Tag Archives: culture

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

What am I supposed to do?

by Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn, originally published at Digital Femme

Long ago, when I was much younger than I am today, my aunt purchased a VHS tape of cartoons for my cousins and I to watch. She quickly removed the plastic wrapper, slammed the cassette into the VCR, and promptly left the room in order to tackle the long list of chores she had that day.

My cousins were toddlers. I was a small child.

I’m sure that my aunt believed that what she had set us down in front of was harmless. And it initially was. My cousins and I laughed at silly cartoons of goofy animals. The images were dated, but still quite funny. And watching them made me feel good.

Somewhere around the middle of the tape, the images changed. The animals vanished. There were no longer quick-witted bunnies or dim-witted pigs. There were black people. Black people that were designed to look like animals. Gargantuan lips. Inhuman noses. Blue-black skin.

Images all based on caricatures designed to ridicule the features of black people. Images that I saw before me.

I cried. I actually cried until I made myself physically ill. But I wouldn’t tell anyone what was wrong.

A few days later I approached my mother and told her that I didn’t want to be ugly anymore. I told her that I wanted to be white.

My mother looked at me and smiled. She told me if I waited in the bedroom for her that she would make me white. I waited, and after a few moments she entered with a bottle of lotion. She spread the lotion out in a thick layer on my legs as if she was icing a cake. My chocolate brown skin began to slip from view.

She stopped after a few moments and looked at me.

“Doesn’t that look silly?”

I nodded as she bent over to wipe the lotion from my legs.

“See? You’re not supposed to be white! You’re exactly how God made you to be. You understand?”

I understood perfectly. God meant for me to be black. He meant for me to be ugly. And I believed that for a long time. Because that’s what the images I had seen had taught me to believe.

I’m actually terrified to have kids. Because it’s inevitable that my children are going to come across the same type of caricatures that I did as a child. Why? Because comic and cartoon fandoms cling to these caricatures and cherish them. They create new ones based upon the older incarnations. They place these images above the basic human dignity of black people. They tell black people that nostalgia is more important than their humanity.

What am I going to tell my child when he or she comes across these images? How am I going to rebuild his or her spirit when the images break it? Because my mother’s initial approach? Did not work. And fandom simply isn’t going to let these images go. They don’t respect us enough to do so.

So, what am I supposed to do?

The delusion of hatred immunity

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

Excuse me if I seem a bit dim, but this week I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what satire is. When satire takes the form of straight-up replication of offensive images and ideas, is it still satire? Or is it just imitation? And if it’s the case that imitation really is flattery, why is the New Yorker flattering Fox News?

At the heart of much satire and all bad satire, is something snarky and holier-than-thou, the belief that when someone (allegedly) enlightened articulates the exact same thing as someone unenlightened, it’s different solely because of the mouth it comes out of. Underpinning this kind of satire is often classism, ignorance and a pretty gross lack of self-awareness. The thing about last week’s New Yorker cover is that, like all quintessential hipster racism, it manages to hit (or oppress, I suppose) three birds with one stone. The hatred trifecta!

Instead of just being racist or ignorant, in the way E.D. Hill’s off-hand reference to a “terrorist fist jab” was, ye olde cover is simultaneously:

1) hateful

2) absolves itself of hatred: by creating and printing an image, that the New Yorker would immediately abhor if printed by a right-wing blog, the McCain campaign or poor old E.D. Hill, the New Yorker is saying that it’s above the censure that it lays on others; it’s immune to being hateful.

3) classist: an opinion that was hateful when articulated by folks in poor, rural areas, is clever when articulated by someone who reads high-brow art reviews, and can differentiate between camembert and brie.

According to my favourite website Dictionary.com, central to satire is the act of exposing or unmasking hatred that simmers beneath the surface of “polite society.” What is it then, that the New Yorker is unmasking? The fact that many people are suspicious of the Obamas? The fact that some people think Obama is secretly Muslim? I hate to break it to you New Yorker, but pointing out “Osama” and “Obama” rhyme is not exactly this season’s hottest exposé. Continue reading