Friday, November 09, 2012

The ties that bind us.

I tried a few times to write something about the outcome of the election. But this is it in a nutshell: Republicans, people think you are racist. And sexist and homophobic, but I'm just gonna focus on racist part right now. Being racist is no longer seen as socially acceptable, so as long as you have that label following you around, you probably aren't going to win many more national elections.

Now, I have lots of Republican friends, and I know that they are no more racist than my friends who are registered Democrats. So really it is more of an image problem than anything. Maybe I'll write more in the future about things I think could help you change the perception, or you can shoot me an email if you're really interested. But it's time for you to have a come to Jesus talk about the future of your party. Because as I've said before, you do have ideas that I think would be amenable to people of color (at least some of them,) but the messages are getting muddled in a bunch of stuff that people are not interested in hearing.

Ok, moving on. Watch this trailer:

This is a movie that's coming out soon. I probably won't see it, because it doesn't look that interesting to me. I do like that it's about mental illness, because that is something that doesn't get enough attention.

But the reason I am writing about it is because black people often complain about how there are not many good roles for black actors in Hollywood. There is a black actor in this movie, Chris Tucker. And who does he play? The white main character's friend. Color me surprised.

So then I go to thinking...Why aren't the main characters black in this movie? Now is the part in the blog post where I ask a bunch of questions. This is what it's like in my brain--questions, questions, questions. Pretty much all the time, unless I'm watching one of the Real Housewives shows.

Could one or both of the leads have been black people?
Would they have had to change any of the details of the plot just because the skin color of the actors was different? Like the fact that the male lead wears sweatpants and a cross? Or likes football? Or just got out of a mental institution? Or that the female lead is interested in ballroom dancing? Or slept with a bunch of people at her job? Are any/all of these things quintessentially white?

What about Robert De Niro? Could he still have played the male lead's dad? Could De Niro still be the dad and there just never be anything in the script about why they were different races? Or maybe the male lead was adopted. Does the race of the actors change everything in such a fundamental way that it has to be addressed somehow in the dialougue? Or does it make it a completely different movie? Or a movie that will make significantly less money because white people won't go see it?

Louis CK recently cast a black woman as his ex-wife on his show, even though the actors that play his children are white. As far as I know, he hasn't explained it on the show, he just has a black ex-wife and white kids. Colorblind casting, and a black actress gets work. Although not really colorblind, because Louis did say that having a black woman in the role does bring something...
He doesn't say what (I'm assuming because the audience started to laugh,) but we know what he means--spice, flava, oomph. Are these things quintessentially black? Or more specifically, black female?

And this brings us to the conundrum. Well, two conundrums actually.

The first conundrum is that when you take a multicultural class or diversity training, one of the first things you learn is that the I don't see color way of looking at race, is the first stage of racial identity development. To put it more harshly, this is the least evolved/most racist way of looking at race. So when someone says, I don't care if you're black, white, blue or green--This is a clue to people who have done a lot of work around diversity issues, that they are talking to someone that probably hasn't done a lot of work around diversity issues.

But ultimately, isn't this what we are striving towards? Like Dr. King said, judging someone on the content of their character, not the color of their skin? Of course we see race (because we have eyes and notice the difference between brown and ecru,) but should race matter? Should we make any decisions (small or large) about people based on the color of their skin? If so, which ones?

Ok, second conundrum. People of color are very quick to call a white person racist when they associate negative characteristics with people of color. But at the same time, they are willing to embrace so-called positive characterstics--even though they are both just stereotypes. Like black people don't want to be called drug addicts or welfare queens, but they are open to reinforcing the idea that they are great dancers, or have swag. And when is the last time you heard a black man say that he had an average to small-sized penis?

It's like, you can't have it both ways. You want to say x,y and z aren't true because you are black, but a,b and c are true because you are black.

I'll tell you what I know is true about every other black person over the age of 10 that I meet. I can't tell you how the person is going to talk, what his or her name is, where they are from, if they go to church, how much money they have, or whether or not they like ballroom dancing.

But I can tell you that they have an experience of racism that they can share with me.

They can tell me about the first time they were called the n-word, or the time someone told them they were dirty or stupid or just less than simply because they weren't white. Every single black person I pass on the street--I know they have a story about this. And it is this that binds me to them; makes me feel a sense of connection.

