The Accidental Racism of Matthew McConaughey’s Redskins Nostalgia

matthew mcconaughey racism

Below is an excerpt from my recent piece (“The Accidental Racism of Matthew McConaughey’s Redskins Nostalgia”) which has been published over at The Daily Dot. I encourage you to go read it.

“All else aside, the “quickness” McConaughey refers to in his interview with GQ is most telling. Change always seems too fast for those bent on preserving a past that has made life comfortable for, particularly, the white, male, and wealthy. But in truth, finding a resolution to the battle over the racist Redskins mascot has been anything but quick. Protests and complaints against the racist name have been stewing since 1972, with some historians claiming an even longer timeline. This article in the Chicago Tribune is dated January 24, 1988 and, sadly, makes many of the same arguments that Native American activists continue to make today, met with the same racist, damaging logic about the name “redskin” being an honor, with Dan Snyder demanding that offended Native Americans ‘respect’ his opinion.”

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This is Why John Grisham’s Child Porn Comments Are So Dangerous

john grisham child porn

Below is an excerpt from my recent piece (“This is Why John Grisham’s Child Porn Comments Are So Dangerous”) which has been published over at The Daily Dot. I encourage you to go read it.

“The idea that 10-year-old boys being exploited are more deserving of our shock and disgust than sixteen-year-old girls being made up to look like adult women displays not only profound misogyny but a callous lack of understanding about the way sexual exploitation, rape culture, and sex trafficking work. Eighty percent of transnational victims of sex trafficking are girls. Seventy percent of victims who are trafficked into the commercial sex industry are girls. Rape culture decrees that girls are inherently exploitable: that their bodies were never their own to begin with and, therefore, consent is a fluid concept. “Some girls, they rape so easy,” Wisconsin State Representative Roger Rivard infamously said, illustrating the ideas held by many about consent and how little it means to those who don’t view women and girls as whole human beings.”

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Snoop Dogg Cyber-Bullied Iggy Azalea, But Here’s Why I Have Problems With Both Of Them

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Below is an excerpt from my recent piece (“Snoop Dogg Cyber-Bullied Iggy Azalea, But Here’s Why I Have Problems With Both Of Them”) which has been published over at xoJane. I encourage you to go read it.

“The same goes for her fans. The reaction I’m seeing from white fans on Twitter seems distinctly racialized: zealous concern for a white woman who has been wronged at the hands of a “scary black rapper.” Are these fans listening when black women voice their concerns about the wrong Iggy has done? Doubtful. Is Iggy listening? Does she lend an ear when black women air their grievances and list the ways her shtick has harmed them? Never has she given any indication or acknowledgment to suggest she has. Yet with Snoop Dogg’s sexism infecting the Internet, now Iggy wants her grievances heard.”

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Naked Graveyard: The Ghosts of My Nudes

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Below is an excerpt from my most recent piece (“Living in Fear of My Own Personal Celebgate”) which has been published in the NSFW issue of Kernel Magazine. I encourage you to go read it.

“My nudes are out there somewhere: naked orphans of mine, moles and smudged eyeliner and half smile. The girl in those photos is wearing a red satin bra one size too small. She’s floating in cyberspace, between the pages of a dusty yearbook, or perhaps plastered on a bar’s bathroom wall, eyes blacked out with Sharpie. Some days I think of the photos and am filled with dread. They are exposed specters of a girl searching for beauty in her own bones, her body rising from the grave to sink her teeth into my throat, dragging me into a bottomless pit of ruined reputations.”
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The Feminist Death Match Between Emma Watson And Beyoncé Is Some Anti-Feminist Sh@t

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Below is an excerpt from my most recent piece (‘The Feminist Death Match Between Emma Watson And Beyoncé Is Some Anti-Feminist Sh@t”) which has been published over at xoJane. I encourage you to go read it.

Hopefully you all remember the numerous times Beyoncé’s feminism has come under attack in the past? No? I’ll refresh your memory. When Beyoncé dropped Beyoncé last year, accompanied by a corresponding collection of music videos, the think pieces flew fast and thick. “Is Beyoncé a feminist?” “OK, but is Beyoncé actually a feminist?” The speculation was endless, despite the fact that Beyoncé was self-identifying, answering the question before it was even asked. But somehow many mainstream publications still thought that their opinion on Beyoncé’s feminism overrode her own identification.

When Emma Watson gave her speech on Saturday, I didn’t see a single tweet (other than from Men’s Rights Activists) criticizing her. No one dissected the roles she’s taken in Hollywood, the times she posed in sexy clothes, no one has questioned her relationship status.

