Sunday, October 19, 2008

"all the mavericks in the house put your hands up"

5 seconds of 2008 minstrel madness:




To see a longer version of the Saturday Night Live's minstrel show ramed by white Fox News reporters commentary conveying total obliviousness to said racist performance, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6ya39slPgs

To view the full minstrel show, go to: http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/

BlackButch's Resistive commentary:) on Governor Sarah Palin's appearance on Saturday Night Live.

1st) Phoeler and SNL get a laugh from an audience that includes (but is not limited to) white liberals and white conservatives -- and it is worth noting that SNL's audience/viewers is overwhelmingly white and liberal -- by performing "blackness." A pregnant, wealthy blond white woman (Amy Phoeler) holds a microphone and does a rap song -- using an *affected* voice, one that conveys a stereotypical (so called) "black dialect" -- or vernacular associated with African Americans -- as lights go low and flash in hip-hop/disco style. Phoeler apes the movement of a rapper -- a genre of music viewed as "black: -- she "spits" rhymes that mock (?) Governor Sarah Palin who bops along as the minstrel performance drags on. Palin doesn't end up looking so bad when all is said and done -- now, I am convinced that she is a very good actor -- she definitely rehearsed her "lines" for the VP debate.

Phoeler, Palin, and SNL does all this just to make white folks laugh.

Because, let's face it, the intended audience for this skit is *not* African Americans. In fact, I don't believe the intended audience for this skit is any person of color.

The intended audience for white folks performing blackness is always white folks.

White performances of blackness -- and black performances of "blackness" (via mainstream hip-hop music, for example) -- on a commercial level and individual level (an individual level -- like when a white person greets another white person -- or regrettably -- a black person -- using stereotypical "black speech" such as "Holla!" or uses terms like "baby mama" -- cuz that's what "we" do now. (Here is some really good advice for any white person reading this blog -- don't do that. It's annoying and racist. Why is a white person's use of stereotypical "black" speech racist? In part, because many black folks perceive the use of such terms by people who know one or two black people or people who have only seen black people on TV as mockery. But even more importantly, because non-blacks' use of stereotypical "black speech" occurs in rigidly segregated settings -- not just high school cafeteria tables but in all-white or mostly white suburban neighborhoods where middle, upper-middle, and upper class youth, for example, access a quality of education, health care, and even grocery store food products that the vast majority of people of color *do not* have access to because of where they live. The inability to access quality education will mean that most poor, working-class and lower-middle class people of color will *not* go to college, and thus, acquire a middle & high income job that would help them leave poverty. In many communities, black girls & boys are far more likely to go to prison than they are to graduate high school and attend college. Moreover, the inability to access high quality grocery store food products means that many people of color will suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes at far greater rates than white middle & upper class people *and* they will not have access to the quality of health care it would require to treat diseases that are far more manageable and even curable in middle and upper class settings. Health care, food goods, education are just a few of the resources that are tied to a person's geographic location. Where poor, working-class and lower-middle class people of color live is determined, in large part, by a history of institutional racism -- deeply enmeshed with classism & sexism -- that has produced generational poverty, for example).

That's why the way in which race, class, gender, sexual (etc.,) oppression operates on a cultural and discursive level matters so much. Performances of blackness like the one on SNL reflect and maintain prosperous white audiences ignorance of institutional race/class inequality, *and* thus, desensitize them to the salience of these issues -- issues that make or break the lives of millions in the U.S. and around the world.

Phoeler and Fey had a hit film called "Baby Mama" where Phoeler performed stereotypes of "blackness" and poor/working-class whiteness -- cuz it was so fuckin' great!! to see the economic hardship of poor and working-class white folks elevated to the level of pure comedy in a upper-middle class white context. And, you know, "Baby Mama" wasn't really racist -- because there was a black man in the film who also performed stereotypes of blackness for a white audience (isn't that great!!). It's all perfectly okay then. (Again, please detect dripping sarcasm).

Again, who is the intended audience for a film like "Baby Mama?"

Not poor and working-class white folks.

Because middle and upper-class people (who are mostly white) are laughing *at* middle and upper class white people performing a stereotype of poor and working-class "whiteness."

