Sunday, April 17, 2011

No One's Really Colorblind: avoiding talk about race

by Desiree Andersen

I included this video, because the song seems to play on the avoidance of talk about race by vividly exposing that it is still relevant.

In week 12, we looked at racializing discourses. In class, we attempted to define what it means to racialize, but perhaps a clear-cut definition was not reached. proposes three definitions:

1. to impose a racial interpretation on; place in a racial context.
2. to perceive, view, or experience in a racial context.
3. to categorize or differentiate on the basis of race.

Indeed, these processes seem to happen frequently withing our society. This recurring dialogue in and of itself suggests that perhaps we do not live in a colorblind nor a post-racial society. In her article “'Racist!': Metapragmatic regimentation of racist discourse by Asian American youth,” Angela Reyes argues that “'crying racist' emerges by way of indexical signaling that is focused on the context of interaction and not simply racist individuals or words” (6). Unlike personalism, which focuses on individuals as racist, and referentialism, which focuses on words as being inherently racist, the youth in her study found situations to have racist undertones within their context.

The previous video, Top 10 Most Racist Moments in TV, includes the three types of racist categories described above. I have placed the number of the clip (1-10) into the different categories of racism for which they can be argued to fit. I also include the possible train of thought that lead these clips to be considered racist. DISCLAIMER: I do not necessarily agree with any of the following.

  • Personalism (individuals):
    • 10 believing in “white supremacy” is racist
    • 9 the woman who proposed lynching Tiger Woods is racist for proposing this
    • 6 implies that Hispanics are prolific, but does not use referentialism, thus just leaving the individual to be considered racist
    • 3 John McCain is racist for saying he did not want to travel with al Qaeda, because they only like one-way tickets

  • Referentialism (words):
    • 10 “white supremacy” in and of itself is a term tied to racism
    • 9 “lynching” has a racist history
    • 8 “nappy headed hoes” is a racist thing to say
    • 2 Mock Chinese is inherently racist
    • 1 the n-word is inherently racist and has a racist history
  • Indexical/Contextual Racism:
    • 9 “lynch him in a back alley” in reference to Tiger Woods, a black male is racist
    • 8 “nappy headed hoes” in context implies the speaker to be racist
    • 7 pulling eyes back is a racist thing to do in reference to Asian people, but it depends on the context, since pulling your eyes back habitually while rubbing your eyes, for example, may not be considered racist
    • 5 white guys can't be as good of runners as men from Kenya or Ethiopia, this instance is completely dependent upon the context
    • 4 how could a man that looks to be Indian (and/or South Asian) miss the answer, which is “New Delhi?” - this train of thought is racist

The point of each of these is that race and its implications are still not absent from society. Jane Hill argues that racism in many instances has simply become more covert. In her argument she points to the fact that many times things are not overtly racist, but that certain linguistic practices work “to reproduce negative stereotypes of people of color” (119). Perhaps it is not overtly racist to assert that Hispanics are prolific, because data has shown their families to be larger, but this comment from the video does imply some type of lack of responsibility by Hispanics to manage family size. This, however, ignores other social reasons for why families may be larger than those of white Americans.
Rosie O'Donnell's use of Mock Chinese can be related to Hill's analysis of Mock Spanish. She says that Mock Spanish serves multiple functions, which are accomplished through indexicality. While all of the functions she describes cannot relate to O'Donnell's use of Mock Chinese, several of them do apply.

First, Hill writes, “It constructs a light, jocular, humorous stance.” The laughter of the audience is indicative enough of O'Donnell's Mock Chinese indexing the function Hill describes. O'Donnell carefully switches her accent and tone to say the name “Danny Devito” and the phrase “drunk on the View.” This positioning of Chinese as something to laugh at suggests that the language should be taken less seriously than its less comical English counterpart. This begs the question, would this be funny if Mock Chinese were not included?

The second and third functions of Hill's argument that relates to the O'Donnell incident are that, “Mock Spanish locates 'Spanish' – as a language – as marginal, disorderly and 'un-American.' It covertly reproduces negative stereotypes of the Spanish language and Spanish-language-heritage populations.” O'Donnell becomes quieter with her use of English than she is with her Mock Chinese and in turn suggests that users of Chinese are louder than users of English. Perhaps in this way users of Chinese are depicted as something other than American and maybe less refined. It is because of instances such as these that non-English speakers are marginalized for the use of other languages.
To return to the notion of covert racism it will be helpful to look into the debate surrounding the James Cameron film, Avatar:

The main commentator recognizes that it is okay to voice concern for the film repeating the themed fable of the white messiah, but calls it “over the top” to call the film racist. This man's logic is likely to fall within the post-racial mentality. That is to say, to him, race is not relevant enough to the discussion to be rendered problematic. While the film may not have been made with racist intentions. It seems the argument is that this story line is so imbedded into certain histories, such as people of color's need for the white man to save them, that in this way is racist. 

The Asian youth from Reyes' article turn to exactly these histories with their view of “black” in certain contexts as having racist undertones. It is the repetition of certain practices and conversations that leads to “crying racism.” Reyes' uses an example in which one of her subjects cried racism when the class was speaking about the Columbine shooting in relation to their essay assignment on gun control and the teacher described the shooters to be wearing black. Because the color black was related to violence in this instance, the student cried racism. Black youth and Black people in general have been depicted and discussed in relation to violence and crime for many years. This is a repeated dialogue. 

It is the history behind certain words that make them referentially racist and contexts that make “crying racism” befitting of a situation. Of course, referentialism and personalism are related to contextual/indexical racist instances. Disregard for the reasons why people cry racism can lead to more covert ways for racism to operate within society. Colorblindness and post-racial ideas are problematic, because they cut the conversation about race as a relevant topic. Language that is colorblind and politically correct is hyper-corrective. It avoids the issue, but does not solve it.

No comments:

Post a Comment