This is my front window. This is my protest rally sign. It’s going to live here for a long time.
This is my front window. This is my protest rally sign. It’s going to live here for a long time.
non-binary people=massive cuties who deserve amazing and beautiful things like kitties in flower crowns and cute clothes
BOOOM. Read this if you are a dude, please.
If you’ve somehow missed glancing at a news station during the past few weeks, there is an Ebola outbreak currently whipping through parts of Western Africa. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever, which induces vomiting, diarrhea, and internal bleeding in those afflicted, and can only be spread through contact with bodily fluids of a person bearing symptoms of the disease. The virus’ mortality rate is relatively high, partly due to the dangers of dehydration associated with hemorrhagic diseases. It’s scary, and it’s killed over 1,000 Africans already. But as the horrifying statistics stack up, I’ve seen a disproportionate number of articles that focus instead on exactly how worried we should be about the possibility of the disease spreading to the States.
When horrors like this happen in Africa, the cultural perspective in the West notoriously tends to brush off death tolls that would cause worldwide panic were they happening anywhere else. Others have written far more and far better on the topic, so I won’t spend too long on this particular aspect, but it boils down to a cultural attitude in which Americans expect Africa to be backwards and deadly, thus, deaths from Ebola don’t surprise us any more than deaths from any other cause that we “expect.” The Onion, again, nailed it perfectly with their “Experts: Ebola Vaccine At Least 50 White People Away.” It goes beyond merely being unable to relate to strife not happening in our own back yard; if this outbreak hit France, Australia, Germany, the U.S. would be sending top specialists at a far greater rate. It is a toxic mixture of old-school colonialism and blatant anti-Black racism that gives rise to an attitude as deadly as any disease.
And that’s nothing new; race and disease have been tied up and tangled together for centuries. When I wrote about Orientalism, I wrote about the association that Victorian England made between its colonies and disease. The biggest takeaway I tried to emphasize then was that the concept of the “Eastern” colonies (India especially) as hotbeds for disease was twisted and applied again and again to justify different kinds of oppression as needed. In order to justify their initial invasion, England claimed the people of India were lazy, had allowed their lands to grow arid and desolate, and thus required Great Britain’s aid in maintaining them. When they needed a rationale to justify the violence of their regime there, the script flipped; India was instead a hot, inhospitable land by nature, and its climate atrophied the delicate English constitution, causing a laziness of mind and body in them and the country’s native inhabitants.
But this link is purely abstract and conceptual. For those who demand hard facts to prove that race and immunology have always gone hand-in-hand, I recently read an excellent book by Marilyn Chase entitled The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco. Just at the turn of the century, San Francisco suffered an outbreak of bubonic plague. It was likely brought in to the port city through rats living on trade ships, and the pattern of outbreak mirrors many historical plague epidemics. But we’re not talking about the 14th century here; this outbreak happens at the very dawn of the 20th century.
The outbreak spread first through Chinatown because its inhabitants were forced to live within its confines in confined spaces, with a mere fraction of the living space afforded whites of a similar blue-collar background. As anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of bubonic plague knows, the disease is spread by fleas and, by extension rats, and rats do not know restriction based on neighborhood. As the plague spread through other areas, officials denied that there were any outbreaks of Bubonic Plague outside of Chinatown. President McKinley authorized quarantine order which included restricting travel by all “Asiatics and other races particularly liable to the disease” (60). When the quarantine became a physical line dividing Chinatown from the rest of San Francisco, the line literally zig-zagged to exclude white businesses on the fringes.
The injustices detailed in Chase’s book keep stacking and stacking before readers’ incredulous minds. While doctors and scientists referred to the plague as “bumpkin” by telegram lest they incite a panic, refusing to admit the plague’s presence for years after the first deaths, it became a constant reality for the city’s Chinese residents. Two treatments were developed: one, a vaccine using dead plague bacilli, the second, pure antibodies extracted from the blood of a horse infected with the disease. The first was faulty, slow to act, and often infected the subject with full-fledged plague, while the second had a much higher success rate but could not be produced in large quantities and was therefore expensive. The second form of treatment was given exclusively to white victims, while the Chinese were lucky if they even got the first vaccine.
