Tag Archives: culture

Shame on You: Shame Cartoons

by Guest Contributor Ethar El-Katatney, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch.

They’re popping up everywhere in harmless-looking packaging: shame cartoons.

A quick search online will turn up a multitude of articles, op-eds and full-on rants appealing to women’s sense of shame (One particularly delightful article was titled “I appeal to your sense of shame my Muslim sister.”)

And then we have cartoons.

The first kind are pretty straightforward: they want you to get veiled. But rather than engage you in discussions about interpretation of hadith or Qur’an, they try and shame you into wearing it.

As expected, most come across as being judgmental, preachy and rude. And ones that focus so much on women’s dress kind of miss out on an important point: what you put on your head is not necessarily more important than what goes on inside it.

The “hijabi shame cartoons” start from the fairly innocent “the veil is an obligation just like prayer” written next to a woman covering her hair and praying, to the more extreme: I’ve actually seen one of a woman wearing niqab (face veil) which shows her eyes standing in front of a fire (!) because according to that author, showing your eyes is haram (divinely forbidden).

Let’s take a cartoon that’s ‘in the middle’:

First off, it assumes that there is only one correct interpretation of hijab (veil),* and that those who wear it ‘improperly’ (let alone not wear it at all) are in the wrong, wrong, wrong.

Second, it equates dress with behavior, which in some ways is even worse than stereotypes of veiled women (oppressed, asexual, powerless, helpless, low IQ etc). Hijab is seen as the be-all and end-all. I’m a proud hijabi myself, but that doesn’t mean I was automatically transformed into a perfect Muslim the moment I wore it. Just because a woman wears a veil doesn’t meant that she doesn’t struggle with temptations just like any other person, or that she’s better than an unveiled girl.

(I particularly like the touch of designing the cartoon so the face of the veiled woman is ‘glowing’ because she’s so ‘good’).

The second type of shame cartoons are a hundred times worse. Because not only are they trying to shame women into dressing (and acting) in a certain way, but they’re trying to make them think that if they don’t veil and dress ‘properly’ they’re at fault if they get sexually harassed. Continue reading

Cultural Appropriation: Homage or Insult?

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

Discussions about American Apparel’s new Afrika line of clothing on this blog, Feministing and Racialicious sparked some confusion among people who wondered “What’s so wrong with being inspired by another culture?” Nothing, really. But “inspiration” drawn from a historically oppressed culture comes with a tangle of baggage born of generations of marginalization and bias.

It’s all about the oppression

From Wikipedia:

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It denotes acculturation or assimilation, but often connotes a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture.[1][2] It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, may take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held. Or, they may be stripped of meaning altogether.

The term cultural appropriation can have a negative connotation. It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture; or, when there are other issues involved, such as a history of ethnic or racial conflict between the two groups.Cultural and racial theorist, George Lipsitz, outlined this concept of cultural appropriation in his seminal term “strategic anti-essentialism”. Strategic anti-essentialism is defined as the calculated use of a cultural form, outside of your own, to define yourself or your group. Strategic anti-essentialism can be seen both in minority cultures and majority cultures, and are not confined to only the appropriation of the other. For example, the American band Redbone, comprised of founding members of Mexican heritage, essentialized their group as belonging to the
Native American tradition, and are known for their famous songs in support of the American Indian Movement “We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee” and “Custer Had It Coming”. However, as Lipsitz argues, when the majority culture attempts to strategically anti-essentialize themselves by appropriating a minority culture, they must take great care to recognize the specific socio-historical circumstances and significance of these cultural forms so as not the perpetuate the already existing, majority vs. minority, unequal power relations.

In other words: It’s the oppression, stupid. Continue reading

Anti-Intellectualism: An African American Problem

by Guest Contributor Merq

They are proud of their ignorance.

They equate getting an education to “acting white.”

Inner-city students have to decide between being smart and being “cool.”

I’m sure you’ve read at least one of the above statements at some point over the course of the last five years. Like the “down low” frenzy of yesteryear, it’s the pummeled dead horse du jour of African-American narratives.

