Death Note: Whitewashing and Blackwashing Double Standard

Netflix’s Death Note is scheduled for a August 25th release, and online discussion of the film has increased with the release date drawing closer. When I voiced my thoughts on the casting of Nat Wolff as Light Turner (Yagami in the anime) on YouTube, one user asked for my thoughts on the casting of Keith Stanfield as L. At the time I did not realize L was being played by a black actor, and assumed L was another case of more whitewashing.

I have previously discussed the double standard in people’s reactions to whitewashing vs “blackwashing”. When a character of colour is played by a white person people are quick to argue that we shouldn’t focus on race etc. “Best actor for the part, it’s more marketable, it’s just a movie etc.” This is regardless of whether the film is based on a true story, like 21 or is simply a work of 100% fiction. Now, if a white character is changed to a person of colour people suddenly aren’t colour-blind. “Why does Hollywood keep changing the race of characters we love? Why are they pandering to minorities? This is so politically correct?”

I have previously discussed this double standard by using examples of whitewashing and blackwashing in different movies. Death Note offers the perfect case study of the double standard since we have a case of whitewashing and blackwashing in the same film.

1) Whitewashing is being defended for the most part, while the blackwashing is being criticized.

2) Race wasn’t a key part of either character’s identity in the story (e.g. not as important as Chiron’s race is in Moonlight)

3) Both characters are main characters

Firstly, Hollywood “panders” to white people when they whitewash. One of the most common defences of whitewashing by film executives and audiences is that white people are generally more marketable than people of colour. By using this excuse, audiences and film executives admit that they are guilty of their own “pandering”, yet no one has a problem with pandering as long as it benefits white people. This is despite the fact that white people are disproportionately represented in mainstream Hollywood films. Although minorities make up nearly 40% of America’s population, they only account for 1 in 10 lead roles according to a 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.

The underrepresentation isn’t simply due to a lack of minorities who want to get into acting, or some sort of talent deficiency among minorities. Productions like The Get Down and Straight Outta Compton demonstrate that there is plenty of minority talent that can shine if it is given the opportunity. This is what makes it even more frustrating when a role is given to a white person only because their skin is viewed as more desirable. Now I imagine that whitewashing defenders are quick to jump back to the marketability argument, which offers the perfect segway to discussing Death Note.

Anyone who has seen Keith Stanfield in anything will know that he is undeniably talented. Stanfield is also arguably more marketable than Nat Wolff. Nat Wolff’s fanbase is limited to YA content such as Paper Towns, while Stanfield has already amassed a diverse repertoire ranging from Straight Outta Compton, Get Out and his role as fan favourite Darius of Atlanta. The success of these aforementioned projects also shows that the presence of blackness is not guaranteed to lead to box office damnation. In 2015, people of colour purchased 45% of all movie tickets. Diversity won’t scare this segment of the population away. There are those who think Stanfield’s casting is indicative of a cashgrab for minority money, or political correctness. Let’s analyze the double standard though. If changing the race of L, like changing the race of Light, is just good business, why do people have a problem with it? Don’t people always defend whitewashing as a perfectly ethical business move?

The Departed is often used as an example of another American adaptation, that changed the race of characters from Asian to white (adapted from Hong Kong’s Internal Affairs). Like The Departed, people argue that Death Note has no obligation to keep the characters Asian since it is an Americanized story. Of course, I don’t mind the American location. American does not have to equal white though. People use the American argument to defend the whitewashing of Light, but for some reason that argument doesn’t apply for Stanfield as L. Maybe people want to know where Stanfield is really from? Light and L are both meant to be Asian, so if one race change bothers you, another should as well. Maybe you’ll argue Light and L don’t look Asian.

If you draw a stick person in a country such as America or England, people will generally assume the stick person represents a white person unless you add racial markers e.g. brown skin. When you read a book where the character’s race is not implied or stated, what race do you assume? White is often the default for people in many countries. In Asia, they would assume the stick person represents an Asian person if you draw one and if they are reading a locally produced book they would assume the character is Asian. When they create their animation, they don’t feel the need to indicate a character is Asian by adding stereotypical markers like slanted eyes and yellow skin.  The confusion arises when anime gets exported to countries that are not used to seeing Asians drawn a certain way. Despite the country of origin and names in some cases e.g Light Yagami, people still assume the characters must be white due to their skin tone and the lack of slanted eyes. Point being, those people are wrong. There were people who also assumed that Rue of The Hunger Games was meant to be white, even though she was described as having dark brown skin in the books. Assumptions do not always equal reality. Light is meant to be Asian, so Wolff is not the intended race, the same way Stanfield isn’t the intended race. If people can accept this fact, support Wolff and criticize Stanfield, then it is clear they just have an issue with Stanfield’s skin tone.

One particular argument used for Stanfield is that L is meant to be pale, since he doesn’t go out much. Basically, people are arguing that Stanfield won’t look like the character in the source material. What about the fact that Light is white and not Asian (or Asian-American)? Aren’t double standards fun?

“It’s 2017”

I recently started working on part II of Alive, which continues my story of werewolves and racism. The first one followed my black protagonist, Mason, adapting to his new abilities and breaking off from a radical sect that wanted to use their power to wage war against the people that oppress them. The second part will lead to all out war between Mason and the radical sect, but also has more of a focus on Mason’s attempts to oversee the implementation of new policies that will empower his people. A key theme of the second book is that laws are not enough to change how people think, which reminded me of an oft-cited mantra.

“It’s (current year)”. This can be used by conservatives to shut down the talk of discrimination or by well-meaning liberals who think that the passage of time is enough to ensure equality. Whatever side it comes from, the sentence demonstrates a child-like naivete of how the world works.

