April 18, 2008

Tired of racism deniers

Kate Harding analyzes the Vogue cover featuring LeBron James as King Kong and makes some important points about racism. Anyone who participates in Indian mascot debates has heard these arguments before.

Racism FatigueSome people, though, are still not only not getting it, but insisting that those of us who do get it are hypersensitive, overreacting, “looking for racism everywhere,” etc.–the usual, in other words. For the most part, I can just roll my eyes at that, because it’s all so familiar. Anything short of someone saying on national TV, “If you see a black man, you should shoot him in the face, and let me be perfectly clear that I mean you should shoot him in the face because he is black,” might not be racism after all, because some white people can’t see it. And if not all white people can see it, then the benefit of the doubt should automatically go to whomever made the racist statement/took the racist action/produced the racist image, not to the people identifying it as racist–because there is NOTHING WORSE IN THE WORLD than being a white person unfairly accused of racism! You lucky people of color have NO IDEA how horrible that is!Why it's important to tackle subtle problems such as an "inoffensive" mascot or magazine title:
It’s all important, from the most subtle instances to the most blatant and institutionalized.

And it can be especially important to talk about the subtle things, because that’s where privilege reveals itself most clearly. Any white person who’s neither an idiot nor an asshole can see and deplore the racism in, say, this image. But we can’t all see it in the Vogue cover. So when we start talking about the Vogue cover as part of a long tradition of racist imagery that casts African-American men as aggressive apes, we get a much more useful conversation going. Instead of just a bunch of white liberals saying, “That’s horrible!” and a bunch of white supremacists saying, “No, it’s right on!” we get to see all the grey areas of privilege brought out in the open: those of us who try to be anti-racist and educate ourselves accordingly but still missed the racism there until it was pointed out to us; those of us who sorta see it once it’s pointed out but still think people are making a mountain out of a molehill; and most importantly, those of us who missed it in the first place and, on the basis of that, continue to insist it is not there.
Comment:  For more on racism and white privilege, see Systemic, Not Aberrant.


dmarks said...

Related to this is a simplistic/cartoon map I saw several years ago. It showed continents/regions with little charicature people standing there.

I think there was a beparkaed Eskimo, a Chinese person wearing a cymbal on his head, a bereted Frenchman, etc. Instead of a person, Africa had a monkey standing in it.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
But - but - but... If that map had a kangaroo standing on Australia, who should get mad? The Aussies or the Abos? And should there be a penguin standing on Antarctica, then NOBODY could get mad! Logic, dear people. If something isn't 100% true, THEN IT ISN'T TRUE!!

Rob said...

Your cartoon reminds me of the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland. Westerners are represented by "advanced" stereotypes: e.g., an American astronaut, a British Beefeater, a Swiss watchmaker. Non-Westerners are represented by primitive stereotypes: e.g., a Mexican peasant in a sombrero, an Arab on a flying carpet, and half-naked African savages dancing with animals.

The Local Crank said...

Even my seven-year old, while riding It's A Small World, pointed out the NDN in a feathered warbonnet (which is kind of put off to the side now, as if they don't know what to do with it) and said, "We don't really dress like that!"

Anonymous said...

Exactly, dmarks. Every other person was a least portrayed as a person, albeit a character. But monkeys stand in for humans in reference to Africa!D-Marks-this is a spot on observation-but people get mad when black people complain about being compared to animals! Kinda like the way Disney let Pocahantas represent Native Americans, Mulan represent Asians, and the Lion King represent THE AFRICAN KING SUNDIATA!