Even by the end of the plague’s dominion, in 1909, the massive effect that racism had on the direction of the plague still went unacknowledged. By a self-fulfilling prophecy, the plague had claimed many times more Chinese victims than white ones; forced into close quarters, without conventional sanitation, medical treatment, or the quick action of a concerned city to help them, the epidemic went uncontrolled until it began claiming white victims. And this is, of course, no distant land that Americans have never heard of; this was our home turf, merely with immigrants as the primary subject of the outbreak.
So if your Facebook feed, like mine, has been filling up with people nervous about possibly boarding an airplane with someone infected with ebola, remember that the worst this epidemic will get has already arrived, it is happening in Africa, and it is happening to real people.
(photo via the New Yorker)
Taylor Swift’s Racism & “Shake It Off” Video
We clearly need to start a hashtag campaign at this point to #stopracistwhitegirls. Between Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lily Allen and more, the mainstream pop bench is absolutely stacked with racist white girls galore at the moment. But in our 2014 “post racial” America where black people are getting killed every 28 hours by vigilante justice, where Mike Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, is on paid leave for brutally executing an unarmed black teenager as we speak, and where police brutality against black bodies in Ferguson and across the country is the norm, it’s still so fun and uber cool for white girls to make blackness a costume! You know, since it clearly doesn’t get us killed or anything.
Enter Taylor Swift stage left.
[image description: Taylor Swift in a leopard print jacket with large gold hoop earrings, and cut of jean shorts with a gold chain posturing in front of twerking dancers]
So I’ll admit that I do have a bit of a penchant for bland pop music, and so I have followed Taylor Swift in varying capacities for many years. I understand that her entire image is carefully cultivated to exude innocent, bright eyed and bushy tailed white girl who is always “shocked” when she wins an award. I understand that the reason her image sells is because of the white supremacist patriarchal notion of the “cult of true womanhood,” where moneyed white woman had their femininity defined by 4 traits: piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. It is in this mold that Taylor Swift has built such a massive following and sold so many millions of albums. Ascribing herself to these narrow values by which white womanhood is exalted and elevated in a way that is only accessible to white female bodies and not to WOC has been Swift’s “in” in the music industry more than anything else over the years.
But in the pop industry there is a constant need for reinvention and to push the boundaries ever further with each succeeding musical effort. Even as Swift has cultivated and carefully molded her image to fit this fairly rigid white supremacist patriarchal construct of white femininity and has made millions doing so, the constant churn of capitalism has made the appeal of her wonder bread white girl image fade with time. She needs some way to “spice up” her act and draw attention to herself along with it. As bell hooks so brilliantly says in her cultural criticism & transformation:
There’s a way in which white culture is perceived as too “wonder bread” right now—not edgy enough, not dangerous enough—let’s get some of those endangered species people to be exotic for us. It’s really simply a more up-scale version of primitivism resurging. When blackness is the sign of transgression that is most desired, it allows whiteness to remain static, to remain conservative, and it’s conservative thrust to go unnoticed.
And so, with this in mind, Swift like so many white girls and boys before her, turns to blackness to find that “exotic” flavor to give her bland image the kick it needs.
What strikes me about the “Shake It Off” video is just how true to form it is with all of the other racist music videos we’ve seen from white women in the past year alone. “Hard Out Here,” “We Can’t Stop,” “23” and more, white girls have been on a roll with their racism and racialized misogyny and Taylor Swift couldn’t wait to join the party.
[image description: Taylor Swift in a red hooded jacket, holding a boom box and wearing a fitted cap in front of black and Latino break dancers]
In one scene from the video we have Taylor Swift dressed as a b-boy with a fitted cap and all, in a brazen and blatant act of cultural appropriation. We all know that the b-boy tradition comes from black and Latin@ youth who get demonized and criminalized daily and who are not able to breakdance without facing harassment from the police. But Swift, drenched in her white privilege and concomitant myopia has no sense of how insulting it is to slip this on as a fun “costume” for a few seconds in her video, as she can always retreat back into her whiteness unassailed while the black and Latin@ breakdancers in her video cannot.
