Tag Archives: racism

Peru, Race and “Limpieza de Sangre”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZUJKXs6W-4#t=30s

Tarantino has a way with portraying racial anxieties.

In my 40 hours of watching telenovelas these past few months (I swear it’s to better my Spanish), I’ve come to the conclusion that Latin American’s have this stupid obsession over all things blood-related. The plot of this Mexican soap I’m watching is that the main character (a rich white dude) can only inherent his father’s wealth on the condition that he bears a child of his own flesh and blood.

Wealth, dynasty, and anxiety over blood-purity. The man would’ve been sorted into Slytherin in an instant.

When the Spanish colonized the Americas, they instituted this complex caste system based on racial purity, or limpieza de sangre, that would determine the social and political pecking order for 300 years. Africans were placed on the top of this social order while Europeans were on the botto….PSYCHE.

It worked exactly as you would expect. 1. Europeans 2 Indigenous 3. Africans. Maybe not so complex in the end, but the Spanish tried their best to classify all the permutations of mating between these 3 races.

They even made some handy paintings showing all the different combinations of African, Indigenous and European baby-making just in case you you forgot you were dark skinned.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I’ve been trying to locate myself in this picture. From what I know of my family history, 18th Century me would have been somewhere in the first 3 boxes, top-left. Mostly European and Indigenous stock with a soupçon of ‘savage African’ or something along those lines.

It comes to no surprise that In Peru, they have this proverb used to describe the country’s racial demographics:

“El que no tiene de Inga tiene de Mandinga”(Every Peruvian either has Indigenous or African blood).

It’s an apt comment on Peru’s societal melting-pot. Black Peruvians make up around 10% of Peru’s 29.5 million, Amerindian 30% and about 48% are mixed race (European, Asian, African, Indigenous).

However this proverb masks some deep prejudices in Peruvian society, where there is no separation between socio-economic status and race. Indigenous and African-descendants in Peru earn 40% less than mixed-race people. It is a country where “an indigenous woman may only ever work as a maid; a black man may only ever aspire to be a hotel doorman”. In Peru, blood determines the life you are allowed to live.

Discrimination appears normalized in the day-to-day lives of average Peruvians. It shows up in form of tradition where elite families hire black people to carry coffins of their loved ones, the discriminatory treatment of indigenous household workers, humiliating Quechua-speaking members of Congress for their errors in writing in Spanish, or a comedy show with a main character dressed in blackface named Negro Mama (translated literally as The Dumb Black).

Come September, I’ll be living and working in Peru for eight months. I can only hope that the people I meet there also share a love for Bob Marley.

That until there no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance / than the colour of his eyes / – Me say war.

 

 

 

 

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#CancelColbert, @sueypark and a letter to Twitter

Dear Twitter,

My old friend. Have you put on a little weight? It seems that way with all the amateur hams that comprise your membership. I’m sorry, that was a little harsh. I really do love your 140 character straightforwardness, pithy one-liners, and unparalleled power to ruin political and corporate careers through retweets. In all honesty, they sincerely make me smile. You should publish a Twitter Greatest Hits (call it Twitter Gold (I hold a copyright on that one)). You can start with this gem.

You’re usually super funny but, something about you has been irking me as of late. It seems that some of your amateur hams can’t take a joke, particularly satire. Your platform has made it a lot easier to: miss the point of a joke and give credence to opportunists.

Last week on March 28 one of your close friends, Twitter activist (Hashtivist? This is a real thing now) @sueypark went off the rails and accused my hero, Mr. Colbert, of racism. Racism! Incredible! He must have said something incredibly racist to be accused of racism. First, let’s take a moment to reflect on the rich history of racism. Quite the horrendous accusation yes? So what did he do you might ask?

I guess the evidence is pretty clear, Colbert is a racist. But maybe, just maybe, this Tweet made by @ColbertReport was taken out of context. You see Twitter, sometimes your messages get taken out of context. Weird I know, who would have thought that the full meaning of an idea can’t be conveyed in a 140 characters. If I were to see The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation or in my case, The Speedy González Foundation for Sensitivity to Wetback’s or Whatever, I would tell Mr. Colbert to “fuddle duddle, dat’s rassist”. It’s a perfectly legitimate response…to the untrained eye, or in this case, someone who has never experienced humour in their lives. Satire is sometimes hard to comprehend when you read a tweet so I’ve taken the liberty of showing you the original segment (American IP address needed, sorry Canada).

http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/b6cwb3/sport-report—professional-soccer-toddler–golf-innovations—washington-redskins-charm-offensive

The @ColbertReport tweet was taken from a 5min 09 second bit on his March 28 show regarding the absurdity of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s continued resistance to changing an 82 year old racist team name by making a concession to Native Americans in the form of a foundation, while still keeping the name “Redskin”, a racial slur that has withstood the test of time and reason. It reminded me of the Derek Zoolander Center For Children Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too except more racist. The point Colbert was making with his recurring Ching-Chong character* was to put the owners outlandish Foundation into perspective by giving an even more absurd simile. The term Redskins isn’t acceptable and neither is Ching Chong Ding Dong nor orientals.