As a student of propaganda, its uses, and its effects, one thing that has always intrigued and sickened me about American discourse (as typified by its mainstream media) is its ability to make a phenomenon untrue or non-existent by simply ignoring it. When Paris Hilton bares her lady parts for what must be the thirtieth time, it’s still considered newsworthy. But her continued pattern of “n*gger”-calling has gone so roundly ignored that only a fraction of a population inundated with her very presence is aware that she’s done this even once. I mean, Dog the friggin’ Bounty Hunter got more column inches for his idiocy (and he genuinely thought he was black) while Hilton never even needed to roll out the standard Non-Apology Apology! I, as a black man, speak for my race (as we always seem to do in the media) when I say we wuz robbed!

In a similar vein, it tickles me to no end (or inasmuch as an assault on the ribs can be considered tickling) that America can really create this whole “Crisis in Black America” phenomenon over something as essentially American as anti-intellectualism – and get “black leaders” to cluck their tongues and rhapsodize on how “we got to do better,” even!

Yes, In case you’re wondering, I watched CNN’s “Black in America” series. Yes, I saw black folk say the same thing, and wallow in self-validating self-pity as they recall past (and present) experiences with those who deemed them “too white.” I don’t know why people hold up these folk as some sort of proof that this “tryna ack’ all white” phenomenon is actually real – there are multitudes of black males who will also tell you that black men can only aspire to being ballers or rappers, or that they have no business wearing flip-flops. Do we take them at their word simply because they’re black? Continue reading

Diversity in Mass Effect

by Guest Contributor BomberGirl, originally published at Girl in the Machine

I’ve recently been replaying Mass Effect, Bioware’s 2007 action RPG, and I’m totally in love. Though there’s plenty of things I could babble on about, I want to discuss the first thing I noticed when I brought the game home back during the holidays.

Women and people of color. They aren’t invisible . . . in fact, in this game, they’re all over the place! Just like, you know, real life! Way too often, sci fi falls into the trap of showing us a universe where PoC and women have been sucked into a black hole or something and no longer exist. Mass Effect introduces a galaxy that’s truly diverse, an experience we don’t often get in video games.

An interesting facet of Mass Effect’s immense cultural salad is the absence of racial tension among humans. Humanity’s discovery of advanced Prothean artifacts is only quite recent; their technology jumps two hundred years, and thus all contact and interaction with alien races is relatively sudden. These aliens all look down on the human race and treat them as lesser beings. As the first human member of an elite agency called Spectre, the protagonist Shepard must combat prejudice and bigotry as well as your typical monsters and other foes.

Mass Effect pitches humanity into a situation where all racial tensions seem to vanish in order to unite against the prejudice of the alien races. Now, I realize that Bioware did not craft this game for the purpose of social commentary, so I don’t blame it for not directly addressing human racial interaction along with the new problems presented by alien prejudice. It’s a fascinating thought, though: could humanity put internal racism aside when all of us, collectively, face the same from an outside source? Continue reading

Background Color, Redux II

by Guest Contributor Mimi, originally published at Threadbared

Today I rejected a comment on the entry Background Color for its sneering hostility. In short, the author of the comment called us stupid, too preoccupied with Gucci (as if) to know anything about art (which fashion, the author asserted firmly, was not). Furthermore, she scolded, we should “educate” ourselves so we might better recognize the “brilliance” of the NYLON editorial as an art historical reference to such canonical images like Edouard Manet’s Olympia (1863) (Fig. 1) and not a comment on racial thinking or class inequities at all.

Fig. 1

First, let me mention that I will reject comments that are insulting or poorly composed. (Phrases strung together in a jumble connected with ellipses are not fun to read.) Second, the author of the rejected comment does point out something worth noting — yes, the editorial certainly does reference a canonical theme in European art history, and no, this hardly excuses the editorial. If anything, it makes the editorial that much more a poignant example of the long duration of racisms and their entanglements with other vectors of power, including gender, sexuality, empire and labor. That is, what this comparison makes too obvious is that colonial and imperial histories of conquest and aesthetics continue to exert themselves in the present. Continue reading

The Debut of One Day as a Lion

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

As the U.S. launched its specious war on terrorism, George Bush wrangled away another presidential election, a stunned nation took in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and miraculously a biracial senator from Illinois rose to prominence, the absence of one of the music scene’s most influential voices has been sorely missed. Nasal but vitriolic, guttural but lucid, that voice taught me that “anger is a gift” and to cry to the powers that be, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.”

