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.

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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.

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Why It’s Not Really About Superheroes

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After being asked by TMZ whether or not she’d be playing the part of Green Lantern, Michelle Rodriguez thought that was “the dumbest thing [she’d] ever heard. Because of this whole ‘minorities in Hollywood’ thing. It’s so stupid….stop stealing all the white people’s superheroes. Make up your own.

Fans took to social media in response to Rodriquez’s comments. Of course, she posted a video on Facebook clarifying her statement she made Friday night.

Here is a quote from her video:

What I really meant was, ultimately, at the end of the day, there’s a language. And the language that you speak in Hollywood is successful franchise. And I think that there are many cultures in Hollywood that are not white that can come up with their own mythology…instead of trying to turn a girl character into a guy or instead of trying to turn a white character into a black character or Latin character, I think that people should stop being lazy, and that people should actually make an effort in Hollywood to develop their own mythology.

Let me be the first to say that I admire Rodriguez for taking roles that many women probably either wouldn’t take or wouldn’t be cast in. But what Rodriquez fails to realize is that there really aren’t “many cultures in Hollywood that are not white.” I have yet to see accurate depictions of Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans, Hawaiians, Native Americans, Aboriginals and other POC in major, big-budget films. The sad fact is that we don’t see many people of color being cast as major characters. In a Time Magazine interview, Fresh Off The Boat star Constance Wu talks about how important it is “to see Asians in those leading roles because it changes…the anglo-heteronormative status of TV.” Having a few people of color in a movie is not diversity, it’s tokenism.

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ZAHARA in Spider Stories

Throughout the centuries, people of color have created long and rich histories of storytelling. However, these story lines have not been adequately embraced by Hollywood. The underrepresentation of people of color in comics doesn’t stem from “laziness” on the artists’ part. There are plenty of comics that do an awesome job at illustrating diversity, including the
cartoon Spider Stories by Nigerian-American brothers John and Charles Agbaje.

In regards to comic-based films, recreating traditional superheroes into figures that people of color can relate to is not “stealing,” it’s a cultural cohesion vital to sustaining diversity. While superheroes are fictitious, thriving in a world of crime and chaos, they often create racial discourse in pop culture. So until the billion-dollar movie franchises in Hollywood can get it together, America can’t claim to be a melting pot.

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?

So First Thing’s First…What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality

Artwork by Miriam Dobson

 

Note: Click image for full illustration.

If you’re a self-proclaimed feminist (or just an awesomely informed person), then chances are you’ve heard of the term ‘intersectionality’ at some point in time. But for those of you who are coming across this word for the first time, well, this post is for you.

So…let’s get to it.

To grasp the concept of intersectionality, let me first explain the term ‘feminism.’

In the broadest sense, feminism is the belief that women should have the same rights, merit and opportunities as our male counterparts and that being a woman should not be viewed as a disadvantage.

Intersectionality, on the other hand, goes far beyond the fight for equality among the sexes.         The term was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in her 1989 work. It not only recognizes the system of oppression between the sexes, but also acknowledges the interconnectedness of multiple oppressive systems. These systems can include gender, class, ability, age, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other forms of identity.

The goal of mainstream feminism is for women to effectively integrate into the present system. While this is needed, it just simply isn’t enough. The system itself is the problem. Being “welcomed” into a broken system isn’t the solution.  We must condemn the system that has unapologetically been built by groups that are now marginalized by that same system.

This is why my feminism HAS to be intersectional. Because I’m not just a woman. Because I’m not just black. Because I shouldn’t have to pick and choose which oppressed group I identity with that day.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that the theory of intersectionality has been fully understood, accepted and embraced by “mainstream” feminists. Despite that, I’m hopeful that the feminists of my generation will continue to embrace the many faces of feminism, including my own.

Welcome, Lovelies!

IMG_0315Well, it all started when a good friend of mine invited me to a Feminist United meeting on our college campus. Until that point,  I never had the opportunity to attend one of these meetings, mostly because of work and other organizational meetings that just so happened to take place at the same time. However, fall semester of my senior year proved to be (surprisingly) abundant with free time. After the 2-hour meeting, I left with a completely revised view of life. From then on, I began to view society and everyday life through a critical new lens I had not before. So, why exactly am I telling you all of this? Well, that brings me to why I’ve created this blog.

On my journey to understanding and embracing feminism, it didn’t take long to notice that the many feminist spaces I came across didn’t have many voices from people of color. Because of this, I wanted to create a blog that serves as a starting point to bringing forth issues that people of color often face within the confines of a patriarchal system.

In the creation of this blog, I feel it is important and necessary to state that this blog is a safe haven for all marginalized groups* who seek community, understanding and knowledge.

*The article linked uses the term “minority groups.” I personally prefer to use marginalized because “minority groups” sounds offensive and gives the impression that people belonging to these groups are “less than.” Though not completely inclusive, the article does seem to offer the best explanation and breakdown  of which groups fall into this category.