Tag Archives: racism

On centrality

(public domain-1923)

(public domain-1923)

Many a sitcom has had settings in which a dozen or more people were in the same place together – mostly some type of social-friendly spot like a diner or an old pre-mega-gentrified coffee shop/bar. Actually what’s now considered an average sitcom is already tailored to post-early-gentrification anyway, but I digress: If a sitcom is set somewhere where there’s a few dozen people around, it usually focuses on a handful of exceptional people. We know they’re exceptional because in this small sampling of supposedly average people there are stories focusing just on them. In this sensationalized media-drenched world, it was interesting to see how comparatively muted the coverage of the horrific slayings in Charleston, South Carolina was. Perhaps that’s because sensationalizing something often requires that the designated bad people have played their part. The alleged bad guy here doesn’t look like who’s supposed to be the bad guy; he looks more like someone sitting at the center of everything on a couch or at a booth.

About a decade ago in the familiar sitcom scenario, you would have been hard pressed to look in the background and find any people of color, and even now, for all the supposed “Empire”s that are dominating TV, in the narratives of your average sitcom set in what’s considered an average place, there may or may not be a few. Did you ever notice how odd it really is to always focus on a few amazing people, almost always white, when there’s all these other people around, just kind of dawdling? For some, many even, that’s aspirationally metaphorical–these central people who are worthy of having good things happen to them as the rest of the world is reducted.

This dynamic is still commonplace, but in some quarters it’s a bit less common than it used to be, which really upsets those whose sense of self-worth is built on being the good average person inherently worthy of centrality.
A survivor of the Charleston massacre reportedly said that the alleged shooter told his victims that he had to do it because African-Americans, it was implied, were “taking over.”

“Had to do it,” as if there was a counterpoint that said, no, these are people. They don’t deserve this.

In typical fashion, the massacre has been considered by some to be an aberration; this is what hate crimes are supposed to be, even though hating those insidious others that threaten to challenge someone’s supposedly rightful space of centrality is hardly an aberration culturally. There are plenty of programs that regularly present information and twist it through that prism.

What’s amazing is the way that the victims of some of these families are so forgiving. What’s incredibly sad is that hundreds of years of molded centrality will continue to make some people think that it’s only right for some people’s lives to mean much more than others. And what those people, so desperate to be more than somebody else, don’t get it is that if they weren’t being pointed to one scapegoat, it would be another.

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a messy world, but don’t give up on it

The news about Robin Williams seems to have given millions of people a sense of pause, in a way that many people wish would happen for the loved ones in their own lives. Some have resented the enormous presence this has had in media, and such opinions have been dismissed as anything from insensitivity to the somewhat mythic “reverse racism.” But with the senseless shootings that take place everyday, such a reaction is hardly completely devoid of humanity. Maybe it’s not the beacon that the media likes to pretend humanity is when something senseless happens, but a little self-concern when your looks are demonized should be understandable.            

 As is feeling for Williams. I don’t know that people’s affection for him is generally about the admiration of stardom; he was a unique entertainer, somebody who mixed a lot of heart into that one-of-a-kind whirlwind humor. That he so obviously wanted to make people laugh and smile in a goofy kind of way might have worked against him a little career-wise, in an increasingly moment- and cool-obsessed media. The art of being a goofball is not one that always seems vital and contemporary, but the world would be incredibly dull without it. Quite possibly even to himself, Williams’ merits became underappreciated — in the way that most people juxtaposed with a one-sided notion of “vital and contemporary” often always are.

The tributes are understandable, but a substantial part of the media reaction is entirely about Williams’ stardom and what can be milked from the combination of it and tragedy. That this generally trumps the senseless shootings of people who aren’t stars or considered All-American enough is ridiculous. Even with what’s happening in Missouri, perhaps only such an extreme example of the kind of messy unfairness that happens everyday makes it linger in the media. There’s also a tiny bit of self-righteousness that gets to be utilized, with the crusaders of justice for all who are on the nicer side of some subdivision themselves.

