Understanding Halloween Racism

Halloween is a centuries-old tradition for marking the end of summer that is now associated with overtly racist costumes worn by some whites. How did this come to be and how can we understand it?

ray rice racist halloween costume

(Image source)

Many people know that Halloween stands for “hallowed evening” and associated it with the Christian All Saints Day (Nov.1). But Halloween is actually much older than this, though precise details are obscure.

For the origins of Halloween, folklorists most often point to the Celtic festival of Samhain which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end,” while other scholars suggest that the origins of holiday might come from the Roman feast honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia.

An estimated 93% of households celebrate Halloween in the U.S. today, but it wasn’t celebrated in the U.S. until the mid-1800s, when Irish immigrants brought the ritual with them.

The rituals and practices that emerged in the U.S., shaped the way the holiday is celebrated elsewhere. You can see this in a recent photo feature at The Guardian of “Halloween preparations around the globe” .

 

 

pumpkins in china

(Halloween in China, image source)

Nevermind that most of the photos from “around the globe” are from the U.S., the images that are from outside the U.S. seek to replicate a fall-in-New England version of Halloween.

Make no mistake, Halloween is big business. Americans will spend $2.8 billion on costumes, including $1.1 billion for children’s costumes, $1.4 billion adult costumes and $2.2 billion on candy and another $350 million on costumes for their pets, according to a National Retail Federation survey. What was once a relatively minor holiday primarily for children and celebrated by one ethnic group in the U.S., has turned into a major consumer ritual widely celebrated by adults, many of them in overly racist costumes. Why?

In their study of journal entries from college students (N=663), researchers Mueller, Dirks, and Houts Picca analyzed the study participants entries during Halloween.

The authors point to Durkheim who noted that although some holidays can be about reinforcing social control (watch “Home for the Holidays” and think of Durkheim), other holidays like New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras, are “rituals of rebellion” where all the usual rules of social life are temporarily suspended. Often this is a time when those in lower social positions temporarily assume more powerful roles,. Durkheim’s argument was that these types of rituals are a necessary safety valve for society because they allow people to blow off steam in short, neatly contained bursts. Once the holiday is over, then go everything goes back to the usual social order.

Halloween is now a “rituals of rebellion”, but not exactly in the way that Durkheim described it.

Mueller and colleagues found that many of the people in their study chose costumes that would be considered racist in other contexts, but they mostly minimized the significance by pointing to the holiday’s social context, like “Josh” described:

… because this is Halloween and anything goes. Normally dressing up as people from other cultures, such as the Rastafari, would be considered some sort of racism or people might be offended … This is the great thing about Halloween, people can go all out and be whoever they want to be, without having to worry about what people will think or who will be offended. (Mueller, Dirks, and Houts Picca, 2007, p.325).

By making light of racist costumes in the “safe” context of Halloween, the authors argue that this creates a way for people to trivialize and reproduce racial stereotypes while supporting the racial hierarchy. However, instead of the Durkheim-ian  “ritual of rebellion,” in which those in less powerful positions momentarily assume more powerful roles, racist Halloween rituals reverses this.

In the contemporary iteration of Halloween, it’s the more socially powerful group – whites – who temporarily take on the position of the less socially powerful group – African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.

By enacting this “reversed ritual of rebellion” whites are responding to what many see as a seemingly restrictive social context of the post-Civil Rights, “post-racial” era. And, a la Durkheim, when this short burst of rebellion is over, then the dominant social order is reinforced. In other words, this brief moment of ritualized acting out only serves to reinforce the already existing white dominance.

racist costumes not ok

(Image created by Ohio University, Students Teaching Against Racism in Society – STARS)

Catching Racism: The Daily Show Takes on NFL Team’s Name

Last night, The Daily Show, aired a comedy segment on the controversy about the name of the Washington, D.C. NFL team’s name. The segment is below (7:19, with a short advert at the beginning):

Some of the Washington NFL fans included in the video objected to it even before it was aired.

What do you think?

The NBA and Racial Justice

The crowd goes silent. It’s quite as a Klan meeting after votes were counted during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Commissioner Adam Silver is at the podium. The clock only has 1 second left. The pressure and anguish is evident by the sweat and robotic voice and awkward body language on display as he begins to speak. The score is tied between our reigning champion Injustice and the never surrendering challenger—Justice. He begins to speak. It’s a beautiful released decision that indicates Donald Sterling will get the “big boom” while we, the remanding onlookers can rest assured that justice has prevailed. What is this? The decision is an air ball. Game has to go into overtime. Oh no!

 

Adam Silver(Image source)

Due to the fact that Sterling is a lawyer and has gobs of gold coins at his disposal, many legal analysts argue that the forced sell could take years. In fact, if Sterling decides to sue to the NBA over the decision to sell, while declining to pay the 2.5 million dollar fine, the legal battle could last for years. In fact, the litigation might outlast him and his remaining years of life on this here earth.
So the game proceeds. Adam Silver’s decision is thrown in from the sideline. The media reacts.  I call foul! Now you and the media want to publically and verbally lash (Lashing?  Maybe used too soon—Thanks Clive Bundy) the man and brand him as an outlier? People like conservative entertainer Bill O’Riley contend that the racist mentality of Sterling is…“primarily his problem, not the country’s problem? A clear trail of evidence that even Scooby Doo could follow leads one to substantial facts that confirms that not only the white racial frame can easily be applied, but also that the existence of backstage racism is present in the NBA. We know that the white racial frame draws attention to the set of systematized “racialized” ideas and categorizations (i.e., racial stereotypes) that have the ability to prompt strong emotions within non-Blacks. Thusly, these internal generated emotions felt not only have the ability to impel engagement in both overt and covert form of racial discrimination (ex. policies and procedures), but also physical and emotional acts of extremism. Sterling’s audio taped discussion definitely illustrates this point. For example:

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” (3:30)
— “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want.  The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.” (5:15)
— “I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.” (7:45)
— “…Don’t put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me.  And don’t bring him to my games.”

