alexandraerin: (Harley)
So, I kind of expected to spend most of the day today (Tuesday, that is.. or was) playing DC Universe Online or watching it be played, since it launched in the morning. Owing to the circumstances alluded to in my preceding post, I'm just barely getting my toes wet. I'll be making a post about what I think about it in more detail, but I wanted to make a separate post to address its character creator, which has some disappointing aspects.

It's definitely more limited than I would like. I doubt it will ever go as far in the way of character customization as the other two superhero MMOs have gone, both because they kind of made customization their "thing" in varying ways, and because DC has a brand to protect. They tapped Jim Lee to not just create a consistent look for all of the iconic DC Legends, as they're referred to, but to ensure that the PC options all add up to something that doesn't look too out of place.

Sidenote: The fact that it's Jim Lee designs gives the world a bit of a 90s vibe to me, but not in a bad way. I know he's still in comics, but I associate his lines with the 90s.

Anyway, the point is that in City of Heroes or Champions Online, you're creating your own character... in DCUO, you're creating your own character who fits into this alternate DC Universe. So you have a more limited range of options available. Much fun can still be had within that range. It really helps if your vision for your character's look is as general as possible, or if you're just paging through the options and seeing what looks cool, rather than trying to bring a specific vision to life. But just as an example, we whipped up a Tamaranian in under five minutes.

Now, one limitation that's a little weird: you pick your character's "skin", an entry which combines body type (human, anthropomorphic animal, mineral thing, undead, etc.) and facial features into one selection. By which I mean, you can be angry or you can be a mummy, but you can't be an angry mummy... the "angry face" choice has the default human skin atached to it.

That's kind of a strange choice, but it goes beyond strange and into outright offensive territory... did you reflexively give the sentence where I said "default human skin" the side-eye? If you did, you're not being paranoid.

The game comes with three different human skins. They appear to each have different markers of ethnicity about the face, and while they can be recolored, they do each have a different default skin tone.

The white one is labeled "Human Skin 2", but it's also the default choice and at the top of the list. I'd kind of like to have been a fly on the wall when that decision was made.

Now, if you're following me here, you might have noticed the really fucked up part of all this: Asian and African features are being presented as variants on the white default at the same level as Angry or Youthful. Or having tattoos. If I pick any of those selections, I'm looking at the same model as the default Human Skin 2, with added detail. If I pick Human Skin 1 or 3, what I see is what I get. I can dress the model up in all the same gear and items of costumery as Human Skin 2 gets to play with, but I can't do anything about her facial features.

It's like, you can be a "regular human being" with any of these features/variations... or you can be a make-believe creature like a Lizardman, Mummy, Cyborg, or Asian.

I'm sure someone's going to pop up to say that I shouldn't be throwing around accusations of racism when there could be another explanation, like the time constraints and money (in artist-hours) it would take to make variant facial expressions for each baseline set of facial features. I'm sure this would happen even though I haven't even said the word "racism" before this paragraph.

Here's the thing, though: I don't think anybody behind the development of the game said something like, "Fuck the non-white players. They're lucky to get one face. They're lucky we let them play at all." No, I'm sure the decision came down to time and money. But you know what? It is an example of racism in action that this was considered an acceptable shortcut, if it was even thought of as a shortcut at all.

So anyway, that's pretty fucked up and I'm going to be sending them some more direct feedback at it. <Show Privilege>It's not a dealbreaker for me</Show Privilege>, but I'd want to make sure anybody who's thinking about checking it out knows about it. This is going in my feedback, too... the fact that I can't in good conscience give anyone an unqualified recommendation to buy this game as it stands now.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, Joel Stein wrote a thing for Times which received a backlash that prompted him to write this:

I truly feel stomach-sick that I hurt so many people. I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life and my hometown in particular, I was shocked that I could feel a tiny bit uncomfortable with my changing town when I went to visit it. If we could understand that reaction, we’d be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue.


And you know what? That sounds like it would have been a great article, a really thought-provoking piece full of introspection and self-examination that could serve as examples for us all. But what he wrote doesn't come close to that. Well, it does come somewhat close to that maybe once or twice. At one point he stops and compares his reaction to finding his hometown now has a thriving Indian-American subculture to the reactions of people in Arizona.

Well, no. He doesn't stop and compare... he just compares and moves on. There's no examination. He applies no value judgment to the thoughts he imagines he shares with white xenophobes in Arizona. Given the tone and tenor of the rest of the article, it's hard to see that he's doing anything but honestly sympathizing with them.

In the end, it's impossible to tell if his "stomach-sickness" is describing his sincere intentions that he utterly failed to convey (it can happen to the best of us, especially when grappling with -isms we've thoroughly internalized while learning to think of as being wrong) or whether it's a total ass-covering maneuver by someone who thought the atmosphere was right for a piece like this to be well-received.

But also in the end, it doesn't matter: whatever his intent, he wrote some seriously offensive shit that won't be funny to anyone who doesn't already chuckle at slurs like "dot heads" and he tried to pass it off as humor, and he did this not in some private blog but under the auspices of Time, who regret that his humorlessly offensive writings offended anyone when they were intended to be humorous.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Note: This post is cross-posted to my Wizards of the Coast Community Blog. Quotes from some items in the Dungeons & Dragons Compendium have been reproduced for commentary purposes, a fair use justification.

I was looking something up in the online Compendium for D&D and noticed something interesting, something I never noticed before. Here's the physical description of humanity in Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition:

Humans come in a wide variety of heights, weights, and colors. Some humans have black or dark brown skin, others are as pale as snow, and they cover the whole range of tans and browns in between. Their hair is black, brown, or a range of blonds and reds. Their eyes are most often brown, blue, or hazel.


That's copied from the Compendium. I don't have my physical copy of the Player's Handbook handy, but there's no revision note so I assume it was copied directly.

Notice anything? Black and brown are given precedence over pale and blonde and blue. This would be a perfectly sensible way to describe the human race from a neutral, outside perspective, the same perspective we view any entirely new, made up type of folk that occurs in a fantasy world. Pale is a minority look among humanity. It's a recessive trait, an anomaly. So why should an introduction to or overview of the race introduce it first and foremost among all the possibilities?

Humans aren't an entirely new type of folk, of course... they're very familiar to us, and thus we usually view them through a biased filter. That's why I missed this before: I didn't read the physical description of Humans. I know what a Human looks like, or I think I do. But of course, when I think of "a human being", what pops into my head is going to fit a more specific model than what they're describing.

The filter through which we ("we" here referring to white Americans, a group of which I'm a member) tend to view typical Western fantasy is one where white is default and darker shades are interesting variations, if they're present at all.

Other races that have what we might call human-like skins (as opposed to rocky hides or scales or fur or crystals or whatever) mostly have notations in their descriptions that they come in the same range of hues as humans do.

Examples:

Dwarves have the same variety of skin, eye, and hair colors as humans, although dwarf skin is sometimes gray or sandstone red and red hair is more common among them.


Halflings have the same range of complexions as humans, but most halflings have dark hair and eyes.


