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.”

The Dying Engine

“I used to think that maybe I’d let my anger serve as an engine. But I’ve since discovered that my anger over each new racist incident is now rivaled and augmented by the anger I feel when asked to explain, once more, why black people shouldn’t be brutalized, insulted, and killed. If you’re a person of color, the racism beat is also a professional commitment to defending your right and the right of people like you to be treated with consideration to an audience filled with readers champing at the bit to call you nothing but a nigger playing the race card.” Cord Jefferson- The Racism Beat

I originally read this article about a year ago, at a time when I was starting to publicly share my thoughts on race more frequently, whether through YouTube or this blog. Many of my videos concerned the overlap between film and race, two of my greatest interests. However, many discussed issues such as racial profiling. I remember hearing about the verdict for the Trayvon Martin case back in 2013. Although I knew about notorious incidents of police brutality against blacks, such as Rodney King, I was shielded from this particular manifestation of racism for some reason. I experienced racial profiling numerous times growing up, such as always being asked “do you live here” when I walked around the courtyard of my apartment building in London, England. Or when a flight attendant insisted I use the bathroom in coach, instead of the first class one that I had the right to use since I was sitting in first class.  I’ve also experienced the more subtle forms of racism e.g. “you’re smart for a black guy”, “you speak so well” etc.

Hearing that a neighbourhood watchmen took it upon himself to kill a teenager, because he “looked suspicious” infuriated me since I knew that teenager could have been me.  I have had people cross the street or pull their loved ones closer seeing a 6’4, threatening black man come their way. I always wear hoodies, especially when it is cold or raining (like it was on the night Martin died).

Back in 2013, it was a shock to see Zimmerman acquitted. I thought he would be charged for murder, or maybe manslaughter as a worst case scenario. There were numerous comments defending him online: Martin was a thug, all these people talking about racial profiling are “race-baiters”. Like the Trump election, I wanted to believe that these people must be a loud minority.

They weren’t a loud minority. They were the voices of resentful, racist whites who would say anything to justify the death of a black person. They would say that the liberal media shouldn’t vilify the cops. They would say we need to wait for the facts of the case. Then these people would donate $500,000 to officer Darren Wilson before the trail began. There is no desire to let the trial speak for itself. People’s minds were made up once they saw who got shot, and who shot them.

The shooting of unarmed black men doesn’t faze me as much as it used to. It’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I’m used to it now. I’m used to the police testimonies, the online comments saying that black people would be better off if they “just obeyed the law” and the host of other excuses that rely on racist assumptions.

A part of me worries I could be on the list someday. Maybe I am walking down the street in an area that is deemed too nice for me, and someone reports me for my presence. Maybe I am driving a car that is too expensive to be mine. Maybe I threaten a cop’s ego by showing him too much attitude, maybe I reach for my wallet and end up dead. What then? I become a thug, another black guy that just couldn’t follow orders.

The fact that I am educated would probably be ignored by a lot of people. They would point to pictures on Facebook where I am dressed in hoodies, drinking, throwing up “gang signs”. Maybe they would bring up conflicts I had with previous landlords, one of them a divorced bylaw officer who was on a power trip (Abdulkadar Mohamed “Mo” Dualeh): He would say I was a troublemaker, aggressive, confrontational. I can be whatever they need me to be. People will lose track of the fact that the trial isn’t to determine if I was a saint; it is to determine if the cop had the right to shoot me at a specific moment and time. The gofundme money would start pouring in for my killer, giving him more money than he could ever hope to make as a cop. My death would be unfortunate, but not a crime.  Some will be outraged. They will be called “race-baiters,” “social justice warriors”, or whatever new terms people come up with by then.

I will leave my family behind. They will be confused and angry, but that won’t matter. They’ll be powerless. The cop might lose his job but he’ll have enough money to buy a new house and start a new life, just like Darren Wilson did.

There Is No Racism Problem Here

I have always taken an interest in what people post on online comment sections, whether it is on newspaper articles or YouTube videos. A lot of people think that racist comments on these forums are all the work of “trolls”- people who deliberately make inflammatory comments for the sake of starting arguments. If we can pass off all racist online comments as the work of trolls, then we can imagine that there isn’t a single racist person online and that the internet is the idyllic bastion of tolerance and democracy.

However, plenty of research suggests that the anonymity of online forums just makes it more likely for people to embrace their prejudice. The book I linked to is just one source I used in a paper concerning this phenomena. A lot of online forums accept pseudonyms, and even if they link to social media, some people may still be bold enough to post racist comments since they can customize their privacy settings on these platforms. Unlike a face-to-face interaction, it is unlikely that there will be consequences for racist statements. I was reading an article in the Howard Journal of Communications that also studied how racists can become emboldened online,specifically on newspaper comment sections, since their racist comments or rants are often supported online. This then creates an echo-chamber where racists dominate discussion and silence more civilized conversations. There is no democratic debate.