We may not have anything else in common, but we have that. I hope that they love and want the best for black people the way that I do, and when they smile and say "hey" to me, a complete stranger--it makes me think that they might.

But this is a sad connection to have. It is one that comes from a lot of pain. And it is one that I would gladly give up if it meant that there were no more racism in the world. Until then...I'm holding on tight.

I have covered a lot here, haven't I? To Rebecca and everyone else reading this, please leave me a comment. Because as much as I occasionally try to convince myself otherwise, your comments are important to me. Just like my writing helps you to understand me, your feedback helps me to understand you. So interwebsters, let me know what you're thinking and feeling.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Decision time.

Let's take a break from all the election chatter today and watch a funny video:

That is an example of a joke about race that is actually funny. It's from the movie Role Models. It's a good movie, and I don't say that about many comedies. I would recommend you hulu it or netflix it or something.

Happy election day, everyone. I hope you voted. Unless you think the whole system is corrupt or just don't care. Since this is the U.S., you are allowed to hold such beliefs.

Ain't this country great? I think so.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The song of my people...

Here's a song for Music Thursdays. I love this song. I am going to post it twice, but the first time you only need to listen to it for about a minute and a half, so you can hear him singing. But it's such a great song, you may just want to listen to it the whole way through twice.

I first heard this song on one of my Pandora stations. I then went to youtube and found the official music video that you can watch below:

At about 23 seconds is when I yelled to my husband, "Wait, this is a white guy?!"

Did you have the same reaction? Sam Sparro sounds like a black guy to me.

So, what does it mean to sound like a black guy (or a black person?) I've been thinking about this quite a bit in preparation for writing this post, and I've narrowed it down to two things.

You can sound like a black person if you talk like our friend Antoine, meaning you pronounce your words a certain way or have a distinctive (usually Southern sounding) drawl. Click the link if you don't know who Antoine is. You can also sound like a black person if you structure your sentences in a distinctive way (think Ebonics.)

But, you can also sound like a black person even if you enunciate the endings of your words, and structure your sentences in the way that we are taught to in school. Black people's voices seem to be generally deeper than white people's. Or maybe they just have a different timbre. Maybe black people's vocal cords are longer or looser or something. I have a theory that some white women artificially increase the pitch of their voice in order to seem happy, non-threatening or something similar. Not basing that last statement on anything other than my own personal experiences; not trying to piss anyone off.

So, is it bad/racist/racish to think that you can tell a someone's race just from hearing their voice? Is it bad/racist/racish to say someone sounds black or sounds white?

Well, I wouldn't have a problem with someone telling me that I sounded black if it were for reasons related to the quality of my voice. And I don't think that anyone would ever say that I sounded black because I don't pronounce the endings of my words. As I wrote here before, I'm sure there are many people who think that I probably talk like a white person.

But this is the problem: a white person telling me that I sound like a white person is not a compliment, and a black person telling me I sound like a white person is not an insult (even though that is how each comment is intended.)

I talk the way that I talk. And since I am black, I would say that means I talk like a black person. Antoine talks the way that he talks, and since he's black, that means that he talks like a black person too.

Do more black people talk like Antoine than talk like me? I don't know. But I do know that Antoine's manner of speaking is much more commonly accepted as the black way of speaking than mine is. That is troublesome to me because it serves to create division among black people about who is truly black. Time spent on that is time not spent on changing the things in that documentary I shared my last post.

Are Antoine's professional opportunities limited by the way that he speaks? Probably.

And who shoulders the responsibility for that--Antoine? Or the person doing the hiring? Should he change the way he speaks (something that is a big part of a person's identity,) if he wants to get a job at State Farm? (that was just the first corporation that came to mind.) Or should corporations embrace a wider range of ways to speak, in an effort to celebrate diversity?

All right, I feel like I am kind of rambling now. But I wanted to leave you with a few more questions.

Do you feel like you can tell a person's race just from hearing their voice? Like, if two people read Mary had a Little Lamb, could you tell who was white and who was black?

If you're not white or black, can you tell if other people are the same race as you, even if they don't have a stereotypical accent? If so, how?

Have you ever thought someone was one race, and then met them in person, and found out they were another? What happened? How did you handle it?

Feel free to answer any, all, or none of my questions in the comments. You can even ask some of your own.