Yet when I tweeted the above tweet, those kinds of dissections were exactly what filled my mentions—dissections voiced by white feminists. No angle was left uncovered. The responses ranged from “Maybe because Emma actually dresses like a lady!” to “Maybe because Emma has a college degree!” “Maybe because Emma didn’t dedicate an album to her husband and take his last name!” “Maybe because Emma doesn’t gyrate on stage!” “Maybe because Emma included men in her argument!” Don’t believe me? Look on Twitter. These tweets aren’t hard to find.

Guys…as a white feminist whose feminism is by no means perfect and has committed her share of missteps in the past, let me say this as gently as I can: This…shit…has…to…stop.

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Joy, Fear, and Twerking: the Glory of Amber Rose

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Amber Rose set the Internet on fire over the weekend when she uploaded a video of herself twerking to celebrate her husband Wiz Khalifa’s album hitting number one on the Billboard 200. The video was shared on her Instagram account, where she is seen practicing flawless butt cheek isolation and then a twerk so effortless that it defies the laws of physics. Some of us shamelessly hit “replay” up to twenty times and screamed “yassss!” But not everyone. No, there are those among us who see a woman twerking and rather than celebrating her body and agency would prefer to denigrate her and call her names. Mainly, “hoe.” I have some thoughts about this.

Amber Rose and women like her disrupt everything we have been taught about the Madonna-whore dichotomy. There are two kinds of women, we are taught: women who are pure and good, wives and mothers on the pedestal of femininity; and there are the other women, the whores, the sluts, the strippers. You are either one or the other, we are taught, and we, women, grow up believing it: setting ourselves up against other women in a desperate effort to delineate between us and them, bashing other women’s sexual agency in a pathetic bargain with patriarchy with the hopes that by calling her a whore, we will remain safely in the Madonna camp. We learn, eventually (some later than others), that actually there is no protection from being called a whore in a world built on the denigration of women: you can be fat or thin, black or white, virgin or not, straight or not, wearing clothes or not, and still be called a whore. Any one of us is at risk of being labeled such at any moment: in the instant it takes for a rumor to start or a kiss to be delivered, in the three and a half minutes it takes for a song to play and our booties to shake, we can be removed from good girl to bad, never to return.

Navigating Madonna-whore territory is a one-way street, you see, and that’s where the often said “Can’t turn a hoe into a housewife” comes into play: a hoe, once a hoe, can never be anything but. I think many people use this phrase thinking they’re communicating something about “hoes’” behavior: that once married she will continue to behave as a hoe, cheating on her man or whatever it is that people who use this phrase with a straight face imagine “hoes” as doing. But I think it actually says something more about the trajectory of the perception of women’s sexual identities: not that she will continue to do “hoe shit,” but that once seen as a hoe, one will always be seen as a hoe. It says something about perception, and also about reputation. Once I (whoever “I” may be) perceives a woman as unworthy of respect, then her inhumanity is permanent, a systematic erasure of worth in which one by one, woman by woman, all of us lose our humanity over time: with every rape, every short skirt, every leaked photo, every rumored blowjob, every former stripping career, with every incident where patriarchy and its many, many gazes deems us no longer worthy of respect, we are no longer worthy of having one toe in the Madonna camp. We are delegated to whore, and with every one of these things, we are stripped, demoted, erased.

And it is a demotion, a permanent one. It truly is a one-way street: once labeled “hoe,” it seems, we can never come back. Hoe cannot become housewife, but housewife can certainly become hoe, knocked off the pedestal of approved sexual agency and expression, infants be damned, marriages be damned. We saw this recently with Beyoncé, who after the VMAs was criticized for her sometimes “provocative” dancing while Blue Ivy watched from the audience. “What is she teaching her daughter?” some asked, pearls tightly clutched. I would answer, “Agency. Independence. Talent.” But others, it would seem, say watching her mother dance and sing in front of millions—while making millions—is teaching Blue not to respect and value her body. Even when married and a mother—the supposed safeguards against being called a whore— Beyoncé’s “goodness” and motherhood are called into question. Much of this is because Beyoncé is a black woman: black motherhood is constantly under attack by racists and White Feminists alike. But the attacks on Amber Rose’s parenthood seem more of an afterthought to the attacks on her sexuality as a whole. The fact that she was once a stripper draws the misogynist gatekeepers to her like sharks to blood in water: something about the fact that she’s married with a child (Madonna characteristics) but still twerking (“whore” characteristics) sets teeth to gnashing.