But the movie industry can pump out films like "Baby Mama" (& "Soul Man" & "Tropic Thunder" & "She's The Man" & "Juno" -- "Juno's" cute, young, white characters struggling with teen pregnancy routinely use stereotypical black vernacular throughout the film -- it's just adorable (not really) -- & the TV sitcom "Scrubs"...the list goes on an on) -- a white dominated entertainment industry can keep producing films and tv shows like "Baby Mama" because "we" are not racist -- "we" no longer live in a racist society -- or at least, not a severely racist society because a black man might be president in 2 weeks! I mean, he -- a black man -- beat Hillary Clinton, a white woman, in the primaries -- that proves racism is dead or not a big problem anymore -- but sexism! sexism lives on! (Please detect dripping
sarcasm here -- the *mainstream* white feminist party line in context of the 2008 presidential election).

Please note: SNL could've chosen to use country music as the backdrop for Palin's appearance (says my queer Femme white girlfriend -- a person I regard as a white ally, a person committed to the struggle against racism). SNL could've used a country music skit to, you know, "promote" Palin implicitly? inadvertently? quite deliberately? SNL could've used a form of music that is stereotyped as "white." Or SNL could've used 80s glam rock(Poison style) or 90s grunge -- but no, it had to be rap music. Because white people performing stereotypes of blackness is fucking hilarious, right.
wrong.
I use the term "promote" to characterize SNL's decision to provide Palin airtime because I view her appearance on the politically liberal SNL as a deliberate attempt to draw conservative viewers (which is clearly great for McCain as the presidential election grows near), soothe any ill feelings provoked due to Fey's (and thus, SNL's) harsh parodies ridiculing and denigrating Palin, which results in a steadily (or increasingly) sexy bottom line -- higher ratings pulls advertisers, advertisements pull big fat juice billions of dollars.
2nd) Phoeler, Palin, and SNL does not stop at using racism to stereotype African Americans implicitly via Phoeler's rap skit -- 2 young men viewers are supposed to read as Alaska Natives or Inuits, i.e., the descendants of people indigenous to the colonized territory now called "Alaska" (a piece of the larger colonized mass of land now called the "United States" and "North America"), appear as props -- human props -- to the *cute* pregnant, blond white woman who is "getting her minstrel on," another white male actor and Sarah Palin -- the woman charged with serving and protecting the interests of the indigenous people in the state that she governs... I wonder what Alaska Natives have to say about Palin's "rule?" Ah, right... the voices of Alaska Natives are not represented in mainstream U.S. American media. But we hear Palin's voice, and Pholer's, and Feys'... SNL's voice in the cultural mainstream is loud and clear. SNL is in a position to say something about the lives of Alaska Natives.

And SNL viewers -- the majority of whom have never seen an Inuit -- are supposed to understand that all Inuits do not reflect the stereotype embedded in the minds of most U.S. Americans, which is that all Alaska Natives or Inuits are "Eskimos" who wear animal skin to keep them warm because they live on ice masses and inhabit igloos.

Uber informed SNL viewers -- the vast majority of whom draw their information about the world from a Euro-centric/white-centric U.S. American educational system -- is supposed to understand that Alaska Natives/Inuits have been subjected to the same long, bloody history of U.S. imperialism that resulted in the drastic depopulation (or mass murder) of people indigenous to "the Americas" -- just so Europeans could make "contact" (isn't that a cute term!) or "settle" or "expand" (more cute terms!) which refers to, in part, the implementation of systematic slavery (then Jim Crow and neo-slavery carried out, in part, through a racist prison system) and ignore the mass murder of black men and boys as wells as the organized rape of black women and girls, strip white women of voting rights until 1920 and deprive people of color living in the South of voting rights until 1964, and colonial wars that the U.S. government takes overseas once they have subdued the last group of indigenous people at Wounded Knee through mass murder (and decades later during the American Indian Movement of the 1960s -- one leader, Leonard Peltier, is still in jail for "crimes" he did not commit -- including of crime for pursuing the so called inalienable, inherited right to full freedom for him and all indigenous people).

So, "all the mavericks in the house" -- are you putting your hands up?

6 comments:

Aurelius said...

Oh, wow...

Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention. That was so incredibly racist that it leaves me in shock.

butchrebel said...

Thanks for reading "aurelius."

Peace & Revolution

belle said...

fantastic critique. well written and easy to understand. i was horrified when i saw this skit and horrified to see the media's analysis of it.

check out this video that Black students made as a response to FOX News. as a teacher, it might be validating to know that your work is producing such smart forms of dissention.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYg4N1_9zEg

butchrebel said...

Belle: Thank you:) very much for your kind and supportive response:)

Peace & Revolution!

S said...

