[Content note: racism, white supremacy, misogyny, ableism, disablism, elimination of disabled people, whitewashing, anti-semitism, holocaust, genocide, homophobia]
Seen this comic recently?
Probably you have. It’s been making the rounds on tumblr/literally everywhere else. I’ve seen it on my dash a couple dozen times. And it makes me super-uncomfortable.
Until yesterday, though, I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t quite articulate why I didn’t like it, and once I figured it out… well, I had other shit to do. A lot of social-justice type people were reblogging it, and I really didn’t want to get in an argument. Despite popular belief, I don’t look for fights.
A few days ago, I dipped my toe in the water. I saw the comic on my dash, and I reblogged it with a note saying: “Yes, but why does smashing the nazi ideal have to involve a white dude?”
Immediate response: “^ Go back and read the comic this time.”
Ah, the internet.
A couple more reblogs, and I got this explanation:
“The Nazi ideal of the perfect man is a white man. Sure, having a black man be Captain America would be awesome, (Or hell, a native american/Indian) But the problem of having a POC Captain America fighting Nazis is the fact that the Aryan master race consider […] POCs to be racially inferior to them. A POC Captain America to Third Reich wouldn’t inspire fear, just the belief they could defeat him…not that could ever happen.
But by having a white, blonde, blue-eyed Captain America? The Nazis are doubting themselves. Here is a man going through and destroying your war machines, and he’s the perfect description that Hitler enforced that should be a soldier on their side. White Captain America is a middle-finger to the Nazis.” (the entire tumblr exchange here)
In the past couple days, I’ve gotten four people pushing back on my point that Captain America’s whiteness does not make him perfect. This doesn’t sound like a lot – but on my tumblr? – it’s a lot. My significant other, who was reblogging my Captain America posts (with added commentary) got his second anon message ever… from someone insisting that Captain America must be white.
I think there’s something going on here.
(Note: I am aware that there have been non-white Captain Americas. But this comic is pretty clearly talking about the Steve Rogers’ Captain America, and that’s what I’ll be addressing here!)
Look, I like Captain America. I like Captain America a lot. The Winter Soldier is still my favorite post-Avengers movie in the Marvel franchise, and I want ten more Captain America/the Falcon romantic-action-comedies right now (THEY BELONG TOGETHER).I think white, blond, Chris Evans is great as Captain America. I like Captain America, and if you do too, that’s great.
But this comic arguing that Captain America’s race makes him “perfect” (to quote the title “Why Captain America is Perfect”) is pretty fucked up.
And there’s a reason we like it so much. There’s a reason it’s got nearly 50,000 notes on tumblr. We just love the idea that Captain America’s Aryan-ness, his whiteness, his massive well of privilege, are progressive. We love the idea of unproblematic whiteness. We will twist ourselves in knots to try to explain why he must be white, why he is PERFECT because he is white.
(Let’s not forget that the name of this comic is “Why Captain America is Perfect”)
Diversity in comics is a big time problem. A lot of progressive/ social justice oriented folks are very aware of this issue. Even people who aren’t progressive are aware. And when you’re someone who cares a lot about representation (or feels like you *should* care about representation), and one of your favorite things is superhero narratives… that can feel pretty uncomfortable. It’s hard to just *enjoy* the medium. You have to ask yourself tough questions about why you love the heroes you love.
Then a comic like this comes along, and BAM. It erases all those tough questions. It puts a bandaid on the problem. Captain America isn’t a problematic figure. He’s a progressive one. And in fact, all of his privileges make him *more* progressive, not less.
It’s the surface explanation that provides the answer we most want – this thing you like is entirely good.
It’s the easy answer. And you can be comfortable again.
And I’ll say it again: no one is a bad person for liking Captain America. I like Captain America! I don’t even necessarily have a problem with him being the Big White Superhero, except inasmuch as I have a problem with the fact that *so many* superheroes are white, cis, straight dudes (especially the superheroes who get movies. Where is my goddamn black widow movie?).
I’m just saying, generally, the moment when something with the veneer of social justice makes you feel comfortable with privilege? That’s the moment you should run screaming for the woods.
So let’s debunk this notion of Captain America as “the most perfectly conceived” superhero, shall we?
The implication of the comic above is that Captain America’s creators deliberately made him a white, extra-aryan dude with blond hair and blue eyes so he could be the perfect nazi ideal. This whole thing would be super-ironic and super-progressive, since it would show that Aryans don’t have to be nazis.
His whiteness, his Aryanness were all, in the comic’s worldview, “perfectly conceived” – a deliberate choice on the part of the creators. Which makes it sound like all the creators sat around the table, trying to think of the perfect rejoinder to Naziism. Ethiopian jew? No. Disabled woman? No. Queer, effeminate man? Nope! White man. That’s the one.
I don’t have a time machine, but trust me on this: the creators of Captain America did not sit down and go “jeez, we’d love to have a black woman as Captain America, but we really need someone who will scare Hitler. It’s gotta be a white blond dude.”
Captain America was not invented five minutes ago. It was the 1940s (1941, to be precise). It was mainstream comics. The creators were not surveying a bevvy of options and picking the Best One. He was a white dude because That Is What You Did.
Shall we be even more precise? Let’s take a look at the mainstream superheroes created in the 1930s and 1940s: Doctor Occult (white man), Superman (white man), Zatara (white man), Namor (white man), Batman (white man), Blue Beatle (white dude), the Human Torch (white man), the Flash (white dude), Hawkman (white dude), Johnny Thunder (white dude), The Spectre (white man), Hourman (white guy), Captain Marvel (white guy), Black Marvel (a white man with native american powers… wow), Catwoman – hey, a white woman!, Black Canary (white woman), Aquaman (white dude), Mister Terrific (white dude), Superboy (white dude), the Shield (white dude), Fighting Yank (white dude), Green Arrow (white dude).
Oh, hey, look at all those white people. It’s almost like… all…the…superheroes…were…white.
Even better: Shield (white dude), Fighting Yank (white dude) and Captain America were ALL characters created during WWII. They were all patriotic american fighters who fought nazis. And they were all white men.
Wow, it’s almost like Captain America was less the “perfectly conceived” opponent for the Nazis so much as he was literally everyone’s default idea of what an American hero looked like.
To make the point even further: Captain America was created nearly THIRTY YEARS before mainstream comics would even *touch* a black superhero (1966: Black Panther). Let me express some skepticism at the idea that a white Captain America was some kind of grandiose choice, as opposed to the default.
So let’s all SIT THE FUCK DOWN and stop acting like this was a decision made in a vacuum. Let’s all SIT. DOWN. and stop thinking Captain America: The White Dude was a brilliant progressive choice as opposed to what literally everyone working in mainstream comics was doing.
Now, let’s address this weird-ass idea that Steve Rogers HAS to be a white aryan, because white aryans are the only people Nazis respect/ are afraid of.
Okay, first off: why are we catering to what Nazis respect? Because I feel like that never ends well.
“The Nazi ideal of the perfect man is a white man. Sure, having a black man be Captain America would be awesome, (Or hell, a native american/Indian) But the problem of having a POC Captain America fighting Nazis is the fact that the Aryan master race consider […] POCs to be racially inferior to them. A POC Captain America to Third Reich wouldn’t inspire fear, just the belief they could defeat him…not that could ever happen.
But by having a white, blonde, blue-eyed Captain America? The Nazis are doubting themselves. Here is a man going through and destroying your war machines, and he’s the perfect description that Hitler enforced that should be a soldier on their side. White Captain America is a middle-finger to the Nazis.”
Distinguished readers, apparently there were no white, blond, blue-eyed aryans fighting against the nazis. At all. Because if there had been – if the people destroying the nazis were white, blond, blue-eyed aryans – the nazis would have been doubting themselves.
Excuse me whilst the many, many, many white aryans in France, England and the United States sob with laughter.
Uh, yeah, a WHOLE LOT of aryans who were the “perfect description that Hitler enforced” opposed the Nazis. And the Nazis were well aware of that fact. For some reason, the idea that Not All Aryans agreed with them did not shake the nazis to their core.
Look at the real world for a millisecond. Do the thousands of white anti-racist activists scare the KKK? Do they make the KKK reconsider their motives? Are white supremacists shaken to their core by the fact that lots of white people hate them? Do the thousands of straight people who support queer rights scare the Westboro Baptist Church? Did the confederates lay down their arms when they realized white people opposed slavery?
Trust me on this, Nazis were not that scared of white people.
Now, you know who Nazis WERE scared of? Jews.
Hitler: “The struggle for world domination will be fought entirely between us, between Germans and Jews. All else is facade and illusion. Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States. Even when we have driven the Jew out of Germany, he remains our world enemy.”
“Unless we expel the Jewish people soon, they will have judaized our people within a very short time.”
Disabled people, who Hitler (and the Nazis) thought were a drain on the economy, and would destroy the Aryan race: “is not only the decline in population which is a cause for serious concern but equally the increasingly evident genetic composition of our people. Whereas the hereditarily healthy families have for the most part adopted a policy of having only one or two children, countless numbers of inferiors and those suffering from hereditary conditions are reproducing unrestrainedly while their sick and asocial offspring burden the community.”
Gay people: “Homosexuality was classed as a “degenerate form of behaviour” in Nazi Germany that threatened the nation’s “disciplined masculinity” (…) ‘The Amendment to the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases”defined homosexuals as “asocial” and a threat to the moral purity of the Third Reich.”
NON-Aryans were much scarier to the Nazis than Aryans. NON-Aryans – Jews, people of color, homosexuals, disabled people – were the real enemies, the one who could take down the third reich just by existing.
So the idea that Captain America has to be white in order to “intimidate” the Nazis?
Moreover – and there’s no way this can be said enough – these are FICTIONAL nazis were talking about. Captain America is a work. of. fiction. The Nazis could be intimidated by whomever the writers goddamn wanted them to be intimidated by. Unicorns! Kangaroos! Little girls in green dresses! THIS IS FICTION.
One of the other objections to my argument that Captain America/Steve Rogers does not NEED to be white to be “perfect” was that Captain America must be white, because white americans in the 1940s were bigots.
Steinpratt’s response to this anon was pretty much perfect:
there’s also something else I should’ve pushed back on: This assumption that the most important thing in a story about a SUPER-SOLDIER who PUNCHES HITLER IN THE FACE is that bigotry is accurately represented. Why is it okay to have fantastical stories about a hero, but not okay to imagine that that hero could be black, or gay, or Roma? Why can’t the hero America looks up to be someone OTHER than a white man?
Which isn’t to say that there’s no place for honest examination of bigotry in stories… but that’s not what Steve Rogers being white does. It’s not a commentary on American racism. It’s never really addressed at all. So claiming that Steve Rogers had to be white so people could look up to him is doubly cheap, because you’re at once relying on the fact of American bigotry to justify your boring choices AND refusing to actually display that bigotry on the page. You want it to just be an unspoken assumption. That’s messed up. (my bolded)
(full disclosure: Steinpratt is the Aforementioned Significant Other)
FICTION, people. It’s not written in stone.
Why do we cling so hard to the idea that Steve Rogers as Captain America *must* be a white guy? Why is it so important to us that his whiteness be “perfect”? Why do so many socially aware, progressive-type people love that comic?
One part of it is definitely fauxgressive guilt, the relief of being able to enjoy deeply privileged hero who has “progressive” rather than oppressive privilege. White supremacy is a hell of a drug.
And people – some progressive, some not – like to be able to counter discussions of diversity in comics with arguments like “well, but Captain America HAS TO be white.” It’s an easy way to shut down a discussion. And even when you believe in that discussion – even when you believe that diversity in comics is important (as most of the people who messaged me did) – that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily ready to engage in that conversation and all the discomfort and examination it entails.Unproblematic whiteness is a hell of a drug, even for those of us who should know better.
We like the easy solution.
Also? Fighting oppression is always extra special when a white dude does it.
This comic falls right in line with the thinking that white able-bodied men are the most important allies, because they’re the most respected outside social justice spaces.