One thing about Amber Rose and Wiz Khalifa is how happy they seem. He’s kissing her bald head. He’s holding her hand. He’s bouncing their beautiful, happy baby on his shoulders. Their joy must seem baffling to those bound by the virgin-whore dichotomy. “But she’s a hoe,” Twitter stutters. “But she was a stripper,” I’ve seen it said on Facebook. The anger at the idea of a woman who once got naked for money being in a happy, healthy, supportive marriage is palpable. Because at the bottom of all this anger and disbelief is one thing: the belief that certain women don’t deserve to be happy. “Hoes” don’t deserve happy endings, right? The one-way street of hoedom should mean a cul-de-sac of misery, right? She shook her ass on stage and therefore she should be banished to the darkest corners of the world for eternity, husbandless, childless, alone. Right? I’ve even seen sympathy expressed for Wiz: sympathy and derision. “I can’t believe he’s letting her do that.” Letting. Or, “Wiz married a hoe…poor guy thought he could turn her around.” The idea that he supports and respects what his wife does with her body—because it’s still hers, after all: marriage did not make her his property—never occurs to them. “Poor guy.” Nothing worse than being married to/dating a hoe, as parts of masculinity are still tied up in penetrating virgins and not in sleeping with a woman who has already had sex. Nothing worse. Except for being a hoe, of course, which is why the sympathy is aimed at Wiz, but the anger is reserved for Amber.

The anger at Amber Rose comes from a place of fear—all hate is fear, at its root—fear of a woman who exists outside of patriarchal parameters. How else can she be controlled? But for women, I also hear the anger coming from a place of envy. We, women, have been carrying the burden of misogyny our entire lives, toeing the line, lying about our “body count,” keeping our sexuality a secret. We’re afraid our happiness might be yanked away at any moment: that one day someone will point their finger and call us a hoe and we’ll find ourselves known as the wrong kind of woman, even if we’ve played by the “rules,” kept our legs shut and our hems long. Women who are angry at Amber Rose, eager to call her a whore: are you angry because she dared to twerk on Instagram, or are you angry because she is standing with one foot firmly in the mother-wife camp, and the other in the camp that is half-naked and booty-shaking? Are you angry because she’s doing what should never be done, or are you angry because she’s doing what we should all be allowed to do but feel we cannot?

This isn’t the first time Amber has posted a twerking video. Scroll back through her Instagram and you’ll find it: Amber in a squat wearing a white dress, twerking on her wedding day. Her wedding day. Say what you want: I say it’s glorious. I say it’s glorious the same way I thought it was glorious when Beyoncé transitioned (flawlessly) from shaking her stuff at the VMAs to swaying to her song about her daughter. These women find joy in their bodies—mother, wife, lover, woman. Joy. I think when it comes down to it, it’s their joy that misogyny hates the most. The idea that the stone “hoe” has been cast…and it bounced off harmlessly. The fearful word that is designed to control women’s sexuality, keep us from shaking our asses—and the world—into chaos, is slowly losing its power.

It might feel strange for those who have built their worlds on the idea of one-dimensional women without scope and depth: either virgin or whore and nothing in between. There are good mothers, and there are women who jiggle their asses. We have been told that those women are separate, confined to two bodies, never intersecting. This is a lie. Amber is mother and twerk-extraordinaire. Beyoncé is both wife and glorious wiggling goddess. I look at the future and I see a world of women who are both, either, or, and. Women of all, women of any. Women of whatever the fuck we choose, whenever the fuck we choose. Women who shake when we want to shake and the only thing the world has to say is “Yassss.”

The 10 Kinds of Trolls You Will Encounter When Talking About Mike Brown

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If you’re paying attention to the events unfolding in Ferguson—and by God, you better be—then you probably already know there is a group of people in this country of ours who are determined to change the focus of the conversation about the murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent protests, attempting to shift the lens away from the Constitutional rights of US citizens and the murder of a black teenager. If you’re reading this, you probably already know the folks I’m talking about. But here they are. #Staywoke.

The Full-Blown Racist Troll (trigger warning)

Block on sight. Some of them are friends of your Facebook friends—block them. Some of them are your Facebook friends. Many of them are accounts like the one I have screenshotted below: anonymous and relying on blatantly racist language, such as blackface imagery, monkey references, use of the N-word, etc. These have exploded over the last week. We’re talking hundreds. I’ve been using Twitter avidly for years and I can’t recall ever seeing quite this much racist bile taking over an event-related hashtag (#Ferguson) as I have this week. Block them and report them for spam immediately.

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The “Wait for Evidence” Troll

This troll may or may not be anonymous and pretends to be focused on respecting and upholding the law. “We don’t know what happened yet,” they say, “wait for evidence before you lambast an officer of the law.” They pretend that things like racism, police brutality, police corruption, etc. don’t exist and insist that if concrete evidence is released, they will be swayed to feel “sympathy” for Mike Brown. But they won’t. When evidence arises, they find objection to its relevance or veracity. They then transform into The “Mike Brown Shouldn’t Have [insert human action here]” Troll, to follow.

