Tuesday, September 24, 2013

White Privilege? Asian Offence?

Racism has been a blot on mankind, and a particularly big blot on the USA's past. I guess that I shouldn't feel surprised that race remains imprinted so clearly on the consciousness of people here. Still, finding elements of racism in fictional entertainment when, really and truly it's not there, isn't helpful or wise, but seems to be the in thing just now. I recall mentioning in a blog post not long ago comments about why Dr Who is always cast as a white male (see here). At the weekend two articles at Salon touched on what the authors see as racism in TV dramas.

“Breaking Bad’s” racial politics: Walter White, angry white man
Walter's brutal meltdown shows genius way "Breaking Bad" deals with white privilege, and men who can't get enough
by Todd Van Der Werff.


5 most offensive Asian characters in TV history
"Dads" is just the latest sitcom to employ crude racial stereotypes. Remember Ling Woo from "Ally McBeal"?
by Anjana Sreedhar.

I can only comment on those of the mentioned dramas and shows we've seen.

Breaking Bad, in my view doesn't deal in racial politics or "angry white men" at all. It deals in moral decay, not "white privilege". There's nothing in the drama differentiating between the races in any detrimental way. There's a dark-skinned Latino guy who is equally as evil and "can't get enough" as is Walter White, and, as far as we know without Walter White's initial motivation to safeguard his family after his death and to pay for the best possible cancer treatment. Drug cartels in Mexico, South America, the USA and Czechoslovakia are involved - blame spread equally between contintents. Angry white man? That might be more accurate if expressed as angry 99%, colour irrelevant.

As for the "offensive" Asian depictions, we've seen Lucy Liu in all seasons of Ally McBeal and Margaret Cho in the single season of All American Girl.

Well.....we are unable to detect anything offensive in either portrayal, but then we're not Asian. Ling, Lucy Liu's character was perhaps smarter than the rest of the characters put together, richer than most and went farther than the lot of 'em - is that offensive? Margaret Cho's short-lived comedic series might have taken stereotyping of her and her family too far, but then, in comedy that's par for the course isn't it? We found the series (seen via DVD) entertaining, funny and didn't leave any bad taste about Asian Americans - rather an affectionate after-taste. Maybe that's offensive to some?

What is it about some factions in the USA who keep gnawing on this bone of race? Are they trying to drum up further trouble? It would seem so to this relative newcomer to the scene. When the ugly spectre of racism does actually raise its head it should be confronted loudly, no argument about that. Searching for it in every nook and cranny, and finding it where it is not, is not the way forward.


mike said...

I think that racism went to bed in the 1980s and 1990s here in the USA...certainly not politically correct during those years, as is said. With terrorism came the mixing of religion, extremist religion, and people of a different color-nationality. The cherry on top was the 2008 election of Obama.

Obama is half-white and half-black, but due to skin color is perceived as African-American. I have personally heard many offensive comments toward Obama from neighbors and strangers, some from friends that don't even live here in southern TX...I expected derision here in the "confederate", but not in other northern or western locations, and certainly not from friends that I thought would know better. I've heard derogatory remarks about Obama's race from several Asians and several Mexicans, too, yet they have admitted that they have suffered racial discrimination! Weird!

Several of the latest SCOTUS decisions regarding reverse discrimination and voter IDs have also contributed. The Republicans never sleep, it seems.

Fortunately, statistical studies have been performed to assess the racial bias of the prison population, police citations, and sentencing profiling. The findings have shed light on a silent problem within our justice system.

Add the immigration concerns (again, no shut-eye for the Repubs) and the fear mongering of how immigrants are destroying our nation founded on immigrants taking-over the natives. Border protection and Homeland Security have merged into a new construct. Joe Arpaio of Arizona has done much harm, but due to his kinks, he has raised an awareness of the subversion of justice.

I suspect partly, it has a genetic basis...most species proffer discrimination amongst their own species having distinctive visual differences. Many different mammalian species will abandon their newborn, if it looks differently. I'm not aware of any human racial-type that does not display racism by at least some of its members toward other races.

Further, humans have an innate ability to discriminate based on any number of attributes. Skin color, race, nationality are just some of the vastly divergent topics of discriminatory qualities. If it ain't one thing, it's another...there's always something to discriminate oneself as superior to others.

mike (again) said...

P.S. - I should say that I'm not above the tide when it comes to visual discrimination. I suffer intransigence when I encounter anyone displaying a host of tattoos, particularly of the skull, knife-through-heart, or face-as-canvas type, proportional to the number of visual piercings. Individuals that laugh and discuss to themselves, proportional to the loudness. Un-natural, garish hair color proportional to the amount of likewise facial makeup (male or female). Individuals that are excessively properly dressed and coiffed, proportional to the stiffness in their speech and lack of eye contact. Overly helpful individuals proportional to the lack of help needed. Seemingly normal strangers that divulge their troubles in the first several minutes of conversation, proportional to their degree of troubles. Individuals that have a bone to pick, proportional to the lack of provocation.

I live inner-city, so my ability to discriminate is always at play. LOL

Twilight said...

mike ~Thanks for your thoughts on this.

You've read my many criticisms of President Obama, I think - I assure you they are not based on his race or the colour of his skin, but on his performance as Prez. I don't doubt that there are some very nasty slurs and comments made about him based on the latter though. The same people, though, will find something in any president or politician who doesn't agree with their blinkered views, whatever their colour - remember how Dennis Kucinich was and still is ridiculed? In politics ist's to be expected, I guess, but in entertainment I wish they'd leave it alone.

mike (again) ~ LOL - I feel like a priest in a confessional box now! LOL!