This is to say that I don’t think I am over-analyzing when I pay attention to the comments people make online.  One common narrative that I have found on IMDB and YouTube is the idea that some countries don’t have the same racism that America does. I have seen such comments on videos or boards for films like 12 Years A Slave and Selma. The basic gist is that “my country has no problem with black people, either historically or now”, and typically comes from European users. Historically I would beg to differ. America’s history of slavery may be the most prominent but numerous European countries participated in the slave trade.

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Present day, my biggest issue with this argument is that it ignores one of the unfortunate realities of racism. Racism can be generated from a complete lack of interaction with a group, but it can also be generated from a certain level of sustained interaction. It is easy to say that your country has no problem with black people when there are very little or when they have very little impact on your city or country. When people feel like their culture is threatened, that is when they begin to lash out.  I am not empathizing with this view, or making excuses for racists. I am a minority as well and want to emphasize that people can become more intolerant when they “feel” threatened, even if facts do not line up with their view of the world.

Let’s see how tolerant people remain when they start competing with minorities for jobs. I came across a post on the IMDB board for American History X, which helped to crystallize how job competition can contribute to racism as well . The film follows Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), a former Neo-Nazi who tries to save his younger brother from the life of racism he once had. As Derek reflects on what led him on the path to white supremacy, he remembers his dad being killed by black gang members after responding to a 9/11 call in a drug den. However, Derek also remembers an earlier incident; a conversation with his father.

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Years earlier, Derek tells his dad that they started reading Native Son in school, which is about a young black man in poverty. Derek’s dad makes it clear that he thinks “black books” are being used at the expense of good books. Derek’s dad, a firefighter, then shared a story of black firefighters being hired even though they weren’t qualified. We do not know how Derek’s dad knows they weren’t qualified. Derek’s dad also refers to the need for diversity as “nigger bullshit”.

An IMDB forum discussion titled “I agree with Derek’s dad on most point…” argues that Derek’s dad was undoubtedly racist but he had a good point about diversity trumping talent. A link is included but you may not be able to access it if you do not have an IMDB account. I have included screenshots below as evidence.

Most of the replies in this discussion echo the misconception that affirmative action results in unqualified candidates. There is a misconception about affirmative action flooding workplaces with black C students instead of white A students. However, such hiring is illegal and affirmative action mostly involves selecting a minority from a pool of qualified candidates. Affirmative action in the US also does not instil quotas, which is another prevalent misconception.

One response in particular got my attention:

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In case you can’t read it: “I agree 100%, my uncle and his friend years ago both tried out to be police officers in Philadelphia and despite having higher test scores than two black aspiring police officers, they didn’t get the job, it instead went to the other candidates. That shows how messed up the US is, employers should higher the most qualified candidates instead of trying to up their diverse employee stats. It’s simply stupid.”

I have heard similar stories before, and I have yet to hear such a story where there is proof that the black candidates were unqualified. I thought I would give the poster the benefit of the doubt and ask him how his uncle knew the black candidates got lower test scores.

His response:

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“This happened a little bit before I was born so this is what I was told (I was told the others were unqualified, I assume this was observed during physical training). I love how you automatically assumed I was racist, triggered much?”

So basically, this poster’s uncle actually has no proof that the black candidates were unqualified. I respect this poster for actually being honest; he could have just lied about his uncle seeing their test scores himself. Yet I also detest that he heard this story, doesn’t know the details and is now using it to fuel his attack on minorities. The next time a black person gets a job instead of him, he’ll likely assume they were unqualified. Then he’ll tell his kids this story, and they’ll tell their kids….

First we get this ignorance, disguised as an argument for merit. Next people might complain about having to accommodate new languages or religions.

Let’s see how tolerant your country is when immigrants and minorities are blamed for a poor economy, crime, changing culture etc. This is already happening more and more in Europe with the refugee crisis. No country lacks a racism problem. That is either a lie or the country has very few minorities.

 

I Like My Bigots Out in The Open

I try to avoid spending too much time on Facebook, there’s only so much entertainment that I can derive from selfies. Earlier today I came across this interesting video a friend posted.

If you can’t watch it is a video by black photojournalist, Tom Jefferson. The incident begins with Jefferson at a anti-fracking rally in Mars, Pennsylvania. One bystander, John Pisone starts insulting the protesters and then turns his attention to Jefferson. He starts off saying all black people look the same to him, calls Jefferson a “chimp”, says his hair looks like a mop, and ends with some eloquent monkey sounds.

Pisone has since been fired for his comments and his comments are an example of racism that even Fox News would view as racist (maybe). This is probably the reason that the comments aren’t swarmed with complaints about liberal bias, “race-baiting” or “political-correctness”.  What bothers me is that racism needs to be this salient for people to catch on to it. The same people decrying Pisone’s comments might be the same ones saying someone wouldn’t have been shot twice (while restrained) if they just “obeyed the law”. Or who would complain about too many black characters in a tv show (e.g. Luke Cage).

