I Spy Stupid: Zoe Saldana Thinks There’s “No Such Thing” As People of Color?

Generally speaking, I’ve had no beef with Zoe Saldana; but nowadays I think she mostly exists just to raise folks’ blood pressure and prompt collective facepalms. In a recent BET interview, when asked about her racial identity, said:

I find it uncomfortable to have to speak about my identity all of the time, when in reality it’s not something that drives me or wakes me up out of bed everyday….I can’t wait to be in a world where people are sized by their soul and how much they can contribute as individuals and not what they look like….I literally run away from people that use words like ethnic. It’s preposterous! To me there is no such thing as people of color cause in reality people aren’t white. Paper is white. People are pink..

Sigh. Girlfriend needs a hug and some psychological evaluation. Clearly, she’s delusional.

We usually hear this silly post-racial rhetoric from white people who think it makes them sound progressive and hip to say they don’t “see race”–despite its empirical falseness and inherent denial of the history, culture, policies, and personal realities inextricably attached to race.

But its particularly interesting when a person of color–who is undeniably affected by said color–embraces color-blindness. Especially someone like Zoe Saldana, a celebrity and actress, whose craft is entirely dependent on visual aspects–namely, her body.

I definitely think Zoe’s comments reveal of lack of understanding of race as a social construct but I also know it benefits her, career wise, to intentionally trivialize the implications of race entirely.

Zoe is Dominican and Puerto Rican. She’s light-skinned with straight hair, a slender build, and a slightly broad nose; she doesn’t phonetically present as any definitive racial category. This essentially gives her a major advantage in Hollywood: racial ambiguity that allows for multicultural appeal.

Her ability to occupy the murky grey areas of “racelessness” is evident in her film roles. She was cast as a Latino women in “Columbiana” and a black woman in her portrayal of the great Nina Simone. What racially homologous actress would have had this option?

Women of color are accustomed to fighting for roles beyond raical typecasting: black women as Mammys/Sapphires, Latino women as hot-headed vixens, Asian women as geishas or nerds, and South Asian/Desi women as unassimilated overachievers.

Zoe Saldana, like other mixed-race celebrities (Halle Berry, Kimora Lee Simmons, Jessica Alba, Shay Mitchell) have the luxury of reinventing themselves. They can negotiate their public image and racial marketability based on what they decide to be that day. And in slipping through the strictures of race, they gain access to more career opportunities, nuanced iconography, and greater recognition.

What’s funny is that even in Saldana’s supposed color-blindness, she simultaneously admits that the subject of race constantly confronts her:

So to all of a sudden leave your household and have people always ask you, “What are you, what are you” is the most uncomfortable question and it’s literally the most repetitive question.

That’s the thing about race, Zoe, even if you pretend like it’s invisible, it inevitably appears. Dude from The Sixth Sense will metaphorically emerge from nowhere, whispering “I see Colored People“.

I think it would’ve been far more interesting if, instead of rejecting the concept of color and race, Saldana questioned why said color and race so profoundly affect the course and quality of our lives. If she had critically examined why the stripping of our ethnic language, beauty, and heritage gets us farther in the world. Why being “insufficiently” black/latino/asian/south asian makes people more comfortable but also more confused. I wish she woud’ve critiqued the way that mixed race people are pressured to self-identity as “one or the other” precisely because of America’s obsession with applying mythology to color, not because we simply inhabit the color in and of itself.

And while I never expect celebrities like Saldana to be the face of radical racial discourse, I don’t expect them to be mouthpieces for stupidity either.

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Charles Ramsey, Black Masculinity, and the Narrative of Villainy

As soon as I’d heard that Charles Ramsey had helped rescue three Cleveland women held captive for a decade–I immediately thought, “Hmm, wonder what irrelevant information the media will dig up to take him out of the heroic context.”

And almost immediately afterward, I had my answer: Ramsey’s domestic violence conviction broke the news, and dominated the coverage.

