Tag Archives: stereotypes

Modern Love In Mumbai’s “Wild West”: A Critique Of Orientalist Fantasies In Contemporary Travel Narratives

by Guest Contributor Aditi Surie von Czechowski

Recently, the New York Times has been beefing up its coverage on India.

Presumably, there is no quality journalism about India that isn’t produced by an American news outfit. Associate Managing Editor at the Times Jim Schachter notes “…I don’t want to cast dispersion [sic], but there is not a great media diet for the non-resident Indian.” The assumptions embedded in his statement are staggering. What would a “great media diet” look like? Is it only constituted by bourgeois forms of media consumption? Are NRI’s unable to seek out a “great media diet” for themselves? Must they be spoon-fed by the venerable New York Times? It appears that knowledge about India from India (or the Indian diaspora) just doesn’t cut it.

In addition to the new blog entitled “India Ink,” which has been operational for just under a year, I’ve seen an uptick in articles on India recently–a very unscientific and cursory perusal of the more recent articles reveals news on “dirt-poor farmers,” sex crimes, and corruption, or about how India is a growing economic powerhouse. This is of course, followed by discussions of how India is “between two worlds,” with respect to “tradition” and economic disparity–with no indication about how neoliberalism is complicit in the widening income gap, not just in India, but worldwide. Combined with Nick Kristof’s regular martyring operations to rescue underage trafficked prostitutes in Kolkatan brothels, what we have here is a consistent picture of an India that is not yet “fully modern,” informed by the liberal discourse of rights and progress. It seems that the New York Times will never, ever tire of incessantly replicating imperial tropes.

So, I was naturally curious to see whether there might be an alternate, less polarizing narrative about India when I came across this New York Times Modern Love column; a Canadian woman’s account of her trip to India and how she (maybe) fell in love with an Indian man nearly twice her age. At first pass, I found myself caught up in her stylish prose. But there was something about her essay that unsettled me: Jeong’s writing is of a piece with that familiar eroticization of India–Orientalist imaginings of the lushness of nature combine with the well-worn tropes of India as chaotic, as a seductive and sexual place of pure experience, spirituality and true self-knowledge, with sinewy yet docile natives. If I had a penny for every time a (usually white and almost always North American or European) person has gushed to me about how much they love India because they found God or themselves there/how it was wild and filthy and beautiful all at the same time, I’d have a serious amount of change by now. Continue reading

The Weight Of Being A (Young And Successful) Black Male

by Guest Contributor Edward Williams, originally published at Policylink

It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that most notably stated, “all progress is precarious and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” I had never contemplated my personal success as precarious progress or that my success to this point could bring any non-materialistic problems, but I now find myself–like many of my fellow successful, young, black men–in a moment of crisis.

Before I dive into what exactly this 21st-century identity crisis is, what it is caused by, and what it ultimately means, I need to get some preliminaries out of the way to open some critical minds. First, this article is not intended to be braggadocious: I will discuss some of my personal success as I explicate this issue, but I will also share the success of several other young black men that I am close with. Neither their stories of success nor mine are expressed from a place of haughtiness but instead from a place of humility. I fear that it is out of concern for being perceived as arrogant or out-of-touch that this side of the young black male’s story is so rarely told.

Next, this article is not intended to complain about success. I recognize that success is usually not a word associated with black men, and I spend most of my article writing time trying to shed light on the crisis in our inner-city schools. It is not lost on me that most young black men will never be in a position to engage in the dialogue that I am about to embark on, because their potential success has been stifled.

Finally, I recognize that much of what I will discuss at length not only applies to successful young black men, but also to successful young black women and young successful minorities generally. I have consciously chosen to focus on the young black male success crisis because I understand it best first hand. It would be disingenuous of me to attempt to articulate the myriad of different pressures that other minorities or women experience as they climb the ladder of success. Therefore, for risk of speaking on that which I know little about, I have chosen not to explore those topics, but I hope that my fellow successful young minority colleagues and female colleagues will soon treat us with their own version of this crisis.