Racist beliefs are much more common than we think and most people realize the stigma of racist beliefs. Therefore, they disguise their racism. They say they are “colour-blind” whenever racism is brought up, while also making decisions about their neighbourhoods, schools, partners etc. based on race. Do not look at Pisone and think “Thank God they’re aren’t more people like him”, say “It’s a shame more racists aren’t outspoken”. Let them say what they really mean, on video, on social media. Let others see how “colour-blind” they really are.

It is their free speech to share such thoughts. It is legal. It is also legal for us to criticize them, distance ourselves from them, or fire them due to their comments. Come forth racists. Don’t hide behind your black “friends”. Don’t say “I’m not racist but…”. Cut through the darkness with your white light.

Zootopia and Race

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Zootopia.

I remember watching the Zootopia sloth trailer in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and laughing just as hard as everyone else in the theater. However, when the release date came around I was preoccupied with the hype for BatmanvSuperman and the film slipped by my radar. Zootopia returned to my radar after hearing about its box office success, and especially after a friend gave it a glowing review.

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One of the things that my friend liked the most was how the film tackled the issue of race. He said it wasn’t preachy or overly sentimental, but worked in allegories that were easily identifiable. I remember the one he told me about was the use of the word “cute”. In the film, it is okay for bunnies to call one another cute, but it is offensive if another species uses the word. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the similarity to the word “nigga”.

Another light-hearted allegory that got my attention was a scene where Nicholas “Nick” Wilde (Jason Bateman) touches a sheep’s hair, remarking on how fluffy it is. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) then whispers that he can’t just touch a sheep’s wool. I can remember grade eight at Southbank International School in London, England. I was one of two black kids, out of a student body of at least 100, and my classmates often touched my hair. I am sure a lot of other black people, and women especially, can relate to someone treating them like an animal in a petting zoo and touching their hair without permission. I remember that a Buzzfeed article on Zootopia was filled with people arguing that this happens to anyone with curly hair. Black people, on average, are more likely to have curly or “kinky” hair so I think it is fair to say that the sheep wool can be interpreted as kinky hair.

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Aside from these smaller vignettes, Zootopia is loaded with messages of discrimination. What I like most about the film is that most of these messages or lessons don’t come from the depiction of highly vocal bigots. I have no sympathy for ignorant people but most of the discrimination in the film is presented as ingrained biases from otherwise decent people who do not seem to know any better. I have no problem with the depiction of more staunch bigotry (such as Imperium or American History X) but in this age of supposed “colour-blindness” it is important to see how people who claim to be tolerant can adopt stereotypes of other races.

Within the city of Zootopia, mammals (predator and prey) now live in harmony. The film revolves around the disappearance of fourteen mammals in Zootopia.  Their disappearance is revealed to be a move by Mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K Simmons) to hide the fact that predators are going “savage”- reverting to their desire to attack and consume prey. Co-screenwriter Jared Bush has explained that predators in Zootopia only eat plant-based proteins and insects. Going “savage” causes the animals to lose the capacity for speech and return to the predator-prey mindset. Hopps, aided by Wilde, must uncover why the animals are going savage.

Wilde’s identify as a fox gives us one of our first insights into discrimination in this fictional world. In the film foxes have a reputation for being sly and deceitful. Hopps’s parents are wary of her living among them when she leaves their farm and goes to Zootopia. They make sure to give her fox-repellent, similar to pepper spray. Although Judy criticizes their bigotry she still brings the fox-repellent with her on her first day of work. Like real-life, someone who is outwardly accepting can still be affected by stereotypes that they have picked up from the media, friends, parents etc. I have had well-meaning friends tell me I speak well for a black guy, and Hopps also applauds Nick for how articulate he is. Nick has heard the compliment before, and thanks Hopps for not being patronizing (although his tone implies that he is not truly happy to hear the compliment again).

Wilde has long been the victim of prejudice, with the most pivotal moment being an incident of childhood bullying. Wilde had hopes of being the first fox scout, but was pranked and muzzled during his supposed induction ceremony. Zootopia is founded on the idea that anyone who arrives can be anything they want to be, similar to the American Dream. However, Wilde believes that all you can really be is what’s on the outside.  He knows other people only see a fox when they look at him, so he stopped trying to be different and became a con-artist. Obviously, I am not trying to say every criminal is simply misunderstood, and I don’t think the film is either. Wilde is simply an example of someone who is disillusioned with the world’s supposed equality, which he has yet to experience.

Meanwhile, Hopps is the first bunny cop, who is enlisted as part of a Mammalian inclusion initiative. Although she is accepted, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) has little faith in her ability and assigns her to parking duty.

