Tag Archives: race

Table For Two: Dreams Of A Life, Or The Tragic Mulatto Spinster Goes To The Movies

By Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

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From the joycevincent.com, a website set up by Dreams of a Life filmmaker Carol Morley

Dreams Of A Life, the 2011 “drama-documentary” about the life and death of Joyce Carol Vincent, a mixed-race woman of color found in her London flat in 2003 three years after she died, definitely made our race and gender antennae go up, mostly because we were so angry over the disrespectful depiction of Vincent by people who claimed to have known her. Keep the “people who claimed to know her” in mind as we drop in on this Table for Two…

Andrea: The race/gender axis gets really weird with this film, at least to me…

Tami: At first watch, it seems like the film and Joyce’s friends created a lot of drama around this woman’s life because they couldn’t sit with her death–and thJoyce-vincent-007e idea that sometimes pretty, young people die. They are inclined to portray her as a tragic figure, but some of the  evidence of her tragic downfall (Joyce working as a “cleaner,” i. e. maid) is ridiculous. What truly bothers me is that they continually paint her as “lonely and sad” when there is no evidence that she ever expressed those things. I don’t think people would talk about a young single man that way–even one who died alone in his apartment.

Andrea: Because they can’t believe that “one of their own” is a house cleaner. Paging Janelle Monae…

But it’s the “tragic mulatto” narrative to me. That she couldn’t find love in the black or white communities in the UK that’s so bent.

Tami: And there is lots of exoticizing about her rare beauty that men couldn’t resist. And “re-enactments” of her moping, stumbling around her apartment, and looking forlornly out of windows. It is as if any near-40-year-old woman living alone in a city must be tragic.

Andrea: We hear next to nothing of substance in Joyce’s own words. Instead, there are a lot of people who were supposed to be close to her–folks who you’d think would notice that she was missing for three years–who project a story onto her. And then the fact that she’s 37–the Tragic Mulatto Spinster. I was like, “Really, y’all?”

Tami: That is the perfect title for this documentary.

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Managing Stigma: Doing Race, Class, And Gender

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images

I featured the two-page ad below in one of the first posts I ever wrote for SocImages (it was October of 2007 and we’d written less than 100 posts; today we’re approaching 5,000, but I digress…).  It’s still one of my very favorite images.

I use it in Sociology 101 when I argue that race, class, and gender are, among other things, performances. Activities, items, and behaviors carry class, race, and gender meanings. In order to tell stories about ourselves, we strategically combine these things with the meanings we carry on our bodies (a gendered shape, skin color, and hair texture etc., and signs of economic wealth or deprivation).

The ad for PhatFarm deftly balances Blackness (the body), upper-class Whiteness (the sailboat), and femininity (the pink sweater).  In strategically using culturally resonant signifiers, he challenges popular representations of the Black body.

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This happens in real life, too.  Journalist Brent Staples powerfully discusses how he adds a signifier of upper-class Whiteness to his large Black body in order to avoid the discomfort of frightening people on the streets of New York.

…I employ what has proved to be an excellent tension-reducing measure: I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers. Even steely New Yorkers hunching toward nighttime destinations seem to relax and occasionally they even join in the tune. Virtually everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

“It is my equivalent to the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country,” Staples adds, referring to the fact that being perceived as dangerous can itself be dangerous, as we know from the example of Trayvon Martin and Rodrigo Diaz, who was shot in the head in January when he accidentally pulled into the wrong driveway thinking it belonged to a friend.

Thinking of class, race, and gender as performances gives us credit for being agents.  We don’t have control over what the signifiers are, nor how people read our bodies, but we can actively try to manage those meanings.  Of course, some people have to do more “damage control” than others.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Michelle O And The Curious Case Of Cultural Assimilation

By Guest Contributor Ajené “AJ” Farrar; originally published at Elixher

Five years and a tenuous honeymoon period later, the country is still wholly in love with our First Lady. Her reception by mainstream media outlets has been surprising not just in its warmth, but in its breadth: She has graced the covers of magazines ranging from Vogue to Good Housekeeping to Time. Her approval rating has soared higher than most First Ladies of the the past century—at one point, even exceeding the highest approval rating of Eleanor Roosevelt. Virtually unassailable, she is Maya Angelou in a sleeveless dress—and the surprising new face of all-American regality.

Yes, the country loves our First Lady at least as much as past First Ladies, and it has been a welcomed relief. A chocolate-skinned, relatable, stylish, Ivy League standout, Mrs. Obama represents to black women the President’s resounding rejection of the colorism, racism, and ageism commonly seen not only in elite white circles, but among our most powerful black men. Still, her lasting influence remains in question. Will her acclaim result in a tempering of the racist sentiment maligning black women of all walks of life, or will it merely validate America’s stubbornly misguided campaign of “color-blindness?”

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Uh, Yes, Franca Sozzani, Racism Is A Problem In Fashion

By Guest Contributor s.e. smith; originally published at Tiger Beatdown

The cover of “Vogue Italia” has an important face on it this month: Chinese model Fei Fei Sun, who is the first Asian model to appear on the cover of the magazine. I’d note that US and British editions have yet to feature an Asian woman on their covers, although US “Vogue” did do a spread featuring Asian models in 2010.

