A recent post on Soledad O’Brien and a conversation with a friend got me thinking about issues of race and racial authority. In the post about Soledad O’Brien, Danielle Belton examined O’Brien’s multiracial identity and its reception in the Black community via her work with CNN’s Black in America series. An issue that sprang to my mind was, “Does O’Brien have authority to speak about/for the Black community?” Many commenters did not believe she did.
This question echoed a similar issue that a close friend brought up a few weeks ago. Speaking candidly with me, he told me that he thought I shouldn’t talk about racial issues “past a certain point.” His reasoning was that, because I “pass for white”, I haven’t dealt with the same type of racism as those who do not pass. He is biracial like me, with a similar Iranian and Irish-Scottish makeup as mine. He passes for white as well. And the message I felt I was getting from this friend is that I shouldn’t talk about racism “past a certain point” (his meaning on where this point was exactly wasn’t clear) because I’m not “dark” enough. My initial reaction was irritation, certainly. Though I’m aware of the privileges I reap as one who often passes, and aware that this has (along with socioeconomic and geographical factors) has shaped my life experiences, I was annoyed at being told that I overstep a boundary that I didn’t know existed. Continue reading →
All of us who suffer inequalities related to race hope that one day the mainstream will “get it.” We want them to get institutional bias. We want them to get the nuances between funny and offensive. We want them to get their own privilege. We want them to get our cultural differences, while also getting that we are individuals apart from cultural markers.We want them to understand these things, but there is a fine line between developing an awareness of bias and arrogantly believing that you are so enlightened that you “get” all there is to know about being a person of color. If I am honest, I want white people to “get it,” but I don’t want them thinking they “get it” better than me–a black woman who actually lives with race bias.
A little over a year ago, I was discussing with a white woman a portrait of a famous black figure, painted by a black artist. Now, this woman is a vocal progressive who views herself as a champion of equality. She sniffed at the image, which I was quite fond of. She said she found the artist’s portrayal stereotypical, that the subject’s features were exaggerated and–this is the part that really got me–that any black person who saw it would be offended. Except that I am a black person and saw nothing offensive. I bristled at the woman’s privileged arrogance–that she would presume to lecture me on what black people think.
I was even more annoyed recently when, on “The View,” Elizabeth Hasselbeck started blubbering over the “N word” as two black women looked on in consternation. I thought: “How dare you co-opt the pain of black people? How dare you make this issue about your feelings and not those of the people who have been demeaned by racism? How dare you attempt to “school” two people of color on the perils of racism?”
But am I being fair? As white people learn to recognize racial prejudice, don’t we want them to call out these injustices when they see them? I mean, that’s the point, right? And what about me? As a black woman who understands how race affects my people, what latitude do I have to speak on what is or isn’t offensive to Japanese or Native American or Puerto Rican people? Continue reading →
But then, where does that leave Indian Canadian comedian Russell Peters?
This is where I need some help: I freakin’ love Russell Peters. Am I a disgusting hypocrite?
His act is littered with sexism, he’s made a household name for himself with a joke condoning child abuse (somebody gonna get a hurt real bad…), and one of his hottest bits involves mocking South African names. But everyone I know loves him – particularly people of colour, and anti-racist people of colour at that.
Is it because he’s irresistibly likeable? I’d like to think that it takes more than a goofy face to make us abandon our politics. Is it because he’s not only Canadian, but from just outside of Toronto, one of my hometowns? Apparently not, because I was introduced to him by my BFF in Singapore.
I have an inkling as to why it seems ok to like Peters. Last year at VONA, a yearly creative writing workshop for writers of colour, I met the wondrous Junot Díaz who introduced my group to his theory on the Wheel of Tyranny.
Díaz argued that too many books by writers of colour represent only two ethnicities per book: people from the writer’s own community of colour, and white folks. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World