Now that preliminaries are out of the way, let’s get down to the issue; what exactly is the young successful black male’s 21st century identity crisis? Continue reading

Awkward: When Your Friends Make Racist Assumptions About Your Dating/Sex Life

So, as I am wont to do, I found myself doing chores and catching up on reality TV.

I had heard about Nicole Murphy/Andrea Kelly’s new show, but I also set myself up for disappointment by reading the title as “Hollywood Execs” not “Hollywood Exes.” Here I was excited to hear all about these new women fronted development projects, and the show is actually about moving on from your famous spouse. Oh well. I decided to give it another chance. During a routine conversation about vaginal lasering and rejuvenation, this exchange happens:

Sheree Fletcher: Wait a minute, let me ask you this. It’s my understanding that men really don’t care what it looks like -

Jessica Canseco: Well, that’s ’cause you datin’ a black guy, honey!

*record scratch*

Sheree Fletcher: Now wait a minute…

Other women: What do you mean, what do you mean?

Jessica Canseco: From what I hear, black guys don’t go [down.]

*gasps*

Nicole Murphy: (in confessional mode) That’s garbage. That’s not true. At all.

Jessica Canseco: Black guys are like “eep eep eep” (makes chicken fingers). They do, I swear to God. They talk about black girl’s vaginas. It’s true.

Sheree Fletcher: (swoons) Our vaginas?

Jessica Canseco: You want me to get into all of this?

Sheree Fletcher: They complain about our vaginas to white girls? Continue reading

Exploring the Problematic and Subversive Shit People Say [Meme-ology]

So all this started with “Shit Girls Say,” which now has over 11 million views:

Created by Graydon Sheppard and Kyle Humphrey (and boosted by the star power of Juliette Lewis), “Shit Girls Say” went viral by taking a male perspective on common things “women” do and presenting it as humor. Internet forums filled with comments like “Omigod, all my friends do that” or “that is so me.” The sketch proved to be so popular, there are now three episodes, probably with more in the pipeline.

However, everyone wasn’t laughing at “Shit Girls Say.” Quite a few people noticed that the “girls” referred to in the top video were a certain type of woman, an experience that was not shared by all. Others noted that the humor that made the video funny was actually rooted in sexist stereotypes. Over at Feministing, Samhita explains:

While, I usually applaud men in drag, I can’t help but be critical of these characterizations of women. Are some of these stereotypes uncannily true? I’m sure they can be. But that’s the problem with stereotypes, it’s not about whether they are true or not, it’s that they are used to disempower people or deny them certain privileges. And I get that it is comedy, but it’s like the most boring and lazy comedy possible. You know, let’s make fun of girls cuz we already know everyone thinks they are dumb and annoying tee hee. These videos might as well be beer ads.

And Lynn Crosbie, writing for the Globe and Mail, notes:

Girls, or young women, who already speak largely in the interrogative and treat the world of men as another, completely inscrutable species, have enough on their minds already. They are already sexualized to the maximum. Must their every word be a potential joke?

Girls speak casually about inane things. Girls speak, too, about sexual violence and quantum physics. They talk about fear and art, children, murder and opera; philosophy, blood, sex and mathematics.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing is also some stuff a girl said.

Continue reading

How Nicki Minaj Kicked Open the Door for 2NE1

Nicki Minaj

In keeping with their moves toward global domination, 2NE1 is performing in Times Square today along with the other three MTV Iggy Best New Band finalists.

If this part of their launch is successful, they will be better positioned to make a dent in the US pop music market where many other popular Asian artists have failed before. Despite having huge fan bases overseas, artists that make their debuts in the US have generally been faced with lukewarm receptions. BoA’s self-titled English language release dropped in 2009 and barely dented the charts. Hikaru Utada (who to be fair, spent as much time in NYC as Japan coming up) attempted to make a genre-crossing album with 2004′s Exodus, which spawned a #1 single on the dance charts, but absolutely no impression elsewhere despite her work with hip-hop heavy weights like Darkchild and Foxy Brown. Utada’s 2009 English release This Is The One was designated a heat seeker with almost no radio airplay – but still only sold around 15,000 copies stateside. The Wonder Girls are still struggling to stay in the limelight after entering the charts with “Nobody” in 2009 but still trends fairly low. Se7en and Rain’s attempts never really got off the ground.

