July 05, 2014

Debating an "Arab" parade float

Facebook friend Brad posted a 2013 photo of an "Arab" float in a St. Patrick's Day parade. He added a caption:Like the original Irish emigrants to America--old white men pretending to be Arabs.

My immediate response: That's racist.

This led to an interesting debate with Brad and Cx. Brad spoke up early:Oh, that's not even the worst of it. Unfortunately I totally missed getting a photo of the float with two white women dressed as "black" basketball players!And then Cx and I were off to the races, beginning with her comment:And what, people can't satirize anymore without someone getting butt-hurt somewhere? Is theater dead then? Are red-nosed big-shoed clowns a stereotype too? Don't tell the thespians. It's a parade for cripes sake. Oh wait, no offense to the cripes. Have their people call my people. Keep pushing the word racism in the wrong context, it looses its meaning in the right contexts.One, I doubt anyone intended this to be a satire. Two, no, you can't satirize an entire ethnic group. Unless you're a member of that group, maybe, or the group as a whole has abused its power.

So you're saying there are contexts where racism is acceptable? Hell, no.There are contexts--theatrics as storytelling being one--in which apparel items and set design items are inherent in the telling of the story. People of other races can't portray each other without the label of racism? "Group that has abused its power" being a variable, and one of opinion.

Justifying when (and how) portrayal, parody or even sincere attempts to tell a story & use of items in the telling is not the answer to ending racism, if that's your goal. The old adage: *The honor of one is the honor of all.*
Defending and justifying racism by making up a label such as "parody" or "satire" isn't the answer either. If the so-called parody isn't obvious, it doesn't exist except in the racists' minds.

Doing nothing except applauding racism like this example certainly won't do anything to end the scourge. My critiques are far more likely to do the trick.

"Art" excuses racism?

Theatrics or storytelling for what purpose? The purpose is the context. If it's to educate or enlighten, maybe. If it's merely to entertain by parading racism, literally, so observers will laugh at the funny nonwhite people...again, no.

So you're in favor of people in minstrel shows performing in blackface? Because that's exactly the same thing.

"People of other races can't portray each other without the label of racism?" Depends on the context and purpose. If it's to portray people falsely, with stereotypes, no. That's almost always unacceptable.

Perhaps you need to (re)read the documented harm of stereotyping as proved in psychology studies. Here you go:

The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence

As one recent example of the harm, the "savage Indian" stereotype promoted by hipsters in headdresses tells Americans that tribal courts are unfair and violence against Native women is to be expected. Hence the conservatives' unwillingness to pass VAWA.You implying what I'm "saying" rather than focusing on what I'm questioning for the PURPOSE of questioning isn't necessary, Your responses are sufficient rather than implying what I mean. But your page, your pic, have at it.I addressed what you said and what you implied. If you think I got something wrong, feel free to address that point. Until you do, I'd say my interpretation stands.

Yes or no: This performance is equivalent to a minstrel show in blackface. If no, how is it different?The survey you link above being relevant to American Indian stereotypes specifically, can we keep the focus on THIS photo please? I don't know that it's satire, that's one assumption, but being I wasn't there and have never talked to these people to learn their intent, did you or Brad ask them?You're the one who wrote: "Keep pushing the word racism in the wrong context." This isn't the wrong context, it's the right context. You're mistaken if you think otherwise, and I've explained why.

If you have to ask someone if their racism is "satire," the satire has failed. If the satire isn't evident to observers, it doesn't exist except in the satirists' minds.

As I've explained dozens of times, the outcome is what matters, not the intent. People who malign women or gays or minorities don't get a free pass because they didn't "intend" to insult people. If they committed the offense, they're responsible regardless of what they intended.

P.S. Any research specific to Native stereotypes obviously applies to other minorities. More important, it's the tip of the iceberg. There's much more research about the harm to other minorities that I didn't cite.