The craziest thing happened after this tweet made your sphere, certain people misunderstood the point. In particular, one of your most vocal activists @sueypark, got incredibly offended:

And I get it. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between a real person and a well-known character based on a conservative out-of-touch-with-reality pundit that’s been on air for 9 years, it happens to the best of us. Especially when @StephenColbert is not the actual Twitter handle of the real Stephen Colbert.

But that didn’t deter @sueypark and her ragtag group of ardent supporters to suck the living life-force of a joke designed to point out a racist.

Yet, it would be irresponsible of me to bust your chops and completely ignore the actual influence of what your infinite wisdom (us mere mortals call it trending) distills to us from your most loyal and vocal prophets. I mean of course, activists like @sueypark. For better or worse, your eminence allows the thoughts of a select few to migrate to the wider interwebs, to television and eventually to the collective culture. There is value in the Arab Spring and I’ll even throw in #Kony2012 for good measure because for all my irritation for Hactivism, it would be incorrect to associate everyone one of your users as practitioners of Slacktivism.

But man, you did something special. You facilitated laziness in a way no one person could do. #CancelColbert demonstrated your uncanny ability to streamline our sense of context since we no longer have to be bothered with taking the time to conduct research; we can just see what’s trending and assume. But the really cool thing you do is that you made it easier for strange bedfellows to hop on a bandwagon. #CancelColbert became a powerful banner for Colbert’s bigoted conservative detractors like Michelle Malkin (author of In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror) can get behind

and the bigoted “defenders” of Colbert to spew their own racist vitriol and misogynistic sentiments towards @sueypark.

I worry about you sometimes Twitter. You harbor some instances of really high blood-pressure and extreme mood swings that spiral out of control. Those versed in environmentalism would call my concerns for you as a positive feedback loop. More crass, some (such as myself and fellow redditors) would call it an r/circlejerk. Academics that study our primate cousins would call it G-G rubbing. I don’t want to question the motives of activists who want to get their message out and share it with their own network of followers using your platform but, the level of opportunism of your selective outrage machine is almost inseparable. You allow for this behaviour. It becomes a sort of opportunism for ignorance to spread on remedial Satire 101, for others to make outlandish claims in order to make a self-serving splash and, for anonymous bigots to direct their bigotry at those who try to share their opinion.

I also understand from the point of view @sueypark in questioning the right of a non-minority like Stephen Colbert to use racial constructions to make a joke about racism. It’s a legitimate opinion to have because it bears repeating, I’m also a minority; I empathize. However, we of course have to take this to it’s logical conclusion by which nobody can partake in satire. Because why stop at a white-man or women from using racial constructions to make a point about racism, nobody else but those of Asian descent truly understands the plight of bigotry against Asians. This is probably why we take intent, history and the person performing satire into account. There is such a thing as poor satire but, expanding the logic of Dan Snyder to point out his hypocritical Foundation with another outrageous construction as Colbert has done is not poor satire.

Twitter, you’re starting to become a reason as to why we can’t have nice things. The way you operate allows for the meta-narrative of a brilliant satirist who made a brilliant satire against the actual racism of whitewashing, to be discussed for all the wrong reasons. You make it easy for the politically correct and thought police to amp up the aggression on a person who specializes in diffusing sensitive topics with such surgical precision by turning it into YHWH; something forbidden to be discussed. You allowed us to be distracted from asking ourselves “Wait, there’s a team called the Redskins?”. You let someone like Dan Snyder win by allowing his Foundation and Native American solidarity #Not4Sale to be consumed by the ether of Tyler, the Creator and Lady Gaga tweets.

Anyways, take care. I look forward to your trending topics such as the Venezuelan and Turkish protests.

Sincerely,

Louis Reyes

 

P.S. Here’s Colbert’s rebuttal and @sueypark’s interview with the Huffington Post regarding #CancelColbert. You’ll quickly learn that the most direct question you can ask someone is also apparently a loaded question.

P.P.S. What’s a #ZainMalikIsPerfect?