First off, you know I love you and have the utmost respect for you. I want you to know that I have a little trouble agreeing with your commentary – specifically the crux of your argument wherein you analyze ‘white’ people’s use of BEV (Black English Vernacular – if this term is derogatory/offensive, I apologize. That’s what it was referred to as in my Etymology class). I would like to see the facts and figures to prove that “non-blacks' use of stereotypical "black speech" occurs in rigidly segregated settings -- not just high school cafeteria tables but in all-white or mostly white suburban neighborhoods where middle, upper-middle, and upper class youth”. Perhaps this is your experience, but my own experience vastly different.

For example, in poor white rural neighborhoods such speech is frequently used. This is not because those white people “have only seen black people on TV as mockery” – rather it’s their exposure of the black community through media outlets. Now, if you consider BET, Dave Chappelle, and other performances a mockery of African Americans, well, that’s another discussion. The best sample I can give you is one where in the early 90’s a white teen boy’s bedroom (located in the quintessential white trash mobile home) was filled with posters of Tu Pac, Dr. Dre, and Snoop. In that neighborhood, country music was something only the old and/or southern whites would listen to.

Also, I have crossed paths with people living in the city of Chicago who use BEV. These people aren’t necessarily living in the privileged parts of the city. Rather, they come from all different parts and all different backgrounds. Now, the lines get blurred some because I dare you to define white. Is a person of Cuban, Dominican, or Mexican decent white? Is a person from Russia, Poland or Ukraine white? I can guess you would classify the former category as a person of color whereas the latter category you would say are white. But what if they are first to be born in America? What impact does class have on “whiteness” – if any at all? What happens when someone of color who is NOT black uses BEV?

The point is that I have met unmistakably white people from poor intercity neighborhoods that speak in the very manner you are describing. These are the parts where THEY are the minority. Are you suggesting that despite the fact that this white individual has grown up in a primarily black community that they should attempt to speak white and that anything else is racist?

The performance is – as many SNL performances are – a commentary of society the way it is now. Throw away all niceties, the mainstream media pimps black culture to white people. No, it’s not right. Yes, it is racist. But blasting the entire white community without facts and figures breaches separatist. Rather, the media for it’s proven, studied, and obvious marketing and selling of black culture to white people is the catalyst for this behavior. Stop and ask a white person whether they consider the use of BEV by a white person to be racist. I guarantee most would say no. Blasting white folks for unknowing acting racist is almost like blasting African Americans for being uneducated due to geography.

Now, after your thought provoking entry do I disagree with your final conclusions? Not entirely. I think the skit was racist, but not intentionally. Does that make it OK – of course not. Should SNL have been more sensitive to the Inuit people and made a much more effective skit out of Palin’s racist actions toward them? Hell yes. But please, please I beg, use caution when blasting an entire group of people based race. After all, the end goal here is total inclusion and acceptance, right? Isn’t the end goal an understanding of everyone’s struggle and bettering the entire human race as a whole?

-----
On a side note – Palin only came out of it looking somewhat OK because they didn’t let her TALK much on the show. As long as she sits there with her vacant stare and smiles, she doesn’t look like the white devil we know she is. I feel like the skit was more like a liberal eye roll at her than a conservative elbow-rub. Hell, Tina Fey did a better job appealing to conservatives by her jab at the media in the introduction.

butchrebel said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post, "S" -- but mostly, thank you for your friendship and love:)

**1st) Re: the term "Black English Vernacular" -- I am only vaguely familiar with the term and *entirely* unaware of its roots in scholarship -- meaning, I don't know who coined the term or how the term is defined, so I can't say I am offended by it as I don't understand it yet. If, for example, the term was first used by an African American who explored the complex varieties of dialects in U.S. black communities -- then I wouldn't be "offended" per say. I may have questions but I wouldn't necessarily be offended. If a white person entered black communities to study the various dialects, and thus, coined the term -- then I would also have questions. Sometimes:)!! I don't get offended until I've seen all the "facts":)

**2nd) Re: poor whites use of what is *stereotyped* as "black speech" -- thank you for noting the absence of a discussion of or specific reference to poor, working-class and lower middle class whites in my commentary on white folks' use of what is stereotyped as "black vernacular." I did not mean to imply that no and low-income white folks *did not* use stereotypical "black speech" -- because of all the reasons you mentioned. I wholeheartedly agree that white folks from all class backgrounds use what they believe is "black" dialect *and* that their use of said dialect is informed by popular/cultural outlets such as BET -- and in hip hop videos, in general -- as well as films & tv shows that feature black folks as "prop" characters (like "She's The Man" & "Baby Mama," for example) but also films & tv shows directed by black people -- films/tv shows that features all/mostly black actors (like Tyler Perry's "Media's Family Reunion," for ex). Black comedians such as Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock etc.,.