It falls right in line with lionizing white dudes who “get it” because it’s sooooo much harder for white dudes to get it, because they’re not oppressed.
It falls right in line with the idea that white men are the most *objective* social justice activists, because they have the least stake in activism.
Progressivism is always more special when a white guy is doing it.
And we will fight people who try to point out how problematic that is. We will fight anything that points out we’re just reaffirming the same gendered, racialized hierarchies that social justice is supposed to be fighting *against*. Who cares if we’re saying Captain America is perfect because he’s a white aryan dude?
Yeah, just say that to yourself a couple times. Doesn’t sound that great, does it?
This comic lets us lionize a white dude FOR BEING WHITE – and lets us feel good about it. Because it’s progressive.
And that’s fucked up.
You want to lionize a hyper-privileged white dude? Fine, but don’t act like his whiteness is some kind of progressive triumph.
You want to like Captain America? Go for it. You can like Captain America. You can think he’s great. I certainly do. And I don’t have any interest in changing Steve Rogers’ race or gender at this point.
But don’t try to justify Captain America’s white male aryanness as some kind of progressive coup. It’s not a progressive coup. It’s not social justice-y. It’s not spitting in the face of naziism. It is the product of white male supremacy, both in the 1940s and today.
Trust me, white men already dominate the superhero roster. They don’t also need us to come up with bullshit reasons to justify their dominance as being “progressive” or “perfect.”
[Content note: GIFS, mentions of racism]
Meet Nina Davuluri. Nina Davuluri just won the Miss America contest, and is now Miss America 2014. And she’s pretty fucking awesome.
1. Her platform was “celebrating diversity through cultural competency.” When I first heard that, I had *no idea* what it meant. But once you look it up, it turns out it’s fucking awesome. Cultural competency means developing an awareness of your own cultural viewpoint, and then learning to understand, communicate with, and interact with people from all kinds of different cultures and socio/ethnic backgrounds.
Uh… amazing, right? Social justice-y, right?
2. She’s the first Indian-American – and Asian-American – Miss America. And yeah, there have been some racist motherfuckers who’ve been oppressive assholes about this, but that doesn’t take away from Nina Davuluri’s very real accomplishment. Nina Davuluri is damn cool. And talented. And smart.
And she knew she was making history. When Nina Davuluri was one of the last two women standing, alongside Miss California’s Crystal Lee – also an Asian-American woman – she said: “We’re both so proud. We’re making history right here, standing here as Asian-Americans.”
3. She makes terrible jokes.
Damn it, she’s got my favorite sense of humor. AND she’s got an adorable embarrassed smile!
4. Her talent was really fucking amazing – a fusion piece that combined bollywood dance with classical indian training.
Apparently, she chose her talent against the advice of her team, who thought it was “too foreign” for american judges. To which Nina Davuluri was like “Fuck you” and won the WHOLE DAMN THING.
Ugh, I want to be her when I grow up. Ridiculously talented and super-brave.
5. She’s a nerd.
[Okay, so, apparently, this picture is photoshopped. And I am terrible and can’t detecting photoshopping. *headdesk*, Which basically means that… this particular photo is photoshopped. But everything else in the post stands – she’s still a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, she’s still a nerd etc.
Also, who photoshopped this? Was it her? Because that would be adorable. Was it fans? Was it peopel who liked her? I don’t even know!]
She cosplays. She loves Star Trek, Star Wars and anything Science Fiction. And she knows R2-D2 (don’t disillusion me. THAT IS R2-D2 IN THIS PICTURE AND NINA DAVULURI IS HIS BEST FRIEND)
She has a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science. She wants to be a doctor. She’s going into traditionally male fields and she’s a geek and a girl, and she’s fucking awesome.
I wonder what kind of SF books she loves. Maybe I’ll see her at a convention sometime!
And Nina Davuluri isn’t the only awesome nerdy WOC in the Miss America Pageant. The first runner-up, Crystal Lee, is Chinese-American. She graduated with a BA and an MA from Stanford in FOUR years. Her platform is women in STEM fields (awesome). She’s interned for DropBox, and she wants to start her own tech company. Her talent is Ballet-en-pointe, because HOLY SHIT.
It’s easy to focus on the disgusting racism that’s been happening around Nina Davuluri’s coronation. But don’t just talk about the racists. Talk about the awesome women they’re trying to erase through their racism. Don’t let their voices dominate the conversation.
The top two women at the Miss America pageant this year were both WOC. They were both hard-core nerds who study STEM, They care about women and cultural diversity in tech fields. They like Star Wars and cosplaying. They’re going to start tech companies and promote diversity. They’re remarkable women. And it’s a remarkable thing, to look at the Miss America pageant, and see exactly who’s winning – STEM women! Nerds! Women of Color!
As a fellow nerd, ladies – I salute you!
And I’m inspired by you. You’re Big Damn Heroes.
(Hey, geeks of america – could we wrangle a con invitation for Nina Davuluri or Crystal Lee? Wouldn’t that be awesome? I think it would be awesome)
Full credit goes to
Thinkspeakstress on tumblr
Arturo R. Garcia at Racialicious
Lakshmi Gandhi at The Aerogram
for making me check my white privilege, waking me the fuck up and reminding me to stop focusing so much on the racists and start focusing on the people they were actively erasing. I really appreciate the call-out. Thank you.
Note: I realize there are a shit-ton of problems with Miss America. I am aware. It’s never been my favorite institution either. But this post is not a place to complain about how terrible Miss America is. It’s to celebrate the accomplishments of the amazing women who’ve been erased by racists – and people talking about racists. So please don’t comment about the problems with the pageant *on this particular post*.
[Content note: misogyny, racism, whitewashing, transmisogyny, heterosexism, bad faith, flashing GIFS)]
Okay. Let’s talk about Doctor Who, shall we?
(artist/writer: ponyscribbles on tumblr)
A month ago, the BBC announced that Peter Capaldi will play the Doctor in Doctor Who after Matt Smith steps down. He’ll be the twelfth regeneration of the doctor. And the twelfth white man to play the role.
I think most fans were pleased. Peter Capaldi apparently has quite a following in Great Britain (as an American, of course, the only time I’ve seen him was in the Doctor Who episode “The Fires of Pompeii”). He seems like a great actor, and a lovely person.
A large group of fans, however, were quite disappointed. I was among them. We’d hoped – against all odds – that this would be the regeneration where the Doctor was finally played by a POC and/or a woman. This was our chance. We’d been discussing it for years, but now – maybe now – it could finally happen. The BBC even put up a poll asking whether the 12th Doctor would be a man or a woman, thus acknowledging the possibility of a female Doctor.
[note: I use “we” a lot in this post. I use “we” not because we all share the same oppressions and marginalizations, but because we’ve all been erased by, and ignored by, Doctor Who (and other media). But I don’t mean to conflate my identity with those of other marginalized people: as a white cisgendered woman, I’m relatively privileged, even when it comes to media representation]
We knew there wasn’t much of a chance.
But we hoped.
So yeah, a lot of us were majorly disappointed when it was another white guy.
And then, in the midst of my frustration, I saw the above comic. And lo, I saw the error of my ways, and stopped complaining about Peter Capaldi’s casting.
Sorry about that. No, this is not going to be a post about how I finally learned to stop complaining and love oppression. And my sarcasm is probably also making poor Peter Capaldi cry. Sorry, Mr. Capaldi. You actually do seem lovely.
This comic isn’t some giant exception to the rule. Everywhere on the internet, you’ll find this idea that we’re being mean or unfair to Peter Capaldi by criticizing his casting.
So let’s talk about it, okay? *Really* talk about it.
I’m going to establish a few things upfront: I think I will really enjoy Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I’m betting he will be a great Doctor. He seems, from everything I’ve seen of him on the interwebs in the past two weeks, to be a great actor. I’m also glad an older actor is playing the Doctor – it will make a nice change from Matt Smith and David Tennant.
I also love Doctor Who. I think it’s a great, beautiful, ridiculous, wonderful show. I would not bother to argue about it as much as I do if I did not love it. I would not keep watching it if I did not truly believe in its promise and its potential. I would not be a fan if I did not believe it had a place for people like me.
We’ve gotten those things clear? Good.
Here’s the rub, my friendly readers: I’m also disappointed as fuck in Capaldi’s casting. I know! It’s so shocking. But it is, in fact, possible for me to feel more than one emotion about an event. I am a human being, and I can grasp complexity. I can be excited and disappointed at the same time.
Yes, I wanted the Doctor not to be a white man.
One of the most wonderful things about the Doctor is his (1) capacity for change. He constantly regenerates into completely different bodies. He is never static, never singular, always chaotic. He is simultaneously one and many. Everything about him is changeable, and changing.
So can you blame fans who want the Doctor’s various incarnations to reflect of the diversity of the world around him? To change races, genders, gender identities, ages, shapes, ability levels, sexualities, etc? In fact, it doesn’t make any sense for the Doctor to *not* change things like race and gender. To convince yourself that the Doctor should *always* be a white man, you’re ignoring the central tenant of his identity: nothing about him is unchangeable.
Except that some things are.
We’ve now had twelve doctors – with a recently revealed thirteenth (John Hurt) (2)- and they’ve all been white cisgendered men. Everything about the Doctor can change, apparently, except his race, gender and gender identity.
I cannot stress how incredibly depressing it is for people who are already erased, ignored and marginalized by the media to see a show like Doctor Who – which has a built-in excuse for being as diverse and inclusive as possible in their casting – just keep casting white men. It’s almost deliberately cruel. “We could include you, but we choose not to. Let them eat the kyriarchy!”
So yeah, I’m pissed that Peter Capaldi was cast as the twelfth Doctor.
I’m pissed because there is absolutely zero evidence that showrunner Steven Moffat even considered casting anyone but a white man. Because, as Moffat put it, he had a shortlist of one: Peter Capaldi.
To everyone who has said: “Well, Capaldi was probably just the best actor for the part.” Really? How would Moffat even know that if he never bothered to audition anyone else? I mean, this isn’t a case of a white male actor legitimately beating out a bunch of actors of color and/or female actors through a stringent audition process. This is a case of a white man just being chosen, without anyone else getting a shot.
(If nothing else, it shows a shocking lack of imagination from Stephen Moffat. “I could only think of one person! So I cast him!”)
I’m pissed because Moffat has had three chances to cast a Doctor – Matt Smith, John Hurt and Peter Capaldi – and *all* of them have been thin white men. All of them. I have given up any notion that he gives a shit about inclusion. He’s had more chances than any modern Doctor Who showrunner to make the show more diverse, and he’s refused all of those chances.
I’m pissed because Moffat denigrated the very idea of a female Doctor. When asked about Helen Mirren’s call for a female Doctor, Moffat joked that the Queen should be played by a man next time.
Which… wow. This simultaneously brings in transmisogyny (because there’s nothing more hilarious than drag queens and men who dress up as women, am I right?), a false equivalence, and stunning amount of bad faith. Having a woman play a traditionally male role is not the same as having a man playing a traditionally female role. Women are underrepresented in the media, so giving a woman a traditionally male role is being inclusive. Men are *already* well-represented in the media, so giving a man a traditionally female role only exacerbates the lack of inclusion.
And also: bad faith. Queen Elizabeth should be played by a woman because the Queen is an actual historical figure who is female. The Doctor is not an actual historical figure. Moreover, the Doctor is a person whose identity constantly changes. Are you actually saying that being male is a constant part of the Doctor’s identity? That he can be anything – except that he must always be a man?
I’m pissed because of the message Moffat sends – and the show sends – by constantly casting white men. I’m pissed, because it it implies that gender and race are so *essential* to a person’s identity that they are the one thing an ever-changing alien can never change. It implies that those two things are so fucking fundamental that changing them would ruin the character.
Which is not at all a racist or sexist notion, no. Gender and racial essentialism, everyone!
