Author Archives: Jac

Call it what it is – anti-blackness and systematic racism

In an article by BBC describes the events that occurred to Martese Johnson on March 18th, 2015.

The language and story here is simple: the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) attacked a black student, Martese Johnson, and acted with unnecessary force.

The issue here is not only the unnecessary force, but also of a greater narrative that goes ignored, especially given recent events in Ferguson where racial profiling – stereotyping people based on their race – by white police officers was called into question. At no point in the article is there implication of racial profiling by the ABC officers, yet the article clearly articulates that Johnson is black.

Why is being black important in the headline but not the details?

The language surrounding Johnson and the ABC ignores the racial component which is present in all accounts of incidents regarding black people. Our society has heavily ingrained certain stereotypes regarding black people; the obvious examples being that they are “thugs” and “trouble makers”. The way we view black bodies has a phenomenal impact on how we act against them. It is not surprise then that the Ferguson police – comprised predominantly of white men – have been founded to be conducting unjust, systematic, brutality against black bodies (CBC, 2015).

It is a race issue because we see black people as different, as “not white”. We understand and recognize that being black is a part of who they are as human beings therefore we should also understand that being black may influence the ways we unconsciously (or consciously) treat them. All issues involving black people will have undertones of race within them. You cannot discern an individual from their race because race shapes their experiences in the same way being a student is also an integral part of Johnson’s identity (Jones, 2014). We also cannot forget how these stereotypes are subtly ingrained into our society, how anti-blackness – a form of racism which specifically targets black people – is prevalent throughout our entire system, and how media has reinforced it by creating the image of the “thug” black person (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008).

Martese Johnson, from the indiegogo page.

Perhaps what is interesting is not only about the language, but the way Johnson is presented in the article as well. Johnson was a member of his university’s honor committee, and had a campaign to rerun for his position (“JusticeforMartese”, 2015). This detail is not in the article; however, it is an important detail as it presents Johnson as more than just another black student. These facts about who he is humanizes him, especially when contrasted against his bloody photos. There are also no pictures of Johnson’s campaigns, working on various groups, even being an active member of society; there is only him as a victim. This objectifies black bodies as nothing more than ways to shock and surprise people. Bloodied black bodies are used as a way to shock and horrify people, and in a sense it is also normalized, or presented as a normal occurrence. The more images we see of bruised, bloodied, black bodies in the media, the less sensitive we become to their suffering.

The language surrounding black movements for autonomy and basic human rights has been language that is clearly anti-black. This is most obviously when comparing the language between the Ferguson protests and the Hong Kong protests. The protests occurred roughly within the same time period, yet the contexts in which they existed, and what they were fighting for were radically different. One was an attempt to fight against white supremacy – a system of racism where white people benefit the most – and the demand for black bodies to be respected and free of racial profiling, while the latter was a fight for democratic rights. Wikipedia, which is a source people accurately use today to gain general information, describe the Ferguson protests as “unrest” whereas Hong Kong protests are called what they are – protests (Wikipedia, 2015).

So why does this matter?

Unrest suggests a fault on the protesters themselves, unrest implies a sense of chaos inflicted by the protestors. Unrest suggests it is the fault of the victims, and more importantly that somehow their protests are less legitimate because of this sense of chaos. Most of the residents of Ferguson were for their protests, but only a small majority were for the protests in Hong Kong. Ferguson was likely just as chaotic as Hong Kong, yet they were painted as a less legitimate cause. This is inherently anti-black because of the fact that the discourse around Ferguson has delegitimized the cause. It is seen as a less valid fight for basic human rights than Hong Kong because the protestors are black and fighting for black rights for human life.

In contrast, Hong Kong was praised by western as the “most peaceful” protest since many of the protestors did “polite” and “proper” thing such as cleaning up after their protests, creating study corner, etc (Fisher, 2014). It is difficult to ignore how this might interplay with the East Asian model minority myth in which East Asians are depicted as the “ideal”, submissive, docile but hardworking and polite minorities. Traditionally, this stereotype has been used to justify racism within white settler colonial countries; the failure of black Americans to succeed was not because they were not white but because they were black. The Asians did fine. It was blackness that was the cause of failure (Nakagawa, 2015). Of course, this is obviously not true, many Asians did not fit this stereotype and faced structural inequalities, and white supremacy was the barrier for black people in America.

This type of juxtaposition between Hong Kong and Ferguson emphasized how western media depicts one race (in this case, East Asians) as a toxic “ideal” and the other as a problem of blackness despite both essentially acting the same.

