Tag Archives: oppression

Barney’s Why so Racist? Classist? – On Discount Designer Stores

So I’m sure most people have now heard about the young black man who is suing the NYPD and Barneys. While buying a $350 Ferragamo belt he saved for he showed his ID when using his debit card (they keep saying debit so I assume he used his pin as well) and left the store, only to be stopped by 2 undercover cops  a couple of blocks away because he didn’t look like someone who should have that much money.

Here’s a link with quotes from the young man.

Then the young black woman who was stopped after buying a $2500 purse came out.

Then a black actor talked about what happened to him at Macy’s in June.

Barneys has released a bullshit statement that is a non-apology basically stating that their clerks didn’t have anything to do with it and they’ve hired someone to look into their practices.  Since this has been going on for decades ( look at this HuffPo article quoting a man who had it happen to him 2o years ago at Barney’s.) I doubt anything will change. They’re blaming the NYPD who apparently has undercover folks in the district’s stores all the time because of shoplifting/fraud. Last I saw the highest demographic of shoplifters was white women in their 30s-40s but that was a while ago so perhaps the statistics have changed? I sincerely doubt it. I have no idea about the statistics for credit card fraud.

Whether the stores or the NYPD are at fault (I’m sorta leaning toward NYPD) I’m not at all surprised that it was Barneys & Macy’s where these incidents occurred. These sort of discount designer stores with intense pretensions of frou-frouness often have this assumption of class based on outside factors including clothing and race (which is an assumption many of us deal with on a daily basis in the real word). However in actual high end boutiques and/or designer stores (especially in NYC) you don’t usually get the same assumption of class and monetary worth based on physical appearance. Most stores like those have learned the hard way that you can never really tell how much money someone has by the how they look, act, dress.

I’m not saying I think they’re better politically, in fact I’m pretty sure it’s a purely capitalist motive. Those sort of really expensive boutiques don’t do the briskest business especially in this economy. They rely on every sale and on brand loyalty/returning customers so they really cannot afford to alienate anyone. They also have regular customers who save to have that one great basic piece.  This is not to say that you might not encounter a whole host of other aversive racist behavior there but in my personal experience high-end boutiques are less likely to assume they know your monetary situation based on what you look like or how you dress/talk/act.

We shouldn’t ignore the fact that a lot of people also can’t afford to shop in those high-end spaces. There is after all a reason discount designer stores exist, for those of us who save for that one brand piece . So it’s a horrible, capitalist catch-22 that you might get treated better in the stores you can’t afford to shop in. And I say might because there are always exceptions such as Hermes’ treatment of Oprah Winfrey. Though that was also outside the US which means very different economics and race politics were in play in that interaction.

All the same Hermes really took it in the teeth for that whole thing. I would not be surprised if Ferragamo gives the young man the belt for free or some sort of gift certificate or something just to clearly separate their brand from the stink of Barneys/NYPD issues. They have a real chance to take this bad business for Barneys and turn it into good business and publicity for themselves.

But in the end while I’m saddened by all of these incidents I’m not surprised at all, that anywhere at anytime in the United States of America they could happen. Most People of Color in America live with the knowledge that our monetary existence is subject to a lot of suspicion and doubt at the best of times and these are not the best of times. I also think there could be a lot of aversive/unconscious/conscious racism/classism at play here around the expectation that “that sort of person” should not have the money/clothes/car/life that they do especially when you do not.

These incidents are not all recent either. I don’t know when the gentleman’s incident with the belt happened but Kayla Phillips had her altercation back in February, actor Robert Brown’s incident happened on June. I don’t know if these people only came forward after the incident with Christian and the belt came to light or if the media only picked up on their suits after the first one blew up but either way it’s telling.

It’s either:

We as people of color expect to be treated this badly by society, know how often those expectations are fulfilled and are afraid to stand up without other people around ( and I’ve noticed this in myself, when racist incidents have occurred I will turn to other people that were around and ask them to confirm my experience as if I can’t trust myself or know I’ll need outside <preferably white> validation if I choose to talk about it – but that’s a post for another day).

The media doesn’t care for one person of color being mistreated or even two, it has to be a mass of them (and even then if it can be ignored it will be).

Maybe the saddest part is that both the above things are true I just wonder which is truest in this case.

(I didn’t notice the resemblance of this title to my older post: Glee, why so white? Thinking this might become a series of posts. The ” (BLANK), why so (fucked up) ?” posts. Hmm, maybe. )

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

So this happened.

http://jezebel.com/5952124/idiot-students-in-blackface-reenact-chris-brown-beating-rihanna-at-worst-pep-rally-ever

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.