I'll confess to discrimination against the aristocracy, particularly the English aristocracy as depicted in TV's Downton Abbey and the like....and anyone misguided enough to think they are worthy of admiration (not the actors the people they depict).

Twilight said...

mike ~ correction....I meant "based on the former" not "latter".
Dang! I do wish Blogger would get a comment edit facility!

LB said...

Twilight ~ Though it would be foolish to assume racism no longer exists, having grown up in a very diverse neighborhood where little white, yellow, brown and mixed kids (who were in the minority) were regularly bullied (or scapegoated for political reasons), I also agree with mike's observation that racism isn't unique to privileged white folks. Later on, working with kids, I continued to witness these same types of behaviors - across the board. I still live in the city and riding public transportation with young people on their way to school can be a real eye-opener. As far as we've come, we still have a long way to go.

Under the right conditions, especially when supported by the all powerful group-think, anyone at all prone to bigotry or prejudice is likely to mindlessly adapt the attitudes and behaviors popular among their peers and to demean and dehumanize others in the process. Or, to become complicit by remaining silent.

I think the immigration issue -and our focus on penalizing poor workers who frequently fill dangerous and/or low-paying jobs no one else wants- is a good example of how we often fail to look at things holistically. We'd also be wise to acknowledge how power takes many forms, not only economic ones. Voiceless, powerless people of all races and backgrounds make easy targets for self-serving generalizations, oversights and abuse.

Doesn't this whole discussion also somehow relate to the issue of free-trade and how so many supposedly evolved members of our society (often those fighting for racial or social justice) continue to ignore the role modern day slavery and abuse play in producing many of the things we love? Everything and everyone is connected. By focusing solely on our chosen issue or "tribe", we often miss the forest for the trees.

DC said...

Great points :)

Twilight said...

LB ~ "As far as we've come, we still have a long way to go. "
That seems to be the case, sadly.

My husband often points out how far the country has come race-wise since the days of segregation (which to my mind was worse that the slave era, which happened in all countries at some point). There are still backwater pools of nastiness and people looking for places to stir it up in unlikely places - as mentioned in the post today.
This is akin to side effects and/or after effects of a sickness which linger much longer than expected after the main cure.

I don't pretend racism is absent in the UK - it's not, but the size of the country limits it and perception of its occurrence. UK is only the size of a US state such as Wisconsin.

mike (again) said...

Here are some thoughts from Cole Bradley that I lifted from the Philosophy of Race course at Rhodes College (some interesting topics in the blog archives): http://raceatrhodes11.blogspot.com/2011/03/superiority-complex.html

Is the desire for superiority innate in us? I think it is. When one becomes separate and distinct from the other, comparison inevitably follows. One of the most basic judgments between two objects is that of pure value: which is better? If you belong to one of the objects involved, obviously you will desire the superior status. The sense of superiority may be achieved in a variety of ways, and, as history demonstrates time and time again, need not require or reflect any actual superiority.
Civilized peoples regarded themselves as superior to the uncivilized—and still do. Christian crusaders and missionaries regarded themselves as superior to those who had yet to see the light. In each of these cases, as in most, when the one distinguishes itself from the rest, it is with an air of superiority. This is because we rarely make conscious effort to distinguish our inferiority. Egocentric ideas about this self-superiority often produce unfounded notions about the other’s inferiority.
These ideas have adverse effects. While there may be nothing inherently wrong with believing oneself superior in one’s faith and in the eyes of the Lord, the same is not the case when such personal notions lead to direct action against the other party (of whom is often—at least initially—ignorant of its inferiority). Examples are endless, and most result in the self-righteous group pillaging and exploiting the perceived inferior for selfish gains, always justified. Race is just one example of this general phenomenon.
The fact that peoples can be made to believe themselves superior based on entirely fabricated grounds, coupled with the justifiability of crude behavior when its object is deemed inferior, produces a powerful political weapon. Such tactics have been implemented in crusades, exploitation of black slave labor, Nazi persecution of Jews, McCarthyism, and are still used today to justify American occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. Racism is merely a symptom or manifestation of this notion of superiority and its ramifications.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for that. It's another, related, slant on that hierarchical thing that seems to be innate in us - we wrote about it the other day in comments.

We're really not very nice people, deep down, are we? I guess that's why Jesus, Ghandi, MLK et al didn't have much success trying to get the message to us and send us on a different path.

Juno said...

Hi again Twilight - I love being able to catch up with your past posts now that my work schedule has eased up slightly.

My personal theory as to why some writers keep banging on about white privilege is that they want to make the show about race rather than class, because that would mean a more complicated and nuanced discussion. Plus, could be the fav tactic of divide and conquer.

WW is a teacher, hardly has any savings, and has tp work a second job. I am doing catch-up and have only watched the first season, but you can feel his rage building at the bratty high school jock with the fancy car (white), the yuppie talking loudly into his ear piece (white,fancy car again ), the former partners condescending to him (white). Also notice how Jesse tried to 'go straight' and get a regular job. only to be laughed at. Poor Jesse. His character is like the schlemazl -- the one bad things are always happening to.

I don't know, maybe I will change my mind as I watch the other episodes, but it just angers me that we are supposed to ignore the elephant in the room, the economy and lack of health insurance.

Also, this cartoon is pretty funny:


Twilight said...

Juno ~ Yes race is a never ending thorn in the side for many people, whether justified (as it sometimes is) or not (but some will not stop playing with the scab to prevent healing).

Hope you enjoy the rest of BB - it never disappoints! It's like a very good painting, people can see it and see into it many different things and from many, some unexpected, perspectives.

Will look at the cartoon now - am on an unfamiliar laptop (away from home) and fumbling.