If you have to say "i'm not racist" chances are you are

A trend that you can’t help but notice if you follow any sort of racial issues is that when white people do something racist, they almost always include in their apology, “I’m not a racist”. Most of you should know the Michael Richards “but I’m not a racist!” protest in his apology after he was caught on tape being racist. But it’s not just the celebrities who pitch this line, it’s average people as well.

Case in point: a bunch of white people posted pictures and a video of them performing a reenactment of the Jenna 6 incident while in blackface. If that weren’t bad enough, when the woman who posted the media on her Facebook page got caught, this is what she had to say [emphasis mine]:

Smith, who did not respond to a TSG e-mail sent to her school address, apologized for the images in several recent Facebook postings. “We were just playin n the mud and it got out of hand. I promise i’m not racist. i have just as many black friends as i do white. And i love them to death,” she wrote. She added in a later message that her friends “were drinking” and things “got a lil out of hand.”

People who aren’t racist would own up to their racism in their apology, not try to erase the reality of the racist act with the “I didn’t mean it” plea. People who aren’t racist wouldn’t use excuses like “some of my friends are black”, “we were just playing”, and “we were drinking” in order to try and downplay the impact that such displays of racism have. People who aren’t racist would not have thought to do such a ‘reenactment’ in the first place, much less thought it was ‘funny’ enough to post on Facebook.

So, yes, Ms. Smith, you are racist. But, you know, that in of itself isn’t a damnable offense. I’ve said and done racist things before, as have all white people. It’s an unfortunate product of our culture, because — by virtue of our whiteness — we are both enabled and encouraged to enact out varying forms of racism in our everyday lives.

But what separates the allies from the racists is that, when the allies fuck up, we admit it. We don’t try to minimize what we did, but we own up to our own mistakes, fully and without reservation, and then we go educate ourselves in an effort to not fuck up again. We don’t insult the people who we’ve hurt by saying things like, “I’m not racist” because we realize that, especially after committing a racist act, we are the last people who have the authority to decide such a thing.

So, to Smith and all the other white people out there who think “I’m not racist” is an acceptable thing to come out of a white person’s mouth: if you have to say it, chances are you are, in fact, harboring a lot of unaddressed and unacknowledged racism. If you truly don’t want to be seen as racist, then the first thing you need to do is to take a hard look at yourself and the world around you, and then start educating yourself on what it takes to be anti-racist. The information is out there, but you’re the only one who can get yourself to take that step and use it.

Via stoneself’s LJ.

Racial issues in Resident Evil 5: Link Roundup

Blog against racismSince today’s my long day at school, for day four of International Blog Against Racism Week I’m going to do a link roundup of some of the discussion that’s been going on about Resident Evil 5. The primary reason for doing this, of course, is that link roundups don’t take that much time so I can write it in the morning before school and set it to post when it’s the right day in the US. But I also think it’s valuable to see the various different points of the critiques in the same place.

In posting this roundup, I hope to make it easier for fans to see beyond the knee-jerk reactions to the word “racist” (and the implication that race-based critique of a game is implying that the game is racist) and actually understand what the concrete problems with the trailer, and by extension the game, are.

Please note: the following links are listed in order of which link I saw first.

Resident Evil 5 at Iris Gaming Forums, comment by Nashiko:

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good zombie game, but I found it a little strange that not only was RE4 a game full of Spanish cultists who where deemed as inhuman, but it was also the first RE game that had what I like to call the “super zombies”. Not the placid, growling, stumbling undead that we all knew and loved from RE 1 and 2, no, supper zombies. Crazily violent and able to speak. A little more humanized than I care to have my zombies.

On Race in Resident Evil 5 at Heroine Sheik:

Instead of battling zombies in an abandoned house or even in Spain, players will be now be blowing the heads off of the living dead in an African village. That’s right, we’re talking about black zombies. What’s more, you play a commando character who is white whity-ity white. Jesus, I couldn’t even make this stuff up. Even if we don’t play the racism card, there’s a whole mess of issues here: monsters and otherness, the paranormal as a manifestation of our anxiety about real-life conflicts like race.

