Media Diversified: An Appreciation Post

So I think it’s time for a little shoutout. I started this blog a few months now, but, during that time, I’ve come across a handful of blogs that prove to be precious little gems in a sea of thoughts.

One of these gems is Media Diversified. It’s a blog dedicated to diversifying the media landscape. The non-profit organization blog features dozens of writers and academics from all walks of life, from all parts of the world. It’s refreshing that they don’t shy away from any and all topics that interest them – from oppressions of people of color in films to the exploration of Afrofuturism.

I will say that I’m slightly disappointed that they are based in the UK. A blog like this would NO DOUBT have such a positive reception among the ranks of activists and feminists across the US, especially in light of the numerous police brutality videos that have been flooding social media with the help of the American people. With a blog similar to this, the US could definitely see more organized protests and leaders emerge from the depths.

Once you browse through their blog, you’ll definitely want to reblog and share A LOT of the articles you come across. However, they do have reposting guidelines that you’ll want to look over before reposting any of their work.

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Mike Pence & the Dangers of Rhetoric

AP Photo on Politico.com

AP Photo on Politico.com

Last Thursday, Republican Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in Indiana. The law potentially allows for-profit businesses to refuse service to certain groups based on any religious grievances these businesses might encounter. To understand why this law is seeded in so much controversy, let’s look at its origins.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was first signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. While the bill applies to all religions, its original creation was to protect both the sacred lands of Native Americans from being destroyed by US expansion projects and the use of peyote for Native American religious ceremonies. Since then, numerous states have enacted laws that mirror their federal predecessor.

Being a bisexual woman who also identifies as Christian, the passing of this law makes me more than uneasy for several (obvious) reasons:

The RFRA opens the door to discrimination

The main reason this law is so dangerous is the potential increase of discrimination that could arise from its enactment. Though there are cities that have nondiscrimination laws, statewide Indiana does not have laws that protect those who identify as LGBTQ. Ultimately, this simply means that the RFRA leaves the door wide open for prejudice and bigotry against a group of people who are already unprotected against discrimination.

Inherently protecting the rights of Christians

As I previously stated, the original purpose of this act was to safeguard against discrimination of Native American tribes and their religious practices. Despite this, I highly doubt that this is the case at hand. Yes, I do understand that religion is deeply engrained in the lives of many Americans. I also understand why people want to protect these religious views. What I am not grasping, however, is why Mike Pence and other supporters of this law feel that their religious rights are being infringed upon by having to provide service to certain groups of people. Mike Pence and other proponents of the RFRA in Indiana most likely prescribe to Christian values. Because of this, they automatically belong to the religious majority, which, in essence, allows them religious privilege. Christians do not have to fight for our religious rights like Muslims, Buddhists, Native Americans or other religious minorities might. Would this law be so accommodating as to protect a Muslim’s right to refuse Christian customers on the basis of “substantial burden?”…I highly doubt it. And what about individuals who identify as BOTH Christian AND LGBTQ? Will this law still allow for-profit businesses to refuse services to them as well?

Intent is everything

So, what has people so up in arms about the implications of this law? To anyone who has been keeping up with the Indiana RFRA law, the answer is simple. Honestly, I would have no problem if this specific bill was created to protect the rights of religious minorities. But when Mike Pence dodges George Stephanopoulos’ repeatedly asked question, the intent of this law could not be clearer. For someone wanting to clarify the “misunderstanding” of this law, Pence did an amazing job at doing the complete opposite. While Pence voiced that the law would not target LGBTQ, anti-gay activists were present at the signing last Thursday.

Thousands of Americans have responded to the law, some of which believe boycotting Indiana would be the wisest choice. While boycotting Indiana certainly brings attention of the RFRA law to the forefront of conversation regarding LGBTQ discrimination, I believe it will hurt hundreds of Indiana businesses that don’t agree with the bill. For those Indiana businesses whose views don’t align with the recent law, the campaign Open For Service provides participating business with a sticker to illustrate their solidarity and commitment to opposing discrimination of any kind. Though a fairly new grassroots campaign, it’s a step in the right direction. Others have taken to social media to voice their opposition to the new law, particularly with the hashtag #DearMikePence.

