Those of you at Wiscon who want to meet up should:
Plus, I'll just be around, dude!
Imagine my immense pleasure, upon hearing the good news and going to the internet, at finding on the front page of the New York Times this lovely picture of my friends Stuart and John whose marriage four years ago in San Francisco was rendered null and void, and who were plaintiffs in the test case upon which this decision was made.
Here they are in a video, with horror writer Jewelle Gomez and her partner.
Stuart, a Chinese/white hapa like me, has been very much on the record about the irony of his own family history: anti-miscegenation laws were part of the national dialogue when his parents got married, and now the Cali Supreme has used its 1948 ruling overturning Cal's anti-miscegenation law to make Stuart's marriage possible.
Congratulations to the plaintiffs ... and to all of us!
A lot of people sent me links to Stuff White People Like when it first hit the wind, and, not having anything productive to say and not wanting to be a killjoy, I just plain didn't say anything about it.
But it made me uncomfortable.
I was too busy to tease out why, but Double Consciousness has done the job for me here.
The problem with StuffWhitePeoleLike.com (or SWPL) is that there is actually nothing that offensive (all though some white people have thought it that) or thought provoking within the site. The reason for this is obvious, as whites are the majority in the country that have never experienced racial discrimination, institutionalized or socially. Because of this a site such as SWPL, which purports to "make fun of" white culture, can become profitable and can garner a large book deal from a major publisher.
Whiteness is essentially an invisible and often overlooked (in mainstream culture) factor within the United States and because of this most whites are blind to their own privilege as it is never talked about all that much.
In fact, even when people of color want to bring up certain offensive characteristics of white culture, such as naming mascots after Native Americans, and try to show them how offensive certain aspects are; white people can actually shrug all of that aside and laugh it off. After all, white folks are the dominant ones in society and have all of the advantages that have been built up over hundreds of years of racial preference toward whites; so when a group of Native American students name their intermural basketball team "The Fightin' Whites" in order to point out the stupidity of naming a team "The Fighin' Reds" white people find it funny and laugh it off because it is not a real threat to whiteness.
In other words, if you're already on top, and all the media already talks about your strengths and foibles, a site that DIRECTLY addresses your strengths and foibles by racializing them is just more ego-stroke. Also, this site really addresses white, upper-middle class people.
I'm pretty sure if there was a Stuff Asians Like site for upper-middle class Asians, created by an Asian American, or the same for African Americans, or Latinos, nobody would have a problem with it. And the fact that there isn't such a site is telling.
I'm glad someone went to all this trouble because, even though I was seeing the trees and knew the forest was there, I wasn't quite seeing the full forest.
The main point for me here is that, although Hillary has talked a great deal about civil rights for people of color (admittedly, in an increasingly awkward way), Obama really doesn't talk about equal rights for women. And Obama doesn't get name-called the way Hillary does, even by Republicans, much less by other Democrats and Dem-voters.
This doesn't mean I'm not going to vote for Obama if he gets the nomination, but let's get real, people. Rightness does not live in Obama's campaign HQ anymore than it does in Hillary's.
Hey all, somebody else needs a bone marrow transplant.
Actually, a LOT of people need bone marrow transplants. Bone marrow is much harder to match than blood, and it's much likelier that someone will find a match with a donor from their own racial or ethnic group.
But people of color don't register as bone marrow donors in the same proportions as whites. So people of color with leukemia tend to get screwed. Mixed race people especially tend to get screwed.
I'd do it, but my diabetes prevents me from donating just about anything. So instead, I'm passing on the word, hoping that some of you will step up and do it for me.
If you're a person of color, you can get a free testing kit. Click here to register, no matter what color you are!
As I go through this 21st Century, post-Ward Connerly world, I stumble now and then upon statistics--from all walks of life--that amplify for me not just the potential for disaster, but the actual manifestation of disaster that is the legacy of anti-affirmative-action.
The latest example is from an article on baseball's Barry Bonds, and the Oakland black journalist and editor Chauncey Bailey, who was shot last year for what he was writing (in BeyondChron.org, a Bay Area alternative news source). The article makes it clear that affirmative action provided two moribund Bay Area papers not just with a talented, diverse staff, but also with their first taste of journalistic excellence. Since then, far fewer journalists of color have been developed or supported:
Before Maynard took control of the Tribune, it was a second rate paper owned by the right-wing Knowland family that did not have any Blacks in the Tribune newsroom. Maynard increased the number of journalists of color at the Tribune to the point where Blacks, Latins and Asians made up the majority of the newsroom staff. During Maynard’s 13 year tenure as editor and publisher, the Tribune won every major award in Journalism, including the Pulitzer for the paper’s coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Although Bailey was hired at the Tribune a year after Maynard sold the paper, Bailey was part of Maynard’s legacy and vision to recruit and train Black journalists. A similar effort by the Knight-Ridder chain to increase the number of non-white journalists at the chain’s flagship Mercury-News transformed the Merc from a sleepy small-town paper to one of the best newspapers in the United States.
Bailey, an Oakland native, was part of a corps of Black journalists hired by mainstream media outlets in the early 1970s from programs to recruit minority journalists at Columbia University and UC Berkeley. Efforts by anti-affirmative critics like Ward Connerly have resulted in the demise of most of the 1970s programs created to recruit Black journalists. Most of the Black journalists hired from these affirmative action programs are nearing retirement age or are being forced out of the newsroom because of media consolidation, while many other African Americans with great writing and broadcasting skills have opted to work in non-journalism related fields.
Latest surveys of the nation’s newspapers and broadcast newsrooms indicate that today fewer than five percent of the nation’s journalists are African American; many newspapers and broadcast outlets have no African Americans in their newsrooms. The Chronicle has gone from having nearly 30 African American reporters, columnists, editors and other editorial staff right after the Examiner-Chronicle staff merger in 1999 to less than five today.
Is as follows:
Carl Brandon Society Update
Join the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee for some brainstorming, some celebration of people of color in SF, and an update including information on the Awards and the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. The gang will mostly be there: Nisi Shawl, Victor Raymond, Candra Gill, Bryan Thao Worra, 'n' moi!
Saturday, 10:00-11:15 A.M.
Red Beans and Rice
A reading, starring Alaya Dawn Johnson, Doselle Young, Bryan Thao Worra, 'n' moi!
Saturday, 4:00-5:15 P.M.
What do you get when a burned-out, English-educated, Thai composer, who sometimes resides in the United States, and has read too much Mishima, starts to write science fiction?
Well, damn. You get something bizarre and almost beautiful. I say "almost" because S.P. Somtow tried to structure his 1981 novel Starship and Haiku like haiku--or at least, to make the experience of reading it recall the experience of reading haiku in macro. But it's a novel, which is sort of the anti-haiku form. So neither form--haiku, novel--quite succeeds, and neither quite fails, either. And there's a large admixture of pulpy prose in here, making the proceedings occasionally awkward.
The story: In the third decade of the 21st century, after a devastating nuclear war has left the Earth utterly moribund, politically-neutral Japan is the only country on Earth not left as a post-apocalyptic landscape. Two aging rivals--Ishida and Takahashi--form the powerful arms of a triumvirate that has taken over Japan. The faithless Ishida is the Minister of Survival and the superficial Takahashi is the Minister of Ending, charged with assisting the people to achieve perfect suicides to expiate humanity's crime of destroying the Earth.
Ishida has a secret project. Before the millenial war, the Russians (the book was written around 1980, remember) had completed a starship and left it orbiting the Earth. Ishida has a team of mostly western scientists building a rocket that will take a group of colonists to the Russian generational ship, which they will then aim at Tau Ceti, a four-thousand-year journey. The broader point is to ensure the survival of the human race in the face of its extinction through a devastating virus and debilitating mutations. The more specific point is to ensure the survival of Ishida's own daughter, Ryoko.
Knowing that Ryoko is particularly Japanese (I know, just go with it for a minute) and likely to wish for a beautiful death, Ishida sends her on a trip to Hawai'i to view the devastation firsthand. While there, she meets Josh Nakamura, a Japanese American man, and his younger brother Didi, a "strange" or mutant. Didi's mutation keeps him physically childlike and enables him to read minds and perform a certain amount of telekinesis. He keeps this secret from Josh, for some reason, and Josh thinks Didi is a cretin. Didi is all about joy and beauty and Josh doesn't get the whole Japanese thing.
There's a bit of back and forth and stuff happens. Upshot is that Ryoko develops a relationship with a whale, who (here comes the really bizarre part) reveals to the ministers that (mild spoiler) whales are the parents of the Japanese, a human sub-species that is human-shaped and whale-minded. That's where the Japanese obsession with beauty and death comes from (I know, bear with me a moment.) The whale also outs Ishida's anti-suicide starship plan. This revelation causes the rivals Ishida and Takahashi to kick into high gear. Takahashi becomes a deathgod, hounding people into suicide to expiate their patricidal sin (killing whales) and Ishida sends Ryoko off to make the starship thing happen. And so on.
Like I said, bizarre. On the one hand, there's this insanely reductive view of the Japanese as monolithically suicide-crazy and beauty-obsessed. On the other, there's a fairly nuanced (for 1981) understanding of a Japanese American identity in the person of Josh Nakamura, who may look like he's sprung from whales, but holds no truck with killing yourself after seeing the perfect teabowl or some such shit.
(There's a bit of business about how Josh and Didi get to Japan through trading their dead grandmother's antique teabowl for passage to a Japanese ship's captain who seriously considers immediate suicide since he is unlikely to see anything that beautiful again. The captain tempers his disgust for Josh's inability to see the bowl's beauty with the reflection that Josh was not raised Japanese, so it's not his fault. I have no idea if this was intentionally or unintentionally comic.)
But you can also read this as a secondary world novel, in which the "Japanese" are not our Japanese, but rather what Japanese would be if they were descended from whales. Yeah. Because of all the interesting things about this book, the most interesting is that it's the first SF novel--or maybe even the first novel, period--that I've read that instinctively understands two things about Asian America: its pan-Asian ethic, and its cultural Japan-centeredness.
The pan-Asian ethic is implied rather than stated. The only character whose identity isn't reduced to utter silliness is the proto-JA Josh. While reading Josh's character, you can't help but be aware that the author is Thai, but of a privileged enough background to have been educated abroad and to consider himself among the international creative community. Maybe it's just me, but his presentation of Josh's JAness feels proprietary: the presentation of a hybrid identity that's shared by the author by virtue of being Asian--any Asian--and transnational.
The 80's Asian American Japan-centerness was partly external and partly internal. Japan in the early 80's was on the ascendant, economically speaking. SF was fascinated with it as the supposed culture of the future (see Blade Runner and Neuromancer), and mainstream America was both fascinated by its exotic cultural--and business--virtues (see Gung Ho and Die Hard), and angered by its smooth victory over Detroit (see Vincent Chin). So Asian Americans in the 80's were forced to deal with mainstream America's perceptions of Japan, both "positive" and negative.
On the other hand, the 80's was when the redress movement for WWII Japanese American internment really heated up. (Reparations were finally awarded in 1988.) The Asian American Movement of the 1970's, which created the notion of a pan-ethnic Asian American identity, put a lot of its energy towards redress, and as a result, many Asian Americans who are not of Japanese ancestry feel a strong identification with Japanese Americans.
So it's fascinating that this book was written during all this ferment--and written at a time when American-raised Asian Americans were struggling to find an idiom to tell their stories in. Somtow doesn't explicate this particular Japanocentric, pan-ethnic Asian American sensibility so much as embody it in the book. He might not even have been entirely aware of it.
On another track, the book is a lovely experiment that recalls for me--of all things--Ernest Hogan's High Aztech. They were written about ten years apart and share almost nothing, except--and this is important--length, and hybridity. Both are not so successful as novels, both better read as impressionistic essays on 21st Century cities, technology, and human understanding.
I loved this book, which is unusual for me. I don't often love books this close to failure. But this one has done things I never thought to do with writing: taken the Mishima-style core of beauty and suicide that I've also felt and tried to write about, and made a piece out of it that I would never have thought to make. (My solution to Mishima was to write an ugly autobiographical story about a girl who reads too much Mishima ... but the less said about that the better.)