The most disgusting part of the video, though, came, as usual with the twerking scene. White girls just seem to love to throw in a twerking scene into their videos these days.
[image description: Taylor Swift in a leopard print jacket and gold earrings and chains crawling in between the legs of several twerking dancers and staring up at the butt of a twerking black woman]
This is different from the “Anaconda” video, where black women have agency and control of their sexuality and bodies. Instead, just like her racist white counterparts (namely Miley Cyrus and Lilly Allen), Taylor Swift makes twerking and black female bodies a spectacle before the white gaze. Particularly as she walks between the legs of her twerking dancers and pauses at the black woman in the group and gapes astoundingly at her ass, the white gaze is centralized. In this scene black femininity is clearly exotified and demonized in an animalistic contrast to her conservative white femininity that can gape “shocked” at what she’s witnessing (which black women have literally been doing for centuries). This is white feminism at work, which perpetually ignores crucial intersections of race and gender, and to add insult to injury the scene ends with Swift giggling and looking bashfully at the ground, reifying her innocence and white privilege in the spirit of the cult of true womanhood. These are constructs which black women and other WOC do not have access to due to their race, and which Swift gleefully reinforces with this imagery.
This entire scene is a blatant example of primitivism and misogynoir (racialized antiblack misogyny) in the spirit of the spectacle that people made out of the body of Saartjie Baartman.
[image description: Caricature cartoon image of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, the “Hottentot Venus.” She is scantily clad with a spear, very large buttocks and her large breasts exposed as well with a white Cherubim alighting on her buttocks]
In case you are not aware, Baartman was a Khoikhoi South African woman, who was brought to Europe in 1810 where she was subsequently paraded around as a freak show with the “exotic” features of her black female body—her butt, breasts and elongated labia— as the main event. Racist caricatures of her body were made, including the famous cartoon above. After her death, her skeleton, preserved genitals and brain were placed on display in Paris’ Musée de l’Homme until 1974. Her remains were not returned to South Africa until 2002 when she was finally reburied near her home town over 200 years after her birth.
In this video, Swift, like her racist white pop counterparts, taps into the racist traditions that we see in the dehumanization of Baartman. This is absolutely unacceptable. Black female bodies are not foreign, exotic, alien lands for your debasement in a cheap pop video for mass consumption. Black women have agency and deserve humanity and respect. Nobody cares if the dancer was “okay” with being in the scene or not, what we care about is the imagery being produced which enshrines white femininity as the standard and strips black women of agency rather than giving homage and due respect to them (as we see in Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” video, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video and more which centralize the black female gaze).
But, if we didn’t know before, we’ve learned in the past year that Swift and all of these other white pop stars are simply shameless. They don’t care. We critique and point out their racism and racialized misogyny and they throw out obtuse comments about how they actually “really love black people” and “have black friends,” you name it, rather than accepting the problematic nature of their work and just apologizing. This is white supremacist thinking in action, as the only emotional universe which matters is that of the white individual in question and not that of the black people who object to the debasement of our bodies and commodification of aspects of our cultures in videos like this. And we see the impact of all of this in the thinking of their fans who myopically follow their stars and don’t realize that they can be fan while still being critical of the actions of their favorite pop stars. It is unacceptable that Swift can shamelessly appropriate from b-boy black and Latin@ culture, parade herself around as a faux-black woman and then exotify and degrade black female bodies for mass consumption in her videos. And it’s so important that we call videos like this out, and demand accountability from artists who put out degrading videos like Taylor Swift just did with “Shake It Off.” #stopracistwhitegirls2k14
THANK. YOU. #BOOST.
Good god when does it end.
All that matters is that you care enough to write it.