Archives for posts with tag: race

Do people know what is meant when it’s said that ‘race’ is a social construct? I mean, I hope they do, since it’s something important to know. Given the increasing frequency of certain news items I keep seeing, the answer is probably not. Race being a social construct means that what people see as ‘race’ is ascribed by society, and does not reflect anything real. To be black in America is to possess ‘blackness’ which is defined by the history and contemporary reality of race relations in America. Blackness is laziness tinged with amoral greed, as defined by Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” rhetoric. Blackness is criminality, as personified by the ‘black culture‘ of the commercialized violence of hip hop, gangsters on TV, and then overtly legislated in the criminal justice system that pegs them as super-predators. In Canada, much of this carries over to our Native population, who must also endure the caricature of the Dead Indian, the feather-wearing Brave that no longer exists outside of its representation of our forlorn past. Most importantly, it is irrelevant to modern society. The more we perceive our Indians to be a thing of the past, the less likely we are to take them seriously today. Whiteness in turn has its own social construction: white people are more civilized (Modernization Theory posits that societies outside of Europe and its descendants are struggling toward a European model of civilization, since it allegedly has already reached the societal peak), and with that gift of civilization, whiteness is generous as it loves to impart that gift onto others (commonly called the white saviour complex). Despite those who seek scientific research delineating innate racial differences, the answer is that we’re all basically the same, and it is only public perception that defines what we call ‘race.’

Which leads to ethnicity. Ethnicity is seen to be the ‘real’ race, since it is linked to a shared culture and nationality. People have an essence of Polish to them, for example, if their grandparents were born in Poland, and they eat lots of pierogi. However, ethnicity runs into its own problems. What happens if someone who is of third generation Polish descent lives in North America and is fully assimilated into North American culture? Do they maintain their Polish ethnicity? Would the same be said of a fully assimilated person of Korean descent? Alternatively, what if that Korean American really loved pierogi and ate just as much as our original Polish family? What if that Korean lived in Poland and participated exclusively in Polish culture? Can there be a Canadian or American ethnicity?

There are two factors that are at play in answering these questions. First of all, outward appearance: someone of Korean descent will never be considered as ethnically Polish simply because they look different. The second is blood: those who declared the assimilated Pole as still ethnically Polish will likely look to ancestry as the chief determinate. In Métis culture, there are those who demand that a bloodline to the original Red River Settlement is necessary in order to be a ‘true’ Métis. So ethnicity boils down to innate qualities derived from genetics, and what a person looks like, irrespective of how much or how little of their assumed culture they participate in. It’s gussied-up race, is what I’m getting at here. It’s the difference between saying black people smoke pot, which is an offensive generalization, and Jamaicans smoke pot, which alludes to Rastafarian culture, but in reality is simply refining a stereotype. Claiming an American or Canadian ethnicity is absurd because of the diversity within those nations, but that diversity apparently does not apply anywhere else.

People have different reactions to ethnicity. It’s almost a trope to ask Asians where they are really from, as if their ethnicity will determine every future interaction with them (Vietnamese people drive like this whereas Chinese people drive like this). Others are proud to be a part of a tradition passed on through the generations. However, participating in rituals, venerating symbols, and basking in the comfort of a common community are the markers of religion, not race. Believing in an insoluble bloodline that creates a human essence is a matter of faith, with all the spiritual significance and potential for destruction that that implies. And just as with religion, someone’s heritage can mean as much or as little to them as they choose. That is always up to them. If you find yourself assuming the importance of someone’s heritage, or making blanket statements about someone’s “culture”, then remember how ethnicity and race are interchangeable, and how this then would make you a racist.

Don’t be a racist.

#OscarsSoWhite is something that I am as usual addressing much later than most, in no small part due to my unrelenting contempt for Twitter-based social justice trends. However, as the trend does accurately point out, there are a substantial number of white people in Hollywood movies, to the point where characters who are canonically non-white are often portrayed as white people. Scarlett Johansson in the American remake of the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell is one contemporary example. This generates immense online backlash in the form of the electronic version of rolling one’s eyes. On the flip side, there is backlash when canonically white characters are portrayed as non-whites. A black James Bond and a black Spider-man were both vehemently opposed and neither made it to production. As common as the themes of these arguments are, it’s not the same people arguing both sides. One group is demanding respect for the sacredness of an entirely fictional canon (Spider-man isn’t real), and the other is arguing against the forced monochromatic nature of films (black people are real).