Resident Evil 5 at Black Looks:

The new Resident Evil video game depicts a white man in what appears to be Africa killing Black people. The Black people are supposed to be zombies and the white man’s job is to destroy them and save humanity. “I have a job to do and I’m gonna see it through.”

This is problematic on so many levels, including the depiction of Black people as inhuman savages, the killing of Black people by a white man in military clothing, and the fact that this video game is marketed to children and young adults. Start them young… fearing, hating, and destroying Black people.

Resident Evil 5: White Man Shoots Black Zombies at The Village Voice:

Plenty of Resident Evil fanboys are standing up for the game by claiming that Africa is just a setting like any other. After all, why shouldn’t zombies be black? On one level, that’s true.

But looking again at the trailer, I see a different message: it’s not just that these zombies are black, but that the uninfected black villagers are zombie-like too. See all those spooky shots of the villagers before they get infected? It’s as if race itself were a disease. The white protagonist has to fight back or be infected.

Blackface Goes HD? The Case of Resident Evil 5 at microscopiq (x-posted to Racialicious):

With bulging eyes, simian super strength, and a room temperature IQ, we’ve been portrayed as savages beyond redemption. So, when we see images like these, it doesn’t just resonate with the long lived zombie genre, it also triggers memories of so many awful stereotypes — and what those stereotypes have been used to justify past and present. Put down the crazed negroes before they take the white women! And so on…

But perhaps the most troubling part is that these scenes seem to be set in Africa; the “dark continent.” With all the positive steps being taken of late to raise awareness of the good things happening in Africa as well as the urgent need in some parts of the continent, we really can’t afford this kind of step back. We need to find ways to humanize Africans, not dehumanize them.

Race in Games: Culture, Context, and Controversy at microscopiq:

I’m fully prepared to accept the possibility that Capcom is not intentionally drawing on painful stereotypes, but that does not mean they’re allowed to be oblivious to them or their impact. To the contrary, as a company that sells into many markets worldwide, it is very important for them to be aware of cultural issues. If they fell down anywhere, it seems likely to be here — understanding stateside racial sensitivities.

Of course, a trailer is not a full, playable game. But trailers are a way for game companies to manage impressions of their games. If a game is presented in a troubling way in a trailer, folks can and should react to that presentation. As has been pointed out in the comments, a number of interpretations are possible, but I would still argue that certain images in the RE5 trailer are problematic as they are expressed presently.

ETA: Resident Evil 5 at grysar’s livejournal:

“But,” you may argue, “that’s true of most any zombie movie or game. 1) Zombies don’t use guns, 2) In survival horror most everyone is already dead, 3) there’s not a problematic context because they’re dead.” And you’d be right. Here’s the thing, zombie games defuse the fact that you’re mowing down the weak by making them literally inhuman. They are decaying, they do not emote, they do not think. The not running thing is secondary. This isn’t to say that there aren’t political or cultural critiques in Zombie movies, there certainly are. However, they can be a bit more subtle by limiting the humanity of the baddies.

RE4 and RE5 have humanized zombies to the extent that they can’t afford to be subtle about the political/cultural context. The first one dodged this by evoking a situation that might be horrifying in Eastern Europe, but basically doesn’t resonate at all in America. However, RE5 chose a context that they knew paralleled real events. I am baffled that nobody at Capcom stood up during the earlier meetings and said “Hey guys, this doesn’t look good.” I don’t care that they’re Japanese, this isn’t some sort of subtle point. The zombie excuse stopped working when you intentionally made them emotive, angry-mob like, and hard to visually differentiate from normal humans.

I’ve left out ones that I didn’t feel added anything to the conversation, but if you come across an article that you think should be included, please link to it in the comments. Thanks!

Video games and the usual amount of racism

Blog against racismFor day three of International Blog Against Racism Week, I want to look specifically why games, such as many of the prior Resident Evil ones, haven’t received as much criticism as, say, Resident Evil 5 has.

