Thursday, June 28, 2007

Please Welcome Dr. Jolie

You might have heard about some controversy surrounding Angelina Jolie's casting as Marianne Pearl, a woman of mixed heritage, in the film 'A Mighty Heart.' Though Pearl is Dutch, Chinese, French, and black, few in America would confuse her for anything other than a black woman. I was pretty upset about the casting choice given the already small number of roles for black women and the historical legacy of blackface (and brown and yellow) in Hollywood. Then, I heard Pearl sought out Jolie for the role making it her decision and not one by the Hollywood establishment. While I still think it's a weird choice, who knows how Pearl self-identifies or thinks regarding racial issues. However, the production team has been very silent on the issue and even quietly persisted that Jolie did not put on any skin darkener, an obvious lie considering the picture above.

Also, Brad Pitt's production company bought the rights to this film awhile ago when he was still together with Jennifer Aniston. And, you guessed it, Aniston was scheduled to play Marianne Pearl until that ship sunk. My guess is Jolie, as the next Ms. Pitt, was tapped to play the role and giving the real Pearl any decisionmaking privilges was simply a courtesy that worked out conveniently with her eventual approval of Jolie.

Anyway, Jolie finally spoke to the issue at a recent press junket.

“The idea is, if you ask Mariane, because she did address that, and if you did actually want to find somebody that was her exact makeup, she's actually majority Dutch, and she's as black as she is Chinese, and she's Cuban, and she's French. So, it could have gone to many different racial backgrounds, probably, if you went technical on it. And that, you know, is a reality. At the same time, to her, the importance was the essence of her spiritually, and I think that was what mattered and I think that is a question to ask her. But no, if you break down the DNA, it's very complex.”

Thanks Jolie. Technically, black Americans who are the descendents of slaves have some pretty intense DNA results too. It's not an issue of DNA. It is one of representation, resources, and commercialism that always results in white actors getting a lion's share of Hollywood parts. This does not even begin to discuss movies where white supremacy is the focus (The Last Samurai, the first third of Batman Begins, Karate Kid, and almost any American movie about Africa). As always, I don't think things will change until we're allowed to break into the Hollywood system as writers and directors to tell our own stories and recruit allies who will reconsider their own storytelling.

In lighter news, congrats to Tim Story, an African-American filmmaker and director of Barbershop, who scored a #1 last week with Fantasic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. First one didn't exactly transform our discussion on race and I don't think the second one did either, but he's breaking barriers nonetheless. One of the few directors of color who have handled ready made blockbusters. Let's make it a trend.

So, what do you all think of the casting in 'A Mighty Heart'? Benign, disappointing, or just handled improperly?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sorry white people, racism must be a bummer.

I saw this via Pandagon listed appropriately under "Boggles the mind." Seems John Derbyshire of the National Review is upset at all us Negros for making things uncomfortable for him. All he wants is to get his (expensive) (leather) shoes shined in peace, and it's not his fault white people won't do it for him! Says Derbyshire:
This pedicab seated two, so my daughter and I were prospective customers. The proprietor of the thing was a young black guy. Three or four times he called out to us, in a very friendly way, to take advantage of the service he was offering. He seemed like a cheerful and enterprising young man.…yet when at last I lost sight of him, he still hadn’t got a customer.…

There seemed to be quite a lot of [pedicabs], mostly occupied, mostly with young white guys pedaling. It occurred to me to wonder whether it’s harder for a black pedicabbie (?) to pick up passengers than for a white one. Not because people are scared to be pedaled by a black man — this was midtown Manhattan, for heaven’s sake, on a busy spring evening — but because white Americans just aren’t comfortable in such an obvious service relationship with a black American doing muscle work on their behalf.
Well, I think there are a few reasons why white people don't take black people up on these sorts of offers. Four male friends of mine worked as rickshaw drivers (same as pedicabs, I'm guessing) one summer back in Chicago. They were paid only by tips from their passengers, so their pay was based entirely on how many people accepted the offer for rides and how much those people wanted to pay them. In order from lightest to darkest they were white, Iranian, Mexican, and Black, and that's how their pay ranked. Some nights the white one made more than three times what the Black one had made.

It became a little social experiment. Usually they all worked the same nights at the same time, and split up in pairs on different corners within a block or so of each other. They knew that the most business came from people with money to blow who were too lazy (or too drunk) to walk to the nearest subway stop. On a Thursday night ("the weekend" when you've got money) this meant slightly belligerent drunken white people whose lowered inhibitions allowed them to throw racist remarks at the darker drivers as they passed them up. In the late afternoon this meant women from the suburbs clutching their purses and their children, scowling at the man who just asked if they needed a ride. Yeah, Derbyshire, that must be really hard--to be the woman holding her purse, that is.

He goes on,
Similarly, there are probably a lot of black American women who wouldn’t mind working as maids in prosperous white households, as used to be commonplace. I’m willing to bet, though, that there are large numbers of white people who would much rather not have a black maid. Not, again, because they fear a black maid would harm them, or be lazy or dishonest, but just because they would not feel comfortable in a master-servant relationship with a black person, after all the guilt-trip propaganda of the past 40 years.
I always had a sneaking suspicion that all Huey Newton really wanted was to cause a good guilt-trip. As was pointed out on Pandagon, Derbyshire's language proves to be more insightful than anything he tries to say: aren't most domestic workers given titles like "housekeeper" or "nanny," rather than "servant"? And likewise, I don't think "master" is an appropriate job description, except in some circles. Maybe his problem comes from the fact that he does still see Black people doing favors for him as them "serving" him, and nothing more. Would he ever try to be friends with his Black housekeeper, or only pity her for her status as "servant"?

He tells the story of taking pity on a black shoeshiner who couldn't get any business otherwise; it was up to Derbyshire, the White Guilted Wonder, to swoop in and save this poor man from Black impoverished misery. But ((shocking!)) passersby mistake Derbyshire for playing the white master instead of white savior, and give him dirty looks. He's the fool that's fallen for our ploy about racism still existing. Poor baby.

So. This sort of white guilt isn't useful. It doesn't solve race-related problems. It doesn't even address them! And it pushes people with some amount of sympathy to actually become less active than they might feel inclined to be.

Like this hypothetical: A black woman needs a job, but doesn't have what she feels are marketable skills, and she has no degrees. She advertises herself as a housekeeper (women's work, right?) but has trouble getting work. She can't find any white regular customers, and those she works for temporarily imply that they feel guilty hiring her and playing into a historical "master-servant" role.

This is the situation Derbyshire is laying out so I'm going to work within it too, but his white guilt prevents him from moving beyond how hard it is in this situation for a white dude like him to find hired help. But the Black woman is probably in more dire staights than him.

1) Prospective white clients are going in with the assumption that they will be the "masters" of their housekeepers, rather than what they are--clients. Just like they are the clients of the guy who files their taxes or the baker. They feel guilty being in a role of dominance, because they are setting it up that way. They make chit-chat with the baker; they feel dominance over the housekeeper.
2) Because they feel guilty hiring a Black woman, they take the easy way out and don't hire her. Now she still doesn't have business.
3) Since the clients have taken the easy way out, they also haven't addressed why they feel so guilty. Nothing has been addressed!

Therefore: Progress in this situation (and many others) is impeded by white guilt. Derbyshire thinks of white guilt as propaganda, that Black people just want to make white people feel bad. So he feels bad, and doesn't have to do anything more. Obviously, that's not helpful: social progress comes from years of work by communities of people. White guilt's not getting anyone anywhere. Likewise, when issues of economic justice come up in my community I have two options: let middle-class guilt get the best of me and sit that one out (easy), or understand what sorts of middle-class privilege I've got and get to work (useful). Derbyshire can complain all he wants about how hard it is to feel guilty being white, but he wouldn't feel so guilty if he did something to actually make some changes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Brown people, unite

****UPDATE 6/07:**** In response to passing the country's first universal ID, the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE, the new INS) raided homes in Fair Haven, a largely Latino neighborhood here with a strong immigrant community. They arrested 29 people on immigration charges starting at 6 a.m. yesterday, some of whom didn't even have warrants with New Haven police. There is an emergency march tonight for anyone who's around, 7:30 at 115 Blatchley Ave. It's clear that this was an attack punishing the city for welcoming and supporting immigrants.

Yesterday, after three years of organizing, New Haven's Board of Aldermen approved a plan for municipal ID's for all New Haven residents, regardless of immigration status. Before last night's Board hearing, a group of anti-immigration "activists," including Minutemen-connected Southern Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Reform, held a protest in front of City Hall. Outnumbering them at least three-fold was a diverse counter-protest.

The anti-immigrant tactics stooped lower than usual--the most hard-hitting argument they could make against immigration was a series of signs with the photos of people who had been killed by illegal immigrants (and how many have been killed by legal residents in comparison?). Other highlights included one of them dropping an ice-pick he just happened to bring with him and Ted Pechinski hitting a woman in the chest.

But my least favorite part of counter-protesting was watching with disappointment as two black men joined their side of the protest face-off. Pechinski and SCCIR have been passing out flyers geared specifically toward Black and Latino residents, to divide our communities--brown vs. browner--for their own political gain. Mayor DeStefano has called them out for "race-baiting", but it's unfortunately an easily exploited divide. This is a tactic that's been used before by the Minutemen. Interestingly enough, at the same time that they recruit Black people with fear tactics, they also court neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. Talk about being used!

We as Black people and we as immigrant rights supporters are fighting the same fight. We are hurt by the same racism. Our very existence is denounced by the same politicians and pundits. The same forces of race- and class-based oppression seek to ignore us or wipe us out altogether. There's no reason for the Civil Rights Movement to end at Black civil rights--we can fight stronger fights with a diverse group of allies. Plus, let's not forget that there are plenty of immigrants who are not Latino--but that certain groups of people in this political climate are simply easier for pundits to demonize.

I read an essay in a feminist zine once that since the biggest pitfall of mainstream feminism was a failure to include women of color, no feminist movement will really work without not only including but supporting and truly caring about women of color. And because communities of color are disproportinately lower-income, it must sincerely reach far beyond the middle-class. And since one marginalized group within communities of color is queer people, this feminist movement must give that same support to queer people--and not just lesbians, but all kinds of queer and trans people in all kinds of genders. And it can't be based solely out of the academy, or political parties, or cities, or Western notions of change--and soon enough this movement will encompass everyone fighting every fight, save for the few rich educated hetero white men trying to rule everyone else from the very tippy top. So much power would come from these alliances! and for once those rulers would be the marginalized ones. It's a totally utopian idea, but it's also something to strive for when we ask ourselves who are our allies.

Props and congratulations to Unidad Latina en Acción for leading this fight here in New Haven, and everyone else forging these alliances elsewhere.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Elian Mumumbo?

All I'll say about Elian is thank God he's Cuban. 'Cause if he was Haitian you'd've never heard about his ***. If Elian Gonzales was Elian Mumumbo from Haiti, they would've pushed that little rubber tube right back in the water. "Sorry little fella, all full. Good luck!"
- Dave Chappelle "Killin Them Softly"

Turns out, Chappelle was not too far off in his criticisms of the myth of equality as it pertains to asylum in this country. Peep this New York Times article on a study of asylums and the rampant inconsistencies that plague this increasingly politicized structure.