If you’re still in the dark about the voice in question, it belongs to former Rage Against the Machine front man Zack de la Rocha.

The group, a rap-rock hybrid with socially conscious lyrics, split in 2000 over musical and personal differences. Guitarist Tom Morello, whose life parallels Barack Obama’s in a way that’s uncanny,* wanted to take the group in a more rock-oriented direction, while de la Rocha sought to explore hip-hop, electronica and other music styles. For fans of de la Rocha, the past eight years have left a tremendous void.

The remaining members of Rage Against the Machine went on to form Audioslave with former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, but, with the exception of a single called “March of Death,” we’ve heard little from de la Rocha. There were rumors that he’d recorded hundreds of tracks, but perfectionism kept him from releasing them. Other rumors indicated that de la Rocha had become a recluse or—gasp!—had been fatally gunned down. When Rage Against the Machine reunited at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California last year, the second bunch of rumors were obviously put to bed. But, because none of the dozens of tracks de la Rocha had supposedly recorded on his own were being released, questions lingered about his solo project. Was it ever to be released? Was there really a solo project at all? Continue reading

Background Color

by Guest Contributor Mimi, originally published at Threadbared

While the Gossip isn’t in my regular rotation (there’s always something about the production value of their albums that throws me), Beth Ditto’s ascension as a fearlessly fat and femme style icon is on my radar for sure. There’s much to be said about Beth Ditto, fat and fashion, but the above photograph from Ditto’s eight-page editorial in NYLON’s recent music issue is about none of these things for me.

It’s about the woman who may or may not be a real housekeeper at the motel at which this editorial was photographed, sitting on the edge of the bed with a handful of cards and gazing at Ditto with a weary but guarded expression. In the story that coalesces for me, studying this photograph, she has just been forced to play cards with a guest — not because she wants to, but because she could lose her job if she doesn’t. Nor does the game even feel like a break from her domestic labor; this sort of affective labor is no less taxing. In her mind (in the story I imagine about this editorial), she calculates how much longer she’ll have to stay and clean in order to meet her day’s quota.

But none of this is supposed to be visible (or even viable) in the photograph. We are not meant to consider her story. (And I’m made uncomfortable by my own attempt to “give” her an interior life.) Instead, the woman of color in her drab housekeeper’s uniform is simply another part of the furnishing in this bland motel room. She is banished as mere and muted background, the better to illuminate Ditto’s extraordinary excess of shine and glamor. For that reason, this editorial photograph both angers and saddens me.

Much has been written about the uses of people of color as part of the landscape in fashion editorials. (See, for just a small sample, Make Fetch Happen‘s disgust for colonial chic, Racialicious’ archive on fashion, or bell hooks’ canonical essay “Eating the Other”). This cliché includes “exotic” locales and touristic images of the “natives,” who wear clothes and other adornment that are imagined as traditional and time-bound. (In Viet Nam, a frequent setting, these might be so-called pajamas and conical hats; in the often-undifferentiated Africa, also a regular landscape, loincloths and face paint). The deliberate contrast between these figures (native and model) is arranged along a spectrum of race, but also time and space. The Vietnamese, the African, the Peruvian, are imagined to live at a temporal and geographic distance from the modern, and implicitly Western, woman who might wear these fashionable clothes. The compulsion to return to this scene, through which the natives in their deindividuating garb serve to highlight the cosmopolitanism, the expressive and unique sense of self, of the woman who wears (or at least covets) Prada, reveals much about the continuing investments of fashionable discourses to an inheritance of colonial regimes of power and knowledge. It is a fantasy, yes, but no less powerful for being so.

What is happening here is no less committed to this uneven distribution. Continue reading

Denied kindergarten for being Native?

by Guest Contributor Jessica Yee, originally published at The Shameless Blog

This story actually made me cry.

Five year old Adriel Arocha is being blocked from attending school in a Houston-area school district.

The reason?

As an Apache, he has long hair that he has been growing in his Native cultural tradition that “violates” this school’s dress code rules.

The kicker though is that the school board is willing to make exceptions on religious or other “proven” moral grounds, but doesn’t think that being Native American cuts it. Continue reading