The only positives from this all seems to be a greater cultural awareness of institutional bias and depression, neither of which should add up to someone being ostracized. Often it’s all a mess, but really, it’s not just a mess, and you’re certainly worth the fight to not be overwhelmed by acutely feeling the worst of it.  If it’s too much of one, don’t try to go it alone.                .   

Difranco as human ‘hipster’ paradigm?

Beyond what’s already been said about Ani Difranco’s reaction to finding out that a former plantation was the planned locale for her company’s retreat, I think there’s something to discern from it about so called “hipsters” — a quality of which seems to be priding one’s self as being enlightened when it comes to issues surrounding race and class, though one’s background frequently leads to a life separate from the majority of those who have historically lacked much in the way of privilege.

Criticism about hipsters is, of course, rife throughout all of blogdom — but it’s often frivolous stuff about the way they dress (I would not include the wearing of clothes that mock someone else’s culture in this arena).  Also, people seem to pick up on a self-righteousness that comes with defining one’s self as thoroughly counter-culture while being obsessed with culture-as-a-lifestyle.  But most of the people doing the criticizing — and certainly the ones whose criticisms are on the noteworthy venues that, inherently, cater to the at least somewhat privileged  — are perhaps finding fault with those trying to live a romanticized version of their own upwardly mobile lives.  In short, they’re a scapegoat for people who don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that they systematically have more stock than others.

These others are people that hipsters and the upwardly mobile can’t generally seem to connect with — sure, they can do so with people of color whom are associated with the coolness that acts as cultural currency among hipsters, and also occasionally people of color whom they can be self-righteous about (an idea of) equality with.  With the upwardly mobile more generally, they seem to connect more easily with people of color who’d prefer to disassociate with that color — with with what can make you less than not so old-fashioned notions of what a normal guy or gal looks like.  So there you have a fine melting pot,  just not with anyone who really challenges people’s notions of themselves in hierarchies.

Away from that, there’s criticism about hipster re-emergence into the urban world where they frequently define areas in the cultural zeitgeist that had been defined as being “bad (but culturally rich) neighborhoods.” You know — all of those cities, with all of their scary people of color; these were the places fine upstanding people didn’t have to live — not when there’s a perfectly good suburb you can drive comfortably to.

Difranco wrote a song about an element of this.  It’s called “Subdivision,” and it starts with the line, “White people are so scared of black people . . .”   It’s a good song, and much more in the vein of Bob Dylan’s song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter than “Ebony and Ivory.”  I learned from a documentary that Dylan’s song is one that the great Sam Cooke respected on one level, but on another Cooke seemed to lament that someone who hadn’t experienced racism firsthand hadn’t come out with that song first.   I empathize with the feeling because the simple politics of the music business — certainly even more so during Cooke’s heyday — was such that a black artist couldn’t speak his or her truth forthrightly.

Difranco’s initial response to finding out about the plantation as a setting for a retreat noted that she didn’t pick it as a venue, but, once she she knew, it seems she thought it could be an opportunity for healing.  I have a lot of respect for Difranco as a writer and musician, but I could never listen to her sing about race at length without feeling like it was nice enough — and not hollow, but just on some other planet where people leave their suburbs, or mini-suburbs, to go on things like retreats.

You see, frequently hipsters may live in urban areas, but they’re areas that have been turned into mini-suburbs that cater to them — this is the general downside of a place becoming what we generally think of as being livable.  You can live in a place that’s associated with being some great urban place where people of color managed to get by in hard times, but really it’s separate from the heart of that — the part that knows about what the pain of being in the “less than” part of town added up to.

I’m not someone who thinks Difranco should be demonized (there’s a component of her detractors who salivate over this sort of thing and have no personal regard for black pain otherwise), but it’s worth noting that maybe knowing about subdivisions doesn’t make one as aware of the pain of being “less than” as some people might like to think.

race actually

“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.”