The “Mike Brown Shouldn’t Have [insert human action here]” Troll

This troll (and the others as well) will go great lengths to justify the taking of black life. “He shouldn’t have run,” “he shouldn’t have been sagging,” “he shouldn’t have been walking down the middle of the street,” “he shouldn’t have stolen something.” These trolls come in all races and will insist that when a police officer (or a homeowner, or a security guard) assaults a person of color, that person must have done something to deserve it. The fact that Mike Brown was shot at least 6 times doesn’t register as overkill, even when two of those shots were in the head. They will also extend effort to paint Ferguson as a ghetto, where this kind of thing happens all the time. Nope. Ferguson, Missouri had zero murders until Officer Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown.

The “Police Are the Good Guys” Troll

These folks have a blissfully naïve version of police in their heads, the one fed to them since they were children that says police are the good guys and that no matter what they do, they must have had a reason. These people have no concept—or pretend to have no concept—of the depth of white supremacy and the way it is ingrained in every facet of our culture…even our police. Because they believe the police are always right—and usually because they also believe that groups of black people are inherently violent—they have no qualms about police dressed in military gear, sitting on tanks and tear-gassing American citizens. ‘Murica. You may also hear these trolls say, “What about due process?” Well…we would proceed with due process. If they would actually arrest Darren Wilson. Which they haven’t. So…

The “Violence Just Begets More Violence” Troll

These people are the riot-shamers. They roll out the word “looters!” at every chance and are not interested in the fact that only a small number of people at the protests have actively looted, or that Ferguson protestors actually locked arms to prevent said looting. These trolls hide behind anonymous accounts, they masquerade as sane coworkers, and they work for CNN and other major media outlets. They focus on the “unrest” in Ferguson and talk about it out of context in an attempt to 1) divert attention away from the killing of an unarmed black teenager and/or 2) disguise their lack of critical thought. As Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous said so well in this post:

“a community pushing back against a murderous police force that is terrorizing them is not a ‘riot’. It’s an uprising. It’s a rebellion. It’s a community saying We can’t take this anymore. We won’t take it. It’s people who have been dehumanized to the point of rightful rage. And it happens all over the world. Uprisings and rebellions are necessary and inevitable, locally and globally. This is not to say that actual riots don’t happen. White folks riot at sporting events, for example. Riots happen. But people rising up in righteous anger and rage in the face of oppression should not be dismissed as simply a ‘riot’.”

The Concern Troll

These are among the more passive aggressive trolls you will encounter. They not only target victims like Mike Brown with statements like “I wish he hadn’t stolen those cigars: he might be alive,” but target the community as well, saying things like “Should they really be out there protesting with little kids? I worry about that kind of parenting.”
Let me make one thing clear in case you weren’t sure: these people aren’t worried about the children of Ferguson. They’re not actually “concerned” at all,” despite their title. These people employ words like “worry” and “I wish” and “concern” to communicate their disapproval of black people doing anything besides playing the Martin Baker role. If they were actually concerned, they would see the images of police with hidden badge numbers, tear-gassing eight-year old girls, and be concerned about the escalation of violence police in Ferguson are responsible for.

The “But What About Black on Black Crime!” Troll

Yes, 85% of violent crime against black people is perpetuated by other black people. But guess what? The exact same is true for violent crime committed against white people: the vast majority of those crimes are committed by other white people. People who use the term “black on black crime” either 1) work for Fox News, 2) are seeking to portray black people as violent and out of control, and/or 3) seek to portray black people as only caring about black lives when there is a way to blame white people. Let’s run that back: 1) If they work for Fox News…you already know. 2) If we’re going to make sweeping statements about people being violent and out of control, perhaps we should focus on young white males. 3) Anyone who would fit with #3 is not interested in facts, otherwise they would be aware of the vast number of organizations and movements to end gun violence in black neighborhoods…spearheaded by black people. The real motivation behind this troll (and all of them really) is to distract from the matter at hand, and that’s that an unarmed black teen is dead.

The “Don’t Make This A Racial Issue!” Troll

These are the pearl-clutchers. “This could have happened to anyone! Let’s not make this a racial issue and instead focus on getting this cop off the street!” Yes, we should focus on getting this cop off the street, but we must also focus on the conditions that made this murder possible, and that is one of racism, white supremacy, and police violence that has been being built and rebuilt since the birth of this country. No, this wouldn’t have just happened to anyone. A black male is killed by police every 28 hours in America. This is a racial issue.
These trolls will also accuse you of being racist for talking about racism and start quoting to you all the times black people perpetuated “reverse racism” against white people. Suggested action? Block and keep it moving.