Nick Cannon, Instagram, and Mintrelsy

cannon26n-5-web*Warning, links contain really, really, incredibly graphic language. They’re also hilarious.

Nick Cannon’s “whiteface” Instagram has been making the media rounds as of late. As expected, incessant rabbling on social media platforms and comment sections about how racist or how hilarious Cannon was for donning his reverse-minstrel show attire quickly ensued. Just browse through the comment sections in Huntington Post’s article and you’ll get a general idea of how galvanized people have become over this picture.

But I think the majority of people are arguing over the wrong thing. What people should really be arguing about is how much of an idiot Nick Cannon is for gratuitously misusing the “stepping on thin ice” art of minstrelsy, not because what he did was racist or funny; in my opinion it was neither.

A common sentiment I’ve read so far in a few comment sections is the arbitrary double standard of modern minstrelsy. Those who say that what Nick Cannon did is a sheer act of racism is to completely ignore critically lauded acts of “whiting-up”, “blacking-up” and “enter race/ethnicity here-up”. To cry racism is to ignore the fact that minstrelsy gave Robert Downey Jr. an Academy Award for his role of Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. It’s to ignore Dave Chappelle’s whiteface and caricature of a white supremest for which he has garnered considerable praise for. Hell, that’s exactly what the crux of minstrelsy is, a caricature of culturally appropriated features. It’s the same type of caricature Sacha Baron Cohen performed as Borat for several years, for which he would later receive an Academy nomination. I could go on with examples like Eddie Murphy’s makeup where he played an old Jewish man in Coming to America or to a lesser extent, the Wayans Brothers’ White Chicks.

Those who comment on whiteface or blackface as acts of pure racism are ignorant of the fact that our society has always had a pretty good appetite for faces. We have a good track record of handling different kinds of blackface, whiteface or whatever type of -face in stride by how we like to reward them. We lend our acceptance based on what I perceive to be reasons of purposeful a) comedic absurdity and b) critiques on the absurdity in on our society. When a minstrelsy fulfills these two purposes, it fits into a gray space of racism that we are comfortable with because it becomes an art-form to us. It transforms cultural appropriation from just being  “idiot comments meant to be amusing” to something that is profound because there is an intrinsic method to its offensiveness. As Marlee Horn puts it we have cues “that tell us as  where we will accept appropriation up to the point where it becomes a mere minstrel act”. Those cues are contingent on the purpose.

Another thing is to consider what we even deem to be racism in the first place since that term seems to be thrown around a lot. Winant gives an excellent definition for what constitutes racism:

Today, a racial project can be defined as racist if it creates or reproduces hierarchical social structures based on essentialized racial categories”….Of course, any of these projects may be considered racist, but only if they meet the criteria I have just outlined: in other words, essentialization and subordination

Nick Cannon’s picture is indeed a reproduction of essentialized racial categories. Yet, to also say that it is also a reproduction of subordination or hierarchical social structures or anything with nefarious intent behind it would be a stretch. I don’t think this is the case.

Here’s why.

If his hashtag on the picture (#RacialDraft) and “Bro I got drafted” comment are any indication, what Cannon has done is based in benign intentions that should simply be faulted by how misguided and little value it has. Put together with his uncanny resemblance to Dave Chappelle’s take on whiteface, Nick Cannon is lazily looking for a shortcut to minstrelsy, something akin to dressing up for Halloween or an “ethnically” themed party. He’s just really bad at being funny.

Let’s be honest,

Nick Cannon is no Dave Chappelle.

Nick Cannon is no Robert Downey Jr.

Nick Cannon is no Eddie Murphy

Nick Cannon is no Sacha Baron Cohen.

Those who laud Nick Cannon for his picture and how humorous it is completely miss the point of what a well executed minstrelsy is. Again, for whiteface and blackface to be palatable it must serve an actual purpose, their portrayals must have merit in both absurdity and skewering our society. This is where the real problem with Nick Cannon’s donning of whiteface lies. It it is essentially devoid of fulfilling any real purpose since it is done to promote his upcoming album “White People Party Music”. It’s gratuitous misuse of minstrelsy because whiteface is used as a self-serving marketing ploy. People shouldn’t be mad because they think Nick Cannon is a racist, they should be mad because he’s appropriating culture to illicit cheap publicity.

A particular columnist, Adriana Velez, gave Cannon ample benefit of the doubt for his provoking by stating “If anything, Nick Cannon is starting a potentially interesting conversation”. That’s to suggest that Nick Cannon had the intention of doing so with his stunt, which is pretty wishful thinking considering the whole point of his whiteface was to plug some album.