When slavery was abolished, racism persisted. When Jim Crow was abolished, racism persisted. I wonder if people used to say “It’s 1970”. Laws may ban people from certain actions, or maybe even certain words, but laws can’t change what is in their minds. If someone holds the racial mindset of the 1950s near and dear to their heart, they will teach those values to their kids, and so on. Time itself is not a cure for racism. This is perfectly demonstrated by the current climate of right-wing backlash, where pretty much any comment or act that doesn’t endorse bigotry is labelled as “political correctness” or the work of “social justice warriors”. People are upset that they, and society as a whole, are being called out for bigotry now more than ever. Instead of adapting to changing times, it is easier to reminisce of times when you could say whatever you wanted without worrying about consequences or criticism. At worst, these people support bigotry. At best, they enable it. Yes, sometimes people do cry racism, misogny etc. where it does not exist, but I don’t believe that these instances account for the majority. I do believe that these instances get lumped in with all of the legimate ones, especially by people whose views are already intolerant. They get a smokescreen for hiding bigotry: “I’m not racist. I just hate it when these social justice warriors get offended by everything.”

I want to know what these people consider “everything”. Is it something as simple as Madonna referring to her son as “dis nigga” or is it a case where another unarmed black man got killed?

Islam is Not a Race- But Islamophobia is Real

I was watching some highlights from the previous year’s Golden Globes, and as I scrolled through the comments I couldn’t help but focus on one that attacked Ben Affleck. As the commenter writes, Affleck is an idiot for defending Islam and insinuating that Islamophobia is a real thing, since Islam is not a race. Affleck has received a wave of right wing backlash for his comments, being interpreted as another liberal who refuses to criticize Islam.

The sentiment that Islamophobia is an invalid, politically correct creation is even shared by former Muslim Salman Rushdie. After a fatwa was declared against him by the Ayotallah of Iran, Rushdie’s life was put in jeopardy by zealots who believed he insulted their religion. Zealot is the proper word to refer to people who would actually try to kill someone for insulting their religion, but I believe that this word is overused when it comes to Islam.

After the Danish newspaper Jylland’s-Postens depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, demonstrations predictably broke out amongst many Muslim populations. I am not here to defend violent extremists. However, I could never help but notice that even instances of peaceful protest  by Muslims are often seen as proof of their zealotry. Comments online indicated Muslims should learn how to take a joke, like people of other religions can. Can we agree that this cartoon is pretty offensive?

Maybe people will be quick to argue that it doesn’t matter, since the Prophet was not an angelic figure anyway. Whenever Islam as a whole is insulted, many people turn a blind eye since they see it as a religion that is inherently violent and misogynist. Even if critics can recognize that not all Muslims are terrorists, they still argue that the religion itself feeds into corrosive vices. It is easy to think this when we look at a nation like Saudi Arabia, but seeing nations such as Dubai and Egypt should make it clear that interpretation is just as important as content when it comes to religion. To those people I think it is important that they see this experiment, where people are given a copy of the Bible covered with a Koran jacket. The only thing better than seeing people express their amazement at how backwards the “Koran” is, is seeing their reactions when it is revealed they were reading the Bible. Watch the video, and read the comments to see Christians defending the bible and denigrating Islam. It seems like the Christians can’t just take a joke.

This experiment also highlights the key issue I wanted to discuss. There are far too many people out there who pat themselves on the back for recognizing Islam is not a race, thinking they can end the argument about Islamophobia with that sentence. There are recognized phobias of buttons and clowns, no one is trying to say there is a racial component for those. There is also homophobia, which we can see in people’s attitudes towards topics such as gay marriage. “Phobia” does not have to imply race. However, “Islamophobia” is a valid term due to people’s reactions to Islam, or what they perceive to be Islam. Islam is not a race, but racial ignorance can contribute to it. Following 9/11 there were hate crimes committed against Middle Eastern people of all religions, including Sikh. The fact that the people attacked weren’t Muslim is irrelevant. The attackers intended to attack Muslims, and their ignorance led them to attack people of a different faith. White people who convert to Islam have testified to being treated poorly by friends and family for their decision, due to their association with a religion perceived as backwards and violent.

It is easy to see Muslims as a faceless, terrorist horde with all the negative things we may hear from Trump, the news and maybe even our social circle. I don’t like throwing out the “I have ___ friends” argument, but I am curious to know how many people who relentlessly criticize Islam as the root of all evil actually have close relationships with Muslims. My own exposure has led me to people who rarely mention their religion and never criticize me for mine. They respect their religion, but they aren’t hellbent on killing or converting the infidels surrounding them. Exposure to moderate and liberal Muslims (the majority of them) isn’t a foolproof strategy, but it is something that can demistify and humanize the people we’re accustomed to thinking of as a threat to the safety of progressive Western societies.

I Don’t Like Black Guys Part II

In yesterday’s post I discussed one of the experiences that cemented my understanding of the persisting disdain for interracial couplings. I was initially tempted to combine this piece into yesterday’s, but I was apprehensive due to the length of the article. I didn’t want to have to condense these thoughts, since the experiences I’ll lay out in this article are a microcosm of  frequent and subtle instances of racism in dating.

I am not saying people have an obligation to date someone of a different race. If two people like each other, and happen to be of the same race, there is nothing racist about that. If one person goes through life, rejecting people due to their skin colour, there is something wrong with that. I have already discussed all the excuses that abound for sticking to one’s race when it comes to dating or sex, including the argument for a “natural preference”, so read those first if your head is already teaming with rebuttals. The supposed hardwiring we have for what we view as physically attractive, can all be traced to accumulated external stimuli, whether it is the advice of our parents or the images of beauty we consume in the media.

There are also cases of people who don’t date their own kind at all, or only date people of a certain shade within their own group. Some people may try to argue that this undermines the point I am making about dating and racism. After all, how can someone be racist to themselves? Someone with a rudimentary understanding of racism would pat themselves on the back for bringing this point up, thinking they’ve thrown a conundrum my way. People can develop feelings of inferiority, or even self-hate due to their own race. This can lead them to take measures to ‘evelate themselves’ by having lighter-skinned children or bleaching their skin.

As I also mentioned in yesterday’s post there are examples of interracial couples and we probably all know some. However, I am sure facts will support my assertion that they comprise a small minority of the world’s population, and the population of any given city. Since most of my friends are white, and most of their friends are white, I have only been with white girls so far. You might think I have no reason to be skeptical of racial progress but these experiences are tainted by a wider net of racism. All names used below are pseudonyms.