The discourse around black bodies is one that suggests they are the cause of their own problems. Society polices – which is the act of enforcing certain restrictions – black bodies around respectability politics – which is the idea that acting, dressing, or behaving a certain way as to not be stereotyped in a certain harmful manner, and is used to deny structural inequalities such as racism – and this is shown in our discourse in both media (typically owned by and written by white people) to casually ignore their suffering or suggest it is not systematic, but an individual circumstance. This casually ignores anti-blackness and its violent manifestations, of which Martese Johnson, Mike Brown, and countless other black people are victim of everyday.

So let’s call it what it is: anti-black, systematic, racism.

Works Cited

“2014 Hong Kong Protests.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

“Facts at a Glance, University of Virginia.” Current Enrollment,. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

“Ferguson Unrest.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Fisher, Max. “Western Media Says Hong Kong Protests Are “clean and Orderly.” Is That Racist?” Vox. 2 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Jones, Denisha. “The Death of Michael Brown, Teachers, and Racism: 10 Things Every Badass Teacher Needs To Understand.” Bad Ass Teacher’s Association. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

“JusticeForMartese.” Indiegogo Life. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Nakagawa, Scot. “The Model Minority Is a Lever of White Supremacy.” Race Files. CHANGELAB, 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

News, CBC. “Ferguson Police Report: 5 Examples of Abuse of Power.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Punyanunt-Carter, Narissa. “The Perceived Realism of African American Portrayals on Television.” The Howard Jounral of Communications 28 (2008): 241-57. University of Oregan Library. Web. 8 Apr. 2015. <https://library.uoregon.edu/sites/default/files/data/guides/english/howard_journal_communications.pdf&gt;.

“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

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Cultural Appropriation: Dangerous Intersections

In her article, âpihtawikosisân explains what cultural appropriation consists of, along with the apparent harms of appropriating the native headdress. Perhaps what is most interesting about cultural appropriation is how it often intersects with other systems of oppression (notably racism and sexism), and how it reinforces structural and systematic forms of oppression.

At its core, cultural appropriation is the act of taking intellectual property (this can be a physical object or not), stripping it of its meaning, and then assigning it a new meaning. These can be objects of both high and low cultural value, and it does not necessarily need to be the objects of marginalized groups. Although marginalized groups are harmed by appropriation the most as they tend to reinforce existing systems of power. Appropriation also typically occurs for either financial (selling native headdresses when you are not native to make money) or social (to seem “cool” or “edgy”) gain. Ultimately, cultural appropriation commodifies a cultural and suggests that it exists to be used for some sort of gain as opposed to a unifying sense of social cohesion through cultural identity.

In most acts of cultural appropriation, it is often seen as a subtle form of mockery. This act of appropriation often neglects the understanding of historical contexts, and more modern perceptions. The headdress is an excellent example as indigenous Plains people in Canada (and those in the United States) were forced to assimilate into the white colonial settler country. In Canada this was done through aggressive and brutal legislation that included the creation of Residential Schools whose ultimate goal was to “kill the Indian in the Child” (Fleras, 2015). These brutal policies included violent punishment for even speaking their languages. The culture of indigenous people of Canada was often seen as “barbaric” and had to be extinguished. The irony in white people and non-Native people of colour to wear a headdress not only out of its context – as it is similar to our own medals of honour – but also conveniently forgets the oppressive history of forced cultural assimilation. These histories have huge impacts on indigenous people today, and manifest themselves systematically. It is no secret that indigenous people have the highest death rates, lowest education rates, nearly dead languages, high rates of abuse, and much more as a result of these horrific policies (Fleras, 2015). Wearing the headdress is inherently a sign of mockery as it chooses to ignore this legacy.

It is also important to remember who benefits the most out of wearing these objects. While social gain is an important factor of cultural appropriation, the people who benefit the most are often those in positions of power. These types of power are often situated in privilege but those who benefit are not exclusively white, or CIS, or heterosexual – although they often are. Take Forever 21’s controversial “Straight out of Compton” t-shirts which appropriate black culture through commodification (Kleinman, 2015). Most of the residents of Compton are black, yet the models (and people who benefit) were clearly not. Forever 21, owned by Korean American Don Chang, does not necessarily directly benefit white, CIS, heterosexual men but it does reinforce existing power structures that work against people of colour – specifically black people (Forever 21, 2015). By commodifying their culture, Forever 21 suggests that they love black culture, but not necessarily black people. Black people become objectified in these type of anti-blackness. In this example of horizontal oppression – when one oppressed group works against another oppressed group to reinforce existing power structures – people like Chang may gain financial benefits (Social Justice Terminology, 2015). However, there are other people such as stockholders, workers, and other executive members of Forever 21 are likely to be white, cis, heterosexual men who will also benefit and benefit more from the oppression of people of colour than people like Chang.