The Asia Society and YouTube have gotten together to post a series of videos from Asian Americans for API Heritage Month. They've started by posting vids about "What does being Asian American mean to me?" from luminaries like Sandra Oh, Kal Penn, and Yul Kwon, but it's open to any ol' slob ... like me. And I might just do it if I can figure out how.
Clicky here to submit a vid or just watch the other ones.
Okay, having posted the CBS API Heritage Month list, what am I gonna read for it?
Well, I've already read:
Yes, it's sad. That's all I've read.
I'm going to read:
It's not only MayDay, the day when everybody in the world except capitalist ol' USA celebrates labor, but it's also the start of the American ASIAN PACIFIC ISLANDER HERITAGE MONTH.
Yes, it's time once again to celebrate the Asian and Pacific Islander AMERICANS in your life. Don't hesitate also to celebrate the Asian and Pacific Islander whatever else's in your life as well, though.
The Carl Brandon Society, per our new Heritage Month book program, has come up with a list of recommended speculative fiction books by writers of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. (These writers are not all American.)
The idea is for you to copy this list and put it on your blog, email it to your friends, take it to your local bookstore and ask them to post it or make a display of these books, etc. We also want you to READ SOME OF THESE BOOKS THIS MONTH! They're terrific!
If you do end up reading one or more of these books, or have another API-heritage SF writer to discuss, please consider participating in the Carl Brandon Society's API Heritage Month blog carnival. A carnival is basically a "magazine" of blog posts on a particular topic. You just post something on the topic on your own blog, and then submit your post to the carnival by clicking the link and then clicking on the orange "submit your blog article" button.
Okay, without further ado,
The CARL BRANDON SOCIETY recommends the following books of speculative fiction for
ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDER HERITAGE MONTH:
A collection of stories from one of American speculative fiction's most precise and beautiful writers.
An Aztec prince or a Los Angeles meatpacker? The protagonist travels back and forth between two alternative realities, never sure which is real.
Wonderful stories by the author of The Kappa Child.
The story of a Korean uprising told in pidgin poetry.
In a dystopian England, three children discover that they are clones produced to provide organs to the sick.
A young poet sets out into the wide world on a journey to find poetry; with the help of a few magical creatures, she finds more than she ever expected.
Mad experiments with the unleashed potential of the dreaming brain.
The main character wakes up from a fire and doesn't know who he is, but can sense and manipulate the minds of others. He is not alone in this ability. Singh takes us on a metamind ride.
A wordless graphic novel about immigration and displacement.
Speculative poems that take us from the secret wars of the CIA in Laos to the secret edges of the human soul and the universe.
Even a personal blog like this one has a beat. Although I'm a feminist and have been known to blog about women's issues on occasion, I don't consider myself in any way knowledgeable about feminism as a field. I read what I need to get on with my life and try to listen to more smarter and reader feminists than I. So I don't usually engage in discussions in the feminist blogosphere and the women of color blogosphere on my blog since there are tons of women out there saying the things I would have said if I knew enough, and saying it better.
I'm also allergic to appearing to be jumping on bandwagons, so when a discussion that doesn't fall within my specific beat is raging, I tend not to post about it myself. But on the other hand, I think meme-ing information is essential for its spread; that's the whole point of using the internet for political discussion. So it's puzzling to me to figure out how to pass news on in a way that feels natural to the functioning of my particular blog.
I've been following the flap about Pandagon blogger Amanda Marcotte and Woman of Color blogger brownfemipower. I've also been following the flap about Seal Press and its ill-judged response to women of color wanting more representation in the press. And I hadn't found a way to blog about it when the two flaps intensified exponentially by meeting in the middle. At this point, this is a story that needs to be passed on, whether I have anything of substance to say about it myself or not. And I suspect that some of my friends who read this blog may not have heard about this so I'm by way of performing a service ... or something.
So this post is just a pass-along. I'll list the relevant links to the sources of information at the bottom. To avoid link stack-up, if you intend to blog about this you might want to just link directly to the secondary sources below. (They're secondary since the original sources of the first two flaps are inaccessible.)
THE STORY SO FAR ...
Feminist independent publisher Seal Press came under fire this month for a discussion on a closed blog that I can't access. Apparently, in the post a woman of color expressed frustration that Seal Press didn't publish more books by women of color. The Seal Press editors responded in the comments defensively, saying they didn't get enough submissions by women of color, that it wasn't really their job to do outreach, and they didn't have the bandwidth anyway. They also said books by woc don't sell and accused the blogger of "hating," also stating that they knew the "you all engage best through negative discourse."
They eventually issued an explanation on their blog which ended up being edited without strikethroughs.
In April, 2008, Marcotte posted an essay entitled "Sexual Abuse Fueled by Abusive Immigration Language" on Alternet. In it, she discussed the intersections of racism and sexism as experienced by female illegal immigrants to the United States "without one attribute to any blogger of color, male or female." This led to allegations of appropriation on Marcotte's part ...
Numerous feminist bloggers pointed to Marcotte's actions as symbolic of a wider process of cultural and racial appropriation, in which the words and work of feminists of color are both given less value than those of white feminists, and co-opted by them. Several bloggers accused Marcotte of directly plagiarizing the work of another well-known blogger, Brownfemipower, as much of Marcotte's article appeared to be derived from Brownfemipower's work. These bloggers pointed to Brownfemipower's extensive history of highlighting immigration as a feminist issue and Marcotte's lack of history dealing with immigration on her blog, as well as Marcotte's previous admissions that she read Brownfemipower's blog regularly. Marcotte denied these allegations, claiming instead that she was inspired by a speech on a related subject delivered by Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Blogger Problem Chylde did a smoking gun on her in a post that linked every line of Marcotte's article to a post on Brownfemipower's Woman of Color blog where the wording was similar.
As a direct result of this flap, Brownfemipower stopped blogging and took her blog down. Now even back posts are inaccessible.
Women of color bloggers were linking these two incidents already when a new scandal arose, involving both Amanda Marcotte and Seal Press. Again from Marcotte's wikipedia page:
In 2008, Marcotte published her first book, entitled It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. In August of 2007, Marcotte [had] posted an image of the chosen book cover on her blog; the image "was a retro-Hollywood pulp cover of a gorilla carrying a scantily clad woman." The image immmediately came under fire for perpetuating racist tropes, and, consequently, Marcotte and Seal Press changed the cover image.
When the book was finally released, it again set off controversy in the feminist blogosphere for use of images that many saw as racist. To illustrate the volume, the publishers used images taken from the 1950s Joe Maneely comic, Lorna, the Jungle Girl, which was chosen for its retro comic art look. The illustrations used included stereotypical images of "savage" black Africans being beaten up by a white, blond, superhero. Marcotte immediately issued an apology, adding that a second printing of It's A Jungle Out There will not contain illustrations.
The latest news is that blogger Blackamazon, who was directly involved in the original Seal Press flap, has taken down her blog as well.
My only comments to this are as follows:
Although it's shocking that all three of these happened at once, I'm glad they did. If they had happened separately, at a distance of months or years from each other, it would have been easier to gloss them over, as many are trying to do now. But, unfortunately for Marcotte and Seal Press, each incident--which in itself is relatively easy for the ignorant to explain away--bolsters and amplifies the women of color bloggers' interpretation of the other events, until it becomes difficult for any reasonable person to not say, "wait a minute ..."
And I also wish that Brownfemipower and Blackamazon hadn't taken down their blogs. I understand them needing a break, or perhaps even deciding not to blog anymore. And I also understand them not wanting their work to be raided nor to hear the awful comments people were leaving.
But their blogs were important public resources, and although the blogcott is a strong statement, it's one that's felt most powerfully by those bloggers' allies and readers, and NOT by the bloggers' opponents. In making a statement of relatively small impact to Marcotte and Seal Press, the rest of us are being more powerfully deprived.
Perhaps more to the point, this flap has drawn a lot of more mainstream attention to Brownfemipower and Blackamazon and I wish all the new readers who are going online looking for their blogs could actually be met with the wealth of information and intelligent commentary that was there to be seen.
Here are the links:
Seal Press announced on their blog a few days ago their publication of a book entitled Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey.
When commenters objected to the use of the word "harem," the editors responded:
The Turkish harem comes from the Arabic word á¸¤arÄm, meaning "forbidden." It's a word that originally referred to the "women's quarters" and literally means "something forbidden or kept safe."
Tales from the Expat Harem is neither a sexist nor a racist title. Please, let's not look for the racially embedded wrong in every one of our books.
I left my opinion in the comments if you want to see it. I have only this to add: being criticized so heavily in public must be very hard, and the editors of Seal Press must be smarting bad right now. I appreciate that.
But as another commenter pointed out, common sense would/should militate at this point against shooting back defensively. Probably the best thing for them to do is ride all this out with an occasional "thanks, we'll think about what you said." At least until the smarting goes away and they can breathe again.
It's amazing how the racial politics we've driven somewhat underground seems to collect around certain fetish objects. In this case it's dolls.
A little while ago I embedded a wonderful short video by Kiri Davis called "A Girl Like Me," about black women's body image. The video included archival images of the Brown vs. Board of Education doll study, in which black children were offered black and white baby dolls and asked which they preferred--most preferred the white ones. Then the filmmaker conducted her own repeat of the study with today's schoolchildren, to very similar, and heartbreaking, effect.
Well, if you ever wondered about the other side of the equation, which dolls white children--or their parents--prefer, wonder no more.
This American Life recently did a story by a mixed-race Latina about her time working at FAO Schwartz. Her job was to pretend to be a hospital nurse taking care of lifelike baby dolls which went for $120 and were "adopted" out of a fake maternity ward on the store's top floor. Due to an unexpected publicity boost on a reality TV show, the store was depleted of its stock of white baby dolls right before the holiday season, and our reporter got to see firsthand what happens when upper and upper-middle class white families are only able to adopt babies of kolah for their little girls.
It's profoundly depressing, though not at all surprising if you've been paying attention to race relations at all.
You can listen to or download it here. Skip to Act Three "Babies Buying Babies."
What jumps out at me here is how incredibly unselfconscious--or maybe just unself-aware--many privileged and educated white people are about their own racial prejudices when you put them into situations that aren't typical "racial" situations. That is to say, if nobody is using the "n" word or outright refusing to hire or befriend or sell a house to somebody because of their race, then blatant racism can happen without anyone seeming to care.
The narrator, who passes as white, points out that her customers attempted to collude with her, or at least assumed that she would understand their racial concerns in rejecting the black baby dolls. This suggests that they were aware that a person of color would find their actions objectionable, but assumed that their concerns would be shared by a white person.
What that says to me, and this may be blatantly obvious, is that many white people think that an action is only racist when it is publicly defined as such by a person of color ... or else that racism is a sort of perceptual filter that only people of color use, and as long as they don't catch you at some "racist" action, it's not really racist. Or perhaps the attitude is that these small actions are racist, but in a really small, unimportant way. Just like stealing a candy bar from a 7-11 is theft, but who really cares? Only boring sticklers with poles up their asses.
Minor shoplifting is to be avoided not because it's wrong (is it really wrong to boost a candy bar from an evil corporation?) but because you might get caught and suffer the consequences. After all, how many of us "experimented" with petty theft as children or teenagers? And didn't we do it with friends, to be cool? But would it have been cool if we'd been caught, and publicly humiliated ... like, say, Winona Ryder?
This seems to suggest that many white people aren't so much afraid of being racist as they are afraid of being considered racist. Just like with petty theft, they don't see the broader implications (minimum wage workers can be held accountable for shoplifting on their shifts, and the cost of shoplifting--which can be enormous--is passed down to the consumer and not absorbed by the corporation), don't understand how their private actions can indirectly hurt people they've never met, and don't believe racism exists anymore in any case.
I think that's the crux of the matter: the disbelief that racism exists. And that disbelief is in itself racist, because to disbelieve that racism exists even while you reject black baby dolls for your white child, is to believe that black baby dolls are inherently less worthy. It's not racism, it's fact that blacks are worth less. But this belief lies so far beneath the decisionmaking process that it's invisible, especially when you're putting all your energy into not seeing it.
