Archive for the ‘racism’ Category

Colonial Terror in North America

January 17, 2012

Angry Black Lady: “You have no idea what Martin Luther King Actually Did.”

In terms of global colonialism, we forget that North America is still a post-colonial region. Take the message of this link as one set of proof (and add it to other sets of proof, like the treatment of indigenous peoples).


Race and Children

May 17, 2010

Sociological Images has a crazy post up with embedded video that is a much watch. It is a series of videos where children are shown images of children of different colors and asked questions like ‘which of these kids is the dumb one?” and then “why?” after the response. The children are also asked what they think adults think about the children with different skin color. The final video is heartwarming and also shows how some children parse through the issues in simple and refreshing anti-racist ways. The link is here: Children’s Attitudes Towards Skin Color.

The Problems with Multi-culturalism

April 18, 2010

In Canada, multiculturalism has become the primary referent for what we like to think of as our pluralistic, accepting, or, at least, tolerant society. And yet, the category itself doesn’t get much critical analysis. In the last few years of my work I have seen a few take-downs of this concept and I am generally convinced that though the term played its part in a more intolerant past, the term today may be holding us back from solving many problems. Over at Restructure! there is a post quoting Dr. Sunera Thobani and her critical stance on multiculturalism:

I think multiculturalism has been a very effective way of silencing anti-racist politics in this country. Multiculturalism has allowed for certain communities—people of colour—to be constructed as cultural communities. Their culture is defined in very Orientalist and colonial ways—as static, they will always be that, they have always been that. And culture has now become the only space from which people of colour can actually have participation in national political life; it’s through this discourse of multiculturalism. And what it has done very successfully is it has displaced an anti-racist discourse.

I have my own critiques as well:

1. Multiculturalism assumes stable, static, cultural boundaries. In its attempt to say different cultures are part and parcel of Canada, it also solidifies these into unwavering essenses.

2. It follows from this that culture becomes policed. It brings in the spectre of “authenticity”, and in practice only serves to contrast them against Canadian society at large–whatever that is.

3. Multiculturalism doesn’t reflect the reality of cultural play. Cultures are constantly shifting and in continual dialogue. Indeed, the category of culture itself is problematic. Where does one culture end and another begin? There is no such thing as cultural borders… rather, what seems to be the case is highly diffuse conglomerates, networks, inroads, borrowings, synchretisms, nostalgias, romanticisms, appropriations and rejections, comparisons, culture-trolling, and so on.

4. Finally, this term doesn’t do justice to the lived experience of Canadians who often have to negotiate multiple complex and dynamic cultural forms and identities.

h/t: Missives from Marx

A History of Fair-skin Preference in South Asia

April 14, 2010

Recently, the Vogue India magazine’s cover took head on the well-known preference for lighter or fairer skin as a sign of beauty in the subcontinent. This preference has been commented on before, with many interpretations of the phenomenon. In this case, for example, one interesting insight by the piece linked above talks about the capitalization of this preference by beauty product companies.

Fuelled by the appearance of light-skinned Bollywood stars and models, the demand for skin-whitening creams – from brands including L’Oreal and Unilever – grew 18 per cent last year and is set to increase by a predicted 25 per cent this year, the Times reports.

This is a significant aspect of the phenomenon. There are billboards, magazine ads, and TV commercials throughout South Asia that play on the standard of ‘fairer’ skin being more attractive. This fits a standard post-WWII late-capitalist model of subjectivity construction. A standard of the body is set as either preferred or as undesirable, marketing sets out to construct a narrative with the aim of inducing anxiety about reaching the standard (cover up undesirables, concern to reach desirables), and products are disseminated to temporarily relieve this anxiety. But, of course, there are so many things to be anxious about, late-capitalism aims to make us perpetually anxious consuming subjects. This narrative is pretty standard and is playing out in the particular case of fairer skin in the subcontinent. However, we do have to be attentive to the local conditions that make this particular manifestation play out in the way it does. So, to my mind, any analysis of this phenomenon should take into account a number of historical trajectories that impact light-skin beauty standards in India. (more…)

Why I don’t watch movies–much

April 30, 2009

So. This year I have had cable. It provides the  unique experience that TV brings liberating me from having to choose which tv show on my download list I will have to watch next. Instead, now TV decides for me, spoon-feeding me its rich gooey pablum at its own descretion; I remain free to be fed whatever mama-tube will deem acceptable for me to ingest. Sadly, mama-tubes is a cruel mama. She also feeds me advertisements. And sometimes the mute button is far, far away.

