Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some choice thoughts on the "UCLA Racist"

  • Was this blown out of proportion? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that she's inextricably linked to UCLA, and now the university feels the need to defend itself as a whole against the actions of, obviously, one individual. No, because even though UCLA's eating it right now, it's not like she's the only person at UCLA who feels the way she does. She was just the one who was stupid enough to put it on YouTube. People calling her a "bad apple" are really missing the point that there are still a lot of people out there that harbor racist feelings, which is bad, even if those feelings manifest themselves as cringey YouTube videos rather than, say, slavery. Maybe somewhere next to the shock and outrage people are expressing about "How someone could say such things!" they might also be examining themselves and learning why it's not only bad to say such things, but also to feel them, and possibly adjusting their own silent attitudes accordingly.
  • So... about all of this shock and awe. If there is one thing I know about white people, it's that among even the most socially-conscious of us, there are people who love to get away with telling a racist joke - that is, they're in comfortable enough company to know that their peers know they are just joking, and they're not really racist. But let's think about this a bit. It is exactly that kind of permissive environment that allows people like Wallace to post videos like that and think that it's just a little bit of humor. She lacked the sense to realize that The Internet ≠ Your Private Circle of Friends, but I think more of us with a certain racial privilege (read: white people) should be willing to, in said Private Circle of Friends, be like "Hey man, that's not cool. If you don't really believe that stuff, maybe you shouldn't say it. And if you do believe it, then you should probably accept that you're being a little bit racist and try to work on that."
  • Asians are kinda bearing the brunt of overt racism right now. There is this idea that Asian Americans are a "model minority" because they don't contribute significantly to the crime or detention rate, and because they are often highly educated and perceived as being very hard working. Most educated white people know have a little bit of liberal guilt at this point about racism toward blacks and Hispanics, and we know better than to say nasty shit about them publicly. This veil of public anti-racism doesn't always extend to Asians because there isn't necessarily a repeated history of the white man holding Asians down, in this country or others. So it seems a little more okay, for some reason, to employ racist humor against Asians. The more you think about this, the less sense it makes.
  • Finally, in regards to the "feedback" Wallace has received. I'm very interested in the responses to the video, and in the responses to those responses. (It all gets very meta.) There are the "appropriate" responses, which address the content of the video. The "inappropriate" responses, in my mind, are the ones that address her rather than the content of the video. These responses include the death threats and the "ur a slut" and the "typical blonde bimbo." Neither of these epithets may be as damaging as, say, racial discrimination, but they do succeed in bringing the focus away from what she did, which we know for certain and we can discuss with certainty, and directing it toward who she is, which the majority of us don't know and can't talk about with any authority at all. That weakens our position. Doing your hair and makeup and wearing a low-cut top may mean you want to look nice (to someone's standards) in your video, but it doesn't under any circumstances automatically mean she's a whore. Interestingly, even amongst feminist circles, there seems to be little condemnation of the "who she is" conversation, and even some suggestions of happiness and satisfaction that she is receiving death threats. I mean look, I have no sympathy for this girl, but let's be clear about one thing - violence, and threats of violence, are never okay. Furthermore, I can't exactly understand the anger toward people who are calling out some of the more unsavory feedback. There was an interesting article on Feministing, back when Chris Brown beat up Rhianna, that though what he did was absolutely inexcusable, it's worth examining how his race might be flavoring the particular nature of the discussion around the incident. There was a lot of anger about that article, a sense of "Why are we making this about race when we should be talking about gender?" -- or more specifically: "Race isn't what matters here - it's that a man beat up a woman." In their personal relationship, no, race did not matter. But in the larger societal context, it is obvious to any who pay attention that black men get, on average, a whole lot more flack for their crimes in the media than white men get for their equivalent crimes. So the consensus was, at the end of that discussion, that acknowledging that Brown might be in for a larger world of shit than a white guy in a similar situation isn't the same as giving him a pass for it; likewise, acknowledging that a lot of the specific commentary directed at Wallace has to do with her being a busty blonde lady isn't the same as being sympathetic toward her. That's why I steadfastly disagree with the "Why are you making this about gender when it's really about race" people. As a society with limitless access to the tomfoolery of individuals and the ability to comment (often anonymously) to our heart's content on those things, we should be aware of how our contributions to the discussion shape the discussion. In this case, a sexist contribution, even against someone who has done a repugnant thing, is detrimental and moves the discussion backwards. Fighting one -ism with another doesn't work toward anyone's equality.

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