nick cannon, oh geez

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Nick Cannon has never had many defenders, and I don’t intend to be counted among them, not that I would matter enough to be noted, but I do want to say something about his whiteface shtick. For a lot of people, there is a false equivalency to whiteface and blackface, and that is what I would like to address. Though a white person might somehow be offended by this dumb joke, there is no historical basis for using whiteface to mock white people, but instead has been used by black actors in order to appear in roles as white characters. Blackface, on the other hand, was used for minstrel shows that did mock black people, and was even used in movies in order to avoid using black actors. The use of blackface is one of African-American exclusion and derogatory humor at their expense. In today’s context, I don’t believe most white people who don black face are intentionally trying to hurt black people, but it is insensitive and ignorant. The insensitivity is important, because almost everyone by now should understand how offensive blackface is, so by putting on the characteristic makeup, you are basically saying that the feelings of black people are secondary to your desire to make a crude, historically racist joke, which is just another symptom of how blacks are still marginalized in our society.

            There is, of course, humor that can be milked from blackface and whiteface. A successful example is Dave Chappelle’s white TV anchor. A less successful one is White Chicks, depending on who you talk to. Perhaps by going even further, by cross dressing (and which happens considerably in black entertainment), it is hard to be offended by its obvious parody. What whiteface is notably free from is caricature of white features. This in part makes Robert Downey Jr.’s blackface more acceptable and able to be taken as a joke, but blackface was done with the clownish features in minstrel shows, which should be apparent in its extreme repugnance, and is what adds that connotation of ridicule that is not easy to wipe away, even from realistic portrayals. The only equivalent is clown whiteface, which is used by white people and which realistically cannot be used to offend white people, nor does it, nor importantly does it demean them or lessen hurt the image of white people. Black people have to worry about their image in this society, and think about how their actions reflect on how whites will continue to see them, something that white people do not have to think about.

            Which brings me to the real point of what racism really is. The casual racism at the individual level does exist and absolutely causes harm to minorities of all stripe, but it is not the same as the institutional racism that blacks suffer from which inhibits their viability as a community. It is important to separate the two, because individualistic racism can go both ways, in that a black person could make a white person feel bad and vice versa (though if we are being honest, minorities will encounter it far more than whites will and is more pernicious due in part to the white majority). Institutional racism, however, is something that doesn’t affect whites (affirmative action does not hurt whites because they still attend college is far greater numbers that blacks and Hispanics, while it hurts Asians and Indian who would outcompete the white population based purely on academic standards), and is something that blacks cannot get away from, things like being targeted as criminals and drug users disproportionately by police, being convicted at greater rates than white people for the same crimes. Whites point out that they are often the victims of black violence, which is true, and it does happen more than white on black violence. But that is not the same as receiving a different form of justice under the same laws. Whites don’t need to protest for six weeks in order for the police to charge a man for shooting a young, unarmed teenager. Nor would they tolerate black men shooting unarmed teenagers and then claiming self-defense.

            White people who are offended by what they perceive as whining and woe-is-me accounts of how hard it is to be black and how evil white people are are under no obligation to feel guilty, not that many do, nor is that the course of action we need. It is easy not to feel guilty for how blacks and other minorities have been treated by becoming part of the solution. And it’s very easy to do so. No need to treat people of another ethnicity differently; in fact, treat them just like a white person. That is to say, when they do something, don’t judge their action in light of their race. So if you see, say, an Indian driving fast in his car, don’t think “of course he drives recklessly, because they all drive like that in India,” or “of course the Asian woman got into an accident,” because you would not think “of course that white guy is racing around, because he thinks he’s Nascar.” Stereotypes hurt because you cease to think of people as individuals, and instead merely as products of their race. Once you stop thinking of people in light of their color, congrats, no reason to feel guilty for racism! (And also stop using racial slurs or believing any white supremacy nonsense). But that doesn’t excuse us from not working to ensure a society that is free of privilege based on color. Regardless of whether you like it or not, programs like affirmative action are not special privileges for black people, they are designed to combat the huge advantages that white people have in our society in order to ensure that blacks have an more equal opportunity to succeed, which in turn will alleviate the need for blacks to rely on the government for support (not that they get that much) as they become more self-sufficient as a whole (not if the corporations have anything to say about it). It is not a guilt-trip, sorry-we-enslaved-you-here-is-free-education-and-better-jobs-at-the-expense-of-white-people-forever.

why are some american wars so popular?

