Category Archives: colonialism

Blackface is Racist. Period. Mocking Domestic Abuse is Misogynistic. Period.

So this happened.

Yeah an almost all white school had a performance where they did a skit in blackface portraying Chris Brown beating the shit out of Rihanna to win a popularity contest. This was a skit approved by school officials, watched by staff and community leaders. And now many of the students and faculty are defending it, saying it’s not racist at all. Sadly I’m not that surprised by this but it did make me feel some things I wanted to share.

First of all, as always I love it when white people, especially white people who obviously have no cultural knowledge of the history of blackface, and have close to no diversity in their community tell me what’s racist.

‘Cause they know right? They’ve been hassled by the police. They’ve been called the n-word by people that were supposed to be their advocates. They’ve been targets of harassment where people wouldn’t believe them because of their skin tone. They’ve been assumed to be a thief, thug, stupid, animalistic. They know how much it hurts some members of the black community to see blackface, how it’s tied to a time when we were considered less than human, how it was used to mock, belittle, terrorize, and propagandize to keep a group of people from having basic rights.

Blackface is racist. The end. Any comedy that requires you to darken your skin to be funny? Relies on the characters race for humor and considering you couldn’t get a black person to play the role I’m going think that the comedy wasn’t exactly flattering. There is no reason for blackface. Why is your art relying on an archaic and problematic premise?

Prejudice is the easy joke, it’s the simple laugh. Watch any frat dudebro comedy and you’ll see, they go for the old school stereotypes about women, foreigners, LGBTQI folks, disabled people, poor people, etc. for their humor. The women are always virgins or whores there to be mocked for either decision, the POC are always thugs (Af-Am), hackers (As-Am), mocked for their misunderstanding of America (everyone), etc. and the gay characters are there to be mocked with old stereotypes that compare queer women to men and queer men to women. We’re not even going to go into that problematic binary, that’s a completely different post. The point is it’s the easy laugh. HaHa look at the outsider, they’re not like me so their funny. If that’s the only humor you can reach for, aside from being privileged and oppressive you’re just a bad comedian. It’s old, it’s tired, it’s racist, it’s no longer okay.

And I assume if they’re defending this and past examples of blackface they’ve examined why they feel the need to use blackface. They’ve delved deep into their psyche and examined why an almost all white community that has little to no contact with People of Color finds blackface so entertaining it had to happen repeatedly.  They have a really good defense and reasoning for why they did this, why educators approved it, why everyone thought it was funny, aside from their critics being stupid or oversensitive, right? They were doing some good work deconstructing race and gender and the male gaze right? ‘Cause if they don’t have any that.

It’s. Just. Racist.

This is without even going into the fact that they were recreating the act of a black woman being abused! Go to the link above, look at that photo, look at the all-white audience laughing and smiling while they imagine a brown woman being thrown to the ground in violence. I don’t care what the skit was, I don’t care what they meant by it, I don’t care for anything the students, faculty or attendees have to say that is not a heartfelt apology, an explanation why they thought this was funny, and a commitment to examine their own amusement at mocking the physical assault of a black woman. Would it have been just as hilarious if it was recreating Pamela Anderson’s abuse incident? Sharon Osbourne’s? There’s misogyny here to be sure but the racial aspect turns it into something even worse.

What is it about seeing a brown woman beaten that these white boys think will win them a popularity contest, that their community will be entertained by the misogynistic, racist spectacle?

Also I’m sure the faculty and advisers know that 1 in 3 teens report knowing a friend in an abusive relationship, that 1 in 4 teen girls have been forced into sex by a intimate partner, that 80% of abused teen girls continue to date their abuser, that almost a third of teen girls killed every year are killed by a boyfriend or husband. Given these statistics they must also know that there are likely girls in that auditorium watching that performance that are currently involved in an abusive relationship. So what message did they get from the faculty approving of this? How likely are these girls now to feel safe reporting anything about abuse to this school, to anyone in their community? They’ve effectively told all who see this that the misogynistic atmosphere of the community is the arbiter of who gets to complain, who’s pain is real and whose is a joke.

