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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.