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Hopps and Wilde are able to form a bond over their treatment, but the bond is tested after they find the missing mammals. Hopps’s takes the stage for her first press conference, with Wilde watching close by, and is quick to reveal that all of the savage animals were predators. When probed, Hopps remarks that the predators might be returning to their old instincts. Wilde doesn’t approve of the comments, and Hopps initially dismisses him. She argues that Wilde should know she wasn’t talking about him, just “them”.

“I remember a mom of a friend of mine in the suburbs made some comment about a black person and – I had to be 12, about 60 pounds – and I said something and she said: ‘Oh no, not you. You are not black. You are great.’- Jesse Williams

That quote leapt into my mind during this scene. We end up being a “credit to our kind”, differentiated from “them”, the masses that deserve hate or mistrust.

It is later revealed that a serum, derived from a poisonous plant, is responsible for the mammals going savage. Mayor Dawn Bellwether (promoted after Lionheart is imprisoned) reveals herself as the mastermind behind the plot, aiming to use the public’s fear to eliminate the predator minority from Zootopia. Using a hitman of sorts, she was able to target predators all over the city and create an atmosphere of fear and distrust. This scheme isn’t just fiction; Donald Trump probably read an early draft of the screenplay and used it as a manual on running a Presidential campaign. As Bellwether says “Fear always works!”

I remember thinking about Zootopia unapologetically explored issues that many people are too afraid to nowadays. In many ways, this Disney film had more guts than most of the Disney produced Marvel films. There is a childhood scene where Hopps is attacked by a child fox, and when he moves to scratch her I was sure that she would be saved at the last minute somehow. Instead, we see Hopps sporting a scar on her left cheek. Life isn’t a fairy tale, and this movie isn’t afraid to let us know that. No pretty princesses, no flowery songs.  Zootopia has a great motto of equality but Hopps acknowledges it is only a motto and that the dream is a work in progress.

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Talking About Race Will Unite Us

…but it will divide us first.

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The Republican Convention wrapped up last night and I avoided it by all means necessary. However, I can’t help but coming across some news of it on articles or some clips on YouTube. My curiosity gets the better of me and I ended up clicking on some links. A pervasive theme of the sound bites is the idea that we need to be more united. The idea that the current administration has left us too divided. I did not watch the entirety of the speeches and context is key, so I can’t be sure if the statement is meant to criticize the discussion of racism by the Obama administration and other democratic politicians.

However, I have come across that argument being used to criticize the discussion of racism. This argument is more prevalent online than ever with the recent deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. The subsequent shooting of police officers in Dallas also added fuel to the fire, with conservative outlets speculating that Black Lives Matter and the perpetrators are connected.

Many people want us to ignore the racism all around us, arguing that it is an illusion or that black people simply deserve to be killed by cops due their violent nature. Yes, blacks are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crimes. We also have a disproportionate unemployment rate. I can imagine someone saying “Get jobs then” and please consult this study as one example of persisting employment discrimination. I wonder how well American white people would be doing if they had the same unemployment rate we do and had the same racial biases against them. In my previous posts, I have included study after study analyzing the impact of racism on blacks. However, denial is strong and people argue that such statistics are only part of a liberal agenda. It seems that people are resistant now more than ever to discuss racism.

Hence, the argument that discussing it only divides us. They’re right, it does divide us. It brings anger and resentment to the surface. However,it also brings up ugly truths. The people using this argument are forgetting that a civil war brought us to where we are now. What we have now is not perfect but it is an improvement over 1861. What if Lincoln decided not to fight for the abolition of slavery because he didn’t want to “divide people”. At the time, only whites were considered citizens. Many of them were happy to keep things the way they were. There was no injustice being done, black people don’t need more rights, they’re property. Why couldn’t Lincoln stop race-baiting and just let peace exist, instead of dividing a united nation?

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Pictured Above: A “Race Baiter”

People may argue that the Civil War was about states rights. Yes, it was about the right of southern states, to continue slavery. Who knows how long slavery would have persisted if not for the civil war. Sometimes things have to get worse, before they get better. I am not condoning the shooting of police officers or violent resistance. I do support the discussion of racism and peaceful protests against a rising tide of  racism, such as police brutality that is increasingly inflicted on black people. I support the discussion of lingering racism at the individual and institutional level in many countries. I support the right to discuss discrimination without being dismissed as “politically correct” or a “social justice warrior”.

Race Is Socially Constructed- But it Still Matters

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I have recently made the commitment to post to my writing instagram account, “wmoviegrapevine” at least twice a day. I post to “moviegrapevine” 3-4 times a day, but posting to that account is generally easier. It only requires finding suitable images and offering some commentary. For wmoviegrapevine I also need to come up with original writing or find excerpts from my previous works, and then find a suitable image. For a while I was only doing one post, but I noticed a relatively quick increase in followers when I started posting more. The momentum took me from 73 to 84, where it has now stalled again. Either way, 2 posts are better than one and I think my laziness stopped me from committing to 2 earlier. It can be hard to post when juggling several other responsibilities, but I prefer trying to make time, instead of excuses.