I met a girl named Sarah  in Ottawa, and she later wanted to get into a relationship with me. Sometime after we met I found out that she doesn’t normally like black guys. Sarah was actually more interested in someone else at the house party we went to, but since he turned her down she just settled for me. Yes, a girl can also end up settling for some other guy of the same race too. However, if the girl has specifically stated that she doesn’t like black guys then there is obviously a racial component at play here. In this case, I was second fiddle, but I was also a “credit to my kind.” It’s not the first time I’ve had someone express that I am good looking “for a black guy” or that they normally think black people are unattractive, but find me good looking. Should I take this as a compliment? No, because that would ignore the negative part of that statement: “You people are normally ugly.”

In the years since this incident I have tried online dating, but the online realm brings up a crucial disadvantage. In the previous incident, Sarah pushed aside some of her ingrained prejudice because she was forced to get to know me. We were in a small social circle where mutual friends introduced us and we bonded through the same activities. If I was just another face on tinder, she probably would have swiped left quickly, regardless of how good my pictures, bio etc. were. Maybe my outlying good looks would have made her swipe right, but then I’d be competing with twenty other guys messaging her that day. Odds are one of the other guys would be a white guy who she considered better looking. I would have the same disadvantage if I was one amongst ten other guys in her college class. An attempt to talk to her there would probably be met with a luke warm reception.

The contrast between what happened at the house party, and what could have happened if Sarah and I came across each other in another setting emphasized how big a role race plays in someone’s selection. In another setting, Sarah wouldn’t have had as much impetus to get to know me. She would see my colour regardless of the setting, which isn’t racist in itself. However, Sarah would only pay attention to my skin colour online. At the house party she also paid attention to my other traits. If racial preferences truly are something hardwired into our systems, like some people claim, then one night of talking shouldn’t have been able to make Sarah willing to hook up with me and even try to pursue a relationship.

Another fallacy, one which I used to fall victim to as well, is the belief that dating someone of a different race means that you are open to dating someone of any race. As an example, my Indian friend Nathan once dated a white girl who lived on the same floor of his building. She was very attractive and I was happy for him, and couldn’t help but wish that I lived in that building too. It turns out that a serendipitious meeting wouldn’t have changed anything for me. Nathan revealed that Emma doesn’t like black guys. However, I was fortunate enough to be considered a credit to my kind again. Like Sarah, I think Emma’s perception of me was  influenced by the time she spent hanging out with me. I wasn’t just another face on a dating profile or yet another guy hitting on her in class or at the bar. Emma’s perception of me also brings up the question of why she was open to dating an Indian guy, but not a black one. Maybe she wasn’t really open to Indian guys either, but her proximity to Nathan led her to get to know him better? Or maybe there’s another explanation.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists actually explores this phenomenon in more depth. Emma appears to suffer from the “model minority” mindset. Middle Eastern and South Asian minorities have positive stereotypes associated with them e.g intelligent, hard-working. Meanwhile black people have enduring stereotypes of violence, laziness and stupidity. The stereotype of physical prowess isn’t enough to undo the more corrosive, threatening stereotypes. Of course, racial ignorance can also lead to negative stereotypes about South Asians and Middle Eastern people. Bonilla-Silva also retorts that these negative stereotypes may be easier to overcome for these groups due to their positive ones. The Japanese were once held in internment camps, but they are comfortably among the model minority caste now. Likewise, ignorant stereotypes concerning terrorism or docility may dissipate or be overpowered by the positive stereotypes. Some people may also be more attracted to the model minorities since they are also stereotypically envisioned as being lighter-skinned.

Throughout my life, my skin colour has been enough to make people decide I’m unattractive, hold their purses tighter, call security on me and many more. In some ways dating security is the least of my worries. In other ways it is one of my most pressing. Many people may read about some of the racism I’ve experienced, and express disapproval with the treatment. Then those same people would still wish to stick to their own race for dating. Dating discrimination warrants mentioning because it is one of the most prevalent forms of discrimination. It is also one of the forms that is defended most vehemently, even by people who are otherwise tolerant and open-minded.

I Don’t Like Black Guys

Sometimes this sentence is rephrased as “I don’t date black guys” or “I’m not attracted to black guys”. Either way it is something I always go back to since it is a sentence I am familar with and provides the most irrefutable proof that plenty of people are not truly “colour-blind” in this day and age. There are a wide range of excuses used to defend racial preferences in dating, with the preservation or commonality of culture being one of the most common. This argument is still undercut by the fact that acknowledging this reason still makes it clear people aren’t colour blind. Some people argue that we are simply born liking what we like, and we can’t control it, therefore there is nothing wrong with their preferences. Of course, what we view as attractive is out of our control in some ways. However, I don’t believe we are simply born with our preferences for dating or sex programmed.

Like I discussed in a previous article, various factors such as the images of beauty we consume in the media and coaching from parents, friends etc. all affect what we view as attractive. For anyone who says interracial dating is unnatural, I bet you can find friends or relatives who put that idea in their mind from a young age. Some people also argue that an interracial child ends up being one without a clear identity. To these people, I say that I am glad they are not the parents of mixed children. Otherwise they would have their children grow up with an inferiority complex. My little sister is mixed and my mother ensures that she is raised with a strong sense of identity and love. Obviously raising a mixed child can bring up some concerns or issues that may not be present for other children. However, the fact that something may be a little more difficult does not mean it must always be avoided. This excuse always struck me as an disingenous copout by people who’ve never even considered dating outside of their own race.

Another excuse that reveals how racism can impact reasoning skills, is the excuse that discriminating on the basis of race is no different that discriminating due to weight, hair colour, musculature etc. If we are discussing racism, emphasis on the first syllable, then distinctions based on things aside from race don’t come into play. However, someone’s other preferences can also help to reveal ingrained prejudices. Girls who say they like “hockey players” can send a clear sign that there is a good chance they only go for white guys (93% according to a 2011 survey).

When I arrived at University of Ottawa in 2009 I had yet to confront the reality of dating discrimination. I could remember girls of different races who had crushes on me at one point, and vice versa. I was already aware of racism, but for some reason I was relatively naive when it came to this specific facet of it. I knew about people in my high school who only dated within their race, but I viewed them as outliers. From what I have seen since, it appears that they are the norm. Of course I also know many interracial couples and/or people who are open to dating outside their race, and I am sure any reader does as well. However, if we measure the sum total of all these open-minded people, I am sure they still constitute a minority of the world’s population.

