Monthly Archives: November 2012

Let’s Talk About: the Comments Made by Morgan Freeman

Before I even get into this: If Black followers would like to comment on internalized oppression or POC practicing whiteness, then I wholeheartedly welcome it. I, however, as a white person do not have the right, reason, need, or lived experience to speak on such matters. Personally, I see a crucial distinction between acknowledging this phenomenon and actively battling it. I’m not taking Morgan Freeman to task directly because this is not my battle and it is not my job, nor is it the job of any white person to school POC on their ideas of race. I cringe every time I see Tim Wise on twitter going after POC for practicing white supremacy, because, quite frankly, he just comes off as racist. I firmly believe these specific discussions and confrontations belong in the communities they directly involve.

A dear Brazilian friend of mine who I met through political organizing last year messaged me this morning and told me this video of Morgan Freeman’s comments was going around on Brazilian facebook pages in response to a “Black Consciousness Week” held at the end of November in Brazil. Aside from making some excellent criticisms about the white middle class reception to this video, he also said he’d like to see a discussion on this topic engaged on the blog. I was inclined to agree, but I was more so skeptical and cautious as to how I would approach this issue. I personally believe silence is not a solution to race and racism, but I can only speak to this belief through my experience of white privilege. These comments have been circulating for some time, and as much as I think they serve as one good example of exactly what happens when people refuse to talk about race, I think there is more danger in terms of white folks righteously savoring the reflection of their own ideas in the spoken words of POC.

Everyone knows Morgan Freeman is not the only Black person on the planet, right? More importantly, everyone knows that he isn’t the only person of color on the planet, nor was he unanimously appointed to speak for all Black people… right?

I think whites might want to hesitate before we uphold the idea that dialogues on race and racism should stop because a single individual says they should, especially if we think this then gives us the license to say “a Black person said it should stop. SO THERE.” As my friend put it, there is no reason for whites (wherever they are) to defend this kind of argument as being universally valid simply because it was “authorized” by a single Black person. Racism is not an issue that is limited to Black vs white. When there are numerous and diverse ethnic identities that contend with numerous and diverse racial oppressions, whites need to take a long look at our “I don’t see race” mantles and the token POC we may have stacked there as our personal opinion trophies. I sense a double standard of whiteness at work when Morgan Freeman’s comments are privileged as incontrovertible truth, but the words of Malcolm X are dismissed as extremist ramblings that pose a “threat to homeland security.” Why would whites have either the interest or the investment in one position over the other? Because one position works to our advantage and reinforces our privilege while the other does not.

I have no disrespect for Mr. Freeman, but with the undeniable reality that I would still be a dumb white motherfucker had I not been exposed to discourses on race and racism, I have to respectfully disagree. I cannot discuss why this kind of thinking might be damaging to POC because I am not a person of color. What I can do, is use my stories to explain why this kind of thinking is ultimately beneficial to and in the interest of white supremacy.

I vividly remember what I’m going to call the ‘white awakening’ I had my first quarter of college in the Ethnic Studies department. Prompts for our midterm papers were being handed around in class, and I was sitting comfortably with my usual expectations of academic exercises. In other words, I was going to breeze through whatever 5-6 pages this would be while remaining as neutral as I’d always been as a student. This white arrogance had no idea what the fuck to do with itself once I actually read the prompt. “Tell your personal migration narratives of contact with the United States and explain how this has shaped your ethnic identity.” I am still perfectly ignorant of many things, but in this particular context, this is how ignorant I was at the time: I went home in crisis. I had a self-indulgent meltdown where I unleashed white panic and stared at the prompt for who knows what amount of time. This isn’t an assignment for white people, I kept telling myself, how unfair. My first serious paper, and the first one ever that had asked me to examine my own ethnic identity, left me dumbfounded, directionless, and questioning my major.

It shocked me when, the next day in class, our TA revealed that my fellow desperate white students in crisis had collectively and immediately crowded her office to say to her what I wouldn’t say out loud. I will never forget what she said to the *entire class,* how she said it, and how this changed my thinking forever:

“I have news for you, white folks. YOU HAVE RACE. Understand that white is a race too and it’s socially constructed too. Yall are related to European immigrants, so don’t give me this shit about how you can’t talk about your migration patterns and ethnic identities.”