The Misinformation Bots

These are particularly dangerous and I have seen a lot of them in the past week. I won’t speculate on where they come from—although I have a fairly good idea—but their sole purpose is to spread misinformation about Mike Brown and Darren Wilson, targeting people tweeting under the #Ferguson and #MikeBrown hashtags and sending them to false articles on homemade websites about alternate eyewitnesses that saw Brown attack Wilson, etc. Don’t engage with these people: they likely get paid for it. Report them as spam and, you guessed it: keep it moving.

The “I Wish We Could All Just Get Along” Troll

These trolls might mean well. They might. But that doesn’t mean they’re not trolls. You post/tweet an article and they tweet back, “This is all really bad, but I wish this wasn’t happening. Can’t we all just get along?” They’re trolling you. We all wish we could get along. But right now a boy is dead and is receiving no justice by the system that supposedly exists to protect him. Injecting Pollyanna-isms aren’t helping anyone. If you really want to help and the frontlines aren’t for you, just donate to the Michael Brown Memorial Fund. And stay out of the way.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. When a black person is killed in America, trolls come out of the woodwork in an attempt to justify or distract from the taking of that life. After finishing this post, I’m not even sure “troll” is the right word, but I’m not sure if I have a better one either. Weights, perhaps. Cinder blocks shackled to the rising tide of Americans who want better, believe in better; who see the murder of another black kid in America and say “enough.” These people are not merely trolls. “Troll” implies something harmless, a faceless entity in the underbelly of the Internet. These people are not harmless. They are part of the problem. Unfortunately I don’t have a solution for the problem they pose: they are not interested in self-education. They are not interested in empathy. They are not interested in challenging the worldview that has tucked them in at night and told them the police are here for our protection and that black people deserve what they get. They are interested only in standing very still, while the rest of us move forward. All I can say is this: move on without them. Block, report, and move on without them. Even when they’re friends.

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10 Things White Privilege Has Done for Me in 10 Days

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Some of the things I write most about are racism, sexism, misogynoir, and inequality in American media and pop culture, specifically the underrepresentation of women of color in the aforementioned. The reasons why are many and complicated. Almost all of my closest friendships throughout my life have been and continue to be with black and brown women, and I have been a sounding board for their pain and disenfranchisement since I was very young. I went to Columbia College Chicago, my friends struggled to find art (literature and film) where they were not only represented, but represented in nuanced and thoughtful ways that went deeper than tokenism. As a white woman, I often stood by feeling helpless, attempting to educate white people (family, classmates, Facebook) about white privilege and the consequences of underrepresentation, both for the self-esteem of children of color and for the perpetuation of white supremacist ideologies. I’m a writer, so awhile back I took to blogging as a means of communicating some of these ideas, hoping to use my white privilege to reach people and change some minds.

But something has been bugging me lately, and I haven’t been quite sure what it is, until last week when a blog I wrote about the movie Lucy reached something like 230k people and the emails started pouring in. Not all of it was “hate mail” (although some of it certainly was): a lot of it was people of color writing to say, “Cool blog. I’ve been saying this for years and no one listens.”

That’s when it hit me, and it should have hit me a lot sooner, but this white privilege shit can really make you an idiot sometimes: by talking about these issues and finding an audience, I am exercising white privilege, and while I do believe that writing about the lack of representation of people of color in Hollywood and media can have a positive effect, it occurred to me that I spend a lot of time talking about the problems with the white supremacist system we live in, but not as much time talking about the ways in which I operate in that system. I try to keep my privilege in check—I’m not always successful—but since last week, I have been actively monitoring my daily life and watching the ways in which that privilege has benefited me when it comes to the blogging and writing that I do. So here it is, 10 ways in 10 days. (Note: There are definitely more than 10, and they obviously extend beyond my writing. See Peggy MctIntosh’s work for a better and more extensive list.)

1. People read my blog about Lucy.

Re-stating this one for all the folks who skipped the intro. I wrote a blog about being tired of seeing white faces on the big screen, dissecting the movie Lucy, and (white) people actually read it. I am not saying anything new in this blog that people of color haven’t already said a thousand times, since before I was born. And this is not to say that white people never read work by non-white people. But the emails I received from white folks saying “Wow, you really opened my eyes!” is telling.

2. Even though I take issue with the underrepresentation of people of color, representation of myself is not a problem.

Despite my anger about Hollywood, media, and popular fiction (including young adult fiction) erasing black and brown protagonists, it doesn’t mean that I am not still represented everywhere. This is one I have found I need to be really careful with, as being a guest in a community isn’t the same as being part of that community. The fact that I write about underrepresentation of people of color doesn’t mean that I am underrepresented: I turn on the TV and I see white women with skin and hair like mine. I go the movie theater and I am bombarded with men and women who look like me, not relegated to the role of servant, slave, or token. (I’m looking at you, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and well, pretty much every movie ever. See this great infographic by Lee and Low Publishers about the diversity gap in sci-fi and fantasy films.)

