Tag Archives: racism

On Azealia Banks and White Gay Cis Male Privilege

The Crunk Feminist Collective

Guest Post by Edward Ndopu

Recently, the media has exploded with news of a Twitter battle between rapper Azealia Banks and gossip blogger Perez Hilton. After Hilton inserted himself in an altercation between Banks and fellow female rapper Angel Haze, taking Haze’s side, Banks denounced him as a “messy faggot”. She then went on to say that she used the word to describe “any male who acts like a female”. Rumours have since abounded that Banks is being dropped from her record label as a result of her speaking out against Hilton. Rather than taking sides, I believe it is most important for us to examine the context within which this media escalation has happened. Instead of writing off Azealia Banks, herself a queer woman, as homophobic, we should instead be exploring the femmephobia and racialized sexism at play in the public’s response to this debacle.

The public spat between…

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Asked & Answered: Django Unchained

Below in bold are a series of questions I received late last night via email regarding the post I wrote on Django Unchained. Answers will follow.

Where does a writer’s license to imagine things other than their life begin? Must all works be non-fiction in first person? In that case can we ever talk about slavery at all?

This discussion is not so broad as to include all works of writing in their various forms, it is intentionally limited to the direct subject matter: a specific piece of fiction concerning a specific narrative. I question the assumption of total freedom and license in storytelling when its forms are very specialized, regulated, and inscribed with the power dynamics of race. I’m not exactly sure who “we” are in this scenario, but it would stand to reason that you are referring to white people. Saying it is disrespectful and unjustified for a white director to make a movie from the perspective of a slave and his path of imagined vengeance is not the same as saying “white people can never talk about slavery at all.” There is a big difference, and these statements should not be used interchangeably. However, the institution of slavery was not fiction, and a “first person narrative” of the slave experience does not exist if it is written by a white person. A writer’s “license to imagine things other than their life” began hundreds of years ago, and it should end any time this license grants those who have not experienced racial oppression to use it as a point of entertainment and campy gore. To suggest racial oppression is neutral content easily accessible and comprehensible to white writers, is to suggest the historical wounds and material consequences of racial oppression can be severed from this content under the pretext of “art.” I would call this violence, not art.

There’s not a single PoC that has the experience of being a slave. It surely is a huge leap to even pretend to remember what that was like, no matter what ancestral memory has been passed down or culturally exists. It’s been well over a hundred years. Surely, someone should be able to represent or remember it. Where do you draw the line?

I would ask you to take notice of these assumptions: “it surely is a huge leap to even pretend to know what that was like,” and “surely someone should be able to represent it.” So the assumption is that Black folks have no oral traditions and histories that keep this legacy alive, and the implied argument is that Black people in the contemporary moment have no legitimate connection to their own history because it happened hundreds of years ago. Please see Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon for a much more involved perspective on the endurance of slavery that I will not be addressing here. Black folks (from the era of slavery to the present moment) have already been writing their own stories and producing their own knowledge. If you dare to suggest POC have no contemporary experiences of slavery “no matter what ancestral memory” exists, then I question why Tarantino isn’t subjected to the same level of scrutiny—someone who has absolutely zero frame of reference or memory regarding that side of history. I draw the line at the argument that POC can’t logically associate with their histories, but white artists can. If you think it is a “huge leap” for Black people to relate to their own ancestors, then what kind of biblical leap is a white male taking when he thinks he can represent, remember, and/or relate to their ancestors? This is when a vague and mysterious “someone” who “should be able to represent and remember” inevitably translates to “a white person who should be able to write stories about POC.”

It’s because of racism and white supremacy that narratives told by white folks are privileged over narratives POC have been telling for centuries. And I wonder…  who can draw the line between an appropriate and inappropriate amount of time to pass before communities’ tragedies become subject to an imaginary public domain?

Is it solely based on race? Does research or knowledge play a part? Who gets enfranchised into the cultural memory conversation? Are perspectives from non-slaves totally useless and worthless? Should we ignore abolitionists (however problematic they were) or what went on personally and historically for conflicted people like Jefferson? Does that have no use?

