I’m Just Not Impressed

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Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

The never ending cycle of white privilage.

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(Originally posted on LiveJournal in March 2009. But it seems, sadly, continually relevant.)

Hi. My name is Em…

and I am racist.

I say that without a sense of irony and with some small sense of shame. It is primarily passive racism at this point, but I benefit from the color of my skin in innumerable ways every day. And if you are reading this, and you are white, so do you. And you have been trained by our society not to see it and to embrace it and to benefit – every day – from the fact that you are not a person of color.

I am racist. I don’t like it. I hate it. But every fucking day I struggle with myself. I fail at being an anti-racist ally every fucking day. But I keep trying. And I learn. I’m not saying this because I want someone to give me a cookie and a pat on the back for trying not to be an asshole. I’m saying it because we can all learn together if we want to, but first we have to see our prejudice for what it really is. We have to own it. We have to admit to ourselves the way that we react to people of different races and not try to explain it away as something other than an instantaneous value judgement based primarily on the color of someone’s skin.

There has been a ton of fail around these here internets lately – RaceFail, if you will. It is bleeding over – as it should – into other venues I frequent (and if you frequent them too, then a lot of this might look a little familiar, but it needs to be said). It makes people uncomfortable. Fact is, it’s not nice to be confronted with our own privilege. It’s not nice to think that we as white people might be racist. It’s a lot easier to talk about racial prejudice, and privilege. It’s lot easier to not push ourselves out of our comfort zone. It’s uncomfortable, and it sucks, and it burns and if we are even the slightest bit concerned with social justice, it can make our entire selfhood squirm to call our race based prejudice by its actual name. RACISM.

But here’s the thing.
It’s not about us. It’s not about the white people.

It’s not about how our feelings get hurt when people call us out for saying stupid shit.
It’s not about how an innocent comment (or chapter or essay or statement) was misconstrued.
It’s not about how hard it is to be sensitive to other people’s cultural sensitivities.
It’s not about how it stings and burns and makes us want to rage when someone suggests that we are, in fact, racist.
It’s not about us white folks.

At its root it’s about systematic racism and how generations of racial oppression have created a system in which what a white person says is valued more highly than what a person of color says. It’s about how generations of passive lack of resistance have benefited white people at the expense of people of color. It’s about using the language of oppression to cast white people we don’t like into the role of racial other when there is no other target, or to make the case that we’re not racist, we’re classist. It’s about white being the default and non-white being “special interest.” It’s about not having to bear scrutiny for our entire race when we fuck up.

It is not about how uncomfortable we feel. If it hurts to be called a racist, too damn bad. If it hurts that much, do what you can to help create a world that is less racist. It’s our fault as a race, not peoples of color. We can listen. We can speak up. We can see to it that we learn and that we don’t leave anti-racist work to people of color. We can call out our friends.

We can own up to our own racism.

Written by emandink

August 19, 2014 at 7:48 am

Things that are pissing me off this morning.

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So, here’s the deal – I’m 34 weeks pregnant, I feel like a whale, my back hurts and I really really really don’t want to end up with preeclampsia and on bed rest in the next three – six weeks, so I’m trying to keep my stress levels down. Evidently, part of what this means is that instead of engaging in controversial discussions in my usual online haunts, I’m going to get it all out here and hope my annoyance dissipates in the act of more general ranting.

So, lucky you, my handful of readers, or something like that. Anyway, without further ado:

1. So, the esteemed Governor of Virginia has decided that it’s not only appropriate to issue a proclamation about Confederate History Month (April Fools? Please?), but to do so in a way that erases all references to slavery as being essential to “the Confederate way of life”, but to tie it into Civil War tourism. How family friendly…for certain values of family that are somewhat more limited than my preferred definition. And how proud am I as a VA resident of more than a decade.

2. Amanda Palmer. I suppose to be over her, I’d have to first be into her, and the main reason she’s even on my radar screen is because of Neil Gaiman and various associations therefrom. But really. Her public statements have started to read like a checklist from Stuff White People Do:
-Misuse of the term “irony” to justify comparing product placement to giving money to the KKK? Check.
-Appropriation of voices of oppression?
-Veiled allusions to economic slavery?
-Appropriation of artforms giving voice to non-privileged people?
-All of the above wrapped in a bundle of “people are so over sensitive and just don’t get me”? Check, check and check.

There’s a whole ‘nother post bubbling there about artists and the current culture of immediate access and how that changes the way that we interact with the people who make the things that we enjoy and effects how we are even able to enjoy them (which I started exploring here, actually). But that will have to wait.

Written by emandink

April 7, 2010 at 9:17 am

Fairey Tales

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I have a growing fascination with the Shepard Fairey copyright case.  Part of what makes it so fascinating is that, unlike a lot of copyright cases where a close look at existing law and precedent makes it pretty clear who is likely to win, this one is a crap shoot to my mind.  Cases like this one, and the recent Harry Potter Copyright Trial of Doom, illustrate a trend in the U.S. federal courts to apply nuanced reasoning about what fair use really means and what it truly means to “transform” a work into something new that does not depend on the original.  I don’t think that Fairey will win on his declaratory judgement action.  There are too many questions of law and fact at stake and I suspect that it will require a full trial (provided that it doesn’t settle first).  At full trial, though, I think he has a decent chance.  Then again, so – potentially – does AP.  I suspect, though, that it would tip in his favor, since while his image is clearly derivative, it does not represent a market that AP was likely to exploit, nor does it supersede the value of the original image.  OTOH, he copied it.  AP has made it’s basic case.  Whether Fairey’s Stanford legal team can establish the fair use defense will be the real issue.  It’s a decent case, but not a slam dunk.  Fair use is a defense that applies only after the case for potential copyright infringement has been proven, after all.

In the meantime, how about that Shepard Fairey.  The more I learn about him as an artist, the more I sort of dislike him.  But, boy, is there a lot of interesting stuff there to think about it.  There are three different angles to look at this art through – legal, art criticism and social justice, all of which can lead to far reaching conclusions.

From a legal perspective, my feelings are mixed – on the one hand, probably 30-40% of the art referenced in that first link  is in the public domain and is therefore fair game for any sort of use.  OTOH, a lot of it isn’t.  So we’re back to fair use and whether the use that he’s making really transforms anything, particularly the work that largely shifts perspective on works that were overtly political to begin with and whether his works act as substitutes or damage the market for the original works.

Then there is art criticism – and certainly reasonable people will differ on he question of is this art, although I certainly think it is.  I’m not sure how to categorize it, though.  My first thought is to forget the comparisons to Warhol and Lichtenstein – they copied iconic images, for sure – iconic images that were easily recognizable from their source.  And they transformed them into something else.  Warhol turned household goods into art objects (and did settle a lawsuit with Campbell’s for his trouble).  Lichtenstein took comic images from the 2×2 inch paper booklet and put them on walls.  Obama poster aside (which is somewhat like Warhol’s famous figure works), Fairey takes other people’s propaganda and turns it into…propaganda. 

This recasting of propaganda art from the 60s and 70s is the most problematic part of the work that I’ve seen.  Fairey borrows heavily from works made by people of color to publicize and fight their oppression and commodifies them into something easily consumable by an audience comprised primarily of white hipsters, while simultaneously marketing some of the actual emblems of their oppression right along side.  This is the real insidiousness of this work.  It is an exercise of enormous privilege for a white person to appropriate images by and of people of color for “art”, no matter how politicized and “in tune” with the original message.

Written by emandink

February 16, 2009 at 5:38 pm

What was that about “post-racial” America?

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If you haven’t heard about the 22 year old man who was shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit police as a kick ass start to 2009, I would not be surprised.  I just learned about him today, through a posting in a private forum.

Oscar Grant was unarmed, part of a peaceful permitted demonstration, who according to the linked account, was trying to calm down his companions.

He was then pushed to the ground and shot point blank in the back.

Lest you wonder why duly sworn officers would do such a thing?  Take a look at the picture and tell me if you are surprised.

Written by emandink

January 7, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Racism

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This town isn’t big enough for the both of us.

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You know, it feels like just a few weeks ago that I was writing about what the heck the McCain-Palin campaign means by small town values.

Now it seems that not only are small towns (again…this means what?) the sole bastion of American morality, but in fact, in the bizarro world inhabited by John McCain and Sarah Palin and their cronies, somehow despite being at least five generations removed from “the old country” to the point where I can identify only the vaguest of non-American nationality, I am not truly an American by virtue of living in an area with more than, let’s say roughly, 5,000 people.

Hell, I don’t even live in a real state.  Which I suppose can be explained by the fact that Virginia is technically called a Commonwealth, however, those pesky income taxes that don’t go to the feds or to my local county seem to still go to Richmond to help support “real” Virginia. 

The McCain campaign is stooping to this bizarre Orwellian mantra of “All citizens are Americans but some citizens are more American than others” and I have an idea why:  Obama’s life completely belies the standard Republican narrative of the American dream.  Here we have a hard working, essentially self-made son of an immigrant and a woman from Kansas for god’s sake.  But the immigrant father was a dark skinned African man.  The mother was white and not particularly religious.  And the son had the audacity to go to the best schools that would accept him and to excel, to break down barriers, to find Jesus, to work to make the world a better place for black people in this country and to be a Democrat.  And really, it’s those last that are the real issue here.  Let’s be honest.

So, since they can’t harp on the self made American dream – which usually ties in nice and tight with the old-fashioned conservative values mantra – they’re looking for a different hook.  The tried and true “some of y’all just aren’t American enough for the rest of us” is not new.  But it is odd to see it trotted out in such force, not just by media surrogates, but by the candidates themselves.  In some ways this is another example of McCain campaigning like Bush, the original “uniter, not a divider.”

