Monday, December 12, 2011

race, class, and Glee; or, how the rich see diversity


We've been Netflixing Glee for the last few weeks—we're through Season 2. We'll probably wait for the official release of Season 3 before we watch more, so please, no spoilers. For those who haven't seen it, don't worry about me spoiling it. This post is about race and class, not plot.

Much as I enjoy the show, I'm struck by its bourgie idea of diversity. Here's the racial, ethnic, gender, and class mix of the glee club through Season 2:

female
Rachel Berry: white, Jewish, middle/upper class
Tina Cohen-Chang: Asian-Jewish, class unknown
Quinn Fabray: white, middle/upper class
Mercedes Jones: black, class unknown
Santana Lopez: Hispanic, lesbian, working class
Brittany S. Pierce: white, lesbian, class unknown
(2nd season) Lauren Zizes: white, class unknown
male
Artie Abrams: white paraplegic, class unknown
Blaine Anderson: white, gay, upper class
Mike Chang: Asian, class unknown
Finn Hudson: white, working-class
Kurt Hummel: white, gay, working/middle class
Noah Puckerman: Jewish, class unknown
(1st season) Matt Rutherford: black, class unknown
(2nd season) Sam Evans (2nd season): white, working-middle class (homeless)
That inspired my recent post, wealth in the USA by race, religion, and gender. If the cast of Glee "looked like America", there would be more working class kids, more black and Hispanic kids, and a Muslim or Hindu kid. There would be fewer Jewish and Asian kids, and fewer gay kids.

Now, it's a glee club; it's not supposed to "look like America." The arts traditionally attract a high percentage of GLBT folks, and extra-curricular activities reflect class privilege in America because they usually come with extra expenses. Glee shouldn't look like America.

But if you want to know the disproportionate nature of privilege in the USA, Glee reveals it. It's white, Jewish, and Asian. It's concerned with ending oppression within the class system, so civil rights matter, but it doesn't question the class system itself: note that Glee is set in a high school where no one's politics are more extreme than right-of-center Obamaism.

That said, it's a fun show within its mainstream broadcast limits. I may be tempted to catch up on Season 3 before Netflix gets it.

ETA: Considering where Glee's set, Wikipedia's article on Ohio demographics suggests its percentage of Hispanics may be reasonable, but its percentage of black folks is still off. (Not that Hollywood cares about local demographics, mind you. Where were the Hispanics in Roswell, a show set in a town that's nearly half Hispanic?)

ETA 2: In the comments, serialbabbler adds, "According to the internet, Glee is set specifically in Lima, Ohio sort of.

So this would be the demographics you'd be looking at."

Friday, November 18, 2011

scifi antiracist silliness: Nalo Hopkinson and "Killa Wog"

This tweet appeared today:
 Nalo Hopkinson Watching Green Lantern. Michael Clarke Duncan's character is named...Killa Wog? WTF?#ohnotheydidnt #racefail
It's being retweeted by folks who see racism everywhere they look. But they're demonstrating a great deal of cultural imperialism. To wit:

1. Kilowog is a character created by Steve Engelhart, a US writer. In the US, few people know that "wog" is an insult; it's not part of this country's racist vocabulary. As Wikipedia notes, "In the United States, "Wog" is simply short for Pollywog, the navy term for sailors who have yet to cross the equator in the line-crossing ceremony, and has no racial associations."

2. While the inspiration for Kilowog's name doesn't seem to be on the web, DC Comics' offices are in New York, so the name may've been inspired by the town of Killawog, NY. Which, by the way, was not named because they "killed a wog" there, but don't let me stop anyone from accusing a town of having a racist name.

3. The character was previously voiced by Henry Rollins, who is white.

I like Nalo. She's a fine writer. But in this case, the racefail is all in her philosophy.

ETA: I just bolded and italicized "has no racial associations" for the sake of folks like Ithiliana who seem to have trouble reading. In The Heart of the Maze - The OED entry on "wog" n1 and n2, she uses the Oxford English Dictionary to establish that "wog" is racist in UK countries, which I hadn't noticed anyone disputing.

I think the problem is that devout anti-racists believe English-speakers are the same everywhere. Perhaps they don't grasp that there are many dialects—when a Brit wants to "light up a fag", do they accuse her of wanting to burn homosexuals alive, or do they understand that she wants to smoke a cigarette?

I also wonder if Ithiliana thinks "niggardly" is racist, and whether she accepts the OED's verdict there. Ah, well. Everyone's entitled to a foolish belief or two.

ETA 2: I just realized that Ithiliana's reference to "white male" illustrates something at the heart of racism and sexism in disagreements: the ad hominem argument. It's characteristic of identitarians: they don't have to answer points made by a heretic or an outlaw or a barbarian simply because they're not "one of us."

ETA 3: Ithiliana's brought up another bit of handwaving. Sure, golliwogg is problematic, but it ain't the same word as polliwog. The crucial question: are there any examples of US racists using "wog" as an insult where average Americans would be expected to recognize it as a racist insult? Among the many things anti-racists don't understand: context matters.

ETA 4: Constance Ash, aka al_zorra, has chipped in with the observation that some members of the US ruling class who had a fetish for all things British used "wog." It's true, but hardly relevant; I sometimes use the Ojibwe word "mia" for "good enough," but that hardly means "mia" is now a US term. And, yes, those Americans who read a lot of British literature know that "wog" is a racial insult in countries ruled by Britain after the US Revolution. Readers know a lot of things that are irrelevant when talking about common use. The real question stays very simple: is "Kilowog" a racist name for a scifi character created by Americans and voiced by a black American actor?

ETA 5: This just occurred to me: Kilowog's name is a false cognate, a concept that ideological antiracists may not recognize.