For me, this was the single card an important person pulled to bring the whole house of cards down. I have made mistakes and I have been wrong, I will continue to make mistakes and I will continue to be wrong. But had this moment not happened, had the radical power of words not existed, I would have remained locked into the great white ignorance that still controls this country and most of the planet. This state of mind would not have been good just for me; it’s good for whites in general.

At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would say it’s not really Morgan Freeman who whites are agreeing with. When we use comments like these to defend colorblind thinking while we simultaneously reject or attack the ideas of radical POC, we are ultimately validating our own ideas and agreeing with ourselves. When we are at this point, it doesn’t matter that Morgan Freeman is Black; what matters is that his words are not threatening to our whiteness, while the words of Malcolm X or Angela Davis are perceived as highly threatening in this regard. The suggestion that we stop talking about race and racism prevents us from staring white supremacy in the eye behind its white hood, which means we must stare into a mirror, rather than look away and assume we were right all along. It is always easier to never speak of something again than it is to face its ugliness every day.

–DD

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Let’s Talk About: Intersections of whiteness, Masculinity, and Queers

Image

So this afternoon on facebook…

After a debate with a Zionist I clicked over to my dash to find this image being used by a local gay bar to advertise their thxgiving day festivities. “Come get your turkey stuffed,” said the promotional material. Here we have an example of the most popular time of year to use white stereotypes of Indigenous peoples as marketing strategies. Furthermore, this is yet another example of whiteness in communities who, although they might understand the oppression of homophobia, have the racial privilege to dismiss the oppression of racism and cultural appropriation. This image reminds me of two things: not to assume that white supremacy exists exclusively in conservative heterosexual spaces, and to remember that even though there are queer whites, we have still been conditioned by white supremacy and continue to benefit from it. Being queer does not preclude us from being racist or participating in racist behavior.

I’m assuming a buckled hat or turkey feathers weren’t erotic enough, so they decided to go with a… war bonnet. Not only does this image use white stereotypes to objectify Native masculinity, it also exploits cultural dress by packaging it as a sexualized costume that will, ideally, appeal to potential consumers and stimulate their genitals. The common and frighteningly overused argument that cultural appropriation is a demonstration of appreciation and respect cannot, even remotely, be applied in this case. I fail to see how using war bonnets to sell sex to mostly white gay men would qualify as appreciative or respectful. If there are any questions about this, consider the fact that the war bonnet (in combination with the promotional material quoted above) is only serving the purpose of a sexualized costume precisely because it’s the only thing the model is wearing—the picture being tantalizingly cropped right before the pubic hair territory gets more graphic.

With turkey basters being as phallic as they are and ovens being as orifice related as they are, the use of a sexualized racist trope becomes less of a random association and more of a conscious decision. This hypersexual photo is designed to appeal to a decidedly non-Native demographic for a decidedly non-Native event.. which is based on a whitewashed holiday that celebrates legacies of ignored Native genocide in the US. Selling distorted Native images to sell thxgiving could only be the product of a white supremacy blind spot. Nontraditional war bonnet wearing already plays on white fantasies of Native peoples constructed as universally similar in appearance and customs, but this version gives it a hot shirtless twist to attract gay men and compel them to buy $9 cocktails. This version turns cultural appropriation into a gay male fantasy.

Why is this desirable? A naked white dude (who can go ahead and skip the spray tan) with a turkey leg in his mouth and an oven mitt on his dick wouldn’t fit with the “get stuffed” theme? Doesn’t that send the same message? The point being that eroticism is a good thing until it manifests at the non-consensual expense of oppressed peoples. I am unconvinced the decision to go with a war bonnet has nothing to do with a sentimental attachment to the whiteness of thxgiving, and the privilege to exploit, stereotype, or dismiss Indigenous peoples and their cultural traditions. I still can’t get over the fact that thxgiving is being celebrated at a gay bar in the first place. How is that progress—for anyone?

—DD

Tagged , , , ,

Politics and white Privilege: Reflections on Why I Voted for Obama

Several months ago I came to the conclusion that I would never vote again, and decided it was some kind of meaningful decision aligned perfectly with my radical politics. I thought I would ignore the Presidential election entirely, assuming this would allow me to exist outside the US system of government. If this sounds similar to the white fantasy that we can exist outside the system of white privilege when we “think differently,” that’s because it’s almost identical. I am implicated in both systems whether I am a willing or unwilling participant, aware or unaware, and I don’t know of any cancer patients that became immune to the disease simply by ignoring it. As I’ve watched this election cycle unfold (by far one of the most appalling examples of wasted money that “modern” humans have ever known), I have reflected on what it says about my white privilege to even assume the freedom I have to abstain from voting is a “moral” freedom and to assume this decision is a “radical” one.