Inspiration Rediscovered

It’s been a month since my last post and I thought I’d explain my absence. It’s a confluence of a couple of factors, planning the immediate future has taken a lot of my time and energy, RaceFail ’09 has made me bitter, angry and apathetic and finally my second semester of Grad School is kicking my ass so hard I had to drop a class. I tried to write a post over the last month but I couldn’t think of anything to write: 

Writing? Before last week I hadn’t written any new fiction since the end of January

Oppression? RaceFail ’09 made me so angry I could not write about privilege and power dynamics without literally feeling sick to my stomach

SF/F? See my answer to Oppression and there hasn’t been a SF/F show that’s pulled me in in ages and until the beginning of March I hadn’t red for the pure pleasure of reading for a long time.

Music? School? Work? Miscellania? Apathy x 10

But this is not a whiny I’m leaving the internetz post. This is saying that thanks to my spring break  (which I’m still currently on) and my vow to step away from all but the most dire of my resposibilities during the week; getting to see/talk to a bunch of great folks like my HLB Allison, Tempest, Nora, etc.; immersing myself in some writing (mine and other peoples) and trips to a few museums I am actually feeling inspired and excited more so than I have in a long time. It may not last but I’m gonna try and hold onto the feeling so forecast for more frequent posts looks good…once I’m back from spring break of course.

Comics – Vote For Genius!

So Top Cow Comics is having their pilot season where they release 6 one-shot comics and people vote. The top two vote-getters get picked up as series. I’m really hoping Genius is one of the two. The story…well –

Alexander, Hannibal, Napoleon, Patton. What if the greatest military mind of OUR generation was born in strife, surrounded by violence and combat since birth? When the gauntlet is dropped, the question isn’t “How did 17-year-old Destiny Ajaye unite the gangs of South Central into a killer army and declare war on the LAPD?” No, the question is, “Can anyone stop her?”

I think the question is – Should anyone stop her?

Already a lot of folks are saying how hateful the comic is and how horrible it is that Destiny has organized the gangs into a force to attack the police. How most of the police are really good people and this doesn’t make sense. I’m willing to bet all my possessions that 99.9% of those folks have never lived in the ghetto. To them the black-and-white in the rear view, the flashing red-and-blue is indicative of safety and protection.

To me and most other brown folks – well we know the score, the police are just as likely to fill us full of 40 bullets, say we had a gun afterwards and get off when they go to trial as to save our lives. We’re told over and over that our lives don’t matter,  that the police can snuff out our breath in a matter of seconds and have absolutely no repercussions. It is a war, a cold war at times, an undeclared war all the time but a war none the less and we (brown folks) are all – whether we acknowledge it or not – potential victims.

Amadou Diallo, Johnny Gammage, Abner Louima, Sean Bell, Rodney King, Ousmane Zongo, Patrick Dorimund, Kathryn Johnston, Steve Biko, Robert Davis, and those are just the ones that received national attention and not even all of those. I’d like to point out that in most of these cases the police themselves were not punished at all. Sure the county or city might have paid millions to the family but the killers were just allowed to return to work – what message does that send both to the terrorists and the community they’re terrorizing? 

If you live with that constant fear you don’t need to see the cops act bad and evil to know the justification for this war, you live the justification every damn day. And this is nothing new, we’ve tried to bring this up many times – remember Fuck Tha Police (1988) & Cop Killer (1992)? This is far from the first time we’ve brought it up and far from the first time we’ve been placated by a bunch of nice words and no real change has happened.   

Also the hypocrisy of folks that will read horrible graphic comic that slaughter women and brown folks like pigs – “Wanted” comes to mind – but somehow this comic is too violent or too angry? These are the same folks that are ready to pick up the whole Grand Theft Auto series and slaughter minorites, women and police with equal abandon and for no reason at all! Just because they’re there.  But this comic with it’s societal critique and political message is somehow too offensive or violent?

What you really mean is this you’re scared. That you realize the inequity in our society, you see it and do nothing about it and the fact that brown folks themselves might take action – violence in response to violence “By Any Means Necessary” kind of violence – scares the pants off of you. It’s why society always talks about MLK jr. instead of Malcom X (despite the fact that later in life their positions flip-flopped). You acknowledge the inequity by the constant fear that brown folks will riot, you acknowledge that they might have a reason to riot and that scares you more than anything.