More respect could – and would- be given to Pence if he stood firm in his beliefs. But to shamelessly masquerade them under the guise of religious protection is insulting to all parties involved.

Regardless of how people are choosing to act out against Indiana’s RFRA, one thing is still clear: this law is a dangerous obstacle in the fight for equality.

Chocolate, Cowboys & Cultural Appropriation

image by Jen Mussari

image by Jen Mussari

The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo has been a staple in Houstonian history far longer than I can remember. Filled with mouth-watering turkey legs, bedazzled clothing and cowboys, it is the essence of what the world thinks Texas is in the purest, most stereotypical form. Whenever I go to the Livestock Show, I usually ignore everything else and go straight for the chocolate toffee (yeah, I’ll risk the cavities, thank you). But this time, well, this time was different.

While I walked around I couldn’t help but notice all of the jewelry and clothing that claimed to be “Texan” yet had obvious Native American influences. Some of these vendors even took it a step further and sported actual company names such as Bing Crosby Indian Art and Tribe America Leathers. At one point, I even walked past a blue jean jacket with a Native American chief wearing a headdress. Before I cried foul, I decided to talk to some of the booth owners to try and clear up some of the questions I had.

The owner of Tribe America Leathers immediately started telling me about each product. He told me that the tapestries and other items were created by different Native American artists. In fact, one of the tapestries I had just picked up had a tag attached with a short bio and picture of a Native American woman. Still dubious, I decided to ask him one more question, one that I knew would either cement or break the validity of his business in my mind. I asked how much of the profits made at the Houston Rodeo would end up going to these tribes. As soon as the question escaped my mouth, I knew I had hit a nerve (or at the very least bumped it). All of a sudden he didn’t seem so keen on helping me anymore. Still moving around his booth, he answered with “almost half” before adding that he gives “them millions and millions of dollars all the time.” Hmm…thank you for your white savior complex.

After this encounter, I decided to check out a few more booths. One that caught my eye in particular displayed posters of what I assumed were white women dressed in Native American garb. Since assuming doesn’t confirm doubts, I went over, pointing at rings that caught my eye and asking what the symbols on them represented, to which the woman stood silently before stuttering her (wrong) answer.

From these encounters, I walked away with several major realizations, all of which illustrate the dangers of cultural appropriation:

 1. The Lack of Cultural Context

Though many of these vendors might know how to manufacture these products, they lack the necessary knowledge about the cultural significance of what they are selling. By selling these products with no valuable context in which to understand them, Native American artwork, jewelry and clothing become nothing more than trinkets that make one seem “enlightened” and “cultured.“ Do not be mistaken. Owning all of these “trinkets”  clothing and jewelry does not give you genuine insight into diverse, indigenous cultures. Native American culture is not trendy. It is their way of life.

2. The Lack of Native American Representation

Of all the vendors who sold Native American-themed art and clothing, NONE were run by Native Americans. While I do understand that many Native American artists might not have the access or financial standing to open their own stores, serious conversation about the lack of Native American representation in mainstream America is a real problem that is long overdue. Their absence will no doubt lead to the further erasure of Native American peoples. It is, in every sense, the continued cultural eradication of a people that have inhabited this land long before any of us showed up.

3. The Need for Cultural Preservation

Cultural preservation is so important for those that have been and continue to be on the fringes of American society. This society, American society, has done an injustice to Native Americans. I will speak for myself when I say that I know very little about the tribes that reside in this country. The descriptions given to us in history books have unapologetically painted the picture of “savage,” of a people that have been conquered and successfully erased from the American narrative. We owe it not only to these tribes but to ourselves to make sure that Native Americans don’t continue to fall prey to the archetypes given to us by colonialism.

