International Blog Against Racism Week

International Blog Against Racism Week is on again. Yay! If you’re confused about racism and race you can ask the awesome Angry Black Woman questions. She’s smart and funny and will treat you with the respect that you will, naturally, accord her. It is a brave and time consuming thing she has agreed to do.

You can find lots of links and posts here.

I was thinking of responding to Scalzi’s post about how he deals with race in his books, but Kameron Hurly has eloquently said what I was gunna say.

I’ve also decided against writing about the miscegenation bruhaha over on lj because so many smart people have covered it.

And I’m definitely not going to write about my nervousness in discussing race and racism. I see no way of doing it that doesn’t go down the white liberal guilt road, which is, frankly, deadly dull.

I would, however, like to post about my theories as to why I get asked about the race of the protagonist of the Magic or Madness trilogy (Reason Cansino) who isn’t white, but I never get asked about the race of the white characters (like Tom Yarbro). I’ve also had people complain that Reason being of Aboriginal ancestry doesn’t “add” anything to the story. As if the story should somehow be “about” her race. (Though it might not happen on account of the whole busy-ness thing—also I’m not sure I’ve sorted my thoughts out yet.)

Then there’s Tobias Buckell’s post on being (not visibly1) mixed race and how it freaks many white people. The assumption that (visibly) white people have two white parents, and that (visibly) black people have two black parents, or that a light-skinned black person has to have a white parent speaks to misapprehensions about how genes are passed on. Not to mention the cultural specificity of race. Black and white are not tidy terms, they leak.

In Australia a black person is, by and large, an indigenous person. In the US of A it usually means someone of African ancestry. In the UK I have heard people of Indian ancestry described as “black” and also as “asian”. In Australia only people from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia are called “asian”. And so it goes.

In Toure‘s review of CHARGING THE NET: A History of Blacks in Tennis From Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters by Cecil Harris and Larryette Kyle-DeBoseof he questioned some of the inclusions and exclusions:

There are some strange choices—they barely mention two Africans now on the tour, Hicham Arazi and Younes el-Aynaoui, both from Morocco, but give several pages to the Wimbledon winner Evonne Goolagong, an Australian aborigine. Aborigines may be oppressed and darker-skinned, but does that make them black? The original Australians are no blacker than, say, Vijay Amritraj of India, who played in the ’70s and ’80s and acted opposite Roger Moore in “Octopussy.” Alas, he’s not in the book.

Today in a review of a new reality TV show set in an affluent black suburb of Los Angeles the term “white” is jokingly used to described a group of affluent black teenagers:

This leaves “Baldwin Hills” in constant danger of turning into “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” albeit with better jokes. The show avoids that fate by focusing much of its attention on the hugely charismatic Staci, the only cast member to live in the low-lying, less wealthy district known as the J’s (for “the jungle”), and her constant nemesis, Garnette, the self-possessed queen bee of the girls up the hill.

In one of the show’s main plot lines so far, Garnette, against her better judgment, invites Staci—whose sense of humor makes her popular—to a party and then watches in horror as Staci, the “party starter,” takes center stage and shows everyone how to dance. Back in the J’s with her friends, Staci is asked where she’s been and sums up the whole situation in six words: “Hanging out with the white chicks.”

Black people are often accused of being culturally “white”. Do white people ever get accused of being culturally “black”? And if so how different are the effects of those accusations? Working class whites aspiring to upper class tastes and culture are pursuing the great [insert country here] dream or at worst getting above themselves; black people are trying to be “white”.

Then there’s the Brazilians who are white in Brazil, but black and/or hispanic (even though they speak Portugese) in the US of A (sorry can’t find the link to the fabby article about this—will keep searching).

It would be comforting to think that this was all a matter of linguistics, but way too often it’s a matter of life, death, and freedom.

  1. Whatever “visibly white” means. One person’s white person is another person’s Jennifer Beals. []


  1. Tez Miller on #

    Was Tom’s surname, Yarbro, named in honour of Chelsea Quinn-Yarbro?

    Have a lovely day! 🙂

  2. Patrick on #

    Do white people ever get accused of being culturally “black”?

    I’ve heard the expression ‘whigger’ used in reference to white suburban teens emulating innner city style and speech during the early days of Gangsta Rap.

    Imagine a white teenage Flavor Flav living in suburbia. Yeh booiii

  3. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    sure, white people get accused of being culturally “black” – like miss becky, aka buckwild, on charm school (um, warning, that show will make your brain melt) — (and yes i watched it, shame on me). but for the most part, if a white person is adopting black music, culture, etc, it makes them cooler.

    (and i thought reason’s race did add to the story – not like it was about her race by any means, but it was important for her backstory, telling the reader much about sarafina, reason’s early upbringing, etc etc, but it’s a sidebar not the main event)

  4. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    um, i didn’t mean that “acting black” actually makes the white people cooler, or not, by the way … just that they’d be perceived as cooler by some people (and presumably themselves).

    like a white hipster who patterns himself after miles davis, or a teenager who wears hip-hop style, etc.

  5. Kameron Hurley on #

    One of the fun things about studying South African history was seeing how often somebody’s “race” changed on their passbook. There were some people who’s “race” changed *six times* over the course of their lives as the state changed its definition of what “white,” “black,” “colored,” and “Indian” meant.

    It’s really rather fascinating to look at how much time, effort, and thoughts goes into the perpetuation of rigid racial categories that are, in fact, incredibly fluid and varied.

  6. Lianne on #

    Black people are often accused of being culturally “white”. Do white people ever get accused of being culturally “black”?

    In my school, yes. Mostly in a joking manner though. I’ve never been accused of being culturally ‘white’ except by a cousin or two.

    Maybe it’s cause where I live, what my cousins consider ‘white’ is pretty much the norm.

  7. Corey on #

    Lianne: They did at my high school, but generally it was only directed at Hispanic females (large Hispanic pop in AZ, USA), and they seemed quite serious and derogatory about it. I never understood what the connotations where…no doubt some sort of ridiculous stereotypes. I’m all for a culture maintaining colorful and separate identities (we don’t need to all merge into one ‘blah’ society), but I don’t think others all share that sentiment – they either want everyone the same or they want to maintain a subtle form of psychological segregation.

  8. Nora on #

    Yes, I’ve heard of white people being labeled as acting “culturally black”, as the other commenters have. I don’t think it has the same pejorative meaning or punitive power, however, as it does for black people labeled “culturally black”. For whites who get labeled black, there seems to be an jokey sensibility to it — it’s funny or cool. *If* it’s considered a negative, it’s only because that person is seen to be demeaning him/herself by acting that way. Whereas for blacks who get labeled white, they’re traitors, not so much demeaning themselves as demeaning everyone else by assimilating/caving to white ideals of behavior. This has lasting implications socially, academically, economically, etc., as the white-labeled person is then deprived of the social support network they need to survive in a racist society.

    Also, there’s a cultural appropriation flavor to whites “acting black”, that isn’t possible for blacks “acting white” — because to act white in US society is to act “normal”, while acting black is a form of exoticism.

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