(Whether or not Chapelle's comedy is a mockery of African Americans depends on the audience. If the audience is black then the jokes are "in group" -- meaning, that for better or worse, black folks are laughing at themselves and some of the things they laugh at can be construed as racist stereotypes of blacks folks. Now, when white folks laugh *at* black people -- when white folks laugh at these racist stereotypes -- that's a lot more complicated, and for me, not desirable because of white folks' social location/white power & privilege in a context of institutional racism. Chapelle felt this way too, which is why he stopped doing "The Chapelle Show." He believed the show had departed from its original goal of subverting white supremacist discourse on African Americans, and instead, evolved into a minstrel show because white audiences were now laughing *at* Chapelle (and therefore, black people, or at least, who/what white folks believed black people were) -- a black man -- who frequently performed racist stereotypes of black folks.

**3rd) You wrote: "...I have crossed paths with people living in the city of Chicago who use BEV. These people aren’t necessarily living in the privileged parts of the city. Rather, they come from all different parts and all different backgrounds. Now, the lines get blurred some because I dare you to define white. Is a person of Cuban, Dominican, or Mexican decent white? Is a person from Russia, Poland or Ukraine white? I can guess you would classify the former category as a person of color whereas the latter category you would say are white. But what if they are first to be born in America? "

-- Again, you raise an important point.

First, I want to make it clear that I do not believe race is *real* or biological. In other words, I don't believe that human beings are *genetically* white or genetically "black" or genetically "Latino" etc., I believe that race or racial categories are an invention -- an invented idea that has been used to create a very real historical set of racist practices that function on an institutional level. So, "race" itself isn't real (though many people believe it is quite real genetically) but "racism" is very real. *Racial identity*: is a social and political construction where is racism a social, political, and economic *reality*.

Next, keeping in mind the notion that race is an ideological invention -- I *do not* profess to define a person's *sense of their own* "whiteness" for them -- meaning, if a person sees themselves as white then I would not tell them they were wrong -- that's not my place. If a person sees themselves as *not* white, I wouldn't dispute that either -- again, it's not up to me to *tell* anyone what their racial identity is (or gender identity is etc.,).

I *do* make a distinction between someone's *perceived* racial identity and whether or not they access *white privilege*.

For example, as you point out -- there are people that belong to a variety of racial/cultural/ethnic groups -- folks born inside *and* outside the U.S. -- people who consider themselves multi-racial *or* biracial because they have one parent who racially identifies as one race and another parent who racially identifies as another race (Ex. a Puerto Rican woman who has a child with an African American man, for example) *OR* they have parents who are themselves multi-racial or bi-racial (Ex. a woman of Haitian, Filipino and South Asian descent who has a child with a man who is of Egyptian, Iraqi, and Norwegian descent).

In the U.S. context -- a person who self-identifies as multiracial, biracial, a person of color *OR* a European "mutt" (i.e., a mixture of various European ethnicities such as French, Italian, Finnish etc.,) may be *perceived* (or viewed) as white by people of various backgrounds. So, no matter how that person sees themselves -- they are treated a certain way because of how *other people see them*. That treatment translates into a slew of racial benefits/privileges/advantages if/when that person is read/viewed as/believed to be "white" -- no matter how that person views themselves.

Third, the census permits "Hispanics" or "Latinos" to define themselves as "white" or "non-white," and thus, acknowledges that many Hispanics and Latinos self-identify as white. When I use the term "people of color" I am referring to people who are *perceived/viewed* as non-white *and* people who define themselves as *non-white* despite how they are perceived by others.

**4th) You go on to say: "What impact does class have on “whiteness” – if any at all? "

In the United States, I believe class impacts a person's whiteness, again, with regard to how they are perceived by others *and* how they perceive themselves.

Poor white folks for example -- are frequently and unquestioningly called "white trash" -- (a term that I believe is racist & classist when it is used by those who are *NOT* poor whites *OR* people who are/might be called "white trash". In other words, poor white people can call themselves whatever they want. I am not a poor white person, so I don't use the term in a derogatory way *nor* do I think middle & upper class white people should use the term in a derogatory way.