After watching good artists try and fail to make it in the US market, I began trying to find a pattern. Why was this happening? The reasons vary – particularly because artists often use their entry to the US as a kind of reinvention, which can be risky – but a big component is that American marketers/listeners had no idea what to do with them.

But, luckily for 2NE1, they have a secret weapon: Nicki Minaj. Continue reading

Stanley Kubrick, Chopsticks, and Other Ways to Harass an Asian American Girl

Reader Caitlin sent in her video about street harassment and the very strange predilection for men to lead in with her race when trying to get her attention. In her video “How to Hit on an Asian Girl/How Not to Harass an Asian Girl,” Caitlin goes through some of the most ridiculous things said to Asian American women who are just in public space.

Her recommendations:

1. Asian women are not equatable to Asian food. Even if you’re hungry.
2. You’ve cultivated an impressive catalogue of 80′s war movies. Well done sir. But the sidewalk is not your mother’s basement and I am not an internet forum. Keep the movie quotes to yourself.
3. Pop culture references that invariably suggest someone is foreign, submissive/docile, or willing to service you sexually should always be avoided. In other words: find a new fetish.
4. Seriously, when has anything referencing the Vietnam war ever gotten anyone laid? (Stanley Kubrick, who knew your legacy would be Asian female street harassment?)
5. If the first thing you think of when you see an Asian woman is “I should ask her to feed me,” you should know you’re not fit for human companionship. Period. Get a rice cooker. It won’t care if you fetishize it.
6. This is America; assume the Asian female you’re chatting with is American. Talk to her about red vs. blue politics, her favorite type of pie, who is better: Katy Perry or Ke[s]ha, or at the very least, baseball – not about foods that use chopsticks. Your ability to feed yourself is an accomplishment – but she doesn’t need to know that.

Caitlin’s video was hilarious. I’ve heard all these stories – and so much more! – from my Asian American friends over the years. And, if I was queen of the airwaves, I’d have this running as a PSA, along with other notices about street harassment in general. But there’s one thing that keeps sticking out in my mind, and it’s generally the same refrain we hear over and over again when we post abut street harassment: the idea of men watching the vid and going “What am I supposed to say then?” (Yeah, just headdesk and move on.)

I always think about a certain verse on Murs’ “Dark Skinned White Girls,” a song that’s really problematic despite its good intentions. The verse about mixed girls was fairly revealing about the mindset of these kind of guys (emphasis mine):

Now half and half of mixed girls
I know what the battle be
Everytime you go out it’s “whats your nationality?”
Everybody always wanna dig up in ya background
You don’t look… now how does that sound?
I couldn’t tell you were… oh is that right?
Do you take it as a compliment or start up a fight?
Venezualan and Indian, Rican and Dominican
Japanese or Portuguese, Quarter of Brazilian
White and Korean, Black and Pinay
We’ll find out later
It don’t matter, ya fly
It don’t really matter to most of us guys
We just need an excuse to get close or say “hi”

Somehow, it never seems to matter what the woman likes or appreciates, which is this unexplored dimension of street harassment. If the objection to women protesting street harassment is that we should forgive a man’s clumsy attempts to pick up a woman he finds attractive, then wouldn’t not offending a woman be pretty high on that man’s priority list? But there’s no way to yell out “sucky sucky five dollar” at a woman passing by and not be offensive. So there’s clearly another motive at play. What is it? What makes racism so appealing for street harassers?

Earlier:

Black Women x the Streets x Harassment
Kill Me or Leave Me Alone: Street Harassment as a Public Health Issue
Addicted to Race 119: Annie Le, Gospel Tours, Fractions, Street Harassment
Oh You Can’t Speak To A Brotha?
Racism as a Lifestyle Choice
Catcalling is a Cross Cultural Annoyance

Between a Racial Rock and a Gender Hardplace [Fall TV Rant]

The new fall show line ups are hitting the internet, and via Jezebel, I see New York Magazine wants us to rejoice that there are women on television.