Finding a topic to write on is usually the hardest part. I sat on the bus for a few minutes thinking of what I wanted to discuss and I remembered one of the arguments about racism that I detest the most. I have read many comments online saying that the discussion of race and racism is unnecessary, since we are all one race, the human race. After all, race is socially constructed, so it has no real impact on our lives and doesn’t matter. Firstly, the sentiment that we are all one race is lovely, but I hate the fact that it is often used to downplay the impact of racism in cases of police brutality, hate crimes, employment discrimination and so on. It is a convenient platitude offered to silence people who truly want to engage with an issue. If you just blurt out “we are all one race” you can bask in the glory of your own enlightenment while also ignoring facts that demonstrate that many institutions and individuals don’t act on that principle.

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As a starting point, I’d like to ask these enlightened ones to read this study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Research Fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan sent out resumes in response to over 1300 employment ads, ranging from clerical work to customer service roles. The resumes were crafted to display identical levels of skill and qualifications. Some resumes had names that people may think of as “white names” or more race-neutral ones, such as Jacob and David. Others had names that people tend to associate with people of colour, such as “Jamal”. Despite equal levels of qualifications the resumes with white names received more callbacks for interviews. Each resume with a white name needed 10 resumes to get a call back, resumes with black names needed to send 15 to get a call back. If the resumes display the same level of skills and qualification, why is there a noted difference in callbacks? If people are colour-blind then the names shouldn’t have any impact. One of the most common beliefs among “colour-blind” preachers is that skill and a desire to work hard are all you need to be successful. Then why are “black names” (Jamal and many other names people think are black names are actually Arabic in origin) holding some applicants back? Keep in mind, these names are not all “ghetto” ones. What justification do you colour-blind people have for the results of this study?

The argument that a social construct doesn’t matter reminded me of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. The Pulitzer-nominated book mainly examines the impact that the internet has on our brains but Carr also includes an interesting segway that examines how societal constructs can change the way humans think. His example was the use of time and I think it provides a perfect parallel to the oft-cited “race is a social construct” argument. Although categories such as “white” and “black” have not always existed, there have always been people with different skin colours. Likewise, the units of time that we now call “hours” and “minutes” have always existed. The only difference is that we did not always have names for them and we did not always arrange our schedules by them. We used to rely on the sun and the moon to measure our days, but overtime we adopted more precise times for arranging meetings, transit schedules and so on.

Now imagine that you are late for work for a work meeting for the fourth time in a row. You walk into the meeting room and everyone is already seated, with your boss at the head of the table glaring at you. Why don’t you tell him that the start time of 10:00AM is socially constructed, so showing up at 10:10AM doesn’t matter. The sun is still up, so it is still the morning. You are still on time and you refuse to let foolish social constructs dictate the way you see the world, or the way you behave. Do you think that argument will go over well?

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Getting rid of racial categories or pretending they don’t exist is not enough to end or even diminish racism. It is a fact that many people have racial preferences for their romantic or sexual partners. If we get rid of the category of “black”, people will just go from saying “I don’t like black guys” to saying “I don’t like dark-skinned guys” or “I don’t like guys with curly hair” etc. Cops won’t be more suspicious of “black people”, they’ll be more suspicious of people “of African descent”. It is true that race can at times be fluid, since some black people might be lighter-skinned than people of other races. However, people need to realize racism and discrimination as a whole aren’t just about melanin.

Everyone “sees colour”. The real test of whether or not you are racist is what you do with that visual information. There is nothing wrong with noticing that someone is lighter-skinned or darker-skinned, or that they are a different race. The issue is if you think less of them for it e.g. this person is black, therefore they are stupid. This person is black, therefore I will never date him. This person is black, so there is a greater chance he will attack me. That is racism.

Saying “I don’t see colour” just means that you don’t have the moral fortitude to actually make these distinctions. It is too hard for you to see colour and not be racist, so it is simpler just to pretend like you can’t see colour at all. Yet you will probably be the first person to argue that we don’t need affirmative action and that blacks would be better off if they weren’t so lazy. The next time you say “I don’t see colour” or hear someone else saying it, don’t get sucked into this black hole of denial. Ask them if they could see colour and still avoid being racist, which is what plenty of people manage to do. Ask them why they can’t wrap their head around that task. Better yet, ask them what they are physically attracted to, what they think that about black people disproportionately killed by police, or ask them what they think about affirmative action. You might discover that they do see colour after all.