I've just about given up on the left-side Clinton/Obama debate being anything approximating rational.
Obama has impressed me recently with his whorish ability to please opposing types of Democrats simultaneously, and I'm hopeful that this could translate into effective executive skills, although with Obama we just won't know until we know.
But I've almost stopped caring in any case because Obama-supporting online wannapunds have utterly failed to notice how brilliantly whorish--rather than brilliant--his race speech was, and continue to accuse the Clinton camp of the same kind of whorishness, broadly accusing them of racism while refusing to use the word.
Lately people have been saying that "Clinton has gone too far." Interestingly enough, everybody who expresses this sentiment uses the exact same words. Also interestingly, many of the "gone too far" purporters have identified wildly different incidents as the straw that broke the camel's back. (Some otherwise smart commentatoresses have actually taken issue with Hillary questioning Obama's experience and credentials, as if a presidential candidate's experience and credentials are somehow not fair game. Seriously?)
And many of them have simply not bothered to identify where and how, exactly, Hillary went too far. So where, actually, did Hillary go too far? Or was it Bill who went too far? Is there a difference in people's minds? (And, btw, do I still need to explain why it's a problem to take issue with Bill and blame it on Hillary?)
And most importantly, do you really think they arrived at this opinion independently?
I'm remembering a time I try hard to remind people of (but no one seems to remember it) about 20-12 months ago, when the word on every Dem-voter's lips was "I like Hillary but she's not electable." It was such a pervasive sentence, and was said over and over again by different people in exactly the same word order and tone, that it was impossible not to conclude that the whole thing was a stealth campaign.
Of course, it became so pervasive that the press had to pick up on it, and the moment it broke the surface, Clinton's campaign dispatched it, ruthlessly and effectively. I tend to think the Clinton campaign did a stealth campaign of their own to make the story break cover so they could squash it. No one says that Clinton is "not electable" now. They just say she's "gone too far." How curious.
What I'm also hearing, particularly from black online wannapunds, is that, while before they would have voted for Clinton if she got the nomination, now they won't. WTF? So you, lefty liberation atheologist, with a hard-on for social justice, will vote for fucking John McCain because clueless Clinton hath offended thee? Or, almost worse, avoid the polling place entirely?
That's the point, isn't it? If those of you undecideds out there don't choose Obama, the rest of us Dem-voters will take our ball and go home, and you can just sit there with your President McCain for eight years, kicking yourself for not choosing the Unity Candidate with the Sexy Voice. After all, if you don't choose Unity, then the lack of Unity is your fault.
It's blackmail, of course, but who am I to object to political blackmail? If it's effective, that is.
It's frustrating because I'd like rational debate, but this is an election, and elections are not about rational debate and probably shouldn't be. Because, as I've said before, we should be electing not the person with the best program, but rather the most effective political whore whose program approximates the one we want. So the person who best manipulates the election is clearly the best whore. That may well turn out to be Obama.
Two more points, no three:
Firstly, on the rational debate about the issues tip--which everyone says they want, but nobody really wants--Clinton constantly surprised everyone by how great she was on debates about the isshooz. Every time, in fact. Her only missteps were when she was confronted (read: blamed) for Bill Clinton's policies, when she was confronted with her pro-Iraq-War-whore vote, and when the debate veered away from the issues into the gender/race/electability thing. So here we are in the loooong post-important-primaries wasteland, where the isshooz have pretty much been exhausted and there is nothing new to say. So what are we focusing on? The candidates' identity issues ... where Clinton doesn't do well and Obama, because of his whorishness, does.
Second point: remember folks (why do you keep forgetting?) Obama is only 46. He's a top-end Gen Xer, or else in the crack between generations. Culturally, he belongs more to the later generation. As the brief debate over his supposed drug use suggested, rather than having to assert his non-inhaliness like a Baby Boomer candidate I could mention, he in fact may have exaggerated his drug use in a savvy ploy to speak to his natural constituency. He grew up after the heaviest part of the civil rights movement and during the heaviest part of the feminist movement. His understanding of race and gender politics, purely from a generational standpoint, would have to be different from Clinton's; given his family and personal history, his understanding of both is necessarily more sophisticated.
Is this a bad thing? Of course not. But it's not necessarily a good thing when you're trying to appeal to older voters who do not have the same sensibility as you.
By the same token, Clinton is firmly a Baby Boomer and second wave feminist. Her language and understanding of race and gender are Baby-Boom-Generation-determined. Does that mean she's behind the times? Well, she's no more behind the times than most of the rest of her generational cohort. (I won't break that down. I'm not satisfied with her language or concept of these issues, but then I'm a third wave feminist and a Gen Xer.) Does this means she's off-putting to Obama's GenX supporters? Yes. Does this mean that the awkward language and concepts she uses will lead her to support the wrong policies? Well ... not necessarily.
Does it mean that she may not prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Maybe. And does Obama's greater sophistication on these issues mean that he will prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Hmmm ... I somehow doubt it, especially in the light of his race speech which said, pretty clearly, "It's understandable that blacks are so angry, but their anger isn't right. And by the way, whites' anger about affirmative action is just as legitimate so we should all just get along."
And finally, keep in mind that we're all getting bored with this and want to move on to the main event. This is why we're starting to unravel and shoot ourselves in our collective feets by saying stupid things like "I'd rather vote for McCain than Clinton because she's gone too far!" It's like a playground where the nerd who doesn't know how to stand around and be cool gets hopelessly ragged on. Or maybe, the adult who doesn't know what "hella" means gets hopelessly ragged on. Earnest Hillary, who is no better than she should be anyway, can't hang out and be cool with the cool kids and Obama can. So, in our after school before dinner boredom, we're beating up on Hillary.
I still don't know who would be the better president, but I'm starting to suspect that all of this adds up to Obama being the better candidate.
First, here's the whole speech, in five parts, hi-def:
I'm starting to change my mind about Obama. No, it's not because his baritone turns me on, or his sincerity, intelligence, charisma, and social consciousness get my panties all ... *sigh* ... YOU know. It's because he's a first class pander. Check it out:
"In no other country on Earth is my story even possible."
Argh. We all know it's just speechifying, but does he have to be so crass? Or maybe he's so used to playing the exotic for white American oafs, he really doesn't know how mundane his story is compared to the tragedy, mendacity, and exotic parallelism of other stories.
But seriously, that's just a throwaway line all
whores politicians have to ... well, throw away. Where he really went onto the reservation was when he sold out his ... er ... "former" pastor, a guy he seems to have unloaded just before all this shit hit the fan. (I wonder why.)
Oh sure, sure, he made a lot of proud noises about how he could no more abandon his poor, old pastor--who was more like family than an advisor, mind you, although he was part of Obama's campaign as recently as late last year--than he could abandon his loving, white grandma, whom he also sold out in this speech. But really, saying that what your pastor (and, until recently, advisor) says in his speeches is just wrong wrong wrong wrong is ... well let's just say it rhymes with "shmelling shmout."
Doubt it? Dude, this is what he said about Wright's comments:
A profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. A view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. As such, Rev. Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems: two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but problems that confront us all.
Do you think he knows what "endemic" means? 'Cuz the PC consensus is that racism is endemic in America. To suggest it isn't is kinda turning back the clock. Oh yeah, and ignoring the deep-rootedness that makes it so persistent. And the whole "elevates what is wrong" bit? Barack, baby, you're denouncing him for seeing the glass as half empty? We get it, you're an optimist. Gah.
Now, the rest of us aren't privy to what Wright says in private about Israel, but his public statements? Duuude, you seem to be putting words in his mouth. Even the freakin' Anti-defamation League has no issue with him. See below. And then to add that
whorish politically savvy throwaway line about radical Islam? I'll just leave the wad of cash on the bedside table, mmm?
I think these are all the Wright quotes Obama and pundits are responding to:
Seriously? Except for the AIDS genocide accusation, what part of what he said here isn't true? I mean, weren't YOU expecting Bush et al to plant WMDs? I was. I didn't count on the fact that most of America either wouldn't care that he was lying or wouldn't be literate enough to read about how he lieded. And this is all aside from the fact that that might simply have been a bitter joke.
But the best sellout is the money shot. After eloquently (seriously, my panties again) explaining the bitterness of old time activists like Wright, he actually went forth and paralleled the frustration of African Americans with the current dissatisfaction of middle-class white Americans who went and voted themselves into "two wars ... a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change":
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Then repeat the platform and end on a note of hope in the next generation. (Young white girl and old black man. She joined the Obama campaign because her mother needed health care and she needed food. The ol' black man, of course, joined the Obama campaign for her. Magical. Like "Song of the South." You can almost see them tap dancing together at the DNC.)
Wow, recent white political doopidity = 400+ years of oppression? I love America!
And Barack's gonna let all the white liberals get away with it. He just said so.
So, all sarcasm aside, I'm beginning to believe that Barack is whorish enough to make a go of this politician thing. He's savvy enough to please his entire natural constituency. That was a tightrope walk of a speech and he sold the fuck out of it. And yeah, he'd sell his own grandmother for office ... in public.
I'm starting to love this guy for president. Maybe he'll be my slimeball. Too bad we're not gonna have a chance to see if the other slimeballs will let him play their reindeer games first.
Hyphen, as usual, is where I picked up on the public controversy about a non-black multiracial actor playing Obama on Saturday Night Live. (Video above is the second sketch featuring "Fauxbama" Fred Armisen; Hyphen has the first one.)
I saw the previous clip on the SNL site (can't find it now but it's embedded in the Hyphen post above), led there by a discussion about media bias towards Obama, and noticed immediately that the actor playing Obama was wearing dark makeup for the role. My first reaction was, "Oh, boyyyyy ..."
But then, as the sketch played out, I stopped being concerned about it. Why? Why would I be concerned about it in the first place, and why would I stop being concerned after watching the sketch?
It has to do with the nature of "blackface" (or any dramatic portrayal of people of color by white actors). This requires one of my beloved, bullet-pointed breakdowns. Blackface is problematic for reasons historical, intentional, and representational:
The length and persistence of this form of racial denigration means that any performance by a non-black of a black character or figure automatically draws on this history, intentionally or unintentionally, and is to be considered carefully if not fully avoided.
The other big problem with blackface, after the outright racial denigration that is its purpose, is that it is the incongruity of the makeup on a white actor that creates the humor. Blackface assumes that the racial phenotype it lampoons (dark skin, big lips, kinky hair) is unattractive and ridiculous, and draws its humor from the overposition of exaggerated or imaginary "black" features on white features. It's clown makeup, with the strong implication that blacks are clowns.
So having a plum role for an African American character parceled out to a non-black actor is extremely problematic, when there are so many qualified black actors out there looking for work.
Additionally, the very idea that a white actor gets to occupy a plum black role raises the question of who gets to write, embody, and ultimately determine the form and representation of blacks in the public sphere. Casting a white actor is a pretty clear answer in favor of keeping the right of representation with whites.
So, how does the SNL sketch play with these considerations?
Firstly, the sketch does not have racial denigration as its purpose, and there is no unintentional or side-effect racial denigration (in my opinion) happening here. The purpose of the sketch is to lampoon the media's apparent infatuation with Barack Obama; the actor playing Obama needs to exaggerate Obama's personal tics for humorous effect (as SNL does with every politician it mocks) and to portray a stereotype of Obama's public image. There is complicated racial coding involved in Obama's public image, but this sketch is fairly straightforward, and does not grapple with them, nor (in my opinion) trip over them.
Secondly, the makeup Armisen uses to portray Obama is fairly subtle and clearly used to let the audience know what figure he's depicting, and not to portray Obama's racial characteristics as unattractive or ridiculous
So far so good. On the minus side, however, is the simple fact of the history of blackface and the way that blackface representation is going to play--no matter what its intentions. Putting a nonblack actor in blackface is so easy to avoid, that producers simply cannot avoid the question, "why didn't you just get a black actor to do it?" SNL doesn't have a slick answer for this.