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The two most popular wars in American history, just based anecdotally on TV documentaries, books, movies, and video games, are the American Civil War and World War II.  Despite the youth of the country, the land now known as the United States has a long history of warfare. Just based off of this Wikipedia page, there are over well over eighty. I lost track towards the end. A cursory examination would suggest that of course these two wars, of huge significance to the country, would be the most popular and thus best represented in our various mediums And the appeal of the two wars is undeniable. But why the glut? Most consumers of media would agree that World War II content is oversaturated in the market, resulting in some fatigue and backlash, even as the war remains a prominent topic. Couldn’t there be room for a lesser known war to be represented? No, there is not, and due to reasons financial and cultural.

Let’s examine movies. If we look at two very successful American war films, Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot, and compare the international gross with the domestic gross, the result is roughly a 1:1 correlation in both cases. Most blockbusters expect to make the majority of their gross by the international market, which is much larger and therefore more lucrative, than the smaller domestic market. That’s why the studios tend to play to a wide audience, by dumbing down the material and laying in a lot of action. Poor dialogue doesn’t matter when most viewers will read subtitles in their own language. Having a broad audience also means that very “American” movies, that is, movies that deal with our history and therefore less universal, will always gross less. Let’s compare E.T.’s gross with Saving Private Ryan, since both are widely acclaimed Spielberg movies. E.T. made more at the international box office by a 2:1 margin compared to domestic. The latest Amazing Spider-Man likewise made almost double internationally, as did the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Purely on a financial basis, it makes more sense to create films with universal themes and no historical lessons required because you can double your money or at least make 50 percent more.

It must be said, of course, that is a large, domestic audience that will consume American films made for Americans. But these movies tend to be smaller, more family drama, and with far less of a budget. Not nearly enough for a proper war flick. But even if such a movie were to be funded, it is unlikely that it would be made. If you had clicked on the Wikipedia link and perused the list, you might have be a little stunned to see how many Indian wars the U.S. has engaged in. The death throes of a culture systematically wiped out by overwhelming and sophisticated force is hardly the invigorating story that we Americans like to hear. There is no way for us to feel like the victors, even as we are the victors. Likewise, wars that took place on the continent before the birth of the nation are equally unappealing. The Pequot War was one of savagery – on both sides – and unmitigated aggression. The genocide of the Arawaks won’t exactly inspire pride in the Great Explorer. The conquests of the Aztec and Incan empires would not, without a heaping dose of racism, be palatable. The same goes for the Mexican-American War, or the Fiji, Sumatran, or Korean expeditions. We don’t talk about the black ships. These are all wars of territorial conquest and aggression, not noble conflicts against evil. Even the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan have proven ill-fitting in let us put on our American flag pants. The only war that America has “lost” is the Vietnam War (though we did get our asses handed to us in 1812), which, when represented, is a symbol of callous military destruction and cruelty. It shows that war is hell.

World War II and the Civil War, on the other hand, are something to be proud of. In the former we saved the world and destroyed pure evil (Nazism, the Holocaust, and the Soviets are why the European theatre is more popular); we were just. In the latter, the North takes pride in the war fought to preserve the Union and end slavery, while the south feels it to be a noble war lost (perhaps somewhat how leftists feel about the Spanish Civil War), and marked the end of their “aristocratic golden era”, a war waged to preserve its culture. Plus, civil wars are always a topic of great interest in their respective countries.