So, why aren’t critiques of the prior Resident Evil games easy to find? Well, there are a few reasons. As discussed in my previous post, gaming as a field of study is still in its infancy. Gaming blogs discussing issues like race are still few and far between. Despite the re-release for Gamecube, the previous games are (in internet terms) rather old.

And, finally, the last reason I can easily think of, which is what I will be discussing here: The previous games didn’t gather much discussion because they had only the usual amount of racism in them. What do I mean by that? Well, keep reading to find out. Continue reading

Who's the one arguing in bad faith?

Blog against racism This week is International Blog Against Racism Week (hat tip to Oyce for the icon). I actually contributed to day one without meaning to, posting a quick rebuttal to the claim that the no one complained about the previous games in the Resident Evil series because it was white people killing white people. To kick off day 2, I’m going to devote another post to the great RE5 wank of 2007 (you can find the trailer that sparked the wank here and a link roundup within the comments over at Iris’ forums).

One of the things that struck me about the discussions on blogs that broached the subject of potential racism in Resident Evil 5 was the way that the same arguments were brought up over and over again, and many of them are iterations of arguments I’ve seen come up when people protest discussions on gender.

The “no one is saying/has said anything about [x thing] in [y] game” argument is the one I will be addressing here. The racist-apologist complainers who bring up that argument do so in bad faith; they aren’t arguing it because the presence of said critique would solve the problem, but rather because they see the argument as a tool to shut down discussion on the game in question. They are, sometimes literally, saying, “You didn’t say anything before, so you have lost the privilege of saying anything now or in the future!” Which is a problematic argument, to say the least. Behind the cut I will explore some of the specific problems with the argument in more detail. Continue reading

Resident Evil: White people killing white people?

As a fan of the Resident Evil series one thing that’s been rather amusing about the race wank surrounding Resident Evil 5 is the claim that the rest of the series was all “white people killing white people”. I wonder if the complainers have actually played the games in the series, or if they’ve bought so much into the white normative culture that “protagonists, the majority of whom are white, killing zombies, the majority whom are white” is the same as saying, “the previous games have been all white people”.

On the trailer thread I raised issue with the assertion that Resident Evil 4 fit into that category, and now I’m going to bring Exhibit B into play. The above movie is the opening to Resident Evil 3 and does, in fact, feature both non-white humans and zombies. The ratio isn’t representative of most American cities, but they’re there and that’s enough to make my point for now.

Resident Evil 5 Trailer

Can you spot what’s wrong with the trailer? Hint: it’s not the cg or the cinematography.

Via Iris forums.

ETA: For all the racist-apologist fanboys who are offended at the very thought of people engaging in criticism of their beloved Resident Evil series: criticism doesn’t equal “the only thing the game’s about is a white person killing hordes of black people!11eleven”. Criticizing the trailer doesn’t mean that we hate the game, or think that it couldn’t possibly have anything of merit in it. Nor does it mean that we won’t be buying the game. It just means that it’s being advertised in a highly problematic way that deserves criticism.

I’ve published the dissenting opinion in the comments. Further comments that say the same thing will not be published because there’s no need to rehash the same misreading of the criticism over and over again.

That's some bizarre trolling

So over at Wonderland Alice has this post up about the (racist, sexist, sizeist, etc) limitations of a new website called Barbiegirls.com, which is apparently an online chat program aimed at girls:

Most of the body type options are caucasian-stereotype, and certainly the skin colour: the darkest you can go is .. hmm, sort of caffe latte colour. This is the curliest hair available (afro styles? Forget it). You have no nose options (mine is much more potato-like). Height and weight? No way. Everyone has to be skinny and knock-kneed.

Maybe more options will come post-beta, but I think it’s shameful that there aren’t more by launch.

And, well, only a few comments in they start getting the most bizarre trolling I’ve seen to date. Is it just some assholes trying to make a stink? Is it a weird kind of viral advertising? Were they attracted by the criticism of the site?

