Reading on the Rails: Whiteness, Ability, & Representation

March 2010 Vanity Fair cover

Over at Jezebel they’re covering the new March 2010 cover of Vanity Fair, which inexplicably features no people of color, only waifish and preternaturally pale white womyn. In the post, “Young Hollywood Is White, Thin,” Jezebel points out the misstep of such a cover given that people of color are so prominent this year in Hollywood.           

They also run a pretty compelling run down of Annie Lebowitz’s portraits through the years – all of which mysteriously place people of color on the right side, and thus not quite on the cover (before the fold out), of the photographic frame.Interesting to look at how Vanity Fair featues  white people (light, nature) and how they feature people of color, for instance, Tiger Woods. I will admit that I thought Vanity Fair has done nice images of the Obamas. The picture of Tiger though, gives one things to ponder.           

And because it’s been one of those weeks, there are some things that need special highlighting.          

Over at Resist Racism, there’s a piece on white privilege, called “Racism 101,” that makes me sigh with gratitude . It’s “right-on-it-ness,” and bluntness are a relief. I think everyone should have to read it. My favorite quotes include:              

7. Hating white privilege is not the same as hating whitey.              

8. Defensive responses to issues voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege.               

9. A claim to anti-racism cannot be made based on any variation of the “black friend defense” (Mexican boyfriend, Asian wife, children of color,  etc.)  

10. Apology means say you’re sorry and then shut up. No rationalization, no long explanation of your intention, no invocation of the black friend defense. And then ask what you can do to make change.   

Angry Asian Man posted a great item from Complex Magazine about the “50 Most Racist Movies (You Think Were Racist).” It is a surprisingly thorough and accurate list. What would you add?       

Venus Williams at the Australian Open

Over at threadbared, there’s a posting about the fascination with Venus Williams’ Austrialian Open outfit, which she designed herself. The post rightly points to the idiocy of sport personalities who suggested that Venus was not wearing underwear.        The post offers thoughts about why we as a nation still appear so fascinated with the Black female body, making in turn, Venus Williams, suspiciously into another kind of Venus altogether.         The commentary on Venus’ outfit reminds me of the work of The Saartje Project that investigates the portrayal of Black womyn through the theatre arts. They just had a show up called “Deconstructing the Myth of the Booty.”             Colorlines Magazine is discussing the problematic representation issues on Glee in an article called “Glee is Off Key on Race.” Written by Alex Chung the piece has a lot of strong observations about the way in which certain televisions shows co-opt the language of diversity, even while they refuse to offer the people of color complex and full lives.  Chung explains,   

“While it may be easy for some people to dismiss this as “just TV,” all television shows, no matter how fluffy or apolitical, represent a worldview – a sense of the way the world works, and sometimes, a belief in the way that it should work. Television is a more powerful medium than others for transmitting ideas about power and politcs precisely because it requires the viwer to assume certain things to be true. Glee presents a social hierarchy where white men are relatable heroes, women are hysterical banshees and people of color teach lessons to the main white characters.”            The Week  is reporting that Australia is banning ads featuring womyn with small breasts, in order to….wait for it… curb pedophilia. Wow. And yet, “Australia’s Small Breast Ban,” is true.  The ban is crazy and problematic. For sure. I am in no way defending the ban.        

It does make me think however of how many ads with adult womyn, are made to look as if this womyn are children or pre-adolescent, playing with the Lolita image. Here I am thinking specifically of waifish Kate Moss, particularly as she was photographed fro Calvin Klein.   

 The ban is indeed sexist and laden with body politics – and yet, there’s a kernel of a question being asked: what about how media implants the idea of young girls being sexualized? Australia has clearly gone about it the wrong way, but the question: what to do with the sexualization of extreme youth, remains.       

Racialicious posted a beauitful piece by A. Rahman Ford entitled, “Race, Disability, and Denial” confronting disability, gender, and race. It is powerful and a wonderful work that looks at intersections that are not often considered – particularly at disabiliy. The essay is amazing – vulnerable, truthful, painful and hopeful. Ford was inspired in part by a photograph that he took of himself. He says,     

In my own confusing quest for acceptance I could fully embrace being Black, and to a lesser extent being formally educated, but to be disabled was to be diminutive and I could not stand having to crane my neck upward and be forced to be jealous at how tall the world is. I am now coming to realize that there is in fact a difference between being big and being tall. To explore the heights of my own physical vulnerability, I took the photo to make all identities so collectively and simultaneously prominent that I could no longer choose to focus on one and leave another peripheral. 
This puts me in mind of my earlier posts about Laura Ferguson and Yinka Shonibare – linking the body, race and sexuality.
In fashionista news, I’ve just found a great site, thatblackgirlsite, and they have a great post entitled, “Four Things You Should Never Ask a Fashionista.” They took the words right out of my mouth! I find these questions are even more likely if you are a fashionista of color, in which case, there is a “you are so articulate” effect that happens and all of a sudden people are shocked that you have panache and style. But I digress: why didn’t I know about thatblackgirlsite? My bad, my bad. 

 The Assimilated Negro has some great thoughts about the passing of J.D. Salinger in “Maybe “Illmatic” is Hip-Hop’s Catcher in the Rye. The Assmiliated Negro says,    

Assimilation creates a necessary conflict of values. As we synthesize — hopefully evolve — we are practicing a form of cultural natural selection. As a black kid from the south bronx you might be      taught Salinger, but experience Nas. And ten to fifteen years ago, there was still a pervasive lack of respect for all that noisy hippity hoppity business. Certainly the artists were a far cry from getting covers on Time Magazine. Now over a decade later, it could be time to reassess. As Salinger inspired many in the Mad Men era, hip hop has been the wellspring for so many from media mogul billionaires to the President of the United States. Hip Hop’s history has cred now. It’s genuine Americana. So is Illmatic on the summer listening list at Choate? At a prep school back in the days Illmatic vs. Catcher would have been a joke, now it might very well be a 50-50 proposition in terms of what the student population has been exposed to on their own.   

I appreciate the acknowledgement that assimilation can create a conflict of values. Sure this is like (re)stating the DuBois’ double consciousness; what I find compelling about noting the conflict of values statement is that it acknowledges the confusion of assimilation. Double consciousness certainly nails the feeling of outsider status, or constant vigilance. This statement makes it plain in a heightened way for me.               

If you don’t already know her work, check out dana boyd. She studies social media – and is great.              

Feministing is sharing that Miley Cyrus’ little sister (9-year old sister) is launching a lingerie line…wait for it… for children. And cue apocalyptic mucic to signal the end of days.              

CBS has lost it’s mind – they’re running an anti-abortion ad during the Super Bowl. Jaclyn Freidman wrote about it over at The Nation in a piece called “The Second Sex at the Super Bowl.”                

Also, check out great non-profit leader and thinker Rosetta Thurman, she’s highlighting 28 Black non-profit leaders for the month of February.   

Side note: WordPress formatting is really subpar. 

Happy Black History Month!   


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