But it was all a joke right?

No, it’s not a joke. Abuse is not a joke, racism is not a joke. I’ve been known to make the off-color joke myself among friends, true but first that is among friends and I always try to be aware of the privilege I have and how that factors into what I’m saying. I try not to be defensive if people decide to call me on what I say. It seems like this community wants none of that. They want to pretend that blackface is just make-up, that watching a woman getting an abusive beatdown is all good fun, that a community rallying to defend white boy’s right to recreate a brown woman’s fear, terror and pain as entertainment is okay. It’s not. This is not art that’s meant to inform, educate or examine abuse in certain communities which is one thing but entertainment that mocks her pain, belittles it, makes it fodder for the humor of an all-white community.

And that? Is. Not. Okay.

Elves, Elves and more Elves!

I’m sick of elves! Their pale-as-moonlight, arrogant, earth controlling, long-lived, ivory-skinned,  lawful-“good” (oh, except when they have black skin, forgot that!) always-hollywood-skinny asses make me throw up in my mouth.

Okay so maybe that’s a little harsh but it’s true. I’m tired of Celtic urban fantasy in general and elves specifically. Although I should say that like any overused trope there are ways to make it new and interesting again, such as Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come which linked faerie England with Queen Elizabeth I from her rise to power to her golden age. Those instances aside I’m sick of elves. 

Maybe this is because I didn’t have a “proper” introduction to elves. I didn’t read about elves in Tolkien or any of those authors who followed in his tradition. My introduction to the fanciful creatures came from a comic called – Elfquest. Created by Richard & Wendy Pini this series explored a tribe of elves that lived in the forest and their ongoing altercations with both humans and trolls. Eventually they escape and make a trek across the desert where they run into another tribe of elves  who’re guess what? Brown! And the Sun-Elves of the desert aren’t more savage and wild than their whiter forest cousins, in fact they view the Forest-Elves in that way while they are more civilized and urbane.

Already Elfquest is a step ahead in the race department with y’know an actual biological basis for elves that dwelled in the sun developing darker skin as opposed to the ricockulous idea that elves going underground and being cut-off from sunlight would darken their skin to midnight black. There is no evilness connected with the darker skin, there are heroes and villains on all sides but beyond even that the villains are all complex. None of the villains are simply evil they all have motivations and reasons for doing what they do and being the way they are.

It’s more than that though. The way the series dealt with sex/love was so innovative and progressive.  These elves had bonds between pairings of all genders and even three-bonded relationships. They weren’t shy of their bodies, they had open marriages, they had relationships with many differing levels of commitment and investment as opposed to the normal dichotomy of spouse/partner/mate versus friend. And the different relationships had varying levels of intimacy – some that included sex not only as a benefit but as a tool to connect and keep those connections strong. The series acknowledged the idea of soulmates while also stating that great love was possible and important even without a mating of souls. Basically the elves in this series valued love, family,  loyalty and friendships above all else – across all differences. Of course there were also fights with power-mad witches, searching for past ancestry, exploring different worlds and times and being haunted (literally) by someone you both loved and killed.

So after reading Elfquest being introduced to the more traditional fantasy elves was quite a let down. Sure there were occasionally elves that weren’t white but they were invariably the more savage “wild elves” or the universally evil “dark elves”/”drow”. Or if the main character was one of these “savage” or “evil” races then they were a good person but only as an example of how the rest of their race fit the stereotype exactly, the exception that proves the rule.

These elves were rigid and boring and more hide bound than the humans in the stories, they took forever to move and seemed to lack empathy or sympathy and run on pure arrogance…and this was the “pure/lawful good” race? This is what we’re supposed to consider good? This belief that they are always right, this arrogance that they know best. That very idea will sound familiar to anyone aware of colonialist reasoning. And this post isn’t even really getting into the HUGE problems with morality being connected to race, where whiter skin usually marks the race as good and dark skin marks them as evil and the colonialist thoughts that went into the creation of that trope and the racist notions it perpetuates.