 

 

Imperium- Racists Saying It’s Racist to Show Racists

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Daniel Radcliffe has undoubtedly been typecast as Harry Potter and he has worked hard to break out of the typecast since, with his roles in varied works like Equus, to his upcoming one in Imperium.

Imperium (2016) follows Radcliffe as a FBI agent who goes undercover to stop a group of white supremacists from carrying out a terrorist attack (yes, non-Muslims can be terrorists too).

The film got my attention and I went to IMDB eager to discuss Radcliffe’s latest attempt to escape his typecast. I have noticed that any film dealing with discrimination, such as holocaust or slavery films are always criticized for their depiction of racism. Far too many people see these films and get defensive, thinking that the films are accusing them of personally being racist. Or they think the film is trying to make them “feel guilty” and As a result, they argue that such films exacerbate racial tension and are the real cause of racism. Or they may even argue that racism would end if such films were no longer made. This ties into the colour-blind rhetoric that I have discussed previously, where people believe racism no longer impacts minorities. This leads to discussion of racism being viewed as unnecessary and an instigator for racial conflict. In terms of film, this mindset is very prevalent with Imperium.

I have stopped reading any online discussion since it is mostly one comment after another calling the film racist, because it explores racism or portrays white people in a bad light. These will be the same people to call you “politically correct” or a “social justice warrior” if you criticize negative portrayals of minorities in movies (which are far more common). This is the new order: arguing that negative portrayals of the dominant group (straight, white men) are part of an “agenda” while also arguing that negative portrayals of women and or minorities are meaningless. While whitewashing and one stereotypical minority character after another are cast aside as irrelevant, any negative depiction of white people makes the new colour-blind racist lash out.

“lisasmithandme” of IMDB explained it perfectly:

“Typical white racists who believe that only non-whites should be portrayed evilly. They do this type of complaining a lot in historical movies as well such as slavery and the holocaust. They think the media is ‘anti-white’ and is portraying them unfairly. Of course, when you complain about how blacks or other groups may be unfairly portrayed in the media, they start telling you to stop your “political correctness whining.” They are like reversed SJW except anything which isn’t positive about white males makes them go bonkers.

The other reason is that they secretly or subconsciously agree with white supremacy, so when you attempt to criticize it, they feel as if their ideals are being personally attacked and start to lash out and say incomprehensible things like: “I’m not a racist but this movie about white supremacist racists is…racist.”

On YouTube, you won’t see a bunch of Muslims invading the comment section of a video which speaks out against Islamic extremism. On the other hand, you will get a bunch of whites males attempting to justify white supremacy on any video which speaks out against white supremacy such as this movie. It doesn’t speak well for their character.

There’s really NOT much of a difference between a white supremacist and an Islamic extremist.
One will chop your head off for your RELIGION and believes you’re an infidel.
The other one would gas you for your RACE and believes you’re inferior. ”

Imperium

Aside from the colour-blind racists, we have the full on apologists who seem genuinely hurt that skinheads are being portrayed as racist. They are only people trying to “protect their country, their heritage” etc. I know some people may be tempted to say all of these comments are the work of trolls, but it is highly unlikely that every single racist comment online is simply someone seeking attention or looking to start an online fight. If anyone is bothered to look it up, instead of living in a cocoon of denial, there is evidence that racism is still alive and well. Online discussions are just one place where we can see this at work.

Like my post on Jesse Williams, I am making this one to get some thoughts off my chest and attack some of the straw man arguments that have cropped up in the wake of the film’s trailer release.

1) This film is stupid since most racists aren’t even skinheads.

This argument is the equivalent of saying films about serial killers are stupid since most murderers aren’t serial killers.

This film explores a pocket or subgroup of racists, it is not meant to argue that all racists are skinheads. This is elementary level reasoning but it seems to elude people once their defensiveness gets in the way. When people hate something (because it makes them feel defensive), they will look for any reason to tear it down.

2) It’s films like this that divide us. Typical liberal Hollywood etc.

Racism exists. Exploring it, studying it, depicting it in fiction should not divide us. What really divides us are the colour-blind racists, the apologists and the people who are openly sympathetic to white supremacy. Whether it is because they believe everything is equal anyway, or because they believe whites are now oppressed, far too many people have a hard time facing this topic. While racist practices by Hollywood executives, employers, judges, cops etc. are either ignored or supported daily, these apologists and colour-blind racists think they are now victimized because a film about racists is being released.

Radical Islamic terrorism is an issue now as well, and avoiding the topic in the news, books and movies won’t make it go away. People confront very few problems with the mentality that if it is ignored or never discussed, it will go away. Racism isn’t a bully, it is a pervasive issue that affects everything from entertainment to housing and police brutality. We can’t simply ignore it.

Bringing up the terrorism analogy also brings me to the next straw man argument.

3) There are more important issues now, like Muslims, and this film wants to focus on skinheads.