ETA 6: I'm beginning to wonder how reading works for antiracists. In the comments, gryphonsegg wrote, "How and why did he go from "This character's name has phonetic similarities to a slur which the original creator might not have been aware of at the time" to "This slur isn't really a slur or at least isn't used as a slur anymore even if it was ever a slur to begin with, which it wasn't because REASONS"? I mean, what is even the point of that? I understand why some people get defensive about the possibility of a beloved canon perpetuating racism, even if I recognize that the defensive reactions are usually wrong. But this looks like he's decided to get defensive about the possibility of anybody or anything ever having been racist."

Where have I said it's not a slur anywhere or never was? It's a slur in the UK and its former colonies. Hmm. Maybe this is related to their trouble understanding that things are different in different places.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

gaslighting vs. gasbagging, and revising the past

coffeeandink: More on #YesGayYA:
Another thing that contributes to the issue: gaslighting. Gaslighting makes the people who are complaining feel crazy, or discredits them in the eyes of other parties: it prevents fixing the problem because it doesn't admit that a problem exists. Gaslighting explains away any example of the problem (whether logically or not), and explaining away one example is taken to explain away all of them. An example is considered discredited if the complainant can't provide irrefutable documentary evidence of the issue, which is seen as the same thing as disproving the issue --or (this one is my favorite)--they can provide documentary evidence, but if it is presented in full gaslighters will find it too confusing to parse, and if it's presented in brief gaslighters will find it too simplified or subjective to credit.
I love, in the way I love cult logic, the notion that when your concepts don't gibe with reality, you should assume people are trying to trick you. The reason gaslighting can work is that sane people first consider the possibility they're mad. Only mad people begin with the assumption that gaslighters are at work.

deepad | In which I am derailing and contrary and also unsupportive of the Market:
Some of you may remember an extended online 'discussion' we had in 2009 regarding the failure of white writers to adequately represent the chromatic characters that they thought they were portraying so ably.
A discussion about white writers writing folks of other hues would be interesting. To make this personal, I'm rather proud that the FSFwiki says of me, "His work features strong women characters and people of color." Now, are they wrong? Could be. I wrestled for a while with the question of whether Ethorne in Dogland is a magical negro; I concluded that he's not. (I won't spoiler the book with the reason here, but if anyone asks, I'll put it in the comments.) All of the writers attacked in Racefail 09 have written "chromatic characters." But where's the discussion of how well or how poorly they wrote? The only "discussion" was about how people who disagree with neoliberal antiracists are racists. If I missed the links to the discussion Deepad mentions, please, share them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

the most appropriating motherfucker I know, and some bougie shit


Capitalist antiracists have an obsession with cultural appropriation, by which they mean stealing things from other cultures. For one of many insane examples, they say white folks should not have dreadlocks (really, I can't make this up)—even though the Celts had dreads two thousand years ago. I don't know whether antiracists think it's okay to use chopsticks.

I was reminded of this when I referred to K. Tempest Bradford, aka [info]ktempest , aka the Angry Black Woman, as the Angry Bougie Woman on Google+. I didn't expect her to see it, but I wasn't surprised when she and her friends noticed and talked about it. @nkjemisin, aka [info]nojojojo , tweeted:

@tinytempest @rosefox Not that I want him 2 talk more, but I wish he'd at least use bougie properly, since he's appropriating.

Guilty, girlfriend. "Bougie" is totally appropriated.

From the motherfucking French.

By Karl Motherfucking Marx.

(Or, more likely, by people who studied the social classes long before Marx. Life's too short to google that now.)

Here's one of the many things that the Anti-racism Cult doesn't get: Appropriation is just another word for progress.
Here's my favorite photo of the most appropriating motherfucker I know. It's Geronimo, taken while he and his people were free.

From racefail

Notice his appropriated jacket? Eurpean jackets make a lot of sense in the Southwest. Rifle? Totally fucking appropriated 'cause it's useful. Notice that he didn't appropriate pants? They're too damn warm most of the year. Footgear? Nice soft moccasins that're comfortable to walk in—why would he want white folks' boots? I'm tempted to ask Emma to make me a breechcloth like his to complete the appropriating circle, though for footgear, I prefer to appropriate sandals.

Now, by definition, bougie black folks appropriate all kinds of Asian, American Indian, and Euro shit, as well as shit from many different African cultures. That's what the upper classes do.

As for "bougie," I'm not surprised N. K. Jemisin doesn't know that my generation used it. I was startled when I learned how old "groovy" was. Slang, like sex, is always assumed to have been invented by the kids who just found out about it.

I don't mean to be harsh by calling these folks bourgeois, only precise:

[info]coffeeandink  is a Yale grad.

K. Tempest Bradford graduated from New York University, the second most expensive private university in the US. It's not surprising that she would pick up their values. She tweeted, "I went to a fancy private school and grew up middle class, so I'm totally bougie." Yes, that's pretty much Class 101. (Also, Kimberley? The next time I need a bougie girl's name for a story, I'm so appropriating that.)

Nora Jemisin is a graduate of Tulane, an expensive private school. Some people overcome the sense of entitlement that upper class schools teach, but Jemisin is the only person I've seen seriously dis folks by saying they live in "flyover country." She then gave a half-assed apology acknowledging her "inner snob", probably because she realized that in the terms of liberal capitalists, she's all kinds of classist. The liberal capitalist concern about "classism" seems to me to be related to the theory of noblesse oblige: you toss the working class a few bones of respect in the hope they won't revolt.

Well. Appropriation. It's okay by me. Someday, the working class will appropriate everything that bougie folks currently think they have a right to.