What I saw in the video for “Wake Me Up” by Avicii: A young woman walks around in a small, possibly southern town — she’s apparently supposed to be an outsider; all the drably dressed townspeople, including a black woman, give her and her sister the stink eye (yay for diversity). The young woman wears a fashionable variation of a Union jacket. She walks alone by herself one morning when, in what I imagine tourist advertisements for tropical islands also include, a man with dreads reaches out for her hand and his small group whisks her away to the smiley, safely diverse crowd at some concert (yay for diversity). Aside from hippie-ish attire, they’re also distinguished by tattoos. After said concert, she gets her sister and rides a horse to a more urban land of slightly multicultural goodness.
Music videos generally seem like a made-by-corporate-committee affair. There’s lots of stuff to superficially and profitably appeal to a specific demographic. Anything with a more singular vision, skewed or not, stands out a little. The music video for the Black Key’s “Lonely Boy,” featuring the dancing of Derrick Tuggle to the rhythm and blues-drenched tune was a big hit. It wasn’t due on any intentional part of the Black Keys, but I always thought there was generally an undertone of amusement at how Tuggle seemed a bit square and yet his dancing was unbridled — this is mostly due to the way that rock is perceived now, as opposed to when it was rhythm and blues and performed by mostly black musicians whose cool affectations continue to be milked by rockers today.
So it was nice to see Tuggle in the video for Pharrell’s “Happy,” lip-synching on a music video with a kind of diversity not from some “hip” dream-reality. There’s a swath of different people in there, all looking like they’re having a genuinely happy moment. I haven’t followed his work too much, but it was the least cool thing I’ve seen Pharrell associated with and maybe it’s the better for it. The music video for Bruno Mars’ “Treasure,” in which the woman of a crooner’s dreams is black (and not mixed) and portrayed with all the sentimentality and admiration that comes with that, is also not in line with the most superficial notion of cool.
“i am the perfect hue for escaping endemic prejudices while reaping the benefits of good-hearted policies that attempt to suture age-old chasms with the silver thread of nominal acceptance.”
From “half” – a work in progress by M
I am not that perfect hue, but I am also a qualifier for the “half” label. I don’t generally like saying as much. There’s this notion that being such is its own thing, which can sometimes, it seems to me, be about distancing one’s self from whichever parent’s ethnicity is least white. When it comes to being black, perhaps more prevailing now than the old one-drop construct is the idea that you’re only as black as you have to be via appearance. This is inexorably tied to the very real pains of colorism in addition to racism.
Now and then, I’ll hear the sentiment that being mixed is this unique cultural marker or that being in an interracial relationship is a mark of enlightenment. The ideas prevail enough that to feel otherwise seems almost jaded. In that regard, I suppose the mindfulness of M’s post is something I appreciated. Where blackness has become desirable in the culture at large, it’s often as a technicality, an exception, or in the form of coolness. Among the demographic that benefit the most from affirmative action are biracial children who have at least one privileged parent. The idea that this is progress comes from a perspective that likes diversity in theory, but always makes sure to distance itself from where it’s most populous and wounded.
Thing is, most relationships are at least a little shallow — particularly in their conception. That interracial relationships can exist without some idiot’s sanctioned harassment is progress, certainly, but people generally want some empty but idealized notion of beauty sold to us everyday — along with security. Why would the ones in interracial relationships be any different?
I don’t entirely agree with everything in this post by Evette Dionne, but it’s certainly interesting and in the following point she expresses a sentiment that I would hope would be obvious (but I know isn’t):
“Your spouse may be black, but that isn’t a ticket to the land of understanding.”
In “Are Dark-skinned Women Really Unattractive?,” Maurice of The Thinking Man’s Zone poses a question with an easy knee jerk reaction for some people (“Of course not!”). But that answer is like putting paint over the way world often works, and, while I don’t agree with all of Maurice’s thoughts, I certainly agree with the gist. Ideally, of course not, but we live on top of a lot of history in which one kind of beauty has been pushed for a long time. This reminded me why I sometimes relate to characters like Hellboy more than anyone else who’s supposed to be noble in various forms of fiction. In the most broadest sense, I suppose I’m someone formed in the western mold–just not someone whom entirely fits in with the physical western defaults for good and beauty.
A lot of my favorite characters do (fit that mold), and it’s always easy enough to chalk up my enjoyment of them to some default or universal experience. Beyond that, movie- and film-wise, there are certainly a few actors and actresses outside of the classic hero or heroine archetype. But they very rarely get to ruminate on the way their looks can put them at odds with the world, or if they do (and they’re not in a comedy), it’s the entirety of their existence. They’re a bit like the moral in a story (and, on a practical level) just as dismissible.