The real answer, of course, is that currently, SNL has only one black male actor, and he looks nothing like Obama and, more importantly, has an acting style that doesn't match Obama's affect well. But that's not an excuse. SNL currently has six white male actors, two white female actors, and two multiracial actors, Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph (the latter of whom is the only actor on the cast whose racial background matches Obama's and who apparently will not return to SNL after the strike.)
Why so many white men? Why so few black men and women? Among other things, it limits (obviously) SNL's ability to successfully represent public figures, and this tokenism is a perennial problem at SNL, which has six different faces to match to white male public figures, but must force black characters into the oeuvre of a single actor. This gets to the heart of the representation issue. Lorne Michaels has tried to play that old chestnut: we cast the best actor for the role, regardless of race. And Armisen does do a credible acting job. But that old record won't play. If you have only one black actor, he's certainly not going to be the best actor for every black role. Some other black actor would be.
But all of this is, again, avoiding the fact that Obama is multiracial. Just because America views Obama as black, doesn't mean he entirely is. And he's toned down his self-representation as biracial because he found it didn't play with either white or black. That doesn't mean he isn't still biracial. So who gets to depict a man who is half white? If they had cast Kenan Thompson as Obama, would he have had to do it in whiteface and would that have been alright?
Add to all of this that Fred Armisen, who actually played Obama, is an extremely multiracial man, part white, part Asian (Japanese) and part Latino (Venezuelan). And it seems I do need to remind people that Latinos are pretty multiracial--and African-mixed--as well, and that Venezuela especially, as a nation on the Caribbean coast, has a strong Afro-Caribbean history and population. That doesn't tell us anything about Armisen himself, but it does tell us a great deal about our own simple-minded, reductivist racial viewpoint.
So the representation piece of this little controversy? I'd say SNL needs to check itself, but so do the sketch's racially simplistic critics. And I'd say that SNL does still need to go ahead with its mockery of the current presidential candidates using the tools at hand, and learn from this controversy that maybe it would be a more interesting show with a less monochromatic cast.
Two interesting opinions up at Salon today.
Edward McClellan says in "The Dude Vote" that a lot of men aren't copping to the fact that they won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman:
A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that, among men, McCain beats Clinton by 9 points. Against Obama, he only ties. There are also plenty of guys who voted for Barack Obama in the primaries but will switch to John McCain if the lady gets the nomination -- even though they'll have to leap over a huge political divide to get there.
... I never said to myself, "I want a man for president." I said to myself, "I want a leader who can unite the country." Like a lot of guys who are about to furtively nod their heads, I think of leadership as a masculine quality, so Obama and McCain seemed like the strongest candidates. I was also leery of Clinton's association with the culture wars -- I don't want to go through that again -- but she was a polarizing first lady because she was given power over healthcare before the nation was ready to see a woman in that role. (In 1994, I walked into a religious bookstore and saw an anti-Clinton biography titled "Big Sister Is Watching You.") Ultimately, it was impossible to separate my reservations about Clinton from the fact that she's a woman.
I also told myself I wasn't dismissing Clinton because I disliked her. I was dismissing her because other people disliked her. That's a popular objection, apparently. According to a CBS-New York Times poll, 81 percent of Americans say they would vote for a woman president; only 56 percent think other people would. But it's also a convenient dodge. If I voted against Clinton because "too many people hate her," wouldn't I just be validating the haters? They are, after all, largely responsible for making her "divisive."
Gary Kamiya takes a nearly opposite position in "It's OK to vote for Obama because he's black," saying that a lot of whites won't cop to the fact that they're voting for Obama because he's black.
This reaction is understandable. It feels more racially enlightened. To baldly proclaim that you support Obama because he's black seems to diminish his real qualities and achievements -- his stellar academic career, his work in the urban trenches, his liberal voting record, his ability to inspire. Foregrounding Obama's ethnic heritage implies that you're unhealthily obsessed with race, and make artificial decisions based on it. It can be seen as patronizing, as a merely sentimental, pie-in-the-sky gesture.
... Some critics who directly acknowledge the racial nature of Obama's appeal have argued that the wave of white support for Obama bespeaks not a genuine desire to bridge the racial divide but a bad-faith attempt to escape into some post-racial never-never land.
... Obama's charisma, which is his unique political strength, is real, but it cannot be separated from the fact that he's black. When Obama speaks of change and hope and healing divisions, his words carry an electric charge because of who he is: He embodies his own message, the very definition of charisma. As a black man offering reconciliation, he is making a deeply personal connection with whites, not merely a rhetorical one.
Hillary is an iPhone with wheels. Obama is a pimped out Yugo. The paradigm shift required to take each of these two candidates seriously is completely different.
And it wouldn't surprise me to find that there were voters, men and women, who believe in Obama for a plethora of reasons, but can't quite get their heads around a woman president.
So let's say this again, people: the majority of Latino and Asian Americans are immigrants. Most of these immigrants are coming from a position of being a racial or ethnic majority in their countries of origin, even if they are of lower class. Most of them have a majority identity in their past. Most of them are struggling toward a position of self-determination and some sort of tolerable integration into their new society, not towards the marginalization of being people of color. Yes, some might vote racism or sexism, but most will have more pressing needs. And which candidate they see meeting these needs will be at least somewhat unpredictable to a native-born American.
I'm back in the family womb for the weekend for a family ... occasion ... and we're sitting at dinner tonight. My relative is talking about the movie Juno, which I found entertaining but empty when I watched it, and came to loathe while thinking about shortly thereafter. (Some hints as to why here.)
So my relative is describing the movie and gets to the character of Juno herself and describes her as a wiseass and "politically incorrect." What? I dug in about that. What was "politically incorrect" about the character? Both her politics and her indie cred are flawless. He couldn't say or give me examples, just repeated that she's a wiseacre and makes funny comments.
I've been picking up on this for a while now but I can't avoid the conclusion anymore. "Politically incorrect" is now a synonym for "smartass" or "irreverent!" Just kill me now!
It wouldn't be so bad if "politically incorrect" would just wholesale replace the word "irreverent," since the latter appears to be hard for some people to pronounce and those same people get so much joy out of declaring themselves the former.
But that's not what's happening here. What's happening is that people are still aware of the term's current denotation--referring to language and ideas that are, from the liberal point of view, politically regressive and potentially discriminatory--but have added strong connotations. Those are, of course, "irreverent," "smartass," and, wandering a little further afield, "cool." "Politically incorrect" is now spoken or written with an almost universal sense of delicious, naughty approval.
Or put another way, social justice activists never use the term at all.
Political correctness" seems to be a too serious and fascist, demagogic way of saying "civil language". Of course, when civility is not our purpose, there are other languages and vocabularies available to us. With the need for a language of civility and doing business with strangers without betraying our secrets or slashing our wrists or starting a war in mind, I suggest PC stand for "pidgin contest".
Civil language and tolerant behavior can't be imposed from the top without exercising heavy police-state censorship and driving everyone with a discouraging word underground. But in the bustling, competitive, passionate marketplace atmosphere of a port city or corner store, civil language and tolerant behavior are invented, or you go broke, brah.
Yep, that's right, folks, "civil language." That's what people are referring to when they say "political correctness." I'll spell it out, though: if you replace "politically incorrect" with "speaking without civility," it becomes a lot less cool.
Yeah, I'm overplaying the point. Because, as we all know, political correctness isn't just about polite language. It's about giving over the power of naming to the people being named; the power of description to the ones being described. And that's a lot more profound than just being polite. What it means is that your public speech, to a certain extent, is buffeted by somebody else's winds of change--without your input or say so--and you're still responsible for keeping up with it. Why, that's ... that's ... undemocratic!
The term "politically incorrect" is the ultimate expression of privilege. I think everyone would find it obnoxious if a stranger, on being introduced to "John," insisted on calling him "Telly." But when a whole group of people prefer to be called "disabled" rather than "handicapped," this is somehow an imposition on the non-disabled speaker.
Considering oneself a victim of fascist political incorrectness because you can't call women "girls" or champion sportswomen "nappy-headed hos" or refer to spoken Chinese as "ching chong ching chong" or call South Asian journalists "Macaca" is nothing but the tantrum of someone whose speech has never been limited by those of lesser socioeconomic status before.
Boo-fuckin'-hoo to you. Grow the fuck up and start treating people with minimum respect. All your childish tantrums aside, it's not gonna stop, so get used to it.
Okay, first of all, what I have read from the Carl Brandon List:
I can highly recommend all of them, especially the Butler book, which is my favorite of hers, and So Long Been Dreaming, which gives you a great spread of POC spec fic.
What I'm not going to tackle at this time:
'Cause apparently, it's a mouthful, double entendre intended. I'm saving it for much later.
So this month I will try to get through the rest of the list, in this order, if I can get these books in this order, i.e. in order of authors I haven't read yet first:
I seriously do not expect to get through this list in one, short month. I'll be happy if I make it to the Minister Faust.
Who's reading with me?
As many of you know, I'm on the steering committee of The Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to increasing representation of people of color in the speculative genres. We've polled our members and come up with a recommended reading list of speculative fiction books by black authors for Black History Month.
The idea is for you to read these books this month, forward this list around to your friends, take this list into your local bookstores and ask them to display these books this month, post the list on your blogs and websites, etc. I hope you'll all strongly consider at least picking up one of these books and falling into it. It's a wonderful list, and your February will be improved!
So, without further ado:
THE CARL BRANDON SOCIETY
recommends the following books for BLACK HISTORY MONTH:
And the 2005 CARL BRANDON SOCIETY AWARD Winners:
• PARALLAX AWARD given to works of speculative fiction created by a person of color:
47 by Walter Mosley
• KINDRED AWARD given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group:
Stormwitch by Susan Vaught
(cross-posted at Other magazine blog.)
There are times that I know I am not as good a person as I could be, but I don't really care. I know that I could exert myself more in this direction or that, but I don't care enough to.
But there are also times when I genuinely wish that I was a better person--more concerned about others and less about protecting myself. That happens around conversations about race with clueless white people. I have a lot of friends of color who really draw my admiration for their boundless patience and kindness for this type of conversation. I have none of that patience and kindness.
What I do, and a lot of others do this too, is as soon as someone says something awkward or insensitive, I either bowl them over with a rapid-fire critique of what they said, or I clamp my mouth shut and look away. In the latter case, I'll refuse to pick up the conversational ball, and just leave them hanging with the stupid thing they said, knowing that they did something wrong, but not knowing what.
Later on I'll have to recognize that I missed the opportunity to educate someone ... or at the least, to loosen someone's ignorance. And all arguments that it's not my job to educate people about race sound somewhat tinny. It's exhausting, having to teach people things that it's their own responsibility to learn by themselves, but I'm there, and I'm spending the time with them anyway. So what's my problem?
(For those of you who genuinely don't know what my problem is, this is the nutshell: all poc have to deal with having their ideas and viewpoints invalidated to their face. A good example of this is when people ask me what my ethnicity is, I tell them, and then they dispute what I have told them about myself. Another example is when, say, a black blogger posts about his/her *personal* experience as a black person in a white-dominated world, and a bunch of white trolls tell them that they're whining or simply dispute their understanding of their own *personal* experience. A major component of racial privilege is that the privileged are always right, and the Others are always wrong, even when the Others are talking about themselves. So getting into a discussion of race with ignorant white people is basically an exercise in asking to be invalidated and patronized about something you know more about than the person invalidating and patronizing you.
Another issue would be, of course, having to batter down someone's defensiveness about their own lack of racism just to have a conversation that you've had fifty thousand times already. You're pushed into a discussion that is tedious and fraught for you, and then you have to fight just to have the conversation in the first place, and just to get basic respect for your viewpoint. No, thanks.)
I just had such an experience, from the other side, recently when trying to talk about class issues. I work for an organization that serves low-income people. Our clients have to fall below a certain income level to be eligible for our program. Yet all of our office staff positions--which pay well and carry excellent benefits--require a college degree and a high level of skillsets. So we're by definition a bunch of middle/upper middle class people serving a bunch of lower middle/working class people.