[Elves] have the same range of complexions as humans, tending more toward tan or brown hues. A typical elf’s hair color is dark brown, autumn orange, mossy green, or deep gold.


Not only are Elves no longer lily-white by default, but they tend towards tan and brown. Eladrin, on the other hand...

...have the same range of complexions as humans, though they are more often fair than dark. Their straight, fine hair is often white, silver, or pale gold, and they wear it long and loose.


To some degree, the art reflects this: they depict characters of color, here and there. The artists often seem to forget the new official description of elves, though, and the coverage of portraits that comes with the Character Builder is a little uneven: there are two dark-skinned Halfling women, but arguably no Human ones. Interestingly there's a dark-skinned Eladrin, but only one Elf who might be called "tan".

And while there's been some progress, that's not to say that D&D is Doing It Right all over the place.

I've read that among the pregenerated characters for the Dark Sun Encounters game, there's only one non-white character according to the accompanying artwork. She's also the only woman in the party. This is disappointing, especially as I recall 2E Dark Sun's sourcebooks describing a world populated along similar lines to the archipelago of Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea series (though without all that pesky water just lying around.)

And of course, the Elven tendency towards lily-whiteness has been transferred to the Eladrin, who also have "straight, fine hair". The Eladrin are the "Galadrielves", so to speak... graceful and beautiful and with an air of superiority. The other race who lives in the Feywild (faerie land) alongside them, the Gnomes, are described as being tan, ruddy, or rocky gray rather than having human-like complexions. I think the idea is that they're supposed to be naturally camouflaged, but the art doesn't really fully convey this. The impression we're left with is that in the Feywild, we have beautiful pale races and ugly, twisted dark ones. If the Gnomes aren't quite white, they're certainly not living embodiments of grace and beauty.

All this is without even getting into the problematic aspects of the Elf/Drow split. Yes, Elves are now brown by default, but their "evil" cousins are black. Adding the Eladrin into the mix just makes things worse: we have the original, uncorrupted Fey version of Elves who "are more often fair than dark", their cousins who stayed in the natural world and became tan to brown, and the eeeeevillllll twisted version who were banished into an underground realm are black as the night sky.

Some might defend the Drow by pointing out that they're not "like the black people version of elves, but black like the color black". Yes, I've heard that exact phrasing used before.

Well, that might dull the knife's edge for most (though not all) dark-skinned human beings, but it still sets up a preferential color spectrum, with dark being worse than light. And however the Drow are drawn today, the original artwork depicts them as being "the black people version of elves". For reference, see this D&D Alumni article, with the 2nd Edition AD&D cover from Queen of the Spiders. There are (non-Drow) Elves with a similar shade of skin in the official artwork now.

For whatever progress has been made in 4E, it sounds a massive note of fail when it comes to Drow. The decision to stop calling them "Dark Elves" (except in campaign settings where they still do) is a bit of sleight of hand when their origin is mostly unchanged: they're still the evil race of elfy-like folk. And all of this is before we get into what is the biggest *headdesk* inducing moment for me, the one that almost ended my support of 4E, the Redeemed Drow.

Redeemed Drow is an Epic Destiny, which is something like a prestige class in 3E and something like the Paths to Immortality of Old School D&D. It provides an endgame for characters who have seen and done everything, an epic story hook for the DM and a satisfying finale for the player character. There are many to choose from. Some are open to any character, some only apply to certain types of characters.

The Redeemed Drow Epic Destiny is not, as its name suggests, just a codification of the already tired trope of the "lone Drow rebel, shunning the evil ways of the race". It's a Drow who worships the divine patron of the Just Plain Elves and works really hard and prays to be cleansed of the taint of Drowness.


No matter the deeds done, no matter the life lived, none of your mortal actions change the fact that you are drow—a dark elf and a living symbol of mortal corruption and vice—and throughout the rest of your days, you must bear the burden of the understanding that nothing you do can ever lift the stain that darkens your heart. The only escape from the curse is to truly transcend the mortal coil and become something more—to leave behind the shell of flesh and bone so your true light can shine and reveal to all the purity of your purpose.

...

Your successes earn you the attention of Corellon (and possibly others), who aids you in your crusade against your former kin by imbuing you with a greater sense of purpose to impel you to daring acts and astonishing deeds. As your mission nears completion, Lolth throws the full weight of her legions against you, and through the storm of demons, spiders, driders, and drow, you must stand fast before the blooming doubts and misgivings that threaten to cloud your vision. In the end, Corellon blesses you with the greatest gift you could ask for: a second chance at life without the filthy caress of the horrific Spider Queen.


Just in case anybody missed the point of what they're talking about with the references to a "stain that darkens your heart" and "the filthy caress of the horrific Spider Queen", they refer to a Drow as a "Dark Elf" in this description. Nowhere does it actually say that the character is reborn as a Non-Drow Elf, but the implications are clear.

I almost canceled my D&D Insider subscription when I read the article in which this Epic Destiny appeared. In the end, I didn't. It's one option out of dozens, included as an expansion to the game. It goes without saying that I would never allow a player to use it in a game I'm running... I'd hope anybody who played in a game I ran all the way up to the Epic Tier would know better than that, anyway. I wouldn't argue with someone who considered it the breaking point. If there's much more along the same lines, it'll be my breaking point. "If the wicked dark skinned races live good lives and pray really hard, they are reborn white" is not my kind of fantasy.

But that leaves me with the question of whether to include Drow at all, and how to reconcile their problematic aspects I have no problem with them being feared and reviled by the people living in areas under white hegemony. That idea is strangely plausible to me. But the idea of them as an "evil" race has enough baggage before we get into them being dark-skinned as well, and the two together are utterly inexcusable even if we jettison all the explicit connections between their dark skin and their evilness. (Stain, taint, "darkness", etc.)
alexandraerin: (Star Belly)
I found myself, in a roundabout way, reading a months-old blog post that had been linked to in a Livejournal post that [livejournal.com profile] karnythia linked to.

You can read the posts to see what they're about. If you're not familiar with the topic, there is plenty of material in the Livejournal post and the many posts it links to, breaking down the issues involved. I'm not planning on parsing through them here.

Rather, I'd like to call attention to something happening in the comments of the post I link to at the top of this entry. The post details an encounter that, along with the racial dynamics the author breaks down, involves the use of the epithet "black bitches" being directed at the author of the post.

I'll repeat that for emphasis: "black bitches".

So what's happening in the comments? Surely this will be the one time when everyone can agree that racism actually exists and is in play... right?

Wrong.

Unfortunately, I think we spend so much time and energy as labeling something as racism.

and

Must be terrible to live life with a chip on your shoulder like that. No, I don't get it - and I guess I never will.

and

My problem with this post is that the writer seems to make the incident all about race.

and so on.

Unbelievable.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Lena Horne passed away yesterday. My first exposure to her was the first place I encountered most people of immense talent: Muppet Show reruns.