3. Some white people think I’m brave and cool.

I have gotten emails from white folks telling me that they admire me, etc. and that what I’m doing is important. Although I appreciate these emails, I can’t help but wonder if they are sending the same emails to women like @TheTrudz and @FeministaJones, black women who daily do far more important work than I and receive 100x as much hate mail. They are brave and brilliant. And so, so cool.

4. White people don’t see me as an outsider.

Granted, I’ve gotten quite a bit of nasty email and I have not even bothered to read the comments on the last several blogs I’ve written. (Sorry, folks: self-care.) But my criticism of Hollywood (and white people) does not hurt me on a grand scale, nor does anyone assume I speak for the entire white race. No one is reading my blogs and saying, “She’s just angry because she’s a [insert marginalized group here]. That’s how they all think.” I’m given the benefit of validity because I’m white.

5. No one thinks I’m selfish.

When people of color write about issues (in whatever arena or industry) that affect people of color, they are often labeled as self-seeking or only interested in causes that affect them, rather than being seen as valid providers of lived experience. So while people may read my blogs and say I’m a dick or that I’m missing major aspects of the way racism operates—both of which might be true—it generally doesn’t include the idea that I’m only in it for myself.

6. I can make punctuation and grammatical mistakes without people chalking it up to my race.

Hey, I make typos. We all do. But when people who are reading work by people of color and looking for a reason to discredit them, punctuation and grammar are often attacked as a way of undermining the argument. I can spell “platypus” like “plattapuss,” and people will say, “She can’t spell platypus. She’s dumb.” Not, “She can’t spell platypus. She’s dumb because she’s [insert marginalized group here].”

7. I can reply angrily to nasty comments without people chalking it up to my race.

This is an extension of #6 but it deserves its own, because it’s something that I see women of color struggle with a lot, both in life and online/in social media. A troll leaves a nasty comment or sends a viciously racist tweet, and the woman in question will respond with something snappy, and the troll will then go on to say, “See, angry black woman. What do you expect?” I, on the other hand, can reply with all the nastiness in the world, and while my womanhood will likely be attacked (“bitch,” “cunt,” etc.), my race will not.

8. People buy my book.

I wrote a sci-fi novel for my two best friends (Hi Hope! Hi Tasha!) and so the heroine is a woman of color kicking ass in the apocalypse. People are buying it, excited about the prospect of a non-white character in this scenario. But many of them have never heard of Octavia Butler. Many of them have never heard of Nnedi Okorafor. My white privilege has made me and my work visible, and some folks wrongly think I am the first to do what I’ve done. I am not. I am not. Don’t get me wrong, I want people to buy my book. But what I cannot let happen is the erasure of women of color who have done what I’m doing first. (Note: this is not to say that I have sold even close to as many books as Nnedi Okorafor, and especially not Octavia Butler. But when we’re talking about literary traditions, the fact that some of my white readers have read my book but not theirs is telling and problematic.)

9. My writing isn’t limited by the market to tales of slavery and servitude.

Although a lot of my subject matter confronts issues of race, my white privilege is a bubble around me when it comes to my future in writing and publishing. Too many of my author and poet friends have expressed frustration about approaching agents and publishers with their books, only to be told, “Well, maybe if you centered the story around slavery or racism.” My writing isn’t required to focus on aspects of my race and cultural experience, where people of color are often asked to act as a spokesperson or historian with their work. I pitched a young adult fantasy series, and all I was told is “Cool.”

10. I can stop writing/thinking about racism and my life will not change much.

One of the things about white privilege is that it’s like a steam bath. If you get tired of fighting or exhausted from battling against racist institutions, you can sink down into the bath, relax, and let the steam cloud your vision. I can sit down and watch a movie with a whitewashed cast, turn off my brain, and enjoy images of myself reflected back to me. If I stopped thinking and writing about racism, my life wouldn’t change, aside from a few less emails in my inbox calling me a “race traitor bitch,” my life would continue unaffected. Such is white privilege. The ability to not think, to not be constantly aware of your race, its presence and absence.

This article itself is a manifestation of white privilege. I will post it online and people will probably read it, and this list will start all over again. But I think I need to keep talking about this stuff, because writing a blog about whiteness in Hollywood is not enough. Writing 100 blogs about whiteness in Hollywood is not enough. I hope this time that the emails I get from white readers are more than “You’re right, there is an overrepresentation of white people in Hollywood!” and venture into “You’re right, our own whiteness is at work in intricate ways.” Change starts at home, and the real place I live is in my body.