Hellboy, via Wikipedia – © M. Mignolia
But when a character is only kind of human, like Dark Horse comics’ demon raised by a good-natured human, the “Who am I?” question gets a buffer zone from the reality of how the appearance of race can rank who we find particularly human or not. Hellboy’s origin, in a strange way, parallels Superman (super-strong being found by surrogate parent), only Hellboy doesn’t look like the all-American hero. He literally looks like the ultimate villain. In the movie version of the character’s continuity, he’s fated to be. But, ultimately, he’s a character who is defined by his being human–just a moody one for whom a sense of humor is pretty important. He’d love nothing more than to not know anything about where he comes from (very non-ideal-molded human), but it’s also something he has to come to terms with.
I occasionally watch Parks and Rec, a great show on NBC that probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. It centers on Leslie Knope, an upbeat small town politician, and the people who work or live around her in fictional Pawnee, Indiana. I’ve often found it how ironic it is–that a character as meta politically correct as Leslie is unaware of the tropes given to Donna Meagle, the least fleshed out character on the show. She likes to party; and she’s a bit of a ‘diva,’ according to the character’s Wikipedia listing as of when this was posted. And she’s played by someone who I know can be every bit as funny and human as the all the other characters on the show. But she doesn’t look like Rashida Jones.
(Oh. According to Wikipedia, Hellboy was in a featured ad of a Celebrate Diversity comic catalog. Reading that made me shake my head and laugh a little.)
Some particularly bold posts out there as of late.
After Armand Inezian took part in a challenge to read more genre fiction by writers whom happen to be minorities, he wrote ‘File under: “Could Do Better” aka: the Big Blue Pacman, and also made this reply to a comment there (excerpted):
“Most striking to me was the fact (noted on the diversity challenge) that there are currently more fantasy novels featuring minority characters by white writers than there are fantasy novels written by minority authors. To illustrate: It’s easier to find a fantasy novel written by a white writer but featuring an Asian protagonist than it is to find a fantasy novel written by an Asian writer.”
The Accidental Cajun looks at “The Soul of a City,” specifically the one most associated with his namesake, New Orleans, where traditional cultural happenings are not quite so welcome anymore. “And if they’re not being persecuted, they’re being co-opted, selected like genetic traits to purport ‘culture’ to tourists while ignoring where that culture originated, and why.” A further excerpt:
“… As much as I love brass bands, second lines, live shows, Mardi Gras, etc., it’s a tough sell to tell a someone not to complain about beer bottles on their lawn after a second line, especially because it doesn’t take that much effort to throw your trash away. At the same time, I think it’s equally wrong for people to move into cultural significant neighborhoods (almost ever neighborhood in this city is), especially traditionally black neighborhoods, and try to undermine the culture. This city ISN’T a blank slate. If anything, it’s the last vestige of cultural originality in America. . .”
On the Shootingfromthehipblog, Nubianisque writes up a thorough post about something greatly unsung: Colorism: Does Skin Complexion Determine Our Status in Society? An excerpt:
“Even I have struggled with acceptance of my skin color with all the media images, teachings and stigma attached. I always thought Blackness was socially unacceptable and I had to work harder to prove myself. I have always thought that my complexion would overshadow my talents and qualifications. At one point in my life I wish to have lighter skin just to be loved because I saw popular figures like Janet and Mariah who has had success in the business. They were the ones who grace the covers of Ebony and Jet magazine. I thought that is what society wants me to be. As I grew older and began to recognize social institutions, classism and racism then it came to me that this image is nothing more than a fallacy. This image is not real but a form of control to make me mutilate my body and to be accepted by others. Colorism is disease that is slowly destroying the Black community and it a skin-deep issue that breeds self-hatred.”
Over at Contemporary Contempt, the strange dynamics of retail interactions are under consideration in “My Politeness is Not for Sale, and You Couldn’t Afford it, Anyway!: A Customer Service Rant.” An excerpt:
“… In a normal social interaction, one not so directly contingent on the exchange of money, politeness is something that is almost earned: if one person in the interaction is polite, the other is more likely to be polite as well. But they are not obligated to be–no one is obligated to be. In contrast, during a customer service interaction, the promised payment of money obligates only the service professional to be polite. That person’s demeanor is being manipulated by money.
MY POLITENESS IS NOT FOR SALE! It SHOULD NOT be for sale! That drains politeness of much of its value, and maybe this is why society is becoming more rude in general. If we’ve commodified everything (see Strasser 2003), turning much of our dealings with strangers into fake social interactions that only obligate one party to be polite, and both parties know this politeness is fake because it’s being bought, then why should anyone value politeness in and of itself?”
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