Tag Archives: identity

Message to the Candidates: “Black White Whatever” and “That One Bigot”

by Latoya Peterson

I recently had the pleasure of watching two amazing videos that really cut to the heart of the racial issues at play in this election cycle.

The first is “Black, White, Whatever” by Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, a ridiculously talented spoken word artist who has appeared on Def Poetry. Her work and bio are found on her website, Yellowgurl.com.

In “Black, White, Whatever,” Tsai critiques the missing elements from the candidate’s political speeches – the fact that race in America goes way beyond black and white – and those who fall outside of the binary certainly aren’t just “whatever.” And as she says in the video, “Whatever doesn’t represent me.”

Also of note, from the Ill-literacy site comes a new(ish) YouTube video that really digs into McCain’s infamous “that one” comment from the debates. Unfortunately for McCain, vlogger Adriel Luis provides a hip-hop themed juxtaposition of clips and events detailing what “that one” really means – in the context of remarks and actions taken over the last eight or so years.

(Thanks to Joanna, Kai, and Nezua for the tips!)

Casting Out: Exploring the Racialization of Muslims

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

I just finished reading Sherene H. Razack’s Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law & Politics (2008). And I gotta say, it blew me onto my ass.

Razack is the author of several books, including Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms, and her work in race theory definitely shows in Casting Out. She uses plenty of theory and excellent cross-racial examples to illustrate that what’s currently happening to Muslims in the West (racialization that results in “the expulsion of Muslims from the political community, a process that takes the form of stigmatization, surveillance, incarceration, torture, and bombing”) has happened to other groups before.

She first argues that Muslims are racialized through “race thinking”, which “divides up the world between the deserving and the undeserving, according to descent.” The racialization of Islam and Muslims is something the editors and I have been wanting to address on Racialicious for awhile, but I haven’t quite known how to begin; Razack’s book provides the perfect springboard.

Islam is represented in mainstream media as South/West Asian brown-skinned people who are bearded and turbaned or veiled and hidden: this racializes Islam.

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“Why are you trying to be black when you’re red?”

by Guest Contributor Jessica Yee

The whole “acting black” label isn’t an unheard one in really any community these days, but I’ve always thought it was an interesting one to hear in my own community, from my own people.

Let me give it to you straight and say I already know how much we have in common; Native/Indigenous peoples and Black/people of African descent. While we might have been born here (although the jury is still out on where we all actually came from) y’all were dragged here, and not by your own choice. And you came from a place with a strong Indigenous identity and spiritual centre.

Not to mention of course the number of “Black Indians” there are, who some say represent almost 50% of African Americans today (with Oprah, Rosa Parks, and actress Rosario Dawson on that list). As White historian William Katz who has studied this stuff to death says:

“This story began at the time of Columbus, ranging from North American forests to South American jungles, and the jewel-like islands of the Caribbean. The first freedom paths taken by runaway slaves led to Native American villages. There black men and women found a red hand of friendship and an accepting adoption system and culture. The sturdy offspring of Black-Indian marriages shaped the early days of the fur trade, added a new dimension to frontier diplomacy, and made a daring contribution to the fight for American liberty”.

The story also included some Native Americans owning slaves, namely in the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations. There were also many nations who as Katz says, adopted people in, helped slaves escape, or assisted organizing various revolts. It’s a long, complicated history to go through, but I do know today that the Descendants of Freedmen are still trying to acquire legal recognition in the Cherokee Nation.

In a perfect world, we would understand this and all work as allies for our common struggles of self-determination and autonomy to live as our authentic selves in this still oppressively bigoted society. We would celebrate our rich heritages in peaceful solidarity, while together honouring the ancestors who lived so courageously to give us those few bits of raw culture we cling on to today.

Alas, that world isn’t part of the real world and what’s happening is rather shameful. In light of hip-hop culture or acting what some might perceive as just plain “cool”, the label you are automatically given if you partake in any of this is of course “black” with all of its stereotypical negative connotation. And every time I hear someone from my community say that, whether it’s because they are criticizing Native rappers or don’t understand why so many Native youth identify with Black culture, it makes me wonder how much they don’t know or just don’t remember where we’ve all come from, or even how we got here.

I thought the colonizers were the ones who told us what we could or could not be.

Bring back my body to me

by Guest Contributor Thea Lim

In order to show that I am an interesting person with diverse interests and a multi-track mind, I was going to stay away from the topics of Barack Obama, feminism and personal experiences for my second Racialicious post.

But sometimes good intentions get derailed by the nonsense we receive in our inboxes. In early June, via a feminist listserv (sigh), I received a link to this article from UK paper The Independent: “Calling Obama black is an insult to his mother” by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Call me close-minded, but just from its title, this article would appear to be too offensive to even comment on – its problems are pretty self-evident and don’t need an outraged commenter (ie me) to point them out.

But here’s an exhausting (discouraging, nightmare-inducing, etc…) thought: if Obama wins in November, we may just have four years of ludicrous op-eds spewing nonsensical assumptions about race – and mixed race people – as if it is the business of journalists to tell mixed people how they should identify. So here we go: round one of defensive blogging.

Says Alibhai-Brown:

Barack Obama is not black…the adjective has become an identity and racial marker for the Democratic nominee, and used that way, “black” is disingenuous, and in my view, iniquitous. Successful mixed-race Americans are pushed to call themselves “black” as a badge of honour, evidence that they are not ashamed of that background. And that too is wrong.

The first thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Alibhai-Brown is her belief that mixed race people just wake up in the morning and declare “I’m Black!”, or in my case, “I’m Chinese!” In my experience, a mixed race* person’s racial identity is based on:

a) the racial identity they identify with most, based on their complicated life experience,

but moreover on:

b) how they are seen by the society around them, based on their physical appearance.

