Archives for posts with tag: race

Did you know that racism died? It’s true! The far right doesn’t want to do a racism anymore, because racism is irrational. Melanin doesn’t have any cognitive impact! That’s crazy talk, and the far right prides itself on prioritizing facts over feelings! However, if the far right isn’t racist anymore, then nobody is racist anymore, and if nobody is racist anymore, then racism no longer exists! We did it!

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is racism?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed it—you and I. All of us are its murderers.”

And yet, despite the death of racism, disparities still exist! It’s just the darnedest thing! Black people are still disproportionately incarcerated; Indigenous people still have worse health outcomes; the Middle East is still perpetually at war. These pesky things need an explanation, and it can’t be the effects of racism, so what are we left with? Luckily for us, the far right has given us an answer. It’s just their culture! Have you even listened to a rap song? They’re all about crime; Black people just have a culture of criminality! Indigenous people get so much from the government, they developed a culture of dependence; since they don’t have to work to support themselves, they just stay at home and drink all day! And don’t even get me started on Islam; at its core is a culture of violence.

This is why groups like the Proud Boys define themselves as “Western chauvinists;” Western culture is superior! It has nothing to do with race. If white people adhered to a culture of criminality, dependence, or violence, they would be in the same situation! They just don’t! That’s where those discrepancies come from. White people inherently know better than to follow inferior cultures. There’s just something smarter and better about white people – they know to avoid these cultural traps that other, lesser races haven’t figured out yet. Case closed!


Of course, this is a very silly notion indeed if you think about it. First of all, are you suggesting that the practices of Islam in Somalia are the same as those in Indonesia on the other side of the world? That the Sunni, Shia, and Sufi sects are all the same? That urban and rural black people share the same culture, or that Caribbean immigrants, African immigrants, or hell, all the different cultures across the different countries in those areas are all somehow the same? That the different Indigenous bands with hundreds of different languages among them all practice the same culture? Do you know what culture means? What are some of the festivals that are celebrated in these cultures? What are some of their traditional foods? What rituals do they practice? Culture is a very deep human artifact, and can vary from household to household, and even from individual to individual. Unfortunately, the education of foreign cultures (or even domestic alternatives to the mainstream) is usually done through polemics spoken over frightening YouTube videos of genital mutilation or whatever.

The thing is, this approach misunderstands Western culture as well. Do they think all of Western society is good, or are they picking and choosing specific aspects? Which aspects exactly are they looking at? Communism, postmodernism, and feminism are all Western constructs, and these are loathed by the far right. These ideologies are even criticized on the left for the way other Western constructs (such as colonialism and white supremacy) have influenced them. That’s why intervention in Middle Eastern countries to “save their women” is criticized by leftists. Imperialism blended with feminism is still imperialistic. This is baffling stuff, I know! You’re supposed to support women, and Muslims are horrible to women! It’s part of their culture!

Obviously consulting the women on what they want for themselves is out of the question. It’s better if we just decide for them! West knows best, after all! …Because our culture is better, to be clear.

Weirdly enough, Western culture only has continuity thanks to its mingling with other cultures. Hellenistic culture survived because the Arabs held on to it when the West decided to purge itself of paganism. We also got algebra from the Arabs, so whenever you tell a communist to thank a capitalist for their iPhone, you’ve got to thank an Arab for the math that allowed the history of physics to even begin. Pretty much all of modern Western music has its origins in Black culture. The fact that we even have an American continent is thanks to the generosity and collaboration of the Indigenous populations that certainly got the worse end of that deal.

This isn’t to say that cultural practices can’t be criticized. I mentioned genital mutilation earlier. It’s perfectly reasonable to criticize practices without expanding a single strand of a culture as a representation of its whole. Or conflating it into places where it doesn’t belong (genital mutilation has closer ties to the regions where it is practiced than it does to Islam, for example). Just as it should be okay to criticize cultural practices of the West, which the Western chauvinists would call treasonous (police brutality, an essential staple of Western culture, cannot be kneeled against, for example).

An institution that operationalizes violence to control the behaviour of its jurisdiction, founded in the slave patrols utilized to maintain white supremacy? Yeah there’s no room for critical analysis there. And for any smug Canadian, the history of the RCMP is basically the same.

Social problems ought to be criticized, but they ought to be criticized with the intention of social change. I can criticize Western culture because I’m a member of Western culture. I have a stake in how that turns out. The change I’m going to impact is really only going to be felt here, anyway. I could want the lives of people in Saudi Arabia to improve, but I don’t live there. I don’t know enough about their culture to really say what would work or not. I’m an outsider. That’s why legitimate cultural intervention requires local cultural leadership. If the far right really wanted to help Indigenous, Black, or Muslim people, they would listen to and amplify those voices rather than talk over them. The far right is not presenting good faith criticisms of cultural issues because their goal isn’t social change, it’s exclusion. I mean, if you really want to know why disparities exist, you can look into it! Make informed criticisms! Or, I suppose, you could continue believing what an outrage peddler on YouTube tells you.

Racism is an ideology that holds one race supreme and dominant over all the rest. As an ideology, it can get very complex and nuanced. Nobody likes either of those things, so racism often gets boiled down to the hatred of races other than one’s own. Lynchings, cross burnings, all that fun stuff from about a hundred years ago, and about five years from now, serve as the framework for what racism looks like. If the far right isn’t doing that, then I guess it’s not racist!

Phew! I’m glad you cleared that up! I was worried for a second there…

The thing is, the far right is trying to disengage from the measurable manifestations of racism because it carries such negative connotations. But that doesn’t stop their ideology from actually being racist. Islamophobia is the best example of this because they will say that Islam is not a race, and they are technically correct. Checkmate to all the liberals! However, the culture that they’re pointing to doesn’t actually exist. They don’t know anything about it. The reason that hate crimes against Sikhs increased after 9/11 is because they were Brown people who wore turbans, just like Osama Bin Laden!! It had nothing to do with their culture because culture is just the veneer used to overlay the actual ideology of white supremacy. White people are safe; Black and Brown people are not. Let’s call it Islam because we don’t want to be seen as racist. That’s why bad faith criticisms of Islam are called racist; good faith criticisms usually originate within Islam itself and end up looking much different.

Right wing ideology is often based in fear. It’s afraid because the bogeyman is coming for us, and so we have to make sure to keep the bogeyman away. The best bogeymen are the ones that look different from us, and race does that super well. Turns out racism never really died, as hard as Obama tried to president it away. It will be with us for a long time, and “Western chauvinism” really shouldn’t be fooling anybody.

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.