April 27, 2012

hipster racism

Filed under:, — cwage @ 1:21 pm

This is a good article. The tone and subject matter border a bit on what I find annoying about stuffwhitepeoplelike (the overly self-aware self/race-loathing), but a lot of it hits pretty close to home.

I just saw this exchange on twitter:

[radleybalko] Acoustic covers of rap songs? Racist. And most jokes. And visiting ethnic neighborhoods. You're keeping a list, right? http://t.co/lJKvvcDZ
[@GeeDee215] @radleybalko eh, i think she's referring to the mocking tone that those covers so often take.
[@jbouie] @GeeDee215 @radleybalko right, quite a few of those covers come with a weird sense "isn't this so quaint?"
[@radleybalko] .@jbouie @GeeDee215 Sure. But it's hardly racist. It's like when a punk band covers a country song. Or a bluegrass band does Slayer.

The problem here, as I pointed out on twitter, is that it's not quite the same thing because the phenomenon is far, far more pervasive than a bluegrass band doing a quirky cover. There's practically an entire genre of white people being oh-so-hilariously not-black.

I had a conversation recently with someone about the similar/intertwined phenomenon of white girls throwing gang signs and acting mock-gangsta (as observed in the above jezebel article). I was finally able to narrow down what it is about this that makes it so incredibly annoying. Basically: it's racist as shit. But it's a very insidious and clever sort of racism. It's racism couched in the language of self-deprecation. Ha ha, look at me! I'm so not black! It's hilarious self-deprecation, so it's okay, right? But it's not, really. All it is, really, is a clever re-hash of overt mockery of an Other -- in this case, black people and culture. And this whole phenomenon is inextricably linked with the mock hiphop/gangsta thing. It was sortof funny, possibly, the first time a white person covered NWA with an acoustic guitar, you know, in 1996. Maybe. Now it's a horse that's been beaten to a pulp. A racist horse!

I'm not saying anyone that has thrown a gang sign or imitated Tupac (i do a really good tupac impression*) is a sheet-wearing cross-burner, but you should think about what you're doing anyway and maybe not do it.

* No I don't.

February 20, 2012

racism: it’s still a thing

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 7:54 pm

Clay Travis responded to the Jeremy Lin controversy. I'll start with his conclusion, since it's the only part of his article I agree with:

Isn't it possible that a kid being raised today could never hear the term "chink" as a slur and only associate the phrase "chink in the armor" with the 16th century phrase's origination?

Yes, it is. In fact, it's the only explanation I can bring myself to believe explains the situation: that the journalist in question was honestly too stupid or naive to know that "chink" is a racial slur. No one that did -- even an avowed, card-carrying racist -- would be so blatant on purpose (they have plenty of coded language). But I hate to be the bearer of bad news here: one astoundingly sheltered sports journalist does not mean that "racism is incredibly rare". The contention that no one under the age of 40 knows an "actual racist" is so hilariously laughable that I'm wondering (hoping?) that this is Clay the provocateur shining through, and not a serious contention.

Clay and I went to high school together at MLK. It was, actually, a remarkably well-integrated school, all things considered -- this is what happens when you take a couple hundred smarter kids from relatively good (and relatively well-to-do) households and stick them together in a school. But let's not whitewash (no pun intended) the experience -- black kids and white kids self-segregated in our lunchroom just like any other high school. And I think that if Clay were to actually ask around to some of his former classmates, he might start building a much different picture of the supposedly racism-free environment he seems to think we grew up in.

I respect the desire to think that we live in some sort of post-racism society, but I'm here to tell you: racism is still out there, dudes. I can tell you that with confidence, even as a white male. I've had too many awkward conversations about "them" and "those types" with expectant stares, where I slowly realized they were talking about black people, and were probing me for the level of racist discourse I'm willing to engage in. (I refer to this as the good ol' boy protocol -- it's a very sophisticated dance of euphemism and suggestive body language.) Also, I read the news sometimes. I mean, come on.

