Tag Archives: white

Not Quite White: When Racial Ambiguity Meets Whiteness

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

I first met my significant other at a literary reading featuring writer Sherman Alexie. Those fortunate enough to have encountered the author of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven know that he uses comedy during his performances to explore race. That said, it came as no surprise to me during his appearance when Alexie discussed how racially ambiguous Native Americans look by joking, “People always think I’m half of whatever they are.”

My then soon-to-be boyfriend laughed hysterically throughout the reading. He’s not Native American—not by more than a drop, anyway—but he is often assumed to be “other.” In fact, at the reading even I assumed that he was half-something, and the mostly Latino and black students he teaches routinely ask him the question that makes mixed folks worldwide cringe: “What are you?”

The answer he gives is one they don’t expect. “I’m white,” he says.

“You’re not white! You’re not white!” they protest in disbelief. And they are not alone. Both strangers and acquaintances alike take it for granted that my boyfriend is a person of color. When the teachers at the school take count of their few white colleagues, my boyfriend is oft-overlooked. His dark-brown hair, beige-pink skin, prominent nose and lush lips take him out of the running. “You can pass,” one of his coworkers tells him. Only, in his case, she means pass for non-white.

Her observation brings to mind the groundbreaking essay “Passing for White, Passing for Black” by artist Adrian Piper. In the essay, Piper suggests peering at a white person’s features and complimentarily telling the person that he or she appears to have African ancestry, then watching the person’s reaction. She writes:

The ultimate test of a person’s repudiation of racism is not what she can contemplate doing for or on behalf of black people, but whether she herself can contemplate calmly the likelihood of being black. If racial hatred has not manifested itself in any other context, it will do so here if it exists, in hatred of the self as identified as the other—that is, as self-hatred projected onto the other.

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Write Up: Meeting David Wilson

by Latoya Peterson

Last weekend, while channel surfing, I was flying through my channel line up when my remote paused on a program I had heard about for quite some time – Meeting David Wilson.

The MSNBC site describes the documentary:

David Wilson was a 28-year-old African-American man from Newark, New Jersey. He grew up in a tough, urban neighborhood, but managed to navigate his way out of poverty and into the world of news production in New York City. Now, meet another David Wilson: a 62-year-old white man from rural North Carolina. He grew up in Caswell County, where his ancestors once farmed tobacco. He now operates a small chain of BBQ restaurants in nearby Reidsville. Although they have never met, the two men share more than just a name…

Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., MSNBC premiered “Meeting David Wilson,” the remarkable and inspiring story of a young man’s reconciliation with his ancestors’ history as slaves. The world premiere of “Meeting David Wilson,” was hosted by “Today” Correspondent Tiki Barber and followed by a 90-minute live discussion of racial issues in America.

I had heard of this story on NPR, the black man who tracked down his ancestors and the descendants of the family that owned them. I was intrigued. But Meeting David Wilson is so much more than just a meeting, or just a story of two families – it is one of the few documentaries I have seen able to dig deep into the issues that have resulted from race and slavery in an accessible, humanized way. Continue reading

The Pintele Yid (Yiddish for “Jewish spark” )

by Guest Contributor Matthew Egan

My fiancée, Soo, put The Savages on our Netflix queue. Despite plenty of slice-of-life humor, I found it to be an unyieldingly bleak story about two children putting their father in a nursing home. In one scene, the son (Philip Seymour Hoffman), shows an old movie to help his father with the transition. The movie? The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson. Not a good choice, considering that they invited the entire nursing home including the predominantly black staff. Blink and you might miss the father react hysterically to a scene of the young protagonist getting beaten by his Orthodox Jewish father. But Jenkins doesn’t linger there, moving to Jolson applying blackface and highlighting the gap between the white, theater professor son and the black, working class staff.

This moment, so quickly covered over, is the only reference in the film to the family’s Jewishness. I think the director, Tamara Jenkins, was intentionally pointing to the assimilation of the two children as something that estranged them from their own father. Since the children won’t acknowledge their connection to Jewishness, the film can’t explore it. If you happen to notice it, that moment is poignant precisely because it can’t be explored. It tints the rest of the film, but uncertainly. No other moment of the film is decidedly Jewish, but details like the children’s interest in theater can be understood as such. This universally recognizable story of a dysfunctional family is also a particular story of the assimilated, Jewish experience in America. The relationship between these two stories, however, remains unclear.

Up to that moment, I was enjoying the film. It’s good, if you like to sit with painful social dysfunction. But once I noticed it was a “Jewish” film, I was hooked. After the film, I went online to find out if Jenkins is Jewish and to try to fill in the Jewish side of this story. She says of herself, “I’m half-Italian and half-Jewish, so I eat lots of food on both sides. I’m very attracted to both sides culturally.” Looking for Jews like that can be a bad habit, promoting stereotypes and the myth of Jewish power. But it’s a hobby enjoyed by both Jews and antisemites, omnipresent in the Jewish press. For me, I’m trying to get a better handle on what it means to be Jewish. Like in Jenkins’ story, I’ve found Jewishness to be underexplored, so that I’m not sure what it means and how it’s affected my life. To my mother’s surprise when I asked her while writing this, at age 34, I knew almost nothing of our family history. Continue reading

Diversity Inc – “Why Whites Can’t ‘Get Over’ Color”

by Latoya Peterson

Diversity Inc.’s Ask a White Guy Column has posted a letter that should feel all too familiar to any anti-racist activist. An excerpt:

I am a white female and I can tell you that I don’t talk about blacks for fear I will be called a racist or be called to the table, especially in the workplace, for discrimination. We (whites), at my company, are not allowed to talk about blacks or any other ethnic group because we would get fired. I will say that whites are very sensitive now because we are discriminated against. Blacks can have the NAACP, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black History Month, United Negro College Fund, etc. If white people were to start something like the before mentioned there would be a huge uproar.

The writer also manages to fit in all of the following gems:

* “[B]lacks that keep bringing up how their ancestors were slaves need to look a little more into history books. Blacks were not the only ones who were slaves, all races have had slaves, and even whites. ”

* “Nobody is forcing anyone to stay in America, you are free to leave whenever you please (and that is for every race), and, nobody took YOU personally from Africa or Asia or Spain or Italy or from anywhere else.”

* “I love the fact that America is a big melting pot, full of color and different cultures. ”

* “Until we get over the past we will never fully get along.”

* “Get over the color!”

Deep sigh. Continue reading

White Supremacist Wants to Take the Bench in LA

by Latoya Peterson

Readers in LA – tomorrow, on June 3, you will have the opportunity to elect a L.A. Superior Court Judge – who wants to see you or your friends deported, even if you are an American citizen.

Reader Ike M. pointed us toward this Angry Asian Man post, which reads:

In the race for Los Angeles Superior Court judge, if you’re not careful, you could be voting for a bona fide racist—a racial separatist who once called for restricting U.S. citizenship to persons “of the European race” and deporting blacks, Asians, Latinos and others who don’t meet his racial criteria. The candidate is Bill Johnson: Stealth election.

Under the name James O. Pace, he wrote the racial exclusion as a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a 1985 book supporting it. That’s racist! But wait, there’s more. Under the name Daniel Johnson, he ran a losing race for Congress in Wyoming in 1989 with a Ku Klux Klan organizer as his campaign manager. As William Johnson, he ran losing race for Congress in Arizona in 2006.

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Dysfunctional Ping Pong

by Guest Contributor M. Dot, originally published at Model Minority

I like Judd Apatow. In fact, I think it was a year ago that I wrote about how he convinced me that I should do stand up.

I have written about him here, here and here. I thought about this while reading Brandon Soderberg’s post on how Judd doesn’t like Hip Hop.

On one level, I enjoyed the fact that Soderberg’s post was analyzing how hip hop was being used as a vehicle to allow Apatow’s largely white characters express their vileness at the expense of hip hop.

On another level the post was incredibly misogynistic. I will deal with the two issues separately.

Soderberg’s general thesis is the Apatow uses hip hop as a vehicle to allow the characters to express the most vile things about society which implies that this is what hip hop represents in our culture. He cites a Apatow’s use of hip hop in “Walk Hard” and “Knocked Up” and “40 Year Old Virgin” as evidence. Full disclosure, I haven’t seen “Walk Hard”. He writes,

Recall the intro to ‘Knocked-Up’ which uses Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s classic ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ (Armond White: “white boys clowning to Old Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”) with emphasis on Dirty’s “Ooh baby I like it raw” hook to make it really obvious and funny what this movie’s already going to be about. Think of the constant hip-hop slang used by everyone but Steve Carrell’s character in ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’ and how it’s essentially used to represent just how vulgar and crass everyone’s become and how stupidwhite people are for adopting any part of this culture.

He also goes on to write that,

In the Apatow and company universe, which is one that despite all the blowjob and weed jokes is incredibly conservative- dumb critics say this is why his movies “have heart”- rap music and culture are one of the biggest signifiers of how low things have sunk and how distant people are from their “real” emotions: Rap as ruiner of everything.

I think that the situation is a bit more complicated than that.

I would argue that the vileness ( hyper violent masculinity, hypersexuality) in hip hop started off in mainstream society, was adopted by minorities and is reflected in hip hop. Furthermore, it is being used by Apatow via the characters in his movies to express dysfunction, albeit flippantly.

There is a tendency to separate the pathology of the mainstream from the pathology from the hood, however, at the end of the day they will always be connected.

It is one big dysfunctional ping pong game.

Now for the misogyny in Soderberg’s piece. The misogyny is there period point blank and it sat there glaring at me. In the following excerpt, Soderberg intended on describing how hip hop is used as story support for a scene, and that unlike country music, it isn’t presented with empathy. He writes,

Leslie Mann’s bar-slut in ‘Virgin’ is speeding home, too drunk to drive, blaring and singing along to Missy Elliot’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’, which is sort of real-drunk white sluts love Missy Elliott- but it’s sort of the icing on the cake for why this girl’s so terrible. It’s not presented with any of the sympathy given to a whiny loser who collects action figures, rides a bike, and hasn’t ever dropped his dick in a pussy.

While his intentions were to point out the discrepancy between Apatow’s treatment of hip hop versus country I couldn’t help but notice that the term slut was used not just once but twice
in the same sentence. Was that necessary? Was he trying to be provocative?

The second thing that stood out to me in that paragraph was the phrase “and hasn’t ever dropped a dick in a pussy”.

What? P*ssy’s aren’t sitting around like ashtrays waiting to receive a deposit. A p*ssy isn’t a garbage can, basketball hoop or an ATM machine waiting for a deposit. P*ssy’s are attached to people.

These people are women.

(All bold emphasis M. Dot’s.)

M.dot is a blogger based in Brooklyn and the Bay Area, she can be reached at m.dotwrites@gmail.com

Is Adweek Culturally Weak?

by Guest Contributor HighJive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

Way back in Essay Fourteen (March 2005), MultiCultClassics noted DiversityInc.com called out Advertising Age and Adweek for the publications’ lack of minority representation in editorial content. Why, MultiCultClassics even generously offered suggestions in Essay Seventeen.

Since then, Advertising Age has shown dramatic progress. The enterprise has provided consistent, detailed reporting on diversity-related issues, covered multicultural marketing and launched The Big Tent blog.

Adweek, on the other hand, hasn’t done shit. In fact, parent company VNU even dumped Marketing y Medios, a leading source for news on Latino marketing.

When others spotlighted the dealings between Madison Avenue and New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, Adweek was conspicuously absent. The New York Times’ Stuart Elliot and Advertising Age recently ran stories on the agencies’ alleged progress, and once again, Adweek was nowhere to be seen. This week, Elliott and Ad Age mentioned the “major new initiative that will specifically address the dearth of African-American executives” presented at the 4As Leadership Conference. Adweek didn’t bother typing a sentence about it.

Is Adweek lazy, culturally clueless, racist, too White or just plain irrelevant? Probably all of the above.

But since the magazine is no longer a weekly, and there appears to be no effort to generate more inclusive content, perhaps it should be officially renamed Adwhite.

BBC Two’s White Season: Is White Working Class Britain Becoming Invisible?

by Latoya Peterson

The BBC Two has unveiled a series of programming devoted to exploring the realities of being white and working class in Britain. White Season, as the lineup is called, seeks to tell the story of the white working class through documentaries, short films, and drama.

The introductory video to the series sets a confrontational tone. A white man is shown looking at the camera, staring straight ahead as people of varying tones and ethnicities scribble on his face with a black marker. In addition to writing characters of Asian and Arabic origins, the phrase “Britain is changing” is scrawled across his chin. Eventually, the man’s skin is covered in black and he closes his eyes, a question appears on the bottom of the screen: Is white working class Britain becoming invisible?

See for yourself – it is quite a striking visual:

Richard Klein, BBC’s Head Of Independent Commissioning For Knowledge, explains his views in the Daily Mail:

The voice of the white working-class is barely allowed to intrude into British politics or culture.

In metropolitan circles, where sneering at any minority ethnic group would be regarded as an outrage, this white working-class opinion is all too often treated with suspicion or contempt.

The word chav, for instance, is now often accepted as a way of marking the behaviour of the working class, even though any similarly abusive description of ethnic minorities would lead to police inquiries.

What is particularly bizarre about this approach is that, until recently, the white working class were seen as an integral and respected part of our national life. Continue reading