This film doesn’t say skinheads are the world’s only threat. One film normally focuses on one issue or one set of issues. Have you ever seen a film try to address every single world issue in 2 hours? The stupidity of this argument is simply baffling.

Anyone who is not living under a rock knows that radical Islamic terrorism is an issue. There are movies and books on that too. People only use this argument for specific topics they don’t want to see on film. You won’t see people criticizing romantic comedies saying that “with all the issues in the world, these filmmakers decide to focus on romance?”. You know what, let’s not make movies on any topic that isn’t trending in the news.

“Deep Breath”

Think I feel better now. Imperium looks very interesting and it will be my first time hearing Radcliffe perform with an American accent as well. With all the negative feedback it doesn’t look like it’ll be a box office hit, and it could possibly bomb. Either way, this is one that I am planning on seeing in theaters.

 

 

 

 

“I Like Hockey Players”

Hello everyone,

I have had these thoughts circling in my head for a while now so I thought I would put them down here.

I remember meeting up with an old classmate in Ottawa. It was great to catch up with her but one of the moments I remember best was when we were talking about our crushes and she said that she “likes hockey players.” I usually take this as a euphemism for I only like white guys. Of course, there are players of other races but I think that people often associate a certain sport with a certain look. For example, if you think of a basketball player you will probably think of someone who looks like LeBron James, Demar DeRozan or Jonas Valanciunas, not someone who is 5’3. For hockey, I believe that many hockey fans will have a white person in mind when they think of a hockey player. They will think of Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos instead of Jarome Iginla, Nazem Kadri, P.K. Subban. Even though these individuals are all players, some of them don’t fit the typical mold and will then not be associated with the typical image. I am not saying that is a right way of thinking, I actually detest this view, but I believe it is a truth about people’s perceptions.

One of my favourite examples of this mindset came from my first year roommate at the University of Ottawa. My roommate was of Irish descent and once remarked, in the presence of his black roommate (moi), that he hates black Irish people. To him, they are “wrong”. Although there are black Irish people, people born and raised in Ireland that are more Irish than my roommate, my roommate thinks they are wrong since they don’t match his perception of what a proper Irish person should look like. I have previously discussed my own experiences with people who assume I’m not really Canadian due to my skin colour. It is a corrosive and racist (yes, I said it), mindset that leads people to treat nationality, culture, religion etc. as an exclusive group, and not an inclusive one. I am of Jamaican descent and I believe it would be idiotic for me to say that white Jamaicans, Chinese Jamaicans or Indian Jamaicans are “wrong” because they don’t look like most of the population. They exist and they have had a big impact on the country’s culture, with the Chinese in particular having a great impact on the development of Jamaican music and food. I am not ignorant or pigheaded enough to deny that simply because I don’t like seeing other seeing other races in my country.

Funny enough, my roommate would probably be one of the people accusing people of “race-baiting” if they discuss racism, and then chastise those people for not being colour-blind.

Jesse Williams -Black Gold

Jesse Williams may be best known as Dr. Jackson on Grey’s Anatomy to many fans, or maybe Holden in The Cabin in The Woods or Reverend James Lawson in The Butler.

I first saw Jesse Williams as Holden and never paid much attention to his career until I was completing my Master’s. I decided that I wanted to do my major research paper on whitewashing in Hollywood, although I had yet to narrow down a specific topic. A classmate sent me this video of Jesse Williams discussing racism in America, as well as discriminatory casting in Hollywood.

 

From that point on, I followed his social media more ravenously than his fangirls. Williams embraced humour on his feed, but he isn’t afraid to tackle issues of race and racism, which are now taboo topics in this era of supposed colour-blindness. People will use the excuse of colour-blindness to defend everything from whitewashing, to hate crimes to police brutality that disproportionately affects minorities. To them, racism is dead. Therefore, higher rates of poverty, unemployment etc. can all be blamed on minority laziness. Of course, some minorities are lazy, just like some white people are. To say that this laziness explains all discrepancies in success is a grave oversimplification that ignores the impact that racist institutions have on minorities.

Williams is a former teacher and one of his initial aspirations was to be a civil rights lawyer. He says he may still write the bar exam someday and he is still heavily involved in activism. I heard about the speech he gave at the BET Awards, after receiving the humanitarian award, but didn’t get around to seeing it until yesterday. The speech was short, but poetic and powerful.

jessewilliamsmain1

The full Jesse Williams speech:

Thank you Debra, thank you BET. Thank you Nate Parker and Debbie Allen for participating in that. Before we get into it, I just want to say, you know, I brought my parents out. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career — they made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also I thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

Now — this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country, the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics.

The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

Now, this is also in particular for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can, and will, do better for you.

Now: What we’ve been doing is looking at the data. And we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s gonna happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our country, or we will restructure their function, and ours.