This is going to be a brief post, because I don't feel adequate to the task of eulogizing a woman with such a long and varied career. There's a decent obituary on Yahoo! News, but the impetus behind this post is in the comments (which I really should know better than to read).

One commenter thanks her thusly: "Yes, RIP to a woman who did her thing for African Americans." Now, the headline on the piece is "Barrier-breaking jazz star Lena Horne dies at 92." The article touches briefly on some of the (racial) barriers she broke down. Her kipedia article has a more detailed but still very brief primer on her civil rights work, but the article the comment was left on did address these things at a glance.

But some of the responses to this comment (I'm paraphrasing because I don't have the spoons to wade back in and read them) ran along the lines of how very dare you claim Lena Horne she belonged to everybody she worked to destroy racial barriers why are you emphasizing differences, etc., etc., etc.

This is what we mean when we say we live in a "post-racial society": stop complaining. We got rid of slavery and replaced it with civil rights laws and therefore there's nothing left to be said, right? Why do people have to go and bring race into things? It's the people who bring race up that are racists!

Even the argument that "racism is over" falls flat as a reason to tell people to pipe down about the fact that Lena Horne's career didn't consist entirely of having people giving her talent the reception it deserved, unless someone wants to argue that racism was over during the entire period her long career spanned. Even though racism is alive and well and woven very deeply in the fabric of American life, there are people of color who are alive today... people who are being born just today... who are the beneficiaries of the progress she made in her lifetime.

If one of the folks she was fighting for feels like giving her thanks, or expressing pride in what she did... how is it appropriate to tell them to pipe down? Yes, contemporary white audiences enjoyed Ms. Horne's music, too... if they hadn't, she wouldn't have had nearly as much leverage to effect change. Does that give white America some claim over her? Because we deigned to allow a talented superstar to entertain us?

Lena Horne's career was filled with people who wouldn't let her forget her racial background and people who wanted everybody else to forget it. Trying to be all "colorblind" about her now is just plain dishonest.





alexandraerin: (Default)
This post is the sequel to my previous post about the notion of a "throat-punching machine". It has been sitting in an open Notepad window on my netbook for a couple of weeks now. A post on a friend's Livejournal made me realize I never actually put it up.

Note: There will almost certainly be people reading this who think that parts of it were written to address things they said in particular, either as comments on the referenced previous post or elsewhere, but everything between the two horizontal bars was written before that post went up.




I think that most people would agree in the abstract that a system that punches some people in the throat isn't good and it isn't fair, but of course not everyone is going to agree that we have a system like that, or that it's widespread.

So now, I'm going to talk about one particular "throat-punching mechanism" that is present in our society. The purpose of this post is to show how the attitudes that we share does disadvantage persons of color and therefore does privilege white folks.

I mean, if somebody else is getting held back, you have an advantage, right?

And here's where we come to one of the reasons why I've made a series of posts revolving around the proposition of racism arising without racist intentions. On its own, this might actually look like kind of a wishy-washy way of confronting racism.

And it is.

Seriously, it is.

But there is a point here. There is a method to my blandness!

See, so long as we think of racism that can only happen when somebody is acting on a racist intent then the answer, the rebuttal, to any talk of widespread racism is to say "But I don't even think about race.", to insist that we could solve any lingering problems of racism by refusing to think about race, by being "colorblind".

But a lot of the mechanisms by which our society punches people in the throat is at work no matter what a given individual thinks of race or even if a given individual thinks of race.

Does that sound impossible? HP managed to put a web cam that functioned better for white people without thinking about race. Whether or not you want to call that "racism", the fact is still there that if they had thought about race they might have tested the camera more extensively and caught the problem before it went out.

So, anyway, let's imagine for the sake of argument a crazy hypothetical situation, something that's just slightly less ludicrous and far-fetched than the literal throat-punching device and something that has just slightly more real-world impact on people than a webcam function that works better for people who happen to look like the folks who designed and tested it.

The remainder of this post is addressed as if the reader is a white American, or something near to that. That's who the message behind it is more or less aimed at, though there may be a lesson in it for others. You can consider the racial and cultural identity of the referenced "you" as part of the hypothetical, if it doesn't otherwise apply to you.

Now, you aren't racist, right? You don't have a racist thought in your head. You have friends of many races... not that you notice their races, because you don't. People are all just people to you. The place you live in is a place of shocking diversity, where nobody seems to even notice race all that much. Certainly you never hear anybody talking about it.

So that's you.

You sound pretty swell, actually.

Hypothetically speaking.

In our hypothetical situation, we'll imagine that your ideal for what hair looks like when it's clean, well cared-for, normal... professional... is what hair with the texture and follicle structure most commonly associated with white people is when it's been treated with the typical regimen that white Americans tend to follow with regards to hair care.

Of course it would be ridiculous to imagine you came to this idea all on your own, so we have to imagine that you're part of a society in which this idea is widespread, so that it could have been propagated through you in the first place.

You don't think of it as "white hair", of course.

You don't think about race that much at all... you prefer to judge people by the content of their character, right? Because you're not racist. Where you come from, it seems like no one talks about race... certainly no one thinks about it, much less acts on it.

So when you're rubbing elbows with someone on public transportation, when you interact with a person doing their job... from food service to health care, from manual labor to white collar professions... or when you're considering hiring somebody for a position, you're not thinking about what race they are, you're judging them on things that might indicate whether or not they seem like a pleasant person, whether they're someone you'd care to do business with, someone you'd trust to take care of your interests.

You don't even think about race.

You only assess people based on things that matter.

Things like... hygiene.

Things like whether they take pride in their personal appearance or they just don't seem to care.

Whether they look professional enough to be acceptable, or slovenly.

Of course, in our crazy hypothetical world one of your benchmarks for how you judge these things--how they keep their hair--just happens to be tied up in race.

Yes, there will be people of color who manage to fit themselves into your box for "acceptable standards of hair care". Some of them might not even to try that hard... after all, the physical things that underly our sociological concept of "race" are not binaries.

But more European-descended people will fit your standard more easily than people of African extraction.

And so it's not hard for you to end up making racially biased judgments about people without harboring the slightest intent to do so. You can do it while thinking to yourself how bad racism is and how much it sucks to judge other people for the color of their skin. And because it's not just your own random personal preference, a larger hypothetical society is also doing this, the results of this "unintended racism" are felt by large numbers of real people.

Your individual impact might be minimal... in fact, depending on where you live it may be possible for you to personally harbor this bit of programming in a way that never actually affects anyone.

And maybe you personally don't care how people wear their hair. Maybe you're not in an industry where it matters. Maybe you're kind of a grungey slacker type yourself so even if certain hairstyles code to you as kind of grungey you don't care.

Or maybe you're a human resources agent, and maybe you mentally sort job applicants into an A and B pile based on how "professional" they look, how well you think they'll fit in with the "corporate culture", and maybe hair that looks "dirty" or "unprofessional" to you nudges people towards the B pile.

Either way, tthe mechanism is still there, and it's only one of many. If you're not a cog in this particular throat-punching machine, you'll still be a cog in several others.