I’m pissed because this casting is part of a long trend of the showrunners being oppressive and awful. Doctor Who hasn’t had a female writer in three seasons. It hasn’t had a female director in two. It hasn’t had a writer or director of color in at least three seasons (3). It’s female characters get the wonderful privilege of participating in misogynistic storylines, including the mystical pregnancy trope, the “mothers are the most powerful people in the world because uteruses” trope, the “stalking is super romantic” trope and the “silly women and their obsession with their looks” trope. I’d be upset over the storylines surrounding major POC characters, but the truth is… there really haven’t been a lot of major characters of color in the past three years. And the ones I remember all die (like Rita in “The God Complex”). Moffat himself explains that he doesn’t bother with bisexual representation on Doctor Who because bisexuals are having “FAR TOO MUCH FUN. You probably don’t even watch because you’re so busy.” Asexual representation? Don’t even think about it – Moffat thinks asexuality is boring.
I’m pissed because I see no signs that this is going to change anytime soon.
I’m pissed because whenever we bring this up, we’re being mean.
We’re being mean. We’ve been systematically ignored and erased on the show. People like us are denied representation, made fun of and stereotyped. We’ve gone through thirteen Doctors with no sign that we’re ever going to get representation – even though the show’s own rules mean it makes *no sense* for the Doctor to keep being white and male. We don’t have representation in the writer’s room or the director’s chair.
Peter Capaldi and Stephen Moffat are powerful people. They have nice big salaries. They’re media creators. One of them is the head of one of the most successful franchises in the world, the other is about to be one of the most famous actors on the planet.
But we’re making them feel bad.
… somehow, I kind of doubt it.
Comics like the one above are a silencing mechanism. They’re meant to make us feel bad for voicing our reality. For talking about the very real misogyny, heterosexism, transmisogyny and racism displayed by Doctor Who and its showrunners. They’re meant to make it seem like *we’re* the ones who haven’t been inclusive, even though we’re the ones who have been systematically marginalized by the show and the showrunners. But we’re not inclusive. Because inclusive means no one ever feels bad. Especially not the poor, powerful white men who keep getting roles and jobs and representation.
Comics like the one above rewrite the narrative of Doctor Who. They rewrite our very real grievances, transforming marginalized people into a bunch of complainers who are trying to make Peter Capaldi and the Doctor feel bad.
Why isn’t our sadness ever depicted? Why is it always about the feelings of the most powerful people in the Doctor Who world? Why isn’t it ever about our feelings of exclusion, our feelings of marginalization, our anger at being erased and ignored? Why – even in a comic that is supposed to be about *us* complaining – why is it about Peter Capaldi?
Why aren’t we ever the protagonists of these stories?
… you know, on one level, this cartoon perfectly encapsulates the problem. Powerful white men in the Doctor Who world give other white men influence – as writers, directors and actors – while systematically ignoring the criticisms of those who feel excluded from the show. White men keep all the power for themselves, while making the people they’ve marginalized feel bad for complaining about it. White men take the issue of system oppression and make it all about them.
Stephen Moffat hands the screwdriver over to Peter Capaldi, and then, when people point out they’ve never had a chance at that screwdriver, he berates them for making the new Doctor feel bad.
Frankly, everyone, I appreciate your concern for the Doctor, but seriously: the Doctor is a fictional character, and I can’t make him feel bad. So I’m not terribly worried about it. I’m not even worried about making Peter Capaldi feel bad: he’s got the job now, and he’s probably surrounded by wonderful people cheering his casting. And good for him! I don’t *want* him to feel bad. I don’t want him to feel bad, because it’s not his fault. He’s just the manifestation of a larger phenomenon.
The truth is, I don’t even think the comic writer above – and all the fans and creators who are trying to shut down complaints – care that much about Peter Capaldi’s feelings.
I think they want us to stop hurting *their* feelings. I think they want fans with legitimate grievances with the show to shut up.
Shut up, and let us enjoy Capaldi’s casting. Shut up and let us enjoy the show. Shut up and don’t remind us that some of this stuff is problematic. Shut up – I don’t want to feel guilty for enjoying the party. Shut up – I don’t want to think about the racism and the sexism while I’m watching my favorite show.
Please stop hurting my feelings. I don’t want to know about your problems.
I just want to enjoy the party. Why can’t you let me enjoy the party?
And I’m sorry to those people. I’m sorry that we’re making it harder for you to enjoy the Doctor Who party. But we’ve been left out of the party entirely, and we’d really like to come in. I’m sorry that when we press our noses up against the windows of the Doctor Who party, you feel bad. I’m sorry that we’re taking away from the glamour and excitement of the occasion, all bedraggled and locked-out as we are. But no one seems to be coming towards the door to let us in. And we’d really like to come in.
It’s not just that we’ve been locked out. We’re supposed to shut up about it. We’re simultaneously supposed to accept our outsider position – the constant attacks on our right to be fans of the show, and our right to see people like us represented in the show – while never complaining about it. The show can lock us out, and we should never ever complain about it. Because we’re the problem. The walls and the lock and the people who hold the key aren’t the problem. We’re the problem.
We’re always the problem.
I love the show. I’d love to come into the party and enjoy it with you. But I can’t.
It’s adorable that you think people like me have the power to bar Peter Capaldi from the party. But while he’s inside enjoying the celebration, most of us are still waiting for our invite.
It’s great if you can unreservedly enjoy the entrance of Capaldi into the canon. Hey – it’s also great if you’re part of a marginalized group and you can *still* enjoy the entrance of Capaldi without reservation.
But stop telling those of us who see it as the shutting of another door, the turning of another lock, the erection of a new barrier that we don’t get to talk about it. Remember that you can be a fan of problematic things. That liking something problematic doesn’t make you a bad person – but pretending something *isn’t* problematic does. Don’t silence the people who want an oppressive show to change. Don’t silence us.
Don’t watch the show bar the doors on its marginalized fans, and then accuse those same fans of not being inclusive enough.
Don’t lock us out of the party and then get angry when we make noise about it.
And maybe – just maybe – consider letting us in to party with you.
(1) I’m using male gender pronouns to refer to the Doctor because he’s only ever presented as male, and his latest incarnation is male
(2) It is unclear where John Hurt figures in continuity, or even whether he’s the Doctor. All we know is that he’s one of the Doctor’s regenerations.
(3) I went through each director and writer for the past three seasons and checked their race and gender. Obviously, this is a subjective process, since I’m one person, and there aren’t a billion pictures of all the writers. But I’m 95% sure that there have been no directors or writers of color in the past three seasons.
Commenting Policy: I’m going to make this explicit: this is a space to discuss the feelings and needs of marginalized fans of Doctor Who. It’s not a space for privileged fans to come in and say “well, this is what *I* want” or “I’m white and male, and I’m okay with the Doctor always being a white man!” That is welcome in almost every discussion on the internet. Not here.
Furthermore, if you want to argue that the Doctor should stay a white man, you’d better have a better argument than “because I like him that way.”
Because when the argument is “The Doctor’s static race and gender contributes to oppression and actively hurts already-marginalized people”
and your counterargument is “But I like him being a man!”
You sound like a fucking douchecanoe.
Again: This is a space to discuss the feelings and needs of marginalized fans of Doctor Who. Talking about the ways Doctor Who is oppressive is fine! Talking about general issues of oppression is fine! Talking about liking the show despite its problems is also okay! But this is a space that centers the needs of marginalized fans. Not privileged ones.
Psst! You! Readers! is CD around?
No? Oh, FANTASTIC. I’m just going to let myself in, then! You guys don’t mind if I take over blogging duties for the day, right? Right!
Yes, yes, it’s me. The Feminist Batwoman. Champion of Intersectional Feminism and Enemy of Restrictive Gender Roles!
I know. Very exciting. I keep meaning to drop in and blog, but C.D. is kinda paranoid, and she doesn’t want me around. Something about the police putting her in jail for
being harboring a vigilante blah blah blah.
Also, she’s convinced that people think SHE’S the Feminist Batwoman. Which is obviously not true. CD and I have actually never met! How can we be the same person if we’ve never met!
Anyway. I think the problem with C.D. is that she just doesn’t have trust. I mean, I love that woman, but… seriously. You guys aren’t going to turn me in, right? I’m the Feminist Batwoman! I fight for Intersectional Feminism and Gender Equality Throughout the Shadows of the Interwebs.
AND I have a fabulous mask. Why would anyone turn me in?
See what I mean about the fabulous mask?
So now that we’ve established that you aren’t going to turn me in, let’s turn back to CD.
Have you guys noticed that she’s a bit… off, recently? She keeps writing about all this UBER-depressing stuff, and going on long rants and freakouts. Now, as the Feminist Batwoman, I fully support long rants and freakouts, but…
I’m worried that CD has lost her joy.
I mean – did you SEE what happened two weeks ago? The American Election? SHE SHOULD BE OVER THE MOON ABOUT THAT! She should be blogging kitten GIFs and celebratory confetti and explosions ALL THE TIME.
The activist joy should be EVERYWHERE!
So, you know. I thought I would cheer up CD (and bring on the return of the Kitten GIFS!) by reminding her of all of our Great Victories this month.
Maybe if CD remembers all the happy things that happened, she’ll be happier! Can’t hurt, right?
Let’s start at the top:
#1: Mitt Romney, oppressive douchebag and plutocrat supreme… Defeated!
I will not have to spend the next four years tracking down and defeating his Legion of Anti-Roe judges! I will not have to fight his attempts to turn over Obamacare and get us in more wars and cut the budget for food stamps and medicare and medicaid and social security and education. And hey, we won’t have to deal with his racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and classicism and general… barfiness.
My costume is already SUFFICIENTLY covered in the Barf of Oppression just from fighting to defeat Mitt Romney’s campaign. I’ve had to go to the dry cleaners ten times this election cycle. They’re giving me REALLY weird looks.
Imagine what I would look like if he were president. *shudder*
2. President Obama (a somewhat too-conservative-for-my-taste but generally pretty-decent- president) won. And President Obama is someone I can work with. He’s the man who brought us Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and Obamacare and who ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and who passed the mini-dream act. He saved the economy and made insurance companies cover contraceptives and signed the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay law. He passed a bill that made it a hate-crime to commit an assault on someone based on their sexual orientation; he extended employment benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees and he became the FIRST SITTING US PRESIDENT to come out in favor of marriage equality. Oh, and he extended health insurance to four million uninsured kids (why, in the name of the Holy Batmobile, do we have FOUR MILLION uninsured kids in the richest country in the world? QUESTIONS).
Like I said. I can work with this guy.
All good news so far, right? All news that should make CD happy, right?
It gets better.
3. In Maryland, Maine and Washington, people voted to legalize same-sex marriage. YES THEY DID. We broke the 32-state losing streak (including a loss in my – I MEAN CD’s – home state of Wisconsin) with a three state victory! We finally got a popular victory for same-sex marriage!
(although I object to people’s fundamental human rights being put on the ballot, but if they’re going to be put on the ballot, this is the desired outcome)
Moreover, Minnesota had an amendment on the ballot that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. You know what happened? Voters said NO. AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME
I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate my fellow Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance member, The Queer Question (also known as Renee Montoya), who led the charge in the fight for same-sex marriage. The Question knows how to stop the Forces of Oppression, y’all.
Has CD cheered up by now? If she hasn’t, I have even MORE good news for her (because this election is just the gift that keeps on giving).
4. The next American congress will have the highest number of female senators in recorded history: twenty
(which: it is super-gross that 20 is a HIGH number of women in the senate. But we’re getting better).
And let’s talk about those women! Because it’s not just that we’ve got more women senators and representatives – it’s that the ones we’ve got are incredible.
Elizabeth Warren won a senate seat in Massachusetts. I’m quite fond of that woman. She scares Wall Street half-to-death, and is already fighting the Forces of Economic Oppression. Go Warren!
Tammy Baldwin WON A SENATE SEAT in Wisconsin! Tammy Baldwin is now Wisconsin’s first female senator – and the first openly gay member of the senate in US HISTORY.
I’m a huge fan of Tammy Baldwin’s. She’s been
my CD’s representative for years (since I’m CD is from Madison). Her work in the House was incredible; and I fully expect great things in the Senate.
