How to Become an Anti-Racist Ally

Franchesca Ramsey gives white people five important tips for being an ally for those who want to question their privilege and work together the end racism.

One of these, crucially, is that white people – in order to recognize racial bias in reporting, call out “whitewashing,” and respect the lived realities of others – is to educate ourselves, particularly when it comes to history. This has been especially important in understanding the narrative about the events in Ferguson, MO over the last few months.

5 TIPS FOR BEING AN ALLY

Racial Profiling: Reading Race, Gender, and Representations of Criminality

“[Race] is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look.” – Robin D. G. Kelley, Historian

Both race and gender shape our social interactions according to our expectations of how others should behave based on their “role.” This is particularly true when it comes to our perceptions of deviance and criminality. For example, watch how individuals in a public park react to three different actors in the same situation in the following social experiment:

 

REPRESENTATION AND CONTROLLING IMAGES

In their essay on racial formations in the U.S., Michael Omi and Howard Winant discuss the importance of the media in both shaping and disseminating racial caricatures:

“Film and television…have been notorious in disseminating images of racial minorities which establish for audiences what people from these groups look like, how they behave, and ‘who they are.’ The power of the media lies not only in their ability to reflect the dominant ideology, but in their capacity to shape that ideology in the first place […This] has led to the perpetuation of racial caricatures, as racial stereotypes serve as shorthand for scriptwriters, directors, and actors” (17)

These caricatures have serious real-life consequences for people of color. As the author of “White Privilege Radically Changes Appearance of Tsarnaev Brothers” points out, recent portrayals of Muslims in the media since 9/11 reinforce “the current dehumanizing ‘Other’ label that whiteness has constructed as a sanctioned target for violence in US popular culture” (emphasis mine).

Consider how the decision to lighten or darken the skin color of the following two celebrities makes an argument about who is “othered”:

In 1994, former football running back O.J. Simpson made headlines after a dramatic police chase. Simpson was arrested and accused of murdering his wife Nicole Simpson, and the trial was widely televised. He was eventually acquitted of the murder charges, but opinions about his innocence or guilt divided the public for years. Compare the representation of Simpson on these two covers.

In 1994, former football running back O.J. Simpson made headlines after a dramatic police chase. Simpson was arrested and accused of murdering his wife Nicole Simpson, and the trial was widely televised. He was eventually acquitted of the murder charges, but opinions about his innocence or guilt divided the public for years. Compare the representation of Simpson on these two covers.

On the other hand, consider how often the complexion of Black performers and models are often lightened:

A photograph of Beyonce (left) compared to the representation of her in L'Oreal's advertising campaign for Feria hair color.

A photograph of Beyonce (left) compared to the representation of her in L’Oreal’s advertising campaign for Feria hair color (right).

Debate erupted about whether Rihanna had been airbrushed to appear whiter on the November 2011 cover of British Vogue magazine.

Debate erupted about whether Rihanna had been airbrushed to appear whiter on the November 2011 cover of British Vogue magazine.

Tim Wise on the Creation of Whiteness and Privilege

In the following clip from his talk “The Pathology of Privilege: Racism, Denial, and the Costs of Inequality,” author and speaker Tim Wise discusses the creation of whiteness in the American colonies and the relationship of the “psychological wage” to class divisions – and racial segregation – that we still feel today.

TIME WISE: “ON WHITE PRIVILEGE”

 

As Buck discusses in “Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege,” one of the important historical moments that contributed to formation of “the psychological wage” of whiteness was Bacon’s Rebellion. During the 1676 rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon, both former indentured servants and Africans banded together to rebel against Governor Berkeley, who had failed to address settlers’ demands regarding their safety in the disorganized colony. The uprising, however, was also a revolt against indentured servitude, which affected both poor white Europeans and Africans; and this alarmed the ruling class, as well as the royals back in Britain who were invested in the productivity of their colonies, as continuing rebellion had the potential to rob them of their new-found, labor, capital, and resources.

