“I love historical films and I’m so sick of all these kinds of Jane Austen movies where they have these fucking period movies. How many times do we have to remake fucking Pride and Prejudice? How many times do white people need their history told to them over and over and over again? It’s so fucking boring. It’s always the same. There are enough movies like that. There are enough examinations of white people history. There’s enough of all these novels, all the Bronte sisters, all the fucking Jane Austen bullshit -- I don’t care anymore. I’m sick of it. Why can’t we go into other people’s history? Why can’t we go into more Asian history? Why can’t we go into more Asian-American history? Why can’t we go into more Latin-American history? Why can’t we do any of these things? But they don’t. We have to keep regurgitating Old England. It’s so racist, and nobody actually comes out and says this is fucking stupid. ”—Margaret Cho
The difference between white girls being compelled to tan and brown/black girls shamed for dark skin and led to lightening their skin, is that the former is a fairly new capitalistic marketing gimmick, which surely enough, is a trend that’s not as popular in certain majority white nations as it is in the U.S. (Scandinavian countries being a good example of such), while the other derives from a hegemonic, anti-dark, white supremacist sentiment that’s been used as a means of colonialism, imperialism and racial discrimination, which has been in effect for hundreds of years and led to the destruction and heinous extermination of countless lives.
Does it suck being told you’re pale? Probably. Is it going to bar you from employment, housing and otherwise assimilating into American life? Is anyone going to profile you, follow you around in a store, assume you’re deadly on sight.. for “being too pale”? Does it otherize you? Absolutely not. The latter don’t really have that luxury.
When white girls tan, they’re not being told to emulate brown and black people, while the reversal is. White women who tan are still white, just “bronzed” and “golden” and often use women from Spain and Italy as what the goal should be. The language insinuates that there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with being white. They can still be white and cling to the dominant race, but just be a “different” type of white. Even when darker skin’s the prime, nonwhite/darker skinned individuals are still barred from accessing the privilege of being seen as beautiful or the desired. When brown and black girls bleach their skin however, the advertisements for Fair & Lovely showcase white, or at the very least, white passing persons, which suggests that brown in itself is inherently wrong and gross and something that needs fixing.
Lastly, it’s not brown and black people who put pressure on white women to tan. To call the issue one of race is patently foolish. When white men, who arguably are the forces behind most of these ads for telling white women to tan, it’s an issue of sexism and the continuous reminder that women’s bodies are made only for the consumpation of the male gaze, especially the white male gaze and that our lives are simply one in which we have to appease the opposite sex.
I sympathize with any woman, whether white or not, who’s made to feel uncomfortable in her own skin, but the gravity and influence of with which the two derive are on two different wavelengths completely and it’s ludicrous to suggest otherwise.
things “body positivity” movements should address besides weight/fat:
- features associated with non-whiteness
- hair type
- lots of body hair / no body hair / little body hair / hair in all places / losing hair
- skin conditions
- stretch marks
- skin discolorations
- different ways that skin tans
so when white feminists show me pictures of fat able-bodied white women with super smooth skin and no discolorations/skin marks and no body hair and say “love your body!!1!” it’s like nope.
I may be fat but I’m also so many other things that are looked down upon and policed. If your body positivity doesn’t seek to dismantle white supremacy/ableism/cissexism/etc, what good is your body positivity? who is it helping?