At this point, it should go without saying that all the women referenced are white, as per usual. But whatever! Victory! More women on television is a reason to be thrilled, right? That is, until I see what’s being lauded:

Cummings’s multi-cam sitcom, Whitney, has an awful pilot, full of cynical innuendo, and yet one scene—sexual role-playing gone south—showed a glimmer of something, a dank, self-mocking Sandra Bernhard–esque allure. Sue me, but I can’t help rooting for Cummings, who seems to have something to say about the survival skills of damaged women, even if she hasn’t quite figured out what it is yet.

Luckily, Cummings’s other show, CBS’s 2 Broke Girls, which she produced with Sex and the City’s Michael Patrick King, has more potential. It stars the luscious Kat Dennings (from Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and Beth Behrs, playing waitresses at a greasy spoon in Williamsburg. Dennings wears knee-high boots and a working-class sneer; Behrs is a newly broke heiress. As the self-reliant cynic, Dennings is fantastic, making the most of acrid punch lines like “That’s not what rape feels like!”

Now, where have I heard about 2 Broke Girls, before? Oh, that’s right – Racebending:

The character, “Rice Lee,” is portrayed as a stereotypically backward and socially stunted Asian immigrant, who is repeatedly mocked and corrected by his white co-workers (including Max, one of the titular “broke girls.”) Continue reading

Racism 101: Race and the College Freshman

by Guest Contributor Alana M. Mohamed

Experiencing Racism CoverMaybe I’m naïve, but when I stepped on the campus of my New England public university, I was dumbstruck by the whiteness of it all. I was literally the only person of color in a sea of white people. This had never happened to me before. I grew up in New York City and had never been to a school that was predominantly white. As such, I was partial to the color-blind politics of the day. This is not to say that I never experienced racism, but I was lucky enough to discount the few times I had encountered racism as the statistical outliers of my life. However, I was surprised to learn that my peers at university had rarely come in contact with people of color and often times lacked any sort of tact when dealing with people of color. After revealing that my last name is Mohamed, the questions and comments that followed without fail went something like: A) “You don’t look Muslim! Are you religious?” B) “Is your family…y’know, religious?” C) (A look of relief when I revealed that, no, they aren’t that religious) “Oh! Good, cause I know how crazy they can be.” My friends at other universities felt the same alienation and we started to really pay attention to the racism surrounding us.

Most of my class and dorm mates were white, middle class kids who lived in small, predominantly white towns. As a light skinned Guyanese-American woman, they found me hard to peg and I was privy to my share of racist “jokes.” Once, during Black History Month, our dining hall happened to be serving fried chicken and watermelon, in addition to numerous other options. A girl on my floor dim wittedly cracked, “What a way to celebrate Black History Month!” Half the room shared an uneasy silence, while the other erupted into laughter. I was shocked into silence and, looking back, I wish I could have said something. Since then, I’ve found that dealing with racist jokes is best handled by playing dumb. A simple, “I don’t get it,” and a couple of leading questions will encourage them to try and explain their joke and help them realize that relying on tired and racist stereotypes isn’t funny or clever in the least.

I’ve also encountered a very common situation: People saying racist things, but not realizing, or refusing to acknowledge that they’re racist. The most bizarre example of this occurred as a group of friends and I were walking back from a party. Shortly after chastising someone for using the word “Jiggaboo” to describe his black friends back home, my roommate and another girl began to discuss the physical differences between white people and black people. A snippet of the conversation? “And why does their hair do that? Like, why is it like that? It’s like they’re a whole different species! They kind of,” here she lowered her voice, “look like animals a little.” I shared a look with another friend and simply said, “Whoa, I’m not even gonna participate in this conversation.” However, my roommate and the girl she was talking to still didn’t understand why what they said was offensive. Continue reading