CD, of course, was terrified that Tammy Baldwin – an openly gay woman from the hellmouth of hippie-liberalville (Madison) would have no chance of being elected in Wisconsin. And I do like proving CD wrong.
Claire McCaskill defeated Todd Akin (aka: “Mr. Legitimate Rape”). She won the Mississippi Senate seat – one that almost NO ONE thought a democrat could hang onto – by fourteen points. Because she is an incredible campaigner and she knew how to let Todd Akin hang himself by his own rope.
And to cap off our list of amazing women senators, Mazie Hirono won Hawaii’s open senate seat, thus making history as the USA’S first Asian American female senator. Whoo!
My good friend and fellow Anti-Oppression Superhero, the Anti-Racist Black Bat (Cassandra Cain) (who happens to be one of the few Asian members of the DC Universe) is REALLY excited about Mazi Hirono’s election.
Cassandra is also rather pissed that it took until 2012 for an Asian-American woman to be elected to the Senate.
The fun doesn’t even stop with senators! The great state of Illinois elected Tammy Duckworth to the House of Representatives. Duckworth served in the Iraq war, where she lost both legs. She is the first female war veteran with disabilities elected to the US House of Representatives.
You will not be surprised to know that Disability Rights Oracle (Barbara Gordon) was thoroughly pleased by Duckworth’s election!
And the great State of Hawaii elected Tulsi Gabbard, another female war veteran – AND the first Hindu member of the US House of Representatives.
But the best part of this election – and yes, we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet – wasn’t just that a League of Awesome Women were elected.
5. It was that the League of Awesome Women (in conjunction with the Anti-Oppression Superheroes) defeated the Evil Alliance of Rape Apologists.
Senate candidate Richard “Rape Babies are a Gift From God” Mourdock? DEFEATED.
Senate candidate Todd “If It’s A Legitimate Rape, the Female Body has ways to Shut That Whole Thing Down” Akin? DEFEATED!
House candidate John “The Rape thing” Koster? DEFEATED.
House candidate Joe “‘there is no such exception as life of the mother” Walsh? DEFEATED. By the way, Mr. Walsh, if pregnancy can’t actually kill women, what happened to Savita Halappanavar?
Vice Presidential Candidate Paul “Rape is just another method of conception” Ryan? DEFEATED.
All congratulations are due to The Consent Culture Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) who took point in the Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance’s battle with the Evil League of Rape Apologists. I think we can agree she did a pretty fabulous job, no?
So, overall, I think the forces of Anti-Oppression did pretty well this election cycle, no?
We defeated the forces of oppression and darkness and plutocracy! We brought down the Evil Alliance of Rape Apologists! We elected a swath of Awesome Women!
Its definitely party time at the Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance Headquarters, if you know what I mean!
(No, I don’t mean an orgy. Get your minds out of the gutter).
Party! Party! Party!
And I totally think CD should join us in this great party of activist joy, don’t you? Now that she’s undoubtedly been cheered up by all our good news!
I mean, come on. We won! Time to stop moping and stop ranting and smell the Victory Flowers, no? Or else CD is going to go all Batman, and be angsty 99% of the time, and no one wants that, do they?
It’s time to bring the joy to CD, ANTI-OPPRESSION PARTY STYLE!
I’m just going to check CD’s agenda book and see when she’s got a free slot for the party, shall I? Then we can all persuade her to go.
Huh. Can’t find CD.’s agenda, but… there’s this blog post draft on CD’s computer. I’ll just go ahead and read it (Hey, I’M not Consent Culture Batgirl. Privacy is not my only priority. Also, CD and I are
the same person friends!)
Well, this blog post is disturbing.
And by disturbing, I mean:
Montana voters passed a state ballot measure that puts in place a parental notification law: any person under the age of 16 who seeks an abortion needs to notify their parents. A PARENTAL NOTIFICATION LAW?
Well, HOW COULD THAT POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
OH GREAT, and IT KEEPS GOING.
After helping to pass Texas’ abortion sonogram law, Texas State Senator Dan Patrick is trying to cut off Rural Texans’ access to abortion. Because there’s nothing Dan Patrick cares about more than controlling women’s personal medical decisions!
The head of the Maine Republican party thinks there was voter fraud, because “dozens’ of black people showed up to vote, and no one in rural Maine knows any black people! Mitt Romney says Obama won because he gave “gifts” to women, young people, Latinos etc. Paul Ryan blames the urban vote (*cough* people of color *cough*).
Okay, I know I was complaining that CD seems really pissed off these days? BUT THIS? THIS IS PISSING ME OFF ALL OVER AGAIN.
Scott Walker is trying to end same-day registration in Wisconsin, because the best way to follow up an election full of voter suppression is MORE voter suppression.
In Kansas, the city of Selina passed a proposition that overturns the city’s protections from discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The City of Hutchinson also overturned their city’s discrimination protections.
Proposition 35 passed in California. It raises the penalty for those convicted of sex trafficking to as high as life in prison, which SOUNDS great, until you figure out that survivor groups were against the proposition. Why? Because the bill conflates sex trafficking and sex work, which means that both sex workers and sex trafficking survivors could be penalized, put in jail, put on sex offender registries etc. The bill will probably have a much worse effect on sex workers and victims than it will on actual bad guys. Melissa Gira Grant wrote a smarter and longer analysis of the problems with Proposition 35.
… And Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action practices in state government hiring, education and contracting. But that’s okay, because apparently they weren’t using affirmative action anyway! And it’s not like there’s institutional racism or sexism in the USA, because, as everyone knows, we live in a post-racist and sexist society.
… yeah, okay. Maybe there’s a reason CD is still angry. Hell, I’M ANGRY.
You know what? Victory party canceled. We can have a victory party later. I can use the streamers to tie up some misogynists. Kyriarchy-Blasting Wonder Woman can use the helium from the balloons to power her invisible jet. We can throw the confetti in the eyes of the racists.
CD’s right. Our activism isn’t over, not even after this victory. People are still being oppressive asshats. A woman’s ability to choose is still under fire. People of color are still being targetted. Homophobia is still ruining lives. Misogyny is still rampant.
Time to get back to work.
ANTI-OPPRESSION SUPERHERO ALLIANCE, ASSEMBLE!
Oh, uh – before I leave to go fight oppression, could you guys do me a favor?
Could you NOT tell CD that I was here?
Like, keep it all hush-hush?
Also, you really don’t have to mention that I changed my mind and actually, we can’t celebrate yet because there are so many other things wrong in the world we need to deal with.
She doesn’t need to know she was right. That woman is not a gracious winner.
Just keep it… quiet, is my point. Okay? Okay!
Great! I’ll be back soon, faithful readers! In the meantime, I will go forth into the Shadowy Corners of the Interwebs and Fight Against Restrictive Gender Roles and All the Other Forces of Oppression!
Until next time.
- Your Friendly Interweb Feminist Batwoman.
CD HERE. WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO WITH MY BLOG, FEMINIST BATWOMAN?
… oh, fuck. I knew I shouldn’t have
had that half-glass of beer and put on the mask left my computer unattended. The Feminist Batwoman is devious. Super-devious. And in no way related to me. Ignore the shot of my shoulder in the last picture. That’s not my shoulder. I’m not the Feminist Batwoman. Yeah. I had nothing to do with this.
I need to change my passwords. AGAIN.
Anyway. Sorry about that, everyone. I’ll try to
stay away from the mask keep a better eye on my computer in the future.
Although I do agree with the Feminist Batwoman’s point. We did win a big victory this November, and we should celebrate. But we should remember that there’s still a war on. It’s not time to lay down our weapons yet.
As Consent Culture Batgirl always says:
- I’m not ready for this to be the end of the fight. There’s so much ground to cover still. More misogyny and racism and homophobia and ableism and transphobia and oppression to uncover and stop. A new, better society to build.
- What are you still fighting for?
- ETA 2: Okay, FINE, ONE CELEBRATORY KITTEN GIF. But only because of the marriage victories in Maryland, Maine and Washington and Minnesota. And because of Tammy Duckworth and Tammy Baldwin and Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren and Maizie Hirono and Tulsi Gabbard.
Before I begin this blog post, I need a moment for prayer.
Please, please, Cylon Jesus, please let this be the last blog post I ever publish about Mitt Romney. Please let this be the last blog post I ever have to write about Mitt Romney, Cylon Jesus. In other words, please make sure Mitt Romney loses the American election and I never ever hear about him again.
Please Cylon Jesus.
It’s my birthday soon, Cylon Jesus. Very soon. You wanna give me a present?
No more Mitt Romney.
That’s all I want, Cylon Jesus.
Well, that and a pony.
(take care of the Romney problem first, Cylon Jesus, okay, though? #IHavePriorities)
Okay, back to Mitt Romney.
A couple weeks ago, I got in a facebook argument on a friend’s wall. My Awesome Friend had posted an article explaining that Mitt Romney’s 47% speech included a racist dog-whistle (or ninety).
Another facebook dweller (henceforth known as of Acquaintance) was not convinced that Romney’s remarks had elements of racism. We had a nice productive facebook argument about that, and at some point, Acquaintance concedes that yes, Romney’s remarks were probably racist.
So far so good, right?
BUT THEN, Acquaintance goes (and I’m grossly paraphrasing) “Well, okay, maybe it’s racist, but we don’t need to call out the racism. Critiques of Romney’s remarks based on classism are sufficient.”
To be fair to Acquaintance, he’s not the only person guilty of such argumentative doltishness. I’m sure you’ve heard variations of this theme before.
It’s the “yes, okay, Republicans are attacking gay rights, and that’s terrifically sad, but we can’t talk about that, because it’s divisive! And we don’t want to alienate any of our supporters.” argument. Or the argument of: “well, yes, all those anti-welfare advertisements Romney’s campaign is running are highly racist. BUT it only helps Romney if we accuse him of being racist, because then they’ll say we’re playing the race card.”
Or: “Sure, Republicans are talking about taking away a woman’s right to birth control/abortion/her own body. But that’s controversial, so we can’t talk about it.”
So. With a little less than a week left before the election, let’s clear things up.
You know why you should call Romney out for being a racist? Or a sexist? or a homophobe? Or a terribly oppressive douchecanoe?
Because when Romney’s a racist, or a sexist, or a homophobe, he’s attacking PEOPLE. PEOPLE. REAL PEOPLE.
POC and women and queer peoples are PEOPLE. They’re PEOPLE. And when they’re getting thrown under the motherfucking bus by a bunch of asswipe politicians, you STAND UP.
For crying out loud.
When you say racism isn’t important enough to call out, you’re tacitly saying that POC aren’t important enough to defend.
When you refuse to call out the war on women’s bodily autonomy, you’re basically saying that women aren’t important enough to stand up for.
When you let Karl Rove and his minions play the “Ooooh, scary gay people” game without saying anything back, you’re throwing queer people overboard and letting them swim with the sharks by themselves.
I’m white. I have white privilege. I don’t honestly know what it’s like to be a POC and to hear Romney’s racist dog-whistles. And I don’t want to appropriate that conversation. You should read these awesome links instead (they’re a great starting point for understanding the DEGREE to which racist rhetoric has invaded Romney’s speech)
I am a woman, however, and I do know what it’s like to hear politicians talking about taking away my birth control; my right to an abortion. I do know what it’s like to hear men – men who control our country’s policy – say things like “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” I know what it’s like hearing that a pregnancy resulting from rape is a “gift from God.”
This is my body they’re talking about. My right to control my own body.
Fuck, it’s terrifying.
I can’t imagine it’s any easier to be a POC listening to Romney’s racist rhetoric.
My point, here it is: This isn’t dinner theater. These are people’s LIVES.
Racism, misogyny, homophobia (to name the big three) kill people. Yes, in the United States. Yes, in Canada. And when they don’t kill you, they still force you to live a life full of micro-aggressions and oppression.
Or they just make you live a life of misery and terror. [ask me about living a life full of misery and terror! I am a woman living in rape culture. I’m a fucking expert!]
When politicians use racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or any kind of oppression in order to gain political points, they’re basically saying that oppressed peoples matter so little that politicians can use their lives as political footballs.