Now I got more, y’all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice‘s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

The thing is, though. All of us in here getting money? That alone isn’t gonna stop this. Dedicating our lives — dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back, for someone’s brand on our body. When we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies. And now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free, they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so … free.

Freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, all right? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance — for our resistance — then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest … If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment, like oil, black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius, and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

The thing is though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

Thank you.

Of course, it is already being criticized all over the internet for being racist, race-baiting etc.

It is exhausting watching people get defensive when these issues are brought up: Resorting to arguments that are meant to derail the conversation instead of truly engaging in it. In order to get this off my chest, I wanted to attack the main arguments that have arisen since William’s speech. These arguments are not isolated to William’s speech either, so this gives me a chance to attack all the arguments that I’ve seen on my Youtube videos, newspaper articles and so on.

1)      Williams is saying all white people are racist.

This argument is probably the best example of a straw man argument; where an opponent exaggerates or simplifies an argument in order to make it easier to ridicule. There are plenty of statistics demonstrating blacks are more likely to go to jail (as opposed to getting fines, probation etc.) for non-violent offences, and are more likely to get longer jail terms. There is also plenty of research on lingering and housing discrimination. If you are too lazy or unwilling to research this, start off with the two sources below. If you want more, let me know.

Wegman, Jesse. (2014). The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/29/opinion/high-time-the-injustice-of-marijuana-arrests.html?_r=0

Brown, M.K, M. Canroy, E. Curry, D.B. Oppenheimer and T. Duster, M.M. Shultz and D. Wellman. (2003). Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color Blind Society. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Anyway, all of this research never tries to say all white people are racist. What it does say is that a legacy of racism still impacts institutions. An institution can be racist, or have racist policies even if everyone in it is not racist. For example, the fact that blacks are more likely to go to jail for non-violent offences does not imply every judge or juror is racist. It only means that the system as a whole supports racist practices. For an even simpler example, if a store manager tells his employees to monitor blacks as they shop, it does not mean every employee is racist. However, there is undoubtedly a racist system at work.

Acknowledging that there are racists systems and institutions does not the same thing as saying that you are a racist. Discussion of racism is not a personal attack. Too many people have this misconception and get defensive when the issue of race is brought up. This knee-jerk reaction is a fundamental part of what makes it so difficult to have a productive discussion on race.

  • Williams is half-white so how can he talk about racism?

This one actually baffles me a bit, but it is somewhat tied to the previous argument. If people think talking about racism = saying that all white people are racist, then it must be pretty confusing to see a mixed man discussing it.

White scholars and activists will fight against employment discrimination that leads to resumes with white names getting more callbacks, even if the skills are identical as resumes with more ethnic names like Jamal. Don’t worry insecure people, affirmative action apparently doesn’t mean black C students are getting jobs over white A students.

Their involvement does not mean they think all white people are racist. They only recognize that they benefit from the system, but they have the fortitude to accept that and fight against the white privilege that lingers in American society.

  • With organizations like Black Lives Matter, BET and the NAACP, how will we ever get past racism?

This argument ties directly into colour-blind racism. The key assumption here:

  • Racism is dead, there is no need to acknowledge or discuss it

Organizations like BET and the NAACP were created to counteract historical (and ongoing) discrimination. BET was purchased by Viacom in 2003 so its programming has been far more commercial since. However, it originally helped to showcase films with mostly black actors that have a much harder time getting mainstream exposure. To this day, directors will still deliberately pick white actors to play characters that aren’t white, because white is “more marketable”. Many supposed colour-blind people acknowledge that this happens, but also believe racism is dead. Maybe if Hollywood and most television networks didn’t still believe that whiteness is more marketable (Stoddard, 2006), we wouldn’t need BET.

In many cases, the NAACP is one of the few organizations openly challenging racism in today’s society. It would be great if we didn’t need the NAACP or BET, but that isn’t the world we live in.

This is the same reason we have Black Lives Matter. The world already cares about white lives. Everyone knows white lives matter. However, black death is often treated with retorts that we just need to learn how to behave ourselves. People donated nearly $500,000 to Darren Wilson after he killed Mike Brown, before the trial begin. There was the assumption that Brown was guilty, and this assumption is pervasive in cases of cops killing unarmed minorities.

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Williams’s speech can either be a great opening for a debate or another speech that gets ridiculed for its racism, its “whining”, its “race-baiting”. It looks like this is another case where the majority of people pick the latter. There is praise for Williams, but it is more concentrated on outlets such as the Atlanta Black Star. Other outlets, like the LA Times are overrun by people who think Williams is only making racism in America worse. He’s the problem here according to them. How dare he speak out? How dare he try to ruin the mirage of an equal and colour-blind society?

 

Works Cited

 

Stoddard, J.D. (2006). The Burden of Historical Representation: Race, Freedom and ‘Educational’ Hollywood Film. Film and History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, 36 (1), 26-35.