Our org culture emphasizes customer service, so our staff tends to get along very well with our clients. But there are inevitably a number of interactions which reveal class differences. Some of the projects that I am responsible for themselves raise interesting questions about class viewpoints and ways of proceeding with various tasks. But we're too busy at work--and probably too wary of engaging in such fraught discussions--to get into more theoretical conversations about class differences. We proceed at a very pragmatic level.
This weekend I met a woman at a party whom I had met before. She wanted to participate in my org's program but didn't qualify, so she had ended up going to another org. We were talking about various interesting things we'd noticed about the people involved in these programs and the programs themselves. I embarked on a thinking-out-loud moment about something I'd been thinking about but had never had the opportunity to talk about with someone who understood the background of this kind of work.
I wanted to say something about the strangeness of middle/upper-middle class workers serving low-income workers and helping them to become financially self-sufficient when the "higher" class workers, employees of a large organization, weren't financially self-sufficient themselves, but did earn more based on their high skill level. This was going to lead to some thinking-out-loud about how a higher socio-economic bracket meant access to a higher-paying state of dependency, and how popular programs promoting self-sufficiency for the poor were popular with many people precisely because they meant that we didn't have to deal with the question of how to give greater access to "dependent" but high-paying jobs to the poor.
I got about halfway through the first thought when the woman froze me out. She did the same thing to me that I do to clueless white people who say something stupid or offensive: clamped her mouth shut, looked away, and jumped into someone else's conversation while I was still talking. I don't know what it was that offended her: if I used the wrong word, or if she mistook where my comment was heading ... or if she didn't mistake where my comment was heading but just didn't want to go there.
And I'm not sure it really matters which it was. I'm pretty sure that this isn't the usual thing that people talk about when they talk about class differences (if they ever do), so what she thought she was protecting herself against was probably not what I was getting at. But if she did know where I was going with it, it may not be such a bad thing that she didn't get into it. Someone who is working her way through a difficult and time-consuming program to increase her own skills and self-sufficiency, doesn't need to waste any energy considering that the people who are helping her might be avoiding difficult discussions about access.
And if I used a offensive word or phrasing, I obviously don't know I did it.
Clearly I wasn't going to get the interesting discussion about class and access out of this woman that I was hoping for in any case. But what bothers me is that I don't know where I can go to get this discussion. I can't talk about these things at work, I'll be much more wary of talking about them with people I don't know well who are involved in these projects, and my friends who are up for such discussions aren't involved in this nonprofit field, so they can only talk about theoretical things. Yet I spend half my working day on this type of work. I don't have access to discussions about class differences.
Discussion is an essential resource; discussion with people who know what they're talking about is an even more important resource. As much as I and other poc resent being treated as a public accommodation in discussions of race, we are sitting on knowledge and experience that are an important--nay, essential--resource for truly informed and intelligent discussions of race. If someone is spouting ignorance, it's because they have not yet availed themselves of their access to such resources (you know, like libraries and the internet.) I wish I could be more of a resource to the people who actually need it. Maybe that would have a higher impact in changing the world the way I profess to want to change it.
And I'm not just saying this because I got smacked down this weekend. This certainly wasn't the first time it's happened to me and won't be the last. But these moments are a reminder of something I feel--perhaps less strongly--when I'm on the other side of the equation and just. can't. take. another. stupid. discussion. about how cool and funny political incorrectness is.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Still catching up on YA. I'd heard a lot about The Chocolate War when I was a kid but never read it because the jacket copy made it sound so boring: a kid defies a secret society by refusing to sell chocolates? Yawn.
But then I read a question on Yahoo Answers about whether or not there was any existentialist YA fiction and a buncha people mentioned The Chocolate War, which I found really interesting. And it was ... the book I mean.
Actually, I don't want to write about it right now. I have too many other things to write about. But a recommended read to anyone who hasn't.
Passing by Nella Larsen
I think my friend Tisa may have mention this to me first during her visit to SF in late Fall. We were talking about biracial and passing texts. In any case, I looked up the book at some point, and then acquired it used at another point. Okay, the provenance of the book is boring.
Anyway, it's about a light-skinned black woman, Irene, in the twenties who can pass for white. She's married to a black doctor--a handsome man who can't pass--and lives in New York black society. While visiting her family in Chicago she stops off in a (white) tea room to refresh herself--a privilege you understand she allows herself frequently--when she runs into an old neighborhood friend from childhood, Clare, another woman her age who can pass.
It is revealed in their conversation that Clare disappeared from the neighborhood after her janitor father died, and everyone assumed she had become a prostitute or a kept woman. Instead, it turns out that she's gone over to the white side and married a man who doesn't know she's black. Clare takes Irene back to her hotel, when Irene meets Clare's extremely racist white husband. Clare's husband insults Irene unknowingly, when he makes derogatory racial remarks to Irene, who has internalized a strong black identity (it is suggested, although never stated, that Irene does so to anchor herself to her community, given her ability--and propensity--to pass.)
Two years pass and the two women meet again in Clare's world of New York. And the shit proceeds to hit the fan when the logical extension of the choices and behavior of each play out.
This book was amazing, fascinating, smart, beautifully written, and ultimately disappointing. When I say "beautifully written," by the way, I, as usual, don't mean the kind of cheap lyricism held up by contemp creative writing workshops. Larsen is earnestly literal about making her meaning clear--in the way of her contemporary D.H. Lawrence--by often describing moment-by-moment what a character's internal reactions are.
But you discover that she leaves just as much out, and deliberately, revealing more about a character's feelings than that xtr herself would reveal, but keeping the xtr's deepest, most shameful secrets, except in gesture and deed.
Larsen's ability to dramatize racial ambiguity is the best I've ever seen--and not the less astounding for being a project few have tried with any ambition.
But the novel's climax and end come far too quickly and are too melodramatic for my taste. It felt wrong to end with such a scene, and it also felt abrupt to end without revealing any denouement. But still, a strongly recommended read.
Not to be down on Scott Westerfeld, whom I consider a friend on the skiffy side of the blanket, but his recent blog post about the "Missing Black Woman Formation" (hereafter referred to as MBWF) needs some complications added to it.
The MBWF concept is explained by one of the characters of Scott's YA novel So Yesterday thus:
“You know, the guy on the motorcycle was black. The guy on the bike was white. The woman was white. That’s the usual bunch, you know? Like everybody’s accounted for? Except not really. I call that the missing-black-woman formation. It kind of happens a lot.”
Scott then goes on to point out that we're living through a MBWF right now, posting a picture of our current Democratic presidential front runners (Edwards, Clinton, and Obama, natch). He underlines this by posting a photo of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus from The Matrix.
Okay, but not really.
There are a number of problems with this, starting with how complaining about a missing black woman only works for commercials (which is mostly what the So Yesterday characters were talking about.) Commercials are 30-120-second gestures in the direction of a brand. You have time to say one simple thing, so that's what you say.
The black man inserted into a white couple says, "Our brand is diverse!" whatever that means. The missing black woman, if she were to appear, would say, "We're selling to blacks and whites equally!" which is not what most commercials want to say. Most want to say, "Hey, liberal white guilt dollars! Flow this way!"
When you get into broader pop culture, and especially when you get into the bizarre mix of current mainstream reality, branding, idealism, fearmongering, and passion play that is the contemporary presidential race, the MBWF has nothing interesting or true to say to the matter anymore.
Gloria Steinem proved this in the NYT op-ed that Scott (and everybody else) linked to. By Shakespeare's sistering Obama (dang, can't we get some new feminist tricks?) Steinem sought to prove that women have it worse than blacks, but only managed to give every reader a case of SIWWTABIDKW (something is wrong with that argument but I don't know what), which is usually accompanied by a terminal case of the squirmies.
What was wrong with that argument, by the way, is that you can't compare apples and oranges (or sexism and racism), and you can't predict society's behavior towards the intersection of the two except by, as Steinem did, assuming that each must be overcome separately before the intersection will become penetrable (Frex: we needed an Albright, and a Powell, before we could have a Rice.)
So, a listing of problems with MBWF as applied by Scott:
Flip through a magazine and check out the ads. In any group of three or more models, one invariably will be black. (If there are six or more models, one will be Asian and one Hispanic.) Same on TV. In any commercial for beer or snack food, one of the guys on the sofa is always black. This probably misrepresents the incidence of interracial hanging out, but it isn't just tokenism. It's a harmony fantasy, buried deep in the collective conscience.
I.e. the MBWF, a white fantasy scenario, is leaving out a much more complicated, and truly diverse, group of people because that would complicate and diversify the white audience's social scene, rather than placating them for having a mostly white peer group. So it's a bit more complicated than just a missing black woman. If we're going to look at negative space, let's really look at it.
It is for both these reasons--the obvious multiraciality and his acceptance by mainstream audiences--that Keanu was cast in the racially radical Matrix. Suitably millenial, the first Matrix suggested that a lot of race mixing had gone on among surviving humans after the apocalypse with its casting of actors of a variety of races and mixtures (including Marcus Chong, Tommy Chong's adopted son, whose ancestry isn't public, but is almost certainly multiracial.) This was deliberate.
Morpheus as the odd black man out in a MBWF is questionable, but his status as a magical negro? not so much. I said the first Matrix was radical, not perfect. (By the way, I distinguish between the first Matrix and subsequent Matrices because the Wachowskis got lazy in the race element, as well as everything else, and let a bunch of black actors stand in for diversity thereafter, i.e. losing grip on the multiracial aspect of the whole thing.)
As I said, in our new millenium, our mainstream culture has become sensitized to multiraciality, so that we begin to recognize it when it appears in the public forum. But we're not so sophisticated as all that. We recognize it, but we still gawk at it. It's still unusual, exotic ... and not yet re-problematized, as all new, exotic things are.
Obama's clear and apparent multiraciality (one that left him with darkish skin and European features, which earn him the adjective "handsome" even though he's nothing of the sort) put him beyond our immediate racial hierarchy into a biracial status that is still fluid in the public consciousness. If he were just black, he wouldn't be here, but because we don't exactly know what he is, he might still be electable. So there, Gloria Steinem, my lass.
Furthermore, Obama is not the child of an African American descendant of slaves and a white American; i.e. he's not that difficult and problematic product of centuries of slavery and sexual stereotyping. Rather, he's the child of a white American and a black immigrant. A what? Exactly. We don't know what to do about it, because it's an exotic and new story: the black immigrant. But, dudes, immigrant. Undocumented labor issues aside, the American identity is an immigrant identity, and the American story is the triumphal story of immigration and assimilation.
In this context it's much easier to see why Obama, the child of a black man and a white woman, doesn't trip more people's black man/white woman wires. The white woman in this case is the agent of assimilation to an honorable immigrant. As copious recent immigration from the Caribbean and East Africa shows, it's a toss up whether such an immigrant will come down as black or as immigrant in their interlocutor's estimation, when the shit really hits. Clearly this question is decided by what is most beneficial to the interlocutor. If the black immigrant in question is threatening them, then they're black. If, however the interlocutor needs an ally and the black immigrant shows willing, then they're an immigrant.
White America needs an inspiring leader--an ally--to take us away from all this horrible Bush stuff, so Obama falls off on the immigrant side in our popular subconscious, even if the public debate has been hijacked by the word "black." I'll bet a lot of people have already forgotten the recent debate over whether or not Obama is really black or black enough. That fight had to be fought out to get detractors out of the way so that we could talk about Obama as a black candidate without digressions. What no one has noticed is that we're processing him simultaneously at both levels: as a surface black, and a crypto-immigrant.
By accepting Obama as our symbolic representative, even if only for a few months, we are essentially underlining and celebrating our existing core American values: immigration, assimilation, triumph, and pot-won't-melt-in-my-mouth virtue.
And via Racialicious, here's a little sumpin' sumpin' to make you think hard about the intersection between race and gender: a nice, long, fascinating article about transgender people of color.
Inspired, or expired, or despired, by all the year-end top ten lists, plus something I saw somewhere about writers' top ten novels lists, I've decided to do my own top ten novels list.
