You know what annoys me? The way the issue is about now ‘undercover policing’ and not racism. Yes, there are convicted criminals who will have now be thinking about appeals due to the involvement of undercover policing. But the Lawrence’s and Duwayne Brooks were victims, not suspects.
The issue is not solely about technique of undercover policing, it’s the fact they were being investigated in the first place. Why? This question should be asked alongside a debate about undercover policing, and not be obscured by it. Much of the commentary I have read today seems to be doing this.
Originally posted on Media Diversified:
A video has been circulating my Facebook news feed this week. It stages a scene in which a Black man brings his white girlfriend into a barber shop. A hairdresser who is a hired actress says a number of inappropriate things about the couple and the presence of this woman. The camera crew eventually interrupt the scene to question members of the public on their intervention, or lack thereof, in this so described incidence of racism. Normally I would not give too much mental energy to WorldStarHipHop posts, but the popular opinion that the scene is a visual representation of “everything Nelson Mandela stood for” was enough to provoke my response. This coupled with yet another disparaging characterisation of the Black female personality has given me cause to go on record about a few things.
A great many people will have at some point yesterday been greeted with an image of a white woman sat on a chair made of a mannequin of a black woman.
Further coverage on the issue made clear these facts:
Another chair, made with a white woman, is in existence. This was designed by a person called Allen Jones, in the 1960s.
The ‘black woman chair’ artist, Bjarne Melgaard’s, has a track record of being controversial for controversy’s sake.
A few people have said nothing offensive happened yesterday. I disagree. Racism and racial insensitivity reared its head on several occasions.
Its very publication, on MLK day, was offensive
If two chairs were in existence, why did Dasha Zhukova sat upon hers appear in print with no reference to the other one? It would make perfect, journalistic sense. Without context, the image of a wealthy white woman sat upon a black woman, is abhorrent. If you can’t understand why this would be, you are one of the many individuals who inspired the name of this blog.
This is the first appearance of racism; in the editorial process. The decision to be insensitive to historic and current inequalities between white women and black women comes only from the same kind of racism that sustains these inequalities in the first place. If you can understand the cultural tension of an Israeli sitting on a Palestinian, a white American sitting on a Native American or an Arab sitting on a Filipino, and I’m sure you can, why is it such a stretch to imagine how degrading this image is to us?
The idea that a white chair cancels out the black chair is ridiculous
The second appearance of racism came in defense of the image, due to the existence of a white version. This convinced some commentators to declare that ‘if one is racist, they both are!’
The existence of the white version does not make the black version any less offensive. If anything, it reinforces the impact of a black lady being sat on. Firstly, no image, that I could find, exists of a black woman sat on the white chair. This means the two are not equal. Secondly, racism isn’t mathematics. You can’t cancel racism out like you can cancel out fractions. Yes, both chairs are misogynistic. But only one is racist.
I hate to state the obvious but the ‘white woman chair’ is a representation of a white woman. As an occupier of the hegemony, (which is a real, tangible presence in society) and a recipient of privilege, this plastic lady gets to be a woman made into chair.
Black people used to be the property of whites. This photo is so demeaning because it recreates unapologetically a horrific past.
Whether we like it or not, the chair of concern is a BLACK woman made into a chair. This makes a difference. The black female form has been consistently and constantly appropriated and degraded by this hegemonic class. You don’t need to go back 50 years to find this cultural subjugation. I can revisit Lily Allen’s nasty music video or Miley Cyrus’s interpretation of Lil’Kim to reacquaint myself with the disrespect.
Context is everything and the existence of a black woman and a white woman in chair form doesn’t eliminate the different cultural realities both experience in the human world, and it’s insulting to read these images whilst remaining ignorant of these facts. This is what Stuart Hall refers to when he describes ‘cultural amnesia’ – a deliberate attempt to bury the fact that race is still a defining factor in the day to day lives of many people. Whilst black people occupy a different sphere of power to other races, an image of a white person sat on a black person is going to be unacceptable. You can’t silence the disgust of black observers because a white woman, in the same position, is racially neutral. That neutrality comes from the same privilege that makes the original photograph of Zhukova so horrible in the first place.
“Stop looking for racism!”
My social network feeds were populated with words to this effect. “It’s just a chair”, “It’s just a photo”, “It’s art” – so on and so forth. People who thought the image was innocuous accused people who disagreed of shoehorning race into something innocent.
It would be wholly unnatural for us to stop policing our image considering the liberties that have been taken in the distant and not so distant past. The cries of defensiveness stink of anti-racism, which preaches not sensitivity but the elimination of race altogether. That of course, is desirable when you conveniently belong to the race that pretty much runs the world. Not so convenient when you still have things you need to fight for.
The depiction of a black person functioning as a possession of a white person just cuts a bit close to the bone. You don’t have to agree with me. But I find it staggering if anyone can’t at least understand where exactly, from a contextual point of view myself and people who think like I do, are coming from.
When I first learned of Patrice Lumumba, it was in a conversation about the brutality of the actions of Europeans in Africa. It was part of a conversation in which Africans were trading injustices with each other. “The British invented the concentration camp in South Africa!” “The Italians gassed Abyssians!” “The Belgians dissolved Lumumba’s body in battery acid”.
That stopped that conversation.
There is something extremely vile and disgusting about the manner in which Maurice Mpolo, Joseph Okito and Patrice Lumumba were executed but nothing will ever remove the nauseating callousness of the men who decided so powerful was Lumumba’s influence, his body needed to be erradicated too.