Now, of course, I'm being more than a little facetious when I call this a "crazy hypothetical" situation... I'm talking about the world we live in, where the default for what is nice, what is normal, what is presentable, what is professional, what is hygienic in how we wear and treat our hair is strongly rooted in how white people from Europe tend to wear the sort of hair we tend to have.

And of course, hair is hardly an aberration. It is... like the HP camera... merely one example in a sea of examples.

The voices that most stand out to us (and thus register as "loud") in a crowd of people all having conversations in big echo-y public spaces are the voices that sound the least like our own and like the voices we grew up surrounded by. The voices like ours, being "normal", get swallowed up in the crowd.

See also: names.

See also: any criteria we might use to judge what constitutes somebody who is "just hanging out"/"just passing through" vs. someone who is "up to something".

And even if we are aware of these things and do our very best not to be influenced by them personally, we white folks are still privileged by the existence of these standards.

I've had to cut or re-color my hair for job interviews before, but I can walk into any building where they might be hiring wearing a hair style that naturally "works" with my hair and not worry about whether it will be accepted as professional. I don't have to think about it. I don't have to choose to spend a lot of time and money and anguish altering my hair or dealing with the consequences that come with treating it more naturally.

That? That's privilege. Even if I never have another job interview, even if I never take advantage of that fact, it's an opportunity I have.

It's a thing about which I do not need to worry, ever.

I'm not the first person to observe this, but the thing about the status quo is we don't have to try very hard to reinforce it. It wouldn't have become the status quo if there weren't forces at work preserving it. No matter how unbiased we try to be (and chances are we aren't as unbiased as we think we are) these forces are still going to affect us and even work through us.

Notice I'm using "we", the first person plural, here... I am not exempt, I am not above it, I am not some post-racial paragon. I do see race, I do think about race, I fail about race... often hardest when I'm not thinking about. I hope nobody (least of all the people whose kneejerk response to people talking about race is to worry that they're going to get "blamed" for something) thinks I'm standing up high somewhere looking down at people and lecturing.

I'll straight-up say it: J'accuse moi!

I am part of the problem I am describing!

For each time I make a post on the internet about race (which is pretty much the extent of what I'm doing to dismantle racism, honestly), there are dozens of times that I walk right past the throat-punching machine that isn't programmed to hit me and I don't say a word about it. Sometimes I honestly don't notice that it's there... is that better or worse than the times I see it's there but don't say anything because I can't be bothered at the moment or because I'm afraid or because I don't want to deal with the people who are going to lash out at me for pointing out its presence?

So the point of all this isn't to say that we white people are all horrible, horrible people who are condemned to a life of being condemned for privilege no matter what our intentions are.

But at the same time... can we really excuse ourselves for not being willing to talk about this stuff? To think about it? To examine society around us... to examine ourselves? People are being punched in the throat. Other people are being held down in ways we aren't, and we're being helped up in ways that other people aren't.

And no, privilege does not just come from racism. There is classism. There is ableism. There is sexism. There is privilege rooted in sexual orientation and identity. There are a lot of different ways that these things intersect. I've been emphasizing racism over any of the others because it's one of the major areas where I'm unequivocably privileged. I'm not arguably white or a little bit white. I didn't experience white privilege for just part of my life.

I could have picked an area in which I am less privileged, in which I experience genuine oppression, but how much good would that do when my point is that we shouldn't fear talking about our own privilege? We shouldn't be afraid to own our issues, be they with race or class or anything else.

I said "I accuse myself" above, but privilege isn't a crime. We all have our privilege. We all have our racial and class-related and other issues. Feeling guilty about them isn't a solution and it's not even necessarily a step in the right direction... too often, the guilt ends up being treated as if it were the problem and then the solution becomes seeking absolution, rather than addressing the actual situation.




Conversations We Won't Be Having: Why you would care more about the oppression of some people if it weren't phrased in terms of privilege other people have, how "some hair" actually does look cleaner/more professional, how treating the majority as the default is just a fact of life and statistics and not racist at all... and above all else, how racism can only exist when a human being articulates an explicitly racist intention.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...when I was snowed in with my family, the week of Christmas. It's taken me a while to figure out what I think about it. I had heard so many good and bad things about it, and the thing is, they're basically all true. I found myself agreeing with both the show's fans and its detractors.

I've finally decided that the detractors have it right. Where it all really crystalizes for me is in a single line of dialogue in the semi-finale, "Sectionals":

"Because sometimes, being special... sucks."

That's not a bad line, objectively, in isolation. It has the makings of a great line. If the circumstances under which it was uttered were difference, if the characters in the scene were different, it could have been great. But these words of wisdom were directed not at the any of the cast's racial minorities, the student with a disablity, the one with a speech impediment, or the gay student but at the straight, white, able-bodied football hero main character.

What is his special quality that sucks so badly to have?

Leadership.

The writers don't seem to have any idea how to depict this quality other than to suggest that the rest of the Glee Club is totally lost without him. When he's there they can pull it together and win, when he's not they fall apart. In the show's universe, his popularity definitely helped the Glee Club but that's not the same thing as leadership. Being popular and athletic and clean-cut (and ah, demographically advantaged) in high school is often equated with "leadership" by middle-of-the-road educators, but it's not the same thing.

Among the criticisms that have been (accurately) leveled at Glee are the following:

1. Among the students who make up what is in theory an ensemble, they consistently put the least likable ones front and center.
2. The rest of the cast consists largely of a series of "tokens" rather than well-developed characters.
3. They abuse the hell out of autotune and other suchlike exciting bits of auditory jiggery-pokery.

And the thing is, these criticisms are all tied together... and they all tie into why that line of dialogue killed Glee for me.

They cast the least experienced singer as the guy they made into a main character, the selfsame football hero. Because he's the main character in a show that revolves around a show choir, they shine every note he sings to a high polish, and as a result you end up hearing a voice that doesn't begin to match the face you're looking at. It would be less jarring if they brought in another person to record the vocals. They overuse digital trickery in general, but it's worst in his case because his voice needs the most work to bring it up to the "quality" demanded by the premise that he's the best.

If they didn't have the idea that the show needs a storyline about an All American Guy (who must be an athlete, not a "choir geek") and an All American Girl running through the season, they wouldn't need to put this guy and everybody tied up in his plotline (basically, the two straight able-bodied WASP kids and the two straight able-bodied Jewish kids) front and center constantly, they wouldn't have to lean on the quite exciting computer magic in such an egregious and transparent (and not particularly ear-pleasing) fashion... and they wouldn't have this ridiculous moment where the guy who is just now for the first time in his high school career having real Problems complains about how many Problems he has and is told, in all seriousness and without a trace of irony, that he has Problems because "being special sucks".

That line is not the most offensive, questionable, or problematic thing in the show... not as a whole or even that episode in particular*. It just sums up so much of what's wrong with the show, in every sense of the word.