Comments were shut off, so I assume that they achieved their goal of shutting down any productive conversation. I would be interested in hosting a conversation over here, though, as one of the beauties of moderation is that bullying tactics like that won’t work.

When you can use offensive terms and not be offensive

If you’re part of a privileged group, when can you use offensive terms without being offensive? Watch the video to find out. Personally, I think the last example using the white person cuts through all the crap about bigoted humour taking the power out of hate speech and highlights the underlying message that is sent when a person from a privilege group uses bigoted slurs from a group they’re not part of.

Via homasse.

Hollywood, please stop shitting on my childhood

While on vacation, I went to see the Fantastic Four movie (the only reason it was worth it was because it was the first move I had seen in theatres in over a year) and had the dubious pleasure to see a preview for the Transformers movie. Now, despite the pretty CG, I knew I wasn’t going to want to see it because the only woman I saw was The Hot Love Interest, and really that’s an archetype that has been done to death and then some.

But I didn’t know how bad it was until reviews started popping up.

On Racism:
Nora on Angry Black Woman wrote More stereotypes than meet the eye (she has the same post up on her LJ) where she talks about the various racial stereotypes used in the film:

So the nostalgia in this version of Transformers seems to have also resurrected some old-school not-so-hidden messages: black women are nagging mammies who deserve the label bitch; black men are thugs, rappers, cowards, or crooks, and are stupid even when they’re supposed to be smart; Latino men are effete idiots; and even alien robots aren’t safe from token black guy syndrome. Oh, and I almost forgot the moronic Indian customer support guy who symbolizes the real dangers of outsourcing — it’s not only bad for our economy, it’s bad for our troops in wartime — and the Arab villagers whose sole purpose in the film is to be rescued by the tough-talking American soldiers. (Also see discussion on the Wiscon panel “What These People Need is a Honky”.)

On Sexism:
After finding out that Arcee wasn’t in the movie because they would have to “explain” her apparent female-ness and they were afraid of being seen as “trying to appease women with a pink Transformer”, Ragnell wrote In case you forgot, I hate everyone.:

Why is being a girl so fucking special? Why is it that every other fucking robot has a male fucking voice and no one questions why they have gender coding but the fucking second you bring in a female voice and god forbid you put it in a feminine color you have to suddenly explain why everyone has gender?

Oh, I know. We automatically assume everything is male. Male is the default. Male is neutral and being a girl is some sort of freakishness that can only be explained as thrown in their to try and appease the women.

Ariel wrote about the problematic handling of The Hot Love Interest, Mikaela, in the post Transformers: Sexism in Disguise:

I started off with a sour taste for Mikaela. During the first hour, she does two cool things: she knows how to fix Sam’s car and she walks away from her boyfriend (for good) when he calls her his little bunny. But also within that hour, the film establishes that Mikaela is oblivious to Sam is despite being his schoolmate for years, dates jerks because she likes guys with big arms and tight abs, admits she hides her knowledge about cars from guys so they’ll like her, with a vacant facial expression asks Sam if he thinks she is shallow, and is called a jock concubine and hoe by Sam’s friend. It’s a nice guy trope: nerdy but deserving Sam is overlooked because girls are shallow. The traits don’t especially set her up sympathetically unless we’re supposed to desire her for her body and Sam’s unsettling infatuation.

And in Transformers Skye wrote about her decidedly mixed feelings regarding the character:

I’d also rather see a movie where we don’t have to go through the “I’d do her” phase with a female character before accepting her as a person. Granted, this was from the point of view of the horny boy who saves the world and may have been correct characterization for him, but I don’t give out stars for that. Finally, I’d like to have seen more women in speaking roles. We get one who’s beautiful and one who’s brainy (but also beautiful), and that’s it.

So, yeah. Not planning on seeing that movie, unless it’s on cable TV when I happen to be in North America and I have an urge to write a scathing movie review. I can’t say I’m surprised that the movie seems to have exceeded even my expectations of awfulness, as I agree with Nora’s assessment of Hollywood in the second to last paragraph of her post (you did read it, right?), although I would add that it obviously extends to gender issues and other anti-oppression issues as well.

But, still, as my standards for entertainment go up and the quality of available entertainment goes down, it’s becoming harder and harder to find ways to escape from the hurts, injustices, and annoyances of real life. As hard as it might be for some people to grasp, there are times when I just want to watch mechs destroy each other without having to sit through “plot” that reminds me of how bigoted the world really is.

Sigh. I just know that at the ripe old age of 25 (my birthday is only 9 days away! well, 9 days if you live in Japan, anyway) I’m going to become one of those crotchety old people whose sole entertainment is reading books and complains about how these newfangled inventions like the tee-vee are ruining civilization…

The obligatory FGC post [Women and Violence, Part 6]

[This is part of my series on Women and Violence, which I am writing as a project for a Women Studies course I’m taking. For an explanation and information on my intentions with this series, please see the introduction.]

Yesterday some of my classmates gave a presentation about female genital cutting (though the terminology they used, and which is probably more familiar to people, is “female genital mutilation” – a difference which I’ll address later on). It’s an important, worthwhile issue, and I’m glad our class is addressing it.

Still, every time the topic comes up in conversation I cringe inwardly.

I didn’t always have this reaction. An explanation of why I do now lies in this quote by Sherene Razack, from her (fantastic) book Looking White People in the Eye:

[I]n many legal texts, both feminist and non-feminist scholars have actively participated in reproducing the binary of the civilized and liberated Western woman and her oppressed Third World sister […] One has only to think of the energy so many scholars and legal activists have poured into the legal proscription of FGM in North America (in comparison with the energy directed to antiracist strategies) to recognize a preoccupation with scripts of cultural inferiority and an affirmation of white female superiority. (6)

The binary that Razack describes is not limited to discussions of FGC, of course; but it is this tendency to divide “First World” and “Third World” women that causes my discomfort when such discussions arise among Western feminists.

This binary is inaccurate and misleading. There is no sharp division between us civilized, non-sexist Westerners and those barbaric, woman-hating brown people over there. The cultural beliefs and gender divisions that foster FGC in certain African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries are not so different from the ones in non-FGC countries, including the U.S. and Europe. I touched on this topic for last year’s Blog Against Heteronormativity day – policing and mutilating women’s bodies, even their sexual organs, is not an alien concept to the West. And yet, the similarities between the two practices – the spectrum of body modification that spans so-called “advanced” and “backwards” societies – is rarely touched upon. Instead, much of the energy in discussions about FGC center on the horrific things that those people do.

The results of such an imbalance in discussion are multiple, and troubling. As Razack points out, how much of that time could be spent on anti-racism? I don’t want to engage in “my activism is more worthwhile than your activism” hierarchies; I mean, rather, that excessive attention to FGC can actually harm other activism against racism. In other words, those who engage in Western condemnation of non-Western FGC (note the emphasis) do more than take time away from anti-racism, and can actually compound the problems of racism and imperialism by perpetuating the false civilized/uncivilized dichotomy.

This imbalance can also obscure the problems that Western women face, in terms of cosmetic surgery and related pressures, in a “mote in thy brother’s eye” kind of way. This is, of course, unhelpful for Western women’s goals. By relegating “Third World” countries to the “bad” group, it also alienates the women from those countries who could be valuable members of transnational feminist alliances. Condemning a woman’s country as primitive and ignorant and more-sexist-than-us is no way to build coalitions.

All these risks from Western discourse about FGC fueled my decision to use “female genital cutting” as opposed to “female genital mutilation.” It’s not that I believe the practice to not be mutilating, but rather, I don’t think it ought to be singled out as the mutilating practice, when there are so many (Western) practices that also fit the term. If it confuses people who are used to hearing “female genital mutilation,” then at least I get the opportunity to explain my reasons and bring their attention to the hidden racist/imperialist risks of the Western discourse.