So what if I draw the line at race? Why is this so controversial and questionable? Is it only “legitimate” if I draw the line at “research and knowledge”? Drawing the line at race equally involves research and knowledge. I am skeptical whenever anyone suggests that living legacies of gruesome atrocities can easily be understood (then written about) just by going to the library and opening a book. Learning is one thing, appropriating an experience to invent a prolonged and hideously violent fantasy in the service of a director’s career is another. This collection of inquiries also relies on the assumption that the consequences of slavery (segregation, disproportionate imprisonment, white supremacy) no longer exist in this country and everyone has fully recovered. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has documented and explained how there are more Black men imprisoned today than there were enslaved in the Antebellum South. No one is entitled to make the decision for all Black people that their mourning period is over, their history is beyond them, and white people get to tell their stories because of points A and B. Discussions about abolitionists have no use in this particular context because Quentin Tarantino is not an abolitionist and we are not talking about a narrative written by or about one.

Should television shows not feature bankers, or mobsters, or civil rights leaders because the experience of being one is ineffable and non-transmittable? The logical conclusion of your argument potentially blows up and destroys the value of every artistic representation based on the ideas that 1) writers can’t know anything they haven’t directly lived 2) the chief value of art (or a chief value of art) is how it is mimetic. Especially when it comes to a historical film.

First of all, it is intellectually dishonest to carelessly compare chattel slaves to the characters of “bankers” and “mobsters” (then throw in “civil rights leaders” for the sake of political correctness—which television shows have ever featured civil rights leaders?). That their experiences might be “ineffable and non-transmittable” was never my point or my argument: bankers and mobsters, even though their theatrical depictions may have been based on actual figures, are not oppressed identities. It is not the same to imagine a wealthy mobster who desires guns and prostitutes, as it is to imagine an oppressed slave who desires liberation and vengeance; in that context, one has power and the other does not, one is a character and the other is not. With the over-representation of white literature and the demonstrated ability of white authors to write endless narratives about white experiences, I don’t see how it is unthinkable to resolve that white authors have enough content to explore. Ultimately, the “chief value” of art is a highly subjective and debatable topic, and if rightfully observing how whiteness and racism have dominated storytelling (in all popular forms in the US) destroys the “chief value of art,” then so be it and so much the better. If this “chief value” dictates that white writers have the right (as Tarantino said) to writer whatever they want, then this means the “chief value” of art is disenfranchising the voices of POC.

Who owns history? Is it just the persecuted groups or the groups viewed as persecuted? Or is it based on blood? Do Chinese nationals have no right to talk about or set a drama in 18th century London? There has to be some level on which all history is owned by everyone, if people understand the bounds. It gets really silly when that’s brought to an extreme as well.

The victors own history. That’s kind of the point. If I look at this situation critically, I see a white writer who is re-enforcing the legacy of ownership by treating slaves, slavery, and this history as his creative property. Do his “rights” and “demands” as a writer take precedence over the rights POC have to storytelling and self-determination? I would say no, and I would also say the “creative freedom” of white writers has been taking precedence over the creative/cultural productions of POC for many hundreds of years. When I consider the fact that the whole of mainstream textbook and knowledge production in the US (including, but not limited to, our entire system of education) has been a franchise of white authors and white history, I am amazed when someone takes offense at the suggestion that even a sliver of the space whiteness occupies should be relinquished so POC can tell their own histories. History is based on a number of things, and I can’t claim to know all of them, but I do know that the histories of oppressed groups and the histories of groups in power are not interchangeable, nor are they identical.

Here are some resources that informed/educated the responses above (in addition to those already mentioned):

The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James
Beloved
by Toni Morrison
Roots
by Alex Haley
The Souls of Black Folk
by W.E.B. DuBois
Our Nig
by Harriet E. Wilson
Finding Sojourner’s Truth: Race, Gender, and the Institution of Property
by Cheryl Harris
Whiteness as Property
also by Cheryl Harris

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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

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Genocide on Trend: white Violence, Ignorance, and Fashion

“Apparel manufacturer The Gap is currently selling a black t-shirt bearing — with no explanation — the words “MANIFEST DESTINY.” Manifest Destiny is a polite term for the popular 19th-century belief that the United States — a white, European nation — was destined to expand westward across the continent, by any means necessary. In Indian country, the term Manifest Destiny calls to mind the suffering of previous generations of Natives through forced relocation and genocide.”