Go Here To Check Out The Preview Of “Genius” And To Vote For It.  Vote now and often – I think you can vote once a day.

Other Discussions Happening About Genius:

White People Can’t Understand Police Corruption @ Seeking Avalon (Has some of the odius comments in the post itself, pay special attention to the ‘Special Notes’ Avalon’s Willow adds to a couple)

Frustration…thy name is LJ conversations @ Karnythia’s LJ

Tangentially – LAPD Looking For Andrea Wilson-Smith – Missing 14-Year-Old Girl @ And We Shall March

(links via delux_vivens)

Post-Script: I don’t think I have to point out how awesome it is that the military genius of our generation is a black woman.

E.T.A. – I’m really glad it’s getting good reviews.

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.

Recovering

Yesterday I was laid low some horrible stomach thing so I stayed at home curled in a ball around my twisty-painfilled-stomach. I’m better today still a little nauseaus and my throat is sore as all get out – from praying to the porcelain god – but I’m back at work. Low energy so today I’m focusing on some other stuff I have to get done.

For the latest in the the Sanders/Helix farcas go here: http://coffeeandink.livejournal.com/841797.html

-Isms in Sci-Fi: Take #1,896

I spent sometime this weekend worrying a little over my review of Empress up at Fantasy Magazine because of my calling out the race issues. It’s that same old conflicted feeling of: #1 yes this stuff should be called at but #2 I do want to work in this industry someday so will my being so vocal hinder my chances. I occasionally have bouts of this and then blow it off because talking about these issues are so important, everywhere in SF and in other spaces. This time however the feeling popped up while I was hanging out with my friend bankuei on Saturday. When I voiced my concerns he said something that crystallized everything for me, paraphrased here:

“Those people who would reject you because of what you say weren’t gonna buy your fiction anyway.”

Now on the heels of this comes the exposure of a rejection letter sent by Helix editor William Sanders which is full of such bigotry that it makes my head spin. I’m gonna quote part of what my homegirl Tempest quoted of it over at her blog:

I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Q’uran and Islamic traditions. (Having spent a couple of years in the Middle East, I know something about these things.) You did a good job of exploring the worm-brained mentality of those people – at the end we still don’t really understand it, but then no one from the civilized world ever can – and I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.

(whole letter also here*)

Wow! Really?
And I didn’t even quote the part about “them” (Muslims) being incapable of honesty and sheet-heads. Will WIlliam be called out for his racism/religious intolerance?
Possibly.
In the SF/F community you never really know and more than likely if he is called out it will be a slap on the wrist that’s forgotten by most in a couple of months, except by everyone who saw the letter and was horribly offended and hurt but they don’t really count anyway, do they? Bad behavior in the SF/F community often blows up into a huge stink, then the perpetrator offers a prefunctory (and often false) apology and no lasting consequences are placed on the him. So others get the notion that they can continue/start their own horrible behavior with no problems. I’m thinking specifically of the Connie Willis/Harlan Ellison instance but there are plenty other examples that float through my mind.

If these folks can continue to spew this racist, sexist, classist, -ist bullshit then I can continue to call it out.

*Here you’ll also get to see Sanders attempt to defend himself {anonymous}, I find his calling of the letter poster “son” patronizing as hell but that’s just me. Also as an editor he should know that words are key if he’s talking about extremists/terrorists mentioning the Q’uran and referencing “those people” was a very bad choice on his part because it focuses it on Muslims unless he’s assuming all terrorists are Muslims or vice-versa. Plus like phrases like “those people” and “civilized world” (which puts a place to the bigotry and makes it seem about race as well as religion) send alarm bells up for anyone with the least amount of anti-oppression training

Also see author/managing editor of Helix Lawrence Watt-Evans {livejournal user lwe} try to justify the letter by saying it’s not racial, it’s religious. Which makes it okay?? Because religious intolerance is so much better than racial intolerance?

That argument ignores the connections made between Islam and brown people throughout the last millenia. Also his argument that Islam is sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic points to a complete lack of understanding of Islam, because there are extremists in all religions that are sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic. We always talk about the extreme religious right in the US but I guess they aren’t as bad? But I’m blanking on why…

This argument also points to a pretty large misunderstanding of Islam and the fact that within the religion there’s much discussion on tradition versus religiously required practice with many advocates calling for the end to honor killings and other practices seen as horrible by those within the religion. Islam is not a monolith, just like race is not a monolith. Oops! There I go connecting race and religion again.