In relations to backstage racism, reports have indicated that Sterling and his ex-wife, Rochelle, have previously faced different discrimination lawsuits. In 2005, Mr. Sterling settled a housing discrimination lawsuit by paying nearly 5 million dollars to more than a dozen tenants within his rental properties in Los Angeles County. In addition, it has been reported by apartment tenant and managers that his previous wife vilified Blacks and Latinos. In a 2009 legal deposition, a one-time tenant noted that Mrs. Rochelle Sterling called him a “black m—f—“. “I asked her again, I asked her, ‘would you reduce the rent?’” Darrell Rhodes said in the deposition. “And she said, ‘who do you think you are, you black m—f—.’” During the same litigation, a site manager working for the Sterling family testified that once during a visit from Rochelle Sterling, “She said ‘Oh, my God. This is so filthy. I can’t remodel my apartments the way that I want because Latinos are so filthy.” We cannot forget famed star basketball Elgin Baylor’s shocking revelations that indicate that “Sterling brought women into the locker room to look at the players “Black bodies” while they showered. Baylor also has publically commented on Donald Sterling’s lack of willingness to “‘fairly compensate African-American players’”. Technical foul goes to the Sterlings.
This type of behavior is nothing new for anyone who has personally associated or professionally dealt with him. Instead of the former NBA commissioner David Stern, applying strict criticism to his players in terms of their dress code and behavior displayed on the court, he should have focused on not only the lawsuits of Mr. Sterling, but what other people of color were saying about the LA Clipper owner. But then again, why should he? It is apparent to me that his behavior was tolerated—by the one-time commissioner and other owners. None of them previously and publically called attention to the racist behaviors of Sterling. Out of the principal owners of NBA teams, 98 percent are White. Therefore, it can be argued that his brazen behavior is both acceptable and not new among his billionaire NBA peers. Furthermore, their lack of a united front illustrated after Commissioner Siler’s decision gives credibility regarding the argument. They all were complicit. Foul! Foul! Foul!
Finally, technical foul and ejection from the game is called on the NAACP. Really? You want to give him the Lifetime Achievement Award? The L.A. branch of the NAACP may have decided not to go along with awarding Sterling, but this desperate act does not let them off the proverbial hook. Regardless of Sterling’s previous donations and tickets given to poor Black chillins’ in the hood, why didn’t it cross the minds of one of my people’s leading organization that the donations were only given to strengthen his image and redirect criticism after his previous legal issues?  Is it that easy to buy our convictions these days?
Have we as a society lost our conviction for justice? Apparently so, if the fans were still buying the tickets and clothing before Sterling’s comments were made to the public and clothing. This is apparent if the NAACP took monies from a person who has been sued numerous times for racial discrimination. It would seem to me that all is fine as long as your feelings regarding Blacks and Latinos are kept among those who accept your racist ideologies and you place money in the right hands, things will continue to stay the same. The media will continue to misdirect the issue. People will move on to the next news cycle without utilizing this moment for true introspection. I guess then that is it. Game over. Injustice wins again.

White Women, White Motherhood

The broad sweep of American popular culture is dedicated to valorizing white motherhood, despite the recent the claims by ‘tiger mom’ author Amy Chua that white women are the worst mothers,  As I continue the series on the trouble with white women, today I want to look at the notion of ‘white motherhood’ in American popular culture.

In the 19th century, white women had very few legal rights, but society put them on a pedestal, and popular culture was filled with paeans to their self-sacrifice and virtue. Even into the twentieth century, it was common in American popular culture to hear people proclaim an unbridled, seemingly uncomplicated “Mother Love.” Stephanie Coontz (author of A Strange Stirring: ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.) writes in the New York Times about this era:

The wife of the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sophia, told her mother that she did not share her concerns about improving the rights of women, because wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with.” Americans of the era believed in “the empire of the mother,” and grown sons were not embarrassed about rhapsodizing over their “darling mama,” carrying her picture with them to work or war.

But by the 1940s, the idealization of motherhood had waned, and the nation’s mothers found themselves blamed for a host of societal and psychological ills.  It was due to the influence of Freudianism on popular understanding of human social development, that Americans began to view public avowals of “Mother Love.”  As respected scholars such as Stephanie Coontz and Rebecca Jo Plant (Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America) point out, it’s this point at which we can trace the rise of “mother blame” to the 1940s in American culture. As valuable as this work is, it often leaves aside the question of race almost entirely.

By the middle of the twentieth century, educators, psychiatrists and popular opinion-makers were assailing the idealization of (white) mothers, as pathological. Yet ironically, mid-century is also when we see the ascendance of a particularly narrow representation of white motherhood on television.

Donna Reed Show Cast (Image Source)

Popular situation comedies of the 1950s and ’60s like The Donna Reed Show (pictured above), The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave It to Beaver, all featured white women in heterosexual marriages tending their nuclear, biological families.

As a white girl growing up in Texas watching these shows (mostly in re-runs), I didn’t notice the whiteness of the TV-mothers. I noticed their attentive mothering, their coifed femininity, their stable, middle-class lives all of which seemed so far removed from my experience of my own mother.  This is part of the key to how whiteness can operate by not noticing it. To be sure, such an idealized place in the popular imagination was not available to women of other hues or backgrounds. And, I feel certain that the kids I went to school with in South Texas who were Mexican American and African American, noticed the whiteness of Donna Reed and her ilk.

The one exception to this mid-century sitcom trend was the I Love Lucy Show, which featured an interracial couple, Lucille Ball (Lucy) and Desi Arnaz (Ricky), who were married in real life as well as on the show.  There is a fascinating podcast about I Love Lucy at Studio 360, which talks about what a groundbreaking show it was in many ways, chief among them for the then-scandalous relationship between the two leads that it portrayed. But again, I – like most white people watching the show – didn’t notice Lucy’s whiteness so much as Ricky’s Otherness as Cuban American.

The idealization of white motherhood continues throughout the 20th century and through to today with a few notable exceptions, such as Julia – the short-lived series starring Diahann Carroll, and of course, The Cosby Show, with Phylicia Rashad.  My point in this brief (and impartial) recounting of sitcom history here is not simply one about a lack of diversity in programming – though that would be an easy argument to make – but it’s about whiteness, which is not just about white bodies and skin color.

Whiteness is more about the discursive practices that, because of colonialism and neocolonialism, privilege and sustain a global dominance of white subjects. In other words, whiteness does stuff – it allows certain policies and practices to be enacted, and those policies and practices keep reaping benefits to white people.  And, to the extent that people don’t recognize these policies and practices as part of system that’s reproducing whiteness, then it makes it even easier to let that skate past.