—from Indian Country Today Media Network (full article here)

On the left is an altered ad campaign image for The Gap’s new pro-genocide statement t shirt, bearing the words “Manifest Destiny.” On the right is a response from the Settler Colonial facebook page. The designer, Mark McNairy, issued a non-apology on twitter—something along the lines of “I’m sorry you thought I was racist”—after he tweeted “MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.” Sure, these are both racist white ideas, but they mean very different things. Manifest Destiny is more so “survival of the whitest.” The philosophy behind it also involved European colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples being sanctioned by “God,” which doesn’t quite work with a scientific theory of evolution. If white folks don’t know the meaning of Manifest Destiny, we don’t get to create a new one that we imagine is completely separate from its specific historical and social context.

For whites to wear the Gap original, it would be continuing our long legacy of racist disregard for Indigenous peoples, our appropriation of violent ideas (or violent appropriation as an act in and of itself) to make a fashion statement, and our privilege of never knowing the harm of racist ideas and language. Folks with white skin are repeat offenders when it comes to cultural theft, and it may seem acceptable, innocuous, or even meaningless because we have absolutely no idea what that experience is like. There are no t shirts printed with statements signifying the genocide, removal, displacement, colonization, and mass killing of white folks. There are also no corporate megastores selling shirts that say “Auschwitz” or “Sieg Heil.” It’s only because of our positions on the safe and privileged (therefore ignorant) side of Manifest Destiny that we can have fun with the term and turn it into a consumer product. The good news is that The Gap has apparently agreed to stop selling the shirt. The bad news is that racism doesn’t go out of style with it.

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The “Don’t Re-Nig” Campaign and white Denial

So the Republican website that created this image, Stumpy’s Stickers, was supposedly shut down in March of this year, seeing as their products behind a national campaign were based on a racist play on the word “renege.” The site is still there and fully functioning. It includes an industrial strength roll of Confederate flag stickers sold in bulk with 500 per roll, stickers with phrases such as “Tequila: Mexican Holy Water,” and an image of a billboard comparing President Obama to Hitler. A Republican small business owner in South Dakota recently decided to continue the racist spirit of the “Don’t Re-Nig” campaign by displaying a sign with this exact slogan on it. Twice. On both sides.

This is what she had to say in her defense:

“I had no intention of trying to be racist,” said Mary Snyder, who put the sign outside the business. “It’s just ridiculous. It’s a political sign, my opinion. They think I’m slandering, uh, n*****s. That’s not it.”

Snyder said she didn’t know about the controversial national campaign. She said she intended the sign to say “Don’t Renege,” which means not to go back on a promise, undertaking or contract.

First of all, she just said the N word. Any statement that begins with “I wasn’t trying to be racist” and is followed with the word “n***ers” immediately disproves its own point. Never underestimate the power of white denial, something so ingrained it compels us to insist we aren’t racist, then comfortably use the N word in practically the same sentence. Does anyone really believe that a white person who freely says the N word to reporters didn’t “intend” to reference it on a sign? And if she intended to say “Don’t Renege,” then why didn’t she just write that on the sign? Twice. On both sides.

Second of all, whether or not she knew about the larger campaign is irrelevant. Nowhere in the interview does she claim to have misspelled the word “Renege.” There’s some meaningless discussion of what her “intentions” were, but no following explanation of why she went with “Re-Nig” instead. Was it an accident? She didn’t say it was. Will she change it now that she understands the pejorative association? She didn’t say that either. In fact, she refused to apologize for it. Her plan is that of most whites: deny racism, then hide racism behind the First Amendment. Protecting the “freedom” of hate speech = white supremacy.

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Expensive Homemade Racism in Massachusetts

Members of Scott Brown’s campaign were recently caught (and recorded on youtube) making a stereotypical mockery of Native Americans, which Brown wouldn’t condemn as racist—just “unacceptable and immature.” With the sign above, we see the consequences of both racism and a political campaign that ignores (and therefore encourages) it. A business owner in Boston created this sign after already being criticized for his anti-Obama displays, taking his white supremacy to another level by spending more than $2,000 on the custom signs while protecting them with 24 hour video surveillance. In his own words:

“I’m voicing my opinion. As an American, it’s a right that we have and I’m going to use that right,” Sullivan said. “So we’re not bad guys here.”

Yet another example of racism and hate speech being conflated with constitutional rights and sanctioned by national identity. This is our personal freedom as white folks in the US: we can say whatever we want, hurt whoever we want, offend whoever we want, and be as racist as we want, then turn around and say “It’s OK I’m an American. Read the first amendment, asshole.” If you uphold the constitution as a unique and sacred document of equality, first consider how often it is used to defend shit like this.

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Racism and The Empty Chair

During Clint Eastwood’s psychotic episode speech at the RNC this year, he pretended to address President Obama by talking to an empty chair. If the symbolism of a white man talking down to a powerful person of color didn’t send the message of racism home for you, then consider the aftermath.  Eastwood used the chair to put President Obama “in his place,” while other white folks are taking this spectacle of racism to another level. The first photo shows an empty chair in Virginia with an obvious target, the second photo shows an empty chair from Texas has a less visible target. The common denominators are: Obama, lynching, and anti-Black racism.

Attention white folks: we know exactly what we’re doing when we hang shit from trees, we don’t get to take this behavior out of historical context, and we need to understand that a Black president does not mean the end of racism when this kind of racial violence continues to go down. Sometimes a picture isn’t worth a thousand words. “Racism still exists” are three words these combined pictures are worth. If you’re still unconvinced and still looking for proof, then you might consider that you have no idea what you’re looking for.

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Tumblr Q & A: Defending Racism as “Art”

Q: Hello, I was going to write a long, drawn out response to your lady gaga burqa post, but it came down to fundamental perspectives, which we probably don’t share. Lady Gaga’s religion is arguably aesthetics, and she has always referenced “”‘disrespectfully'”” Christianity. I view her wearing a burqa not as rude, but as a way of portraying the beauty of such a garment. NO religion or culture should ever be immune to the hand of an artist.

A: Well I think you are using the words “religion” and “artist” way more liberally than I would ever use them. I agree that Lady GaGa’s “religion” is “arguable” to say the least: she does not worship at a church of aesthetics, there is no history of aesthetics as an institutionalized or organized religion, and there is not a bible of aesthetics outside a cute fashion quip of “this issue of Vogue is my bible.” Furthermore, Lady GaGa is not socially oppressed, institutionally disadvantaged, or racially stigmatized because of her aesthetics “religion.” White feminists don’t try to save Lady GaGa because she is “oppressed” by aesthetics. Even if she has spoken “disrespectfully” of Christianity, this does not then give her the right to appropriate something from Islam. This also does not give her the right to disrespect Islam.

The idea of Lady GaGa as an “artist” making an artistic statement of ‘appreciation’ is giving a pop star in a racist costume an awful lot of credit that I personally think she doesn’t deserve. It takes a shit load of white privilege to see this as something profound and to defend it as something artistic, rather than see it as the racist fashion gimmick it is. Followers: this is a perfect example of where a white opinion doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t think it’s “rude,” or if you think it’s acceptable for an “artist,” Muslim folks are telling us not to do this shit, they don’t appreciate it, and they don’t care what our intentions are. The opinions of the people who are directly affected by cultural appropriation are the only ones that matter.

The argument that religion or culture should not be “immune” to the interpretations and bastardizations of artists is a very old, very European one. This is the attitude Surrealists used when they stole shit from African cultures to inspire their “creativity,” or when Van Gogh painted exact replicas of traditional Japanese prints, or when Gaugin obsessively painted “primitive” Tahitian “natives.” Rousseau spent who knows how many hours imagining what POC in the “jungle” looked like… then painted them. When white folks claim culture and religion are fair game for “artists,” we are essentially saying everything is ours for the taking. The individual “freedom” of a white “artist” does not and should not take precedence over the  objections of POC; when it does, this is white supremacy at work.

—DD

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white Feminism 101: Whatever the Fuck We Want

This is a very basic arc of popular white feminism in the US: first wave, second wave, and third wave feminism. I’m still waiting on tidal wave feminism that destroys the whole of patriarchy in its path. But aren’t we all. The first wave starts with white women like Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin in the 1800s, then the second wave washes up with white women like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, then an intervention happens between the second and third waves… WOC feminists like Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, and Barbara Smith bring queer and racial politics to a white-dominated movement. The white supremacy in mainstream feminism was finally called out, yet the legacy lives on.

Individual freedom and/or liberation has been and continues to be at the heart of white feminism, ranging anywhere from the freedom to vote to the freedom to wear underwear in public and not be called a “sl*t.” Like most rights and private liberty discourses in the US, liberation often translates to individuals having the power to do whatever the fuck they want. But who has the privilege to do whatever they want with a considerable amount of public safety? Who has institutional power while they exploit the social freedom of never having been reduced to a stereotype that results in oppression, violence, and death? Whether it’s a white woman wearing dreadlocks, wearing a bindi, wearing a sari, wearing a war bonnet, wearing a burqa, or getting “tribal” tattoos worn by Indigenous Filipino peoples, the only “freedom” we have is in damaging and disrespecting the cultural expressions of the women and people of color to whom these expressions belong.

We white folks are all about private property and ownership, and we have been ever since the days of chattel slavery when we owned human beings as property. European whites + capitalism + racism = slave trade, colonization, genocide. Could it be our persistent dehumanization of POC that compels us to never see cultural objects, traditions, and garments as the private property of POC? When we affirm our own “humanity” through the “freedom” of stealing from women and people of color, we devalue the humanity of those from which we steal (otherwise known as racism). For those of you that might raise the argument “but white women became the property of white men through marriage,” think of it this way: even though you may not have been alive back then, there was certainly a huge difference between working the fields of a plantation and sipping tea on the porch of a plantation mansion in silk stockings. White women were never sold and traded in chains through public auctions, and neither were their children.

In the picture below is Lady GaGa, only one contemporary example of cultural appropriation and white supremacy in mainstream feminism. Women with white skin appropriate clothing for maybe five minutes—the significance being that they “appreciate it”—and do not live in this clothing for most of their lives. Famous white women who appropriate clothing make it that much easier for their fans to act like none of what Muslim women experience matters. This is a hideous example of white feminism because it serves the interests, privileges, and liberties of white women exclusively; this is not feminism that supports and empowers the WOC being devalued, dehumanized, and dismissed by cultural theft.

image

Here’s a simple list of reasons why white women should never do this kind of shit:

*If you are not a member of a group that traditionally and historically wears these garments, there is never a good reason to wear something that is not socially or culturally relevant to you.

*Mocking Islam by taking something worn for religious purposes and wearing it for Western entertainment will only benefit racist ideas and racist culture.

*If feminism is for the good of all women, then white women who oppress ‘others’ for their own empowerment are not practicing feminism. They are practicing white feminism.

*Stealing a cultural and religious garment for the sake of performance is cultural appropriation. If it is not your daily experience as a white person, it should never be your costume.

*White women do not encounter racism, oppression, or Islamophobia (the social fear and racial hatred of Islam) when they wear cultural garments that do not belong to them.

*Only white people can take something from another culture and make it “fashionable” while experiencing none of the violence POC endure.

*white privilege is having fun with racist stereotypes.

*The argument in defense of Lady GaGa that says “equality is anyone being able to wear anything they want,” really boils down to “white people can steal anything they want from POC and should be able to wear it without consequences.”

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Serena Williams Has More Game than Haters

Commentators ruin just about everything about the only sport I have ever liked. They are literally paid to disrupt the match, discussing the weather and other banalities during play while being conveniently unhelpful whenever there is controversy on the court. I was well prepared to document their shit this year when I excitedly watched Serena Williams play killer tennis at the US Open. She defeated Sara Errani in the semifinals, competing the following night after Andy Roddick’s retirement match. In this case, I couldn’t decide whether the commentators’ tireless speculation about Serena’s retirement during her match was more annoying than their merciless hounding after her match when they interviewed her with countless passive-aggressive references to her age. Even the reporter outside the locker room who interviewed her before the match asked her to comment on Roddick’s retirement, callously asking if her disappointment would sour her incredible athletic skills. Who asks a WOC athlete on a blazing trail of victory fresh off the flames of an Olympic gold medal: shouldn’t you be preparing to quit, shouldn’t you be off your game? This is a perfect example of how racism can be subtle.