Do I think that Federico deserves to be pilloried because he accidentally made a racist pun? Absolutely not. It's worth asking him what the fuck he was thinking, but if the answer is (as I suspect it is), that he genuinely just didn't know, he should be fired for gross ignorance unbecoming of any self-respecting journalist, not for racism. But attempting to justify his ignorance with some sort of hilariously sad suggestion that we have "marginalized racism to such an extreme that true awowed racists are kooks" is just wrong. So, so very wrong. I do the best to peep around the blinders of my white male privilege -- Clay, I recommend you do the same.

May 27, 2011

george carlin and the gay pejorative

I observed an interesting conversation the other day in an IRC channel for photography I hang out in. Well, okay, it wasn't very interesting, but it spurred an interesting line of thought in me. Someone in the room dropped the word "gay" in typical pejorative adjective context: "criticism is gay", I think it was. Someone else chimed in with the obligatory scolding that you ought not use the word "gay" as a pejorative. The person in question defended his usage with the (rather tired) evolution of language defense, and then went the extra step of citing George Carlin as an authority that he was right. Now, I'm a big fan of Carlin, so I was a little irritated at this.

Obviously, he's referring to George Carlin's expansive career-long fight against the tyranny of euphemism and political correctness. Carlin was outspoken on this topic, frequently condemning society's constant redefinition and creation of new labels to replace old ones that were deemed offensive. His routine on the word "nigger" is fairly notorious, as was his stance on the term "crippled" and other such labels, new and old. I'm a big fan of Carlin in many ways, including his take on the fallacy of obscenity, but I think he may have been a little myopic or generous in his "they're just words" stance regarding euphemism (and, possibly, epithets). The line between them isn't always so easily drawn. Curious, I did a bit of research to find out if Carlin ever explicitly spoke about the use of "gay" as an adjective/pejorative. I couldn't find anything, so to my knowledge he never addressed it directly (though he was an early and vocal supporter of gay rights long before it was even a particularly hot topic). What I did find, though, was a startling number of arguments similar to the above conversation, where Carlin's "it's just words" stances on obscenity and/or euphemism were used to justify or dismiss criticisms of using "gay" in this way. "Don't be so uptight", the line goes, "it's just a word.. allow me to quote George Carlin on obscenity, blah blah". This troubled me, because I don't think that's what Carlin really intended at all.

In his bit on the reviled N-word, he contends that it's okay when Richard Pryor uses it, because he's black -- it's all the racist assholes out there that are the problem. "It's the context that counts," he said. Carlin's choice of Pryor as an example proved slightly ironic, as Pryor notoriously stopped using the word in a very public and orchestrated bid to get people to stop using it. Probably because Pryor realized something that Carlin may have missed (or that he's simply misunderstood about, I'm not sure): that words have power.

Carlin is right that context matters, but context is a tricky and subtle thing. There are labels that are slightly benign, but carry an unfavorably negative connotation (e.g. "crippled", or "disabled"). Then there are labels that perhaps simply harken to a less tolerant time, and thus are viewed negatively ("colored", "negro", or even "black"). There are also labels that serve no other purpose than to dehumanize and demean ("nigger"). There are also, though, cases of labels like "gay" being used as an adjective to explicitly imply a negative connotation. "That's gay" == "That's bad." This isn't as simple as a case of "just words", because in this case, "gay" isn't being used merely to refer to a gay person. It's literally being used to correlate homosexuality with badness. So while it might be a little silly to get your feathers ruffled over someone using "disabled" or "black" to refer to a person, it's slightly different when the use of the word literally implies negativity. When a "racist asshole", as Carlin put it, uses the word "nigger", that's a bad thing. When someone uses the word "gay" to imply negativity, that's a bad thing.

Sure, I know: the evolution of language will invariably result in situations like these. A word may evolve over time and become entrenched to the point that the person using it may not even be consciously associating the word with its negative origin. And so it doesn't make someone a bad person if they use the word in this way, but it doesn't make it innocuous, either. Whether it was intended or not, subtlely, and subconsciously, the association between "gay" and "bad" is being maintained in our cultural lexicon nonetheless.

