Tag Archives: white supremacy

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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Whiteness Unchained: When a National Shame Becomes Camp

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Only recently did I learn of the longstanding feud between Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino. This was a result of internet research I did after seeing a preview for Tarantino’s new movie Django Unchained, and after a dear friend sent me a link to Lee’s refusal to see the movie because it was “disrespectful” to his ancestors. As much as I agree with him intellectually, I can’t agree on the basis of having ancestors in common. In the social legacy of whiteness, there exists a privileged position of detachment from the pain of chattel slavery that renders this a historical event, rather than a historical experience with generational meaning. In the US, there is no understanding in white consciousness of being dehumanized as chattel. Slavery is not my history, heroic Blackness is not my identity, and any form of fictionalized vengeance that combines the two is not my story to tell. Quentin Tarantino has a different opinion:

“As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. And to say that I can’t do that because I’m white … that is racist.”

He made these remarks in 1997 in response to criticisms from Spike Lee at the time, but they read as if they were said yesterday. I finally went to see the movie (which was as exciting as going to the doctor), but I’ll address one piece of whiteness at a time.

This is what I wondered at 3 AM with Tarantino’s defense still as fresh as a pile of shit in my mind: so anyone can speak on… anything they want? How many conferences on obstetrics and gynecology would doctors attend if they were conducted by plumbers? Who asks their barber or hairdresser to explain organic chemistry? Who gets their legal advice from a veterinarian? These qualifications seem to warrant higher levels of respect in their differentiation, and in the demand that only the experienced and knowledgeable represent themselves. Credibility and poetic license are reserved, however, and given without question to the white tradition of producing anthropological studies or creative fantasies about the non-white “other.” This would be the lesser-known genre Tarantino has been exploiting for most of his career.

Samuel L. Jackson in a Blues Brothers suit carrying a wallet branded with “Badass Motherfucker” is a character. That is recycled and revised Blaxploitation fiction. However, a Black couple separated by slavery and beaten by members of the KKK are not the creative property of Quentin Tarantino. These “characters” are based on historical facts and lived experiences of racist violence. When I think of famous Black filmmakers in Hollywood, I struggle to think beyond Spike Lee and Tyler Perry; when I think of famous white filmmakers in Hollywood, I struggle to keep track. This structural inequity and white supremacy in US show business makes Tarantino’s accusation of (reverse) racism highly untenable. The fact that one of these precious few Black filmmakers dared to challenge the racism of a white director’s movies, one of the few in Hollywood who could tell a story like Django Unchained without racism and be entitled to tell it, makes Tarantino’s accusation deplorable and ridiculous.

Even a movie supposedly centered around a slave turned bounty hunter in pursuit of revenge is a movie that stars white people with Black people in supporting roles. And to be accurate, slavery is reduced to nothing more than a geographical backdrop, social scenery, and circumstantial setting for a signature Tarantino parody—this time using a Spaghetti Western formula. But there was something about selling this as a Western that confused me. I had no trouble comprehending the references in the throwback “Wild West” font of the opening credits, the desert-like landscape, and John Wayne outlaw music. However for the rest of the movie, audiences were apparently meant to believe a Western was taking place in the… Antebellum South?

I got a sickening feeling after the movie spent its ten minutes in Texas and shifted to southern plantations, that the era of chattel slavery was chosen because it provided new opportunities for Tarantino to explore/exploit gratuitous violence. And I’m not talking about the many white people whose heads were blown through and whose dicks were shot off, or the projectile blood from any number of body parts exploding like a can of red paint on the receiving end of a shotgun. This is all typical for a Tarantino flick. I’m talking about the two mandingo slaves who fight to the death in Calvin Candie’s parlor, ending with both men covered in blood and the victor not only clawing his victim’s eyes out by hand, but also smashing his face with a hammer. I’m talking about the slave who is attacked and torn to death by a pack of vicious dogs, a punishment ordered by Calvin Candie. I’m talking about Jamie Foxx as Django hanging naked from his ankles almost visibly castrated by a white slaver with an orange-hot blade, and Kerry Washington as his wife Broomhilda whipped and nearly bashed in the head with a hammer by Calvin Candie. As it turns out, the institution of slavery was not violent and/or awful enough, but must be saturated with a series of humiliations and atrocities in its storytelling.

