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Posts Tagged ‘videos’

I’ve been really shocked by the virtually instantaneous racist responses to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan (e.g., Angry Asian Man’s depressing roundup of some of these). A number of people, including several public figures, have either made jokes about the disaster or suggested it’s some sort of karmic or divine retribution for Pearl Harbor. In addition to being horrifically callous, these responses inexplicably don’t seem to consider the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Tokyo (which killed more people than both nuclear attacks combined), or the continued American military presence in Japan to be sufficient “payback” for an attack now nearly seventy years past. Further, they reflect lingering stereotypes of Asians as a “yellow menace” and perpetual foreigners – so foreign that for some, even a disaster on this scale doesn’t warrant any real sympathy for the Japanese people.

Somewhat more subtle but also racist and wildly inappropriate are speculations about why there has supposedly been no looting in the wake of the tsunami. Not only does this claim appear to be false (follow up here), it also echoes racist tropes about the model minority, the passive or emotionally cold Asian, and Asians as completely identical and homogenous. Some assertions about the lack of looting are very blatantly motivated by racial prejudice, as evidenced by the many people using the cover of online anonymity to hold up the racial homogeneity of Japan and the absence of large numbers of black people as the reason for low crime in the aftermath of the earthquake. Beyond being prejudiced, this false claim harms people by erasing the realities of crime in Japan. More importantly, it erases the voices and experiences of Japanese survivors further victimized by people who use the chaos created by natural disasters as an opportunity to rob, defraud, or assault people with impunity – for example, it erases the experiences of numerous women who were raped or sexually assaulted in the weeks following the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Also making the rounds is a video by a white UCLA student who complains about ‘hordes of Asians” at “our school,” mocks Asian and Asian American students for talking on cell phones in the library (complete with Charlie Chan-style “Asian” accent and fake “Chinese,” and claims that Asian students are ignorant of proper “American manners.” You know, because people of Asian descent can’t possibly be American like white people are, and UCLA rightfully belongs to white people. You can watch the video here, but you’re not missing out on much if you don’t.

I loved Beau Sia’s response to the video because, rather than personally attacking the student, he explores the anxieties, fears, and ignorance that inform her rant, turning it into a teaching moment instead of just a reactive one (credit Angry Asian Man for that last insight).

after watching “asians in the library,” and many subsequent postings in response, i wrote this. rather than attack alexandra wallace for her thoughts, i decided to write a persona piece in her voice, as a means to address some of the greater issues revealed in her rant. in the end, this poem isn’t really about her and what she said, but more the thoughts and beliefs people hold, without considering the entire history that may have led them to think and believe in the manner that they do. my hope is that we can all use this moment to recognize that we all need to improve our ability to understand and share this world with each other. this is just a small contribution to furthering that conversation. thank you for listening.

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Talk about appropriate timing: my friend Rweba created this fantastic send-up of the usual stereotypes about Africa and Africans.

The video is inspired by Binyavanga Wainana’s article “How to write about Africa,” which is well worth reading (backstory on the article here) and which also inspired the video below.  I’ll try to get transcripts of both up soon.

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I’m just going to warn y’all right now that this is a post about reality TV.  And also it might be a wee bit snarky. Just to be clear.

So I was watching the Season 2 premiere of The Fashion Show a few nights ago (why yes, I am a sucker for cheesy fashion reality shows).  I was all set to enjoy some pretty clothes, laugh at some truly hideous clothes, and be entertained by overblown egos and petty bickering.  Oh, and bask in the unmatched fabulosity of Iman, the co-host and more or less the star of the show.  And all of that happened, but not without considerable irritation and swearing at the TV on my and my husband’s part.

Iman, as you might know, is from Somalia, and is one of the few black models to make it big in the fashion industry.  The first challenge for the designers was to create a look for her, inspired by her career and life story. One of the designers, Mike, apparently decided that the only relevant fact about Iman’s life is that she’s “African” and decided to create a dress that would “honor her African heritage.”  Well.  Perhaps you see where this is going.

That was warning sign number one.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, but when Americans, and especially white Americans, start talking about the heritage and culture of the entire African continent as a monolith, odds are something deeply ignorant and possibly very offensive is about to come next.  This case was not the exception.  Mike went on to identify “safaris” and “wild animals” as part of Iman’s “heritage.”  Because when you think of Africans, obviously wild animals and white tourist attractions would be the first thing to come to mind.