Maybe it’s my politics or how I was raised but I much prefer the elves that accept folks for who they are, don’t think they know everything and value emotions and fighting for what’s right above tradition and safety. I’d rather the baseline for elves be ones that come in all different shades with no savagification or evil tied to their skin color. I’d rather if writers wanted to adapt an elf mythos they chose Elfquest over Lord of the Rings. The Elfquest elves take diversity and progressive writing in mind while the elves of Tolkien descent just seem to try and reestablish old stereotypes of race and gender.

What’s In a Name? – A Hell of a Lot

Okay, what is wrong with people?

My name is simple. It’s only two syllables both of which are used easily in everyday conversation, so why do Americans have such an issue pronouncing my name. I even use an anglicized pronunciation of my name, I have since I was a child.

My name is Naamen. Traditionally it should be spelled NeAmen but on my birth certificate and in everyday life it’s spelled Naamen. Traditionally with either spelling it should be pronounced “Na-ah-men” (side note: my Hawaiian friends and acquaintances consistently pronounce it the correct way and spell it Na’amen, whcih I’m fine with). As it is I don’t even ask for that, only my father’s side of the family uses the correct pronunciation. For most folks it’s “Nah-men” and I think we can all agree this is not a “hard” name to pronounce or remember. But ever since I can remember people have been re-naming me and I’ve allowed it.

I’ve been called Norman, more times than I can count. I’ve also been called Naw-man, Nay-man, Day-men, De-ah-men, and the list goes on. I used to hate my name, to blame it for me not fitting in, for being different. When I played games with childhood friends I insisted on being called Alex or Adam. Even in high-school and my first few years of college whenever a teacher asked if there was a namewe preferred to be called I always instituted a nickname of Adam or Alex. When I dreamed of being a huge science-fiction writer I knew what pseudonym I would use, Saturn Walker, because I hated my name so much (although I actualy do use a pseudonym when submitting fiction it’s no longer because I hate my name).

None of these things ever stuck I was still Norman, Nay-man, Nay-men, etc. Maybe it was because I wasn’t so stringent in enforcing my nicknames or maybe it was because I didn’t do it as completely as possible, still allowing old friends to call me by my real name etc. Whatever it was I’m glad now that I didn’t allow the ignorance of people to rename me.

I’ve known so many folks who like me are first generation, their parents being immigrants, who never go by their birth name. They have an “American Name” that often has absolutely no connection to their actual birth name. Example, one of my best friends in middle-school who everyone knew as Sue, well her real name was Thuy. It was all over, a lot of my friends in high school and college were called Vincent, Phoebe, Alice, Jeanie, Linda, Chris, Pamela, Jennifer, Esther but their real names were nothing similar to those – their real names were from China and Taiwan, Japan and Nigeria, Ghana and Vietnam, Iran and Ethiopia, Guatemala and UAE. They or their parents had decided that those names were secret, hidden, only to be used among friends and family.

I know so many of these folks who are now angry and trying to reclaim their name, have people stop calling them by their “American Name”.

The history of re-naming people who are different and especially POC is dark and ominous in America. We know what happened to all those Africans who lost their names, and fought to keep some of their culture alive. So why have been so ready to give up our names for something more “All-American”?