When wealthy landowners and royals were unwilling to offer material compensation for whites, namely land, they constructed what Buck terms “the psychological wage” of whiteness – that is, “the sense of superiority [that] allowed struggling northern Whites to look down their noses at free Blacks and at recent immigrants, particularly the Irish. This version of whiteness was supposed to make up for their otherwise difficult situation, providing them with a ‘psychological wage’ instead of cash – a bit like being employee of the month and given a special parking place instead of a raise” (p. 35).

Want to watch the whole talk by Tim Wise? Check it out below.

 

Historic Experiments on Race: Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes vs. Blue Eyes Experiment

“[Race] is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look.” – Robin D. G. Kelley, Historian

~

In 1968, during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., a public school teacher named Jane Elliott undertook an historic experiment with her class in an attempt to help her white students understand the effects of racism. She repeated the experiment in her classroom each year for three years. The following clip comes from the Eye of Storm documentary made by William Peters in 1970 for ABC News and was later included in the documentary A Class Divided (1985), which included a class reunion (of 1984) of Elliott’s students. The adult viewers in the audience are the original students from Elliott’s class.


Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent. – See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/176258/miss-america-nina-davuluri-not-symbol-progress#sthash.CGtv5hse.dpuf
Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent. – See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/176258/miss-america-nina-davuluri-not-symbol-progress#sthash.CGtv5hse.dpuf
Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent. – See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/176258/miss-america-nina-davuluri-not-symbol-progress#sthash.CGtv5hse.dpuf
Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent. – See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/176258/miss-america-nina-davuluri-not-symbol-progress#sthash.CGtv5hse.dpuf

Normalizing Violence Against Women: Rape Culture

When feminists and scholars use the term “rape culture,” the immediate pushback they receive is generally, “That’s crazy, no one thinks rape is okay!” That seems reasonable, right? It’s unlikely the anyone you stopped while walking down the street – whether a man or woman – would advocate rape. And yet, let’s take a look at some visual texts from recent popular media:

This "Position of the Week" cartoon ran in the Purdue Exponent a couple of years ago and stirred controversy on campus.

This “Position of the Week” cartoon ran in the Purdue Exponent a few years ago and stirred up controversy on campus. The column was eventually cancelled.

 

Belvedere

 

A drink menu from a bar advertises their special "Date Grape" alcoholic beverage.

A drink menu from a bar advertises their special “Date Grape” alcoholic beverage.

 

A recent spread from designers Dolce & Gabbana that ran in major fashion magazines like Vogue.

A recent spread from designers Dolce & Gabbana that ran in major fashion magazines like Vogue.

It’s clear that at the same time we can say outright that rape is bad, we are also inundated with images of rape and assault in nearly all of our media, from jokes to fashion ads to pornography, where 90% of mainstream porn features acts of abuse against women (see Gail Dines’s TED Talk, “Growing Up in a Pornified Culture”).

How in the world do these two things coexist? If, in fact, we believe that rape is wrong, then we clearly don’t recognize it.

IDENTIFYING RAPE CULTURE

In Transforming Rape Culture (1993), author Emilie Buchwald defines rape culture as follows:

…a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . . . In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable . . . However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.

This doesn’t mean that we live in a culture that condones rape or believes it’s okay. It does mean that we tend to think of rape as inevitable, something that we can’t help and that is bound to happen. Meaning the idea of rape or sexual assault – especially when we consider the continuum of what counts as sexual assault e.g., any unwanted sexual touching, grabbing, even unwanted voyeurism) –  seems normal. Comic Ever Mainard satirizes this attitude in her stand-up at the Chicago Underground club in 2012:

 

From examining the images above, date rape is often a commonplace and acceptable joke in American popular culture. Consider how casually we use the word as a slang term to mean “dominated,” as in “Man, he really raped you in that last game.”

So what does this normalization of the violation of another human being say about our actual attitudes about sexual assault?