Don't need no intentThis is a still photo. Without knowing the context or the persons' intent(s), you call it racism. Did you think to ask a person--better yet, take a survey of many (as opinions within a racial group vary)--from this way of dressing if they believe this is racism? Or are you the arbitrary the decider of racism in America, Rob?Intent is irrelevant. You don't understand racism and stereotyping if you think they exist only when people intend them to exist. Try again.

Again, their opinions on what they were doing are irrelevant. What matters is the outcome.

Is this a fair and accurate portrayal of Arabs or Muslims as a whole? If not, it's stereotypical. If they're singling out Arabs or Muslims for this treatment, it's racist.

Still waiting for an answer to my blackface question.

Every American can and should decide what's racist and speak out when something obviously is. If a person doesn't, she's part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Same as if they see a rape happening in Steubenville or on a military base. Those boys didn't mean to hurt anyone, and neither did those soldiers. Shall we give them a pass because of their intent?"Try again" I often see you do this when your point becomes validly challenged and you attempt to make your opinion right over the other person. "The outcome" to whom? See, that assigning of whose effects are important (and decisive) and whose are not--now there's a clue!You haven't "validly challenged" anything. I've raised a dozen legitimate points and I'm not seeing your answer to any of them. What are you waiting for, an invitation? Answer the blackface question, for starters.I say I have validly challenged. Now who gets to be the decider? Opinion leaders? Isn't this fun? :-)Challenging questions with questions such as "the outcome to whom?" is the weakest sort of debate tactic. It's what pathetic people do when they don't have any arguments of their own. "The evidence supports evolution or climate change? Says whom?"

Yes or no: Is this performance equivalent to a minstrel show in blackface?

Yes or no: Is this a fair and accurate portrayal of Arabs or Muslims as a whole?

Yes or no: We should judge military rapes by whether the rapists intended to cause harm?Questions means I don't have an answer--yet. And therefore I reserve judgement and labeling until I know more. I don't see a debate to be won or lost here, Rob, I see an exchange of opinions. In your opinion, these folks dressed as they are in the context of a parade is racism, is that correct?You stated that this is the "wrong context" in which to attack or judge racism. That's not a question, it's a judgment.

Yes, this performance is racist. I wasn't kidding when I wrote that in my first comment.Yes, in my opinion, which at this time in this context I am voicing, calling or labeling this racism--judging simply on this being people of one race portraying another--without you being an "opinion leader" or whatever representative (debatable) of persons of this type of dress or culture is the wrong context, that's correct, you heard me right.Brad chimes in

Finally Brad returned to the debate:I'll happily be the "opinion leader"!

I would concur that you have to consider "intent", however not at the expense of "result". I think the rape example is a poor one, because while intent can serve as a mitigating factor the end result is always unquestionably harm. With racism that's considerably more of a gray area.

I think it's possible for one race to portray another in the context of education, performance art, or historical commentary without necessarily being racist. So I would say that's a point for Cx's argument on the issue. One example would be if a theater company in Norway were putting on a production of Othello, I wouldn't expect them to hunt down a black actor capable of playing the part. So it would probably be forgivable if they put an actor in blackface even though it wouldn't be absolutely necessary.

In this example, however, I think I'd have to side with Rob because the intent clearly doesn't meet the standard of being educational or informative. Nor are these people "satirizing" Arab culture. I think the comparison in this case to the "borrowing" of Native American culture is a good one. These people are pretty clearly lampooning Arab dress for their own purpose. I wouldn't put it on the same level as someone stereotyping, such as portraying an Arab as a crazy terrorist, but I would probably say it's on par with white people dressing in inaccurate Native attire and holding a pow wow. ;-)

Here's some factual background to consider:

Abdallah Shrine: A Brief History

Cx responded:Oh lookie, it's Brad. Yea well who the heck asked your opinion buddy? Oh it's your pic on Rob's wall haha ok seriously. So we have context here, Brad, this a group of Shriners, an organization whose purpose or effect is fundraising for its support of children's hospitals, is that correct?Stereotypes can be positive (Asians are brains), neutral (blacks like watermelon), or negative. This example is closer to neutral than negative, but it's still stereotypical.