I’ve actually had folks say “I’m just gonna call you _____” which when I was younger I agreed to, this gave me a large smattering of nicknames in high school all connected to some mangling of my name but nowadays I simply say “Actually I would prefer to keep my birth name if it’s all the same to you.” If any one of us had trouble pronouncing David or Solomon, would there be the audacity to ask to call them something else? No. Because they’re names are normative and ours are “weird” or “foreign”. So we give up our identity or names to be more like everyone else.  (I could get into the theft of “foreign” names for Fantasy novels and such and they way everything should be exotic and magical and the way that ties into this but that’s a separate post altogether)

One of the reasons we do this is because all too often Americans act like they can’t pronounce our names. Often it’s not a conscious act, they’ve been told that all those foreign names are incomprehensible so why even try, right? The saddest part of this act is that for most it’s unconscious and that those of us with names outside the norm buy into it too. And so when we tell them our names  and they lean forward with that “huh?” and small smile inviting us to share in the joke of our own name, we smile back because we’ve been taught that yes our names are funny. We’re taught that our names are so different, so foreign with both of these being understood to mean “bad”, “strange”, “not one of us”.

We often don’t stop to think about if on a simple linguistic level our names really are that hard. Most often it’s not that they can’t pronounce two, three or four simple syllables. It’s that societally they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge our lives and choices. We are a conscious reminder of change, of immigration and “the others” who are becoming more and more populous. Renaming us is a way to makes us less threatening, to change our identity and rob us of some agency by naming us as if we were a pet.

My own personal experiences bear this out if only because people who want to be friendly with me, new co-workers or friends of friends have very little trouble pronouncing my name. They may forget my name later, but that’s a completely different thing. Compare that to the security lady at my office building who has asked for my name over 5 times and still can not get it.   

Another huge reason we change our names or allow them to be changed is because of the way that “foreign” sounding names can count against us (I think with this reason it’s more often parents who create an “American Name” or change the family name to better fit in with American society) . Having a name that is so obviously not American can work against us in numerous ways in our everyday life.  A 2003 study saw that names that sounded white were 50% more likely to get a callback than names that sounded stereotypically African-American. Now in this day and age of immigration reform and a much more insular America having a name that marks you as not American affects your life every single day from people. trying to change it, to people making fun of you for it, to people assuming that you must be an illegal (which can land you in a detention center for months whether true or not).

That’s really the least of it, our name is our mark on the world, it’s a huge part of our identity to see it so easily tossed aside, mangled or chalked up as a negative is simply hurtful.

This is not to say that you may not mis-pronounce anyone’s name in your life. I do it too, except I try to never do it more than once. I repeat the name to myself or write it down or a million other methods used to remember things. So yes, there are some names that you might find are actually hard to pronounce and you might need some coaching to get through the first couple of times but re-naming someone…well this ain’t the south and my name ain’t Toby.   

Terminology – Savagification!

In my post last week about representation of Africa in the media I talked about the savagification that bleeds through in these articles. If you haven’t heard of “savagification” used in this way let me explain:

Savagification is the way in which countries/continents, not in the affluent West (This does of course have exceptions. It also happens in articles about Indigenous People located in the West, brown folks who live in the ghetto in the West, etc.) are dealt with in the press. Often the articles are written to be as inflammatory and “fear the brown invaders” as possible and very often include very little input from folks from that region except for small soundbites that bolster the reporter’s view that the people are just a bunch of savages. There are a couple of methods used to achieve this end.

Savagification means that the acts the people/country (because often the articles do not distinguish between individual acts and the country as a whole, so if Gambia has one serial killer all the people must be serial killers in the making) are accused of are described in loving gory detail. There will often be pictures that accompany the article that do their best to show the person in their “native dress” or poised with a machete or in some way that depicts them as savage and untameable. Those are often the only pictures that accompany the article unless there are to be some pictures that show the victims of these acts, often bloody mutilated and sitting on a filthy dirt floor with big tearful eyes staring up at the camera. This is a deliberate scare tactic used to bolster the West as some bastion of truth and civilization while painting the “others” as “savage uncivilized places” (and of course any people of the Diasporas of this country also carry that violent brown blood!). They won’t show the skyscraper cities with computers, cars, etc. because that would refute the “this whole country is just a backward savage place” notion they’re trying to promote. And of course they wouldn’t think to examine the colonialism that profits off of this view, the destabilization of the country and the continued subjagation of the people there.  

