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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


I honestly don't care what Kirsty Allie looks like

However, as I noted before, she is about the same size as Valerie Bertinelli (albeit like a foot taller). Yet, at the beginning of the commercial in which she announces Bertinelli as the new spokesperson for Jenny Craig, Allie says, "I'm not fat anymore" and then goes on to say that Bertinelli is (not extremely fat, she qualifies, just fat fat - or something insipid like that). And I still say, keep Bertinelli at that same weight, maybe slide her into some spanx to smooth her out, and then put her in a dress that actually fits her, and she would look exactly like Allie. So, why is she considered "fat"? Why are we being convinced that we too, if we look like Bertinelli, are fat?

I'm now going to weigh in on ye olde Imus affair - in part as a reaction to screed's screeds so as not to hijack her commenting thingamabobs.

She noted in a recent post that she doesn't know of any black people who use words like those Imus used. Because, you see, the blame for Imus' offensive comments has now been leveled onto the black community: white people wouldn't think of those words to describe black women - it must be because we learned them from black people, and specifically from rap music.

But back to the issue of black people using words like "ho" and "nappy." I wish it weren't true that black people used those words - but it is. But, I think it is more associated with certain groups or SES levels ... and I think that it is a sign of internalized racism, and thus really really should not be used by whites. I think this language use bespeaks of a bigger issue.

I worked for a long time with poor african-americans from a very poor part of the city. Men, women, and children alike referred to women as "hos" ... and worse. One person's kindergarten-aged kid called her words that horrified me. Skin that was darker than what was considered attractive garnered more racial epithets ... behaviors or attire or mannerisms that seemed "too black" were considered "ghetto" (and this is why I hate this word).

My sense is that anything that reminded them of their own blackness - of aspects of their blackness that they hated or felt uncomfortable with, earned a derogatory term that fit into stereotyped notions of black people (like the stereotype of black women as being overly sexual - almost animal-like in their sexuality - e.g. "ho") or that derogated their blackness.

And how could they not? The people with whom I worked were segregated, ghettoized, excluded from the white (read: privileged) world. They didn't feel like they had equal rights or equal opportunities. Or those that did feel they had gained access to the white world (and perhaps overidealized it) often would be accused of being "bougie" - which they rejected, but at the same time would denigrate those who were not.

By using such terms, they could convince themselves that they weren't like "that." They hated their own blackness (or what it represented to them), and rejected anything that reminded them of it.

So, although the black community - perhaps most likely those who are poor, under- or unemployed, un- or under-educated, are likely to use this kind of language to describe themselves and other black people - I don't think that blaming them for this is useful. Indeed, this kind of language is not helpful - it is sexist and racist and it only further reinforces pejorative and racist stereotypes. However, just changing language and changing lyrics in rap music won't solve things. Rap music may create some of this language and may create images of women as hos and men as pimps - it may also simply reify or reflect what already exists within some black communities.

So, if we want (in particular) poor african americans to not use such language anymore, we need to do something to improve their chances at getting educations, we need to help them find employment that gets them out of poverty, we need to help them figure out other options besides having kids too early, glamorizing gang culture, seeing crime as one of the only ways to feel powerful and to feel some semblance of control and esteem. We need to devilify women on welfare and help them have a future that doesn't force them to work at minimum wage jobs.

What we are seeing are the effects of racism by whites against blacks, and how that racism has been internalized.

And just because most of us wouldn't call a woman a ho or use words like Imus or Richards - it doesn't make our racism any less powerful. Indeed, we are polite - yet that can be all the more confusing. A polite racist can cause a great deal of confusion - it makes it hard to label it racism, and it allows the person who is the polite racist to continue believing she or he is not racist. We know this so clearly from ambiguous sexism - the effects are still there, but so is the confusion in interpreting it and in getting anyone to pay attention to it.

After Michael Richards' tirade, my mother railed against him and talked about how he needed to be punished and was just so judgmental in her tirade. For some reason we switched to talking about Angelina Jolie, and I mentioned a concern that if she wanted a black child, there are tons here in the US in foster care desperate for homes - but that's just not trendy. My mom said that those were older kids. I noted that in fact african american infants even often were not adopted - and often had to spend their lives in foster care (bouncing from foster care to foster care - often being abused - only to be dumped out of the system at 14, 16, 18 - completely unprepared for adulthood, never really having received any parenting). My mom then said, "Oh but those babies are all the children of women who are druggies or are in jail."

Mom, that's racism, and that is no less troublesome than Michael Richards' rants. It may be more problematic because no one will tell you it's racist, and you get to go on pretending that you aren't.

So let's get the focus diverted a bit off of african-americans and rap lyrics. Sure, the language needs to change - but first, or perhaps concomitantly, attitudes and internalized racism need to change.

And we white people need to realize that Richards, and (Mel) Gibson, and Imus are not that different from us - they just say the things many whites are too polite to say.


At 8:07 AM, Blogger Anastasia said...

this is a great post.


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