Aside from being watched while I shop, the lovely Quebec district of Hull also gave me my first real dose of dating/sex discrimination. Since the legal drinking age in Quebec is 18, instead of 19 like Ontario, my friends and I would often head there when we partied. I forget exactly where we were this night. I know that it was either a club named lebop or one nearby, it is part of a small strip we frequented in first year. The club was set up with a dance floor to the right as you walk in. After drinking with my friends for a while I decided to approach a girl standing by one of the tables flanking the dance floor. Now, I understand that rejection in itself is not always an indicator of racism. Although it is soothing to my ego to think that I have only been rejected due to racism, I know other factors can come into play. I don’t reflect on this incident simply due to the rejection itself. It stands out in my mind due to the way the woman reacted.

At first, there didn’t appear to be any hostility. The girl was with some of her friends, male and female, but appeared to be single. I began talking to her, while her friends watched. Before racist assumptions come into play, I wasn’t wearing any baggy clothes, hoodies, bandana, cap, etc. I had on blue fitted jeans, a blue Tommy Hilfiger sweater and black dress shoes. I approached the girl straight on, making eye contact and ensuring that she saw me coming. I didn’t sneak up behind her and I never put my hands on her. She stood on one end of the table and I stood on the other.

The conversation seemed to be going well for a bit, as we talked about where we were from, where we went to school etc. After a few minutes I could tell that the girl didn’t seem that interested, at best she was just being polite. I said goodbye and walked away, thinking that would be the end of that encounter. A few minutes later I meet up with my friends again and a bouncer confronts me, telling me it’s “time to go”.

I asked why and he said I was talking to too many girls. This night is one that is burned in my brain pretty vividly so I can remember that I talked to less than five girls that night (outside of my group). They were all rude with their rejections, including one putting her hand in my face, but I didn’t confront them about that. When I got rejected I simply moved on.

My friends left with me, and I still remember how angry I was that you could simply get kicked out for talking to girls in a club. It was one of my girl friends that told me the real reason I got kicked out. She overheard the girl I spoke to talking to the bouncer, saying that she “feared for her life” due to her encounter with me. Go back and read the paragraph on what I was wearing and how I introduced myself. Does anything in that paragraph come across as threatening in anyway? Threatening enough to say you fear for you life? As always, I initially tried to remove race from the equation. There have been times when I was the guy who screamed racism at everything, and I wanted to make sure this wasn’t such a moment. I went over how I approached, how I was dressed, what I said etc. I could not think of anything that would warrant the girl’s reaction. Unless she was simply afraid of me due to my skin colour. Yes, I’m tall as well. Maybe you’ll argue that she was scared due to that. However, would she have been as scared if a white guy my size approached her the same way I did, dressed as I was, speaking like I was? I don’t think so.

After the SAQ incidents I was convinced that Hull, and perhaps Gatineau, just had a problem with racism far more corrosive than what I previously witnessed in Canada. This suspicion was confirmed at a house party a few years ago, where I met someone else who had a similiar experience from the same clubbing district in Hull. He recounted the story of heading to one of the bars with his rugby team, who were all dressed casually. He and the other white members of the team were let in, but the bouncer advised the only black member that his dress didn’t permit him to enter. When my friend advised the bouncer that the other teammates were all dressed similarly, the bouncer only responded “We’ve had a lot of stabbings in the area.”

One year ago my friends and I were driving to La Pataterie Hulloise. On the way, we were stuck in a stretch of traffic and one of my friends pulled out a board game. We began playing in the back seat, but my attention waned as I saw the cop car beside us. The cop in the passenger side focused on me, before his eyes also darted to my Indian friend driving. As far as I know, playing board games in the back seat of a car isn’t illegal and the cop didn’t bring this up when he pulled us over. To be fair, I did have my seat belt unbuckled as the middle passenger. The cop mentioned this when he pulled me over, but didn’t mention it as his reason for pulling us over. He and his partner simply took our Ids and left us waiting for fifteen minutes. When he returned he tried to hassle my friend about the fact that the car is not registered in his name, but like many young drivers it is registered in his dad’s name. According to my friend, the cops asked him random questions about his dad’s businesses, including some odd queries about his dad having a home for orphans. No, I’m not making this up.

Since my experiences in Hull were one string of racism after another, I think I ended up focusing on the district too much when I thought of issues like racial discrimination. It made me blind to all the more subtle cues around me, which I’ll discuss in tomorrow’s piece.

The Culture of Catcalling

Note: Due to my schedule, some of my posts are written in an area where I can’t post links to social media or certain sites. For that reason, I will sometimes substitute with newspaper articles or attempt to upload links later in the day.

Some of you may remember this video from 2014 where an edited compilation of footage shows a woman being catcalled or receiving street harassment over the course of 10 hours as she walks through Manhattan. I initially wanted to do an article on this video when I first heard about last year but the YouTube comments made it clear that I would be fighting an uphill battle with the other men on the internet.

There were plenty of defences given for the catcalling and I want to address some of them.

  1. How is saying “good morning” or “how are you?” catcalling?

The issue is not the greeting itself in this case. Maybe people will call me a “white knight” for saying this, but this is a situation where you have to view it from the eys of a woman. Most men can’t relate to being catcalled by women daily. There was a response video where a male model walked around a city in his underwear, trying to argue men have it just as bad. However, the guy was definitely better looking than the average guy. Plus, the response video seemed to imply that a man walking around in his underwear is equivalent to a woman walking around in jeans and a shirt.

You can try to offer one ludicrious parallel after another, but I think most men will agree that we are not catcalled multiple times a day by strangers as we walk down the street.

So, with that in mind. Imagine you’re a woman. From the time you reach a certain age, you start getting all this attention from strangers on the street. It’s strange at first, but maybe you find it flattering after a little while. Then after a few years, the same thing happens day in day out. Some people are just saying “good morning” to be polite, the same way you’d say “good morning” to a colleague at work. However, some people use that opening as an attempt to get your number, tell you how hot you are etc. So after a while, you’re a little more guarded or skeptical when someone offers the greeting. Are they just being friendly or is it a preamble for something else? This is a case where a few (or maybe a lot), may have ruined a good thing for many.

