Super Asian America http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/13/the-sdcc-files-super-asian-america/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/13/the-sdcc-files-super-asian-america/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 17:16:40 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39883 By Arturo R. García [View the story “The SDCC Files: Super Asian America” on Storify]

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The Racialicious Preview For San Diego Comic-Con 2015: Saturday + Sunday http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/08/the-racialicious-preview-for-san-diego-comic-con-2015-saturday-sunday/ http://www.racialicious.com/2015/07/08/the-racialicious-preview-for-san-diego-comic-con-2015-saturday-sunday/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 14:00:25 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=39840 By Arturo R. García Now that we’ve combed through the first half of the con, here’s the home stretch! As Kendra said, you can follow each of us not only on Twitter — at @aboynamedart, @wriglied, and @racialicious — but on Instagram: @racialicious. I’ll also be posting images from the weekend at my own IG […]

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By Arturo R. García

Now that we’ve combed through the first half of the con, here’s the home stretch!

As Kendra said, you can follow each of us not only on Twitter — at @aboynamedart, @wriglied, and @racialicious — but on Instagram: @racialicious. I’ll also be posting images from the weekend at my own IG account, and all of our posts will be shared at The R’s official Facebook page.

With the formalities out of the way, let’s dive in to the second half of SDCC!

SATURDAY

MARCH with Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, 10 am, Room 23ABC: The civil rights icon returns to preview March: Book Three, which will cover the Freedom Summer in Mississippi, as well as the march from Selma to Montgomery. And as was the case during his previous SDCC visit, the story is all too timely.

From Bollywood to Hollywood: Going Global: 12pm, Room 25ABC: Finally, the ultimate Hollywood trade show — and let’s not kid ourselves anymore about that — gets a shot of Bollywood. This panel will include footage from both US and Indian action movies, with Bollywood represented by studio exec Ishmael Kahn, actresses Pooja Batra, Radhika Chaudhari, and Shekah Kapoor.

Diversity: We Demand Diverse Books: 1pm, Room 28DE: As mentioned in our creators of color round-up, this panel (which takes its title from the movement of the same name) will follow the push to bring more diverse characters and perspectives to the YA literature world.

The Kaiju Kingdom Podcast: 1pm, Neil Morgan Auditorium, San Diego Central Library: This off-site offering is a live broadcast of the Kaiju Kingdom Podcast, with co-hosts Jessica Tseang and Chris Eaton bringing not only gifts for attendees, but a discussion with Godzilla comic writers Cullen Bunn and Chris Mowry.

Milestone 2.0 + Spotlight on Reginald Hudlin, 4-7 p.m., Room 9: There’s a one-hour break in between both panels, but it’s worth it for you to stick around, since Hudlin will be part of the Milestone Entertainment alum session which is teasing updates on the new Static Shock series. Former Crossfire host Van Jones will also appear to host Hudlin’s spotlight panel.

Gays in Comics 28: At the Intersection of Comics and Life: 6pm, Room 29AB: Hosted by Prism Comics, this panel addressing how queerness intersects with not only race but religion and family ties will serve as the prelude to Prism’s annual mixer and silent auction benefiting the organization, a longtime outlet for LGBTQ creators and readers.

We Are All Heroes: The Changing Landscape of Comics, Geekdom, and Fanboy Culture: 7pm, Room 14A: Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler — mistakenly listed in the official program as having directed Dope — and Michael Jai White highlight this panel, which also features former Everybody Loves Chris star Tyler James Williams and Arrow’s Kristina Law, as they tackle representations (and misrepresentations) of POC in Hollywood.

SUNDAY

Normalizing Publishing: 12pm, Room 32AB: This diversity panel will feature cartoonist Nilah Magruder, who won the inaugural Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity this year for her webcomic M.F.K.

Latin American Comic Arts: The Case of the Chilean Graphic Novel: 12pm, Room 26AB: This Comics Arts Conference session will examine Chile’s surging graphic novels market, and how the genre is helping new readers explore their culture and their history.

WOC in Comics: Race, Gender & The Comic Book Medium: 12:30 pm, Logan Heights Library, 567 S 28th St.: How’s this for a shame? A program featuring women of color that’s not part of the convention. As such, this off-site event is open to the public. According to the San Diego Free Press, the panel lineup is as follows:

Artist/creator Delia Gable, webseries creator/writer Vanessa Verduga, literary educator Vanee Smith-Matsalia, Black Girl Nerds founder & blogger Jamie Broadnax, artist/webcomic creator Leen Isabel, and professional cosplayer Jay Justice. The discussion will be moderated by Lockett Down Productions Publications owner, Regine Sawyer.

Hip Hop Comics Connection: 1pm, Room 28DE: This panel will center around Ed Piskor, who has chronicled the links between comics and hip-hop in the Eisner Award-nominated Hip Hop Family Tree, which recently became Fantagraphic Comics’ first monthly offering.

Comics at the Crossroads: Culture, Identity, and Narrative Technologies in the EthnoSurreal: 1:30pm, Room 26AB: This is one academic offering where we’re going to let the panel summary do all the talking:

Comics are inherently surreal, juxtaposing images, text, and word and thought balloons to create layered stories consisting of a multiplicity of perspectives and states of being. EthnoSurrealism focuses on culture (cultural notions, cultural practices, and cultural theories) to explore those moments where culturally bound interpretations of images and story converge at the crossroads of everyday life. It seeks to make these images, stories, and their making co-present. EthnoSurrealism embraces the tenants of surrealism while examining them through a cultural lens. Stanford W. Carpenter (Institute for Comics Studies), John Jennings (University at Buffalo), and Jeremy Love (Bayou) will examine the cultural artifacts, imaginaries, and stories that intersect at the crossroads of everyday life and how the notion of the crossroads is itself infused throughout the New World Black Culture. Adilifu Nama (Loyola Marymount) moderates.

Queer Imagery in Animation: 3pm, Room 28DE: Prism Comics hosts this panel, as well, which will delve into gender identity using critically-acclaimed works like Bob’s Burgers, The Legend of Korra, and Steven Universe, among others, as touchstones.

Super Asian America: 3pm, Room 29AB: Our friends at Racebending will host this panel, featuring Agents of SHIELD’s Chloe Bennet, Action Comics writer Greg Pak, and Nerds of Color editor-in-chief Keith Chow, among others.

Top image via Flickr Creative Commons

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