Another way savagification is achieved is by ignoring any history in the situation.  This is seen when the Rwandan genocide is discussed and there is no mention of the fact that colonialist policies are what instituted the original separation between the Hutu and Tutsi. When there are articles about witch-hunts in Africa that fail to point out the West’s own history with women accused of witches and the pagan-bashings that happen everyday in America. Because if they showed that horrible things happen in America too that would undermine the sensationalism of the article itself. Articles written about horrible things in the West are always carefully formed to present the atrocity as an isolated incident, actions by sick individuals but not part of the fabric of the country. (In a way you can zero this in to how POC are treated in the media versus White people, where anything that POC do is seen as representative of all POC whereas whiteness doesn’t hold that monolithic idea.)

There are other ways the people/countries in these articles are savagified having to do with word choice and the angle at which facts are presented but these were two of the big ways I wanted to touch on. So now you know what to look for in these articles and knowing is half the battle (I’m sorry, I’m a child of the 80’s I couldn’t help it).


Visions of Africa, Blog Post vs. New York Times

When I did my daily blog reading this morning I came across to things that related to Africa. As some of you might now I directly identify with Africa because my father is an immigrant from Ethiopia. My own journey to being prideful of coming from Ethiopia and the drama that came along with it is another post in itself. Sufficed to say I’m sensitive to articles about the continent and how they are written.

All too often I feel that Africa is treated as if it’s all one big sameness, like there aren’t differing opinions and peoples throughout the continent. Africa is treated like a singular country, and the stereotypes that surround it are almost never acknowledged. Most people are just completely willing to believe that Africa is all a dry desert inhabited by brown folks who live in huts, throw spears and don’t understand what a plane is. Many don’t even know that the largest growing film industry in the world is Nollywood (Nigeria) with an output of over 200 movies a month, making it the third largest film producer in the world (behind the U.S. & India).

There’s also the idea of Africa as a continent of lawlessness and murder, but really couldn’t that be said of all continents? I think there’s a way in which the conflicts are framed where in most articles about Africa, Europe culpability and influence (when very few African countries have never known a European foot on their neck) is completely ignored or written off as irrelevant. The media chooses to portray Africa as a continent and Africans as a people as naturally full of tribal strife and murder and “superstition” (a whole post could be written on the practice of labelling indigenous religions as superstitions, but that’s not this post), always ignoring that qualities of hate and anger exist all over the world in all people. There are plenty of groups in the US who would have no problem slaughtering POC as a matter of course, some are even in elected office, but you know what? That’s not a news story, instead they want to show how behind modern times those brown people are.

You can see the difference in these two articles I read this morning.

At Racialicious, Guest Contributor Jen talks about being in Rwanda and visiting the sites of the atrocious genocide perpetrated there. She gives us a little history lesson that it was Europeans who insisted on dividing the tribes and giving them identification cards. It’s a classic strategy of oppressors creating imaginary divisions among the oppressed so they are less likely to band together and throw off the foot on their neck. It’s also very little talked about in the mainstream, I love that Jen brought that fact up because it’s something that needs to be known and puts a lot of the Rwandan genocide in context.

Contrast that with this article in the New York Times at the dangers faced by albinos in Tanzania, where they are now being hunted and killed for their “magical” properties. This is a serious issue and I don’t know enough about it to really comment (except the usual, murder is wrong!) but the fact that the NYT doesn’t talk about the colonial history of Tanzania and the issues with skin tone that happened there for over 80 years might have echoes in what’s going on now. The whole article focuses on these mysterious “witch doctors” (a term that I have such fucking issues with) saying that albinos have magical properties and the whole tone of it plays right into “oh the mysterious darkest heart of the world-witch doctors with huge angry masks-spear wielding-lion fighting-primitives” bullshit that they use to sell papers.

The whole continent becomes this “forgotten land” with its “odd rituals” because we all know ethnic cleansing, or witch hunts or murders on the basis of external judgments doesn’t/never have happen in the West at all? Right?