4. The American Double Standard

The double standards in this country never cease to amaze me. I’ve seen a good number of girls posing in photo shoots with headdresses perfectly positioned on their heads, woefully ignorant to the cultural importance of what they represent. These actions are not condemned or even acknowledged by the majority of American society, but let ONE person falsely wear a Purple Heart and it becomes a crime.

5. Economic Exploitation

This seems to be the least talked about consequence of cultural appropriation. When I spoke with the owner of Tribe America Leathers, he explicitly told me that almost 50 percent of the proceeds went to Native American tribes (Navajo to be specific). Yet looking at his website, it says that he makes ALL the clothing himself. I’m honestly not even upset at the fact that he lied to me. I’m more disappointed that he used Native Americans under the guise of inclusion.

6. Buy from Legit Sources

I wholeheartedly believe in cutting out the middle man and buying authentic products from the source. Do your own research. The only thing I own that belongs to Native American culture is a dreamcatcher. I bought it from an authentic small shop on the Galveston Strand when I was around 14. The Cherokee woman who owned the shop explained the intricate process she went through in order to make it. It’s a pretty small dreamcatcher around $17 but I had no qualms about buying it because I knew the quality of the product was worth it.

Again, I want to stress that there’s nothing wrong with buying products that belong to other cultures. As long as you educate yourself throughout the process, you won’t become a perpetrator of cultural appropriation. Remember, products having Native American influence are not synonymous with products made by actual Native American artists.

Whitewashing in the American Education System: Why Shakespeare Isn’t Enough

It is no secret that I grew up having more books than friends. I’d spend hours losing myself in the fictional narrative, devouring page upon page of mythical story lines. I fell in love with these alternative universes that seemed so much more magical than my own. But it wasn’t until years later that I realized how problematic my perceptions of these characters really were. I never questioned why all of the characters I’d created in my mind fell neatly within the frames of Eurocentrism. The only times that didn’t happen were when book covers or descriptions of the characters’ physical features were included.

thingsfallapart

The first time I explicitly remember reading a novel from someone who wasn’t white and cisgender was in my 11th grade AP English class. My teacher, Mrs. Seward, had us read Things Fall Apart written by African novelist Chinua Achebe. It told the African narrative that was so clearly missing in required reading. What made this book even more valuable was the reason it was written: as a response to The Heart of Darkness, the problematic, racist sentiments from the viewpoint of European colonialists.   If I hadn’t read this novel, I would NOT have seen the genuinely beautiful side of Africa that is rarely, if ever, portrayed by visitors from the outside.

Throughout my educational career, I’ve been subjected (yes, subjected) to reading novels written by white men from centuries ago. While some of the novels were worth a read, I could never get rid of the feeling that something was missing from the experience.

It’s no secret that novels written in the 18th century were riddled with Middle English that today’s modern English speakers find difficult to comprehend. And yet we still read them, encouraged by teachers, professors, the elite to “try and understand…really dig down deep.” Yet classmates would comment on not wanting to read a certain book because phrases or sections were written in a language other than English.

Fast forward to my senior year of college. Last semester, I decided to take an honors Intro to Humanities class. Throughout the semester, I started feeling increasingly more upset and couldn’t figure out why, until it hit me: here I am, in college, experiencing the same lack of diversity in required reading that I did in high school.

The lack of diversity in the humanities is not an issue that needs to be looked over. The humanities are the core of society, the study of human culture. By limiting required college curriculum to novels and plays written by people of European descent, educational institutions are explicitly saying that no other voices, cultures and traditions matter. With the overabundance of required literature centered solely on the European POV, the invisibility of other narratives prevails, a reoccurring wound caused by ignorant neglect.

More so than not, many students don’t read books unless required to do so by the public education system. So when they don’t see themselves or their experiences represented, what does that leave them with? I should not have to minor in African American studies in order to learn more about my people’s history. Nor should any other group of color, especially those whose influences have heavily affected European culture and have gone uncredited throughout history.

Hold the Applause for Patricia Arquette’s Oscars Speech

rs_634x1024-150222210103-634-patricia-arquette-oscar-winnerLast night, the Oscars took a turn into the political realm. From Neil Patrick Harris’ jab at the lack of diversity to John Legend & Common’s acceptance speech, celebs were making bold statements. However, there was one actor whose speech stood out among the rest.