This leaves one war that seems somehow made for a movie and never has, to my knowledge. The Seven Years’ War, or the French-Indian War in the U.S. The original global conflict, with combat theatres in Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines. Oh, but we don’t like stories that don’t involve us (or white people), which is why Toussaint Louverture’s story will likely never be told, and if it does then it will for some reason star a white guy. I’m not kidding about the racism; notice the conspicuous absence of blacks in war movies, especially in wars where they were active, like the Civil War and World War II. Glory and Red Tails are all that come to mind, neither of which grossed much at all. It’s why Driving Miss Daisy beat out Do the Right Thing and Glory for an Oscar and grossed almost three times as both films combined. At least at the time it seemed people were more comfortable with blacks in servile roles than in active roles, like killing white people and rioting. But that’s all behind us now, as 12 Years a Slave won an Oscar, which coincidentally had to be made by the British, and was still out grossed by American Hustle despite, in all honesty, being one of the most important films in decades. And belabor to point only a little more, any statistic will show that women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and any other minority (like transgender), are grossly underrepresented in our mainstream media.

being black at michigan

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It is a little disheartening to see the wider reaction to the Being Black at University of Michigan movement (#BBUM). Commenters and “activists” like Jennifer Gratz have condemned the the list of demands recently put out by the Black Student Union as asking for special treatment, and as trying to separate themselves from everyone else (and thereby being racist). I don’t like to be this blunt, but it is pure ignorance to think that blacks are racist because they don’t see themselves as being like everyone else; such thoughts probably are even racist. Blacks don’t think they are different than everyone else (read: whites) because they all got together and hashed out the idea that if they played the victim they could extort money from hard working whites, and if you believe this it is because you think blacks are lazy, which is a racist notion. If black people think they are different than whites it is because they are reminded of that on a daily basis, not because they want to be different. The whole point of this movement is that they WANT to be included in the University of Michigan community.

I recently graduated from the University of Michigan, and I understand these students’ demands very well. The percentage of the state’s black population is 14.2 percent and nationally that rate is 12.6. I was not surprised by the low Hispanic population at the university because, though the national percentage is 16.3, the state percentage is much lower. The schools I attended K-12 had very few Hispanics, and in the state they mostly reside in Mexicantown, Detroit, or in Holland on the western side of the state. But what did bother me was that the University employed almost exclusively Spaniards for their Spanish department. I believe there were two Colombians (one retired recently) and a Puerto Ricans; the rest were Spanish. Why the complete lack of diversity? Why not even one Mexican professor? This always was something that grated me about the classes.

In our supposed post-racial society, why are enrollment rates for Hispanics and blacks at this top university falling? Asian and Indian students, just based on demographics, are heavily overrepresented. I met more Chinese international students than I did Hispanics, and I had more friends who were Asian or Indian than I did Hispanics or blacks. I don’t want to go deeply into this issue because it would require an entire entry, but suffice it to say that money is the greatest predictor of whether someone will go to college or not, and all the Indians and Asians had wealthier families than I. I am not trying to “shame” people for being wealthy, but I don’t believe that wealth makes a person “smarter” than poorer students, just better educated due to attending better schools, which is why the fact that 70 percent of the University of Michigan’s student body comes from families making over $100,000 a year in part helps explain this discrepancy. U of M is the most expensive public university in the country, which puts it out of reach for many poorer students, of any color.

Universities also have an incentive to draw in a diverse student body, and this is the reason why some students with worse scores can get in (and regardless of color. I knew a white girl who quickly dropped out due to being unable to keep up with the academic rigor). They don’t want only the best students because that doesn’t make for a dynamic community. Any Asian student can tell you this. They have to score even better than whites because they are competing with other Asians who are scoring even better. Asians and Indians would dominate the top universities (so now we see affirmative action in reverse). So unless you believe in a complete meritocracy, you should see that even whites are benefited by some racial quota, even if it is not called that. And already you can feel the resentment grow against Asian and Indian students for their huge numbers in the university system.