It got worse.  He summarized Iman’s life story as  “leaving a tribal background and coming into the modern world.  Apparently, knowing someone is originally from “Africa” means that you can deduce their life story without having any shred of actual information about their history.  Funny thing is, Iman is the daughter of a diplomat.  She has a degree in political science – from, *gasp*, an African university (yes, we have those! amazing!).  She speaks five languages fluently.  But nevertheless, leaving “Africa” is what introduced her to the “modern world,” whatever that means.  And “African” automatically means being of “tribal background” (of course there’s the huge issue that the standard Western narrative of “tribal” Africa is fundamentally racist, paternalist, and colonialist to begin with).

Then he went on about how he was designing with “African tribal motifs,” but making them into a “more sophisticated dress.”  Because African = unsophisticated.  And because he magically knows something about what “African tribal motifs” look like.  Which part of Africa? Which tribes?  Doesn’t matter!  And the dress he designed, my goodness.  It wasn’t a bad looking dress, but the concept behind it was breathtakingly arrogant and offensive.  It was sleek and polished in the front – representing Western modernity and sophistication, you see – and the upper back was a halter made out of thick knotted rope – “representing the restrictions” of Iman’s native culture or some such rubbish.

It was kind of astounding to hear this dude who obviously doesn’t know the first darn thing about ANY part of Africa pontificate about how backwards and restrictive “African” society is.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I’ve heard countless similar comments like this since I first moved to the States at 8.  Many Americans are convinced they know something about “Africa” because they’ve seen huts and starving children and wild giraffes on TV (for the record, to the best of my recollection, I have never in my life seen a wild giraffe, or a wild anything that wasn’t a dog or cat.  The only giraffes I saw in Nigeria were at the zoo.).  They assume all Africans are from rural, tribal contexts (and assume quite a bit about what it means to come from such a background); they assume we all have little or no education or real “culture.”  Because education, art, and cities are all things that Africans can’t have, at least, not without Western assistance.  As Dodai put it over at Jezebel:

When using Iman as a muse for their collections, the contestants used words like “exotic,” “wild animal,” “jungle” and “tribal.” If only I were fucking kidding. Yes, she is from Somalia. But do you know what the city of . . . Mogadishu looks like? It looks like a city. The winning design was a leopard print dress, but Isaac Mizrahi made sure to point out that it won because it “celebrated her figure” and not because animal print is for black people, who are animals from Africa.
Not only are these ideas about Africa and Africans woefully uninformed by any real knowledge, they’re also incredibly arrogant, and as Chimamanda Adichie points out in the talk below, dangerous (transcript).

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We’ve mentioned Kenneth & Mamie Clark’s famous “doll tests” a few times here on the blog, e.g. in Cayce’s “Reversing Racism” post and my post about the movie “Good Hair” and internalized prejudice.

Anderson Cooper recently revisited the Clarks’ doll tests on his CNN news show. For those of you who missed it, here it is. (I know the numbering looks out-of-order, but this ordering made more sense to me.)

Note to white parents: Your kids are not growing up “colorblind” and if you want to help them overcome racial prejudice you’ll need to have explicit conversations with them about racial attitudes and interracial relationships.

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Anne Lamott often quotes her priest friend Tom saying, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

The song and video below by the Michael Gungor band made me think of that quote.  We can also create God in our own image when we imagine that God looks like and thinks like us. (“God is not a man. God is not a white man . . . God is not a flag, not even American.”)  The assumption that God shares our assumptions and our perspectives on the world is a huge obstacle to true reconciliation and acceptance, whether within a faith or between people of different (or no) religious beliefs.  It’s very difficult for people to examine their beliefs about a given group, or people who are different from them – whether it’s African Americans, LGBT people, women, or the poor – when they are convinced that God shares their perspectives on those people. Projecting our beliefs on to God is a powerful reinforcement of privilege and prejudice of all kinds.

Which is why I love this song; In essence it’s a call to people of faith to examine the ways in which they’ve made God into an agent and supporter of privilege and hegemony (which, speaking to Christians, let’s be honest, is so far from what Jesus was all about!).

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