It was during one of these streams of mental warfare/propaganda that we call ‘commercials’ that I saw a trailer for Obsession. Eye twitching, I watched all 40-whatever seconds of it. And, that’s all I needed to see. Watch for yourself this longer version, and my comments will follow:

So… The trailer spells out the plot perfectly. We have a white woman who is ‘obsessed’ with her boss, a black man. Stuff happens. Then, the black wife of the black man has a showdown with the white woman. OMG What’s going to happen?!?!?! So, we have a movie that shockingly plays into ugly racial stereotypes about inter-racial relations with a dash of misogyny. Here’s a list:

1. White women are stealing black men from black women. Like we need to feed into that hateful stereotype anymore.

2. Black men are eroticized and over-sexualized for being black. Oh, but this is a successful black man with power and position. So that stereotype can’t hold. Except that every other stereotype is thrown in here, so why not?

3. Women are obsessed with power and sleep their way to the top. Just a dash of this… lighty salted with it.

4. ANGRY BLACK WOMAN! “I’ll show you crazy”

5. Crazy inter-racial chick fight! HAWT!

6. Really? You want me to subject myself to this?

So. With most movies these days, one can usually tell (not always, sometimes one might be wrong) what a movie is about and guage accordingly. See also Observe and Report. See also 70% of Holleywood movies.  I guage Obsessed to be a pile of crap that I would have to paid to subject myself to.

Continue with your regularly scheduled programming.

h/t: Miss Kitten while watching tv together pointed this out. I was too busy being offended by the misogyny to immediately catch the racism.

The crux of Dollhouse

April 29, 2009

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse has been expertly summarized by giandujakiss here. There is a video. It is eloquent in its simplicity.

h/t: Alas, a blog.

‘The East’ in Advertising – Part 1

March 28, 2009

I try to compile advertising media images of Orientalism just to have a visceral representation of how Orientalism plays out in a certain sub-set of media. Perhaps one day I can put together a series of film clips that show the same.

The first video, an ad for a Nomad phone package, shows quite a number of tropes. It is about India, as Other. Let’s Watch.

It opens with a series of romanticized images of India as the exotic, bountiful, Other: full of the treasure we can have access to. Here take note the gaze of the camera: it is a romanticized, colonial gaze. We follow, in the narrative, the exploits of the white woman as she negotiates her journey through the East–hearkening back to 19th century travel journals (many penned by women) that were a part of sparking the imagination towards the East and a contributor to the discourse of colonial Orientalism. The images flash before our eyes and collect to our imagination the semiotics of Orientalism: elephants, gold, saddhu, available wealth, access to elite indigenous power.

But then, the union of East and West poses a threat. The white woman, duped, is now part of the harem. She has lost her Western privilege. She is trapped by the East in a despotic social arrangement. Other threatening tropes rise to our mind: despotism, barbarism, irrational inequality. On the one hand, we might argue that it was her own colonial and Orientalist imaginings that led her to this ‘trap’. Homi Bhabha has argued that the colonial imagination is both of these simultaneously. It is ambivalent: “The menace of mimicry is its double vision which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse also disrupts its authority. And it is a double vision that is a result of what I’ve described as the partial representation/ recognition of the colonial object.” The trap was set before the curtain even opened on this ad.

On the other hand, the East as both romanticized AND dangerous is a hallmark of Orientalism. It is an ambivalent, contested representation. Orientalism must represent the East as BOTH opportunity and threat. It must call to the desire of the Western Self, but must repel this call at the same time to preserve the essence of the West. The threat is to the very identity of the West as a Self. That is, if Orientalism is a discursive regime that imagines the East as Other in order to define the West as Self, any union is a threat, and necessarily so. So, this ad reinforces and recreates some of the most fundamental tropes of Orientalism.

A final point: It is no coincidence that the protagonist is a white woman. Women as property, tagged by race, insights the fear of the colonial gaze by having a brown, colonized man then possess the true property of White, colonial ownership. Racism, colonialism, misogyny, and Orientalism. All are different, and yet all are intertwined.

And the threat? Encapsulated quite well in the capping statement. In English translation it might be something like: Know what you are getting into before you commit. Reflechissez avant de vous engeger. Before you get with the Other, remember this commercial, where we point out that the mysterious Other can be a dangerous, duplicitous, threat. Remember this, so that you can go with the sure thing, the known. Ironically, I am sure some white women watching, who know the perils of Western Patriarchy, seeing the luxury of the harem, might feel attracted to this idealized image of Eastern Patriarchy rather than the sure thing, which they know so well and must deal with on a daily basis, something that is often no less threatening.