My mother is English and Irish and was born in England, and my father is Chinese and was born in Singapore. In Toronto where I live, I’m usually read as some kind of East Asian. In Singapore where I grew up, I’m usually read as white. My race shifts depending on the racial politics of where I am. Continue reading

Going Back to Ghana

by Latoya Peterson

The Wichita Eagle ran an article on May 12, detailing the story of Shukura Sentwali, a native of Kansas who has decided to participate in an interesting program:

Shukura Sentwali is going home — to Ghana, West Africa.

Sentwali, a Wichitan and longtime community activist, said she’s moving to Africa next year because two Ghanaian chiefs are offering free land to descendants of slaves.

The gesture means to atone for Ghana’s participation in the African slave trade, but the land holds deeper meaning for Sentwali because it provides her a way to fulfill a lifelong mission to improve life for black people.

Sentwali has a long record of accomplishment as a community activist, specializing in black issues. However, she has grown disillusioned with the idea that the US will change:

But lately, Sentwali said she has wondered what she accomplished in the past 30 years.

She now concludes that the wrongs against African-Americans can’t be corrected because the nation won’t fully acknowledge them — even as a black man moves closer than ever before to the White House.

So she’s heading home.

She acquired her land in 2006, after attending a conference in Philadelphia presented by Fihankra International, which is overseeing the development.

“We shouldn’t waste any more time, energy or resources trying to convince the United States government or white people of what is wrong, and what has been wrong,” she said, her voice in staccato. “We need to use all of our energy and resources on building our own economic, political and social base.”

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Damned If You Do: Jews in the Spotlight, Stereotypes, and Identity (Full Piece)

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

*Author’s note: I began working on this piece around Easter, last month in March, hence the quasi-anachronistic opening. Also, to read the comments on the introduction of this piece, please go here. Lastly, please note that the thoughts and opinions expressed in the interviews completed for this piece reflect the sentiments of the interviewees and not necessarily the views or opinions of the author and/or Racialicious as a whole. OK, let’s begin!

Despite all the Easter hype, I found myself thinking a lot about Judaism in America this past week. Eliot Spitzer, New York’s Jewish political golden boy and possible presidential hopeful, had been outed for a prostitution scandal, New York Magazine had run an extensive article on actress, singer, performer extraordinaire Bette Midler, Dick Cheney had traveled to the Middle East, one of his topics of discussion being the state of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the New York City version of Bravo’s reality show Real Housewives featured a Jewish-American family. It seemed as if everywhere I turned, I noticed some element of Judaism, be it people, politics, or general culture.

In the meantime, I also began to contemplate the state of Jews in the media, their portrayals therein, and how Jewish-American identity was being shaped as a result. Despite the frequent, conspiracy theory-steeped accusations of Jews having a media takeover, it’s quite a wonder that the portrayals of Jews, including Jewish-Americans, are not exactly the most flattering.

Take a moment to think to yourself of the Jewish stereotypes to which you have been exposed, or to go further, try to count the positive portrayals of Jews (Right off the top of my head, I can only think of Anne Frank and the cast of Fiddler on the Roof) in comparison to the negative ones. What do you come up with?

For the most part, the stereotypes people come up with are, for lack of a better phrase, “positive stereotypes” they see on television or through other forms of media, and those are the ones they internalize. The financially successful Jew. The hard-working, scholarly Jew. The Jew with entrepreneurial prowess. The Jew who is a survivor. The Jew who is politically active. Of course, turn those on their heads, and they easily become “negative stereotypes.” The Jewish American Princess. The nerdy, socially awkward, neurotic Jew. The money-grubbing, “crafty” Jew. The Jew who plays the Oppression Olympics with the Holocaust as the ultimate social injustice. The Jew who is a Zionist fanatic. Hence the reminder that even so-called “positive stereotypes” can be one’s worst enemy. In fact, they are central to understanding the media-based stereotyping that occurs in relation to Jews.

For one thing, according to the media at least, all Jews are white. They all blindly support the continued recognition of Israeli statehood, despite the limited connection they may have with the Middle East geographically or culturally. Also, all Jews, using media representations alone, are well off. If the caricature-like images of Jews were to fall from our television sets, they’d find themselves out of their element as there would be no dollar bills and diamonds to roll around in to pass the day. Just like any other racial, ethnic, or religious group, Jews are subject to intense criticism at the hands of the media, and in ways many of us lack awareness to notice, mainly because we have so deeply accepted the “positive stereotypes” that we fail to realize the power they have in bolstering “negative” ones.

A “model minority” of sorts, many American Jews, no matter the sect to which they belong, or whether they consider their link to Judaism as one of religion, one of ethnicity, or both, are lauded for their achievements while simultaneously being pressured to perform a stereotype to keep them up. For this piece, I spoke with several Jewish friends, two of whom took the time to respond to a set of questions on Jewish identity. In their responses, which read like a race and culture bildungsroman of sorts, Yael, a former college classmate and up-and-coming actress, and Alex, a co-worker, discussed what it was like to “come of age” as a person of Jewish heritage in America. I have included the full-text interviews at the end of this piece, as I feel their words most poignantly capture their experiences in ways that I would be hard-pressed to replicate in my journalism-meets-prose-meets-term paper blogging style. It simply wouldn’t do their words justice.

Nevertheless, there are several unifying themes that appeared among the interviewees, as well as conclusions that could be drawn from personal observations and prior academic readings (including the highly recommended short essay “‘J.A.P.’-slapping: The Politics of Scapegoating” by Ruth Atkin and Adrienne Rich) that deserve special attention: Continue reading