Women’s rights to their bodies are not a political football. The right of POC to be treated with respect and without bigotry is not a political football.
It’s not a game.
And when we don’t call them out, we’re tacitly agreeing. it’s okay if women/POC/queers/minorities are batted around like catnip in front of a kitten! It just doesn’t matter that much.
No, it matters.
And it’s not about Romney. I get that people are like “well, he’s a gross asshole in nearly every way, so we really don’t need to list every horrible thing he does.” I get people who say “well, no matter what we say, he’s never going to stop being an oppressive douchecanoe.”
(which: Fair. I don’t think there’s much that’ll make Romney stop being an oppressive douchecanoe)
But it’s not about Romney. It’s about the people he’s attacking in his attempt to win the Presidency.
You don’t call Romney out because you think Romney will magically learn not to be an oppressive douchecanoe. You call him out because you think the rights of oppressed minorities are worth standing up for. You call him out because you don’t believe in leaving people out in the shark-infested water, getting attacked by a bunch of cynical politicians.
You call him out because it matters to me, damn it, as one of those people being attacked, to hear others supporting my rights. To know that I’m not alone. That someone will fight alongside me.
It’s not about Romney.
And it’s not just about douchebags like Romney either. I think most people who read this blog are progressive or liberal (or else you’d already be sending me hate mail), and it’s pretty easy for progressive, liberal people to go “Oh, yeah, Romney, that racist asshat, I can call him out!”
It’s a lot harder when it’s your heroes. It’s a lot harder when it’s your allies.
I’m thinking of Bill Maher, misogynist supreme, and comedic hero of much of the left. We can’t call him out! He’s on our side!
(no, you really can call him out. And you should)
I’m thinking of Hugo Schwyer, feminist hero. A man who has admitted to having raped a woman and tried to kill his girlfriend. A man who has harassed and dismissed women of color in the feminist movement. A man that many Big Name Feminist still defend. We can’t call him out! He’s a male feminist! Also, calling him out is divisive to the feminist community!
(no, you really can call him out. Also, you should SHUN HIM).
I’m thinking of feminists who ignore women of color, or who act like WOC’s concerns are something to take care of “later.” Or who are blatantly racist and who STILL don’t get called out, because the feminist movement is often REALLY SHITTY about the rights and issues of anyone who isn’t a middle-class western cisgendered straight white woman.
Yes, I love feminism. Yes, it’s one of the great axis around which my life turns.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t call feminist out when they exclude women of color, or when they’re racist. No, I should.
Hell, I’m even thinking of myself. I’m a huge bundle of privilege, and I’m still very much in the “screwing up” stage of anti-oppression work. And you know what? If I say oppressive stuff, or write oppressive stuff, or blog oppressive stuff, or if I’m being problematic?
I would take it as a MASSIVE favor if you would call me out. Sure, I’ll feel defensive for 30 seconds, and then I’ll get my head on straight. Other peoples’ right not to be oppressed is more important than my ability to feel comfortable in my discourse.
Now, look. There are good and valid reasons not to call people out.
First, calling people out takes a fuckmetric ton of energy (Fuckmetric tons: scientific measurement right there). It’s not easy. And a lot of times, it’s not safe either.
There are many circumstances where I don’t feel safe calling people out. One easy example: I don’t feel safe yelling at street harassers.
What if they turned on me? What if they hurt me?
There are also circumstances where I’m just too tired to call people out, especially when it’s about something that personally affects me (sexism, stigmatization of mental health issues etc). It’s emotionally exhausting, having to argue for your right to exist, and to be treated with respect.
Sometimes, I just can’t handle it.
So I pick my battles.
The other major reason not to call people out is when you might be appropriating someone else’s fight or adding to oppression. This especially applies to allies.
Be aware of the fact that in many spaces, your voice may be more privileged just by dint of the body you inhabit. Men have more privileged voices than women. White people have more privileged voices than people of color. You want to be sure that your calling people out isn’t, by dint of your privilege, excluding or disempowering the people you want to support.
(random example of me screwing this one up: this weekend, I got in another facebook argument, this time about the importance of Andrew Ti. I waded in to support my friend, who is a woman of color (I’m white). The white dude in the argument dismissed my friend as childish and hysterical. On the other hand, he listened to me and CHANGED HIS MIND. Least you ask, my friend and I were making almost exactly THE SAME ARGUMENT. Word for fucking word. So yeah, my attempt to support a friend turned into another instance of “let’s disempower the woman of color.” Yeah, I screwed that one up)
[also, if you’re not already reading Yo is This Racist? You should be.]
So yes, absolutely, there are good reasons not to call people out. But if you’re safe and secure and you know you’re not disempowering other people (except the racists – I fully believe in disempowering racists)?
And you choose not to do it, because of you just can’t be bothered?
Then dude, you suck.
Now, I’m not saying your suckiness is a permanent state. Let us note that I’ve been pretty damn terrible in my life at calling people out.
Yes, I suck!
But I’m working on it.
Call people out, everyone. NOT JUST MITT ROMNEY EITHER.
(Also, Cylon Jesus, if it isn’t too much to ask, I’d love to have my birthday night free of homework and stuff. No? Not possible? Okay, thanks for trying).
(hey, do you guys like the new blog design? I’m obsessed. Now with 100% more rose-red pink! And more feminist Batwoman!)
So, you know how sometime, I stop covering Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and instead write about gender and race issues on American Idol?
… yeah, this is one of those days. I’m sorry. But for some reason, I cannot rest until I finish writing up my thoughts about this season. I need to give my thoughts on the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon. I need to talk about the continued robotization of Female Contestants. I need to talk about Jessica Sanchez’s race problems. And I need to squee about the awesome singing.
If it makes you feel better I promise that I will not write another American Idol post until… next season.
My fascination with American Idol began in Season 10, when I fell madly in love with Haley Reinhart, the blues-rock singer who never got the respect she deserved.* By all rights, my fascination should have stopped after Season 10 – Haley Reinhart was gone, and I’d never been a fan of the show in the first place. But I kept watching. And then I got obsessed.
Partly it’s the singing. Yes, in spite of all my cynical presuppositions, there are some bloody incredible singers on American Idol. And I love watching them.
But mostly? Mostly it’s the sociological stuff. I find it fascinating – and disturbed – that the five last winners were all white men (with guitars). I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the ways the fans act. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by American Idol commentary. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the producer manipulations.
Frankly, American Idol is a bizarre back window into America’s psyche. And I just can’t look away.
1. The Phillip Phillips Victory and the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon
A woman did not win American Idol this year.
Phillip Phillips beat Jessica Sanchez in the finale, making him the fifth “White Guy With Guitar” winner in a row on American Idol. The other four are David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee Dewyze and Scotty McCreery. [White Guy With Guitar is often abbreviated as “WGWG”]
I am shocked [okay, that’s a lie. I’m not shocked at all].
Watching the fandom reaction to Phillip Phillips’ victory was… interesting. To say the least.
Someone would say: “Oh, boo, another White Guy With Guitar.”
Then the next person would say: “You’re a racist.”
Or someone would say: “And that’s 5 WGWG winners.”
Then the next person would say: “That’s racist! You’re discriminating against Phillip Phillips because he’s white and male!”
I never entered these discussions – I was already violating rule #1 of keeping one’s sanity on the internet (Never Read The Comments). I was not going to violate rule #2 (Never Enter A Comments Argument).
The thing is, I’m one of those people who thinks that the five-year winning streak by white men is troubling. And it’s not because I hate all white men, or because I think Phillip Phillips is untalented, or because I think Phillip Phillips’ gender and race disqualifies him from victory.
So let me explain myself.
First, I want to clear something up: it is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that Phillip Phillips is a white man. It is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that he’s the fifth white man in a row to win American Idol. These are facts. If you’re arguing that Phillip Phillips doesn’t deserve to win idol because he’s a white man, then yes, that is discriminatory. And if you’re arguing that the WGWG streak proves White Men are better singers, then yes, that is racist. But to remark upon the phenomenon is not discriminatory in-and-of-itself.
When potentially problematic patterns emerge – when, for example, five white men win a competition in a row – it is normal and responsible to ask questions about the process.
And that’s the key here: the pattern. If you voted for Phillip Phillips over Jessica Sanchez, good for you! If you prefer a male contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you. If you prefer a white contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you [if you always like the white contestants and never like contestants of color, however, you might want to examine your internal biases]. The problem is not with any one person’s individual voting decision. The problem is with the pattern. Because once we rack up all the individual choices made over the last four years, and we map them out, the pattern is pretty damn clear: white men have a much easier time on Idol.
Again: I think it’s perfectly fine a white male singer to be the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. My problem is when people start trying to argue that every white male singer was the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. I don’t care what you say, there is no way you can argue that every single white male winner was a better, more consistent and more interesting singer than all his competitors. There is no way. And yet all five of these white male winners not only won their seasons, but none of them ever appeared in the bottom 3 contestants, no matter how poorly they performed
Women have a much harder time on Idol. People of color have a much harder time on Idol. And women and people of color cannot win Idol anymore. This is a fact. At this point, there is literally nothing a woman or a person of color (or a woman of color) can do to win the show. It has all been done.
This year was a case study in proving that no matter what female and non-white contestants do, they cannot beat a white male contestant. With Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez, Skylar Laine and Hollie Cavanagh, we had the best group of female singers on Idol in at least five years. They were original, they were interesting, they had an enormous amount of talent, they all had huge shining moments.With the exception of Hollie Cavanagh, who had a few bum weeks but then came roaring back, all of these women were consistent: they made very few mistakes. Meanwhile, with Joshua Ledet, we had – as far as I’m concerned – the best male vocalist on Idol since Adam Lambert. Joshua Ledet was incredibly consistent and high-powered; he almost always exceeded expectations.
I will gladly admit that Phillip Phillips had a good run. But I defy you to argue that he was more consistent than Jessica Sanchez or Joshua Ledet. I defy you to argue that he was more original than Skylar Laine or Elise Testone. I defy you to argue that he had as many standout performances as Jessica, Joshua or Skylar. I defy you to argue that Joshua’s take on Runaway Baby, or Hollie Cavanaugh’s turn on Bleeding Love deserved a bottom three finish while Phillip Phillips’ Time of the Season didn’t. I defy you to argue that Phillip Phillips’ pitch problems were any less egregious than Skylar Laine’s country twang.
My point is: Phillip Phillips had flaws; he had bad performances, but they never seemed to matter. No matter how good, how exceptionally incredible Phillip Phillips’ competitors were, or how terrible Phillip Phillips was, he was never shaken. He never went to the bottom three. And they had no chance of beating him.
And that’s my problem with the White Guy with Guitar phenomenon. White men have it unfairly easy, while anyone who isn’t a white man has it unfairly hard. It’s a perfect example of white male privilege at work. It’s not that the five WGWG winners were untalented. It’s not that they didn’t work hard. It’s not that they don’t deserve good things, or that they’re bad singers. It’s just that, for them, things were easier. The standards were obviously lower (again: they never landed in the bottom three. Ever). Meanwhile, as I’ve detailed in my prior two posts on American Idol, the standards were much higher for women and for people of color. To completely purloin John Scalzi’s explanation of white male privilege: white men play the Idol game on the lowest difficulty setting. And women and people of color play it on a much, much higher difficult setting. [If you haven’t read John Scalzi’s post on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, you should; it’s brilliant]
As Michael Slezak once put it: “Am I going to argue that women have had an easy time on Idol in recent years? Absolutely not. You have to perform better than the men to stay in the competition […] and sometimes that doesn’t even work.”
The playing field is not level.
That’s my problem.
2. All Women are Robot Members of the Robocalypse
Speaking of American Idol and Gender issues! I’d like to share the #1 thing I learned on American Idol this year: all women are robots. They’re probably also all preparing to kill us in an attempt to institute the robocalypse… but I’m not sure about that yet.
a) All Female Contestants on Idol are Robots
Jennifer Lopez, critiquing Elise Testone: “they [the audience] want to know that you’re a person. That you feel things.”