REDEFINING RAPE: WAS IT “LEGITIMATE” RAPE OR “FORCIBLE” RAPE?

In 2012, former senator Todd Aikin (R-MO) made the following comments about “legitimate rape” that outraged women and feminists nationwide. (Not insignificantly, Senator Aikin sat on the Science Committee in the House of Representatives at the time he made these comments…the science committee.)

Shortly following the senator’s debacle, then-Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan insinuated that rape was simply another form of conception in an interview in which he was asked to comment on Aikin’s comments. So here’s the important context to their public comments: both Ryan and Aikin have been proponents of trying to change the language that legally defines rape in an effort to make it illegal for women to have access to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. Read more about their efforts to narrow the definition of rape to proven ‘forcible rape.’

What’s the current legal definition of rape? As of 2012, according to the Department of Justice, the definition is:

“The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

The definition is used by the FBI.

MOVING BEYOND VICTIM-BLAMING: PREVENTING SEXUAL ASSAULT

These attitude are often so ingrained that even some well-meaning campaigns that attempt to target sexual assault, like the following images from the “Control Tonight” campaign, seem only to reinforce the victim-blaming that many feminists and activists work to disrupt.

One of the ads from the Control Tonight campaign. From a feminist perspective, what's problematic about the rhetoric of this ad?

One of the ads from Control Tonight. From a feminist perspective, what’s problematic about the message this ad sends?

Remember the definition of “radical”? To go to the root. What’s at the root of our sexual assault problem? Well, rapists for starters. But more insidiously, the attitudes that connect masculinity with sexual aggression. This attitude is something that we need to correct much earlier than the “don’t rape” lecture at college orientations.

So let’s take a look at this campaign to stop sexual assault on campuses: “Men Can Stop Rape” gives men a primary role in combating rape culture. These posters appeared at Purdue’s Student Health Center.

men stop rape 1

Here’s another in the series:

men stop rape 2

Such messages are a far cry from the usual method of teaching young women to avoid being raped, a rhetoric that magically makes the perpetrator of such crimes – that is, the rapist – invisible. This campaign actively recruits men as important allies on the frontlines of changing other men’s mistreatment of women.

Want to know more about becoming a male ally? Check out The Good Men Project.

RAPE, VIOLENCE, AND SPORTS CULTURE

In March of 2013, two young men from the small town of Steubenville, OH were officially convicted of raping a 16-year-old classmate and were sentenced to one year in a juvenile detention center. An article from Yahoo news featured a photograph of one of the players hugging his mother after the verdict (cue the pathos, but not for the victim):

“The judge sentenced them both to at least one year in juvenile jail and said both can be held until they’re 21. Mays, who’s 17, was sentenced to an additional year in jail on a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, to be served after his rape sentence is completed.”

Read more about what happened in The New York Times.

According to a post on the Feminist Majority Foundation website, the presiding Judge Lipps described the evidence as “profane and ugly” and a cautionary tale of teenagers with alcohol and “how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today,” effectively reducing the violation and dehumanization of a young woman’s body (the video shows the young men urinating on her as well as dragging her around and penetrating her unconscious body) becomes little more than a cautionary tale for teens not to drink while underage and be smarter about how they use social media.

This is similar to the message FOX & Friends news commentators gave when responding to the video of football player Ray Rice punching his wife unconscious in an elevator. The lesson they took from this incident? “Take the stairs next time” – meaning, make sure it isn’t caught on camera.

What sort of message does this send to young men about violence? What does it say to them about athletes?

In the meantime, the young woman from Steubenville who charged her two attackers has received enough anonymous death threats to warrant posting two police officers at her house for her protection. Both the incident and the verdict resulted in nationwide activism on behalf of the victim, though the media tended to side with the rapists in the case. Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry was a prominent exception in her television address to the young woman from Steubenville, “Dear Steubenville Survivor, I Believe You” (the survivor’s name has been kept private).

What’s notable about this case is that Steubenville is a town that prides itself on its high school football team, and both of the men convicted in this case were “star” football players on the team. Perhaps the most damaging message we get from this is that sports and male bonding among athletes are more important than the bodily integrity of a young woman, their peer.

This is mostly about privilege: such comments are a way to continually place at the center of the dialogue the men and their feelings and reputations, while silencing the voice of the victim.

The victim was publicly accused of trying to ruin the reputation of the team  and thereby destroy the morale of the town – out of jealousy, perhaps? It’s not made clear what her motivations might be for doing so. But the implication is – and this is another “rape myth” that supports victim-blaming – that this was revenge for a “regretted sexual experience.”

rape culture media

Rape myths like these are deeply influenced by the idea that “good girls” are not sexually active and would never find themselves in such situations to begin with, whereas “bad girls” are sexually irresponsible and deserve what they get. Notice that there is never any discussion about young men’s sexual repsonsibility.

 

 

Masculinity: Why Telling Men to “Man Up” Hurts Men…and Women

Since we’re discussing sexuality this week and masculinity next week, and since we just read CJ Pascoe’s “Dude, You’re a F__,” I’m posting performance poet Guante’s poem “10 Ways to Respond to the Phrase ‘Man Up.'”

In his poem, Guante explores the way that telling men to “man up” reinforces harmful gender stereotypes about men and masculinity that are also built on the devaluation of femininity. And consider how telling men to just “grow a pair” also actively discourages men from expressing vulnerability or establishing intimacy, either with other men or with the women in their lives – because such behaviors quickly bring their heterosexual masculinity into question.

“10 Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up'” – Guante

Stonewall, Transphobia, and Moving from Gay Liberation to Gay Pride

In 1969, a series of violent demonstrations – called riots in the media – broke out in Greenwich Village, NY at the Stonewall Inn, a bar that many members of the gay community frequented. The Stonewall Riots occurred between members of the gay community and police, who raided the establishment.

In the interview below, actress and Trans* activist Laverne Cox talks about the lesser-known history of the Stonewall Riots, the shift from gay liberation to gay pride, and the transphobia that still plagues the LGBTQ movement in America:

Homosexuals on the Prowl?

This PSA (public service announcement) was produced in the 1950s, in cooperation with both the local police and school district. Notice that it’s directed toward young men, specifically boys. Female homosexuality is invisible here.

How do we still use the “threat” of male homosexuality – what C.J. Pascoe calls “the specter of the faggot” – as a form of social control to “police” masculinity? How do the stereotypes of male homosexuality in the PSA reflect the assumptions revealed in the list of “flipped” questions handed out in class?

In what ways does this differ from the ways we police femininity and/or female homosexuality, discussed in Rich’s article “Compulsory Heterosexuality”?

Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality”: Constructing Heteronormativity

In her groundbreaking article for the feminist journal Signs in 1980, feminist poet and scholar Adrienne Rich argued that we need to see and understand heterosexuality, marriage, and motherhood as political institutions and not simply as a “natural” life path that women are “innately oriented” to desire – that is, we are not born desiring these things, but rather learn to desire them. Judith Lorber would say that we learn that certain desires are connected to “doing gender,” or performing femininity or masculinity. In other words, we need to understand how the dominant social order has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

So not just gender and sex, but also human sexuality is reinforced through socialization and the ways we are taught to “police” each other’s behaviors and desires.

In American culture, heteronormativity is the dominant narrative – that is, heterosexuality is considered “normal” and images of heterosexual life dominate our advertising and popular culture. Just look at the cover of every “rom-com” ever produced:

rom coms

Since the 1990s, popular culture has embraced some images of homosexuality, but because even people who are gay live in a patriarchal society, for decades, pop culture was still largely dominated by images and stories of gay men. Shows like “Will & Grace,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and more recently “RuPaul’s Drag Race” all feature gay men.

Of course, we might also consider the ways in which these particular stereotypes of gay men have so frequently served and supported heteronormativity. For example, the cast of “Queer Eye” allows for straight men to engage in fashion and appearance without their own heterosexual masculinity being called into question. Or the images of gay men we so often see in fashion or in drag culture seem to instruct women to better perform femininity, sometimes by highlighting its extremes.

queer eye

But where, we might ask, are all the lesbian women? Though they’re becoming slightly more common, gay female celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres still tend to be exceptions. (Check out “Leaps and Strides: The History of Gay Characters on TV.”)

While shows like Orange is the New Black were revolutionary in their focus on women and women’s relationships (heterosexual, homosexual, and intimacies in between), some feminists have mixed feelings about the show, including Roxane Gay (author of Bad Feminist, recently hired by Purdue), questioning whether the characters succeed in challenging certain stereotypes of both lesbian relationships as well as women of color. For starters, the whole idea that prison fosters homosexual behavior.

Orange

THE “BARSEXUAL” AND LESBIAN EXISTENCE

Ok, so calling an independent woman today a lesbian for being too “pushy” or sure of herself doesn’t have quite the same impact it did in 1970 when women involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement frequently had this insult hurled at them. (This is a perfect example of binary thinking: if a woman will not perform femininity, she must by default want to be the opposite, i.e., masculine. There’s no continuum on which one might identify oneself here – there is only a pair of opposites.)

So how have our attitudes toward women perceived as lesbian changed?

Let’s consider for a moment the whole barsexual trend. A “barsexual” is slang for a woman who kisses or otherwise engages in sexual behavior with female friends (often at bars) in order to attract the attention of the men they are actually romantically or sexually interested in.

Watch this clip from the Tyra Banks’ Show, where a woman in the audience who is lesbian confronts two heterosexual female guests on the show who engage in barsexual behavior:

QUESTION:

  • How does such behavior help or hurt women – particularly young women like those on the show – interested in supporting solidarity with their sisters (lesbian or otherwise)?

Nineteenth Century “Female Husbands”

Anne Fausto-Sterling begins her story with a 19th-century debate over an historical figure’s sex and gender, further complicated by the fact that men and women did not yet have equal voting rights – hence the need to accurately assess the man’s…er, woman’s?…sex at the time.

There is a historical evidence of individuals dressing and conducting themselves as a different gender.  NPR recently spoke with Prof. Sarah Nicolazzo of University of California-San Diego about stories of “female husbands.”

Women assuming masculine gender expression sometimes even married, taking wives and adopting children. While some of these women were no doubt sexually attracted to women, others were not. Women had many reasons for assuming a masculine gender expression, including greater access to certain civil and legal rights denied their sex, like voting, serving in the military, and obtaining a job and an income.

A 19th-century illustration of a "female husband," a woman who dressed and assumed the role of a man, sometimes taking and supporting a wife and family.

A 19th-century illustration of a “female husband,” a woman who dressed and assumed the role of a man, sometimes taking and supporting a wife and family.

The lesson here?

“History can be complex. Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College and wrote the 2005 book Marriage, A History, explains that it was fairly simple to pull off a “self marriage” before the 1860s. ‘Marriages were supposed to be registered, but authorities seldom checked,’ she says. ‘The idea was that if you acted like man and wife, you were assumed to be married.’

“Lots of evidence exists, she says, ‘contrary to the idea that small communities are always judgmental, that your behavior as a neighbor was often more important to other community members than your behavior in your own home. So people often turned a blind eye to behaviors or dress that in later years might occasion more suspicion and hostility.'”

In other words, if you fulfilled a recognized “role” in society, people might have tended to stay out of your private life, a form of tolerance very different from today’s obsession with the private details of gay and transgender individuals’ lives. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that the government sought to set down a more stringent legal definition of marriage.

ALBERT NOBBS

The fictional story of one such woman who worked and lived as a man is the 2011 film Albert Nobbs, now streaming on Netflix. Nobbs is played by Glenn Close. Watch the trailer below: