Hipster racism

Ironic racism, Lester Bangs nailed more than three decades ago:

Another reason for getting rid of all those little verbal barbs is that no matter how you intend them, you can’t say them without risking misinterpretation by some other bigoted asshole; your irony just might be his cup of hate. Things like the Creem articles and partydown exhibitionism represented a reaction against the hippie counterculture and what a lot of us regarded as its pious pussyfooting around questions of racial and sexual identity, questions we were quite prepared to drive over with bulldozers. We believed nothing could be worse, more pretentious and hypocritical, than the hippies and the liberal masochism in whose sidecar they Coked along, so we embraced an indiscriminate, half-joking and half-hostile mindlessness which seemed to represent, as Mark Jacobson pointed out in his Voice piece on Legs McNeil, a new kind of cool. “I don’t discriminate,” I used to laugh, “I’m prejudiced against everybody!”

Africa is a country — special SF edition

What struck me about Mike Resnick’s defence of being guaranteed a place in a proposed anthology about “alien encounters” that boasted about its dedication to diversity…

For the record, I have been to Africa 6 times on prolonged trips, I have won 4 Hugos for stories about Africa and have been nominated for 8 more, and my knowledge of the Kikuyu and Maasai peoples has been praised by Kenyan office holders. Are you suggesting that I -shouldn’t- write about Africa, or perhaps that no right-thinking editor should buy them?

… is the idea that having won Hugo awards for stories set in Africa is evidence that said stories treated Africa with respect and weren’t stereotyped, reductive or orientalist. I mean these are the same awards as voted on by American fans so unwilling to travel outside their own country they hold a special con on the rare occassions Worldcon moves outside the US, aren’t they? What makes these people knowledgeable about Africa?

Also, the idea that visiting a continent a couple of times makes you an expert, or that a (presumed) expertise on two Kenyan peoples makes you an expert on Africa as a whole or even the simple fact that Resnick’s stories about these peoples are labeled as “African” and discussed as such? Not helping his case.

Now personally I would prefer it if Resnick wouldn’t write at all, as he’s dull as dishwater and a godawful writer regardless of whether or not he gets “Africa” (sic) right, but nobody has actually been arguing he shouldn’t write about Africa or not get his stories published, just that, you know, to privilege an American writer over actual African science fiction writers like say, Nnedi Okorafor (who has just written a whole novel about alien encounters set in Lagos) isn’t actually being that committed to finding a greater diversity.

(For a more indepth look at why this anthology is problematic, Charles Tan and Natalie Luhrs have all the gory details.)

Fukitor can feck off

page from Fukitor

Jason Karns, the creator of Fukitor, the comic shown above, wants you to know that these are not lazy Muslim/Arab terrorist stereotypes you see, they are CARTOONS:

First off, the word “muslim” is never implied. Second, the terrorists aren’t real. They are cartoons based loosely on the fact that there are people on this planet who will kill you because you don’t believe in their imaginary god. Again, they are CARTOONS. It’s complete fantasy.

The fact that the villians here are all brown skinned, bearded and wearing what certainly looks like stereotypical Middle Eastern clothing and come from “Ufukistan” — sheer coincidence. Also, you shouldn’t complain about these images because in the same issue Martians are also treated badly.

panelsfrom Fukitor 9

But anyway, even fantasy CARTOONS should be realistic says Jason:

I mean…are YOU serious?? Are you suggesting that cartoon terrorists shouldn’t be depicted as something that’s relatively close to reality? You do realize it’s not a stretch, right? Maybe you don’t.

So it’s not real, but it is realistic. Gotcha. Jason Karns’ defence so far has hit most of the expected points: it’s only a story, it’s not real, actually, it’s taken from real life, pointing out racism is the real crime, criticism is censhorship, what about the Martians, but it doesn’t excuse the Planet of the Arabs imagery:

So why do sensible people like this comic? Jim Rugg explains and doesn’t ignor its flaws:

It’s even more insanely racist than it looks, and also it is insanely misogynistic, exploitative, misanthropic, nihilistic, antisocial, funny, engaging, shocking, dynamic, beautiful, inspiring, scary, and well-designed!

It’s the kind of comics that scared a generation into burning comics in the 50s.

These comics feel genuinely dangerous and entertaining like slasher movies and cheap, violent 80s action vehicles. I’ve never seen any other comics like these. I was happy to see comments that mentioned Crumb, Johnny Ryan, and Vigil’s Faust. This is divisive, complex work. It’s not for everyone. But it’s a reminder, like other great comics, of why I love the comics form. Images and drawings can be powerful. I think many cartoonists do not focus on that aspect of the form.

To be honest though, there was a lot of shitty comics being burned in the fifties as well. The grossout horror and real crime stories could actually be transgressive back then because comics were about the only medium not censored into pablum, largely beneath the notice of the censors, until Wertham found a way to sell more books. Karns’ work takes place in a completely different media environment, one in which anything goes and there’s nothing transgressive or radical about blood and gore, especially not when done by white dudes to brown villains.

Rugg’s comparison to “slasher movies and cheap, violent 80s action vehicles” is telling, because under the gore, violence and the occasional bare titties, these were some of the most conservative movies in the world. Slasher movies always killed off the girl who actually enjoyed sex first (but not after the topless shot, natch) for being a slutty slut who sluttily enjoys slutty sex, while eighties action movies were all about re-establishing American dominance over all the world villains, be they Russians, Cubans, East Germans, Arabs, Vietnamese, or, in Chuck Norris flick Invasion U.S.A., all of them. There’s nothing “dangerous” about imitating them, nothing of Karns I’ve seen so far that looks any more interesting than what Barry Blair did in the eighties black and white boom.

Even without the racism Karns work looks dull, a thirtysomething’s idea of what a thirteen year old would like; with the racism it just leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. It may have struck Tom Spurgeon as weird that you’d “dismiss the transgressive nature of something at the same time you’re trying to shout it down in some fashion“, but just because it annoys people it’s not transgressive, or all muzak ever would be. Nor are people necessarily trying to shout it down in the first place: criticism, even harsh out of hand dismissals, are not censorship. Karns has the right to make the comics he wants to; the rest of us have the right to think less of him for what he created.

If he really wants to shock and be radical and trangressive, why not have the same comic, but with the heroic defenders of Fukistani values defeating the evil forces of the godless west? Show some gleeful, lovingly dismemberment of US soldiers while Osama Bin Laden quips one liners? That would still be dull, but slightly more brave than just putting the boot into your country’s official enemies once again.

Expelling Bale from the SFWA is not enough

Amel El Mohtar calls for the expulsion of Theodore Bale/Vox Dale from the SFWA:

While it is my personal feeling that the hateful, harmful, dehumanizing views expressed by Beale on his blog (about women, about religious and ethnic groups to which he does not belong, about queer people) would be “good and sufficient cause” enough to not share an organisation with him, I understand that enforcing expulsion on those grounds is problematic in the absence of an expansive organization-wide Code of Conduct.

However, Mr Beale has repeatedly and aggressively used SFWA platforms to broadcast and disseminate these views with obvious malicious intent. Most recently he has used the SFWA Authors Twitter feed — in flagrant contravention of its terms of use — to broadcast an appallingly racist screed against author N. K. Jemisin, calling her an “ignorant half-savage” and saying that “self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend their lives and their property from people, like her, who are half-savages engaged in attacking them.”

This last reads to me very much like a threat, especially coming from a white man to a black woman in a country where public lynchings are a matter of living memory.

I urge you to please represent my views to the rest of the officers and vote to expel a man who has behaved so execrably from our organization.

Note that Beale ran for SFWA president and got some fifty people to vote for him:

Folks, we have to grin and bear it in an organization where 48 people voted for an organizational president who wanted to disenfranchise half the electorate. Women’s right to vote. In my own industry. In the one that pays me to write books. 48 people who were happy to publicly endorse turning me into a non-human. How many more were sympathetic to this? How many that I don’t know about?

In my opinion these people need to be expelled as well. You can’t have an inclusive organisation if it includes people who think women shouldn’t have the right to vote, or out and out racists. The SFWA need to take a leaf out of the Australian Army’s book and get serious about ending sexism and racism in its organisation.

What being privileged is like

One fine evening, journalist Jamelle Bouie decides to sell his old tv to a friend and sets out to bring it over to them there and then, when considers what this would look like:

As I was getting ready to go, it occurred to me that this would be a terrible idea. Not because I would have been carrying a TV at 10pm down a quiet city street—I actually feel pretty safe doing that. But because I would have been a black dude—in a hoodie, no less!—carrying a nice-looking TV down a quiet city street at 10pm.

Had he been white, would he have thought about this? Jamelle himself thinks not, and I think he’s right. For myself, while I do occassionally wonder when doing something that could look dodgy, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been stopped by police because what I was doing looked suspicious. In fact, police officers here and abroad have always been respectful and polite to me, whenever I had to interact with them. The same really goes for any sort of interaction with authority; I’ve always been treated respectfully even when in the wrong, have more often than not been believed on my word when there was no real reason to do so, always gotten the benefit of the doubt when I needed it. In short, I’ve never had to worry about people judging me negatively just of how I look.

That’s something that’s incredibly powerful, in which I’m very lucky as I’ve done nothing to earn this respect, but which from the inside feels like the normal way the world should work; it doesn’t feel like I’m priviledged. This dichotomy, where it’s easier for those without these privileges to see how privileged those with them truly are, is I think responsible for much of the heat around internet debates about privilege.

On the one hand, people like me who enjoy these privileges need to make an effort to see them for what they are, while on the other hand they have never or rarely experienced the sort of harassement people without them encounter regularly. It makes it hard for us to believe them, even when everybody is arguing in good faith and it’s even harder to transform this intellectual understanding in an emotional one, to understand what it is really like to live without this privilege we take for granted.

That’s why simple, to the point and most importantly, unjudgmental post like Jamelle Bouie’s one here are so important, as they provide a way in which we can understand something of how other people live.

AC Milan takes a stand against racism

Kevin Prince Boateng walks off in a friendly match after being racially abused by some Pro Patria supporters:

Anti-racism campaigners praised Boateng’s decision to walk off. Piara Powar, the executive director of the European anti-discrimination group Fare, said: “We salute Kevin-Prince Boateng for his actions and his team-mates for their support. This is the not the first time a player has walked off in Italy – if the situation continues it may not be the last. Italy, as much as any country in Europe, has a serious problem of racism to deal with. Football infrastructure is in need of renewal and at serious odds with the changing nature of Italian society. We look forward to strong action by the FIGC [Italian FA].”

Racism in football all over Europe is still an underreported problem. In many countries it’s much less than it used to be in the seventies and eighties, but it’s still present and needs to be dealt much more firmly with.

Why talk about race in comics?

David Brothers talks about why he writes about comics and race:

Why do I write about race? Partly because other people are so terrible or inept at recognizing the impact of race on their life, let alone actually talking about it. When I first started, it was a lark. Then I thought I could convince Marvel and DC to do something other than pander to their audience. Then I realized that was stupid, and I’d be better off just talking about this stuff. I’ll spit hollowpoints at them them when they miss, praise them when they hit, and hopefully someone who reads me will look and go, “Oh, this makes sense” and tomorrow will be a little better.

It took me forever to come to that point, though. I figure it’s obvious if you read my posts from that first Black History salvo on through today. Maybe not. Maybe I’m the only one that pays that much attention to what I do. But I have changed and grown as a result of talking about race and comics.