2. Shouldn’t girls should be flattered?

Read number one again. The woman who are very flattered by catcalling are likely the ones who aren’t subjected to it that often. I was listening to a “Mating Grounds” podcast by Tucker Max, where he asked a female colleague why women wouldn’t be flattered by catcalling or why comments such as “good morning” would bother them. As the woman points out, it is the accumulation of those experiences that makes you grow tired of it after a while. Maybe it is flattering the first day, first week, first year, first decade etc. If a woman who is regularly catcalled still loves the attention, then she is likely very insecure.

As Tucker Max added, he was used to fans at his book signings asking him if he was drunk. It was funny the first few times but by the time the 50th fan asked him he wanted to punch them in the face.

3. So what, we’re not allowed to talk to girls anymore?

If the only girls you talk to are random ones on the street, you need to get out more. Join groups for activities you’re interested, get to know your classmates in college etc, hang out with these new things called friends and see if they know girls. There are other places to talk to women where they won’t be as guarded due to their previous experiences.

The guys who insist that catcalling is a vital part of being a man always crack me up, since they are also the ones who complain the most about women being “stuck-up” or narcissistic. What do you expect will happen if a woman is reminded multiple times a day of how hot she is by guys on the street, plus guys who comment on all her social media and message her with comments dripping with sexual desperation? Trust me, if men collectively put a stop to these actions, we would collectively have an easier time with women.

With those excuses out of the way, I also want to comment on something else that this catcalling video brings up. Now, I am not trying to say that criticism of catcalling is now invalidated due to this issue. I am only saying that it reveals another dimension of the video that gets overshadowed by the people who can’t even acknowledge that catcalling might not be a good thing.

“The Mating Grounds” podcast brought illustrated my problem as well. Tucker Max pointed out that a lot of the men in the video were black, and also attributed this to a general culture of catcalling among black men. I don’t want to call Tucker Max a racist since a lot of his other content demonstrates that he acknowledges discrimination such as racial profiling by police. However, I think this comment illustrates some level of ignorance, which this article actually helps to shed light on. Although the company behind the street harassment video claimed that they filmed through many different areas of Manhattan, an analysis of the all the locations in the edited two minute clip reveals that 59% of the shots were in Harlem. For those who don’t know, Harlem is over 60% black. Since the areas we see in the video are mostly black, it makes sense that we will see mostly black people in the video.

There is a chance that black people might not just be more likely to catcall. We won’t know since the video’s creator apparently cut out more footage of white guys since the clips contained too much noise. The reponsible thing to do in that case would be to try and collect more footage without too much noise, in order to get a more representative sample. There are other catcalling videos out there, and they all show a healthy dose of white men engaging in it as well. Let’s not reduce catcalling to something that only (or mostly) black guys do.

 

My Racial Awakening

In this brave new era people who discuss racism are viewed as society’s greatest dividers and agitators. Meanwhile, the people who’s lives are structured around racist assumptions and beliefs use the excuse of “colour-blindness” to shut down any discussion of racism. I have discussed this in my previous piece, which Talib Kweli was gracious enough to read and retweet. Since that piece discussed my current passion for the topic of race, I wanted to use this piece to discuss the reason I joined the discussion.

Until I was about thirteen, my view of the world was similiar to most conservatives. I thought racism was something historic, with only a few outliers remaining, such as the Klu Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis. Elementary and high school taught me about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and Jim Crow, but never taught me about the more subtle forms of racism that are far more prevalent. My lessons on stereotyping and racial profiling were all extra-curricular ones until University. My experiences fortunately did not subject me to violence, but I don’t think they should be ignored simply because they didn’t result in violence or death. No matter what justifications people will want to use, my experiences show that people are not as “colour-blind” as they claim.

When I was thirteen my stepdad (at the time) and my mom announced that they were moving to England due to a work transfer. While they sorted out the move, I lived in Jamaica for one year with my uncle.

I think my time in Jamaica actually offered the most stark contrast possible to the experiences I would have in England. I moved from a country that was over 90% black to one that was less than 5% black. Of course, Jamaica has its own issues of discrimination, with colourism becoming a growing phenomenon, which is also leading to more skin bleaching as people try to lighten their skin to something they view as more beautiful.

However, when I was in Jamaica, I definitely didn’t receive the same level of scrunity for my skin colour as I did in London. At thirteen, I wasn’t as self-conscious as I am now. I initially ignored people staring,  people crossing the street or holding their purses tighter when they saw me. London has a decent black population, but the area I was living in was apparently one where they weren’t as welcome. Some people will be quick to say that this is an issue of class then, not race. However, I retort that this is an issue of race and class intersecting. What I experienced would not have happened to a white thirteen year old living in London.

I was one of the few black people at the first school I went to in England, and I think this also facilitated my release from blissful ignorance. Of course, being one of the few black people did not guarantee racism. I didn’t mind that people noticed I was black. I was never conservative enough to view their ability to see me as a mark of discrimination. Contrary to conservative doctrine, seeing someone’s colour isn’t racist. The issue is how you treat them due to their skin colour. I never felt discriminated against at the school like I did on the streets or in my own apartment. The issue at school was a more harmless form of ignorance, that nevertheless made me realize how different my race made me. As mentioned before, my mother didn’t want me growing my hair long, and this is a habit that has stuck with me. However, I would usually grow my hair out for a few weeks before getting it cut. I’d have a nest of curly hair less than an inch long on my head, which still managed to fascinate some of my classmates. I can remember plenty of them running their hands through it.

Yes, England may be a relatively cosmopolitan country but these kids didn’t grow up in that England. Southbank International School was a home for the children of wealthy Brits and expats, many of which apparently didn’t mingle that much with people of other races. There was even a rumour that I was related to the only other black person at the school, a girl a few grades older than me. This girl and I never spoke. I didn’t even know her name. It seems like people assumed we were related simply because our skin was the same tone. At the time, I didn’t consider this a subtle manifestation of racial ignorance. Although I realized how ignorant the assumption was, I found amusement in it. I didn’t find amusement in what greeted me outside the school.