Is it comparable to genocide of tens of thousands of Africans? In meaning, perhaps so. The murders of Congo’s great hopes condemened a population of millions to suffer under the the imperialism Lumumba promised to free them from for decades to come.
Watch a documentary, which contains damning interviews from American and Belgian representatives, here:
The woman sat next to me during 12 Years a Slave flinched at every whip crack. (God forbid she ever watches Indiana Jones). She gasped at every display of African American ‘insolence’, foreseeing the consequences with dread. It was, quite frankly, annoying. My side eyed glance wondered what exactly she’d thought slavery comprised of, if she had thought about it in any depth at all.
Considering The Green Mile left me a blubbering mess I surprised myself with my hardiness. I think, equipped with some understanding of the violence and subjugation practiced against people of Native or African origin in the Caribbean, North America, South America, Australia and Africa over a period spanning 400 years, I escaped with only a huge lump in my throat just at the very end, when Solomon is escorted away, leaving the precious Patsey behind.
As annoying as the lady to my right was, she was only being human – looking at the 19th century with 21st eyes. This film had been described as ‘torture porn’ by a well known African American film critic but I disagree. Porn is excessive and gratuitous but there is nothing excessive or gratuitous about the violence in this movie. Instead, it is sickeningly typical. Even the depravity of Solomon’s eventual master can’t mask the fact that had Solomon been on any other plantation, his life would have been just as intolerable. In a spontaneous attempt to escape he randomly encounters two white men in the middle of a lynching, in the way one might encounter two people men in the middle of lunch. He himself is ‘semi-lynched’ and left hanging, whilst people and pigs pass him by, until his nice master who liked him because he saved him a bit of money with a handy raft device, arrives home to see is investment swinging in the wind.
This film has many successes. Its narrative is gripping, revealing small truths until it paints a full and honest picture of 19th century America. An America into which black people are divided into free black people or ‘niggers’, an America in which a black person can be saved only by a white benefactor and an America in which black lives are cheap. More so an America in which an intelligent and forthright individual can be coerced into compliance and before long, he’s singing gospel in the fields with the rest of them.
It hints at behaviours that still exist in today’s society. In the first act a man who is almost a victim of kidnapping reverently leaps into the arms of his good ‘massa’ who arrives to rescue him, in a scene more uncomfortable than any whipping. He avoided physical slavery. But his long established mental subservience will keep his behaviour in check. It was reminiscent, to me, of Kanye West’s rant against the fashion corporations that refuse to invest in his company. He won’t dance to their tune, so they won’t be his masters anymore. The real problem is that West still thinks he needs one.
I think its graphicness is a virtue. It is important that people understand what a whip does to one’s skin. It’s important that people see what a lynching was. It’s important that the muzzling and the rape is portrayed. Don’t blame Solomon Northrup for writing this book and Steve McQueen for filming it. Blame our white ancestors for doing it for as long as they did.
There is only one disappointment to be had in this movie, that is not fault of the film itself but of the society that will receive it. I don’t know when I will next see a mainstream Hollywood movie with a black male and female lead, let alone with a black family that is at the centre of the lead’s consciousness and drive. I don’t know whether we will next see a black male or female lead who is not morally compromised in some way. And in that lies the most depressing thing, the white supremacy it seeks to expose is the same supremacy that will lessen its cultural impact on the Hollywood film machine.
Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey is a powerful character, whose suffering is displayed with remarkable subtlety, even when she is screaming and sobbing in pain. Halle Berry had to have sex with Billy Bob Thornton to get her Oscar, Lupita Nyong’o, if she wins one, will have certainly earned hers.
She is now the darling of the fashion world, who are keen to dress her like a doll. The fashion elite do love their East Africans (Wek, Warie, Iman) gushing over dark skin, short hair, slender frames. This is the black femininity the fashions houses like – just how they imagine us to be. I celebrate her appearances in glamour magazines but racism doesn’t disappear in the two hours it takes to watch this movie and it won’t dissipate with every gown they use her to sell. Let’s keep our eyes open.
I think this is the final message I take from this film. It is after all, a snapshot, just one life story where there are millions more to be found. There was no happy ending to this film. Solomon left his plantation behind ten years before the abolition of North American slavery, and he left it behind with literacy and a talent for the fiddle. What of the millions with no property, education or self esteem? I guess those stories will be told on the big screen eventually. Truth be told, those stories are still being played out, in the continuing wrongs of the world, all around us.
The other day, two wealthy, privileged women took a picture of their backsides and posted it on Twitter. It was all over social networks in seconds.
The world has changed. I am convinced that if this had happened 10 years ago, we would have been bemused. Instead, hoards of men, mostly black, were liking, sharing and ogling these imbeciles.
The celebration of Kimye’s ass always puzzled me, until I realised we live in a world that prefers to idolise the individual parts of a black woman, rather than the whole thing. Of course, Kimye isn’t black (though she is a bit brown through her father). This point is of no consequence, she feels black in the dark, so it’s okay for her to advertise her ass.
She vindicates her co-star. If Blac Chyna had dared do that alone (and she frequently does) it would have been considered more ‘whore-y’. Let’s see if the father of Blac’s child is ready to pop the question any time soon.
But things have changed. I think this because J-Lo, the Kimye of the 90s and early 2000s, would not have been allowed to get away with such ridiculousness. Heat magazine would have torn her to shreds. She would not have been allowed on Pop World with an image like that.
Content is the only reason I can come up with to explain this vacuousness. The quest for content is sucking the internet dry. In these strange days, there is something very Pavlovian about the interest we show in celebrities.