Full disclosure from the very beginning: I agree with several highly respected friends of color that voting is a colonial franchise. It reinforces the structural power of a neocolonial system (the US government), the foundation for which was formal European colonialism. It’s a uniquely white privilege to reflect on US national heritage with pride and nostalgia, and the “pioneering” ideas behind the creation of the US nation-state that never applied to Indigenous and ethnic “others.” I agree that voting is essentially an act of supporting this history and its influence on the contemporary moment. As per usual with a white person, however, my political position is completely different, and because of my privilege the stakes are not as high for me in any given election.

What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to the majority of white folks if Obama is re-elected? The wealthiest of us might have to pay higher taxes? I don’t really need to think about the few unfortunate consequences I might personally suffer if Romney is elected, which means I have the white privilege to vote for myself and satisfy my own politics.. or not. I can dislike both candidates—one significantly more so than the other—and I could’ve spent this election as a “radical conscientious objector” instead of a voter, but my white privilege is unaltered either way. So I also agree with many respected POC bloggers and writers who argue that no vote for President Obama could amount to the election of Mitt Romney, which would mean worse conditions for many POC in this country.

I have no illusions that I achieved political oneness with “democracy” today because I decided, after all, to vote for Obama. What does the idea of “democracy” really mean when states like Ohio and Florida could decide an entire election? I recently had a discussion with a white feminist about electoral politics, one in which she claimed a certain group of people should “get their shit together and vote” if they wanted certain rights in the US. Not only was she perpetuating the white liberal fantasy that anyone can completely overhaul their social problems with democratic agency, but she was also suggesting that voting is the ultimate solution to any given issue. I could be wrong, but I have to seriously doubt that anti-colonial ideas have ever been viable voting measures. Folks with white skin can simultaneously be aware that the region called the “Southwest” was stolen from Mexico and Indigenous peoples, then claim voting will somehow effectively address this situation. When has “give Mexico back to Mexican and Indigenous people” ever been on a ballot anywhere in the US?

A revolution is not going to happen in the US at a ballot box, and I’m not a fan of every single Obama policy—particularly not the one that effectively means voting for him amounts to voting for more deportations of Latin@ immigrants. But Romney’s ideas on immigration? “Hey, pull yourselves up by your boot straps and self-deport.” Hear ye, hear ye, the colonizer proclaims the Natives shall leave voluntarily from their own land. It’s not better that I voted for Obama, but it would have been worse had I voted for that. Not voting for the alternative gives the worst case scenario a much better chance. I don’t think Obama is the “lesser of two evils,” I think Mitt Romney is yet another financially elite, racially privileged, homophobic, patriarchal, and white supremacist politician that does not deserve to be given more power than he has already enjoyed. Simply put: Romney is worse, and, if elected, would be much worse for communities of color. He wants to dissolve Indigenous sovereignty, which is enough of a reason to vote against him, whether you’re drinking the “democracy” koolaid or not.

Although there are political struggles aimed at disrupting and deconstructing the two-party binary system that dominates US campaigns for office, I don’t know that there will ever be such a thing as a “good vote” or a “good politician” within a corrupt system. Even my vote for President Obama was not a “good vote,” it was a vote against Romney. There have been countless moment’s in Obama’s Presidency that I have imagined how different he might be if he was not forced to operate within the confines of a necolonial and white supremacist system. I think of all the moments he could not be the candidate so many voters wanted him to be in 2008 precisely because of this system. I imagine maybe there are days when he goes to work as Bill Clinton and goes home as Malcolm X. Perhaps the problem is not so much the politician, but the faith voters have in a corrupt government and the promise that this institution, if run by the “right person,” will create the social welfare and “equality” it was supposedly designed to deliver.

I might prefer abolishing the system altogether to find a different way of life, but, as long as it is still in place, I will vote against the worst and most horrifying candidates competing to control it. This is not a heroic, ethical, or revolutionary stance—it is being the lesser of two evils as a white person.

Assuming Romney does get elected, I wonder what will be said about a “post-racial America” then. Will folks say the country is still “post-racial” just because half of its population once elected a Black male? Will they reflect fondly and say, “Remember that Black President we had.. that one time?”

—DD

Tagged , , , ,