“Female genital cutting” also connects the experiences of Western and non-Western women, because labiaplasty is included just as easily as infibulation. By doing so, I hope to highlight how both groups of women can succumb to pressures about their bodies, and how they both can be victimized into coerced surgeries. Western women are not totally liberated from patriarchy, and struggle against oppression just as non-Western women do. At the same time, Western women do not want to see themselves as passive victims – so by connecting these two groups of women, I want to draw attention to non-Western women as active agents, as well.

Recognizing the agency of women in societies that practice FGC means one, very significant thing: debunking the false dichotomy between paternalistically controlling FGC-practicing societies in order to end FGC, or leaving them alone and abandoning the women victimized by FGC. As I said in my earlier post on tradition, there is always the option to support the women who are helping themselves.

There is one other factor playing into Western discourse on FGC that I want to mention, and it’s the idea of “the gaze.” This is not exactly an official theoretical term, I think, but it’s a common idea in writings on racism and imperialism, as well as a central feature of Looking White People in the Eye. Writings about the gaze, or similar concepts, focus on who gets to look, to be the one who observes and judges. This is the party who has power to see, authority to make true judgments. As David Roediger says in the introduction to Black on White:

White writers have long been positioned as the leading and most dispassionate investigators of the lives, values, and abilities of people of color. White writing about whiteness is rarer, with discussions of what it means to be human standing in for considerations of how racial identity influences white lives. Writers of color, and most notably African-American writers, are cast as providing insight, often presumed to be highly subjective, of what it is like to be “a minority. Lost in this destructive shuffle is the fact that from folktales onward African Americans have been among the nation’s keenest students of white consciousness and white behavior. (4)

So white people have held authority over knowledge about people of color. On the other hand, people of color have not held authority over knowledge about white people. White people hold that authority – though they don’t often use it to record knowledge about themselves. Roediger continues:

What bell hooks describes as the fantastic white ability to imagine “that black people cannot see them” constitutes a white illusion at once durable, powerful, and fragile. It exists alongside a profound fear of actually being seen by people of color […] From the beatings of house slaves who knew too much to the lynchings of African Americans thought to look too long, [African Americans’] safety has often turned not just on being unseen, but also on being perceived as unseeing […] Discounting and suppressing the knowledge of whiteness held by people of color was not just a byproduct of white supremacy but an imperative of racial domination. (6)

To be powerful means to be the one who sees, not the one who is seen. I think this understanding of power fuels the Western treatment of FGC, which is so skewed towards viewing the Other (societies who practice FGC) and not being seen (for similar practices such as labiaplasty).

According to Razack, in April 1995 CNN “showed an FGM in progress, and did so throughout an entire day” (124). The fact that someone even considered that this was okay to do relies on certain ideas of who is the object of the gaze, and who the rightful gazer. One of these ideas was the objectification of women in general; our bodies are always to be gazed upon. Yet the treatment of the racial Other as an object was also necessary for the decision to broadcast such intimate images for sensationalist purposes. I can’t imagine the U.S. being comfortable with another country broadcasting, say, a labiaplasty in progress in order to show how “barbaric” we were.

So perhaps some of the inordinate amount of attention that Western feminists have centered around FGC draws from this need to be the gazer. We have a discomfort with being the object of the gaze, either by others or by ourselves.

This is not to say that Western feminists ought to ignore FGC, or never examine patriarchal tendencies in societies outside of our own. This is not to say that all examinations of FGC by Western feminists are innately imperialist. What I am saying is that we ought to be very careful of the judgments we make in the name of feminism, when that feminism can be used to obscure our own complicity in imperialism.

To return once again to Razack, she quotes from Isabelle Gunning to list some basic necessities for feminist analyses of international human rights: “1) seeing oneself in historical context; 2) seeing oneself as the “other” might see you; and 3) seeing the “other” within her own cultural context” (97). These steps do not give us a complete guide on how to avoid perpetuating imperialism through our feminism – but they’re a start.