Author Archives: Isislight

The defensive “reverse” racist

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Oh. My. God. What a fucked-up story. We know about the defensive racists, the ones who say, “I’m not a racist. My best friend is [insert non-white “race” of choice here].” Here, this Apaak character is playing the defensive “reverse” racist. Ew.

Dr. Apaak’s reference to Lydia B. as “blond-haired” has been interpreted in some on-line comments as racist. He said he was not referring to her race, but repeating the description he was given by the concert organizers.

“If you see my record of what I’ve been doing in terms of my advocacy, the issue of racism and speaking out against it has been one of the things that I’ve been doing. So, I certainly indeed apologize that I have made a statement that has been interpreted within that context, but I guess we are all human and we should be willing to apologize when we have fallen short.”

Dr. Apaak also pointed out that his ex-wife is white and his children and current partner are bi-racial.

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Where are your manners?: Racism and rudeness on True Blood

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I hesitate to post about this, because I don’t want to hear any spoilers as I wade into the series, but I’ve been so struck by a scene in True Blood that I’m going to press forward. I recently watched the first few episodes of the show, intrigued by what I’d heard about its representations of gender and race. Like another show about vampires in a small town, this one stars a skinny blonde woman with powers who’s got a thing for vamps. Unlike that other show, the star’s best friend is a Black woman. (I just have to say that it makes little sense to me thus far in my viewing that these two are friends. Another post for another time.)

Why Tara is an instantly interesting character is that it quickly becomes evident that she recognizes racism and white privilege. We know this instantly, because she’s got a sharp tongue and doesn’t hesitate to make white folks uncomfortable by asking unorthodox questions. In most scenes, the white folks that she catches offguard are strangers to us, one-time characters, so we can easily watch in amusement as they struggle to respond.

In another scene, the one that has captured me, Tara is at her best friend Sookie’s house, along with Sookie’s grandmother and brother. They’ve gathered because Sookie has brought home a suitor of some concern to them — Bill, a vampire. Sookie isn’t worried about him, and her grandmother is easygoing too, more interested in the firsthand historical account he can provide than sussing out any danger he poses. Sookie’s brother, on the other hand, is far from pleased by the vampire in his living room and aggressively questions the idea of rights for vampires.

Tara isn’t thrilled by Bill either. But her line of questioning doesn’t concern Bill’s vampire nature. As the conversation turns to Bill’s memories of Sookie’s ancestors, Tara interjects to ask, “Did you own slaves?” Sookie immediately scolds Tara and gives her a look to let her know she’s transgressed the boundaries of politeness. Bill proceeds to explain he didn’t own slaves, but his father had owned two: a woman whose name he can’t remember and “a young, strong man named Minus.” Sookie’s grandmother then announces cheerily that her history club will be very interested to hear about this, to which Tara retorts, “About slaves?” This prompts another scolding look from Sookie, who appears uncomfortable.

This scene captured for me one way white privilege does play out in the real world. The white people carry on a conversation completely ignorant of how their privilege oozes from every word; a person of colour calls attention to it, and instead of receiving serious consideration and a serious response, she’s peremptorily shut down. Doesn’t Tara know it’s impolite to ask white people if they or they families owned slaves? Doesn’t she know how rude, inappropriate, and irrelevant it is to ask someone about their relationship with racism? How dare she imply any of these white folks are racist? Doesn’t she have any goddamn manners?

Before I wrap up this post, let me just point out that Bill can’t even remember the names of the two slaves his father owned. I mean, it’s not like they were even real people, right?

And did I mention that I don’t understand why Sookie and Tara are best friends? Or even friends at all?

(I’m serious when I say no spoilers. Refrain from telling me about future episodes please!)

When gender and race collide: “Deceit rape” in Israel

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Out of Israel comes an example of the collisions between race and gender. In this case it is the familiar construct of “the need to protect our women from their men.” An Arab man was convicted of “deceit rape” for lying to a Jewish woman that he was Jewish and engaging in consensual sex.

Gideon Levy has asked whether a Jewish man who had sex with an Arab woman under false pretenses would have been convicted of rape:

I would like to raise just one question with the judge. What if the guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman?  Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.

Do men lie to get sex? Some of them do, yeah. Is it okay? I’d say not. But is it criminal? Is it rape? In what cases? When a man tells a woman he is single, they have consensual sex, and later it turns out he is married, is that considered rape? Typically not. But when a racial dimension is added, and one of their men has consensual sex with one of our women, it appears to be a different story.

Rihanna, don’t you know….

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I’ve got to agree with a post on Feministing that Eminem and Rihanna’s song  “Love the Way You Lie” is more a part of the problem than it is a constructive contribution to a discussion of intimate partner violence. In a song in which Eminem raps, “I laid hands on her/ I’ll never stoop so low again/ I guess I don’t know my own strength” and declares, “If she ever tries to fucking leave again/ I’mma tie her to the bed/ And set the house on fire,” Rihanna responds, “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts.” I winced hard when I heard Rihanna sing those words, and I thought that women don’t love getting beat and living in fear. Women do not love experiencing violence, and I worry that’s the message this song is conveying.

On our backs

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Often acknowledgements of privilege become rhetorical exercises rather than true engagements with individual locations within systems of oppression: we pay lip service to the fact that we have some kind of advantage, but we do not stop to consider how that advantage  serves a system of oppression and plays out so that others are invisibly subjugated beneath us. A reminder of how this works came from, of all places, the Globe and Mail, in an article by Naomi Wolf.

Wolf describes the liberating effects of cheap, mass-produced fashion for Western women. We can readily enjoy the pleasures of shopping and with little money purchase new items and expand our wardrobes. Considering the closets of my friends, not to mention my own bulging-beyond-capacity closet, this is certainly true. Neither my friends nor I would classify ourselves as anything beyond middle class — and in fact we often claim the status of starving students — and yet we manage to find the money to regularly buy new dresses, shirts, stockings, purses, necklaces, earrings, as the mood strikes us, encouraged in this affordable materialism by television shows and movies that work hard to convince us that a pair of heels is what we need to feel good about our lives.

In her article, Wolf succinctly strips shopping of its glossy veneer:

But what has been liberating for Western women is a system built literally on the backs of women in the developing world.

And she forcefully reminds us that the inexpensive clothing we love to pick up is the result of the exploitation of women, whose material reality far differs from our own. How is such clothing produced?

By starving and oppressing Bangladeshi, Chinese, Mexican, Haitian, and other women, that’s how. We all know that cheap clothing is usually made in sweatshop conditions – and usually by women. And we know – or should know – that women in sweatshops around the world report being locked in and forbidden to use bathrooms for long periods, as well as sexual harassment, violent union-busting, and other forms of coercion.

Wolf is right. My friends and I know that consumer goods are mainly the result of a capitalist system dependent upon not only a division of labour according to class but deeply racialized and gendered work forces. Some kind of cognitive dissonance seems to be at work when we shop, for our complicity in benefitting from and perpetuating this sytem eludes us in the moment of finding a pretty bargain.

Faced with issues such as this, we have to ask ourselves what kind of feminism we practise. We have faced marginalization and worse within a white women’s feminist movement that has made little space for us and overlooked us in its conviction that white women’s experiences and concerns are universal. And we haven’t been okay with that. We need to scrutinize our own feminism and ask ourselves, “Who’s included in it? Who do we stand in solidarity with? And can we justify a feminism that excludes our sisters in the Global South?”

We can’t separate our battles against oppression

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“I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.”

– Audre Lorde