Serena Williams is one of five Black female tennis stars of the last century, Althea Gibson being the first to become champion at all major tournaments in the US, France, England, and Australia in the 1950s. When white men compete, TV viewers hear all about legends of the past and generations of greatness. But never once during Serena’s semifinals or finals match did anyone mention the Black women that preceded her or Black tennis players in general. Venus Williams entered the discussion solely on the basis of being Serena’s sister. Even though Serena’s finals match with Victoria Azarenka went to a third set—the first time a women’s singles match has done this in 17 years—there was no commotion over how significant this was, only mention that it was happening. Tonight I watched the men’s singles finals match between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, and the male commentators went apeshit over the five set/five hour match being “epic,” “magnificent,” and “historic.” Serena got twelve aces in the first two sets of her semifinals match against Errani—twelve—and the commentators said she was playing “unsteady tennis.” Serena had over forty unforced errors in her finals match against Azarenka and they wouldn’t shut up about it.

Sure, the mouths behind the mics talk up Serena’s impressive serve a lot. During the major matches of this year’s US Open that I watched Serena play, they talked about it more than any other part of her game. It got to a point where it seemed like they were fetishizing her serve, like it was incomprehensibly fast and exotically strong “for a woman.” This attitude reveals two things: the anxiety that a Black player is strangely more amazing than most white players at something, and the idea that a Black player is “less of a woman” because she serves “like a man.” How long have white folks in the US been creating these deviant, masculinized stereotypes about Black women? Since the days of chattel slavery. Even though commentators discuss her serve this way, one was quick to doubt her ability to compete with men. As Serena cruised onto the court for her finals match with Azarenka, this particular mouthpiece offered the anecdote that Errani had told Williams after her victory in the semifinals that she “should go play men.” This white woman didn’t miss a beat when she said “Well I don’t know about THAT.” So Serena serves “like a man” but can’t compete with men? White logic: game, set, and match.

Serena is described repeatedly with two defining adjectives: powerful and strong. No matter how often she dominates on the court, no matter how many titles she’s won, there are still commentators who admit their surprise about her being “mentally tough.” This was the case in her match against Errani. If tennis was exclusively about physical strength and had nothing to do with control, strategy, calculation, and mental strength then it would be fantastically boring. Some people might find the sport boring either way, but my point is that physicality is not the deciding factor in becoming a tennis champion. Serena is not only my all-time favorite athlete, but she is also one of the greatest and most brilliant players in history. To discuss her physicality obsessively and credit her success to her muscles is insulting to her career, and has everything to do with reading her Blackness with a white lens. Australian player Samantha Stosur has a serious set of biceps and competes with ferocity, but, as a white player, these aspects of her game are rarely forced under a microscope at every moment.

Stosur defeated Williams in the “explosive” 2011 US Open match where the chair umpire ruled Serena’s shouting of “Come on!” before Stosur was able to return the ball meant she lost the point. The rules of tennis dictate that if a player is unintentionally distracted by their opponent before they return the ball, then the point should be replayed. This is exactly what happened in this year’s semifinals match between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych: the wind took Murray’s hat off his head as he scored a point, but Berdych was the one who challenged the point and claimed he was distracted. The chair umpire ruled that the point should be replayed. He did not decide on his own that Murray should automatically lose the point for an unintentional distraction—Serena was not so lucky, or so respected. She has been widely criticized and shamed for her “outburst,” and was fined a record $82,500 from the Grand Slam Committee in addition to the $10,000 from the US Tennis Association after her “outburst” at the 2009 US Open. Meanwhile, John McEnroe is one of the most beloved and celebrated retired players, not to mention the most sought-after for match commentary, even though he has multiple epic “outbursts” under his belt.

So much has been said about how “calm” and “reserved” Serena was this time around at the Open. The commentators have been so “proud” of her for keeping her cool and her focus… as if flying into rages and temper tantrums were her natural state as a competitor, as if she is naturally a loose cannon instead of an athlete who challenges bullshit calls. They patronize her for “finally” keeping her “passion” in check and putting on her “game face.” How long have white folks been creating stereotypes about Black women being unhinged, out of control, and overly “emotional”? Since the days of chattel slavery. Plenty of male tennis players are repeat offenders when it comes to court misconduct, but, curiously, there is something uniquely and especially unacceptable about Serena’s misconduct. All of the calls made against her that provoked her objections (all of them made at suspiciously crucial points in a game), were easily debatable in their legitimacy, but Serena’s “temper” is the main subject. If the subject changes, it changes to how she had no right to “lose it.” This is her fourth US Open title, and she won because she is an exceptionally talented player at the top of her sport, because no other players in her generation can compare. She did not win because she avoided yelling at someone. No one needs to talk about her emotions when there’s no end to what can be said about her game.

—DD

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