October 21, 2008

No Natives in (Lil) Green Patch

Someone named Ashley sent me the following e-mail:Hi Rob,

Have you heard about the facebook application that donates money to the rainforest when you use it? Users can send pictures of cute plants to their friends. For every ten plants they send, the developers buy one square foot of rainforest. It's called (Lil) Green Patch, and it's been featured in TIME magazine.

Some of the plants are anthropomorphized. Those look like white children dressed in plant costumes.

The problem is that none of the dozens of kid-plants have dark skin. The developers have in the past said that the kids are "raceless."

I'm trying to raise awareness of this in order to pressure the developers to add some melanin to their application.

Could you blog about this for me? I think minority underrepresentation in the media is a shame.

Comment:  No, I hadn't heard of this. Thanks for the info.

The creators of the The Simpsons used that "raceless" line when they originally made every character yellow. Then they realized the error of their ways.

If this were a crusade to save, say, mortgage lenders or Wall Street moguls, I could see making every kid white. But a rain forest? When the majority of people living in rain forests are brown-skinned? I don't think so.

The largest rain forest is the Amazon, of course. Most of its inhabitants are Latino or Native. So saving rain forests means saving the Amazon means saving people of Native origin. It means saving them from the depredations of white-owned corporations. In what sense is this issue "raceless"?

"Raceless" would be making every kid in (Lil) Green Patch green or purple, perhaps. When every kid is a pale-skinned Caucasian, that isn't raceless. It's white.

White = raceless, brown = invisible

This website is an obvious example of bias. Movies, TV shows, comic books, and cartoons learned to make their casts multicultural sometime in the '70s or '80s, but this site still doesn't get it. It's stuck in the '50s, when society was "raceless" because minorities were invisible.

I can just imagine what was going through the creators' minds. If we make the kids look "exotic" (read: brown), people won't click as much. Our audience is mainly well-off liberals--i.e., whites. Let's do whatever we can to make them feel comfortable.

But this reasoning is foolish as well as racist. Haven't these people seen any Sally Struthers commercials? If you want to prey upon white liberal guilt, the standard way to do it is with brown-skinned children. They're different from "us," the thinking goes, so they need our help.

For more on the subject, see Stereotyping Indians by Omission.

Below:  "We're raceless just like 99% of America's presidential candidates, multimillionaires, and Academy Award winners!"


Anonymous said...

Thank you Ashley and thank you Rob.

I am shocked that the developers of (Lil)Green Patch would censor a group of people expressing their opinions on such a worthy appeal as diversity on the (Lil) Green Patch.

I do not know if they are acting on their own agenda or from the appeals of the group that oppose the idea of diversity. What ever the case, something stinks in (Lil)Green Patch.

Bobcat said...

There were over 200 recent posts about this subject under a few topic discussions in the Facebook LGP discussions as well as the LGP forums outside Facebook. ALL were deleted this morning by LGP administrators.

Am very distressed by the extreme actions the admins have taken at the behest of one small group of people who have publicly stated that they wanted to keep "our" Lil Green Patch "nice".

Was there no way to remove "offending" posts without deleting entire discussion threads? And in doing so provide some explanation about why they were offensive?

Ashley said...

Deleting the discussion board threads certainly doesn't reflect well on the admins.

Rob said...

Maybe my blog item was the straw that broke the camel's back. ;-)

I try to save copies of the comments I post in forums and blogs. It takes a little more time, but I think it's worth it. You never know when you'll need to repost or refer to a comment.

Anyway, if you have any interesting postings from the LGP forums, feel free to share them here.

Rob said...

Here are some excerpts from a forum exchange someone just sent me. It's between member Cheryl and moderator Ashish.

CHERYL: Is it any wonder that the people on the other end of the issue, many of whom suffer very real consequences of this sort of thing, might get angry sometimes? What is so threatening about this to non-"minorities"? SO threatening that people post vitriolic responses and then wonder why people call them on it?

ASHISH: Igniting racist discussions are unacceptable. Please be very careful.

CHERYL: A discussion about race is different than a racist discussion, right?

ASHISH: This discussion had threats coming out of it. It's not healthy. Threatening each other is not all the right way to get a feature in the application. Never works.

CHERYL: But why are the threats not deleted and the reasonable posts remaining? That's what I am asking. I have called people on the use of threatening language and asked them to stop.

ASHISH: Topics around "Race" are not permitted on discussion forums. If you have a feature request, we have already heard it.

Rob said...

For more on the attitudes of (Lil) Green Patch's creators, see Anti-Indian Racism Explained. In this case the "aversive racism" might go something like this: "We're not prejudiced against brown children. We just think the application works best if all the children are the same color."

dmarks said...

All of this would have been avoided had these anime pixie things had a green complexion.

Bobcat said...

To dmarks:

That was actually an option some of us did suggest, but it was met with the same protests.

dmarks said...

I dislike zwinky's no matter what the variety. The bad racial vibe from these make them evne more dislikable.

Bobcat said...

Yeah, i don't like 'em either. Kinna creepy.

One of the developers sent me a message late last night saying they were planning on changing the skin tones, but one never knows when that will take place.

Am thinking that keeping the posts in the top of the forums for the last month or so, then all of the uproar over the deletions, coupled with Rob's blog finally swayed them.


Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

As a brown person sitting here reading this entry, yoos guys are too cutsy!

But seriously, how do you approach the subject to a white person who is oblivious to the concerns, has no clue that he/she is even showing signs of prejudice? Its called white privileged! Its an invisible tool that is the white privileged are born with, its not their fault...really. They don't know they oppress people of color. Its just a privilege of their skin color, they can't help it.

The little group of people "keeping it nice" sounds like our local School System, when they see a group of 3-4 Indian students visiting, they call them a potential "Gang", but 6-8 white boys are just funning around! Where is the justice, call in the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Rob said...

Re "how do you approach the subject to a white person who is oblivious to the concerns, has no clue that he/she is even showing signs of prejudice?" I don't know about anyone else, but I approach the subject by writing about it in this blog.

I don't try to contact the offenders such as the (Lil) Green Patch developers because they're probably beyond help. And because trying to change people one by one is inefficient if not ineffective.

Instead, I post the opinions and arguments so people can read and learn from them. My hope is that the information will seep through the Net and eventually reach everyone who's open to it.