This campaign strategy has the odd effect of both being grotesquely offensive and almost relieving – I’m not entirely sure I want to live in Sarah Palin’s America.  But I don’t really appreciate her and McCain thinking they get to decide who really belongs here either.

Written by emandink

October 23, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Some quick thoughts about the DNC

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August has sucked.  I’ve several posts shaking around in my head and absolutely no time, but before these thoughts are completely irrelevant, I figured I’d throw them out here.

Clinton rocked the house last night.  I alternated between proud and excited and sad that she came so close.  She hit all the right notes and (hopefully) effectively closed the book on the whole “Clinton Loyalist” bs.  A vote for Obama is a vote with Clinton – she hammered that home.  Keep going, keep going, etc.  If the media has any say, they will milk it for a while yet, but here’s hoping we can forget that one for a while.

One thing that struck me on a larger level, that has nothing to do with Clinton and everything to do with our totally wacked out culture – it is perfectly acceptable to talk about trailblazing as a woman.  Thousands of people were moved almost to tears when Clinton tied into the intro video with the line about her mother being born before women had the vote and her daughter getting to vote for her mother.  (As an aside, I loved Bill being identified as “Hillary’s Husband” in the vid and his mouthing “I love you, I love you” as she spoke – he looked so damn proud of her in the exact same way that political wives look whenever the camera shows them during their husband’s speeches.)  Feminists may get shot down when they try to call out privilege, but at least we can talk about it.

OTOH, race still seems to be the elephant in the room, even at Obama’s convention.  As noted by The Rude Pundit, Michelle Obama never once really spoke about race, even though her entire speech was designed to – as seen on The Daily Show – turn her from the New Yorker black panther caricature into Laura Bush.  No one that I’ve seen so far is talking – on stage – about how amazing flipping historical it is that a black man is the Democratic nominee.  I don’t for one minute believe that it’s because the U.S. has conquered racism.  Jeffrey Weisberg at Slate has the measure there

If anything, the fact that no one has yet gotten up on that stage and talked about how it was almost unimaginable when Martin Luther King, Jr. was marching in Chicago that one day a black man would be a frontrunner for President.  Pundits, bloggers, writers – sure.  But it has not been a theme of the convention.  And it should be.  It should be just as much of a theme as gender would have been if Clinton had a million more cracks in the glass ceiling.  The fact that it’s not says volumes about the United States in 2008, and none of it is very positive.

Written by emandink

August 27, 2008 at 1:54 pm

If a joke is said in the wilderness and no one laughs, is it still funny?

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So, that New Yorker cover:

It is supposed to be satire.  Of course it is.  It’s the New Yorker.   Bastion of intellectual liberalism.  So why don’t we get it?  (We meaning a huge chunk of the liberal blogosphere who have dissecting the image with in an inch of its life over the past twenty-four hours.)  David Remnick can go give interviews to NPRand Huffington Post and other media outlets for the rest of his life, about how it’s called “The Politics of Fear” – something which you have to open the magazine (or read blogs, I guess) to find out- and about how New Yorker covers are racy and controversial.  

But images have power – more power than words, there’s that old adage, you know.  And as Anxious Black Woman points out (in comments), for satire to be successful, it has to have something with the ring of truth.  What is the “truth” here?  To hear Remnick tell it, it’s not the Obamas being satirized, it’s the people who perpetuate and actually believe the slanderous whisper campaigns represented in the cover image.  But where are those folks?  Where’s the computer in the corner with a fake headline?  Hell, where’s the title of the image, upon which the New Yorker hangs its hat? 

I’m torn on this cover, because I want it to work.  I want to see the people who actually think that Obama is a secret Muslim who’s going to sell us all out to Osama Bin Laden to get thoroughly skewered in as many places as possible.  I think Ampersand at Alas, A Blog is correct that “mockery of racist fear-mongering is [not] the same as racist fear-mongering.”  But they are not necessarily different either, and I think that the line is a lot harder to discern – particularly when the publication engaging in the alleged mockery has a readership skewed toward older, more affluent, white, urban (so I’m just guessing on the latter) Americans.  The cover is rife, not just with images directly related to the whisper campaign, but also highly stereotypical images of black men and women in the United States.  While the inside article might take on those issues as they apply to Obama, there is no indication that the magazine makes an effort to address how such images send messages about black Americans in general.  Frankly, I am not comfortable giving the magazine a pass on this one.

I’m also troubled by what I see as a lot of classism and some regionalism as well in the responses to this, but I’m having a more difficult time articulating it, because I think a lot of it is based on being a weirdo progressive liberal from the Midwest and being sick of having to defend my very existence.  I can’t up but feel like Remnick is sitting in his Manhattan office today contemplating all of the ignorant rubes from fly-over country who just don’t get the joke.

Written by emandink

July 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm