Posts tagged racism 101
Posts tagged racism 101
Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan on being detained at the U.S. Airport—twice. (Once, he was detained while promoting a film called “My Name is Khan” which was ironically about a person with the last name Khan suffering from repeated racial profiling.)
Multiple actors and other prominent individuals in the film industry with the last name “Khan” have been detained when entering the country. Irrfan Khan (The Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire, Spider-man) described the three times he was stopped—while on the way to receive honors for his roles in films such as The Namesake—as “humiliating.” Actor Aamir Khan was stopped and stripped searched in 2002. Director Kabir Khan, was reportedly detained at least three times in 2008 while filming in the United States. The New York Times ended up remarking on The Dangers of Fying While Khan
This much is clear:
If you’re an award winning actor named Khan, you will still get stopped and humiliated at the airport. When that rare character in American media finally shows up sharing your name, he will be played by a white British man. That actor will wear your name for one movie and sneer and strut to great critical acclaim. You will wear your racialized name, your skin color, and hope you don’t get detained another time.
If there’s one thing that most fans of Star Trek will agree on, it’s the fact that Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the show — and, more optimistically, for human society — was predicated on the idea that all life is valuable, and that the worth of a person should not be judged by their appearance. Much of this was done through the old sci-fi trope of using aliens to stand in for oppressed groups, but Star Trek didn’t rely on the metaphor; it had characters who were part of the ensemble, important and beloved members of the Enterprise crew, who were people of colour. It had background characters who were people of colour. And, here and there, it had anti-heroes and villains who were people of colour … one of whom, Khan Noonian Singh, became well-nigh iconic.
Image 1: “Who is your favorite villain?” ; Actor John Cho (Lt Sulu) answers.
Image 2: TOS Khan looking at a watercolor of himself. Yes, he’s wearing a dastar (Sikh turban)
Image 3: Cumberbatch and Montalbán (as Khan)
And who is now being played by white actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the new JJ Abrams reboot movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness.
We’re all cynical and jaded enough to know the standard dismissal when it comes to matters of media representation: Paramount Pictures and most film studios are not interested in diversity or visibility, they only care about the bottom dollar. Star Trek as a franchise is too much of a juggernaut to affect with boycotts. There are too many people who love it, who love those characters and that world, and will go to see the movie. And for some of these people, this devotion to the idea of a future where even South and East Asian men get to pilot a starship and love swashbuckling, where Black women make Lieutenant on the Enterprise and actually get the boy, will be trivialized and eroded and whitewashed when the most formidable and complex Star Trek baddie becomes a white man named Khan.
It wasn’t perfect in the 60s when Ricardo Montalbán was cast to play Khan (a character explicitly described in the episode script of Space Seed as being Sikh, from the Northern regions of India). But considering all of the barriers to representation that Roddenberry faced from the television networks, having a brown-skinned man play a brown character was a hard-won victory. It’s disappointing and demoralizing that with the commercial power of Star Trek in his hands, JJ Abrams chose not to honour the original spirit of the show, or the symbolic heft of the Khan character, but to wield the whitewash brush for … what? The hopes that casting Benedict Cumberbatch would draw in a few more box office returns? It’s doubly disappointing when you consider that Abrams was a creator of the television show Lost, which had so many well-rounded and beloved characters of colour in it.
Add to this the secrecy prior to release around Cumberbatch’s role in the film, and what seems like a casting move that would typically be defended by cries of “best actor for the job, not racism” becomes something more cunning, more malicious. Yes, the obfuscation creates intrigue around and interest in the role, but it also prevents advocacy groups like Racebending.com from building campaigns to protest the whitewashing. This happened with the character of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, as well as ‘Miranda Tate’ in The Dark Knight Rises, who ended up being Talia al Ghul but played by French actress Marion Cotillard. This practice is well in effect in Hollywood; and after the negative press that was generated by angry anti-oppression activists and fans when Paramount had The Last Airbender in the works, studios are wising up. They don’t want their racist practices to be called out, pointed at, and exposed before their movies are released — Airbender proved that these protests create enough bad feeling to affect their bottom line.
So the studio has now found a way to keep it secret and underhanded. Racebending.com was there for most of the production of The Last Airbender, and were even able to correspond with Paramount Pictures about it. This time, for Star Trek: Into Darkness, their hiding and opaque practices has managed to silence media watchdogs until the movie’s premiere.
As I said, this racist whitewashing of the character of Khan won’t affect how much money this Trek movie makes. And I’m happy that the franchise is popular, still popular enough to warrant not only a big-budget reboot with fantastic actors but also a sequel with that cast. I’m happy that actors I enjoy like Zoë Saldaña and John Cho are playing characters who mean so much to me, and that they, in respect for the groundbreaking contributions by Nichelle Nichols and George Takei in these roles, have paid homage to that past.
But all of that will be marred by having my own skin edited out, rendered worthless and silent and invisible when a South Asian man is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch up on that screen. In the original Trek, Khan, with his brown skin, was an Übermensch, intellectually and physically perfect, possessed of such charisma and drive that despite his efforts to gain control of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk (and many of the other officers) felt admiration for him.
And that’s why the role has been taken away from actors of colour and given to a white man. Racebending.com has always pointed out that villains are generally played by people with darker skin, and that’s true … unless the villain is one with intelligence, depth, complexity. One who garners sympathy from the audience, or if not sympathy, then — as from Kirk — grudging admiration. What this new Trek movie tells us, what JJ Abrams is telling us, is that no brown-skinned man can accomplish all that. That only by having Khan played by a white actor can the audience engage with and feel for him, believe that he’s smart and capable and a match for our Enterprise crew.
What an enormous and horribly ironic step backwards. For Star Trek, for media representation, and for the vision of a future where we have transcended systemic, racist erasure.
A lot of fans are mad about this. Still, a lot of them didn’t “notice” Khan was brown. Hmm, white people.
See I’m not a hard core Star Trek fan, but I do love it. Now that I know that Roddenberry specifically said the character was from India, I’m a bit miffed. I’m sad this is still happening in movies.
[photo: a meme featuring a screenshot of Sweet Brown, a Black woman who became popular with the phrase “ain’t not body got time for that.” pink text reads, “ain’t nobody got time for creating videos that make fun of low income people of color using auto tune. unless you’re a white person that is so privileged that you do have time and yet dont’t use that time to educate yourself on race issues.”]
i made a meme.
sometimes I forget that some folx (namely white folx) like people like Sweet Brown and Antoine Dobson not because they remind them of their neighbors or aunts, or cousins or church school teachers, but because they perform stereotypical notions of poor people of color. I need to be cognizant of this more.
i think that goes for non-Black people of color, too, really. i’ve seen plenty of non-Black poc share Antoine Dodson videos and Sweet Brown and most recently Ramsey over the past few years. with white folks that behavior is typically predictable but with non-Black poc we really need to bring our A game and be real about how we are taught to be anti Black, internalize that and simultaneously consume Black culture/products of the exploitation of Black folks while relying on this shared identity of being “people of color.” it’s not untrue that low income people of color are made fun of but let’s be real, consistently it has been low income Black people in these internet sensations.
You may think all the above is ridiculous; that I’m stirring ethnic tensions on an issue that is clearly about individuals and small groups of people and has nothing to do with race or religion. And that by making this spurious case I’m ignoring the core issue, which is that children, many of them in vulnerable situations, were terrorised and physically harmed by opportunistic men who were able to get away with their crimes for years. You’d be right.
But all of the above arguments were made within various parts of our print and broadcast media when similarly small numbers of Muslim menwere revealed to be grooming young girls for sex. If you think the claims about white people are wrong, then so is the stereotyping of Britain’s Muslims, and the widespread questioning of their culture and their religion, because of the perverted actions of a few.
Since the “black crime shock” tabloid stories of the 1980s, editors have known that stoking fears about misunderstood minorities is good for sales. If you object to this article, then you should understand how it feels to be a Muslim reading similar pieces pandering to Islamophobia day after day – and you should object to those too.
Juan Cole, 08/09/2012 (via thepeacefulterrorist)
Juan Cole actually wrote this 4 days after a white terrorist, yes, terrorist, murdered 6 and injured 4 people at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin. The terrorist who committed said crime spoke of an impending “racial holy war” beforehand and was a member of white supremacist/neo-Nazi hate groups.
There is so much discussion about Prejudice + Power but not a lot about Prejudice vs Racism. This is a discussion that needs to be had. First, while one is worse than the other, both are horrible and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
But why is one worse?
Well, it’s the reason that all to many hate to hear. Environment and life lived. People, racists in particular, hate this reasoning because they think it takes something from them. Sadly, even when the “thing” that is being taken from them is pain, they’re still mad. They want it all. No matter what the “It’ is, they want it too.
Prejudice is where “We’re all human” lives. Prejudice is where, “Race doesn’t matter” thrives. Prejudice can be “color blind” and even talk about that one time this one group was totes mean to me in school.