After Jennifer Lopez said this to Elise Testone, I may or may not have thrown a magazine at the television screen (there were no witnesses. You can’t prove anything).
First, Elise Testone is a person. She doesn’t need to prove it. This isn’t Battlestar Galactica; contestants aren’t required to take Cylon detection tests.
Second, Elise Testone is the last person I would call robotic. Elise Testone is the anti-Lady Gaga. She has no poker face. Over the course of the season, it was nearly impossible for Testone to hide how she was feeling [a problem, since she couldn’t hide her disappointment, anger or sadness].
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Elise Testone was called out for not being “human” enough. Because there is not a single female contestant this season who has not been called “a robot” or “inauthentic” or “soulless” either by the judges or by the fans.
Every. Single. Female. Contestant. has been called a robot. Every single one.
Men, on the other hand? Almost NEVER get the robot criticism.
Case in point: On the final performance episode, the top 2 singers have to repeat their favorite performance. So both singers are, by definition, doing something unoriginal. And neither Jessica Sanchez nor Phillip Phillips (this year’s top 2) made any radical changes to their re-interpretations of their chosen songs.
Let’s look at Jennifer Lopez’s critique of the two, shall we?
“I’ve seen Jessica do that before. And I just feel like that’s authentic Phillip right there.”
Wait, what? You’ve ALSO seen Phillip Phillips do that before. You’ve seen him do exactly. the same. thing.
Two contestants repeat a song. The female one? Inauthentic. Mimic. The male one? Authentic.
This whole thing leads me to believe that the “inauthentic” and “robotic” criticism is a lot less about the individual singer, and a lot more about… their gender.
Yes, indeed, all female contestants are robots.
b) All female fans are robots
Random fan critique: ” Oh Please. WGWGs win because young girls always vote for the cute guy.”
There is no myth floating around the idol fan-o-sphere that drives me more nuts than the myth that “teen girls are ruining the show because they always vote for the cute guys.” It’s also, sadly, the most pervasive myth. [And it’s the reason behind my original Why Women Can’t Win Idol post]
One of the more disgusting things about this critique is that it makes “cute guy” equal to “white guy.” So men of color can’t be cute? Girls aren’t attracted to guys of color?
Also, it’s incredibly heteronormative. Has anyone heard of lesbians? And bisexual women? They exist.
But what’s most annoying about the “teen girls always vote for the cute guys” myth is that it assumes that teen girls are entirely ruled by their hormones, and that they’re thus incapable of making an informed decision. They can’t just like Phillip Phillips because they like his music. No, it has to be because he’s a cute guy. That’s why.
And it needs no evidence! No market research, no rigorous studies, no sample size, no nothing. Because everyone knows that when a cute white guy strums on his guitar, teen girls become mind-controlled drones and start speed-dialing the cute white guy to safety.
Teen girls are robots. Their programming?
Vote for the cute white guy.
… Does anyone else see a trend here?
I find it endlessly hilarious (and by hilarious, I mean rage-inducing) that if fandom isn’t blaming the White Guy With Guitars phenomenon on teenage girls being completely mindless robots, we’re blaming it on female contestants being robotic.
What is it about being female that makes it so easy for people to compare you to a machine?
Female performers cannot be authentic. They can be great singers. They can even be perfect singers. But they cannot be authentic, real, human singers.
Heart and soul? Only guys have that. Women just sing the notes.
Authenticity? Only guys have that. Women can only mimic.
Charm? Only guys have that. Women are cold and soulless.
Female fans cannot be authentic. They cannot vote for a contestant because they like that person’s music. They cannot vote for a contestant because they enjoy their performance style. They don’t watch Idol because they want to see true music.
No, they can only watch for the cute boys. And they can only vote for the cute boys
Only men can be real fans. Men vote for the best singer. Men watch the show because they care about music. Women watch the show for eye-candy.
So, from my viewing of American Idol, I have concluded that men are people and women are robots.
It’s the robocalypse, people. And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.
3. Jessica Sanchez and Racism
Okay, let’s be clear. I am supremely unqualified to discuss this topic. I am white. I also know almost nothing about discrimination against Asians in the United States; I know even less about discrimination against Filipinos in the United States.
Thus, my ability to analyze the discourse surrounding Jessica Sanchez is… limited. To say the least.
Usually in these circumstances, I go: “hey, look at all the smart, qualified people who have written about this! Read their stuff!”
But unfortunately (and bizarrely), no one else has really talked about this issue.** Or if they do, they aren’t doing it in any depth – it’s all “Jessica Sanchez was voted off, so America is racist!” Or”No, America isn’t racist!”
But the issue of Jessica Sanchez’s race, and how it played into her run on Idol, deserves some discussion.
So I’m going to try here. [If you’ve seen or read any pertinent commentary, please let me know. I’m begging you.]
Point the first: Jessica Sanchez is American. [This will be important later]
Point the second: Jessica Sanchez’s father is Mexican American. Her mother is Filipina. Jessica Sanchez is thus of both Latin@ and Asian (Filipino) heritage. She’s mixed race.
Crucially, Sanchez’s Mexican heritage was almost never discussed, either on the show, in American Idol commentary, or in fan circles. She was described as primarily Asian-American or Filipino-American.
I’ve written two long posts about how American Idol systematically disadvantages female contestants. But in the case of race – at least, in the case of race this year – I did not see a lot of institutional discrimination. The show itself was not putting Jessica Sanchez at a disadvantage because of her race (although they did put her at a disadvantage because of her gender).
But the fans and the critics are another story.
I’ve seen loads of comments on fan sites and on American Idol articles that say that Jessica Sanchez’s talent is a “cheat” because her “Asian parents” have been raising her to “compete” from “childhood.” She’s a “trained-since-birth” robot. Because her family is Filipino, they’ve “chosen one child to train as a prodigy.” She has a “tiger mom” who has trained her “since birth” to “win Idol,” and thus Sanchez doesn’t “deserve to win.”
It’s the “Well, of course she’s doing well in Math. She’s Asian” argument.
This, to me, is on the same level as the “Asian-Americans are stealing all the science jobs” rhetoric we see in the news. Or the massive”Asian-Americans have an easier time getting into college” freakouts.
As I like to put it when I’m being particularly sarcastic:”Oh no! Americans of color are actually doing okay! They’re doing well in school! They’re doing well on TV shows! They’re getting decently-paid jobs! Only real [white] Americans are allowed to get those things! We have to panic now!”
And the whole makes me want to throw myself off a cliff.
[Fortunately, I don’t live near any cliffs]
This “She’s successful because she’s Asian” argument is a particularly vicious way of dismissing Jessica Sanchez’s achievements. By these standards, Sanchez didn’t get to American Idol through hard work, determination, talent and luck. She didn’t get there because she loved singing. No, she got there because her family was Asian, so they “trained” her.
Moreover, Idol commentary and fan discussions have made Sanchez’s hard work the equivalent of an “unfair advantage.” No one is going “look how focused and dedicated Jessica Sanchez is.” Instead, they’re acting like her hard work is the equivalent of cheating.
I’m sorry, someone’s going to have to explain this to me: Jessica Sanchez is a hard worker, therefore she’s a cheater? Wait, what? Isn’t working hard to achieve your goals the opposite of cheating? [If working hard makes people cheaters, I think I’d best turn myself in to my University’s Academic Counsel]
I keep wanting to tell these people: You don’t think Phillip Phillips worked his butt off to get where he is today?
But somehow, it’s okay for Phillip Phillips to work hard. On the other hand, it’s suspect for Jessica Sanchez to do the same thing.
Frank Wu, a critical race theorist, explains this better than I will: “The model minority myth hurts Asian Americans themselves. It is two-faced. Every attractive trait matches up neatly to its repulsive complement, and the aspects are conducive to reversal. […] To be hard working is to be an unfair competitor for regular human beings, and not a well-rounded, likable individual.” (Wu, Frank. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White)
People perceived Asian-Americans as being an “unfair competitors” for regular human beings – and by regular human beings, they mean “white Americans.”
I think this is exactly what happened to Jessica Sanchez. Because she was perceived as a hard-working Asian singer, people saw her as having some kind of “unfair” advantage over other (mostly white) contestants like Phillip Phillips. Where Phillip Phillips’ hard work makes him a likeable individual, Jessica Sanchez’s hard work makes her robotic and unlikeable.
So yes. It’s racist. And it’s disgusting. And I’m sick of reading this kind of commentary. If you don’t like Jessica Sanchez’s singing, fine. Just say that. If you prefer another singer, fine. Just say that. If you think Jessica Sanchez has no emotional connection to her lyrics, fine. Just say that. But don’t accuse Jessica Sanchez of being some sort of Asian dragon-lady with “unfair advantages” over her competitors. Because yes, that’s racist.
The other really disturbing thing I see in commentary and fan forums is the discussion around Jessica Sanchez’s appearance.
Around top 8 week, I started noticing that, on the fan forums I visited and on youtube clips of Jessica or Hollie Cavanagh’s performances, there was a kind of universal consensus that Hollie was the beautiful one, and Jessica was… not. Even people who said they preferred Jessica as a singer would say things like “but she’s not pretty like Hollie.”
This turned into a mini-phenomenon. I saw it everywhere. If you do a google search, you’ll find that there are a whole lot more results for “Jessica Sanchez ugly” than for “Hollie Cavanagh ugly.” And most of the negative commentary on Jessica’s appearance also talks about her race.
There were also entire lines of comments that argued that Jessica Sanchez shouldn’t win Idol because she doesn’t “look American” and it would be confusing if the winner of Idol wasn’t American. I counted fifty of those comments when I was compiling youtube clips for this post, and then I couldn’t do it anymore.
Pardon me for the temporary rant: Jessica Sanchez is an American. Jessica Sanchez looks American. Because she is an American. The End.
Someone, somewhere, will have to explain to me what these people mean by “looking American.” Because I think they mean “white.”
And, you know, I realize the internet can be a terrible place. I do. I really do. I know that people are asshats. But that doesn’t make their conduct okay, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.
Let me put it this way. If there were no racial bias, Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanaugh would probably get the same amount of “ha ha, she’s ugly” trolling. But because we tend to see white people as the “standard” of good looks, Jessica Sanchez gets the brunt of the “ugly” criticism.
Oh, yes. Now that I see their photos right next to each other, it’s SO CLEAR that Hollie is prettier than Jessica.
I would probably have let the ugly/pretty rant drop if it weren’t for the fact that the exact same thing happened with Phillip Phillips and Joshua Ledet.
Again, many commentators pegged Phillip Phillips as the winner, because they argued that women and girls would vote for the cute boy.
But no one ever said Joshua Ledet has a chance of winning the “cute boy” vote. Once Colton Dixon was gone, everyone assumed that Phillip Phillips was the show’s only male heartthrob.
Oh, yes. It’s so obvious that Phillip Phillips is the only attractive one of these two guys. SO OBVIOUS.
[This is one of those cases where my personal taste goes completely against the public consensus, because I happen to think Phillip Phillips is somewhat bland, while Joshua Ledet is a Stone Cold Fox.]
My point here is: there’s a pattern where only white contestants are labeled – either by fans or by commentators – as attractive. The entire “girls will only vote for cute boys so White Guys with Guitars will always win” inherently assumes that only white guys count as cute. This is probably not that surprising to anyone who has studied race issues in the United States, but it’s still disturbing. And we should talk about it.
So yes. Racism has an impact on American Idol. And we should talk about it. We’re probably not going to, and if we do, it’s going to be along the lines of “white people experience discrimination too!”… but I’m holding out hope.
Now that I’ve finished covering the year in misogyny and racism, let’s… end on a high note, shall we?
Here are some of the great things about American Idol this year:
1. Michael Slezak, Melinda Doolittle and Jason Averett
Michael Slezak remains my favorite American Idol commentator of all times. There is no one who is funner to read or to watch. His boundless enthusiasm, his passionate love for the show and the singers, his burning hatred of producer manipulations – he’s amazingly addictive.