(*The Mercedes vs. Rachel thing from the same episode was pretty egregious, for example. Do we really need TV shows that actively preach the moral "tokens belong in the background"?)
alexandraerin: (Free Speech)
I've still got the follow up to my "Throat-Punching" post saved up, but I'm going to wait a few days for my blood pressure to go down before I try to tackle that subject again.

In the meanwhile, here's a nice, calm, relaxing topic instead:

According to the USDA, which apparently tracks such things in the United States, the typical cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 is a hair short of $125k for the poorest bracket of households and just shy of $250k for the wealthiest. Keep those figure in mind.

The chart on that page actually breaks down the cost year by year, by age, so if you were looking at a hypothetical situation where somebody took on the responsibility of raising a child who had already been born, you could do the math appropriately.

These figures aren't any kind of absolute benchmark for the resources needed to merely keep a human being alive from one age to another, of course... they're based on the amount of money that is spent on children in the country that is sort of the poster child for the First World. It's based on our way of life and our standard of living.

This is how much money we spend on a child, on average. It doesn't include the cost of bringing that child into the world. It doesn't include the cost of post-secondary education.

If an American adopts a child from a country that's impoverished, that's the kind of money that is going to be spent making sure that child has "a good life": making sure they have nutritious food and clean water and education and possibly health care, clothing and shelter and toys to stimulate and educate and entertain and distract.

$7,000 to $14,000 dollars a year to take this one person out of a life of poverty... is that a bad price, to take someone out of those circumstances? It might not be, if our reaction to the sort of desperate circumstances that much of the world exists in is to take one specific human being and remove them from those circumstances.

But with that kind of money... well, the gross capita income in Haiti is $480. (It was, anyway, at the point that chart was made. I think the figure for 2010 might be lower.) Think about how little money it would take to change somebody's life if that's all that they have to get by on to begin with.

You could pick twenty-eight random people and double their income with $7,000 dollars. How many mouths would that feed? How many lives would that change?

You could give clean water to 500-1,000 more people a year, with the amount of money it costs to raise a child in America.

You could send Afghan children to school.

You could invest in infrastructure and education. You could support economic opportunities for disadvantaged women. If you had the money to take on a child from overseas, you could, in short, spend that money... you could even spend a fraction of that kind of money... to change the conditions that we find so horrifying to view from afar that it motivates us to swoop in and "rescue" children from their own families.

...

Now, I don't honestly think anybody reading this right now has an extra hundred grand per year and is thinking to themselves, "Gosh, I can't make up my mind... do I want to adopt a child from overseas or do I want to start a lifetime of philanthropy to try to change things from the ground up?" While it would be great if the above motivates a few donations, the other purpose is to lay the groundwork for what I'm going to say next.

Laura Silsby is, unless the news has been uncharacteristically skewed against a white American Christian lady, a human trafficker. Another word for that is "slave trader".

What's going on in Haiti right now is not that a group of well-meaning people, through their ignorance or lack of judgment or impulsiveness, have been accidentally ensnared by a law meant to curtail an activity that their plan sort of resembled. The law accomplished its purpose.

There's enough coming out in the news that there is room for some semi-informed speculation about Silsby's motives, but I'm not even going to get into that. I'm just talking about what she did.

Her plan involved claiming (both to authorities and her co-congregants, it seems) that she had documents giving her permission to take "100 Haitian children" out of Haiti and into the Dominican Republic, where she'd be able to put them up for adoption. Stop and think about that. 100 children. Not "the following children". Not "the individual children listed below". She was claiming to have permission to pick up 100 children and transport them across the border, where she would make money giving them to people.

She was claiming the right, in other words, to treat the children of Haiti... brown-colored children of a poor, non-Christian, non-American nation... as a commodity. An absolutely interchangeable commodity.

And... though she didn't really think this through... she obviously believed this claim was plausible. Anybody who was working with her who wasn't actually in on the scheme certainly found it perfectly believable. The authorities she dealt with on both sides of the Haitian/Dominican border were less persuaded.

I'm not a lawyer. I'm not an expert on international adoption. Even knowing that there are abuses of the system and there is endemic exploitation and there is commercialization and commoditization of children going on within the legal channels, I doubt very much that any nation which actually tracks such things issues papers that say, in effect, "This document entitles the bearer, A Nice White Lady, to one hundred (100) children." Her imaginary document apparently had no reference to the legal status of these children and put no onus on her to coordinate what she was doing with any kind of authorities who might be tasked with looking after their welfare... again, not just on the Haitian side of the border.

Her whole scheme seemed to hinge on the idea that for any Dominican Republic officials who happened to notice a new orphanage suddenly appearing in a posh resort catering to wealthy white people from overseas, "oh, these are Haitian children" would be sufficient explanation for how they came to be in her (and this really is the right word) possession.

Commodities.

To anybody who thinks that under the circumstances she should be let off with a warning because of some sort of perceived "gray area" or the idea that maybe she really didn't understand the enormity of what she was doing, it turns out she was let off with a warning the first time she tried to steal a busload of kids. And she turned right around and picked up another batch of lil interchangeable commodities to try again.

Given our history in this country... our shameful and not at all distant (150 years is only two, three human lifetimes) history as the last "civilized" nation of western, European-descended folk who thought it was really cool to literally commoditize human beings of another race... we should be way more sensitive about this stuff than we are. We should be way more aware of this.

There should be nobody in the United States who misses the undertones of what was going on here, but of course there are.

Look, we all know there are people who are also trafficking in children for much worse purposes... there are children being trafficked who suffer far worse fates than being adopted by well-to-do foreigners. But that doesn't change what Silsby was doing. She can't claim ignorance of the law when at every turn, she was told by officials on both sides of the border that what she was doing was trafficking and chose to ignore it. Did she think the laws of Haiti wouldn't dare to descend upon her? Did she think that the risk wasn't big enough to outweigh the reward?

I don't know.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for her cohorts. I understand how they might have been sucked in... there are actually numerous scams going on in the United States at any given time that are based on taking advantage of the belief that one's congregation is full of people who are Right With God and who will never lie or deceive you. It's a dangerous belief, and one that's not particularly well-supported by the Bible (I don't recall what number of people the Bible says are righteous, but I think it's smaller than the number it takes to fill a church), and even that speaks to an arrogance, a sort of imperialism: we are the good people and everybody else is bad. Anything WE do is right. Anything they do is suspect.

And of course that leads right into any child is better off with one of US than with one of THEM... the kind of thinking that leads to stolen generations. So, yes, perhaps some of the people involved really wanted nothing more than to improve the lives of some children. They didn't approach that goal from a very pure place, though... and see also: what several thousand dollars a year can really do to improve the lives of children.

Also, whatever they believed about Silsby's plan and the legality of what they were doing, they were evidently lying to the parents, lying to the children... if your plan requires you to lie to children, Jesus may not approve of it as strongly as you think.

There have been other news stories done in the wake of this "scandal" crime with reporters talking to Haitian parents who explain how willing they are to give their children up to families overseas. I worry about this stirring up sympathy for people running schemes like Silsby's. The thing is, these parents are in an impossible situation where there are no good options available to them, and so some of them take the one that seems like the best for their children.