Let’s talk about diversity in films. To be clear, there isn’t much. Black James Bond and black Spider-man never got made, remember, yet Ghost in the Shell, Pan, Gods of Egypt, and Dr. Strange did (or are, for those that aren’t released yet). Is this a huge problem? America is predominantly white, so why not pander to the largest demographic? Bollywood films are pretty much exclusively Indian, and Korean films all star Korean actors. Somewhat ironically, the original Ghost in the Shell anime has a white character voiced by a Japanese man. The film industries of these countries make films depicting their dominant group because that is their audience. It makes sense. Nobody complains about the lack of diversity of language in Hollywood films, because America is an English speaking nation.

It seems logical then that movies should depict the demographics of their host countries. America is 63% white, 16% Hispanic, 12% black, and 5% Asian, so why not aim for that? This is where it becomes complicated. For example, a Hollywood movie would need 20 characters before one of them was Asian, or another solution might be that every 20th movie would need to be casted entirely as Asian. Neither of these are feasible options. Most movies only have one or two protagonists. Or if the film was entirely Asian, it would ignore the largest demographic and would therefore have less of a chance to be a box office success. This is something no movie mogul will abide in our wealth-driven movie industry. Now we’re left wondering: should the film industry ignore 14.5 million Americans just because it would be complicated to incorporate them?

Failing to depict Asians in film does not only a disservice to Asian-Americans who are looking for representation on the big screen, but to the entirety of the population. It is our myths that socialize us, and now that religion is dead, we’re left with the entertainment industry to teach us how to be human beings. Depressing, right? Well life is miserable, get over it. We idolize our fictional heroes and heroines, and so we relate to and emulate their personality and characteristics. Ignoring Asians in film not only denies role models to maturing Asian-American youth, but also prevents Asian faces from being a part of white socialization. If whites aren’t shown any images of another race, they won’t know how to respond to them in person. And we all know how well humans behave around people they don’t understand… It’s poorly. We behave poorly.

So diversity in racial depictions is necessary for social cohesion, demographics be damned. Great. We’re left with one more problem. How do we depict races on screen? I hope I don’t need to argue that racist stereotypes are bad. If all black people on screen are depicted as gangsters, then everyone will be socialized to think of black people as gangsters. It is fairly common to see people arguing for normalcy in racialized depictions in movies. Like a black Spider-man or James Bond who behaves identically to their already established white counterparts. These films have been indistinguishable remakes for years now, what difference would it make to simply have a different race portrayed as the protagonist? Characters with accents or who adhere to dramatic outside cultures might make racial minorities seem like exotic foreigners who do not belong, and portraying other races as identical to whites would foster racial equality within North American culture.

This has one glaring problem: defining normalcy as imitating established white culture makes other cultures abnormal. The First Nations in Canada are in the midst of fighting for cultural sovereignty and to depict one as fully assimilated into white culture, interchangeable with their white peers, would be wholly offensive (especially given the context of our Residential Schools whose barbaric practices aimed at establishing exactly this). Different is not a bad thing. Some people have accents, different styles of clothing, and different cultural practices. Should a Sikh not be shown in a turban because it makes him an exotic foreigner rather than a neighbour? Portraying the rich cultures that make up the diverse American population would allow respect to blossom for alternative ways of living that people have every right to live.

However, this portrayal forces people into their ethnic culture, however respectfully it is portrayed. Some people want to assimilate. It’s not intrinsically evil. Or even pick and choose their practices; it’s their right. How can this translate to film when one version will be offensive to one group, and the other will be offensive to the first? The answer is simpler than you might think.

Let people tell their own stories, define their own characters. Diversity starts in the writing room. It is the only way to authenticity.

There has been an enormous backlash against Rachel Dolezal ever since she came out and identified as a black woman. Both as a condemnation towards her for having the audacity to don a modern day blackface in order to appropriate black culture, as well as a harsh denial that identifying as a different race is the same as identifying as a different gender.

I’m going to be using the adopted “transracial” term throughout this blog post because despite its original meaning of crossing racial boundaries, it’s really the best we’ve got. Plus, it gives me a good opportunity to address the first critique of Rachel Dolezal’s identifying as a black woman: people claim that because there is no word for “transracial”, Rachel Dolezal must be lying. This of course would mean that before the early 1970s when transgender was added to the English lexicon, it was impossible for people to identify as a different gender. Not having an English word for something does not automatically discard it as impossible.

Rachel Dolezal must also be lying because you can’t feel a race, whereas you can feel a gender. Those who are transgendered typically are aware of the ‘wrongness’ of their body in relation to their identity as early as childhood. What does it mean to feel a gender though? It seems just as ludicrous as feeling a race. As a cis-man, I feel I should be adequately qualified to say what it feels like to be a man, and I am 100% certain that a trans-male would not feel their gender the same as I do. I am told, time and again, that there is no way for me to understand what it’s like to be trans, and that is fair, there’s not. I don’t claim to. But that lack of understanding works both ways. Being a man is not just the hormonal urges and biological make-up; chromosomes dictate gender just as much as genetics dictate race, and both have physiological effects on our selves, but any transgendered person will tell you there’s more to gender identity than your chromosomes. Why can’t it be the same with genetics? Yes, there’s also the social conditioning and cultural attitudes that affect gender as well, and this is precisely why gender is considered a social construct, much like, hey you guessed it, race!

Which leads me to my next point: Rachel Dolezal is merely a white woman appropriating black culture because that’s what white people do. White people wear Native American tribal feathers like party hats, and are shocked when they learn that trivializing sacred traditions for the sake of looking exotic at a rave is considered offensive. But by all accounts, Rachel Dolezal was not trivializing black culture, but was embracing it, thriving within it, and helping progress it. If becoming an embodiment of a member of a culture is by definition appropriation, why is it not appropriation when a man becomes a woman or vice versa? There are gender cultures. We each have our separate hairstyles and modes of dress; we have our own belief sets (for example with regards to sexuality); we have our own rituals, etc. Yes, not all men and women fall into those cultural boundaries, just as not all black and white people fit into their own respective cultural stereotypes. I say again, THEY ARE BOTH EQUALLY SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS. If Rachel Dolezal was indeed trivializing black culture, rather than fully immersing herself into it, then it would be appropriation. However, since she clearly is not, then there is no more appropriating than when someone identifies as a separate gender.

But of course, black culture has a long, sordid history of oppression by white people, so that makes it worse. Black people weren’t given the vote in America until 1965, and the Jim Crow One-Drop law forced even those with the most minute of black ancestry to face terrible oppression. The argument is that when black people are treated like white people, then white people can identify as black. But women only got the vote 45 years earlier in 1920, and if I want to get catty about it, women weren’t allowed to wear pants in school until 1972, and now men want to wear skirts? Women still receive a fraction of the pay that men make for the same amount of work, and there are still disturbing amounts of incidents of violence against women. So if we have to wait until black people have equality for a white person to be able to identify as one, why was gender allowed to jump the gun?

My favourite argument that I’ve come across thus far was that Rachel Dolezal was seeking to gain socially by becoming a black woman. Which is hilarious to me because since when has a BLACK WOMAN been the top of the social totem pole? White privilege and male privilege are no longer the accepted norm? Black women have taken the top spot? Please. And even if Rachel Dolezal benefited from identifying as a black woman, this trans-man wrote an entire article about how sweet being recognized as a dude is, and no one is asking him to hand back his penis card:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/male-privilege-trans-men/

Speaking of privilege, Rachel Dolezal is also condemned because she can just remove her shoe polish or whatever and do her hair like a proper white woman whenever she gets tired of playing dress up, and she can reclaim her white privilege; no harm, no foul. Just like a trans-woman could take off her dress and wig any time she wanted to get back that sweet male privilege, right?

A lot of transgendered people have been interviewed, as well as black people, as well as trans-black people, who all claim that Rachel Dolezal can’t be associated with them for a variety of reasons. So she must be lying, because intersectional identity politics teaches us that those from one group get to dictate how those from another group identify themselves. That was sarcasm. If you don’t get it, look up intersectionality. It’ll be good for you. I’m sure being transracial is quite different from being transgendered, or cisracial, but that doesn’t mean those groups have the right to denounce her identity just because it’s different from their own.