This isn't a call for authoritarian censorship of the words, of course. I'm simply advocating a little awareness. Obviously, I can't speak for George Carlin, and regrettably, he's no longer around to let us know what he thinks. But euphemism and pejorative are not the same thing, and I think it's a misappropriation of Carlin's legacy to use his stance against the former to defend the egregious use of the latter.

January 17, 2010

revolutionary thought

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:10 am

Kevin Carson has a good article today over at c4ss.org that you should read. He first tackles the notion that libertarian thought is weak or "soft" with respect to progressive social norms that historically have been (or can only be) furthered by state authority.. Anyone that has had even a casual dinner conversation about libertarianism has probably run into this.. It's inevitable that racism or sexism will come up -- used as an example of something that would be "allowed" in a stateless society, since it's non-coercive.

But critics of non-coercive unfairness like racism and sexism are also in danger of being led astray by the same tendency. Libertarians, in advocating for libertarianism on the left, are constantly confronted with the objection that people would be “allowed” to engage in racial or sexual discrimination, to deny food to the needy, etc.

But as Brad points out, this word “allowed” is perverse insofar as it “conflates ‘allows’ with what would be more precisely understood (in terms of libertarian theory) as ‘does not necessarily justify use of violence to compel restitution for in all cases’.” But this obsession with what’s “allowed,” in the narrow sense that nobody’s entitled to use force to prevent it, ignores “the holistic integrity of a stateless society arising from non-violent mechanisms of social normatization that cross the arbitrary topical boundaries one imposes on one’s self when analyzing and advocating various potential state policies.”

Civil society is prior to the state, and those “mechanisms of social normatization,” voluntary social safety nets, etc., predate it by millennia. One of the worst evils of the state is that it has crowded out or actively suppressed such mechanisms of civil society, as described by Pyotr Kropotkin. As Kropotkin argued in both Mutual Aid and The State, for most of the human race over most of human history, the state was merely a parasitic layer of tax collectors and feudal landlords superimposed on the peasant commune—the latter including the Russian mir, the English open field system, and Marx’s “Asiatic mode of production.” Had the Tsar and nobility vanished in 1700, Russian village life would have continued exactly as before—only with the peasants keeping all they produced. It was only in the past few centuries that the state actively attempted to supplant civil society, and to suppress private associations for mutual aid and social cooperation as rivals to its power.

He concludes with a comment on violent revolution which seems like it should be a given by now, but still bears repeating:

The way to achieve victory is not by seizing the state, or violently overthrowing it, but quietly confronting it with a reality already on the ground: the reality that a rapidly expanding share of its laws are either no longer enforceable or cost more to enforce than it’s worth.

October 2, 2009

this is not a racist headline

Because I have to have an opinion on everything:

  • AC Kleinheider wants to observe that Steven Turner can probably successfully challenge Mary Pruitt where Jason Powell couldn't, because Steven Turner is black. Okay, so far, no racisms.
  • AC does so by posting a video of Steven Turner with the caption "Is that Jason Powell in Blackface?". *Insert sound of the needle scratching across the record here* Oops.
  • AC, in his ever-frustratingly obstinate style, waits basically forever before explaining himself, leading to all kinds of turmoil.
  • AC finally posts a long-winded explanation and apology. Contrary to the 239084234 prior comments hypothesizing on his intentions, the explanation seems (to me) to be that AC merely chose his words poorly -- not really grasping what "black face" means. A sin, yes, but more forgivable than meaning (as Roger Abramson put it) "Hey, look here at the black politician video-slash-minstrel show."

He probably could have avoided this by just posting a quick update. I'm glad he didn't take the post down -- there is integrity to be maintained with a blog like the Post's. Chris Ferrell's explanation at PITW is fine by me. I don't really know what lesson(s) ACK will take away from this experience, but if I were him, the lesson would be "when I fuck up, explain myself quickly, rather than being a cryptic ass in the comments." But I'm not him.