Be disappointed in Heinlein all over again

If there really was one taboo subject in the old Usenet days of discussing science fiction, it was doubting the genius of Robert Heinlein. there were always acolytes and fanboys aplenty to explain away the homophobia, misogyny or racism that cropped up again and again in his work, or excuse the flawed logic or inconsistencies that could be found in them. Times have changed though and as new generations of sf readers have grown up, Heinlein has lost much of his former prominence in science fiction. Which means there has been room to start seeing the real Heinlein, not the idealised picture his fans have build up around him.

Ironically, it’s the self same fans who are helping to tear this picture down, as they are the only ones dedicated enough to publish things like a never send letter to F. M. Busby about freedom and race relations (PDF, starts at page 68). It’s full of gems like this:

Nor do I feel responsible for the generally low state of the Negro—as one Negro friend pointed out to me; the lucky Negroes were the ones who were enslaved. Having traveled quite a bit in Africa, I know what she means. One thing is clear: Whether one speaks of technology or social institutions,
“civilization” was invented by us, not by the Negroes. As races, as cultures, we are five thousand years, about, ahead of them. Except for the culture, both institutions and technology, that they got from us, they would still be in the stone age, along with its slavery, cannibalism, tyranny, and utter lack of the concept we call “justice.”

Which is straight out of any angry white nerd’s rant against political correctness ever written. So when was it written? 1964.

Why always Balotelli?

Tom Spurgeon reports about an unfortunate Mario Balotelli cartoon with racist overtones:

Mario Balotelli as King Kong

This is the soccer player Mario Balotelli, a very talented and I’d say charismatic player — I know who he is, and I get lost with those guys all the time — who plays in the Premier League for current champions Manchester City and is part of the Italy team currently playing (last I checked) in the Euro 2012 tournament. As one of the spokespeople quoted mentions, his being on the Italian team at all is a big deal, and symbolic, and encouraging for a lot of people, which makes this depiction a bit tragic, really. The usual course of dialogue is taken, it looks like, which makes me think we need a new way to talk about this kind of thing. I wish there a way to cop to the ugliness of depicting someone in that matter that didn’t turn on there not being a machine out there that lets us know what’s in someone’s heart. I don’t see that happening any time soon, though.

You can’t really say much about situations like this. A cartoon is published with, deliberate or accidental racist (or sexist) overtones, people point out that “dude, that’s a bit racist”, cartoonist or newspaper either gets defensive and deny the charges, or get defensive but apologise, people rant about it all on the internet. I’m not sure there is a new way to talk about it, even using Jay smooth’s advice on how to tell people they sound racist, people and institutions both will still get defensive. But it might be interesting to take a stab at how this cartoon was created.

The first thing to remember that this comes from an Italian newspaper and though it may be hard to believe, there is a far greater awareness of racism and racist tropes in America (and to a lesser extent, Britain), than there is in continental Europe. Sure, there are plenty of people who hold ghetto parties with no idea that these are incredibly racist, but there is at least some awareness of what would make for an offensive cartoon; there are also more people willing to complain about it. In short, Americans have been more educated to spot these racist tropes and be offended by them.

Meanwhile, Mario Balotelli is somewhat of a loose cannon. A brilliant strike when wants to be, as witnessed by his performance against Germany tonight, he can also do things like throw darts to his teammates, set fire to his bathroom or wear an A. C. Milan shirt on telly when playing for Inter, somewhat like wearing a Yankees Jersey in Boston, only worse. He’s a great, instinctive football player, but seems to lack smarts some of the time. Which is of course somewhat of a stereotype for talented Black players in any sport, that idea it’s all instinct or innate physical and athletic ability, rather than hard work and intelligence that makes them great.

In any case, the combination makes Balotelli an easy target for jokes at his expense, especially as he often looks a bit of a beleagured figure, wondering “why always me”. So I can see where the King Kong idea comes from: the noble, misunderstood giant harassed by, in this cases, flying footballs. It’s a nice cartoon, if not for the simple fact that equating a Black football player with a giant ape is just a little bit racist. That’s something an American cartoonist would’ve recognised earlier.