But the key is that this option is contingent on the idea that a foreigner with enough money to care for a child in the American fashion intervenes in their lives in the first place! I'm not going to sit here and condemn everybody who's ever taken part in a foreign adoption (though honestly there are people who will do that, and they have several good points), but I will point out again that this kind of money could be spent on the ground in countries like Haiti to help end the circumstances that will otherwise result in even more children being born and living in the conditions you might "rescue" one single child from.

I could keep going on this forever but I'd just end up repeating myself. Children aren't commodities, no matter how desperate the circumstances they're living in. Adopting a child doesn't "make a difference" in a statistically meaningful sense.

Please Note: The question of "Why should we...?" (spend the money to improve Haiti, get involved, feel any sense of guilt or responsibility) is a separate topic from the one I'm addressing here. It is, for the purposes of this post, The Conversation That Is Not Happening Here. The adoption scheme of Silsby hinged upon the idea that there are already people with money to spend on improving the lives of Haitian children.




Related reading:

Orphans???, a posting from Anthropology Now that partly inspired this.

Also worth reposting, since I know many people don't have money to spare:

The Hunger Site.
Free Rice
alexandraerin: (Star Belly)
On my last post about race, made just a bit before Christmas, I had more than one person lining up to tell me that racism cannot exist where there is no racist intent.

The topic of the post was the now internet-infamous HP webcam that tracks light faces better than dark ones, which obviously means that it would tend to work best out of the box for someone our society identifies as "white". The YouTube video in the post gives a pretty stark demonstration of the extent of this.

In one of my comment replies, I said this to one of the commenters who insisted we only judge intentions when discussing racism:


If we build a system that punches every third person in the throat, that system is a problem whether it's an example of poor design or sinister design, isn't it? And ideally we should be able to talk about that problem and why it's a problem without someone jumping into the conversation to issue us a criteria based on unprovable speculations of intention that we must fulfill before we're allowed to discuss it.


I used "every third person" as the example to emphasize that the standard it's using is both arbitrary and predictable... it's not a machine that we can easily pretend sometimes punches some random people in the throat, we can clearly see what it's what doing: it's punching every third person in the throat.

There might be some corner cases where two people are walking abreast or a whole crowd of people runs past it and throws off the count a bit, but anybody who points to these scenarios and says "So you can see that, in fairness, this proves that there is no problem with every third person getting punched in the throat in our country today." could be safely written off as missing the bigger picture, right?

In fact, we would probably wonder at such a person's willingness to excuse and defend systematic throat-punching. Do they benefit from it somehow? Do they believe that there are whole classes of people who deserve to be punched in the throat while others don't? Maybe it's as simple as they walked past the machine without getting punched so whenever somebody starts talking about how much it hurt to get punched in the throat or how they don't want to see anybody else get punched, they feel like they're being accused of something or blamed for something.

They didn't build the machine, after all. They didn't set the People Counter to 3. It sucks that some people get punched in the throat but it has nothing to do with them!

The fact is, we have built and do continue to build and maintain (sometimes passively, sometimes actively) many systems that metaphorically punch people in the throat for arbitrary reasons, giving some people head starts and holding others back. We all live within these systems. Our ways of life are supported by them. Our ways of thinking are supported by them.

And as long as these systems exist, we don't need racist intent to participate in racist actions and to generate racially-biased outcomes. The fact that the status quo is the status quo means that no one person has to exert a tremendous amount of effort to reinforce it.

Tomorrow I'll post a follow-up I've written with some specific examples of "throat-punching machines" we deal with. I was going to make this all one post, but given the reception I usually get when I write about race I think it's best to deal with a smaller number of points at a time than a larger one.




And in The Continuing Adventures of Conversations That Aren't Happening Here: "helpful" discussions about what sort of tone people who are sick of racism should strike or what terminology is least likely to result in the shedding of white plutocrat tears. I'm not deleting anything but I've frozen the current discussions on those topics... anyone who thinks they have something that really really needs to be said on such a subject is more than welcome to take it up in their own space.
alexandraerin: (Not Racist)
[livejournal.com profile] karnythia recently linked to a news article about people studying the effects of television on racial biases. There was an old bit on SNL's Weekend Update when I was growing up, where Norm Macdonald would read a headline about a recent medical study and then announce that it and other news could be read in the pages of the medical journal "DUH!".

As others observed on her post, there have been studies about this sort of thing for as long as there has been television... while more attention given to it is not a bad thing, the thought behind this research (as presented in the article, anyway) seems somewhat naive.

To quote:

The psychologists wondered how such biases could persist in a society in which racism is socially unacceptable and indeed publicly denounced.


I would submit that there is and always has been a difference between "this thing is not done in our society" and "this thing is not admitted to in our society". What is socially unacceptable is to be openly and overtly racist, to admit to racism... this is what makes talking about racism so difficult. If a person or group is doing something in a way that seriously disadvantages or negatively impacts minorities, attempts to discuss the very real problem they present frequently break down into protracted discussions of their motivations and their feelings.

Of course, people who shout "I HATE [epithet]S!" from the rooftops seriously suck. Seriously. But their ability to affect people on a day to day basis is severely limited because they are denounced so quickly and people are so quick to distance themselves from such overt racism. Such overt bigots can assault people, can injure and hurt them, but do not usually have the power to oppress all by their lonesome.

(This isn't to say we shouldn't denounce them. If we don't make it clear that such things are intolerable, then they won't stay lonesome and they will get power. "Society" is a shoutocracy: loudest voice frequently wins.)

Oppression is a systemic problem. It comes from institutional racism.

Example: when a company sells only products that are primarily useful for or attractive to white folks or markets them in a way that makes it seem like they're only meant for white folks, it might be described as a pure number-crunching exercise. They might describe their target audience not as white (or hetero, or able-bodied, or cis, or English speaking) but as "mainstream". And many people wouldn't argue with that.

But doing this is not only a response to our society where certain people and their perceived tastes are "mainstream" and thus more worth catering to, it perpetuates that perception, rebuilds it and makes it stronger all the time.

Take a look at this video:



Now, because some things are going to be raised as objections any time something like this is posted in an open forum:

1. Yes, the lighting conditions are not optimal and probably not in line with the manufacturer's recommendations or set-up instructions. It's certainly possible that with enough jiggering and a bit of poking, the man in the video could get the camera to recognize and track his face.

2. No, the HP engineers did not invent the laws of physics as they apply to optics.

3. No, no one is saying that Hugh L. Packard, president of HP, said "FUCK THE BLACKS. MAKE IT ONLY WORK ON WHITE PEOPLE."

The fact is that a major consumer electronics manufacturer released, shipped, and sold a device that at the very least works best for white people, works under a wider range of conditions for white people, and requires less fiddling around with your room's set-up out of the box for white people. That's charitably assuming it would work in a reasonable fashion for the gentleman doing the demonstration, if he dimmed the backlighting and put a light source in front, as some commenters on the video suggested.