I loved the gated complex we lived in, courtesy of my step-dad’s company. It was amazing seeing so many high end cars in the parking lot, everything from Aston Martins to Maseratis. The building’s staff were very familiar with my parents, and knew me well. As I look back on the experience, I realize how warm and welcoming they were to us. While I revelled in this new environment, certain things started to annoy me after a while.

“Do you live here?”

This was a question I received from other residents. This question was never an attempt to start a conversation. It wasn’t followed by a request for directions, an introduction or any form of small talk. Usually the only response I received was a stare or maybe “Just checking.” I answered this question with a smile on my face the first few times, not thinking that my skin colour could make someone question my presence. Sometimes I may have walked through the gate after someone else, and I thought it was a fair question since I didn’t enter the security code myself.  Other times, I thought that maybe my casual dress begged the question. However, some of the residents asking me were also dressed casually. Before racist assumptions come into play, I have never been one to wear excessive jewellery or baggy pants hanging low. I dont’ wear hoodies often either.

Sometimes I was dressed more formally than the residents interrogating me. The uniform for one of the schools I went to was a suit, complete with a green blazer. This uniform was nothing like the uniform worn by the staff and also should have signified that I wasn’t a homeless person wandering into the building. Additionally, I was often clean cut and sported no facial hair at the time (mother’s orders). As I look back on my justifications for the questioning, I wonder what the residents thought I planned to do if I didn’t live there. Did they think I was planning to sneak past the security at the front desk and ransack as many apartments as I could find?

These experiences continued to pile up, and after a while, I could not help but ask why I kept getting asked this question. The answer didn’t really come to me until a flight back to Canada during one of my school breaks. My stepdad and I had first class seats and while I enjoyed the privileges that came with it, the experience was somewhat overshadowed by an encounter with a flight attendant. I went to use the first class bathroom, and she stepped in front of me and pointed to the bathroom in coach.

I was confused, but didn’t think to argue. I had to pass my stepdad to reach coach, and he stopped me to ask where I was going. When I explained that I couldn’t use that bathroom, he assured me I could and told me to walk back towards the front. When I did, the same flight attendant stopped me and pointed to coach again. My stepdad saw everything this time, and angrily pointed to my seat “He sits here.” With that said, the flight attendant finally let me use the first class bathroom.

It took me a while to accept what happened. I remember fuming in my seat, wanting an apology from the flight attendant. Once the initial rush of anger passed I tried to justify what happened. Maybe my age had something to do with it? This proved to be a faulty justification since teenagers have parents who could have possibly paid for their ticket. My dress?  I remember that the weather was warm at the time so I know I wasn’t wearing a hoodie. I was dressed casually but there was no afro, low-hanging pants, excessive jewellery or metal gilded teeth in sight. There was no valid reason for this flight attendant to assume I was a delinquent sneaking in from coach to use the first class bathroom. She didn’t even ask me if I was in first class or ask me to present my boarding pass. She didn’t say a word to me. She just blocked my path and pointed to where she thought I belonged. The fact that I COULD be in first class didn’t even register in her mind.

Needless to say, by the time I moved back to Canada at age fifteen, I wasn’t a blissfully ignorant person anymore. I was embittered, injected with righteous indignation. Although I am still committed to exploring and denouncing racism, I know that this period was one where it dominated my life in an unhealthy way. I wasn’t just aware of how the world worked, I saw it as a poisoned entity. There were times in the years ahead where I genuinely saw racism where it didn’t exist. However, I think this stage is a natural one for anyone who was taught by his insitutions that racism is long gone, and then gets kicked in the teeth by reality.

By the time I entered the University of Ottawa, I still had more to learn. I was followed while shopping for the first time while in a SAQ in Hull, Quebec. A white friend and I entered the store, and an employee rushed over after a few minutes to ask if I needed help. I had my hands on a bottle of Appleton and advised her that I was fine. As I waited for my friend to make his selection I noticed the employee leaning on a shelf near to me, keeping her eyes trained on me while ignoring my friend. Although I was well aware of racism, this was a specific type of profiling I had either never experienced or never noticed.

There are plenty of minorities that will often argue that a racist incident, or a form of racism, must be a fabrication because they’ve never experienced it themselves. I never denied that black people could be watched more intensely than whites when they shop, but I somehow thought Canada was immune to such idiocy. Most of the time I saw it in entertainment or heard about it, the employees made some attempt to be subtle. I thought that maybe she was watching me because I had a bag on, which could be used to conceal items, but my white friend had a bag as well. Maybe some part of me wanted to believe she was just admiring me for my good looks.

I went to SAQ for a second time years later. My friends and I were travelling through the area and decided to stop in. While they were mainly focused on cheaper alcohol, I was eager to see if my first experience with SAQ was an isolated one. Lo and behold, I see an employee on the other end of the store move to a wall that gave him a good view of the entire hard liquor section. He folds his arms and leans back as he watches me move down my desired aisle. Two of my friends were in another section of the store and the employee ignored them. A group of at least four white girls walked in a few minutes after us, and they were also ignored.

There was no bag on my back this time, so it wasn’t like I could shove a 40 ounce bottle of liquor down my pants and try to walk out. I don’t believe in God, but I can’t help but feel like some force conspired to give me the perfect circumstances to test out SAQ’s racism. I say SAQ’s racism because “watch black people when they shop” appears to legimitately be a company policy. Two different employees, years apart, adopted the same protocol. Either they support the racist ideas that fuel that policy or they disagree but feel the need to just follow orders like the Nazis did. As soon as I left SAQ that day I knew I would never step foot in one again.

I remember watching Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, and hearing a modicum of hope from James Baldwin when he says (don’t remember the exact phrasing) “I must have optimism because I am still alive.”

Believe it or not, there are many people out there who have and continue to be experience far worse racism than I have. There are unarmed men shot dead by cops or wannabe vigilantes, whose deaths are justified due to their status as dangerous “thugs”. The concept of arresting someone without killing them seems to disappear when black people are in question. “So what if two cops were lying on top of him before he was shot? He was a thug anyway.”

Society has a conscience, but its conscience has a blindspot. I have my own obstacles and experiences that bombard me with the truth about our utopic post-racial world. They exist, and no amount of willful ignorance or right-wing slander will change that. They impact me, but they don’t kill me. I’m alive, and going strong.

Talib Kweli’s Twitter Fingers

As a child, most of the music I listened to was whatever my parents were listening to. I heard the pop and rap on the radio, but also older R&B and reggae. When I was thirteen, I started listening to music independently, getting into the alternative rock that was popular in England (my home at the time). As I grow older, I continuously seek out older music of many genres, wanting to diversify my tastes.

I first heard about Talib Kweli Greene (known professionally as Talib Kweli) when I was doing my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa. I forget the context for his name being brought up, but I believe he may have been doing a show somewhere in the city. Years later, when I joined Twitter, I was randomly motivated to find his account. To this day, I have not listened to his music. I will, but this post isn’t about his artistry. Anyone who follows Kweli knows he isn’t afraid to engage anyone who tweets to him or about him. Some of these tweets come from people criticizing his career or music for one reason or another, but a lot of the ones I’ve seen are people who accuse him of being racist.

As I’ve discussed before, “colour-blind racism” is the modern racism. It is a naive mindset that racism, both instutional and individual, is dead now except for those pesky people wearing white hoods. It treats any mention of race as being racist, while also defending comments, mindsets and behaviours that rely on racist assumptions. People will say they don’t see colour, and then argue that black people would get killed by cops less if they just obeyed the law. People will say they don’t see colour, but then refuse to date anyone whose skin doesn’t match their own. People will say they don’t see colour, but then assume a black person with a good job isn’t qualified for it.

Racists are drawn to Kweli like moths to the flame. There is a sort of vicious cycle at work, where someone attempts to call Talib out for perceived racism, e.g. Talib’s declarations of being proudly black or his previous responses to another racist. Then once Talib dismantles this racist’s arguments, another jumps in to attack him because he dared to discuss race. Such is the hypocrisy of the colour-blind racist. While they have their own racist assumptions and beliefs, they are quick to throw out the word racist for those who call them out on it. “I’m not racist, you politically correct social justice warriors, (other right wing buzzwords) race-baiters are the real racists. I just think I should be able to say I don’t want more black people in my neighborhood without libtards attacking me. Black people are violent after all! That’s not racist, I have black friends.”

I have sometimes wondered why Kweli bothers to respond to these people, and some tweets from fans have also expressed the same question. Some of the haters accused Kweli of doing nothing but tweeting all day, but a look at his touring and musical output shows he is a productive artist. He handles time well, but I guess I still wondered why he bothers. Then I read Kweli’s own answer to the question, and it all made sense.

People are always quick to label racist online comments as the work of “trolls”, people who write inflammatory comments and derive enjoyment from the uproar they produce. The word “troll” implies that the poster doesn’t actually believe what they wrote, they are just saying it to see how people react. This kind of mindset, where we just ignore online racists, is downright irresponsible in this day and age. As Kweli points out, the alt-right is an entity that was birthed online. Real people reside behind the alt-right sites and comments that have proliferated online. These people have jobs, families and the ability to vote. They got Trump elected, with their own votes and their ability to spread misinformation that reinvigorated the resentment of minorities that many people in America harbour. Kweli combats racism through campaigns and events and he knows “twitter fingers” may not be for everyone, but it is one of the tools he employs to combat the ignorance that is stoked by this new climate of right wing backlash.

The people who decide to accuse Kweli of racism demonstrate one racist assumption after another, and a straw-man understanding of concepts like white privilege. User @adamant919 had the audacity to use the term “black privilege” to describe black people’s supposed natural gifts and our “handouts” with programs like affirmative action, which actually benefit white women more and don’t lead to unqualified applicants getting selected for jobs. Funny enough, the user appears to have deleted his account since. This isn’t the first user that has deleted his account following an encounter with Kweli and it gives me some hope that some people might realize the error of their ways. However, someone can delete their account out of a sense of embarrassment, without actually reflecting on their views.

This Slate article offers an interesting case study of the infamous Hunger Games (2012) racist backlash, where supposed fans were upset that the character Rue was played by a black girl, even though Rue is described as having dark brown skin in the book. One fan began collecting these racist tweets, such as “Rue being black ruined the movie” and created a tumblr account to showcase them. This article follows up on this tumblr account, reaching out to some of the twitter users to get their thoughts.

The user who wrote this tweet argued that she didn’t mean to be racist. She was just surprised that Rue was black since Rue was supposed to remind Katniss (the white, main character) of her sister. Firstly, “remind her of” doesn’t always mean “look like”. If she was truly “colour-blind” then Rue’s skin colour shouldn’t have even registered with her. Aside from the terrible excuse offered by the twitter user, the author brings up a point that a lot of people like to use for defending racists online: “This kind of drive-by scapegoating does not seem conducive to genuine reflection (and it definitely doesn’t encourage reflection in the individuals it scapegoats).  It allows us to point the finger at other, younger, relatively powerless people, rather than consider the ways in which we’re implicated in a problem that is much, much larger than a few misguided teenagers on Twitter.”

I have heard people say the same thing to Kweli about his Twitter comments, and it usually comes across as very disengenious. Some of the users from the Hunger Games example may be teenagers, but some of them are grown men and women. The same goes for the alt-right. People who throw out the “don’t shame people” argument out act as if there are no attempts made to examine racism on a much larger scale. There is plenty of information online, in classes, on tv that sheds light on the much larger problem of institutional racism. People choose to ignore these sources. People choose ignorance. They reject enlightenment as left wing propaganda, the work of libtards or social justice warriors. People surround themselves with friends and sources who share the same views and refuse to challenge any of their assumptions about the world. How exactly should their racist comments be dealt with?  Conservatives love to throw out the argument of free speech to defend bigotry and no one is saying they don’t have the right to make such comments. My question is: If someone is willing to go online and criticize someone’s skin colour or attack a rapper for his liberal beliefs, why are we discouraged from exercising our free speech and shining the spotlight back on them?

As Kweli says, if someone is already racist “when I respond to them, it doesn’t matter what facts I give or how much sense I make. They’re going to be who they are.” Being kinder to the racists won’t make them more prone to ‘reflection.” The real purpose behind responding is to avoid having your message become silenced. There were probably millions of people, viewing one racist comment after another from the alt-right and thinking that all those comments wouldn’t have any impact on their lives. They stayed silent, and let misinformation and racist rhetoric fill the void. They may as well have packed Trump’s things and moved them into the White House for him.

