I’m still trying to work my way through my discomfort and analyze exactly where my discomfort of this Sociological Images post is coming from, so if this critique seems a bit scattered, it’s because my thoughts about it, at the moment, are that way.
First: I agree with where the post is coming from, in that the disenfranchised rarely ever have a voice of their own in mainstream Western culture, are always portrayed as the Other, which is defined as everything that said mainstream Western culture isn’t (at best as something that props it up and provides an aesthetically pleasing contrast, at worst as something that must be exterminated). And this leads to remarkably similar cycles of dehumanization and disenfranchisement. As so many minority thinkers/activists have noted, manufactured binaries between the privileged West and everyone else, even seemingly positive ones, ultimately end up reinforcing destructive hierarchies.
Where I disagree with the poster is the framing, which I feel makes the post, in some ways, as reductive as what it’s critiquing. Because there are different contexts in which the above cycle/process of exotification occurs, and those contexts matter and shouldn’t be handwaved, even (and I would say especially) if you’re taking the pov of the white outsider and attempting to deconstruct it. Social justice discourse loses its meaning when it becomes divorced from one of power relations.
Several years ago I took this photo of the posted dress code for Brothers Bar in Madison, Wisconsin. As an alumnus, I can tell you that the relationship between the college community and the community at large was strained, as it is in many college towns. The college community was, on average, better off economically than much of the non-college community, with greater (potential) educational achievement, and overwhelmingly white. There was less mingling between the “town” and “gown” than we might expect by random chance, and some businesses tried to attract the latter exclusively.
This was the case with Brothers Bar. Brothers sits within a block of campus, they wanted to attract the college students but push away young “townies,” as they were derogatorily called. Of course, it’s illegal to say “Poor Black people keep out,” so, instead, they use symbolic codes to warn especially Black members of the non-college community that they’re not welcome: no crooked hats, no skullcaps, headbands, or bandanas, and no sports jerseys.
An enterprising journalist sat outside Brothers Bar to see just how the dress code was enforced. Not “strictly,” it turned out. Continue reading →
Protesters in Little Rock, Arkansas, (1959) declared that “race mixing” (or school integration) was “communism”:
A reader at Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish argues that accusations of communism then, and socialism now, are not only about the redistribution of wealth. They are about the redistribution of privilege of all kinds, including white privilege.
Nikki L. sent us a link to this fascinating Tickle Me Elmo commercial. In introduces a new Tickle Me Elmo product, “Tickle Hands.”
The ad takes place on what appears to be an urban street (reminiscent of Sesame Street). Two of the kids appear white, while the other two look (probably deliberately vaguely) “racial,” maybe Asian and Latino (perhaps biracial). At the very end of the commercial the kids pose in front of a brick wall with a picture of Elmo graffiti-style. Two of them look like they’re flashing gang signs and Elmo, no joke, says “Yeahhhhhh Booooy.” Here’s a screen shot of the moment:
And here’s the commercial:
So let’s trace the evolution of the gangster meme.