"Arabs are terrorists" or "Indians are savages" is negative. "Arabs ride camels" or "Indians wear feathers" is neutral. But again, all these claims are stereotypical.

And if you persist in making these claims after you've been informed of the facts, I'd say they're racist too.

As for Brad's claim, I thought I said portraying a different ethnic group may be acceptable in certain circumstances. This isn't one of them. As you put it, Brad, it serves no purpose as "education, performance art, or historical commentary."

Therefore, agreeing with Cx means agreeing with me on this limited subset of the debate. On the main point, though, you're right that I'm right. There's no question that this parade float is stereotypical and arguably racist.

With its talk of priests and mosques, the Abdallah Shrine looks like a whole "homage" to (i.e., mockery of) Islam. It brings to mind such faux "Native" groups as the Order of the Red Men and the Y-Indian Guides. These groups appropriated and abused Native culture; this group seems to have done the same for Islamic culture.

Brad reaches a verdictBrad
Ha! Ha! O.k. I think I see what you're getting at Cx. Yes, the result of this situation is that they raise money to help sick children. Are you suggesting that they couldn't achieve the same result without the pageantry or phony "tradition". I think they probably could.

In a parallel example, the Washington Redskins are civic organization which has won football championships and no doubt helped the Washington D.C. community in numerous economic and philanthropic ways. Does that make their use of Native culture and iconography acceptable because there's a positive outcome?

Brad, I'm still comprehending what this is exactly. At first I thought this was a music performance in costumes, and perhaps a parody. I've since learned from the link you included that these are a group of shriners. That's where we left off. I don't think that simply because shriners as a group are philanthropic affects is this racism or not. I see it more as a theatrical effort. I still don't know if they are a parody or satire or serious from the still photo alone. Donning the clothing common to another area of the world or culture isn't in itself racism either. I look forward to picking up where we left off, Brad.
Racism and entertainment aren't two mutually exclusive categories. Something can be both.

For instance, the minstrel shows I mentioned. The performers thought they were just being "entertaining." But observers could see that their so-called entertainment was racist.Brad
My position on this particular affair Cx is that it's racist. I think the two things clouding the issue are that it's a culture that's considerably less familiar to us and that the origins of their misuse are so long removed from the current practice.

On face, I'd say this no different than the hipster "pow wows" The origin of this civic group was in a "secret" society or club of white folks who used the Arabian imagery and mythos for their club strictly because it was old and "cool" and gave their organization the air of being something ancient and mystical.

As if that weren't bad enough, the current members are appropriating the cultural hallmarks of Arab society and wearing them in a mocking or cartoonish way, again much as the pretend Indians do. In that sense, I'd say Rob's example of the minstrel shows isn't parallel however as these people aren't attempting to actually portray Arabs.
The rape example is a good one if there's no physical damage. The psychological harm of rape and racism is an apples-to-apples comparison.

In both cases, the act can cause painful mental trauma. Yes, rape is usually worse, but people have committed suicide over racist taunts and bullying, just as they've done over rape. The only "gray area" here is how severe the trauma is, not whether it exists.

And in both cases, you can't be sure of the perpetrator's intent. A rapist could've seriously thought he was "making love" to his victim and you can't prove him wrong. As with racism, we judge rape by the results because the intent is irrelevant. Harm is harm whether the perpetrator intended it or not.

As for the Shriners, I suspect they thought they were portraying actual Arabs. And I doubt minstrel performers were any less aware then than they are now. They were spoofing or caricaturing blacks for "fun," exactly as these Shriners are doing to Arabs.

Therefore, all my examples are good ones. Other than that, I agree with Brad since he agrees with me. ;-)

For more on the subject, see Bloody Jackson, Family Guy, and Archie Bunker, Hipster Racism, and The Magical Power of Intent.

No comments: