Saturday, January 30, 2010

DJ Pauly D on the 1's and 2's...

So, I watched the season finale and the Reunion show for Jersey Shore last week.

One of the first questions that the host of the Reunion show asked the cast was if they felt like the show portrayed Italian-Americans in a derogatory light. My man Pauly D had what I thought was a very good response. He said something to the effect of, "I was not on the show to represent all Italians, I was representing myself." His co-stars also reiterated a point that they'd made previously, that if you didn't like the show then change the channel and watch something else.

I agree with Pauly, he is not (nor should he be) responsible for carrying the reputation of the entire Italian-American community on his shoulders. But it was his answer to a related question that made me a little confused. The host Julissa asked if the word "guido" was a derogatory term. He said, "Oh no no no--it's not."

I think what he should have said was, "Well, speaking only for myself and not all Italian Americans--I don't find that term offensive." It's like, you can't have it both ways, bud. You can't on the one hand say that you speak only for yourself, and on the other think that you can give the people watching permission to use a word that many people do find offensive. Because I can guarantee you that thousands of people saw that show, and have now incorporated guido into their vocabularies primarily because Pauly D said that it was okay.

I said the last time I talked about this show, that I had a lot more to say, but Sweet Tomatoes was calling my name. I really appreciated the insightful comments that I got on that post, and I wanted to incorporate some of them here to help guide this post along. It's like Follow Up Fridays, except it's Saturday and I'm not really following up, I'm adding on.

Here is part of what my white friend Carema had this to say about stereotypes:

I am not in as much agreement that the stereotypes that are probably presented in Jersey Shore are harmless as they may seem. Stereotyping, no matter how seemingly inane, leads to prejudice, that leads to discrimination.

I can see how it could seem like I was saying that the stereotypes that the cast of Jersey Shore reinforced were "not that bad." I agree that stereotypes are harmful, or at the very least, not helpful ( you can read more about my thoughts on this subject here.)

What I was trying to say has more to do with the second sentence of the excerpt. Why does someone fitting into a stereotype have to equal discriminating against them? Why does someone doing things differently from you automatically make their way inferior? Like I have said before, I fit some what? It doesn't mean that anything else is automatically true about me.

And here is some of what my white friend JOHNFERGUSON had to say about stereotyping:

Like all jokes and humor about subordinated group identity and cultural difference, it is funny because we can all say, “Yeah that is so true.” But like you noted about the use of pejorative naming words, it is mostly OK when we perceive that the teller of the joke is on our side. When we feel some suspicion that they are taking some attitude of superiority, we are offended.

This is such a critical point. Jersey Shore is only "harmless fun" if everyone is laughing with the cast and not at them. But sadly, we know that is probably not the case.

One of my friends on Facebook posted a Jersey Shore related link on her wall only to have one of her other friends comment, "It's ridiculous they don't realize that they're actually being made fun of."

Now, I don't know this other person. So I can't say if he was speaking as a person who actually does the making fun of, or simply as a concerned citizen.

But I think we can all agree if people are watching the show and treating Italian-Americans worse as a result...that's a bad thing. I watch the show and like the show because I know that I am watching it with a critical eye, and am not looking down on the people I'm seeing on the screen.

But the problem is that there are probably lots of other people who say they feel the same way as I do, but are more inclined to do or say something racish to the next Italian-American they see because that show has been introduced to their brains.

So, where does that leave us? I don't know. I know that Mtv is running a Jersey Shore marathon before the Super Bowl, and that the show is more than likely going to be picked up for a second season. As a reality show connoisseur, I can tell you that the next season won't be as good. They caught lightning in a bottle this time around, and whatever they do next time is sure to be more manufactured and artificial. But this show made Mtv a lot of money, and you can bet they will milk it for all it's worth. I just wonder what that means for all of us.

Comments? I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dear Abby,

Did you know Dear Abby and Ann Landers were twins? 'Tis true.

I wanted to get to a comment left by my white friend Steven, in my post asking for questions. He wasn't asking for advice, which makes the title of the post somewhat irrelevant--but let's just go with it.

Steven wrote:

i don't know how it's done now, but when i taught at overland high school, we had "equity" meetings in which we were supposed to talk about the achievement gap between different races. but one of the "agreements" that were thrust upon us on these meeting was that we would focus solely on race. other factors like gender, socio-economic background, etc, could not be brought into the discussion. i found it incredibly narrow and meaningless to isolate race. what do you think, my black friend?

Yes Steven, I also think is incredibly narrow and meaningless to isolate race in the situation that you described. What do you think that was about? Whose idea was it? What were the perceived advantages of doing it this way?

One thing that came into my head as I read that: do y'all know how the whole concept of "white" came about? Like, "a white person"? Let me give you a brief, fairly accurate rundown.

During the beginnings of this country you had white people who were here who worked as indentured servants, one step up from slaves. At some point (I'm not sure if it was around the time of the Revolutionary War or right after the Civil War,) these poor white people started aligning themselves with poor black people.

The rich white people saw this and were like, "This isn't good, what can we do to divide these two groups of people? We know! We'll invent this concept of "white" and tell the poor, lighter skinned people that while they may not have any money or property like we do, we'll tell them that they're special and better than those dark skinned people because like us, they're... white (cue chorus of angels.)

After the Civil War when black people were freed, white people invented the minstrel show (you know, where white people paint their faces black and "act black"?) While these shows provided hours of entertainment for their white audiences, they served another very important purpose. By supposedly showing these audiences how black people acted, they were reinforcing the ideas about how white people were supposed to act. Teaching these people what it meant to be white.

Like, did you know back in the day if a white person did something nice for another white person, the first white person would say, "Thank you, that's mighty white of you." (I'm guessing that some white people still say this, but I choose to live in ignorant bliss.) I can't think of a much more obvious example of the idea that white = everything great than this one. And let's not forget what happens to you when you fail to live up to this ideal.

Ok, but what does all this have to do with Steven's comment? I'm guessing if the school staff and administration started looking at some other factors in these equity meetings (particularly socioeconomic status) they'd find some very interesting correlations. Like, why are a disproportionate number of the broke students not getting good grades? And why are a disproportionate number of the broke students black and brown?

These are just guesses, since I wasn't sitting in on the meetings. But by keeping the focus solely on race, they can't really do much else than attribute the lackluster performance to the students' race--which just serves to reinforce the white/good black/bad setup.

I'm curious to hear what you think, readers. Leave me a comment.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis?

So, the first question that I got from my post asking for questions. This question came from my white friend jgalt:

Do you believe that since you are a light skin black woman, who does not speek with a negro dialect, that you could be the first female President on the Democratic ticket?

Great question, jgalt. I do think that my light skin and lack of negro dialect (unless I want to have one) would help me if I decided to run for President. But I think my non-chemically straightened hair, state school education, and intense lack of motivation to become the leader of the free world would all work against me.

But what a great segue into talking about the Harry Reid incident you have given me, jgalt! Did you plan that? ;)

Reader, if you don't know what incident I am referring to--you should watch the news more. Or, just click on the link.

As far as I am concerned, the only thing that is wrong with what Sen. Reid said was his use of the word "Negro". I will chalk this up to a racish
mistake. It makes sense: he's an older guy, and for a significant portion of his life that was what black people were called.

I think he actually deserves props (that's negro dialect for "credit",) for being aware of the effect that skin color can have on people's perceptions. I don't think that is something that most white people have even thought about. And most importantly: What he said is true. Barack Obama would have had a more difficult time being elected if he had darker skin, and if he didn't speak the way he does. I also think Obama would have had a tougher time if he weren't half-white, if he were married to a white woman, or was a descendant of slaves instead of a Kenyan immigrant.

I am far more concerned about the comment that Bill Clinton made, one that hasn't gotten nearly as much media attention. " A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee." What the hell?

Unlike Reid's statement, this is not true. Unless by " a few" Clinton means "fifty". President Obama has degrees from Harvard and Columbia, these don't usually lead to jobs serving politicians coffee. No, Clinton seems to be talking more about the fact that Obama is black and in Clinton's mind black = coffee getter. And remember when Clinton made the remark about how "Jesse Jackson did well in South Carolina too" when reporters were questioning him about if his wife would win the primary there? Two pretty pathetic comments coming from the man who was supposedly, "America's first black president."

I'll just take comfort in the fact that Clinton ruined his entire legacy because he couldn't keep it in his pants, and for the rest of history people won't think of him without also thinking of cigars, navy dresses, and naive young interns. Nice job, dude.

One more thing (well, two more.) President Obama is such a forgiving man. He is always forgiving these people who say ignorant/disrespectful/mean/racish/racist things to him. Forgiveness is a good quality to have, and I bet his wife helps him a lot with this ( I am envisioning lots of late night conversations, where he's not as cool, calm and collected as he appears in front of us.)

Second, I think if Sen. Reid and former President Clinton had been Republicans, the media's coverage of these two incidents would have been very different.

But enough about what I think--what do you think? What do you agree with that I've said here? What do you disagree with? And most importantly, Why do you feel the way you do? Leave your comments after the jump.

Ok, there is no jump--I've just always wanted to say that.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'm feeling kind of blah today, blog world. But it was important to me to make a post, so here I am.

I want to talk about the name of this blog. As I say in my "about me" sidebar, I knew that I wanted to write a blog about race, because race is something that I am really fascinated by. There are just so many different discussions that can be had, and I am always up for a good discussion.

As I learned more and more about these issues, I realized that there are so many different marginalized groups out there, that it just doesn't make sense to look at issues of social justice through one lens (race, gender, class, etc.) That's why the subtitle of the blog is thoughts on race and inequality in America. I'm giving myself the option to write about things other than race. All of these -isms are connected, and the sooner we can recognize that--the better off we will be.

I originally wanted to call this blog (you can click on it, but it's not a working site.) I figured that I'd piggyback on the success of the Ask a Mexican guy I would read in my local independent weekly. Alas, when I went to register that domain name--it was already taken.

The point is, I always intended for this site to be a place where people could ask me questions. So if you have any questions for me, you should leave me a comment. You could email me too, but it's more convenient for me for you to just leave me a comment, because then I don't have to go getting on my other computer.

I'll leave you with this funny photo:

Monday, January 11, 2010

I am running out of creative titles for Music Mondays.

This week's selection for Music Mondays is I Am Not My Hair by India.Arie. Great song, no profanity, easy to understand. If you'd like to read along with the lyrics, you can do so here.

(Youtube is doing this new thing called Vevo with a lot of their videos. Judging from the comments, they still have some kinks they need to work out. Just an FYI.)

Two things I want to share: One, I really identify with a lot of this song, I wonder if most black women could write a song about their history with their hair. Second, I did a very unscientific poll on a message board that I frequent, and found out that over 70% of the respondents said that they had dyed their hair blond or gotten blond highlights sometime in the past. This made me sad. Well, not sad...but not happy.

Comments? You know what to do.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

You are excluded from chicken cutlet night.

Let's talk about Jersey Shore. In case you've been living under a rock, Jersey Shore is a Real World type reality show that follows around a group of twenty-something Italian-Americans as they get drunk, dance, hook up, fight and work at a t-shirt shop. Another thing they do is make me laugh hysterically, and use my instant replay button to hear one liners like "Chill out, Freckles Mcgee!" and, "She looked like Mike with a wig on."

After the first episode aired, there was a fair amount of controversy, with people picketing outside of MTV's offices and calling for the show to be pulled off the air. I think the gist of the argument being that it was a negative, stereotypical portrayal of Italian-Americans.

I know when I watched the premiere, one thing that I was really struck by was the repeated use of the word guido by the cast members. Now guido hasn't been elevated to the status of being replaced with "the g word" but I was under the impression that it was a slur, and not an acceptable way to describe an Italian or Italian-American person. After watching the rest of the episodes, I still feel that way--this is not a word that I would use. But, watching the show I began to equate it with the way that some black people use "the n-word"--as a term of endearment, and taking something that has a negative connotation and turning it into a positive one. So Italians can say it to each other if they want, but if you say it in the wrong context and you're not Italian--somebody might beat you. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

In addition to supposedly giving Italian-Americans a bad rap, people are upset that they are giving New Jersey a bad name. The thing that is interesting about this is that most (if not all) of the cast isn't even from New Jersey! One is from New York, another from Staten Island and one is all the way from Rhode Island. This is MTV, you know they searched far and wide and selected from hundreds (thousands?) of people to find a cast that they thought would be the most entertaining to watch.

But let's get back to this idea that these young people are a sterotypical portrayal of Italians.

What stereotypes are they reinforcing? These are the ones that I have observed.

--That Italian-Americans have distinct accents.
--That they like to eat pasta.
--That they're loud. (but compared to whom--that's right...less loud white people.)
--That they're family oriented.

I've never heard that Italians like to drink or fight, so while a lot of the cast does both of these things--I don't see them as being stereotypically Italian.

What stereotypes are they challenging?

--That Italians are in the Mafia.
--That there are rigid gender roles. The guys do most of cooking on the show, and I think one of the last words you would hear to describe any of the female cast members is "submissive."

So, in many ways this is a stereotypical portrayal of Italian young people. But the problem comes with the fact that these are real people, not actors. They're not playing a role, they're being (for the most part) themselves. So what does it mean when yourself is a walking stereotype?

That's when we as a culture have to say, "So these people behave in stereotypical that bad?"
"They like to eat ziti; does that mean they're deficient human beings?"
"Yes, they tan a lot, which puts them at increased risk for skin cancer--does that mean they shouldn't live next door to me?"
" Ed Hardy t-shirts aren't really my style, but does that mean we can't be friends?"

In this instance, I don't think the stereotype itself is the problem. The people in this cast seem to be very fun, caring, loyal, honest people--qualities that most people would look for in someone to associate with.

I think the problem is not with the behaviors that Snickers, Pauly D, and The Situation are or aren't reinforcing. It has to do with the fact that there are so few portrayals of Italian-Americans in the media, and they are often very one-dimensional. Like, MTV has a show coming out called The Buried Life where four white guys travel around the country and checking off things on their Bucket lists. Why didn't they get four Italian-Americans for that show? Why has there never been a character like the people on Jersey Shore on a season of the Real World? Why don't we so rarely see portrayals of people who are proud of their Italian heritage but don't have accents, or aren't particularly close to their families? People from the dominant group get to be represented as pretty much everything in the media (except poor) whereas people from marginalized groups are so often pigeonholed into these very limited representations.

I think there is a whole nother idea about who is or isn't "getting the joke" but I will have to save that for another post--it's lunchtime.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Music Monday

So, originally I thought this was the first time that I was going to do a Music Monday with a song from a white artist. But then when I clicked on the tag, I realized that no, this time was the first time.

This week's selection is Mother, Mother by Tracy Bonham. The link to the video is below, and if you want to follow along with the lyrics you can do so here.

You might be wondering...What does this song have to do with race and inequality in America? Or, maybe you're not.

Comments? You know what to do.

Friday, January 01, 2010

I'm Donna Chang.

Awhile back, I was at a piano bar celebrating a birthday party. Not my birthday, someone else's. As the party was winding down, I went up to the bar to close my tab. As is customary, the white bartender asked me for my last name. I told him and he said, "You don't look like a _____."

I've been trying to think of a last name that I could use for the purposes of this post that would get the point across, without me having to reveal my own last name. I've decided on Gustafson. So I tell him my last name and he says, "You don't look like a Gustafson."

'Tis true. When people think of someone with the last name of Gustafson they are probably more likely to picture someone that looks like this:

than that fine young woman you see over there to your right. I get that he was taken by surprise. What I don't get was why he felt compelled to say something to me about it. Was he looking for me to explain myself?

I too, was taken by surprise. I mumbled something (probably like ehhhmmggth) got my card, tipped his dumb ass and left.

Why did I call him a dumb ass? Because he annoyed me, and that is a term I like to use for people that annoy me.

But why did he annoy me? That is a more difficult question to answer. I thought what he said was inappropriate and racish. It's like, "You don't know me like that, bartender--just give me my mmereffing debit card and be on your way."

And like I said, I got the sense that he wanted some kind of explanation from me for why I had this last name that didn't fit with his understanding of the way the world works.

I suppose that one good thing about it is that his horizons were expanded, and the next time a customer's last name doesn't fit with his preconceived notions, his mind will be a little less blown. Or, maybe he'll say, "What the heck--you're the second black person named Gustafson that's come into this bar. What is the deal?!?"

I'll hope for the former.

If you've ever been in a similar situation, or if you haven't--I'd love to hear your comments.

P.S. Happy New Year!