But, of course, there has to be a caveat. This is not necessarily the top ten best novels I've ever read. That would be too difficult, given my moodiness. These are, rather, the novels that created my understanding of what novels are, broke that understanding and remade it, added to it substantially, or, in at least one case, helped define a whole area of things that novels shouldn't be. This is a litany of idiosyncratic reading experiences; not everyone--or even most ones--would have the same eye-opening experience upon reading these books, although I can heartily recommend all of them, and, in fact, do. This is really just a reading memoir, really. And I hate memoir. And redundancy.
Also, there are more than ten, as you will have immediately noticed. But Top Ten just rolls off the tonguish.
Then in college I was home for the summer and helped my mom out with a cocktail party she threw without being asked and she was very impressed with my sudden maturity--I had always previously bellyached about having to greet and serve guests. When I finished the dishes I retired to my room and that night she left her new hardcopy of Joy Luck Club outside my door with a note thanking me for my help and telling me I was a good daughter (underscore hers). That's my mom all over: half serious, half self-reflectively ironic. I still have the book, and the note, and, although my bitchy mind started deconstructing the book almost immediately, I recognized in Joy Luck the orthodox version of the unsatisfying meta-memoir in Woman Warrior. At the time, I uneasily thought of Joy Luck as the better book. I now recognize Woman Warrior as the ur-text, the brilliant, unique one, which had to be tamed before it could be codified as the arc of the assimilating immigrant. I've written about this in Hyphen magazine and won't bore anyone with it here, but this was my beginning as an Asian American writer.
Somebody finally posted it:
This is why I love Vin Diesel.
Okay, to finish up National Diabetes Awareness Month, here are two videos from YouTube:
This first one, which you don't need to watch more than a few seconds of to get the idea, reveals that only white kids get diabetes, and tries to make you feel sorry for the precious souls. The beeyotch who made it doesn't seem to get that "no one deserves this" isn't really an argument, and that diabetes research should be funded not just because cute, fluffy, white kids get it.
This second one is from a cool series called Cooking Up A Story:
Stories about real people and their special connections to food and sustainable living.
No on-air talent, no scripted programming, and no studio environments, just authentic stories filmed in native surroundings.
And, it features a hapa kid with diabetes! Yay hapa diabetics! He's cute, too, although no particularly fine point is put on that. Rather than trying to make you feel sorry for the poor cutie, the video just shows you the rollercoaster of blood sugar values that is a typical diabetic kid's day.
Note here: this is a not-so-good example of what life is like on the pump. The kid's BGs (blood glucose values) are really terrible and he can't seem to stay on top of them. This might just be a bad day for him. Or it might just be that he's a kid; kid's don't always handle diabetes that well. It's complicated and relentless.
Come to think of it, that right there is a much better argument for donation funds to diabetes research. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is the typical place to do it, although their slogan about "saving childhoods" makes me gag. My childhood was technically more complicated than everyone else's, but it was still a childhood.
Jennifer Beals is way too awesome.
This is so wrong in so many ways, but at the same time, it just feels harmless, you know? It made me laugh.
You know how some things---films, tv, books---just have this negative power that drives you to comment on how horrible it is in your blog ... and some things just don't have that power at all? Usually, the power-free things are just sad. But this one isn't even sad! It's happy! And silly! And wrong!
I dunno, maybe I'm becoming post-race.
Oh, well, no not quite:
But who am I to argh with a racial cornucopia of joy?
Update: I forgot to include my small beef with #5 so I inserted it below.
I'm glad Heather Wood at the Huffington Post wrote about the ten mistakes white people make when talking about race (via RAAW), but, sadly, she got some of it a leetle bit wrong.
2. Using Culture-Specific Slang to Relate to Other Races
K-Fed, you ain't. And you just shouldn't try to be--ever.
Hunh? Does she not know that K-Fed is white?
3. Assuming Biracial People Identify More with One Side Than the Other
The majority race in America today isn't white, black, or even Latino. It's biracial. And this will only increase with each successive generation. We're a society that loves to check off boxes, but the greater challenge is to stop seeing people as shades and start knowing them for who they are.
Hunh? Lady, biracials/multiracials barely even make up 2% of the US population. Are you confusing this stat with the one where multi-ethnic whites make up the majority of whites nowadays? That is to say: most whites are no longer just Polish, or just English anymore. Most of them are Norwegian/Italian, or Swedish/French, or ... whatever, combos don't interest me.
Also, the problem isn't people assuming biracials identify more with one side than the other. What she's talking about here is actually people assuming black/white biracials identify as black ... unless, of course, they can pass. The actual mistake is assuming anything about multiracials at all. Many multiracials do identify more with one side. Others don't. You can't tell by looking at 'em.
5. Using Outdated Terms When Describing Different Races
Oriental, Colored, and Indian went out of style a long time ago; in fact, they're considered offensive. So, too, is lumping every Spanish-speaking person into a general category like "Mexican" or any Arab-looking person as "Persian" (it's a specific country, people). Feeling the need to identify is a nervous reaction we have when faced with issues of race. Black, white, Asian and Latino/a are generally accepted, but when in doubt, how about you just call someone by their actual name. Who says we have to classify ourselves all the time anyway?
Um ... actually, "Persians," or Iranians, aren't Arab at all. They're a completely different ethnicity/race/whateveryouwannacallit. And no one refers to any Arab-looking person as "Persian." They don't even refer to them as "Iranian." They refer to them as "Arab." Or else something worse.
6. Believing Stereotypes
Yes, black Americans dominate most sports, more Asians are accepted into MIT than any other race, and Latinos have been known to tear up a dance floor. Though some race-specific stereotypes seem like positive assumptions, imagine yourself on the other end, with high expectations placed on your shoulders simply because of a scrutinized minority. White people don't have the pressure to be the best in math or sports; they just have to be good enough. Everyone else should get the same slack.
Yikes! what an argument! Lower your expectations of POC because that's more fair? No, sweetie, the real problem with "positive" stereotypes is that they bolster a system of thought in which people think you can tell something about someone by their race. Not by their culture, by their race. "Positive" stereotypes are stereotypes with a smile. All people smile, even racists. And the person who smiles at you and expects you to play basketball well, or do math, or be hot in bed, is always also the person who thought you got into college because of affirmative action, or who will, when the chips are down, finally pull out a "negative" stereotype.
All stereotypes are racist!
But kudos to her for getting this out there. It's by thinking things through that you actually understand things, and it's by putting it out there---and maybe getting some discussion---that your ideas are improved upon.
I just read Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book of the Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, and I looked on the copyright pages for the pub dates. Turns out, OSUS was first published in 1965, and the other four books in 1973, '74, '75, and '77.
So it seems that what I suspected might be true: the first book was written, possibly as part of a series or possibly as a standalone, and then Cooper was stuck for a long time until she came up with Will and the concept for the other four books, and was able to write them all together.
This makes sense: the momentum, the urgency, of the books doesn't really appear until the second book. Also, the language that indicates that the books are part of a series and that there are further battles to win doesn't appear until the second book. She doesn't find her feet, or her continuity, until The Dark is Rising.
I read online that Cooper wrote OSUS in response to a contest for a children's adventure story, and that's exactly what it is: slightly more naturalistic Famous Five crapola. In fact, the book is a direct rip-off of the Famous Five formula, three siblings go to a town by the sea on vacation and have mystery adventures with buried treasure and pirates' caves and such. With a dog; Cooper even jacked the dog. The only character she didn't steal was the tomboy George, a cryptofemme genderqueer who might have been cool in Cooper's hands if Cooper had allowed herself to follow the possibilities. But she didn't.
That's why OSUS sucked. Yes, it sucked. You can see some of the later, wonderful Cooper in there, but in a really trying way. Her precise descriptions of ritual pageantry, that made The Dark is Rising so Greenawayesque, shows up here as endless, pointless getting people across the room and out the door, so to speak. The kids actually have to go through a corridor, then through another one, then up some stairs, back to their room, move a wardrobe, go up a ladder, through an attic, and then throw away an apple core and decide to pick it up in a strange little cubby hole in the corner of the attic before they finally find the damn treasure map. I would've just sent them straight to the attic and put the map under a loose plank. ... No, I just wouldn't have written the book at all.
The plot (SPOILAGE AHEAD) hinges on a treasure map the children find on a rainy day in th' Cap'n's house (yawn), which turns out to be less of a map than a step, by step diagram, like that children's party game where you hide progressive clues around the house, each clue leading to the next. Despite dire warnings of a definitive battle between good and evil from their great-uncle Merlin, the process still feels like a party game, and Merlin treats it like one, letting the kids put themselves into real physical danger.
The only The Dark is Risingesque elements are a very brief carnival scene, which isn't given nearly the Cooper treatment that I would have liked, and a distinctly lonely and cold mood about the ancient sites that prefigures the rest of the series. But there's also not nearly enough of this.
Also, ephelba asked a couple of posts ago about my take on a couple of scenes in the book. The first is when the children are exploring the house on the rainy day and find the map. Before they find the map, they're pretending to be explorers in the jungle, and there's some by-play among them about how they're being followed by "rude natives." The second one is when the bad guy kidnaps the youngest brother at the carnival, he's dressed like an Arab.
I think these are two different issues. The first is the origins of the children's adventure story in imperialist expansion, and the second is racial drag.
Without dismissing the children's-adventure-story-as-imperialist-training-camp issue, I'm not going to really address it here. Except to say that the sun has set on the fictional British empire, and the appearance of children pretending to explore a jungle served by rude native porters and fearful of cannibals is--in 1965--pretty much Kipling's death rattle. It's sad, clichéd, and boring, but it's at this point a formulaic jerk of the knee. Meaningless.
I say this because the whole book is so rote and clichéd. She was working out some shit, clearly, and I'll need to see the rest of the series again with an adult eye. But, to give the whole series a political read, she starts out with rote imperialist adventure, and moves, in the succeeding four books, more and more and more into Brit Isles interiority, mirroring the postwar withdrawal of the UK back into itself, and the turning of its political attention towards its domestic ills.
The racial drag of someone dressing as an Arab is not a past problem, though. It's a present one. Not that anyone dresses up as Arabs anymore. I think Abscam put an end to that. But you see people costumed as "geishas" all the time.
Alright, I'll be serious. There's not much commentary in the bad guy dressing up as an Arab except: 1) it's the bad guy and his Arab costume is dwelt upon strangely, making the connection stick. Bad guy = Arab. and 2) it makes racial drag sound okay as a holiday costume choice.
Racial Drag Is Not Okay As A Costume Choice, Kids!
I think both of these are relatively toothless, but, of course, these are not the sort of clichés we want to put into children's heads, and leaving this particular book out of The Dark is Rising sequence you read to your kiddies aloud won't actually hurt anything. I didn't read the first one until long after I'd read the other four, and I didn't feel that I'd missed anything. Honestly, though, I really think it's more of a poor read than a politically bad read.
I'm worried now, though, b/c, as I remember it, the second and fourth books were the best ones, and the first, third, and fifth books include the Famous Three. I'm off to read Greenwitch now and maybe it's gonna suck again, too, although Will is in it.
I got into it with Angry Black Woman guest blogger Nora a couple of months ago in comments on a post she wrote where I accused her of avoiding the racist issues that exist between African and Asian Americans. I won't get into that whole thing right now, but I write this to offer a caveat: there might be some little bit of unresolved tension motivating me, and you might want to keep your salt shaker handy.
(I intend to write a series of long posts about the tension between Asians and blacks eventually, but it seemed at best graceless, not mention divisive, to post those during the Jena 6 controversy, especially when there has been near-silence from the Asian American community--and me--about it.)
So today I read Nora's post from Friday in which she wonders if racism has suddenly surged:
Because it really does seem like there’s been a significant increase in blatant, obvious racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry these days. Is it just me? I’m not talking about the institutionalized stuff; that never seems to fade. But suddenly we’ve got nooses all over the place, racially-motivated rape/torture, and miscarriages of justice so incontestable that even the national media (eventually) comments on it.