A black man had gone from Hero to Wife Beater in less than 48 hours.

You see, this is what we do in a culture that makes unearned innocence a trait of whiteness: we create racialized narratives of Heroism and Villainy and reconceptualize images of blackness until they fit neatly into the latter.

Born out of slavery and immortalized by Jim Crow, the racial narrative of the Black Buck is central to our societal illusions of black manhood. One that portrays him as inherently dangerous, violent, criminal, uncivilized, and sexually deviant over and over again. So strong a narrative it manifests itself in the structure of our socio-economic ills: disparate unemployment, racial profiling, police brutality, and the prison industrial complex.

It’s a narrative that even in black mens’ attempt to escape through reinvention–to play chameleons in the engagement of code switching and respectability– somehow always seems to find them.

It managed to find Trayvon Martin, the innocent 17 year-old who was shot and killed in Florida, armed with no more than Skittles and Iced Tea. Rather than join a collective effort to investigate the tragedy and convict George Zimmerman, the media was more interested in fitting Martin within the racial framework of the Thug, Juvenille, or recalcitrant youth. It used allegations of school suspensions, the use of marijuana , and even his Hoodie, to suggest that he was he was more imposing, more threatening, more familiar as the predator than the prey.

And like clockwork, culture began its demonization of Charles Ramsey in order to fit him into the narrative of villainy.

Its usual strategy would be to simply dismiss his heroism by framing him as the Exceptional Negro—the token black whose incongruent with negative stereotypes and is therefore deemed a racial anomaly. But he is working class, politically incorrect, too boisterous, and unassimilated to meet the white status quo, too “authentically black” to fit the framework effectively.

Its next tactic, then, was marginalization. Less than 24 hours after the story broke, he’d already been meme-ified; the video of his interview had gone viral, prompting autotune remixes and GIFS, the original story reduced to a running Internet joke. Identical to that of Antoine Dodoson, whose “hide yo kids, hide yo wife” slogan overshadowed the attempted rape of his sister, the memeification of Charles Ramsey trivialized the experiences of poor women and violence. It became more pressing to giggle at his “ignorance” and diction than to acknowledge the exploitation of female bodies from the neighborhoods we never care about.

Even amidst the mockery, Charles Ramsey’s choice to help the women threatened the racial narrative of villainy. More than that, he managed to perform poignant political commentary. For one, he outright rejected the politics of respectability. He refused to recast himself to satisfy standards of middle-class blackness and dared to bring his identity into a public space.

He also evoked public discourse about racial symbolism. His now infamous statement, (promptly deleted from the media), “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms” forced us to rethink historical images of black masculinity as it relates to white women. Here he was, a dark-skinned wild-haired black man not properly “tamed” by respectability and yet had not–as centuries of lynching tried to convinces us–raped or beaten but rescued a white female body. The juxtaposition of the Black Buck and White Innocence being seamlessly reinterpreted on our TV screens in real time.

Most important, perhaps, was his implicit message about white privilege. In his constant referencing to the “black man/white girl” dynamic, it spoke to his awareness of himself in the racialized narrative of black maleness. That he knew the limitations of his body to move through the world without fear of being the suspect, the criminal, the villain. That even within the context of his heroism he was simultaneously aware of how his identity might erase him from it.

And he was right.

Culture had done what it always does to black people in America: appropriate our failings to racial stereotypes while ignoring the larger circumstances of our oppression. It conveniently revives historical images of blackness even as we try to make space for nuance, and caricaturizes our lived experiences for white amusement.

Charles Ramsey got a chance to create his own racial narrative, but before we could embrace it, it had already been rewritten. Just like that.

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Django Unchained: My Two Cents [Spoiler Alert]

Initially, I hadn’t even planned on seeing the film. I wasn’t interested in seeing a Western, I’m not particularly fond of Tarantino, and I’m always skeptical of a white persons ability to tell an honest story about people of color. But after its hype kept mounting, (along with pressure from friends who sang its praises) I was convinced Spike Lee and I were the only ones on the planet who hadn’t seen this damn movie. So I finally sucked it up and took a trip to the nearest Redbox.