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Lucy: Why I’m Tired of Seeing White People on the Big Screen

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I’m tired of seeing white people on the silver screen.

First, let me note that I am white. I am a white woman who goes to the theater to see probably a dozen films (if not more) in a given year, a white woman who readily consumes TV shows and series and often blogs/tweets about them. I love film. I love what Hollywood could be, but I must say that I don’t love what it is, and that is a machine generating story after story in which the audience is asked to root for a white (usually male) hero over and over and over (and over) again. I’m tired. I’m tired of directors pretending that white actors are the default and that people of color are a distraction when it comes to filmmaking. I’m tired of black women in Hollywood being relegated to roles of slaves and “the help” over and over again. I’m tired of films convincing themselves that they are taking on something fresh and new, the likes of which the world has never seen, but in actuality adhering to tired tropes and stereotypes.

One example that comes to mind is Avatar, a “groundbreaking” film about aliens and humanity, which, underneath it all, is the same old White Savior story. But more recently is Lucy, the film starring Scarlett Johansson in which a woman named Lucy evolves and is able to use 100% of her brain’s capacity after she unwittingly ingests a massive amount of drugs.

Lucy is about what humankind could be: it’s about possibilities. As Lucy’s brainpower grows stronger and the volume of knowledge she is able to access increases, she delivers monologues about how little humans understand about death, existence, and the universe, mediating on time and history. The film likes to think of itself as reimagining everything that we think we know about humanity, and presents to us their vision of what the most evolved woman on earth looks like:

A blonde white woman.

See, I just can’t get right with that.

You see, I was an anthropology major in high school and by the time I was 16 I’d learned all about Lucy (Australopithecus), the collection of bones found in Hadar and thought to have lived 3.2 million years ago, one of the oldest hominids we know of. Lucy the film doesn’t try to hide how cute they thought they were being by naming the supreme evolved being in their film “Lucy:” they show an ape-like creature crouched by a stream to illustrate just how far human beings have come, and say as much in the opening lines, depicting vast cities built up to show our progress. The original Lucy was not really an ape, though: she had small skull capacity like apes, but her skeleton shows she was bipedal and walked upright like humans. Hadar, by the way, is in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia.

So I guess what’s sticking in my craw is the assertion that while human life originated in Africa—a detail the film neatly skims over, placing the ape-like Lucy that Johansson sees in North America—somehow the way we imagine the most evolved human being is blonde and white. Even more, when Lucy gets surges of knowledge in the film, her eyes flash brightly blue. Because blue eyes, we all know, are the universal symbol of superiority, right?

How is it that in a film whose premise rests on the idea of reimagining the past, present, and future, we still end up with a blonde white woman with flashing blue eyes as the stand-in for what personifies evolution and supremely fulfilled human potential? At one point the Ape-like Lucy and Evolved Lucy meet face-to-face as Evolved Lucy does a bit of time-traveling. Their fingers touch, and we see them deliberately posed to mimic the famous Creation of Adam painting, and in that moment I saw what I suppose we were supposed to see: humanity at its beginning, and then humanity at its end, at its most perfect. Blonde, white, and blue-eyed.

I can’t accept that. I can’t accept that there was only one black woman in the entire film, who delivered one line and who we never saw again. I can’t accept that the bad guys were Asian and that although in China, Lucy’s roommate says, “I mean, who speaks Chinese? I don’t speak Chinese!” I can’t accept that in Hercules, which I also saw this weekend, there were no people of color except for Dwayne Johnson himself and his mixed-race wife, whose skin was almost alabaster. I can’t accept that she got maybe two lines and was then murdered. I can’t accept that the “primitive tribe” in Hercules consisted of dark-haired men painted heavily, blackish green, to give their skin (head-to-toe) a darker appearance, so the audience could easily differentiate between good and bad guys by the white vs. dark skin. I can’t accept that during the previews, Exodus: Gods and Kings, a story about Moses leading the Israelite slaves out of Egypt, where not a single person of color is represented, casts Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton to play Egyptians. I can’t accept that in the preview for Kingsman: The Secret Service, which takes place in London, features a cast of white boys and not a single person of Indian descent, which make up the largest non-white ethnic group in London. I can’t accept that in stories about the end of the world and the apocalypse, that somehow only white people survive. I can’t accept that while my daily life is filled with black and brown women, they are completely absent, erased, when I look at a TV or movie screen.