Get Out

Note: Spoilers Ahead

After much delay, I finally got around to seeing a film I’ve heard nothing but good things about. I must say, the film lives up to the hype for the most part. Since the film was released a while ago I didn’t really feel like doing a review of it, which is why I want to sum up my thoughts on the film itself and move on to the interesting questions/issues it raised.

Firstly, the performances are all amazing. The only other film I have seen Daniel Kaluuya in in Sicario, and he was alright in that. The role was smaller and didn’t allow him to demonstrate the range we see in Get Out. It looks like things are looking up for Kaluuya since he also has a role in 2018’s Black Panther.

The Armitages, the family that Chris is expecting to join, are all outstanding. Caleb Landry Jones was particularly interesting as Jeremy, Chris’s prospective brother-in law. Keith Stanfield, probably best known as Darius on Atlanta, isn’t in the film that much but stole the spotlight when he was present.

Get Out works well as a comedy when it is intended to be comedic, as expected from Jordan Peele. However, it is also masterful as a horror film. The horror isn’t the type you would expect from a franchise like The Conjuring. There are no jump scares to be found. Instead, Peele forces an air of unease upon us that permeates most of the film. I was reminded of an episode of The Twilight Zone, where its strength lies in its ability to unsettle you and get your mind and heart racing. More importantly, it also gets you thinking.

Peele has described Get Out as a “very personal” story“. A friend at work pointed out that Peele has a white wife, and it is very easy to see Get Out as a satirical, cathartic reenactment of encounters with his wife’s own family. I forget the exact wording, but I remember a tweet that said Get Out isn’t about ‘hang that nigger’ racism, it’s about ‘I’m not racist because I have black friends and voted for Obama’ racism. I think that tweet is a perfect distillation of what Get Out offers.

The Armitages’ are a rich, white family who are openly welcoming to Chris when they meet him. The dad is quick to mention he voted for Obama and that Obama was the best president in his time. With this statement, the film starts to delve more into the issue of the fetishization of the black body. Jeremy is the one to bring up the idea that black people’s genetics make them superior athletes, expressing his own quiet disdain and envy at this fact. This stereotype is also brought up by the extended family, and the comments all bring back memories of comments I’ve head all through my life as well. I was recently involved in a Twitter conversation where @adamant919 had the audacity to call our supposed natural gifts “black privilege”. Funny enough, it looks like the user has since deleted his account.

This fetishization reduces the black body to something that is either a threat, a conquest or a toy. Get Out is one of the first films in a while that generally surprised me with a third act reveal. Initially I thought that Chris would simply be brainwashed into submission, becoming another Andre Hayworth via Missy Armitage’s hypnosis. It was genuinely chilling to hear the breakdown of the surgery that would be performed to turn the black body into a vehicle for someone else, reducing Chris to a passenger within his own body. The Armitages’s could easily do the same process with white bodies, but it is clear that they are appealing to a desire specifically for black ones. In Chris’s case, Jim Hudson only wants his eyes so that he can capture the kinds of pictures he envies Chris for. However, the groundskeeper (Walter), is being controlled by Rose’s grandfather. Walter’s role on the estate becomes more chilling when we realize it is an old white man reveling in what his new body can do. The infamous Walter sprint, which grandpa calls his “exercise”, becomes a man testing out stereotypes for himself.

Peele is currently being considered to direct The DC Extended Universe’s Flash film and I was hesitant when I heard this, since the role seems far removed from his skillset. After seeing Get Out and how it manages to combine satire, horror and comedy, I am sure Peele can find a way to handle any project that comes his way.

Ex-Machina and Race

I remember watching Ex Machina back in 2015 and falling in love with the film within the first half hour. The film follows a programmer, Caleb Smith, who is invited to test an AI being developed by his  CEO, Nathan Bateman.

By the time it was done, Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of all time. Aside from the great performances, especially by Oscar Isaac, the film asked a lot of interesting questions. There was one question, and one specific line, that still sticks with me. It comes to the forefront of my mind every time the topic of interracial dating ever comes up, with the most recent occurrence being Get Out.

“Accumulated external stimuli” (AES).

Whether it is in person, online or in entertainment, there are a plethora of reasons offered for dating exclusively in one’s race.

“It’s not natural”

Neither are cars and retirement homes. In the good old days humans used horses to travel and the old and sick would perish to make way for the fittest. Some scholars even argue monogamy is unnatural. How many of these things do proponents of this argument which to cut out of society? Of course, these people probably don’t realize how faulty their reasoning is. After all, I am sure many of the people who use the argument have no attraction to other races, and therefore assume that it is natural for them to feel that way.

This also brings up the question of why they view it as unnatural. I grew up with interracial couples in my family, among my cousins, aunts etc. By the time I was ten I viewed interracial coupling as natural. However, I realize my experience is not an objective truth. People who grow up with racially or ethnically homogenous families will be more likely to see an interracial coupling as unnatural if they have rarely experienced it themselves. Especially if their family also actively discourages or criticizes such relationships.

“It’s not racist. It’s just a natural preference.”

AES is the only reason for racial preferences that I agree with. Firstly, it doesn’t view attraction to a specific skin colour or ethnicity as being an ingrained development, where we are born programmed only to date white people, or Chinese people etc.  People who grow up genuinely believing their preferences were pre-programmed (so to speak) often disregard the impact of years of subtle coaching from family and/or friends to stick to their own or “preserve the culture”.  If your parents are guiding you to seek out your own kind once you have your first crush at age seven, it is easy for you to reach thirty and think that the choice was a natural one.

Of course, people don’t always have a preference for their own. Some people will reject their own kind and only seek out others. I know plenty of black people who don’t want to date other black people, or at least not dark-skinned black people. I know people who are neither white or black, but still have a preference for white mates, or lighter-skinned mates that can produce lighter-skinned children. It is a mark of beauty and progress. They see their family moving on up in the world as the generations become lighter. Is this sort of self-hate natural? Or is it a result of what they were taught to value by their own family? Or maybe a result of the dominant images of beauty available in the media they consume? As Nathan says, these stimuli form a sphere of influence that “you probably didn’t even register, as they registered with you.”