Then she gives us a history lesson:
It’s been almost fifty years now since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. I count that time as the start of real, substantive US national dialogue about racial equality. For a brief few painful moments, the whole country talked about how to get along with each other: what not to say if you don’t want to piss people off, what not to do if you don’t want to get arrested or sued. During that time, blatant racism became societally frowned-upon. There was one immediate good result of this change: blatant racism diminished. There was also one very bad result: namely that a lot of people — not just white people — convinced themselves that racism had gone away.
That’s when things got weird. For one thing, the national dialogue all but stopped. With so many people declaring that racism was dead, it seemed strange to keep talking about it, so a lot of people went silent. For those who kept talking, a strange thing occurred: they became societally frowned-upon too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends, particularly friends of other races, apologize to me for mentioning race. Not for making racist remarks — for mentioning race. I bet it’s happened to you, too. WTF? Somehow, somewhere along the way, talking about race has become conflated with promoting racism.
The illogic between these two statements is boggling. First she says that we're talking about racism, nationally, all the time these days, then she says that we're not allowed to talk about racism. Why all this?:
of course, reports of racism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. And lately, I’ve felt it getting worse.
I have no empirical evidence to back up this feeling — just my instincts, that sense of “race-dar” that most PoC develop somewhere in adolescence. My Spidey Senses are tingling more than usual.
Oh, I see. It's not because racist incidents are all over the news right now, it's because Nora's POC "race-dar" is going off. Because her "Spidey Senses" are tingling---those senses that only blacks have in full, but Indians and Latinos in part, Arabs and Asians a little bit, and white people not at all---she "knows" that there's more racism goin' on right now.
With this level of historical understanding, with this level of racial discourse, coming from someone who is promoted to us as a thought leader, is it any wonder that the racial discourse Nora engages in goes nowhere?
First of all: Nora's understanding of the history of racial struggle in the United States (as presented here) is laughably simplistic. Since the mid-nineteenth century--and even before--there have been successive waves of liberation ideology, followed by the enlightenment of a few whites, the uplift of a few blacks, and then a serious backlash.
Anyone who has ever read the Emancipation Amendments to the US Constitution (13th, 14th and 15th), could have no doubt that full citizenship rights for African Americans was on the national table as early as 1865. This period, between 1865-1870 (the passage of the three amendments) and 1877 (the Hayes administration's withdrawal of troops from the South), saw unprecendented freedom in both northern and southern states for blacks, with the election of the country's first black politicians, and even interracial marriages.
The US wasn't ready, and our current stereotypical understanding of what "racism" is---Jim Crow laws, KKK, lynchings, voter restrictions, etc.---arose during the backlash that followed in the next quarter century (until the turn of the century.) A campaign of racial terrorism against blacks--not just in the south but in northern states as well--put a lid on black liberation for nearly thirty years.
Not coincidentally, this period also saw the passing of racist laws excluding the immigration, and restricting the citizenship, ownership, and labor opportunities of Asians, particularly in the west. During the latter half of the century, Mexican Americans in western states were lynched at rate of 473 per 100,000 of the population; gender was no protection. And Native Americans were, in this period, also finally defeated in the Indian Wars, restricted to reservations, and saw their children stolen and placed in Indian Boarding Schools, thus largely destroying their traditional cultures.
Of course that eased up again and in the first decade of the 20th century, a group of African American intellectuals, among them W.E.B. DuBois, started the Niagara Movement, which culminated in the foundation of the NAACP in 1909. The following thirty years saw a slow, steady (with many setbacks) development of black institutions in both the south and the north, as the Great Migration of southern rural blacks to northern cities spurred the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's, creating a second, larger generation of black intellectuals who not only articulated the race problem, but set the terms for a debate that still rages along the same lines today.
The 1920s and 30s also saw Asian and Mexican Americans joining the labor movement and gaining for themselves a measure of respect and power through that association. Native Americans won American citizenship. This period also saw many POC leaders first making the connection among the struggles of their various "races." Although no broad-based POC coalitions happened as a result, in the labor movement meaningful alliances were formed, for example in California between Mexican and Filipino field workers.
It's tempting to dismiss this period as a dark one, since the picture for most African Americans, not to mention other races, was one of poverty, limitation, and the constant potential for racial targeting. But racial issues hit the national discourse periodically, and the slow, upward creep of national racial consciousness never ceased between the turn of the century and the Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights Movement was a breaking point, a climax in a tension that had been rising pretty much steadily until WWII, and then had been rising much more quickly throughout the fifties. Naturally, as after Reconstruction, this period of rapid acquistion of civil rights was followed by a serious backlash. Only this backlash was different, and much less successful. For one thing, much of the Movement had radicalized, and focused its energy on building up black instituations within the black communities.
For another, a lot of white liberal energy, as well as white conservative energy, was drawn off of Civil Rights into the antiwar movement. And, just as in WWII when black soldiers gained respect for their entire community, during Vietnam, white and black soldiers serving together did a great deal to change working class attitudes toward the black community.
Also, black civil rights inspired Asian Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans to form their own pan-ethnic, racial liberation movements. The seventies, far from a conservative backlash, saw the success of the antiwar movement, and the establishment of national Asian American, Latino, and American Indian institutions, which solidified that national understanding of these groups as racial blocs, creating the basis for political power bases. A number of institutional battles for entitlements began during this decade that were ultimately won here or in the eighties: fights for affirmative action in the granting of government contracts, hiring practices, college acceptance, busing, nutrition and health entitlements for children, etc.
The eighties was when idiots like Ronald Reagan declared racism over, but that doesn't mean that racial discourse fell off the table: far from it. National identity-based institutions continued fighting for--and winning--entitlements based on race and ethnicity. This was the decade of "identity politics" and the "culture wars," which revolved not merely around whether or not Congress gets to decide what art is, but whether or not our national culture--both high and low--included the "subcultures" of women, queers, people of color, and immigrants. White artists like to say that we lost the culture wars, but POC and women resoundingly won the culture wars, as evidenced by the periodic grumblings of white men that there are too many unworthy women and blacks (and black queer women!) on reading lists, in magazine articles, in our fiction, nonfiction, national discourse, etc. etc.
The nineties was when Generation X, the first generation raised since the Civil Rights Movement, came of age and seized control of the national dialogue. This is part of the reason why racial discourse was driven, to a certain extent, underground. White GenXers both did and didn't believe Reagan when he said racism was over. They wanted to believe, but knew better than to trust politicians and media. Also, all the institutional entitlements won in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although constantly embattled, had been so bound up with class, rather than race, entitlements, that--as Nora points out--the Clinton Administration was able to make racial entitlements a question of socialism vs. democracy.
(By the way, today, Bushies have taken advantage of this to shame race activists. It's really hard to argue that blacks, for example, should get more entitlements, when poor whites are losing theirs, too. And yet racial institutions are so used to calling the white man the devil--and I'm talking about all the racial institutions--that they're really hard pressed to form pan-racial coalitions of impoverished and working class. This is particularly hard when conservative working class whites insist on believing that the entitlements they're losing are "socialist.")
The nineties, however, particularly the late nineties, saw a coming of age of GenX POC, who have leveraged new media and the culture/media discussion of the eighties to create a media-savvy, national voice for themselves and each of their groups. Much of the discussion of the nineties was around representation in the media. Anyone who says that discussion of race went entirely underground just. wasn't. paying. attention.
The early "aughts" or "00s" of the 21st Century gave us two things: another racist war, and Katrina. Katrina brought race back into the national consciousness, and also consolidated a new way of leveraging opinions, funds, and action: the internet. And let's not forget moveon.org's move from the internet into face to face activism during the 2006 election, which resulted in a Democratic win. We talked a lot without doing much about race in the nineties because we didn't know how to close the gap between virtual and real communities. But we've learned how to do that recently.
Which brings us to today, black bloggers like ABW and Nora, and the thousands of others who made Jena a household word of shame, and to my second point.
Secondly: it's loooong been a question whether the rape and child molestation rates have really risen over the few decades that they've been collected, or whether recent acquisitions of civil rights for women and children have allowed these crimes to be reported at levels more closely approximating their actual occurrence. This same question dogs every societal malaise and malady that becomes a trend: scientists are currently wondering if we're really having an autism epidemic, or if we've become so sensitized to autism spectrum conditions that people who never would have been diagnosed before are now being diagnosed.
Did it ever occur to Nora to wonder if racist incidents are all over the news right now not because suddenly racism is happening everywhere (it boggles my mind that Nora seems to think that this shit hasn't been happening quietly everywhere all along), but because suddenly race is on the national agenda again for a variety of reasons?
But you have to know history to understand--or even to see--these reasons:
Far from it being a bad thing that Nora's supersenses are tingling, it's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing.
Black voices of our and the next (Gen Y? Echo Boomers? Millennials?) generations are being unleashed on questions of socio-economic equity, and not just on media portrayals. This is why everyone is suddenly so angry and suddenly news of racist incidents is hitting us from everywhere. We have a new generation of POC discovering that racism isn't over. And they're, understandably, pissed. But that's when things get better, Nora, not worse, when people who should get angry, do, and start organizing mass demonstrations.
This is good for everybody, and especially for racial bloggers like Nora, who will suddenly become information portals for mobilized POC, exhilarated by their last---and looking for their next---battle. This is good for the bloggers who are prepared to look at both class and race, to sacrifice their egos and cherished points of view for the sake of a vitally important developing dialogue. Maybe not so good for bloggers who aren't capable of difficult change.
It's up to the bloggers themselves to make sure that they keep their audience ... if they can.
Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane
Wonderful, again, like the first. And, again, like the first, a little bit of a disconnect between the hokey-jokiness of meeting whale wizards, and finding out dolphins' real, and very silly, names ... and the very serious and dark turn the book takes around the middle.
Beautifully written and heartfelt. But this tonal disconnect is starting to worry me. Don't know if it's just a personal limitation or if it's a problem with the book. I'll definitely keep reading, though. This stuff is too good not to.
The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Still digesting. But a few initial observations:
This was aimed at A-list political bloggers, not anywun like li'l ol' me, but the point is well-taken. I haven't blogged about the Jena 6 because I've been extremely poopy on blogging lately and haven't blogged much about anything.
But that's a cheap excuse. So here are some links. If you haven't already, go inform yourself about a ridiculously racist case against some black teens that looks like it's in the midst of blowing up in da man's face.
In the course of this ongoing discussion of race and literature, David Anthony Durham gave a commenter on his blog a recommended reading list -- but only in the comments. I hope he doesn't mind my reposting it here--mainly because I want to save a record of it for my own use.
Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin (First novel by a famous black literary novelist, about coming of age, identity, religion, race.)
The Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (The only novel by a sci-fi novelist here – a tale of a near future with a world in increasing chaos, brutal and grim, but also poignantly hopeful as well. If you haven't read her please do. I think she was terrific, and I'm disappointed I'll never get the chance to meet her.)
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (Classic with a capitol C. His notion of invisibleness of African Americans became a central theme and metaphor regarding race in America.)
Angel of Harlem, by Kuwana Haulsey (A young, contemporary author. This is basically a biopic novel about the first black female physician in New York. That was a rather amazing accomplishment considering that the medical community didn’t think blacks – much less a female as well – were anatomically capable of higher thinking.)
Hunting in Harlem, by Mat Johnson (Another young author, decidedly urban, with a bit of the “thriller” to it.)
The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas, by Reginald McKnight (Interesting short stories with quite a bit of range.)
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. (Toni can be tough to get into, but she's worth the effort. I think Beloved is one of the best novels written - ever. I mention this one, though, cause it's darn good to, and bit more accessible.)
Little Scarlet, by Walter Mosley (This is a crime novel and can be enjoyed as such. I also think it’s shot right through with insightful – and sometimes confrontational – thoughts on wearing dark skin in the US.)
I’d be being coy if I didn’t mention my own books, Gabriel’s Story and Walk Through Darkness. I’m very proud of them, and believe they’re accessible and plot-driven at the same time as they're meant to hit some deeper themes.
I can second the Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, and, of course, Ralph Ellison picks. And I have to admit that Song of Solomon really didn't do anything for me. Everything else is going on my wishlist.