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All I can say about Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance as Calvin Candie is that it made him less of a convincing actor and more of a convincing racist. He was a little bit too believable for me, and by that I mean the slave master stole the show from the slave.

The comic camp created around this national shame is expressed and made sympathetic through many exchanges of witty banter and Tarantino’s tendency to make heinous villains handsome, charming, and/or funny. A hooded white militia spends at least five minutes having a *hilarious* argument about one of their wives insufficiently cutting the eye-holes in the white “bags” on their heads. Although no one in the movie explicitly called them the KKK, they wore symbolic hoods and made a brief allusion to attacks in their “full regalia.” An opportunity to make the most excessive, outrageous, and overdone scene involving the KKK in their “full regalia,” and Tarantino didn’t take it. He made a subtle hint at these things that younger or less informed people in the audience might not notice. He made these characters look like simple vigilantes on horseback with cheap pillowcases on their heads. Yet when Django is given the “freedom” to purchase his own “valet” uniform, he emerges from the store with a white bow at his chin, a blue satin coat to match his blue satin trousers, silk stockings, and buckled shoes—an entirely unexplained transformation. Multiple comic spectacles are made of Black characters and the brutality of the violence they suffer, but the KKK only give a quick mention of their “regalia.”

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That is not Tarantino’s style; he doesn’t deal with any subject matter delicately, discreetly, sensitively, conscientiously, or with subtlety. Yet the KKK were somewhat disguised and miraculously escaped his confrontational and sensationalist plagiarism.

I could never imagine the diverse experiences Black folks might have when/if they see this movie, nor can I, as a white person, legitimately or personally take offense to the use of the N word. I can only comment on the extent to which I became more convinced the instances of the N word outnumbered the lines of dialogue Black characters had in the movie. After hearing the word fifty times, I stopped counting. Kerry Washington spoke less than ten times in two hours and forty five minutes. She is seen being ruthlessly whipped and branded as an object of abuse, or as a figment of Django’s imagination, until her physical form is finally produced when she is dragged naked and screaming from Calvin Candie’s “hot box”—a box in direct sunlight, mostly buried underground, and locked from the outside. Any other Black women who appear on screen are speechless, disoriented, or helpless. Django, whose name is the title of the movie and his vengeance the focus, spends 90% of the story saying next to nothing. Ultimately, this was an exploration of the white villain versus the white hero. And, oh yeah, a slave gets his wife and his freedom in the end.

There are two white heroes in Django Unchained. Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is the compassionate white bounty hunter who heroically dictates the terms of Django’s service and his freedom—an emphasis on white kindness and generosity, which I would say is the least important narrative to privilege in a movie about slavery. Schultz is, after all, the star and the one who avenges the slaves by killing Calvin Candie in the end. He was so overcome by his disgust for Candie’s racism that he just couldn’t help himself. After this climactic assassination, the last few moments where Django kills the rest of the white people in the movie and Calvin Candie’s “House Negro” (Samuel L. Jackson) seem like an afterthought. Django is given his moment only after Schultz has had his. The second white hero, Tarantino himself, delivers his version of victory, justice, and power to slaves by giving a happy ending to Django and Broomhilda.

This is the question I always have whenever filmmakers practice racism by appropriating stories from/inventing stories about POC: if this is a fantasy, if this is creative fiction, then why is racial oppression an inevitable and nonnegotiable reality? It seems the facts of white supremacy must remain true to life when any number of ridiculous things—a German bounty hunter disguising himself as a dentist, or a white woman writing the memoirs of Black maids—are unlimited in their fabrication. These fantasies are about good white people who grant some form of freedom to unusually talented characters of color, lending more attention to the Great Emancipator Complex than to well-developed and substantive roles for POC. As long as audiences are somewhat comforted by this, and equally entertained, one of the most gruesome tragedies in human history can be easily converted into a disgraceful and campy bloodbath. It is a filmmaker’s “right” to do so.

—DD

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

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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

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Tumblr Q&A: The Myth of the Aryan Race

Q: I know you’re trying to do something good here, but do you really think white people are the only ones who are capable of being racist? Even in ancient times, Aryans from central asia created what became the Indian caste system to separate themselves from the darker dravidians. There are several examples of this throughout all of history. Please, before you tell people to check their privilege, check your facts.

A: Here’s the interesting thing about the facts I’ve checked: The word “Aryan” was used to describe folks with white skin in the eighteenth century by Europeans (one in particular, a French Orientalist thinker, by the name of Abrham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron) and was created through European translation of the Sanskrit word arya (a word that has its own specific history in India). Nothing ancient about that. It was a term Europeans appropriated and changed to describe their own white racial identity around the myth of a “pure Aryan race,” and it became popular within racial anthropology as a racist term to favorably refer to a dominant white ethnic group that supposedly “emerged” in India—also known as “Indo-Europeans.” There is a whole historical perspective of linguistic, religious, and racial classification behind the European division of Aryans and Dravidians, one that can be further understood in Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science by Stefan Arvidsson.

There are many scholarly studies that show the imposition of romantic European ideas and colonial thinking that created the mythology of an “Aryan race,” which was taken to violent extremes by Nazi Germany’s Third Reich. Orientalist histories and colonial racial “science”—conceived by British and fellow European colonizers—have also contributed to the idea that there were racial divisions in caste systems in India. There are also studies, both genetic and scholarly, that show archaeologists having an incredibly difficult time proving the racial difference and/or dominance of ancient Aryans. It was 17th, 18th, and 19th century European ideas of race that inscribed ancient caste systems in India (which had more to do with language, religion, and region) with racial meaning. Ideas of race, white supremacy, and racism started in these eras—not in ancient times.

Here’s what needs to be checked: colonial whitewashed ideas about cultural histories, ignored complexities and specifics of historical events, and, once again, white privilege.

—DD

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Colonialism 101: white Privilege in a “Nation of Immigrants”

In last night’s second Presidential debate, Mitt Romney used the phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” as his opening line to a voter’s question on immigration policy. This romantic idea, dripping with political correctness, manages to erase history, ignore social stigma, and homogenize the category of “immigrants” in a single sentence. The statement is horizontal; immigration is not. It suggests that the US has been a nebulous collection of travelers (which it hasn’t), all of them coming and going willfully and with agency (which they haven’t). It makes it seem as if there are no walls crossed and no lives risked, there is no degrading bureaucracy to contend with and no uniformed mercenaries waiting to harass, profile, and deport certain immigrants. It pretends as though there are not human beings designated as “legal” and “illegal.” It fails to recognize the sovereign territories of Indigenous peoples—the original inhabitants of this land—that exist within this “nation of immigrants.” The fact that Indigenous cultures are still thriving and still present in the US today invalidates that idea altogether.

Before we even get into this, let’s clear the air about Mitt Romney’s “roots.” His Mormon relatives fled to Chihuahua to escape anti-polygamy laws and his father returned to the US before Romney was born. Does that make him an immigrant? No. Do white people born to white people living in Mexico make them Mexican? No. Are US citizens living in Mexico who decide to return to the US immigrants? No.

First and foremost, the US Nation-State was created by European colonizers, and their descendents are now citizens enjoying privileged positions within the dominant culture of white supremacy. Then there were white settlers who either occupied stolen land or forcibly seized it from Indigenous peoples, and their descendants are privileged citizens also. The slaves on whose backs the US economy was built did not willfully migrate to the thirteen colonies. As a WOC professor of mine once said: “No one stood around on the shores of African countries and said ‘I wonder which slave ship I’ll take to the ‘New World’ today.’” Slave labor from Africa, imported labor from China, victims of human trafficking, and refugees don’t qualify as immigrants. Even the Bracero Program that imported laborers from Mexico, followed by a policy (“Operation Wetback”) designed to hunt down and deport disposable laborers of color… still not a “nation of immigrants.” Territories of the present-day Southwest were stolen from Mexico and colonized in the midst of violent Westward Expansionism, which means the US-Mexico border fence, US immigration policy, and white nativism are the only factors that construct folks from south of the border as “immigrants” in their homeland.

So let’s talk about US immigration policy and the creation of the US as a Nation-State direct from Mae M. Ngai, author of Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Fast forward to neocolonialism in the 20th century with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 codifying the exclusion of Chinese, Japanese, and API folks in general, and establishing a system of allowing/disallowing immigrants from certain countries by numbers (national quotas) based on their “National origin.” With the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarran-Walter Act of 1952), quotas were replaced with numerical “caps” on immigration and, for the first time, it somewhat limited previously unhindered immigration from the “Western hemisphere.” This law, still in use today, established a legal preference for “skilled professional labor” as well, creating a hierarchy of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ immigrants in the US. When immigrants have been divided along lines of race, and when race continues to determine inclusion and exclusion within immigration politics, there is no cohesive or equitable “nation of immigrants.”