"That's not racist, that's just how lighting and cameras work."... except... can anybody imagine this being considered a viable commercial technology if it worked the other way around? If the technology for using facial tracking on white folk was such that it would require a level of finicky fiddling about with ambient lighting that the old ROB robot that was bundled with the NES in the 1980s did, would a computer manufacturer actually bundle it with a computer webcam package on the cusp of 2010? Or would they be going "It's an interesting concept, but the technology is not really 'there' yet. Let's keep trying to improve it."

Some people will probably look at that and wonder if I'm suggesting that nobody should be able to buy this webcam product unless it works perfectly for everyone. I'm not. I'm suggesting we wouldn't be able to buy it... at least not as a feature with an HP media center computer rather than a quirky toy for techno-hobbyists who don't mind the fiddling around... if it didn't work well for white people. Because it does, it has "mainstream commercial appeal".

This is systemic racism, institutional racism in action. I'm sure some people are going to roll their eyes and say things like "Oh, life is so hard for people who can't get a webcam to follow their movements. It must be nice if that's the only problem they have to complain about." To which I say: yes, I'm sure it would be nice if that were the only thing that someone had to complain about. But this is not some weird random example of something that goes against the common trend. The "mainstreaming" of whiteness is pervasive and so are its effects.

Shows and movies (and books and magazines) centered around white actors/characters are marketed as the default. If a character with a different skin tone is cast white in an adaptation to broaden the appeal, it's a main character... characters who become minority in translation ostensibly for the same reason are almost always background characters or sidekicks (There are exceptions. They are played by Will Smith and Morgan Freeman. And Obama is president. And Sammy Davis, Jr. played at the Copacabana Club. The existence of minority superstars are one of the best examples of the hoary old chestnut about "the exception that proves the rule".) We judge the cleanliness and "professionalism" of people's hair based on the way white folks' hair looks when it's well-cared for. We have a similar rubric for judging the professionalism of people's names.

The number of people who can complain with a straight face on the "racism" of a channel called "Black Entertainment Television" when we spend our lives so immersed in things targeted directly at white folks "mainstream people" demonstrates how pervasive the problem is: it's so deeply rooted in our culture that we don't even see it.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Right after I made my last blog post, I was reminded that I'm supposed to be avoiding unnecessary stress, so I haven't even been reading the comments on it. :P I'm actually spending most of the week down at my parents' house (the one on the little lake that I've mentioned before), which is very relaxing... a little mini-vacation, not away from work but away from stress.

But it is still International Blog Against Racism Week, and it'll be more stressful to completely ignore headlines like the one I just read than it would be to take a minute to acknowledge it. I'll just not read the comments until I'm in a better humor, and don't have anything that needs to get done.
r
Actually, on second thought, I'm just going to turn off comments on this post. This is a conversation that's happening all around us. I don't need to hold a debate on my blog.

Okay, when a case that looks like racial profiling comes up, the argument can be made... and frequently is... that the subject of it may have been treated like anyone else in the same situation, that the person who was acting is not a racist, etc. My last post was about how the fact that it might not specifically be racism this time is not reason enough to let it pass without comment. This post is about exactly how far we have to entertain the "not racist until proven guilty" notion.

I saw a headline on CNN.com this morning that had to be seen to be believed: Cop Apologies For 'Jungle Monkey' Email.

It got even more unbelievable: this wasn't a random racial slur, this was a Boston police officer commenting on the Professor Gates case. Officer Justin Barrett, angered by a newspaper column supporting the professor, sent off an email to a bunch of his fellow Guardsmen... yes, he's also in the National Guard... saying that if he'd been the one "verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC deserving of his belligerent non-compliance".

Emphasis mine. I just didn't want anyone to miss the subtle racial undertones there. Because, you know, it can be hard to tell when someone is being racist and when they're just reacting to a situation the same way they would if it were anybody else.

Officer Barrett also characterized Gates's complaints of racism as "jungle monkey gibberish".

The officer has "apologized" for the email, but guess what? According to his lawyer, he's not racist and he wasn't actually calling Professor Gates a "banana-eating jungle monkey", merely describing his behavior.

Do we honestly have to entertain this nonsense? Is it worth the effort it would take to point out how transparent this pretense is? I mean, one could argue that an officer of the law advocates spraying persons of color who speak up about racial issues in the face with chemical irritants is not a matter of public concern and should not be the subject of disciplinary hearings, though one would then be arguing that an officer of the law advocates spraying persons of color who speak up about racial issues in the face with chemical irritants is not a public matter... but to argue that it's not racist?

Ridiculous.

And I know without looking how all the racist rightwing commentators are going to cast this: they're going to say that people who call Officer Barrett out for his obvious racism are the racists for associating African descent with monkeys. That's ridiculous, though. The association is part of the lexicon of racism. It's not some random insult that Officer Barrett pulled out of the ether, and if he expects that people will be placated by his nonpology explanation, then he's adding an insult to intelligence on top of the initial one.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I almost didn't post this... but since [livejournal.com profile] popelizbet tells me it's International Blog Against Racism Week, I decided to go ahead and ride out the wank. If I can man the battlements to engage in internet arguments over Dungeons and Dragons, I can do it for this.

...

Okay, so here in Omaha, there's a "joke".

The "joke" has been most memorably phrased to me as police code NWO7... as in, the sirens go on and someone says, "Must be an NWO7 in progress." WO7 stands for "West Of 72nd". I'll let you guess what the N stands for, but if you know the answer, for the love of God don't shout it out.

The flipside of the "joke" of course is white folks being afraid, with varying degrees of seriousness, of going east of 72nd. The exact line of demarcation for what's considered the safe part of town varies from person to person... usually depending on how far west one lives. I've had people who live way out in West O act shocked that I'm around the 90s.

And of course, my neighborhood does have people of many races living here... and even if you go all the way out to Oakview you won't see a completely whitewashed crowd.

But the "joke" is there, and it's based on a hard truth. Not the truth that cops are all racist bastards, but the truth that racism exists. It is extant. It is part of the fabric of our society, in a pernicious fashion.

Cops exercise a broad amount of discretion in determining who they pull over, who they stop, who they question, who they move along. A lot of the stuff they consciously scan for... who looks like they belong, who looks like they don't, who looks like they're up to no good, who fits a "profile", who looks like they've got a reason to be somewhere... can be coded to race even if the officer expresses no overt racism.

It can be argued that when someone is pulled over or stopped, they have no way of knowing if their race had anything to do with it or not. And to those of us who are comfortably white, this might seem like an argument against "playing the victim card"... but honestly, I have to say I think the reverse is true. Because the truth is that most racial minorities (this post was spurred by cases involving African-Americans in particular, but I'm not going to start a laundry list because I know I'd leave someone out) do attract disproportionate amounts of official attention and suspicion and therefore when they're the ones that cops stop, or when they have cops knocking on their doors in the middle of the night to follow up on a sketchy report, or when they're the ones that cops single out of everybody hanging out in a parking or parking lot and ask them if they don't have somewhere else to be, they always have reason to wonder if it's not their race.