Here’s what I thought:

The Good

1.) It kept my attention. Django’s quest to save his wife–and stay alive in the process– was suspenseful, emotionally engaging, and at times, humorous.

2.) Samuel L. Jackson was brilliant in his performance of Stephen, who was undoubtedly my favorite character, and was FUCKING HILARIOUS.

3.) It was a different cinematic approach to the context of American storytelling about slavery. The film was permeated through Django, who was a slave portrayal we had not really seen before; a rebellious and clever sharp shooter who talked shit, (“the D is silent, hillbilly”) had a little swagger, and was relentless in his rejection of the oppressive circumstances in which he lived. The soundtrack combined with the coolness/badassery that Jamie Foxx translated in his role, carved out a rare modern black heroism that (perhaps) this generation can relate to, and even admire.

4.) Kerry Washington is in it and I have a Fangirl crush on her that I chose not to rehash here for fear of a restraining order on her part.

The Bad

1.) Although Django was a take-no-shit rebel, it seemed as if all the other slaves around him were of the docile, “yes massa” variety. Only Django (with the exception of his wife, Broomhilda) was seen as the “exceptional nigga” who wouldn’t accept his role as the happy slave, content with his circumstances. Throughout the film, the slaves are continuously faced with opportunities to escape, but don’t, for unknown reasons. For instance, when Django tricks the captors of LeQuint Dickey Mining Company into setting him free, kills them, and heads back to CandieLand to finish off the rest–the slaves in the “nigger cage” do not attempt to run away, but instead remain inside, bewildered and stupefied. Then of course, there’s Stephen, the loyal servant who is not only content in his bondage, but joins forces with his white oppressors to keep other slaves in their place and maintain the status quo. He even loses his shit when his master, Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio) is killed.

And although the trauma of slavery may have contributed to internalized feelings of self hatred that made a select few subservient, this concept of the Happy Slave has been exaggerated (in this case, to the point of parody) in historical film representations to blanket the vast majority. Calvin Candie’s monologue about Old Ben’s skull summarized the notions many have about slaves: that they rarely resisted, that they were comfortable, in need of guidance or white authority, and even biologically predisposed to submissive roles.

This is not only insulting as hell, but historically inaccurate. Slaves were documented as arguing, fighting, and sometimes even killing their masters (by gun or poison). They continuously ran away, at times for weeks, and hid in marooned communities. When they did stay on the plantation, they intentionally worked at slow paces to reduce crop production and would injure themselves to debase their property value–some even committed suicide. They stole food and valuables from their oppressors, learned to read illegally, developed their own factions of religion, and instilled a distrust of whites in their children.

In short: they were anything but the well-behaved model minorities largely depicted in Django Unchained.

The Ugly

2.) My biggest critique: The experiences of black women in slavery were virtually ERASED from this film. I get that it was told from Django’s point of view, but Broomhilda (and other female slaves) gave Tarantino the most logical and convenient opportunity to explore her realities but instead she was mostly a prop for the Damsel in Distress and had like three lines. While her physical brutality was somewhat depicted, the film glossed over the most central experience of black female slaves: rape.
The occurrence or threat or sexual assault, historically, would have been part of Broomhilda’s daily experience, but Django Unchained reduces it to the quasi-prostitution of a “comfort girl” instead of what it actually was: slave masters and overseers raping black women in the secrecy of slave quarters then depicting them as inherently depraved so as not to upset their wives–who, by contrast, were the symbols of purity and chastity. The only proof of the masters sexual abuse was the emergence of light skinned bi-racial children (who were also nonexistent in this film).