I can’t accept that. And I can’t accept that when we think about the potential of humankind and what our brains are capable of doing and thinking and feeling, that people of color would be absent from that imagining. I can’t accept that. And I won’t. I’m tired of seeing people that look like me crowding screens both big and small: I am not what the world looks like. Hollywood, stop whitewashing characters. Give us more films like this year’s Annie. I’m no Lucy: like everyone else I’m only using a tiny amount of my brain’s capacity. But you don’t need to be a superhuman logic-machine to see that Hollywood has a major problem with depicting people of color, and it’s time to actually reimagine what the world can and should be. 

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Ranting, Process, and White Girls in Dystopia: 4 Questions with Olivia A. Cole

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The amazing and talented Jenn Jackson (who recently interviewed Janet Mock) passed a blog tour baton to me, an exercise that is linking writers and bloggers together and provides their readers with a way to learn more about the people whose work they enjoy. This is timely, as I field a lot of emails from readers who want to know more about what I’m working on and why I write what I write. So here you have it: four questions, and four answers. Enjoy.

1) What are you working on?

The thing that takes up most of my writing time these days is the sequel to my novel, Panther in the Hive, which is currently untitled. I’ve had a lot of people ask when it will be finished, but that’s not a question that I can easily answer at this time. But I can say this: Panther took three years, and the sequel will take nowhere near that long. The storyline is mapped out through to the end and I’m about halfway finished writing the book itself. It’s coming!

Besides that, I do continue to write poems when inspiration strikes. In fact, a poem of mine is currently a semifinalist in the 21st Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards. (If you’re in Chicago and want to attend the reading, it’s on July 23rd at the Chopin Theatre. Click the link for more information. I’d love to see you there.) Then, of course, there are my blogs. I try to do a blog a week but that’s not always possible. However, I love blogging and try to give it time and energy whenever I can.

Finally, I am working on a young adult series starring a female protagonist as well. That book has barely been born, but it stays at the front of my mind because I think it’s an important one to write. More on that soon.

2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

Well, for starters, my characters are people of color, and generally that is hard to come by in the science-fiction/post-apocalyptic genre. There are, of course, geniuses working in that genre such as Nnedi Okorafor. But overall, non-white characters in apocalyptic settings are annoyingly rare.

I’d also venture to say that my writing takes itself far less seriously than a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction. While I explore themes of humanity, racism, and violence, at the heart of my work is a thread of fun and excitement. Writing is fun. The worlds I create are exciting. I think the sense of humor that works its way into Panther in the Hive, for example, is somewhat rare in its genre.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Oh, this question always makes me a little crazy because I never know how to answer it. I don’t set out to write the things I do, I just…do. It’s always been this way. That question needs to be more specific anyhow. Why do I write books that feature characters of color? Because almost all of my friends, heroes, and influencers are people of color. Besides, does the dystopian genre really need one more love-crazed white girl running around in it? Nah. Why do I write fiction that takes place in the future? Because the present depresses the hell out of me. Why do I write fiction that is strangely funny and references a lot of pop culture? Because I love comedy and pop culture.

Or, if we’re talking about the ranty blogs that I write, well, that’s even easier to answer. I write ranty blogs about movies, people, etc. because when something infuriates me—and so many things do—I have to write about it. It’s a compulsion, one I’ve had since a child. I’ve stopped trying to tell it no.

4) How does your writing process work?

If we’re talking about fiction, then usually ideas strike me like lightning. One minute they don’t exist, and the next minute they do. From there, I just….begin. I just have to begin. By the time the idea strikes me, it already has something of a body, so I write in its legs and arms and eyes and so on until it can walk a little on its own and then I see where it leads me. Then I keep writing. I force myself to write every day, otherwise it may not get done and then the thing sits on my back and guilts me until I return to it.

Once an entire draft is finished, editing begins. That takes a long time. Usually there is a lot of cutting because I’ve written a bunch of things that suck and need to be removed. Panther in the Hive went through about 100 different drafts. If not more. I’m sure its sequel will be close, although I’m a better writer now then I was then (I hope) so maybe it will be less.

As for blogs, they’re a lot easier. After I see a film like Transformers or Single Moms Club, the problems are very apparent and hang in my head like light bulbs until I switch them off one by one. This “switching off” can only be accomplished by writing the blog, addressing the issues point by point. I usually don’t have to edit much for blogs. Rants tend to enter my mind in a very complete form. That makes it a lot easier.

There you have it. Stay tuned later this week or next for another rant from yours truly. Until then, if you have questions about my process or work, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer as many as I can.

Finally, I will now pass the baton to two other writers who I respect. Danielle Koon is the first, a writer based out of DC who is working on her first novel, The Docks. The second, Maggie Gray, blogs over at Colorful Adventures of a Gray Girl, exploring themes of womanhood, sexism, and life. Looking forward to reading their responses to these questions.

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