“Unlike white children in America, I believe that we are robbed very early of the experience of just being comfortable in our skin and being children. We are made painfully aware that all that is wrong with America is because of us…we are robbers, murderers, uneducated and everything else negative that needs to be pinned somewhere. Do you think that is a drastic statement? Then where do you live? Because my niece was just called a Nigger for simply being at school. She is only 13 so I am assuming that the child that did it learned it from his/her parents. Because I am from a country where in 2012, individuals at the Republican National Convention thought it was ok to throw PEANUTS at a BLACK camerawoman…because thats how they ‘feed the animals’. Do I sound angry? Would you be? If you are white/non-black and you think that I am being dramatic….think to yourself about what you have heard your own parents and grandparents say and imagine what it feels like to be called those names to your face. Think about the last time you were called racist, derogatory statement. Think of the last time you had to play with black barbies because they just didnt make white ones. Think of the last time that you ever had to consider or think about the color of your skin before taking certain actions. Don’t worry….I’ll wait……”—The Day You Learn You Were Black via Chocolate Gringa
Whiteness Unchained: When a National Shame Becomes Camp
Only recently did I learn of the longstanding feud between Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino. This was a result of internet research I did after seeing a preview for Tarantino’s new movie Django Unchained, and after a dear friend sent me a link to Lee’s refusal to see the movie because it was “disrespectful” to his ancestors. As much as I agree with him intellectually, I can’t agree on the basis of having ancestors in common. In the social legacy of whiteness, there exists a privileged position of detachment from the pain of chattel slavery that renders this a historical event, rather than a historical experience with generational meaning. In the US, there is no understanding in white consciousness of being dehumanized as chattel. Slavery is not my history, heroic Blackness is not my identity, and any form of fictionalized vengeance that combines the two is not my story to tell. Quentin Tarantino has a different opinion:
“As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. And to say that I can’t do that because I’m white … that is racist.”
He made these remarks in 1997 in response to criticisms from Spike Lee at the time, but they read as if they were said yesterday. I finally went to see the movie (which was as exciting as going to the doctor), but I’ll address one piece of whiteness at a time.
This is what I wondered at 3 AM with Tarantino’s defense still as fresh as a pile of shit in my mind: so anyone can speak on… anything they want? How many conferences on obstetrics and gynecology would doctors attend if they were conducted by plumbers? Who asks their barber or hairdresser to explain organic chemistry? Who gets their legal advice from a veterinarian? These qualifications seem to warrant higher levels of respect in their differentiation, and in the demand that only the experienced and knowledgeable represent themselves. Credibility and poetic license are reserved, however, and given without question to the white tradition of producing anthropological studies or creative fantasies about the non-white “other.” This would be the lesser-known genre Tarantino has been exploiting for most of his career.
Samuel L. Jackson in a Blues Brothers suit carrying a wallet branded with “Badass Motherfucker” is a character. That is recycled and revised Blaxploitation fiction. However, a Black couple separated by slavery and beaten by members of the KKK are not the creative property of Quentin Tarantino. These “characters” are based on historical facts and lived experiences of racist violence. When I think of famous Black filmmakers in Hollywood, I struggle to think beyond Spike Lee and Tyler Perry; when I think of famous white filmmakers in Hollywood, I struggle to keep track. This structural inequity and white supremacy in US show business makes Tarantino’s accusation of (reverse) racism highly untenable. The fact that one of these precious few Black filmmakers dared to challenge the racism of a white director’s movies, one of the few in Hollywood who could tell a story like Django Unchained without racism and be entitled to tell it, makes Tarantino’s accusation deplorable and ridiculous.
Even a movie supposedly centered around a slave turned bounty hunter in pursuit of revenge is a movie that stars white people with Black people in supporting roles. And to be accurate, slavery is reduced to nothing more than a geographical backdrop, social scenery, and circumstantial setting for a signature Tarantino parody—this time using a Spaghetti Western formula. But there was something about selling this as a Western that confused me. I had no trouble comprehending the references in the throwback “Wild West” font of the opening credits, the desert-like landscape, and John Wayne outlaw music. However for the rest of the movie, audiences were apparently meant to believe a Western was taking place in the… Antebellum South?
I got a sickening feeling after the movie spent its ten minutes in Texas and shifted to southern plantations, that the era of chattel slavery was chosen because it provided new opportunities for Tarantino to explore/exploit gratuitous violence. And I’m not talking about the many white people whose heads were blown through and whose dicks were shot off, or the projectile blood from any number of body parts exploding like a can of red paint on the receiving end of a shotgun. This is all typical for a Tarantino flick. I’m talking about the two mandingo slaves who fight to the death in Calvin Candie’s parlor, ending with both men covered in blood and the victor not only clawing his victim’s eyes out by hand, but also smashing his face with a hammer. I’m talking about the slave who is attacked and torn to death by a pack of vicious dogs, a punishment ordered by Calvin Candie. I’m talking about Jamie Foxx as Django hanging naked from his ankles almost visibly castrated by a white slaver with an orange-hot blade, and Kerry Washington as his wife Broomhilda whipped and nearly bashed in the head with a hammer by Calvin Candie. As it turns out, the institution of slavery was not violent and/or awful enough, but must be saturated with a series of humiliations and atrocities in its storytelling.
All I can say about Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance as Calvin Candie is that it made him less of a convincing actor and more of a convincing racist. He was a little bit too believable for me, and by that I mean the slave master stole the show from the slave.
The comic camp created around this national shame is expressed and made sympathetic through many exchanges of witty banter and Tarantino’s tendency to make heinous villains handsome, charming, and/or funny. A hooded white militia spends at least five minutes having a *hilarious* argument about one of their wives insufficiently cutting the eye-holes in the white “bags” on their heads. Although no one in the movie explicitly called them the KKK, they wore symbolic hoods and made a brief allusion to attacks in their “full regalia.” An opportunity to make the most excessive, outrageous, and overdone scene involving the KKK in their “full regalia,” and Tarantino didn’t take it. He made a subtle hint at these things that younger or less informed people in the audience might not notice. He made these characters look like simple vigilantes on horseback with cheap pillowcases on their heads. Yet when Django is given the “freedom” to purchase his own “valet” uniform, he emerges from the store with a white bow at his chin, a blue satin coat to match his blue satin trousers, silk stockings, and buckled shoes—an entirely unexplained transformation. Multiple comic spectacles are made of Black characters and the brutality of the violence they suffer, but the KKK only give a quick mention of their “regalia.”
That is not Tarantino’s style; he doesn’t deal with any subject matter delicately, discreetly, sensitively, conscientiously, or with subtlety. Yet the KKK were somewhat disguised and miraculously escaped his confrontational and sensationalist plagiarism.
I could never imagine the diverse experiences Black folks might have when/if they see this movie, nor can I, as a white person, legitimately or personally take offense to the use of the N word. I can only comment on the extent to which I became more convinced the instances of the N word outnumbered the lines of dialogue Black characters had in the movie. After hearing the word fifty times, I stopped counting. Kerry Washington spoke less than ten times in two hours and forty five minutes. She is seen being ruthlessly whipped and branded as an object of abuse, or as a figment of Django’s imagination, until her physical form is finally produced when she is dragged naked and screaming from Calvin Candie’s “hot box”—a box in direct sunlight, mostly buried underground, and locked from the outside. Any other Black women who appear on screen are speechless, disoriented, or helpless. Django, whose name is the title of the movie and his vengeance the focus, spends 90% of the story saying next to nothing. Ultimately, this was an exploration of the white villain versus the white hero. And, oh yeah, a slave gets his wife and his freedom in the end.
There are two white heroes in Django Unchained. Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is the compassionate white bounty hunter who heroically dictates the terms of Django’s service and his freedom—an emphasis on white kindness and generosity, which I would say is the least important narrative to privilege in a movie about slavery. Schultz is, after all, the star and the one who avenges the slaves by killing Calvin Candie in the end. He was so overcome by his disgust for Candie’s racism that he just couldn’t help himself. After this climactic assassination, the last few moments where Django kills the rest of the white people in the movie and Calvin Candie’s “House Negro” (Samuel L. Jackson) seem like an afterthought. Django is given his moment only after Schultz has had his. The second white hero, Tarantino himself, delivers his version of victory, justice, and power to slaves by giving a happy ending to Django and Broomhilda.
This is the question I always have whenever filmmakers practice racism by appropriating stories from/inventing stories about POC: if this is a fantasy, if this is creative fiction, then why is racial oppression an inevitable and nonnegotiable reality? It seems the facts of white supremacy must remain true to life when any number of ridiculous things—a German bounty hunter disguising himself as a dentist, or a white woman writing the memoirs of Black maids—are unlimited in their fabrication. These fantasies are about good white people who grant some form of freedom to unusually talented characters of color, lending more attention to the Great Emancipator Complex than to well-developed and substantive roles for POC. As long as audiences are somewhat comforted by this, and equally entertained, one of the most gruesome tragedies in human history can be easily converted into a disgraceful and campy bloodbath. It is a filmmaker’s “right” to do so.