So now we have a bunch of commenters (majority white) who are upset that the black students are asking for special privileges. This is just plain ignorant. We don’t call shelters and food programs for the homeless and poor special privileges. Looking at the statistics about blacks in the U.S. show that they are poorer, less educated, and, especially among men, incarcerated. It is not racist or calling blacks victims to say that many of them need help. Why would we want a society that, due to what you were born into, strongly predicts where you will end up? Just as we want to help the poor, we should also help any group that needs it. If you are a Christian, I would refer you to the parable of the Prodigal Son (this of course isn’t a perfect analogy. I am not saying blacks squandered their inheritance, but that you shouldn’t punish people for being poor, but welcome them and include them regardless of their condition). The people who think this is special privilege don’t understand the reality of life at U of M. Not that many black students live near the central campus because it is extremely expensive (You are looking at the very least $500 just for a shitty room, not including utilities and internet), which is why the group wants cheap housing on central campusto have a greater, more visible black presence. White students don’t need to ask for greater representation because they are the majority, and closely resemble the percentage of whites in the country. The undergraduate student body is 65% white, while making up 62 percent of our youth (the older population has a greater white population but they do not attend the university, obviously in nearly the same numbers). It behooves society to give all groups of any socioeconomic definition a fair representation at the university level because higher education is paramount to achieving greater success and being able to send your own children off to college. If we want to continue to keep poor Hispanics and blacks undereducated and struggling, then let’s continue this facade of equal opportunity in this country. Helping these groups is not going to make them lazy or give them the attitude of “entitlement” that so many white people think that minorities have. If you believe these kinds of arguments, that we shouldn’t help some groups more than other groups because it isn’t fair, that it is racist to address racial issues, then you really need to take a look at the logic you are using to arrive at these conclusions. I bet it’s racist.

a brief respite: on racism and acceptance

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Only three parts in and I find myself a little tired of dissecting our political spectrum in America. And more annoyed with how our partisanship is built over false divides. The reality is that most Americans want a fairer distribution of wealth in America and a system more like that found in the Scandinavian countries. I believe the poll I saw was 92% of Americans. The more I’ve put my thoughts to words, the more frustrated I’ve become at seeing what is holding us back. I don’t think that the Democratic Party is free of bigots, but they don’t support racist or sexist policies (only on occasion), unlike the Republican Party. Nor are bigots necessarily bad people, something that is easy to ignore. We say, look at the evil these people wreak with their wrongheadedness, in their actions and their thoughts. We want to blame them for the ills of our society. They are not blameless, but in the same way that we see the poor, or criminals as products of their environment, I see the same with the racists, sexists, politicians, and capitalists. It is very hard to exist within a social group while maintaining completely different ideologies, which is why you don’t see Marxists casually hanging out with Tea Partiers. Our entire concept of how the world works is in the ideology we accept. Ageism is a perfect example of this, because in some cultures the old are still venerated, while in our youth-centered, consumerist culture we deride the elderly for their inability to fit in, to adopt our rapidly changing technologies and ideas. Are we really surprised that old people tend to be more racist and more sexist? No, because that was more normal in their day (doesn’t make it right, but it is what it is). We look at our youth, which is far more tolerant than the generations before us, which, again, is not surprising. It’s a feedback loop; the more accepting our society is, the more accepting we are because we are society.

In the Progressive Era, many abolitionists abandoned their posts as champions for the black folk and turned racist. This isn’t as known well as it should be, but most abolitionists were pretty racist even before this and said pretty racist things. But after the turn of the century, the country just became even more racist. It was everywhere; one could not escape racist messaging. It was in advertising, it was in schoolbooks, it was in all forms of media, a constant barrage on the psyche of Americans in that day. Ernest Hemingway referred to blacks in his early works as nigger, just used the word as if that’s what the term was for blacks. Which, at that time, horribly, is how it was used.

What I mean to say, with this, is that we don’t win necessarily by shouting down the bigots. I know people will disagree with me, but what I believe is that we need to have completely open discussions with racists about race. Let them state their views without coded language so it can be truly seen for what it is. No more hiding behind states’ rights or other bywords. The Crown Heights Riot is an amazing story about what conversation can do for communities. After the riot, which resulted in two deaths, the black and Jewish communities engaged with each other and have improved racial relations in the neighborhood. This is what is needed, not simply condemnation but showing people the error of their ways, without shaming, because what is more important than being right is bringing us all together in acceptance.
Or we may just have to wait for the bigots to die out.