Racism however, power over you and prejudice against you. Racism is, schools intentionally working to make you fail. Then, employers not liking your “tone.” Add to that, a stop and frisk just because. Next, a higher cost on a lower loan just for kicks. Plus…prejudice.
Let’s take this brick by brick in Black and white.
Two individuals, one Black one white. Born on the same day. On their 13th birthday, they will both receive a brick of prejudice. Before then, comes life with or without power. Each day of a Black persons life, starting on the day of their birth, racism gives them a brick. Yes, starting on the day we’re born. If you are very lucky, you only get one per day. By the 13th birthday, a Black person is carrying 4,745 bricks (Not including leap years). These bricks did not come from prejudice. They did not come from someone using racial slurs or having “Hate in their hearts.” They came from power.
On the 13th birthday of the two individuals, each has the exact same experience with prejudice. On this day, each person is given one brick. Now, the white person has one brick. The Black person has 4,746 bricks. This is called equal.
Those who are the victims of racism, do have it worse because they have a brick for power and a brick for prejudice. While a racial slur or a racist “Joke” seems to be the same no matter who the target is, the racism, the targeting and the bricks amounted are not. This certainly doesn’t make it okay to be a prejudiced person, not by a long shot. However, saying that “Everyone” is a victim of racism is blatantly (and provably) false. Saying that racism and prejudice are the same or equal is also blatantly false.
If you doubt this, even for a second, put it into a slightly different context. If you knew someone recently lost someone close to them, let’s say a parent. Would you be less likely to make a joke about someone’s parents dying around them? Now, let’s hold this scenario up to the two most common arguments racists make: If you’re answer is no, are you thinking of an individual who would like the joke and think it was helping them in their time of pain or are you thinking that you just wouldn’t give a damn because the joke was funny? One of these answers makes you a monster while the other makes you willfully ignorant for thinking that because you know ONE person who would be okay with it, EVERYONE should be. See how that works? It’s a lose, lose because in order to be this kind of person, you have to be making a CONSCIOUS decision to hurt people.
You see, the point here is that context DOES matter. Who has it worse DOES matter because who has it worse is PART of the context. The very person who would have thought you making a joke about a parent dying was funny yesterday, today would burst into tears as they’ve just lost a parent. Doesn’t context matter? Doesn’t environment, the daily, hourly and minute to minute treatment of a person matter? You are not simply, making a racist “Joke.” You are adding a brick to an already heavy pile. Not only are you adding to this pile, you are doing so while saying that because you have accumulated ten bricks over your life, you feel entitled to say that it’s really not a big deal.
It is a big deal. Every single time. It’s a big deal.
white privilege radically changes the appearance of Tsarnaev bros
This is how brofiling actually works in real life. The Week Magazine ran with this image as their cover sketch.
Just so it is said, clearly and unambiguously: the Tsarnaev brothers are white guys. They are white. The FBI’s own wanted poster for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lists his race as “white”, but you would never know it from the cover image on The Week.
Hold up the cover to someone else, and ask them how many white people they can see on the cover. Chances are they will identify Gabby Giffords on the top left and the image of the Boston policemen (all white men) on the top right, but how about those two guys in the center? Nope, not a chance that anyone would say these caricatures look white.
Why? Because in addition to being white they are also “Muslim”, which is the current dehumanizing “Other” that whiteness has constructed as a sanctioned target for violence in US popular culture.
This is how white privilege works in media representations and everyday life: when the criminal suspects are demonstrably white men, seize upon any aspect of difference and magnify it such that they become Othered, non-white, and menacing. If it is too hard to do so, simply dismiss them as aberrations and isolated cases of insanity. This is also how white culture, specifically the process of whiteness in conjunction with white privilege, portrays several non-white identities, including those that are now considered white but at one time were decidedly not so. For example, see here for how the Irish were depicted as violent apes or lazy drunks in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
I’ll say three things clearly so that there is no misconstruing:
1. White privilege exists.
2. This is about the instant media positioning from “White Caucasian Male” to Indoctrined Chechen Terrorist.
3. Call me a “terrorism apologist”, and I’ll take you as seriously as I take a worm.
Race in mainstream media is an extremely complicated issue that is often reduced to stereotypes of bodies of which the majority is non-white or, for the lack of a better term, racially ambiguous i.e. ‘difficult to define’ (who decides the specifics of an ethnicity and its description in media is also a question to be asked). The inherent Otherness of an ethnicity becomes even more obvious during times of reports on conflict, violence, crackdowns, etc. This is the internet after all; The understanding of these issues from what I’ve seen has been terribly parochial. Many times during discussions on Tumblr and even otherwise, I’ve realized that most Americans - regardless of their background - view the world through a highly US-centric gaze which often erases the complexity of dynamics in issues of race, gender, sexuality, etc. The Tsarnaev brothers, prior to these ghastly events, must have surely enjoyed the benefits of passing for white on a normal day when their religion wasn’t brought into question or their initial immigrant status wasn’t being discussed. I say passing because, again, Caucasian does not mean white always. In many cases, the people of South West Asia have been categorized as Caucasian, yet upon seeing them, they’re described as Brown in media, lit, profiling. Racial dynamics become tricky to talk about especially if the person(s) is displaced; Immigrant status, “not American enough”, etc. The unofficial media response to the Tsarnaev Brothers in the case of the ridiculous tweets by mostly young white girls on how ‘hot they are though’, the gentle tone offered for the history of the young guys (how the younger brother was kind and intelligent while the older brother ‘kept to himself’), the temporariness of the empathy professed is obvious now. I am surprised that most people aren’t noticing how Islamophobic tropes have quickly replaced the sympathy-for-the-seemingly-white-guy tone. There is a very particular kind of focus on the Tsarnaev Brothers’ immigrant history and their religion which is Islam. Various news sites showed their social media accounts, photos of the older brother admitting he “did not understand Americans”, a keen concentration on Islam and more.
I’m curious about how the media rhetoric around the Tsarnaev Brothers has surfaced; how the shift of tone occurred in channels and publications about the two Chechens before anchors, journalists, commentators learned about their religion. It doesn’t take too much to realize that the Tsarnaev Brothers won’t receive the same kind of compassion that white terrorists like Richard Paplawski, James Von Brunn, John Patrick Bedell, Andrew Joseph Stack, Jared Loughner, Byron Williams, Ted Kaczynski, Anders Behring Breivik, Timothy McVeigh (the list sadly goes on) have received (‘unstable’, ‘lone killer’, ‘stressed out’) and a lot of this can be explained through looking at two factors of the Tsarnaev Brothers’ lives:
1. Chechen immigrant status (only one of them recently naturalized; the other struggling to find a job and citizenship).
2. Muslim (Let the paranoid, must-protect-US-from-Islam tropes begin.)
This is where the Othering starts.
If the Tsarnaev Brothers were seen as people of mainstream American society (which is code for White), the news of Tamerlan’s death would not bring hyper-nationalist chants of “USA! USA! USA!” from mostly white men, tweets to invade Chechnya (and the Czech Republic because America has yet to teach its students a real course on geography and accurate political histories; this is 2013) would not have flooded timelines on Twitter, a constant emphasis on their Other status as immigrants trying to blend into the American life (and the American ‘dream’) would not be brought up constantly, comments like “moslem pedo fuckers”, “islamic scum”, “go back to the mid east” and more would not surface, Tamerlan’s wife’s history of converting to Islam and marrying Tamerlan would not invoke that done-to-death worry that she was ‘brainwashed’ and maybe ‘oppressed’ as well, their background as Chechens from a war-torn country would not send media ‘experts’ into a group orgy about how Islam and resistance movements against governments go hand in hand, there would not have been such a strong sense of paranoia and xenophobia in the mainstream media at this very moment, Reuters would not make it a point to mention how Tamerlan was deeply religious, newspapers would not publish sub-headings such as “Islam might have had secondary role in Boston attacks”, insidious hints at links with Al Qaeda wouldn’t be mentioned, this obsession with Islam and symbolism would not have happened.
This is to comment on how many of us have reacted quickly to say, “Well, they’re white-passing guys so the media will let it go soon” because it isn’t letting it go, and it won’t. This focus on their religion should tell you that mainstream media and a highly militarized state apparatus that is deeply involved in an Us VS Them narrative after 9/11, does not care if the Tsarnaev Brothers looked white; the sickening focus is once again on Islam. This should tell you that the Othering of an identity (even white-passing) in the context of American media and Islam happens very quickly and leads to dangerous developments.
For all you howling about how Chechens have White Privilege or how you are kind of relieved that they aren’t Brown People, I just want you to sit down with a Chechen and understand their view on it.
1. They are not treated as “White People” due to their association with Islamic dress codes(Hijabs and so forth) and their Sunnah beards.
2. They are nearly terrified for their lives right now in a Xenophobic society and all you could think about is how they have “White Privilege” or not.
We’re all in this together, we stand behind each other, not point fingers to see who is more oppressed; have some humanity.