Slezak is my hero. Someday, if I work hard enough, and hide my female roboticness long enough, I might aspire to be half as entertaining and incisive a writer as he is.
Some actual quotes for our edification: “I can’t fathom what (aside from Uncle Nigel sending volts of electricity into their chairs) prompted the judges to give Deandre a Standing O for a vocal this week that was about as pleasant as listening to a Snowy Owl sink its talons into a frightened prairie dog and carry it back to the nest for disembowelment.” (Top 9 recap)
On Skylar Laine’s “Show Must Go On” “It was like watching the very first space shuttle take off, and you didn’t know if it was going to make it up into the atmosphere, and then it was like – oh my god, we’re in outer space. We’ve conquered outer space.”
Michael Slezak is also one-third of the team behind Idology, a weekly American Idol video recap where Slezak joins Melinda Doolittle, the third place finisher of American Idol Season 6, to discuss the week’s results.
I love Idology with the passion of a thousand hopeful American Idol contestants. I love it because Slezak and Doolittle are having so much damn fun – sometimes Doolittle makes Slezak laugh so much I worry they’ll have to call an ambulance. The two have incredible chemistry.I also love Idology because the producer, Jason Averett, intercuts each video with amazing, hilarious clips from movies and TV shows. And it is glorious.
Averett is the invisible third commenter who makes himself known through his editing and his hilarious captions. During the first few weeks of the competition, for example, Slezak and Doolittle argued over whether Colton Dixon or Phillip Phillips had a better shot at the title. Averett kept intercutting their discussions with a photo of Phillips and the caption “Spoiler: This Guy.”
Anyways. I love Michael Slezak. I love Jason Averett. I love Melinda Doolittle. I love Idology. I can’t wait for them to come back next year.
I only have two small quibbles [because you know me; I can’t ever just like something. I have to find all the problems]
One: Idology is too short. Last year, we had thirty minute episodes, so Slezak could really get into the nitty-gritty details. And he could invite guests, he could have guest performers etc. If possible, I’d like the longer length back, thank you very much.
Two: I really appreciate Slezak’s commitment to calling out the anti-female shenanigans on Idol. But I would also really like it if he stopped calling JLo a skank. Look, she’s a terrible judge, and I’m fine with you making fun of her and her singing and her terrible critiques. Just don’t use gendered slurs to insult her. You don’t use racist terms of insult Randy Jackson; don’t use misogynistic slurs to insult Jennifer Lopez. And stop saying that she’s setting back the feminist movement, or women’s rights. It’s annoying. One of the main points of “rights” is that they don’t go away just because one woman acts badly.
Reason #2 American Idol was awesome this year?
2. There were some damn fine Singers
It bears repeating: there were some damn fine singers. I don’t think there’s been a season where I’ve liked as many people as I did this year. Moreover, when we got to the top 10, there wasn’t a single singer that I actively disliked. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hollie or Phillip, particularly near the end, but I thought they were fine.
In contrast, last season there was exactly ONE singer I still liked by the time Top 9 rolled around (the inimitable Haley Reinhart).
This season, I fell madly, passionately in love with Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez. They were phenomenal. Unbelievable. And earth-shatteringly good. Joshua was all whiskey-soaked raspiness, unbridled emotions and glorious, explosive energy; Jessica Sanchez was gorgeous, finessed vocals; lovely rawness combined with a perfect range and a magnificent, terrifying power.
I don’t care what they sing. I will buy all the CDs. And the singles. Whatever. Everything. All the time.
I was also deeply in love with Skylar Laine and Elise Testone. They are tremendous. Elise Testone is bluesy and rocky and her voice is so wonderfully bizarre. Skylar Laine proves I can enjoy country music: she was artistic, original and gutsy, and she had a massive voice on top of everything else.
So yes. In spite of the misogyny, the racism, the producer manipulation, the judging issues… there were still damn fine singers on American Idol this season, and they gave some damn fine performances.
Because it’s my blog, and I’m ridiculously self-indulgent, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite twenty performances this season. And because it’s my blog, I don’t even have to be embarrassed that more than 1/2 of them are Joshua Ledet or Jessica Sanchez performances. [Okay, I am embarrassed. But I’ll live]
In conclusion! Hurrah for Season 11! And thank god I’ve got six months to recuperate before Season 12.
[These performances are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. Don’t hurt me]
0. Jessica Sanchez You Are So Beautiful (also known as “suck it, trolls)
1.Elise Testone Whole Lotta Love (also known as “Hey, robots sing pretty good, don’t they?”)
2. Skylar Laine Stay With Me
3. Jessica Sanchez Love You I do (also known as “C.D. falls madly in love with a contestant for the first time this season”)
4. Joshua Ledet No More Drama (also known as “Wait, why didn’t he make the final two again?”)
5. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet’s duet I Knew You Were Waiting For Me (also known as “C.D.’s personal top 2 make the world explode through sheer awesomeness”)
6. Hollie Cavanagh Bleeding Love
7. Joshua Ledet When A Man Loves A Woman
8. Elise Testone No One
9. Jessica Sanchez Everybody has a Dream
10. Joshua Ledet Ready For Love (also known as “Joshua becomes C.D.’s other favorite contestant’)
11. Skylar Laine The Show Must Go On (also known as “Michael Slezak thinks this is the equivalent of conquering outer space”)
12. Phillip Phillips Volcano (I will admit, I’ve never really gotten Phillip Phillips. But I got him on this song).
13. Jessica Sanchez Sweet Dreams (also known as “the best song I’ve bought on iTunes in months”)
14. Jessica Sanchez Bohemian Rhapsody
15. Jessica Sanchez The Prayer (also known as “I’m not religious and I actually started crying in the middle of this song”)
16. Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick and Candice Glover It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (Candice better come back next year, is all I’m saying)
17. Jessica Sanchez And I Am Telling You (I actually held my breath for the last minute. The entire song was like jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet and landing in a side-split handstand)
18. Joshua Ledet It’s a Man, Man, Man’s World (with Jessica Sanchez’s And I Am Telling You, the best ten minute block of the season. My brain almost exploded when these two songs happened back-to-back. The awesome was impossible to contain).
19. Jessica Sanchez’s duet with Jennifer Holiday on the finale (I take it all back. This was the best three minutes on the show on this season. Period. No questions asked. Do not mess with these two ladies. They will destroy you.)
Public Service Announcement: Haley Reinhart’s first CD, Listen Up, just came out. Buy it; it’s incredible.
P.S: Apologies for the spotty posting schedule. Fair warning: it may get spottier. I’ve been having some health-related problems, and they’ve been getting steadily worse over the past week or so. Hopefully I can keep a two-to-three post a week schedule… but I just started a medication that’s supposed to help my migraines and the side effects for the first two weeks are brutal. So if I disappear, my apologies.
[Content Note: This post contains discussion of racism and violence. I also talk about racist slurs, although none appear in the post itself]
[Spoiler Warning: This post contains spoilers for both The Hunger Games movie and the books]
Since this post is almost exclusively about race – and about specifically the portrayal and the treatment of African Americans in American culture – I want to make it clear that I am a white American. My perspective is thus inevitably skewed. If you are interested in further understanding these problems, I highly recommend also seeking out perspectives on The Hunger Games and Trayvon Martin that are written by people of color. I have linked to several in this post.
Onward we march! (with the post)
On February 26th 2012 in Sandford, Florida, Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager, went to the convenience store to buy his brother a Snapple and a pack of Skittles. The neighborhood watch commander, George Zimmerman, saw Martin as he was coming home, and thought he looked “suspicious.” Zimmerman called 911. The Operator told him not to follow Martin. Zimmerman did not listen. He trailed Martin in his SUV. Zimmerman had a semi-automatic weapon; Martin was unarmed. What happened next is somewhat unclear, but a confrontation ensued, and Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.
Martin was seventeen years old.
Zimmerman told the police at the scene that he had shot Martin. He was neither arrested nor charged. In fact, it was not until April 12th, 45 days after the shooting, that Zimmerman was charged. If the case had not caused a national scandal, I have little doubt that Zimmerman would still be free.
Part of the reason Zimmerman was left free was due to the Stand Your Ground Law. Florida has an extra-special self-defense statute, which allows a person to use deadly force if he/she/zie ” “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The statute includes no duty to retreat. The statute is the reason why Zimmerman can argue he was acting in “self-defense. This article explains the law better than I can.
There are a lot of deeply disturbing things about the Trayvon Martin case.
For one thing, it’s just about as clear an instance of racial profiling as you’ll ever find. Martin was doing absolutely nothing suspicious except walking while black in a suburban neighborhood. Zimmerman, meanwhile, has a history of calling 911 and describing black youths as “suspicious.”One of those black youths was seven.
(Hey, I’m not judging. My brother was seven once, and he was pretty damn dangerous. He always got the last cookie in the cookie jar. Devious little thing)
Eyewitnesses on the scene said they heard Martin calling for help. The police corrected them and told them that they must have heard Zimmerman, rather than Martin. To quote Crunktastic: “Even with eyewitness testimony, the police seemed incapable of seeing Trayvon as the victim. Young Black men are always the aggressors, right? Not the gun-toting white guy, who weighed 100 pounds more than Trayvon.”
These links do a great job of detailing the many, many, many disturbing things about the way the case unfolded: Crunk Feminist Collective and Think Progresses “What Everyone Should Know about Trayvon Martin” and “The Five Unanswered Questions”
Thanks in large part to the national attention on the case, Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder. He is now out on bail, awaiting trial.
Now, lest we think that the racial profiling and racism of the case was confined to Sanford, Florida, let’s see what happens when the case becomes a national scandal:
– a prominent commentator on Fox News (Geraldo Riviera) told parents of black and hispanic children to keep their kids from wearing hoodies. Right. Because that’s the problem: that Black kids are making a decision to look suspicious, and not that people assume that black kids look suspicious.
– White Supremacy groups hacked into Trayvon Martin’s email and twitter accounts in an attempt to find evidence that would prove Martin was “dangerous.”Shock! Gasp! Martin listened to rap, may (or may not) have smoked weed, and sometimes used swear words.
The media pounced on this information. They did not pounce on the other information in the emails: Martin’s scholarship applications and his SAT scores (they must have missed that part)
– Trayvon Martin’s school records were leaked, again, in an attempt to find evidence that he was a Bad Person and Deserved To Die.
– Without any evidence, several prominent bloggers and columnists stated that Trayvon Martin assaulted a bus driver and was a drug dealer. A columnist at the Examiner continued to make this claim even after the police confirmed it was untrue.
– The Sanford Police has leaked selectively negative information about Trayvon Martin. They also told Martin’s parents that Zimmerman was not charged with a crime because he had a clean record. This is a lie: Zimmerman once assaulted a police officer, and was charged with resisting arrest.
– Prominent conservative websites have run photos of Trayvon Martin where he is wearing saggy pants and making a rude gesture. The trouble is: whoever is in those photos? Not Trayvon Martin. Whoops. Fortunately, the websites have acknowledged their error. Unfortunately, they did not take down the photos (although they do acknowledge their mistake… in the caption. Thanks.) (Melissa McEwan of Shakesville does a take-down here)
[Further discussion at Think Progress’s great article on the Trayvon Martin smear campaign]
We as a country are engaging in a giant smear campaign against a seventeen year old kid for the crime of being shot and killed by a vigilante.
It’s horrifying enough that Trayvon Martin probably died because of his skin color. But what’s almost worse is that the reaction to his death has been riddled with racism and victim-blaming. Even if Trayvon Martin was bus-driver-assaulting-head-of-a-drug-empire, he did not deserve to be assassinated. Zimmerman knew nothing about Martin when he shot him. He didn’t shoot Martin because of what he was, he shot him because of what he looked like – “suspicious.”
And the national media, meanwhile, fell over themselves to try to prove that Zimmerman had a reason to believe Martin “suspicious.”
It’s like we can’t possibly believe that a black teenager could be the innocent one in the story.
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is a mega-giant-blockbuster of a Young Adult trilogy. The movie version came out a few weeks ago, and it broke multiple box office records. It’s opening weekend gross is now the third largest of all times, behind The Dark Knight and Deathly Hallows.
Quick plot summary for those who have never read the books or seen the movie (ie: my mother): every year in the country of Panem (a post-apocalyptic future version of the United States), twenty four youths between the ages of eleven and eighteen are selected (by lottery) as tributes to fight to the death in the titular “Hunger Games.” The games are televised for the edification of the nation. There is one winner.
So how does a YA dystopia-turned blockbuster movie relate to the Trayvon Martin killing?
Two of the tributes in the book are African American: Rue and Thresh. Suzanne Collins, the author, explicitly describes both characters as dark-skinned, and in interviews, she has said she meant for them to be read as African American. When the filmmakers cast Rue and Thresh, they thus chose black actors.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
And “Oh, god, I have to watch these poor kids fight to the death?”
But actually – I just hope that’s what you’re thinking. Because a whole lot of people had a very different reaction to Rue and Thresh in the movies.
What follows are a series of tweets reacting to the movie (I have not included the twitter names of the people in question, although they are available at my original sources) [content warning for racial slurs, racism, terrible spelling, failure at life]
“Why is Rue a little black girl?”
“why is Rue black?!?! #WTH #hungergamesprobs”
“Why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie”
“Why did the producers make all the good characters black”
“EWW Rue is black?? I’m not watching.”
“I’m still pissed that Rue is black”
“Sense when has rue been a” – (Me: you know what? I’m not printing that word. You know what it is. Starts with an N.)
“some ugly little black girl with nappy…hair”
“Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad”
“Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture”
“How in the world are they going to make rue a freaking black bitch in the movie?!?!?? lolol not to be racist”
“ew i imagined [rue] looking very innocent and cute”
THIS kid. THIS twelve year old kid is getting called a “black bitch.” This twelve year old kid, who (to steal Dodai Stewart’s words) looks like a freaking ANGEL, does not qualify as innocent. Just to be absolutely 100% clear: this girl (yes, the one right above this paragraph) apparently does NOT look “innocent and cute.”
There’s a whole contingent of people out there who think that because Amandla Stenberg has an extra melanin in her skin her death is not as “sad” as it was in the books. (They apparently failed to realize that Rue was also black in the books, which doesn’t say much for the state of reading comprehension in the United States).
The degree to which these people fail as human beings defies words.
All right. In spite of the massive amounts of racism and horrific-ness going on above, I will continue with a cogent analysis of the problem at hand, and attempt not to erupt into bouts of – OH WHO AM I KIDDING? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? SHE’S A TWELVE YEAR OLD KID!
Okay. I’m back. Apologies. I needed a moment. (I actually need more than just ONE moment, but… I will control myself).
Cogent analysis of the situation at hand.
What shocks me when I read these tweets is the raw anger that come off of them. These people aren’t just bemused by the situation. They aren’t laughing about their bad reading comprehension. They’re horrified. They’re angry. How dare they? How dare the filmmakers and Suzanne Collins besmirch Rue and Thresh by casting them as black?
In The Hunger Games, Rue is possibly the most innocent character of the entire narrative. She’s twelve – the youngest participant in the games. She never kills anyone, not even in self-defense. She saves Katniss (the protagonist). Her death is the most poignant moment of the movie. For the rest of the series, Katniss remembers her as a symbol of goodness, purity and innocence.
Thresh, the other African American tribute, comes from Rue’s district. He too, is an unambiguously good character. He refuses to join the “careers” (the group of tributes who actively try to kill the other children). Unlike Rue, he does kill, but like Katniss, he acts only in self-defense. He saves and spares Katniss’ life after he realizes she tries to save Rue, a decision that probably led to his death in the arena.
Rue and Thresh are good characters. Rue and Thresh are innocent characters. Rue is a symbol of innocence.
They cannot possibly be black.
As one of our Friendly Neighborhood Tweeters put it: “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture”
Blonde is innocent. Black is not. To be white is to be innocent, good, pure. But it does not matter who you are, what you have done, where you come from: if you are black, you cannot be innocent. To be black is to be guilty without ever having sinned.
I’m going to quote the founder of the Hunger Games Tweets website (which collected many of the racist tweets I quote before), who says it far more eloquently than I possibly could:
“These people are MAD that the girl that they cried over while reading the book was “some black girl” all along. So now they’re angry. Wasted tears, wasted emotions. It’s sad to think that had they known that she was black all along, there would have been [no] sorrow or sadness over her death.”
If she had been black all along, there would have been no sorrow or sadness over her death.
Does this sound familiar?
Like Rue and Thresh, Trayvon Martin was an innocent. He did not die because of what he did, but because of where he was: Rue and Thresh were forced into an arena, Martin was forced into a society where to be black is to be suspicious.
When Martin, a black youth, died, instead of sadness, we got indifference. The police refused to arrest his killer.
When Martin, a black youth, died, we got anger. Anger not at his killer, but at him. The police, the media, society at large, conspired to find every possible excuse to justify his death. He was wearing a hoodie. He used swear words. He did drugs.
His email accounts were hacked and his school records were leaked to prove he was a criminal.
We tried to find every possible excuse not to feel bad at his death.
We are so used, as a culture, to seeing black youths depicted as thugs, as lowlives, as “bitches,” as drug-dealers, criminals, delinquents, as stereotypes. We are so used to their role as the bad guys of pop culture and the media. We know who they are. We are so used to their depiction as less-than-human that we have lost our capacity to see them as children. As human beings.
We are so used, as a culture, to the negative, dehumanizing images of black people. We know they are thugs. We know they are sassy bitches. We know they are ugly. We know they are “suspicious.” We are so used to these stories about black children that we actually get angry when they dare – dare – to challenge them. When a black youth dares to show themselves as human, as a child, as an innocent among innocents, we are enraged.
When we see a young black girl who is innocent and smart and cute, we are mad. When we see a young black man who is shot, but who is the innocent party, we are enraged. We are so convinced of the rightness of our cultural narratives that we will do anything to prove them correct. We will hack into a murder victims’ email accounts to prove that yes, in fact, he is a criminal. He is not innocent. We will conveniently ignore the information in the victim’s email accounts, like the scholarship applications and the SAT information, that tells us that he was a smart, hardworking kid. That is not part of the story. We will call a twelve year old girl a “bitch” and deny the sadness of her death to prove that no, in fact, a black girl cannot be innocent. If she were innocent, we would be sad.
We will take every possible excuse not to feel sad at a black child dying.
That sadness you feel, when you hear about the death of a child? To me, that sadness is an affirmation of the child’s humanity. And by refusing to feel sad that Rue and Thresh and Trayvon Martin died, we are in every way denying their humanity. Denying their right to exist on this earth.
If Rue was walking home in suburbia, and she was shot by a vigilante for looking “suspicious,” would her death be treated with any more respect than Trayvon Martin’s?
I suspect not.
And that’s why Trayvon Martin is dead. Because we can’t even see patently “good” black youths like Rue as innocent [not that it’s okay to dehumanize black youths who DO fit the cultural narratives, but I think the example of Rue and Trayvon Martin show how far we’ve gone as a society]. And that’s why we have taken to smearing Trayvon Martin’s name after his death. Because we refuse to admit he could possible be innocent.
The title is, after all “Trayvon Martin, The Hunger Games, and Me”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to understand why Trayvon Martin and The Hunger Games have hit me so hard. I can’t get them out of my head (I first thought of writing this post three weeks ago). I’ve ranted about both issues multiple times to friends. I’ve written out mini-rants on facebook. Last week, I started crying in the library as I read Ajani Husband’s heartbreaking Open Letter to his Unborn Black Son.
I know part of the reason these stories affect me so much.
You see, I have a brother.
My brother is Rue’s age, exactly and precisely. He’s only a few years younger than Trayvon Martin. When I read The Hunger Games, and Katniss volunteered at the reaping for her sister, it was my brother I thought about. When Rue died, it was my brother I thought about. When I read about Trayvon Martin for the first time, my immediate thought was how horrible it would be if my brother died that way, killed by a vigilante as he walks around the neighborhood.
When I read Ajani Husband’s letter to his son, I imagined reading it to my brother. I imagined telling him he would probably be shot and killed by the police. I imagined saying to him, as Husband tells his son: “you will die. You will perish at the hands of those who fear you. Your death will be likened to a hunting accident.”
And I was horribly, pathetically grateful that I would never, ever have to have that conversation with my brother.
Because my brother is white.
I will never have to tell my brother that he should fear the police. I will never have to tell him that there are people in the world, thousands of people, who view him as guilty because of the color of his skin.
He will not be killed by a vigilante who finds him suspicious.
But if he were, if he were to die in the exact same circumstances as Trayvon Martin, his death would be universally mourned. There would be outrage everywhere.
No one would blame my brother for his own death.
No one would hack into his email account to try and justify his killer.
No one would leak his school records.
No one would falsify information about “assaults” he caused.
Because my brother is white.
My stepsister is Rue’s age as well. In fact, she looks a lot like Amandla Stenberg (they have very similar eyes). Only she is white. And blonde. And blue-eyed.
If she were in a movie where she died, no one would think her death was less sad because of the color of her skin.
I would never have to sit her down and explain why people on the internet call her names (yes, Amandla Stenberg knows about the tweets, which is one of the most horrifying parts of the entire story).
I cannot possibly understand what it’s like to know, every day, that your child is worth less than other children because of their skin color. I cannot possibly understand what it’s like to sit your child down and tell them how to protect themselves from the police.
I am not Trayvon Martin. I am not Rue. My brother is not Trayvon Martin. My step-sister is not Trayvon Martin either. It could not happen to us. Because we are white, because we are privileged, we are assumed to be innocent.
So yes, part of the reason these stories really affect me is because these are children dying. And as a sister – as a human being – I can’t stand back while that happens and people act like racist idiots.
But that’s only part of the reason, because, like I said: this would never, ever happen to my family.
The other part of the reason, I suspect, that I’m so angry is that I know that I’m part of the problem.
After all, I’m white. I’ve been taught these cultural narratives about the worthlessness of black lives since before I could even process them. My safety as a white body is predicated on the criminalization of the black body.
When I use the term “we” in this post – when I say things like “we are so convinced of the rightness of our cultural narratives that we will do anything to prove them correct” – I do so very consciously. Because I am a part of that “we.” I too, have been taught by my culture that black life is worth less. I too, have been taught to fear black men. I too, participate in these narratives, although (mostly) unconsciously.
And most of all, I know that it would be easy for me to forget.
It would be easy for me to forget the racism. It would be easy for me to forget the lessons I’ve learned from reading the blogs of black activists in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. It would be easy for me to stop seeing my white privilege, to assume that my family and I are safe because we did the right things, because we are “good” and law-abiding. It would be much easier, in fact, if I stopped thinking about these problems. I could stop going to bed mad. I could stop raging against a world that says my brother is innocent, but Rue and Martin are not. I could stop trying to educate myself. I could stop listening to other people.
I could just forget.
It would be so, so, so easy for me to forget. To say: this couldn’t happen to me. Or to say: everyone is mad that children are dying (and ignore all the ones who aren’t), and think: I don’t need to fight this fight. Other people are fighting it.
It would be so, so, so easy.
That is perhaps the greatest privilege that comes with whiteness: I can stop seeing the problems of race. I can choose to forget. Amandla Stenberg, Dayo Okeniyi, Trayvon Martin and the other black children of America? They cannot forget.
So that’s my promise to myself. I will not forget. I will not let Trayvon Martin and Rue and Thresh slip quietly out of my mind. I will not pretend I understand what it’s like to go through this sort of racism, but I will stand with those who are fighting against it.
And I will try to find other ways to help.
In the spirit of being productive (and also of lifting spirits) I shall use the final space in this post to recommend links to other commentary on The Hunger Games and Trayvon Martin…
And to post happy pictures of Amandla Stenberg and Dayo Okeniyi being awesome.
A fascinating discussion of the Hoodie Marches, especially in context of Slutwalk, from the Crunk Feminist Collective