The final argument is, of course, she’s just lying. There’s no such thing as being transracial, so she can’t be one. She’s a big fat liar. Except, there’s kinda precedent. Given the fact that race is a social construct, it shouldn’t be that difficult to identify as a race separate from the one you were born with. We actually have names for those kinds of people, and given the seemingly natural transphobic nature of most people, they’re all slurs: Wiggers, for instance, or an Uncle Tom for the opposite. We have Bananas, and those white guys who are super into Japanese culture. I don’t know if they have a name, but most people just call them creeps. In Asia, there is that whole eye-widening craze. Hell, the one instance that I’m surprised NOBODY has mentioned in this clusterfuck of a media shitstorm is Michael God damn Jackson. You could argue that he had his skin disease and that’s why he bleached his skin, but his skin disease didn’t cause him to get facial reconstruction surgery to thin out his nose and lips, or straighten his hair, effectively erasing any remaining “blackness” he once possessed. Michael Jackson never openly identified as being white, but it is not a far stretch of the imagination to envision it as a distinct possibility.

It is possible Rachel Dolezal is lying. Sure. But people are arguing so vehemently about the strictest impossibility of anything similar ever even taking place that you have to question why transracial is different from transgender. Why is a white person identifying as being black so offensive while a man identifying as a woman is accepted (among progressives, anyway)?

My first guess was that white people are simply greater villains than men, but I don’t think that’s true. Slavery, the biggest divide between whites and blacks, didn’t occur just in America. Africa had its own share of slavery, and when white slavers came to the African continent to buy slaves, it was African tribesmen who sold them. I’m not trying to justify or condone anything, but I would like to point out that I can assume with almost 100% certainty that both individuals in every instance of those slave exchanges, for both races, were men. White people have done terrible things, but so have black people, so has every single race in existence, and again, in almost every instance, it was likely being perpetrated by a man.

Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex points out that it is much more difficult for woman to combat against men because gender pervades all the other divisions. Whites and blacks have a clear distinction, as do the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Most combative groups have distinct dividing lines between them. Men and women, however, permeate all those groups. It is almost impossible for men and women to strictly work against one another because of this, and also because quite frequently men and women love each other deeply. The biological connection that men and women share makes it much more difficult for us to hate one another, whereas there is no such courtesy among any other groups.

It’s also possible that people identify more with their race than they do with their gender, and that is why people are getting more anxious over someone identifying as transracial than transgender.

For the group that claims to be the critical thinkers of the modern world, I really feel like progressives have dropped the ball. If you want to argue with me that transracial isn’t a thing, go for it. I’m not married to the idea. I just need to see a better argument that can’t just be put up against transgendered people with just a few words switched out, like I’m going to do here with this Huffington Post article:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/12/rachel-dolezal-caitlyn-jenner_n_7569160.html

Gender divisions may ultimately be a construct, Moore notes, but “sex is determined by your chromosomes.” And it’s secondary sex characteristics that primarily determines gender privilege, and the way others in the world interact with your gender identity.

Transgender identity is a concept that allows men to indulge in femininity as a commodity, without having to actually engage with every facet of what being a woman entails — discrimination, marginalization, oppression, and so on. It plays into gender stereotypes, and perpetuates the false idea that it is possible to “feel” a gender. As a man, Jenner retains his privilege; he can take off the wig and the nylons and navigate the world without the stigma tied to actually being a woman. His connection to gender oppression is something he has complete control over, a costume he can put on — and take off — as he pleases.

It’s unclear what Jenner believes his authentic gender identity to be — he has yet to comment publicly, and actively dodged the question when a reporter asked him what genitals he had under his skirt on June 10. “I don’t understand the question,” he answered, ending the interview abruptly.

Jenner’s delusion and commitment to living as a woman is profound. And it’s inherently wrong. The implications of a man, donning femininity and then using that femininity in order to navigate women’s washrooms is offensive. 

I won’t do the whole article because a lot of it is too specific to Dolezal’s case, and frankly it’s annoying to bold all those words, but you get the idea. If you want to call me transphobic for making the comparison between transgender and transracial, then I will call you transphobic for automatically assuming that someone who identifies as something they weren’t born as is a liar and a pretender, or worse, mentally ill.