When Patricia Arquette highlighted the unequal pay and rights among women, supporters such as Meryl Streep & Jennifer Lopez visibly showed their solidarity. Women nationwide could have applauded her efforts of bringing income inequality to the forefront of public conversation. The only problem?

Arquette marginalized gay, trans and women of color. 

During a press room interview, she made it clear that “it’s time for… all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

Whether she intended to or not, her thoughts opened up a can of worms that depicts two larger issues within mainstream feminist theory: the notion that all women share the same experiences AND the undertones of “I Am Savior.” Not only are these lines of thought dangerous to the validity of feminism, but they invalidate the varying experiences of women who are not  white, middle-class women.

Gay, trans and women of color earn far less than their white counterparts. For every dollar that a white man makes, white women make 78 cents to the dollar,  followed by black women with 64 cents, Native American women with 59 cents and Latinx women at 54 cents. While income equality is a very real problem in the US, Arquette’s net worth sits somewhere between 24 and 25 million dollars, far more than $49,398, the average yearly earnings of American women. Mentioning the need for a living wage would also been a step in the right direction.

As well-intended as Arquette’s answers aimed to be, the “I Am Savior” sentiment reared its ugly head. Throughout history, women of color, gay and trans women didn’t have the luxury of focusing strictly on women’s issues. To say that mainstream feminists have fought for the rights of marginalized women is woefully inaccurate. If that were the case, there would only be ONE feminist theory, not multiple highlighting the need for inclusivity. The “we helped you through your issues, so you should return the favor” undertone only serves to pin marginalized groups against mainstream feminism. Nothing about the way Arquette worded that line shows solidarity within the community of women.

Until we can include the voices of all women, I will respectfully hold my applause.

Are Women Just Uncivilized Without Men?

The world of ladies and gentlemen has been surrounded by allure since its invention by the Victorians. Being regarded by these titles illustrated one’s social status and prestige.

The online fashion company Parisian Gentleman has maintained that same, age old sentiment. With the help of ad agency DLV BBDO in Italy, the company has aired its first commercial in late January. The  spot was one that garnered a lot of attention and people have taken notice of its premise: a world without gentlemen is a world without ladies.

Note: The following video is NSFW for brief nudity.

I have a few thoughts about this, but because I’m an advertising major, I’ll divide my thoughts into two categories.

The Advertising Standpoint

This next sentence is about to alienate a lot of feminists, so beware. With the warning out of the way, I can see the idea that Parisian Gentleman was attempting to portray. While this ad is completely gendered, it’s important to keep in mind that the message is directed TO men, FOR men. With that in mind, I think the ad was successful in that regard. However, I didn’t get the connection between the ad’s message and the purpose of the company. The ad did not inform me of what Parisian Gentleman is. Before looking them up, I thought it was probably some upscale “gentlemen’s club” looking to boost their consumer base.

Now, of course, the whole idea behind ladies and gentlemen is heavily rooted in appearance and behavior to begin with. So, again, they nailed that on the head. I would have just liked to see men at least interacting with the women in the ad instead of having an all-women cast with a tagline at the end speaking to men.

The Feminist Standpoint

Before I get into the issues that I have with this commercial, I will start by saying that it was refreshing to watch a depiction of women that strayed away from the perfectly-polished, makeup-wearing robo women that are all too prevalent in mainstream media. I’m sure the shock value was high for those who aren’t used to seeing women in a more ‘natural’ state.

The only real issue that I have with this ad is the premise itself, that women would be less “ladylike” if there were no gentlemen. Now, it’s easy to get into an argument about semantics, so I’ll do my best to not even go there. If you asked 10 different people on the street what they thought “acting like a lady” means, you’d probably get 10 different answers. However, no matter how you personally interpret the premise, it leads back to the same thought process: that men set the stage for women’s behaviors.

So…what do you think? Did you enjoy the ad or not?