The normalization of commodifying black culture implies that all cultures are also “free” to commodify. This has dire consequences as cultural appropriation can also reinforce existing stereotypes. For example, in Katy Perry’s orientalist “geisha” costume at the American Music Awards in 2013. Not only did her dress actually resemble more the Chinese cheongsam than Japanese kimono, but her entire performance and costume was only a step away from yellowface. While white women like Perry can take off a kimono and become white and “normal” again, Asian (specifically East Asian) women cannot. Instead, these images of the “exotic geisha” actively harm them. It fetishizes, objectifies, and dehumanizes them to sexual objects. This then plays a crucial role in sexual assault rates, where in which Asian women are targeted for specifically because of these images (Kim, 2009).This applies not only to Asian women, but to all women of colour. First Nations women are also sexualized, objectified, and reduced to a fetish often in an “exotic” sort of “savage” way with feathers and leather skins like in No Doubt’s music video (Charleyboy, 2012). It is not surprise to see that Aboriginal women in Canada and the United States have some of the highest rates of sexual assault. Cultural appropriation also creates a dangerous intersection of race and sex.

Cultural appropriation is very far from “appreciation”. These objects which were once seen as “foreign” and “strange” therefore qualified for mockery are now being used for financial or social gain. It is difficult for marginalized groups to forget the harsh, oppressive histories (whether recent or not). Appropriation also only benefits a small group of people, often people who are already in positions of power as they are typically CIS, white, male, heterosexual, are the ones who benefit from the commodification of culture (although not exclusively). It also often intersects sexism with racism, producing powerful stereotypes that have real world consequences.

Cornell West once said that “justice is what love looks like in public,”. Love is not mockery, or ignoring years of oppression. Love is not wearing objects of cultural significance out of ignorance. Love is not reinforcing harmful, intersecting forms of oppression. Love is respect and love is understanding.

Keep your headdresses and “geisha” costumes at home.

That is not love, nor does it do the people from those cultures any justice.

You may be able to take them off at the end of the day, but not everyone can.

Works Cited

“An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” Pihtawikosisn. 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Charleyboy, Lisa. “No Doubt, Exploiting ‘hot’ Native American Stereotypes Is Never OK.” The Guardian. 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/nov/06/no-doubt-native-american-stereotypes&gt;.

Fleras, Augie, and Jean Leonard Elliot. “Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: Repairing the Relationship.” Unequal Relations: An Introduction to Race, Ethnic and Aboriginal Dynamics in Canada. 2nd ed. Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice Hall Canada ;, 1996. Print.

“Forever 21.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/companies/forever-21/&gt;.

“Hey, Can I Borrow That? – Why Cultural Appropriation Is Not Harmless.” Things Genny Loves. 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <https://nofrillsfox.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/hey-can-i-borrow-that-why-cultural-appropriation-is-not-harmless/&gt;.

Kim, Jaemin. “Asian Women: Rape And Hate Crimes.” The Huffington Post. 3 June 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaemin-kim/lets-call-it-what-it-is_b_163698.html&gt;.

Kleinman, Alexis. “Forever 21 Apparently Has Pulled Its Controversial Compton Shirts.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

“Social Justice Terminology.” Suffolk University. Suffolk University. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.suffolk.edu/campuslife/27883.php&gt;.

Reelout 2015 Film Review: Around the World in 8 Short Ways


The banner for Reelout. From left to right, The Priest, Bendik and the Monster, and I Love Her. Taken from the Reelout website.

The Reelout Film Festival took place from January 30th to February 7th and the focus of the festival was to highlight the importance queer representation in film. Ultimately, all these films are designed to challenge heteronormativity – the establishment of being heterosexual as the social norm and thus, most depictions within media as heterosexual relationships which reinforce it as the norm – and gender binaries – the idea that gender is fixed as either male or woman, and that gender is based on biological sex. This is also loosely based on biological essentialism which is the idea that everything about us is explained by biology. For example, that people who are born as a female are genetically designed to be “caregivers”. Obviously, these ideas are very harmful as they often erase identities, and have been used as excuses in systems of power, hence the importance of Reelout.