Black female slaves also faced hardships in relation to family. Pregnant women often gave birth, returned to work within a few hours, and were forced to put the needs of the slave masters children above their own, leaving their families to be raised by other people. As the primary caretakers, they carried the burden of remaining on the plantation for fear of leaving their children or losing them through trade, even while the men escaped. These realities are not only instrumental to the story of slavery but shape contemporary stereotypes of black women (especially that of the Jezebel or Unfit Mother) but are once again ignored in popular culture.

3). The concept of slavery itself was also ridiculously oversimplified in Django Unchained. It was depicted mostly as white hatred and cruelty that led to slavery when in fact, racism was socially constructed to justify slavery. Tarantino reduces it to a matter of white vs. black relationships and overt bigotry. It reminds me of the way that The Help made Jim Crow seem like a 1960′s version of Mean Girls, a matter of white people “not liking” black people (because of irrational ignorance or insensitivity) which is implicitly solved once a “nice” white person is inserted into the story who selflessly helps the black person overcome racial obstacles. (In The Help, it was Skeeter, in Django Unchained it is Dr. Shultz).

But slavery was an institutional form of oppression; systemic racism put in place to achieve astonishing wealth in North America and the rest of the world. It created the foundation for modern economy on a global level, made the South the richest and most powerful region in America, was the direct cause of the Civil War, made a fortune on Wall Street, and is inextricably woven into this countries social and economic history. Yet it was virtually invisible in the larger context of the film.

Whats even more whack is Tarantino’s ahistorical portrayal in which slaves are maimed and killed for no apparent reason; like the infamous Mandingo fights wherein slaves fought each other to death for the entertainment of their masters. But this is beyond ludicrous. Slave masters were not, as Calvin Candie implied, well-to-do white business men who kept slaves around to indulge their sadomasochistic fantasies then would dispose of them whenever they got bored. They were largely working class men who absolutely depended upon the bodies of slaves for their livelihood. Most slave masters had fewer than 20 slaves, each and every one of infinite value, which means killing them all would intentionally eliminate their own profits. That’d be like McDonalds throwing all their “beef” into a fire pit just for shits and giggles.

4.) Tarantino’s continuous depiction of violence also bothered me. Not in a squeamish way, but I always felt like he was referencing his hipster racist delusions; imagining the cruelest things that could happen to slaves (being torn apart by dogs, castration, etc) and realizing them so that a.) white people would feel appropriately guilty and b.) black people would get appropriately angry. The latter would provide the emotional vehicle for the fantastical ending, one where Django kills all the Bad White People (and Stephen) before riding off on horseback with his main squeeze. It used brutality and villainy as the perfect psychological triggers which allowed us to root for Django uncritically. To walk away from the film feeling that justice was served, that black people “got back” at white people and therefore whites can feel better about this pesky little blemish in American history because now, thanks to Tarantino, the score has been settled.

It baffles me why white filmmakers always depict racial oppression in this binary way of good vs. evil and ignore the larger structure. Maybe its their unconscious belief that black/brown people still harbor old feelings of resentment about the past and therefore want “pay back” (financial, physical, psychological) for the treatment of their ancestors (the ridiculousness of reverse-racism comes to mind). But I think there’s a much bigger reason. I think the whitewashing of realities like slavery and Jim Crow get boiled down to race relations because its easier to make a heart wrenching film that evokes white guilt for a few hours than to acknowledge a more difficult truth: that America was essentially built on the backs of other people. People who don’t look like you, people who are perpetuated portrayed as lazy slackers who chose to live on state welfare. To acknowledge that your ancestors exploited the labor of these people for their own financial gain files in the face of everything conservatives like to tell us about this country. That success is based on merits, hard work, pulling yourself Up By Your Bootstraps, never taking handouts, and individualism. It would mean the vast majority of white Americans would have to wonder whether or not the inheritance of land, property, businesses, and wealth was made possible only by the sacrificial bloodshed of black and brown people (yes) or that the poverty, crime, and education disparities may not actually be evidence of an inherent flaw of blackness or brownness but an inevitable outcome of the very bloodshed you benefit from (yes).