Regarding this brouhaha:
First of all, some terms, since I've found that most people are really, really sloppy about them:
When referring to a group, it means either that the group is composed of multiracial individuals, or that the group is composed of monoracial individuals of two or more races. Which meaning will only be clear in context. "Multiracial" is often used to refer to groups which contain only two races. Usually, "multiracial" is used to refer to group situations and "interracial" is used to refer to one-on-one situations, but this isn't always the case.
I am also multiracial. I have many individual friends who are multiracial: Chinese and white, Korean and Mexican, Japanese and black. My group of friends is very multiracial, including Mexicans, Indians, Filipinos, whites, blacks, Japanese, Iranians, etc.
The term originated in a hoax pamphlet intended to create anti-miscegenation hysteria (it succeeded) and has been used in an exclusively negative manner. To use it to refer to purely recreative interracial sex is to use the term falsely, unless of course, the kink is for unsafe interracial sex that leads to pregnancy.
Many people would think my family is an example of miscegenation.
Aside from any questions of offensiveness, using "miscegenation" to refer to interracial sex fetishes is simply incorrect.
There are interracial relationships, there is interracial sex, and then there are people who get off on the perceived taboo of crossing races for sex. What you call that is "Interracial Sex Fetish", not "Miscegenation".
Get it right.
Oyceter over at LJ is again hosting International Blog Against Racism Week.
You KNOW ima participate. Howzabout you?
Here's Oyce's links roundup so far.
(Cross-posted on Other Magazine blog.)
I wasn't gonna get drawn into this debate, because Tempy and Tobias were already doing such a good job and saying what I wanted to say, but then I went and read the comments in Tobias's post and now I'm annoyed.
People were--well, one person was--calling out ABW for placing the lion's share of blame on the editors' shoulders for needing to go and reach out to writers of color if they really wanted to diversify the stories in their rags. This someone asked when they were supposed to have the time to do all this outreach.
Are you fucking kidding me?
First of all, arguing that editors don't have time to do their jobs doesn't really excuse anything. It's an editor's job not merely to present the best writing that's sent to her, not merely to make a real, good faith effort to find the best writing that's out there, but to actually encourage writers to produce more and differently--to shape the kind of writing that gets made in the first place. Anyone who doesn't know this isn't really a professional in the field.
And the best editors of the most respected magazines do exactly that. They don't sit on their asses and wait for the transom to emit. They run around like madpeople to conferences and workshops and readings, they collect zines and spend time on the internet and ask their trusted writer/editor friends for recommendations. They talk to agents. They do rain dances, naked.
They also turn to writers and agents and proactively ask them if they have a story on X, or a story written like Y. They do this knowing that word will go around that Editor Z wants X and Y! And tons of hungry writers will step up.
So it's funny that X and Y are so rarely "stuff by writers of color" and "stuff about people of color." All an editor has to do is ask.
2) Given that editors have to do this and also that their time is limited, why don't we poc make things easier for them? I mean, let's start a list of places an editor should go to outreach to those ever-elusive good poc writers. I'll start and maybe members of other communities can pick this up. I'd be happy to host a mini-carnival on this topic, or simply to collect the responses and post them all together at some later date. Please feel free to add resources in the comments, especially if you have a blog that you know poc writers read.
These tips should include:
What follows here is a list of all the poc real world and online spaces I can think of to use to outreach to writers of color. NOTE: this goes for literary writing AND for SF/F:
This has been addressed a million times in poc blogs and I don't need to address it again. If you need to hear it though, read the following:
What I want to add to the debate is a small piece of truth that gets glossed over. In response to the complaint of white writers about writing about people of color: "Damned if you do. Damned if you don't," I want to say: absolutely.
It's absolutely true. You're damned either way. If you don't do it, you're a racist. Yes, you are. Race and racism exist in this society, and if you ignore them, you're expressing a racial privilege that you don't, morally, have any right to. That's a subtle form of racism.
If you do do it and get it "wrong", you'll get reamed, and rightfully so. It's presumptuous of you to think that you have the right to represent a culture you don't belong to if you can't be bothered to properly examine and accurately portray that culture.
Further, if you do it and get it "right", or rather, don't get it wrong, you'll still get reamed by members of that culture you've represented who rightfully resent a white writer's success representing their culture. After all, every American ethnic minority has its writers: good and bad. The good writers are mostly ignored. Inevitably, some white writer will come along and do a bang-up job portraying that culture and will get--in one book, in one section of a book--more attention than the poc writer got over the course of three or five or ten books.
You're a white writer trying to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, it's wrong. And that's so unfair to you, isn't it?
Welcome to a tiny taste of what it's like to be a person of color.
Oh, and quit complaining.
I've been sadly remiss in announcing this:
The Carl Brandon Society is accepting nominations for its Kindred and Parallax awards until July 31. You have four days, people! Get on it!
The Carl Brandon Parallax Award is given to works of speculative fiction created by a person of color. Nominees must provide a brief statement self-identifying as a person of color; creators unwilling to do so will not be considered for this award. This Award includes a $1000 cash prize.
The Carl Brandon Kindred Award is given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group. This Award includes a $1000 cash prize.
Just finished Middle Passage by Charles Johnson, which I picked up in a used bookstore.
It was entertaining, but I'll forget it immediately.
I have to say, I hate the genre of funny-funny-until-it-get-serious-and-meaningful historical fiction. God, I hope that's not what I'm writing with Chinaman. The anachronisms of pov were driving me crazy. They were neither enlightening, nor amusing.
Sigh. I just hate it when I finish a book and feel like I've wasted my time. The book was published in 1990, so it was still dealing with the first big skirmish of identity politics (remind me ... did we win or lose?) As such, the 1830's-era freedman protagonist is busier being Johnson's Mary Sue in a blatantly polarized identity world than he is doing the much more interesting job of negotiating freedom in a slave society.
Every interesting opportunity was missed. I realize that that's not what the author chose to focus on, but my God, choosing to base an identity politics ("tragi")comedy on a slaver is about as misguided as the warm-family-tragicomedy-in-Nazi-death-camp peesashit "Life is Beautiful" was.
Plus, the love interest woman who's fat at the beginning? She slims down in the background from agonizing over whether or not to marry the black slave trader who's wooing her, so that she can appear beautiful in the finale with the protag. I realize it's all in "good" fun, but, UGH!
It's a mouff-ful so we just call it "API Heritage Munff" which makes us sound extra "in" as in "in the know".
It's May, by the way, although some people I can mention, who work in an API nonprofit I could mention, seem to think it's April.
Anyway, down Yay Area Way artsy things tend to center around SomArts Cultural Center (look it up yourdamnself, I just got home from work) where APICC (the "CC" stands for "cultural center") holds it annual munff-long festival. The kickoff's Thursday night, i.e. tomorrow, and I will be there, with silk on.
Sigh. I feel like some sort of effort is in order, a la Angry Black Woman's Black History Month thang, but I'm sodamntired right now. I even walked to lunch yesterday in the middle of a huge downtown Oakland MayDay immigration reform rally and couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why they were having such a rally on that day. I might need to post about this latah.
I was about to make all sorts of rash promises, but I'm going to go take a walk instead which, if it doesn't wake me up, will be followed by a nap that just might segue into tomorrow's breakfast.
... the shooter was Asian, and a foreign national. I really don't wanna see the fallout from this one.
****update*****Even worse: He's a 1.5. Here we go ...
****update 2*****"1.5" is between first and second generation. Among European Americans, there's the immigrant generation, and then "first generation" means the first generation to be born in the U.S. Among Asians and Latinos, it's counted differently. First generation is the immigrants. Second generation is the first generation born in the States.
So 1.5's are kids born abroad, but raised mostly or partly in the U.S. I.e., not foreigners, but not born in the U.S.A., either.
This guy is gonna get the "foreigner" treatment for sure, even though he's culturally American--at least to great extent.
Rebecca at Hyphen magazine rounds up the Asian American freak-out.
Apropos of the previous post on Kiri Davis' "A Girl Like Me," here's a snippet from a Bill Cosby hosted show from the 70's. Compare and contrast.
If you want your heart broken, watch as 17-year-old filmmaker Kiri Davis renacts the Brown vs. Board of Education study from the Fifties in which black children were asked to pick between a white baby doll and a black baby doll. Back then, most picked the white doll. Now, guess which one most picked today?
And Don Imus is on the record, nationally, for calling black women role models "nappy-headed ho's."
(cross-posted at Other Magazine staff blog.)
I realized, while I was writing the preceding post about white ethnic blogging, that I've been unconsciously supporting the whole white ethnic blogging as default blogging thing. You see, I have "asian american" as a topic category on my blog, but not "white". And guess what? I'm both Asian American and white.
But because white is default, my only "ethnicity" is Asian, right?
Well, not anymore. I've added a "white" topic category to my blog and will be tagging posts that deal specifically with my white issues or my white ethnic perspective from now on.
It'll be interesting to see if I ever use this tag. I've been thinking of myself as a person of color for so long--and been treated as such for so long--that I don't know if I can think of my perspective as white. But for years I've been saying that I'm not a new category--a multiracial--but rather both Asian and white, whole and complete in both.
That turns out to not actually be true. I'm not whole and complete in being white, and don't know if I can be. We'll see. Experiment begins ... now!
There are a number of blogs, which shall remain nameless, that I have quit reading in the last year or so. I quit them (I do know how to quit you!) because they were so damned white.
What I mean is that the blogger/s were white, but the blogs didn't acknowledge this in any way. The blogs themselves were grandly themed and very popular, and purported--either explicitly or implicitly--to represent the ethnically non-differentiated world of that particular theme. And yet all the people they talked about, all the bloggers they linked to, all the issues discussed, were white, white and white.
Sure, of course they'd occasionally find something from a person of color or from another country, but days, weeks, occasionally even months would go by without this happening. The blogs were clearly by and about whites. That wasn't what disgusted me, though. What disgusted me was that the blogs were sincerely and truly not just for whites. I'm sure the bloggers hoped and dreamed (once a year, or maybe decade) that nonwhite people would come and read their blogs too. They sincerely thought that they were pursuing a topic rather than pursuing a white topic.
In the meantime, bloggers of color--who are always aware when they are being ethnic and when they are being general or nonethnic--have blogs which openly acknowledge the ethnicity or raciality of their points of view, and are attacked for it.
Okay, I'm not the first blogger to make this complaint, and no, it doesn't interest me anymore, either, although it still angers me. My point here is that I was reading a white friend's personal blog today, which is very popular and read and linked to by a lot of peeps in our skiffy tribe (don't think you know who I'm talking about because you don't!) and it hit me like a pile of trolls: this is an ethnic blog!
Well ... duh.
It's an ethnic blog because my friend, and all my white, blogging friends whose blogs are popular and considered a destination for a certain interest group, all of my white blogging friends who deal with "culture" and "arts and literature" and other unacknowledgedly cultural products, are doing it about, from, and for the white cultural sphere. Period.
Including poc and foreigners occasionally is nice, especially if the inclusion arises from genuine interest and admiration. But the blogs are white blogs, not just blogs. They are white book blogs, not just book blogs. They are white writing blogs, not just writing blogs. They are white blogs of interesting things, not just blogs of interesting things. They are white political blogs, not just political blogs. They are white art and film blogs, not just art and film blogs. etc. I think you get the picture.
It seems obvious now, but this is America, and the most obvious things are hidden in plain sight. George W. Bush, for example.
Now that I've had the realization, I feel differently about these white blogs. Everyone has a right--nearly a mandate, almost an imperative--to explore his or her home or group culture, to examine it, to illuminate it, to critique it. I love this about black, brown, and yellow ethnic blogs, and now I love this about white ethnic blogs as well. I no longer need them to change. I no longer have to fight down long emails to each blogger telling them how white they are and that they need to be more inclusive. They don't need to be more inclusive, any more than Cute Overload needs to blog about Iraq.
All they need to do is acknowledge that they are blogs written by white people from a white perspective about white culture. All they need to do is admit that they are white ethnic blogs.
Think that'll happen?