Fei Fei Sun on the cover of Vogue Italia

Writing on the “Asia Major” spread that ran in the US, Samantha V. Chang said: “How I wish I could have seen the Asian models of today staring back at me from magazine pages or television screens when I was a Korean-American teenager in the Midwest, wrestling with foundation shades of ‘bisque,’ ‘honey,’ and ‘sand’ in my local Walgreens.” Diverse representation in fashion is important, folks.

2013 is high past time for putting an Asian woman’s face front and center on the cover of a major fashion publication outside of Asia, and I hope we see a lot more. The more, the better because Asian ethnicities are incredibly varied–and the more Westerners are exposed to–the better. The fact that we aren’t seeing Asian faces in Western mags is a serious problem, and it’s a problem rooted in–wait for it–racism.

This editorial, titled simply “Fei Fei,” features the model in an assortment of delicious retro outfits, complete with lavish cat-eye, dramatic hairstyles, and elegant hats. Some of them are, as a commenter points out, somewhat dangerously evocative of the “Dragon Lady” stereotype, particularly the photograph of Fei Fei Sun looking fierce with a cigarette, illustrating that simply including a Chinese model doesn’t mean your race problem is solved, but it is a step in the right direction.

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From Star Trek To The Stars

The late astronaut Robert McNair. Via science.ksc.nasa.gov

The late astronaut Ronald McNair. Via science.ksc.nasa.gov

Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, was inspired by Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura onStar Trek. But she wasn’t the only one boldly going to the final frontier. StoryCorps tells the story of Ronald McNair, the second African American in space and a casualty of the Challenger disaster in 1986. The short (captioned) video illuminates McNair’s inquisitive beginnings in the segregated American South, his teen years, and the realization of his dream.

 

Racist Things Steampunks Are Not Immune To: Looking For Other People’s Hurt To Be Offended By

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Image Credit: Zyllan Fotografia.

 

By Guest Contributor Jha; originally published as part of the series “Racist Things Steampunks Are Not Immune To” at Silver Goggles

So, this morning I woke up to two emails about the exact same thing: Some nonsense-filled thread talking about “how to not offend people” when it comes to multicultural steampunk. And a cursory glance through the emails proved to me once more how impossible it is to talk to white people who don’t want to change their minds about what offensiveness is and what not to do.

While I am certainly pleased that there are people who are aware of the racial implications of what they do–even in some fuzzy way that they can’t articulate–I am also aware that there are a ton of people, shall I say, “looking for offense,” or rather, the chance to be aghast by some perceived limitation of their actions and options. There are white fans of steampunk who will set up strawman arguments about how fans of color actively look for offense (e.g. racism and appropriation), so much so that other poor folks are walking on eggshells every time they move.

“I can’t wear a pith helmet,” they will whine, “because then it would be colonialist and thus offensive!”

“I can’t wear a kimono,” another set will whine, “because then it would offend Asian people!”

“I can’t incorporate gypsy styles,” some more will whine, “because then I’d be accused of appropriation!”

Can we even consider the absurdity of these statements?

Code-Red Homophobia: Homelessness, HIV, and Black Religiosity

By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; originally published at Feminist Wire

(Excerpt from the forthcoming book Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels)
For the past several months, Crenshaw Boulevard, in predominantly black South Los Angeles, has featured a series BLACK_GAYS_FOR_JUSTICEof striking billboards condemning homophobia and its role in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  The billboards are the work of the black gay activist group In the Meantime Men, headed by Jeffrey King. Sounding a “code red alarm” on the raging HIV/AIDS epidemic among African Americans, King said, “The staggering rates of increased teen suicides in the last five years, and the uncontrollable increase of teen homelessness in America have awakened our senses to the damaging effects of homophobia in the Black community.  Every year, thousands of Black LGBT people are displaced from their homes, families, churches, and communities due to their sexuality, gender, gender identity, and gender expression. This has resulted in a mass influx of homeless youth on the streets of Los Angeles and other cities throughout the nation.”  [King will be a panelist at the upcoming “Confronting Homophobia in the Black Church” roundtable hosted by Black Skeptics Los Angeles at Zion Hill Baptist Church on February 27th]  With African Americans comprising the majority of new HIV cases in the U.S., the epidemic has devastated black communities nationwide.  Yet the refusal of mainstream black America to seriously confront how homophobia and black religiosity drive homelessness and HIV only deepens the killing fields.

Rap, The Creative Process, And Power

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images

 

 

Sociologist Jooyoung Lee is writing what sounds like a truly fascinating book. Titled Blowing Up: Rap Dreams in LA, it follows a series of young Black men who are trying to make it as rappers.  ”Together,” Lee writes, “their stories show how rapping–and hip-hop culture more generally–transform the social worlds of urban poor black youths.”

The video below gives us a taste of his findings.  In it, he’s asked why he thinks rappers are “so maligned in our culture.”  He explains that it’s because people often “take violent and misogynistic lyrics” literally.  Doing so, however, is to misunderstand “how the creative process works.”  He goes on to explain how one of the men he studied was pressured by a music label to cultivate an image that conformed to stereotypes of young, urban Black men.