And I get that its a film. That’s it fiction, that Tarantino’s a nut job branded in gory revenge-style cinema , and that art does not always lend itself to accurate historical translation and blah blah blah. But here’s the thing: Fiction does not mean being unrealistic, art is not immune to honest political context, and white people don’t get to tell stories about the realities of others without being called out when they get it wrong (as they often do).

The film wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but in retrospect I’m thinking maybe I should’ve saved my Redbox money and Tarantino should’ve just sat this one out.

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[Quick Hit] So Gwyneth Paltrow is the “Worlds Most Beautiful Woman?” Yeah Fucking Right.

Welp, the verdict is in: Gwyneth Paltrow is officially the WORLDS MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN!

Anyone else completely unimpressed and not at all shocked by this news, show of hands?

When it comes to wide cultural rankings of beauty (world, national etc) it’s almost imperative that a white woman (preferably with keen, traditionally Euro-centric features) is deemed representational of these idealistic standards. This is the safe choice. It’s the assumption (fueled by problematic privileged thinking) that the beauty of women like Gwyneth Paltrow is somehow unanimous, almost common knowledge. The notion of, “who in the ENTIRE WORLD could argue with the fact that she’s so beautiful?!”

Oh, i dont know, maybe: black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous women, lesbian and transgender women, non-American women, any group of women that does not co-sign in the presumption that western, white, blonde hair, blue eyed, skinny, hetereonormative femininity is beautiful.

What’s worse is that there isn’t even a democracy in the matter. It’s not like Paltrow ran for Most Beautiful Woman and was elected so by some individual popular vote so that at least this title would be a statement of fact. But her beauty was just decided for us. (and by who? some editors at People?) from an extremely subjective standpoint.

And while People is not the only magazine that participates in this bullshit, they are apart of the larger problem that forces marginalized ideas of beauty onto us without our permission. We are told not asked, who is beautiful. We have images “bestowed” upon us, without ever taking into account our multicultural differences or preferences (like the fact that many southern blacks who actually think women look better with curves, unlike the waif-like Paltrow). While white women have the option of either negotiating or rejecting these Westernized beauty standards, women of color do not. Biology dictates that even if we did concede with these standards we would never, physically, be able to fit them. And so we internalize these images, and hope to be acknowledged as at least “pretty for a black/Latino/Asian girl”—-like an anomaly of beauty. The essentialism of this beauty, and our physical incapability to achieve it then marks us as “ugly” by default.

The part that pisses me off the most is the implicit subtext that implies that beauty is not actually subjective and relative to your racial, gender, sexual, and geographical perspective but that there is an objective specification, an actual prototype of attractiveness and Gwyneth Paltrow is it. That YOUR ideas about what is and isn’t hot aren’t valid, that they dont represent “universal” beauty. That your skin and face and hair and body aren’t needed in this space, because “we’ve” already excluded you from it.

The underrepresention of women of color in mainstream media beauty (and the discourse around it) is nothing new. But the audacity with which these beauty standards are held up as the ideal (and trump the ones that WE have defined) will no longer be tolerated.

So fuck you People. I don’t think Gwyneth Paltrow is the most beautiful woman in the world. Or the country. Or even in Hollywood. And I don’t have to because I don’t have to comply in the desirability of women who look nothing like me. Because I decide what the fuck that means, not you.

Seat. Have one. Now.