Interestingly, the comments on the post are revealing of a lot of various knee-jerk reactions to race:

  • Is it racist to point out that a black candidate can win in a district where a white candidate can't? No, it's probably true.
  • Is it racist to see nothing in Steven Turner's candidacy but a "black version" of a previous candidate? Yeah, a little -- at best, it's vaguely insulting of ACK to assume that Turner has nothing else to offer. At worst, it reveals that ACK didn't see anything else but a black face.
  • Is it racist to ever reference blackface ever? Uh, no.
  • Is it racist for a white man to reference blackface, because it's "off limits"? Nnnope. Blackface is a thing that exists. As such, I reserve the right to.. uh.. talk about it? If ACK had come up with some witty bit of satire involving blackface, there wouldn't have been such controversy (or at least, if there was, it'd be largely drummed up by idiots). He didn't, though. It wasn't funny, and even his intended humor had nothing to do with the sociohistorical context of blackface. He just fucked up and chose his word really, really badly. End of story.

I think my favorite result of this whole thing is a quote by Roger Abramson in the comments of ACK's apology, wherein he's doing his best to explain what blackface is and why it might have other implications (seriously, WHY does this still need explaining in this day and age? i have no idea):

If you would like an analogy, well, I honestly can’t think of one offhand. One of the difficult things about the black experience in America is that there really is nothing exactly like it in human history. Which is why this stuff gets so sticky.

5 stars, two thumbs up.

November 21, 2006

michael richards

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 4:34 pm

If Michael Richards had been smart, he would not have apologized. He would have gone out on stage and done the exact same thing again. Then he would have gone on Letterman -- not to apologize -- but to get bitch-slapped by Jerry Lawler.

Instead, he apologized. Now everyone knows he was serious.

October 24, 2006

what?

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 9:06 am

Glen Dean:

If you have ever waited tables, then you know that a lot of black people do not tip. Not only that, but they have a tendency to complain a lot, especially black women. The same can be said for white church people. Of course we are dealing in generalizations here. I know that many black women and many church people are good tippers, so please don't go there with the stereotyping BS.

What?

UPDATE: I should clarify that I posted this not so much to express my confusion at the actual component generalizations (although I certainly have some), but rather to highlight my confusion over the sum. The sum total of these generalizations doesn't make any sense. Black people don't tip, but neither do white "church people". Black women complain a lot, but so do white people. I feel like I need a finite state machine to navigate his logic tree. If you make a generalization but then immediately provide a counterexample, what exactly are you trying to say? Did you ever notice that black people wear hats? I mean, white people wear hats too, but have you ever noticed that black people do it?

Incidentally, the whole "black people don't tip" thing reminds me of this quote from Crash, which I haven't seen, but the quote is funny and appropos:

Anthony: That waitress sized us up in two seconds. We're black and black people don't tip. So she wasn't gonna waste her time. Now somebody like that? Nothing you can do to change their mind.
Peter: So, uh... how much did you leave?
Anthony: You expect me to pay for that kind of service?

June 3, 2006

mammy

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 1:14 am

A post over at metblogs in which I finally get around to mocking the "Mammy" dolls for sale at the Charlie Daniels' "Museum".

Mammy Doll

Let the hemming and hawing about "kitsch" and "southern heritage" begin!

May 18, 2006

stormfront love

Filed under:, — cwage @ 10:21 pm

Ah, it's always nice to see your blog getting some wonderful link love:

For anyone interested, here is an entertaining debate regarding the absurd notion that Ludwig von Beethoven was a negro. The myth of black Vikings is also mentioned and discredited. Note how European natives Belle (a university professor and Beethoven scholar) and Johan absolutely annihilate their Afrocentric opposition. Predictably, by the end of the thread both posters are denounced as evil, intolerant, bigoted, hatemongering racists, but the truth stands and their negro adversaries are left in the corner licking their wounds.

Ultimately, this Afrocentrist nonsense is a screaming testimony to how pathetic black culture really is. Their history is so utterly devoid of anything inspiring or magnificent that they have to literally rob us of ours. It is nothing more than the moral desecration of our ancestor's graves, and it must never be left unchallenged.

Except of course when the links come from stormfront.

March 30, 2006

flags

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 8:19 pm

An interesting emergence from the immigration debate is the topic of flags. In this post, Rev entions Aztlan, while Aunt B notes the parallels between this flag-flying and the flying of the confederate flag.

So, I ask:

(more...)

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