But hold up—isn’t that a good a thing to say? Not if you’re white, and here’s why: Which immigrants are we? Are we the immigrants who have been excluded by law from entering the country? Are we the immigrants who live in fear of racial profiling? Are we the immigrants who get deported with our children left behind? Can we really claim to be immigrants when we are still colonizing and occupying Indigenous land?

Recent white immigrants have automatic racial belonging to the national body, and white colonizers of the past created the national body, giving whites tremendous privilege in migration power dynamics. As Toni Morrison said, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” Immigrants with white skin have the privilege and physical safety of being read as American simply according to their color, which is a privilege immigrants of color do not have. When white politicians like Mitt Romney use the “nation of immigrants” phrase, he is pandering to reformist attitudes about immigration while supporting racist immigration policies like E-verify, secure communities, and “self-deportation.” He is also making it possible for whites to benignly say we came from “immigrants” rather than admit our ancestors were Native slaughtering slave owners responsible for colonialism and genocide. “Immigrants” sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it?

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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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Tumblr Q&A: Prejudice and “Model Minorities”

Q: I have a question about your opinion that POC can’t be racist by definition. Would you say that, since it appears in history that white people categorized POC in their own hierarchy, hypothetically a POC could in fact reinforce racism if they were seen as better than another race by whites in history, such as a Hispanic person towards a black person? I also know of racism between cultures that involve no white people whatsoever, such as Japan/Korea hate. How do you view that?

A: I would say no, because even in instances where there are “model minorities” (usually broadly and incorrectly assumed to refer to all “Asian” peoples, when it actually refers to light skinned Japanese and Chinese folks) that make certain groups seem “closer” to whiteness because of their coloring, “shared values,” and “work ethic,” these “minorities” do not achieve whiteness. The meaning is hidden in the phrase itself: Whose model is it? And if these folks are so close to “being white” then why are they still referred to as “minorities”? The language still positions these folks beneath the constructed non-minority status of whiteness. Whether you’re talking about Latin@s over Blacks or “Asians” over both, none of them are considered to be at the same social level as whites.

If you got to this page of the blog and scroll down, you can see three Anon asks that relate specifically to Japan and Korea, and my answers. Folks with white skin, although we seem to love to do this, can’t remove Japan and Korea from a larger context of global white supremacy, capitalism, and neocolonialism. Meaning, these two countries are already implicated in global hierarchies of race. When racism and white supremacy have already existed for hundreds of years, I can’t act as if Japan and Korea are completely unrelated to these phenomena and pretend they are isolated from the rest of the planet. Japan might have issues with Korea, and their government might even claim their people are better or racially superior to Korean people, but are the Japanese claiming they are superior to every other race on the planet? The Japanese government may have practiced, ordered, and supported colonization of Korea, but did this government also then attempt and succeed in colonizing the rest of the human beings on the planet to enforce Japanese customs? There is prejudice, there is hatred, there are conflicts, there are atrocities, everywhere—that doesn’t mean all of them qualify equally as racism.

—DD

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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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The US Navy’s “Secret” Swastika

The swastika shaped structure on the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base in San Diego, California, was built in 1967. Fifty years later, shit went down in 2007 when satellite images of the base were found on google. Five years after that, the Navy has decided to spend a reported $600,000 to “hide” (read: disguise) the aerial view—with some landscaping. How did that meeting turn out? “I don’t think we need to take the swastika down, just make it look.. nicer and, you know, less like a.. swastika.” The design of the structure has been described as “unfortunate,” and darn it if folks just didn’t have the foresight for satellite images when it was built.

What percentage of professional US military construction is accidental? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought buildings required blueprints and stuff, meaning clearly delineated and intentional designs. The US military makes plenty of mistakes, but this isn’t one of them. Predictions (or no predictions) of satellite photography aside, who missed the swastika when they saw it on paper? Fancy technology of today may not have existed in the 60s, but blueprints did. They’ve been around since the 1800s. And if anyone is going to dismiss this structure as resembling an innocent “Buddhist good luck charm,” then first find the Buddhists who designed and built it. Symbols of white supremacy are not “unfortunate,” and only whiteness would compel someone to describe them in such a nice way.

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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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