 

 

[PS: please do not begin your comments by saying that  “Beyonce was put on the cover last year.” I realized this beforehand and that fact has exactly zero effect on everything I’ve said above. Beyonce has huge commercial success that crosses multi racial/cultural lines which makes her a “safe” token minority (along with Halle Berry) that mainstream media can point to to prove they’ve met their diversity quota. If Beyonce made the cover ten years in a row I’d STILL critique it (perhaps even more harshly) because her brand of beauty (light skinned, straight blonde hair, westernized heteronormative) is not only forced upon me within the black community, but represents the bare minimum level of  “exoticism” the mainstream media is willing to tolerate. Not only that, but conveniently pointing out a few exceptional minorities that have “made it” does not change the current dominant standard of beauty that Gwyneth Paltrow  still upholds, which has it’s worst effect on women of color. (Black and brown women around the world aren’t exactly  having cosmetic surgery to look more “ethnic” are they? ) so now that you’ve gotten that out of your system lets have a real discussion, shall we? ]

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Your Weekly Dose of Dumbassness [Boston Edition]

Sometimes tragedies bring out the best in America, most of the time it brings out the dumbassness.

1.) Paul Ryan uses Boston bombings as reason why we should keep bad, bad immigrants out.

2.) Genius Republican says that despite the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can’t be held as an enemy combatant and is an American citizen who has to be tried in a civilian court system, he would go ahead and torture him anyway,  because he’s a “red-blooded American”. Whatever the fuck that means.

3.) Tsarnaev uncle wants to clarify: Nephews are not actually losers, but victims of “brainwashing” by anonymous Muslim convert. The latter apparently being much more plausible.

4.) News media falsely accused three innocent Muslim Americans, (one of which was a 17-year old high school student whose photo was splashed across the New York Post) without as much as a, “sorry we temporarily ruined your life with bad journalism and Islamophobia. Our bad.”

5.) Fox news wants you to know that Tamleran Tsarnaev and his family were said to receive “state welfare benefits”, because that’s somehow relevant to this case.

6.) Crazyass Human Rights Palestine monitor thinks Boston bombings totally wouldn’t have happened if Obama never took that trip to Israel.

7.) People go out of their way to mark suspects as ” Chechens” to avoid saying “white terrorists”.

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Black Lady Problems

WHEN BIDEN WON THE DEBATE…

Black Lady Problems

WHEN OTHER BLACK PEOPLE ASSUME I CAN DANCE..

*Inspired by Weekly Feminist GIF

Black Lady Problems

WHEN I GOOGLE “ANGRY BLACK WOMAN” AND DOZENS OF MICHELLE OBAMA PICTURES COME UP…

https://i1.wp.com/media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mamfatCiCc1rsevm6.gif

*Inspired by Weekly Feminist GIF

Black Lady Problems

WHEN A RANDOM BLACK MAN ASKS ME WHAT I’M “MIXED” WITH…

https://i1.wp.com/media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mb1k6fMk9h1ql9nrn.gif

*Inspired by Weekly Feminist GIF

10 Things To Remember on Labor Day

1.) To actually research the history of Labor Day. (hint: it’s more badass than you think.)

2.) That 8.3% of everyone in the U.S is still unemployed.

3.) The umemployment rate for black people is almost double the national average, at around 15%.

4.) The 1.3 million U.S. citizens who make their living as migrant workers in the agricultural industry (what the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration called the second most dangerous job in the country.)  And the 61% of all workers that earn wages below the national poverty level, a median income of less than $10,000 per year.

5.) That women still make only 77 cents to every man’s dollar for doing the same job. And no, not because they work less to raise families; the data holds true for women who work the same amount of hours as men, with the same education level, across 40 different occupations.

6.) And that within that same gender gap, Asian-American women earn 88% of the weekly median income that white dudes earn, Black women earn 70%, and Hispanic women earn only 61%.

7.)  That 215 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 worldwide are involved in child labor. Most of which denies them education or forces them to combine it with long hours and extremely low wages.

8.) Sex workers who lack the right to safe working conditions and access to healthcare and disease prevention.

9.) To give props to the labor unions of this country and everything they’ve fought for and won, including: work weekends, eliminating child labor, employer-based health insurance, and maternity leave.

10.) Not to drink too much. You gotta take your ass to work tomorrow.

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