Almost anybody who's been pulled over for speeding knows the feeling of being singled out unfairly. If you're white, it generally stays personal: the cop's a dick, who pissed in his Grape Nuts, give an asshole a badge and he thinks he's God, etc. And because it's personal, you can go on about your day, bitching about Asshole Cop in your mind or even forgetting about him... you're not seriously worried that the next cruiser you see is going to do the same thing. You don't have to worry every time you see a cop.

If you had any reason to think, Is this because I'm white?, it would be a different experience.

So most people who are targeted by cops have no way of knowing for sure if their race made a difference in that particular case... but knowing that it happens, they have two choices: shut up and place nice and hope that the encounter doesn't become more than a temporary and embarrassing hassle, or confront. Some people would say it's never wise to confront the cops or that it's not fair to confront someone with an accusation of racism without proof.

To the latter, I will say that if the Gold Standard of being able to talk about racism is having proof on the order of someone saying, "Man, I've been waiting all day to pull over one of you types!", then we need to give up because racism wins forever.

To the former, I would agree that it seems like the safest course of action to not confront, in the short term, but in the long term... again, racism wins forever.

And this is why, even if Professor Henry Louis Gates's response to being called out of his home in the middle of the night was more "disorderly" than his own account claims, I cannot agree with anyone who says that he should have known better or that the cop was within his rights to respond by arresting him, or that this is not a matter for national attention.

The police officer was in his rights? What about the professor's rights? He was in his home. English common law recognized that "a man's home is his castle" even back when they had a real monarchy and all the tyranny that we eventually revolted from. The police had more need to demonstrate their reason for being there than he had to demonstrate his right to be there.

Sure, if someone said, "But wouldn't you be glad for the police's protection if they kept an intruder from invading your 'castle'?",

I would agree... but that wouldn't stop me from trying to verify their identity and their reason for being there if they knocked on my door in the middle of the night... and we come back to the fact that I could write it off as just a weird random happenstance.

There would be no reason for me to look for a larger pattern, it would just be a crazy story I could tell at parties, if I ever went to parties: "Let me tell you about the one time I came home late, and someone saw me struggling with the door and thought I was a burglar..."

Of course, I do belong to a few non-racial minorities that have been known to be targeted by police, and if there was at all a reason to think this was a factor, then for me to meekly comply and then laugh it off the next morning would be to validate that kind of discrimination, to give it license and strength.

So, if the question is put to me: do I think cops should just have to take it when they get called racist for doing their jobs?

That's the wrong question.

The question is, should the citizens that police officers exist to serve and protect just have to take it when they have reason to doubt they're being served and protected? That question applies to all people, obviously, but if the answer is that no, we should not, then as long as we know that racism exists (which we do know) and that it affects how police do their jobs (which we do know) then we can't ignore race as a factor in police interactions with the public. Even without proof in a particular case that the officer is an admitted racist or acted on racist impulses. It can't be ignored.

Oh, well, we (speaking to those of us comfortably white and comfortably middle class) can ignore it. We have that privilege. But it's not our place to judge when others choose not to, to call them stupid for asking the questions that we habitually avoid.

And we can sound so sophisticated when we duck them, too.

"It's tempting to see something as simple as a racial dynamic at work, but I see a more complicated question of class." is a popular one, but cases like that of Professor Gates, or Denzel Washington being unable to get a cab in New York, or then-General Colin Powell being stiff-armed by airport security, or actor Jeffrey Wright being ejected from a bar and tasered by cops show us the truth... presumably when these men find themselves on the receiving end of discrimination and official harassment, it's not because those doing it have identified them as wealthy successful men of color, but because of how dark skin "codes" to them: low class, no business being there, could be trouble.

Likewise, there was an article in Forbes explaining how the real issue was not one of race but of broader first amendment questions, and it raised some excellent points about the liberties that cops have taken with our liberties, but the existence of those points don't actually eliminate the racial side.

And that's the bottom line: yes, I'd believe the police officer if he said that anyone who had responded to that visitation the same would have been given the same response from the police, but it wasn't anyone who got the visit and not just anyone would have had good reason to believe their race was a factor.

Anyone who did receive such a visit and did suspect so would have had every right to speak out against it.

It's not the "smart" (meaning "safe") thing to do but it beats the alternative.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, commentator Glenn Beck has said, in response to President Obama's comments about Profesosr Gates's arrest, that the president has shown "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture".

I'd like to argue with this, but unfortunately I agree. Mr. Beck is exactly right: targeting official suspicion at minorities is part of our culture.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Racefail in comic fandom, found via [livejournal.com profile] ktempest's Twitter. For the linkaphobic, some portion of the fandom has apparently gone groddshit over the startling level of diversity of the current incarnation of the Justice League, especially during a crossover with Milestone characters.

(Interestingly, they're laying this at the feet of Dwayne McDuffie, who has since left the book after a run that was dogged by his utter lack of input over the team's roster.)

I could really go nuts analyzing this, but I think a few pictures might say it all.

Here's the cover of the first issue of the current volume of the Justice League:



Oh my God.

Are you lost amidst the sea of diversity yet?

Of course, since then, the roster's changed a bit. They've added the current Firestorm, Jason Rusch, who is an African-American teenager. Sometimes they deal with another Green Lantern, like John Stewart. So, you know, you can add two more heroes of color to that picture mentally.

You don't have to put them up front or anything, though.

And in case you're wondering, the guy with the red face is a robot. A robot who looks like a white guy when he isn't being a superhero. Of course, front and center is an alien who looks like a white guy. This is one of the few versions of the Justice League to not include a martian who, when he needs to not look like a martian, usually looks like a white guy. Canonically the martian has multiple identities throughout the world, of all races and both of the two major genders. We're told, occasionally, that he's the most popular hero in South America simply because he has "local" identities down there. Writers remember to tell us this sometimes, but when we see him being human, nine times out of ten he's John Jones, American everyman.

White default in action.

Now, one possible reason for the backlash is that fans who came of age from the mid 90s on may resent any dilution of the "big seven" version of the Justice League, the classic configuration of Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman that was revived at that time and impressed on the public consciousness through the Justice League cartoon. But that same revival was itself a groundshaking event, as it supplanted other versions of the Justice League that had their own popular followings. Two of them, Justice League International and Justice League Europe, were actually attempts to shake up the status quo and broaden the team's base to beyond characters who code as white Americans (even if they're Kryptonians, Amazons, or Atlantians).

We can maybe expect Justice League Europe to be a little eurocentric, but that's okay... they had Justice League International around to diversify things a little.

Let's take a look at their lineup:



Talk about a rainbow connection! I am dizzy with lack of breath from the whirlwind of ethnicities on display.

They did eventually gain a member from South America, a Brazilian hero named Fire.

Fire looks like this:



I apologize to any of my fellow white fans who I've made to feel marginalized and excluded by putting these images on display. Don't worry, some day comic companies will realize that people like us buy comics, too.

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alexandraerin

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