Let me give another set of examples from some work I’ve done on a genre of contemporary popular culture, “reality TV,” or the term many scholar prefer “reality-based TV.”  I did a systematic analysis of the show Intervention, including nine (9) seasons of one hundred forty-seven (147) episodes featuring one hundred fifty-seven individual main characters or “addicts” (157).  The show, in case you’re not familiar, stages an “intervention” – a highly orchestrated group counseling session – with someone who has been identified by their family as having a problem, typically, though not always, a substance abuse problem.  What I found was that the show mostly features white people, indeed 87% of the subjects on the show are white, which is remarkable given the kind of narratives we have in this culture about addiction and race (i.e., that “drugs” are a problem in “communities of color” more so than among whites – the data suggests just the opposite). So, why feature mostly whites on the show?

Intervention TV Show

In part, what the producers of  Intervention said they wanted to do with the show was to “tell a different story” about addition, i.e., not one about people of color. The way that the show is constructed, each episode crafts the stories of individuals in such a way that audiences care about them, usually by tying their ‘addiction’ to an individual tragedy.

Take, for example, the episode that features Kristen (Season 2), a twenty-four year old white woman from Wisconsin who identifies as “an alcoholic and a heroin addict.” The title cards at the beginning of the episode speak to the contrast of squandered potential referring to Kristen as “The Mother,” (she has a 6 year old daughter) and then, “The Heroin Addict.” Kristen’s mother, Janet, faces the camera and asks: “What happened to the little girl I knew? She was in the gifted and talented program. She always wanted to do something with art, something creative.”

This idealized memory of Kristen as a child described by her mother is intercut with images of a smiling, blonde girl, seemingly carefree, riding her bicycle. This happy childhood was “shattered” when, at age 13, Kristen parent’s divorced. Every episode of Intervention features an idyllic childhood, shattered by some personal tragedy, often divorce, as central to the eventual addiction; and, in the narrative of Intervention, the arrow between personal tragedy and addiction is drawn as if it were direct, unambiguous and causal. Kristen’s sister, Erin, offers a stark contrast to this lost past with her assessment of Kristen’s present reality: “I don’t know how you can get any worse than an alcoholic, heroin addicted prostitute.”

The construction of Kristen’s story from a happy childhood to an adulthood that could not “get any worse” speaks to lost potential. The fact that this is viewed as a tragedy that could not be “any worse” suggests a whiteness in crisis.

Both the crisis for Kristen’s family and the tragedy within the televisual framework of Intervention are predicated upon the high expectations that go along with being young, gifted, female and white in this society. Kristen is not only wasting her potential, she is wasting her whiteness.

While the show is framed around the issue of substance use, episodes like this one in which female drug users are also involved in sex work seem equally concerned with intervening on this activity. While Kristen clearly frames her involvement in sex work as one rooted in the political economy of low wage labor (“I worked one shift and paid my rent, I couldn’t go back to a job where I make six dollars an hour”), the producers of the show frame it differently. Toward the end of the episode as Kristen is seen checking into a residential treatment facility, they include an interview with her doctor at the recovery center who says:

“I think the biggest challenge with Kristen is that she’s gone down to such a low level, morally.”

This reference to Kristen’s “low level, morally” is a rather striking statement that reinforces Kristen’s moral failure –  as a woman, as a ‘healthy’ citizen, and as a mother.  The coupling of Kristen’s “low level, morally” with her mothering speaks to the regimes of gendered dominance and neoliberal notions of self-sufficient citizenship that shape her life chances. These regimes are also racialized and presume whiteness. The way that Kristen will rise above her current “low level, morally” is by adhering to codes of conduct proscribed for white, young, heterosexual women who are the mothers of young children. If Kristen relapses, within the narrative of Intervention this will be a tragedy due primarily to a failure of her individual will, and a “waste” of her potential as an individual. It will also be a tragedy of wasted whiteness.

The trope of white motherhood gets replayed in beyond the television to the big screen as well.  There is the  “The Blind Side” which is, as lots of people havealready pointed out, yet another addition to that long list of white savior movies (for an introduction see, Hernan and Gordon’s Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness).

The Blind Side movie poster

 

And, from almost 20 years ago, the film “Losing Isaiah“, with Halle Berry and Jessica Lange, in which Berry plays the troubled, and economically impoverished, biological mother and Lange the middle-class adoptive mother. I’ll let you guess how that turns out.

Losing Isaiah Movie poster

 

These films share a common thread with the reality-based show I studied and the mid-century sitcoms, and it is this: white motherhood is held up as the embodied ideal of what motherhood should be.  Many can fail at this ideal, including white women like Kristen, but mostly it is black women who fail this ideal, in the popular culture narrative.  In both “The Blind Side” and “Losing Isaiah” it is the black mother who has failed to uphold the ideals of white motherhood, which are to ‘health’ and self-sufficiency – set in contrast to their excess and self-destruction.

Again, it’s not merely a matter of representation in popular culture. This reproduction of whiteness is much deeper than that, and more destructive.

Recently, single mother Shanesha Taylor was arrested and charged with two counts of felony child abuse after she left her two small children in a locked car while she went on a job interview.  While it is heartening that people have raised money on her behalf, the local law enforcement agency is still pressing charges against her.

mothertears

 (Shanesha Taylor)

Shortly after Taylor’s ordeal, Catalina Clouser was arrested for leaving her child in a carseat on the roof of her car while she drove under the influence of some substance.  Clouser has much lighter charges pending and has been released.

mothercropped

 

(Catalina Clouser)

The notion of white motherhood, drawn on centuries old cultural messages about the “ideal” mother and stepped in dominant white culture, and a gendered regime of what is acceptable behavior, is already having an impact on how these women will be treated, both in the court of popular opinion and under the law. Whiteness assures that certain kinds of policies and practices about who is an “ideal mother” get enacted and upheld.

>>>> Read next post in series

Lena Dunham and the Trouble with (White) ‘Girls’

Cast of Girls sitting on a bench

 

(Image source)

It seems almost a foregone conclusion that an exploration of the trouble with white women in contemporary American popular culture would include a discussion of Lena Dunham and her HBO series ‘Girls.’  I say it’s a foregone conclusion because there’s been a lot written about Dunham and ‘Girls’ and whiteness already, and yet I think her contribution to popular culture deserves a mention in this series.

In case you’ve missed this blip on the pop culture radar, Lena Dunham is the 27-year-old woman – often referred to as a ‘prodigy’ – who is the writer, director, star of a show on the cable network HBO. The show, ‘Girls’, is about Hannah Horvath (played by Dunham) and her three close friends, young women very much like Hannah/Lena, living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and trying to find happiness in relationships and careers in New York City.  The show premiered in April, 2012 and is now in its third season.  According to Dunham, the show is meant to ‘fill a space’ left by previous hit television shows about white women in New York City – ‘Sex in the City’ and ‘Gossip Girls’. Dunham says:

“I knew that there was a connection because it’s women in New York, but it really felt like it was tackling a different subject matter. Gossip Girl was teens duking it out on the Upper East Side and Sex and the City was women who figured out work and friends and now want to nail family life. There was this whole in between space that hadn’t really been addressed.”

Perhaps it is this claim at something like redressing a lack of representation on television shows that has gotten Ms. Dunham in such hot water among critics. From the very beginning, the show has been beset with criticism about how the show handles (and doesn’t handle) race. One piece from FoxNews the week the show premiered suggested the show was just about ‘white girls, money and whining.’ 

 

The actors in the HBO series 'Girls'(Image source)

It’s possible that this criticism of Dunham’s ‘Girls’ is unfair. As Joe Caramanica writing at the New York Times accurately observes:

“… ‘Girls’ is hardly alone in its whiteness. Far more popular shows like ‘Two and a Half Men’ or ‘How I Met Your Mother’ blithely exist in a world that rarely considers race. They’re less scrutinized, because unlike the Brooklyn-bohemian demimonde of ‘Girls,’ the worlds of those shows are ones that writers and critics — the sort who both adore and have taken offense at ‘Girls’ — have little desire to be a part of. White-dominant television has almost always been the norm. Why would ‘Girls’ be any different?”

Indeed, why would any one expect ‘Girls’ would be any different than the rest of what’s on white-dominant television? So why the intensity of response to Dunham and her show?

HBO Girls Poster

(Image source)

Part of the problem, as Francie Latour notes, is the demographically skewed setting of the show. Latour writes:

“…the problem I have with Dunham is that the vision of New York City she’s offering us in 2012 — like Sex and the Cityin 1998 and for that matter Friends in 1994 — is almost entirely devoid of the people who make up the large majority of New Yorkers, and have for some time now: Latinos, Asians and blacks. It’s a zeitgeist so glaring and grounded in statistical reality that Hollywood has to will itself not to see it: America is transforming into a majority-minority nation faster than experts could have predicted, yet the most racially and ethnically diverse metropolis in America is delivered to us again and again on the small screen as a virtual sea of white. The census may tell us that blacks, Latinos and Asians together make up 64.4 percent of New York City’s population. Much of Girls is actually set in Brooklyn, a borough where just one-third of the population is white. Yet as Dunham’s character, 24-year-old unemployed writer Hannah Horvath, and her friends fumble through life with cutting wit and low self-esteem, they do it in a virtually all-white bubble.”

The ‘all-white bubble’ that Latour references is not just in the New York City through which the characters move but it has to do with the writing and casting of the show as well. A number of people, including Latour, have voiced strong criticism of the show for now featuring any women of color on the show.

To be sure, there are plenty of defenders of the show and Ms. Dunham.  In a rather convoluted defense titled, “Lena Dunham: Attacked for No Good Reason,” written by Hilton Als and published in The New Yorker no less, says:

“Also, isn’t Dunham doing women of color a favor by not trying to insert them into her world where ideas about child-rearing, let alone man and class aspirations, tend to be different? John Lennon once said if you want your kids to stay white, don’t have them listen to black music. And I think it’s crazy to assume Dunham hasn’t. She grew up in New York, and you can see it in her clothes and body: no white girl allows herself to look like that if she didn’t admire the rounder shapes, and more complicated stylings, that women of color tend to pursue as their idea of beauty.”

Uhm, ok. Let me see if I’ve got this. Dunham is “doing women of color a favor” by not trying to “insert them into her world”? But it’s all ok, because clearly, look at the way she dresses and how much weight she carries, she’s clearly ‘down’ with women of color and “their idea of beauty.”  Got it.

Another defense is a bit more critical but follows along the same lines. In “‘Girls': The Unbearable Whiteness of Being,” Chez Pazienza writes:

I think that the criticism Lena Dunham’s been on the receiving end of from some in the black and Hispanic community is unfair. In case you haven’t been following — and for your own sake, I hope you actually have better things to do than concern yourself with this kind of “controversy” — a host of socially conscious journalists of color, many of them female, have complained that Dunham’s show is too “white,” that none of the titular girls on Girls are black or brown. The argument is a little dumb at face value, simply because Dunham herself is white and it’s not like that’s something she can change — and while New York City, both real and the depressing hellhole depicted on the show, is indeed a melting pot, let’s be honest and admit that it’s not exactly unlikely that people like Dunham’s character on the show and her small cadre of friends would all be the same shade of white.

Hell, the show wouldn’t be what it is — cloying and insipid — without the pervading stench of white privilege and the ability for characters to mumble complaints about the kind of shit only privileged white kids have the luxury of complaining about. It’s been a common refrain among critics of Girls, but it’s a show about white people problems — and like everyone else, I say that as derogatorily as possible — and trying to shoehorn a demographic into the equation which undoubtedly brings a different set of concerns to the table would be a ham-fisted nod to political correctness and little more.

I almost agree with Pazienza here. Almost. I mean, there is something about the cloying, insipid white privilege of the show that makes it hard to look away from the television when it’s on, but that’s what we call a “resistive reading.” (If you’re not familiar with this term, go read some John Fiske.)

This is Pazienza’s reading of the show. This critique of white privilege is not what the creators of the show intended. Watching a show because the characters are unintentionally loathsome, when the creators of the show don’t intend the characters to be loathsome, I think we call that “hate watching.”

 

And then there’s the racism.

After Jenna Wortham wrote on the Hairpin about her disappointment in the show’s overwhelming whiteness (“these girls… are beautiful, they are ballsy, they are trying to figure it out… I just wish I saw a little more of myself on screen, right alongside them”) one of the shows writer’s, Lesley Arfin, responded with a Tweet,

referring to the film ‘Precious’ which featured a mostly black cast:

“What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.”

Lesley Arfin seems to enjoy being provocative about race and language. I’m not sure whether she falls into the category of “hipster racism” as some have suggested, or is merely (still) learning that there is no such thing as “ironic racism.” 

Dunham’s views are equally disturbing. Reflecting on a trip to Japan in 2011, Dunham wrote an essay, “In Which We Regularly Played Ping-Pong with the Princess Masako.”  Meant to be a travelogue written in the tone Dunham has cultivated, the essay merely comes across as offensive and racist. In a section called “Yellowish Fever,” Dunham writes:

“I know I said I could never imagine a Japanese affair, but I’ve changed my mind. Kazu, the art handler hanging my mom’s show, is gorgeous like the strong, sexy, dreadlocked Mongol in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (causing my sister to email the instruction: “Yeah, girl. crouch that tiger, hide that dragon. P.S. That’s a Chinese movie”).

Throughout the essay, the primary way she seems to be able to relate to Japanese people is as consumables, collectables or oddities, never as fully human.

This view seems evident in the show as well.

In an attempt to address the criticisms about race in the first season of the show, the second season included a new character, Sandy, a black man who is Hannah/Lena’s love interest.

 

Hannah and Sandy 'Girls'

 

The relationship lasts barely an episode, and then they are breaking up and hurling racial accusations at each other.  From Judy Berman’s review at The Atlantic:

“I also would love to know how you feel about the fact that two out of three people on death row are black men,” she says. “Wow, Hannah. I didn’t know that. Thank you for enlightening me that things are tougher for minorities,” he shoots back. Soon, he’s mocking her for exoticizing him—”‘Oh, I’m a white girl and I moved to New York and I’m having a great time and I got a fixed gear bike and I’m gonna date a black guy and we’re gonna go to a dangerous part of town,'” he scoffs. “And then they can’t deal with who I am”—and she’s feebly turning around the accusation on him. “The joke’s on you, because you know what? I never thought about the fact that you were black once,” Hannah says when it’s clear the breakup is really happening, despite the fact that she’s the one who introduced race into the conversation. “That’s insane.” Sandy tells her. “You should, because that’s what I am.” By the time he asks Hannah to leave, both have admitted they don’t feel good about what they’ve said to each other. The viewer at home, witnessing such shrewdly observed yet ultimately unresolved racial and political tension, is bound to feel just as rattled.

While that scene includes some fine writing, it’s the frame that’s perpetuates the tropes of the sexualized (and dangerous) black man and the adventurous white woman who is playing out her fantasies at his expense. Once the show has “dealt with” the race issue in this episode, the issue – and all the people of color – disappear from view.

Berman ends her essay agreeing with Ta-Nehisi Coates – basically, that Dunham shouldn’t worry about these critiques and she should just be her ‘authentic self,’ to use Coates’ terms.  According to Berman, the solution is:

“…in a world where the wealthy, white, well-connected Lena Dunhams always seem to end up in the spotlight, those who aren’t part of her elite world shouldn’t have to rely on her for representation. They need the same platform to be their authentic selves that she’s been afforded. Until the divisions between races in America truly become meaningless, it’s the only way our pop culture will ever reflect our particular patchwork of people and experiences.”

What’s missing in this analysis is any consideration of the considerable set of barriers contained in the phrase “they need the same platform” that she’s been afforded.  While people of color are the stars on YouTube, it’s still white girls that get the contracts at HBO.

If ‘Girls’ were a show about four white women but it was at all thoughtful, reflexive or critical of their whiteness, I’d have a different take on the show. However, Dunham refers to the show’s whiteness a “complete accident.”    And that’s different than a show that’s critical about the whiteness it’s reproducing. In fact, that’s the opposite of being thoughtful and reflexive about whiteness.

 

>>>> Read next post in series

Disney, Children and Race

Images from Children's Movies

  (from left to right) Robert Lopez, Idina Menzel & Demi Levato; the talent behind “Elsa” of Frozen

I don’t pay much attention to the Academy Awards anymore for various reasons among them racial inequity, emphasis on commercialization, consumerism, and wealth, as well as the perpetuation of harmful normative stereotypes about practically everything from gender roles and sexual orientation, to class, culture and language. And of course I’m the mother of a young child and just don’t have time to watch movies. That said there was one win that especially caught my multiracial eye this year. Robert Lopez along with his wife nabbed Best Original Song for their wildly popular ballad “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen. Significantly, the award catapulted multiracial Filipino Robert Lopez to rare status, the 12th and youngest EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner ever. I do pay attention to something like that because my mixed race Asian son has so, so, so few racial role models that hold a solid standing in the public image. As he grows up I want to be able to point out leaders to him and say, “See! YOU can be a songwriter, politician, Olympian, CEO, activist, author, actor, etc. too!” But that’s really hard to do right now when I can barely find children’s books that reflect his racial image.

Hadn’t heard the song yet, but certainly made a point to after that. Screened it on YouTube thinking for sure I’d show it to kiddo. But then some other uncomfortable things quickly caught my eye. For one, multiracial Asian Robert Lopez penned the song, it was voiced-over by Ashkenazi Jew Idina Menzel and rendered (for the credits) by Mexican-American pop star Demi Levato, but in the actual film? The tune is sung by the character “Elsa” who is drawn incredibly white. Not only that, but in the movie as the sequence progresses from her being depressed and constrained to enlightened and empowered, she magically morphs from wearing dark clothing (in the dark) to, as she becomes more “free,” wearing a bright-white-sky-blue snow royalty dress (at gleaming sunrise):

Then in subsequently watching Levato’s music video for her pop version of the same, I was deeply disturbed to see that the multiracial singer (yep she’s mixed too) had had her hair lightened to blonde and that the exact same clothing/lighting transition from dark-to-light is used again:

I’m sorry but no way in hell am I going to let my brown son, who has already shown strong signs of internalizing/normalizing white phenotype at the expense of rejecting his own (http://multiasianfamilies.blogspot.com/2013/05/mirror-mirror.html), watch these videos or become enchanted with them in any form. Nobody really has “white” or “black” skin – we are shades of browns, tans, pinks, peaches, etc. – nor do we have “white” or “black” souls. Yet these polarized colors supposedly signal not only a person’s race but also diametrically opposed measures of their inherent value and worth? This was a concept developed by English settlers of America 4 centuries ago to build a rational for the devastation of indigenous and dark-skinned peoples:

“[English colonists]…had the power to shape the everyday terminology used in interaction with one another and with those they oppressed. Increasingly, skin color was linked to older color meanings in English. In Old English, the word ‘black’ meant sooted, while the word ‘white’ meant to gleam brightly, as for a candle. In line with earlier Christian usage, the word ‘black’ was used by the English colonists to describe sin and the devil. Old images of darkness and blackness as sinister were transferred to the darker-skinned peoples exploited in the system of slavery” (Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, And Future Reparations by Joe Feagin, 2014, p. 68).

But unbelievably our kids still receive these same strong messages today about race and who does or does not matter. This stuff runs really, really deep. “White is right” is still all over the place in ways we adults have become so used to, we may not even notice. Take for instance Pixar’s 2009 film Up which featured Asian American Boy Scout “Russell,” one of very few animated films to ever feature an Asian character. Not only is Russell a total do-gooder-over-achiever (model minority), but he’s overweight (“unattractive”), has a speech impediment/accent (forever foreigner), looks nothing like his voice-over talent Jordan Nagai (invisible) AND ultimately is saved by a white man who acts as a surrogate-substitute father (China remains #1 source of internationally adopted US children) to replace his absent Asian father (Asian men = emasculated).

Children's movie stars

Jordon Nagai with “Russell” of Pixar’s Up

By contrast, consider some of the other white film children of Pixar (which was acquired by Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion): “Andy” of the Toy Story franchise is essentially the center of the movie’s universe and is completely idolized by his toys who would lay their lives down for him. “Boo” of Monsters, Inc and her laughter revolutionize Monster University’s approach to harnessing good energy. “Violet” of The Incredibles is a sullen tween/teen who can vanish, cast powerful force fields and discovers her astounding inner beauty throughout the course of the film. Also of The Incredibles, “Dash” can run really, really fast and see truths his family find difficult to see:

Pixar Children

(clockwise from upper left): “Andy” of Toy Story, “Boo” of  Monsters, Inc., “Dash” and “Violet” of The Incredibles)

 

And I’m only scratching the surface here. Where also are strong non-stereotypical depictions of Black, American Indian, Latina/o, mixed race, etc. children who identify as nonwhite? I do firmly believe all of us have an obligation to pay responsible, critical and intelligent attention to this disproportionate, skewed racial messaging still being spoon-fed younger generations. To be clear, I absolutely am not arguing that white children (or people) should be devalued. But I am arguing that no child should be elevated in a way that results in other children feeling less worthwhile. Here is the core truth folks, racism dehumanizes us all. Until we can see that every child/person has true, innate beauty that deserves recognition and support — we have a long way to go.

 

~ This post was written by Sharon H Chang and originally appeared at her blog MultiAsianFamilies.

 

Hollywood’s Post-Racial Mirage

The increase of colorblind casting in sci-fi television shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Sleepy Hollow” suggests that a “post-racial revolution” is being televised, according to a writer at CNN. John Blake especially celebrates shows like “Arrow,” which have a diverse racial cast and manage in many instances to avoid stereotypes. Certainly, I agree with Blake that television is slowly but surely diversifying in ways that it simply has not been diverse over the last decade. (ABC’s “Scandal” has a diverse cast, a black female lead, and is one of the most popular shows on television. It is certainly a personal favorite.)

But I’m not sure post-racialism is a thing to want, that it should be our goal.

Cosby Scandal images

(Image source)

First, although television seems to be changing, we should not forget that 20 years ago television was more diverse. When we tell ourselves these post-racial fantasies of progress, we act like more black people cast in roles that have traditionally gone to white people is progress. Second, we act as though this is the best definition of diversity. I came of age in the 1990s, where there were several black shows that populated the landscape of my adolescence – “The Cosby Show,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Martin,” “In Living Color,” “Living Single,” “Sister Sister,” “The Parent ‘Hood,” “The Wayans,” “Smart Guy,” “Hanging With Mr. Cooper,” and “Family Matters.” As a little kid, I watched “227″ and “Amen.” All of these shows were spread out over a combination of minor networks like UPN and the WB and the traditional major networks.

Slowly by the late 1990s all black shows were being outsourced to the minor networks. Then those networks consolidated, with UPN and the WB becoming the CW, and then the CW decided in the late 2000s to move from an “urban programming format.” The same thing is true of the movie industry. In the 1990s, there were black movies – black gangsta movies, black love movies, black family movies. “Boyz N the Hood,” “Love Jones” and “Soul Food” are representative classic black movies of the era. By the mid-2000s, the only person able to command an impressive box office showing was Tyler Perry.

 

Commitment to racial diversity on the big and small screens has always been fickle.

Now the tide is changing as black actors are being asked to do black versions of white movies like “About Last Night” or the thinly veiled mashup of “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids,” that will be “Think Like a Man, Too.” I have seen or plan to see these movies, because I like seeing people who look like me on the big screen. But I’m bothered by the idea that progress means black people’s lives can fit into traditional white narratives. Why are black stories particular, but white stories universal? Surely this is not the best definition of diversity.

And it certainly is not progress. It’s more like the gentrification of media, being marketed to us as progress. Under the logic of gentrification, both the physical kind and this new mediated kind, those of us who harken back to a prior moment when people of color could live and work and be represented on their own terms are seen as barriers to progress. Even though we are made to witness the systematic removal of people of color from posts and property that they have labored for generations to have access to, we are supposed to be impressed when these new social and geographical formations allow token participation by people of color, who are viewed as having crossover appeal. To be clear, crossing over means that despite your color, white people like you. It’s an ugly truth, but we should tell it. And given the racist audience backlash to the casting of “The Hunger Games” character Rue as  black and to the new version of Annie starring African-American Quvenzhané Wallis, I’m not sure we should actually believe this optimistic narrative of post-racial revolution.

In fact, the backlash toward these young black characters is more in line with a recent finding from  the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, that of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, only 93 were about black characters. To this day, I keep a list of children’s stories that feature black girl protagonists, so that my friends with daughters can have culturally relevant books for their children.

African-American author Walter Dean Myers penned a response to the children’s book study in the New York Times. I didn’t even know people wrote children’s books about African-Americans until I stumbled upon a whole shelf of Mr. Myers’ books one lazy summer when my mother left me at the library all day. I eagerly brought home a copy of the teenage love story “Motown and Didi,” which remains a favorite to this day, alongside a stack of books that included stories about the Box Car Children and the Sweet Valley Twins. My personal favorite was Baby Sitters Club books, but those only came out once a month, and I usually had devoured them by the second day after purchase. And while the characters were mostly white, part of being a voracious-reading black kid in the ’90s meant you learned to relate to white children, and to identify with the “universality” of their narratives.

I also vividly remember my joy at seeing and eagerly purchasing a copy of Myers’ “The Mouse Rap” in 1992. Though I preferred stories with female protagonists, the chocolate black boy on the cover, who had dreams of being a rapper, appealed to me.

As a young black girl growing up in a predominantly white environment, race mattered. Despite my attempts to mimic the cultural habits and speaking styles of my white counterparts, a journey to racial self-awareness that got me mercilessly teased by my black counterparts, I was never going to be white and didn’t especially want to be. Like other children, I wanted to fit in and not be bullied. Reading children’s and young adult stories with black characters helped me to imagine other ways to be black besides the sometimes limiting representations that I saw in my immediate environment. Those black stories also affirmed my nerd self, letting me know that white children didn’t have a monopoly on smarts, and that I didn’t have to jettison blackness to embrace nerd-dom. Seeing ourselves represented, not as devoid of race but as shaped by and deeply influenced by race, matters. To have race not as a biological but as a social condition is not a bad thing. We all do.

And until all of us – white people included — grapple with what this means, until we can tell the truth honestly about it, our swift desire to get to a post-racial future will remain a gilded project, and one steeped in dishonesty.

That kind of dishonesty will have us doing as John Blake did, invoking the work of Octavia Butler, an African-American sci-fi author, to make the case for post-racialism. I think Butler would take deep issue with being read into a genealogy of post-racial cultural production. She thought that black life provided the ground upon which to explore questions of dystopic futures, life after armageddon, and other forms of relationship to the human body, to African-American history, and to the time-space continuum. Blackness is central, rather than incidental to her work.

For the young black time-raveling teens in Kiese Laymon’s “Long Division,” their Mississippi-inflected, crooked-letter blackness is central to who they understand themselves to be. These characters, and African-Americans more generally, to disagree with Harlem Renaissance thinker George Schuyler, are not simply “lampedblack Anglo-Saxons,” dropped into the middle of an Ebony version of “A Wrinkle in Time.”   

Butler, Myers and Laymon show us black possibility through their fearless engagement with what it means to be both human and black. The stories they tell, the movies and shows that could be made from those stories, are far better models for diversity than our current infatuation with colorblind casting.

Post-racism, not post-racialism, should be our goal. To be American means we are deeply shaped by narratives of race, culture, and power. And celebrating our multiculturalism is not a bad thing. But multiculturalism and post-racialism are not the same. In their most ideal states, one recognizes the power, possibility and gifts of our differences and uses those truths to connect us. The other – the latter — erases the salience of those differences and attempts to use the lie of sameness to connect us. As ever, the question for us remains, what kind of nation do we want to be?

~ This post was written by Brittney Cooper who is a contributing writer at Salon and a Professor at Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter at @professorcrunk.  The original post appeared at Salon and you can read it here.

White Women in American Pop Culture

Today begins the third part of the Trouble with White Women series here at the RR blog.

To briefly review where we’ve been, we started with Part I. White Women in the Early U.S., where we explored white women’s role in slavery, lynching, and the racial origins of early feminism. Then, we turned to Part II. The Professionalization of White Women, in which we explored some of the process of learning to be a white woman, the second wave of feminism, affirmative action, and just last week, the trouble with “leaning in” to corporate feminism.  Part III takes up the issue of white women in American pop culture.

White women dominate popular culture and the collective imagination about crime in ways that undermine our ability to grasp the reality of race and racism.    There are so many examples of the representation of white women in popular culture, it’s difficult to narrow the discussion to just a few.  Even though white women are seemingly everywhere in popular culture, their race, their whiteness, is rarely remarked upon.

Contemporary Hollywood Movies 

While there’s some discussion of the lack of leading roles for women in Hollywood movies, there’s relatively little attention paid to the fact that the preponderance of the women’s roles go to white women.   And, it’s not simply a question of casting, it’s also a matter of what kinds of stories get told.   In the scripts, as well as in the casting, white women are often at the center of movies in particularly racialized ways.   Here are just a few examples:

In Eat, Pray, Love a recent film based on the best-selling memoir by the same name, and starring Julia Roberts, an upper middle-class white woman leaves her husband, and sets out to travel the world in a journey of self-discovery.

Sandip Roy points out the many similarities between the lead characters’ quest and that of colonizers, where:

“They wanted the gold, the cotton, and laborers for their sugar plantations. And they wanted to bring Western civilization, afternoon tea and anti-sodomy laws to godforsaken places riddled with malaria and Beriberi.   The new breed is more sensitive, less overt. They want to spend a year in a faraway place on a “journey.” But the journey is all about what they can get. Not gold, cotton or spices anymore. They want to eat, shoot films (or write books), emote and leave. They want the food, the spirituality, the romance.   … She tries not to be the foreign tourist but she does spend an awful lot of time with the expats whether it’s the Swede in Italy, the Texan in India or the Brazilian in Bali. The natives mostly have clearly assigned roles. Language teacher. Hangover healer. Dispenser of fortune-cookie-style wisdom. Knowledge, it seems, is never so meaningful as when it comes in broken English, served up with puckish grins, and an idyllic backdrop. The expats have messy histories, but the natives’ lives, other than that teenaged arranged marriage in India, are not very complicated. They are there as the means to her self discovery. After that is done, it’s time to book the next flight.”

Although Roy names quite clearly the first-world privilege of this movie character, I would extend that analysis to include her race and her gender.  While it’s possible to imagine a woman of color in the leading role, or even a (white) man in the leading role, it’s unlikely that such a film would have been produced had the lead been say, Tyson Beckford  (lovely as he is).  More to the point, if we’re engaged by this story of a white woman who struggles because she has “no passion, no spark, no faith” and needs to go away for one year,  this raises the question (as Roy does) about where do people in Indonesia and India go away to when they lose their passion, spark and faith?  It’s precisely because this is a white woman that producers believe that we as an audience will be interested in this story.

The Sandra Bullock vehicle Blind Side is another example of the white woman as a central, racialized figure in a movie.  As you may recall, the movie is based on the true story of a white woman who adopts an African American boy who comes from a poor family.   I wrote about this moviewhen it came out last year and noted that it’s a version of the “white savior film” that many sociologists have studied.   The film was a huge hit at the box office (grossing approximately$255 million dollars) and earned Sandra Bullock an Academy Award for Best Actress. It also seems to have prompted something of a life-imitating-art moment for Bullock who, shortly after the film – and her marriage – ended, adopted an African American child.

 

The entire premise of the film Blind Side rests on the race and gender of the lead character; there’s no story here without the central fact that this is a white woman adopting a black child.    Imagine a Tyler Perry production where Janet Jackson is the playing the lead and she takes in a poor, African American child.  It might get produced (by Perry and maybe Oprah) but it’s not going to do $255 million at the box office and Ms. Jackson (lovely as she is) is not getting an Oscar nod.   The whiteness of the lead female character is the sine qua non of theBlind Side.

The appeal of white women as lead characters holds true in films produced outside Hollywood as well.   The wildly popular Milliennium trilogy of books by the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson has been made into a series of films.  In the first of these, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, down-on-his-luck journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) joins forces with bisexual-computer-hacker-in-a-black-leather-jacket Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to fight a ring of serial killer neo-Nazis (no seriously).

The Lisbeth Salander character – both in print and on film – is being widely heralded as afeminist icon for the current era (although there’s some debate about whether the feminism in Larsson’s trilogy is weighed down by the heavy dose of sexual violence).   The Salander character’s Otherness is marked through her bi-sexuality, yet she remains a “white savior.”  As sociologist Matthew Hughey has noted about the classic white savior from a film of another era, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Lisbeth Salander embodies a new white savior with a punk, quasi-feminist flair.

Missing White Woman Syndrome

One of the most telling, and damaging, ways that white women’s central place in the collective imagination shapes how we think about race and racism has to do with crime.    The overwhelmingly majority of crime in the U.S. is intra-racial crime, that is crime committed against people by members of their own race.   And, sadly, a disproportionate amount of crime that occurs is black-on-black crime.  Our jails and prisons house some 2 million incarcerated people, the vast majority of those black and brown people.   Yet, what consistently captures the collective imagination (and the news cycle) are white women who’ve gone missing.

 

The undeniably tragic case of Natalee Holloway, who went missing while on vacation in Aruba, is just the most recent in a long line of missing white women who have captured the public’s attention, including: Polly Klaas, Chandra Levy, Elizabeth Smart, Laci Peterson, and Brianna Denison.  This phenomenon is becoming so widely recognized that the Missing White Woman Syndrome now has its own wikipedia entry.  As communications scholar Carol Liebler points out in a forthcoming article in Communication, Culture & Critique, the Missing White Woman Syndrome is also about middle-class status and perceived attractiveness.    Conversely, when black women are victims of crime, the convergence of gender, race, and class oppressions in the news coverage tends to minimize the seriousness of the violence, portrays most African American women as stereotypic Jezebels whose lewd behavior provoked assault, and absolves the perpetrators of responsibility.  (For more on this, see Meyers, “African American Women and Violence: Gender, Race, and Class in the News,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol. 21, No. 2, June 2004, pp. 95–118).

This fetishizing of white womanhood has expanded to childhood.  There is perhaps no more telling example of our culture’s obsession with white femininity than the swirl of media attention around the death of JonBenét Ramsey.

 

When 6 year old JonBenét Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her parents’ home in Boulder, Colorado in 1996, there was extensive media coverage of the investigation.  All of the networks covered the murder both on their evening newscasts, and other shows such as  “”Larry King Live,” “”Dateline” and “”Hard Copy,” all did dozens, if not hundreds, of shows around the case.   Just the year before, in 1995, 763 children under age 9 were murdered in the U.S., according to the most recent FBI statistics available. This means that, on average, two children in this age bracket are murdered every day.  Yet little, if anything, is known about these children or the circumstances of their deaths because these stories are rarely are these stories picked up by national media.   Scholar Carol Leiber, noted at the time,

Her death should not be more newsworthy than that of another child because she was a white little girl with well-to-do parents. But it has been.

As with the adult version of the Missing White Woman Syndrome, the Ramsey case brought together elements of race, gender and class.   And, because the child had been involved in pageants, the case stirred up a lot of debate about the appropriateness of pageants for young girls and, among some feminists, concern about the sexualization of young girls.  The sexualization of Ramsey was also racialized.  Her success in beauty pageants was premised on her whiteness, as well as her overt sexualization.

 Why Does it Matter that White Women are Central to Popular Culture?

So, what difference does it make that white women are placed at the center in pop culture and our collective imagination about crime?   In my view, this matters for several reasons, including:

  • The relentless focus on white women is a key part of the white racial frame. This frame undermines our ability to grasp the reality of race and racism.
  • The Missing White Woman is a distraction. When our collective attention around crime is on the latest Missing White Woman, as tragic is that is for the individual family of that woman,  what we’re not talking about is the mass incarceration and the establishment of a New Jim Crow that disproportionately affects black and brown people.
  • White feminism, without attention to racial justice, makes an easy partnership with white supremacy. As I noted previously, white feminism – if it’s only focused on a kind of crude parity with (white) men – is not incompatible racism.  In fact, many of the avowed white supremacist women I studied in Cyber Racism view themselves as feminists.  And, there’s nothing inconsistent between white supremacy and white feminism.  That’s why it’s so important for a critically engaged feminism include a committment to racial justice.

White women hold a central place in the western, cultural imagination (for more on this point, see Vron Ware’s classic book, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History, Verso Press, 1992).  Yet, their whiteness often goes unremarked upon (for more on this point, see Ruth Frankenberg’s excellent book, from which this series of posts is borrowing a title,White Women, Race Matters, University of Minnesota Press, 1993).