For this festival, I watched Around the World in 8 Short Ways; series of seven (despite the name) short films from around the world. Reelout typically features at least fifty percent Canadian content. Their summaries can be found on the Reelout website.

I found this aspect of the films to be quite limiting as only one of the seven films were made/set outside of Europe. I was informed at the beginning of the movie by one of the coordinators that they selected from over five hundred films. For a film festival that boasts diversity and uniqueness of perspective, I found that this was quite western-centric despite a clearly diverse choice. I would have liked to see a film that explores disabilities in China, or perhaps an intersectional analysis of Afro-Latinxs in South America by examining how different systems of powers interlock and operate in conjunction with one another. Indeed, I found these films overall to primarily focus on white people. While there was clearly representation in terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and trans people (LGBQT), only two of the seven films featured a person of colour. As a woman of colour, I definitely feel that racial diversity is needed in this section of the festival, especially since being queer is often seen as an aspect of whiteness – a powerful social construction that refers to the social, cultural, and political privileges granted by being white (Understanding Whiteness).

My favourite film is Das Phallometer which is based off a Czech law. The film follows a gay Iranian man’s attempt to enter the Czech Republic after fleeing Iran from being persecuted for his sexuality. The film criticizes the notion that you can “measure” or “prove” one’s sexuality through hyperbole. By presenting the process of the phallometric test as ridiculous (through the officer’s exaggerated eyes and responses to the test) and humiliating, the film criticizes heterosexist – discrimination against homosexual people and favoring heterosexual people— attitudes as straight people do not have to “prove” their sexuality. This film demonstrates the ridiculousness of this premise, and how degrading it is.


Commentary on making Das Phallometer. (Iben)

I also enjoyed Bendik and the Monster. This film reminded me of Pixar style animation, initially I thought it was some sort of parody of Monster’s Inc, but the film instead emphasized following your dreams and questioned gender identity – what gender we choose to identify as which can be woman/man or neither/non-binary. Bendik, a young boy who lacks the traditional qualities of masculinity (unlike his mother’s “tough” boyfriend, Freddy) tries to help a Monster achieves his goals of being a singer. In order to achieve this, the Monster requires that Bendik dress up as a girl as he can only sing the song to girls. Bendik, wanting to help the Monster, doesn’t even question this, and quickly puts on his mother’s dress. The Monster applies make up on him, and the final scene has Bendik in full face of makeup. The way he appears is reminiscent of a drag queen, clearly not “passing” for a girl but the emphasis in this film is not the “transformation”. As pointed out by Julia Serano in her essay Skirt Chasers, most media depictions of trans people have a fascination in the transformative process to “prove” that trans people put on a “mask” when they identify differently from their gender assigned at birth (Serano, 2005). Instead, the response and transformation and downplayed, and the song that the Monster sings to Bendik is emphasized with a colourful background contrasting with the dark, neutral shades of the previous scene. The Monster’s song, and his work in achieving his dream, as well as Bendik’s help is what is considered important rather than the transformation. In addition, Bendik is not presented as the “pathetic” or “deceptive” trans person as described by Serano either. Instead, when Freddy walks in on the two, Bendik turns around to “scare” Freddy with his appearance. Freddy screams, something considered un-masculine as it shows “weakness”, and asks why Bendik is dressed like one of “them”. Freddy’s mother chastises Freddy, praises Bendik for being himself, and kicks Freddy out of her house when he voices his transphobic opinions. I thoroughly enjoyed the positive message that encouraged being yourself, whether that is being a singer when you’re supposed to be a scary monster, or choosing not to conform to gender binaries and exploring your identity.


Ace Ventura proving she’s a man as discussed by Serano (Ace Ventura Proving She’s a Man!).


Trailer for Bendik and the Monster (Sunshine).

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at the festival, and was happy to see a diverse range of people. More importantly, I found the movies presented to really question my own privileges and help me learn about some of the issues queer people face around the world.

-Jac

References

“Ace Ventura Proving She’s A Man!” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

“Around the World in 8 Ways: Shorts Program.” Reelout. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.reelout.com/event/around-the-world-in-8-ways-shorts-program/&gt;.

Iben, Torr. “Phallometer Making of with Engl. Subs.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Serano, Julia. “Kirt Chasers: Why the Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in Lipstick and Heels.” Bitch Magazine 1 Jan. 2005. Print.

Sunshine, Frankie. “Bendik & the Monster – Teaser.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 May 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

“Understanding Whiteness.” Understanding Whiteness. University of Calgary. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/whiteness&gt;.