For me, the term "white trash" is meant to identify a white person that is *doing "whiteness"* badly. Poor white folks do white badly by being poor, for example, because white folks are supposed to tbe the cream of the crop! they are supposed to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps! set an example for those "lazy" black people! they are belong to the group who deserves the best jobs because white people define *competency* and *qualified* for *all* people -- white folks set *the* standard for all that is pure, good and brilliant in the U.S. Therefore, white folks that engage in "white trash" behavior -- or a stereotype of what poor white people behave like -- are *not* living up to standards of "whiteness" that, in large part, middle and upper class white people have defined for *everyone* who is white *and* everyone who is not white. "White trash," so to speak, because of how they dress, speak, and spend their leisure time -- act a lot like African Americans perceived to be behaving badly.

In short, the term "white trash" signifies a *degraded whiteness* -- a kind of "whiteness" that is affixed to a white person's class status.

So, yes, in the United States -- I see class status elevating or diminishing a person's "whiteness" in respect to how that white person sees themselves *and* how a white person views/interprets the behaviors, morals, and even *value* of other white people.

**5th) "What happens when someone of color who is NOT black uses BEV? ... I have met unmistakably white people from poor intercity neighborhoods that speak in the very manner you are describing. These are the parts where THEY are the minority. Are you suggesting that despite the fact that this white individual has grown up in a primarily black community that they should attempt to speak white and that anything else is racist?"

No, I *do not* mean to suggest that at all. White people who grow up in all/mostly black neighborhoods may or may not speak, behave (etc.,) a certain way because of their specific cultural context.

See, I wasn't just talking about white people performing stereotypes of "blackness" -- I was trying to say that there is no such thing as "talking black" or "talking white."

***Alright -- I've got a lot of grading to do so I will have to add any necessary refining points to my response (to your response) later:)

***But here's a teaser:) You say, "Throw away all niceties, the mainstream media pimps black culture to white people. No, it’s not right. Yes, it is racist. But blasting the entire white community without facts and figures breaches separatist."

1) When you say the "mainstream media pimps black culture to white people" -- I agree -- *AND* I would add that it isn't just an amorphous "mainstream media" that's doing this -- it's an obscenely wealthy white dominated mainstream media selling black culture to a white audience. The hip hop industry, in particular, is run by white male executives who make billions by exploiting white people's fascination with racist stereotypes of black like.

Yes -- black rappers/black people participate in this racist stereotyping of black people. I believe that institutional racism so limits black people's choices -- so limits their economic opportunities -- that making millions by putting on a minstrel show for a racially diverse audience becomes an attractive gig.

2) When you ask me for statistics verifying what I believe is the frequency with which white folks use (what they perceive as) "black vernacular" -- it feels like you're asking me to *PROVE* that the racism I'm identifying and experiencing exists.

If you want statistical evidence that proves exactly how many white people use stereotypical black speech -- you won't get it from me. I don't have it -- I don't think it's fair for you to ask me for that nor do I believe I need to provide it -- the evidence is everywhere -- it's on tv, in the movies, in magazines, and I experience it so often as a black person I couldn't recount all the instances for you here -- there are simply to many.

You're right, certain exaggerated, stereotypical aspects of African American culture are so integrated into the U.S. American "mainstream" that although I am provoked to roll my eyes when a white person talks to me using the perceived "black" lingo they heard on the radio that morning -- I would exhaust myself if I said something every single time that happened to me.

3) I don't think that *not knowing* something is racist or *not intending to be racist* gets a white person off the hook of having to acknowledge that what they are saying or doing is racist.

All of us are exposed to and internalize all kinds of oppressive messages every single day - messages that encourage our participation in sexism, classism, abelism, xenophobia, racism etc., That's why it's so important that we think critically about these cultural messages. That's why it's so important that we *LISTEN* -- really listen to what the people who are most directly impacted by these oppressions have to say. Because it isn't possible for anyone of us to simply "get it" all by ourselves -- we need to be taught -- we need to welcome the opportunity to learn. We can only learn, though, if we are willing to acknowledge that we *DO NOT* know it all -- that we will make mistakes. And the only way we will become better educated, more aware people with regard to our participation in oppression is by stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging people who are different than us.

4) As for your comment that I "blast the entire white community" or generalize about white folks which borders on "separatist" -- did you mean to say something else there?:) Do you mean "separatist" or do you mean "racist separatist?"

I'll address that comment later.

"S," thanks for engaging me in a VERY lively, interesting, and very complicated discussion -- I always liked that about you:)

Peace, Love and Revolution!