Tag Archives: racism

The myth of free speech in the Western world

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo cartoonists this week were atrocious and unfair. There is never any justification for the cruel massacre of 17 people and the terrorizing of a whole city for three days. But I am not Charlie and I feel very uncomfortable with the global endorsement of that hashtag. Although it has been pointed out to me that the hashtag is just a show of solidarity for the victims, I am extremely uncomfortable in supporting free speech that makes fun of Boko Haram sex slaves – sexually abused children – to make a (racist) point about welfare.

In a breath of fresh air, the leaking of internal Al Jazeera emails to The National Review revealed that they have privately positioned themselves against the global support of Charlie Hebdo. One of the quotes that most stood out for me was the following by journalist Omar Al Saleh: “Journalism is not a crime [but] insultism is not journalism. And not doing journalism properly is a crime.”

In the fast-paced world of online journalism and Twitter, a condemnation of the attacks and an unquestionable support for free speech was demanded left and right. It has become a matter of “If you’re against Charlie you’re pro terrorism/against free speech,” whereas the question here should really be: “Free speech is great, how do we use it responsibly?”

Even if free speech is an unquestionable right the Western world prides itself in, the right to publish anything you want doesn’t excuse the use of irresponsible, racist, polarizing cartoons. You are free to make fun of Boko Haram sexual slaves but the question is – should you? (Hint: No.) David Brooks of the New York Times puts it well:

“(…) Whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.

“We might have started out that way. When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to “épater la bourgeoisie,” to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.

“But after a while that seems puerile. Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others. (…) Most of us do try to show a modicum of respect for people of different creeds and faiths. We do try to open conversations with listening rather than insult.” – David Brooks, I Am Not Charlie, The New York Times

The thing about freedom of speech is that it does not exist in a vacuum where it has no impact, especially if you are a journalist exercising your right in a major publication. Once your words appear in a magazine or newspaper, those words matter and they will influence the people who read them. You may tell yourself that people will decide for themselves to be racist and that you had nothing to do with it – but if you publish a racist sentiment you are validating thousands of racists who already feel that way and you might influence people who don’t know much about the subject.

Some people have claimed that Charlie Hebdo’s racist cartoons have spurred on debate about Islam. And here, I ask: who was part of this debate? Was Islam presented accurately by white cartoonists who probably don`t have any Muslim friends? Through the medium of the depiction of the prophet with a star on his ass, was Islam represented fairly or was it vilified? What use is a debate where only one side is heard – the side of the voyeurs?

Free speech is not about petulantly publishing offensive content that adds nothing to difficult conversations we should be having about religion, race and oppression. And neither is it “brave,” like many have claimed – it is actually pretty cowardly to incite Islamophobia in a country where Muslims are increasingly discriminated against. It is ignorant and reeks of white privilege.

Religions are not beyond reproach but the Charlie cartoons were very racialized and polarizing – they othered a group of people. Extremism can and should be questioned but not to the expense of generalizing an entire group.

The Myth of Free Speech

Much has been said about how free speech is under attack in the Western World because of this attack. Frankly, this is extremely hypocritical when, as a woman online, I see the silencing of people of colour and women every single day.

It can be through extreme harassment in orchestrated attacks or just a woman being pushed out of a forum because of gendered slurs aimed at her. It can be through the prominence of racist cartoons over the voices of real Muslims where Islam is concerned: and the erasure of these voices and the lack of positive representation of Muslim characters in the media can result in violent Islamophobia and othering. I have heard of female journalists being told their content was “too women centred” or too “politically correct” for the broader media. As the brilliant Sunny Hundal puts it:

“(…)Let’s also stand up for free speech when Muslims are being threatened. Some of the voices I hear piping up about free speech only do so when Muslims are the perpetrators not victims.

“That isn’t just inconsistent, it also makes me think you don’t really care for the principles at stake. And that also makes it much harder for all of us to convince Muslims about why they should embrace more free speech and the right to insult their religion.” – Sunny Hundal, Why do liberals find it so hard to persuade Muslims about free speech?, Liberal Conspiracy

It must be pointed out that in France, the use of the hijab is forbidden. In 2012 several Muslim institutions sued Charlie Hebdo for their racist content but the case was dismissed. To me, this is a clear double standard: racist cartoons inciting hate? Okay. Embracing Islam as a religion publicly? Not okay. This is only one instance in which free speech is exposed as a myth, or rather a selective right: it is only available to the powerful majority.

We are kidding ourselves if we idealize journalism as some kind of noble profession when a lot of the content is produced for profit. Of course, the fact that it is for profit does not mean it cannot be used for good and for the public interest but your commitment to free speech is extremely polarized if you think everyone has the same footing when joining in the conversation.

Journalists, I am sceptical about your commitment to free speech if you are not seeking diverse voices to include in your work. Editors, I am sceptical about your commitment to free speech if you are not striving for a more diverse pool of writers. I am sceptical about the commitment of most of the press when their opinion sections look like this:

The Times, June 2014.
The Times, June 2014.
The Times, January 2015
The Times, January 2015
Question Time panel after the attacks in Paris.

Go ahead and say “But I am pro-diversity!” but this is not about you or your opinions. This is about systemic violence that silences women and people of colour across the Western world and the fact that people aren’t outraged about that. I am not Charlie Hebdo because I believe a diverse set of voices – not polarizing racist cartoons – will set us free.

UPDATE: Adding this helpful read about the two-layered type of humor Charlie Hebdo is all about – as well as an explanation of how it is also exploitative and racist.

My thoughts are with the friends and family of the victims of the massacre and the Muslims who will undoubtedly suffer Islamophobia as a result of these attacks.

The Brazilian media, Representation and ‘bullying’ of foreigners

Last week, the Brazilian Human Rights Commission approved a request by Congressman Marcos Rogério to remove a Guaraná commercial featuring Neymar that allegedly ‘promotes bullying against foreigners in Brazil’. Watch the video above.

In the commercial, foreigners ask Neymar how to order Guaraná, a Brazilian soda made from an Amazonian fruit. Neymar then writes the translation on a piece of paper. But he doesn’t write what they asked him – he writes common Brazilian sayings that make zero sense in the context of ordering a drink. And so the ‘gringos’ go off to Rio and embarrass themselves by saying things like “I am a dog sucking on a mango, please” (which is a phrase that means ‘ugly’).

Maybe it is a little bit offensive, but if someone is travelling to a place where they don’t know the language they should expect some confusion and ridicule. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being lost in translation – no one expects someone to speak all the languages. And if you are hung up on going places where the language is unknown to you… well, just stay at home.

In any case, the complaint was not made by any gringo (that I know of) but by Brazilian congressmen who are responsible for human rights in this country (it’s important to note that the former president of this human rights commission was largely homophobic, racist and sexist). From this I can only assume they a) have nothing better to do and b) have no idea what human rights actually are.

It’s very difficult to agree that this little prank qualifies as bullying and that this commercial somehow, as the request document put it, ‘violates the values of human dignity’ when so much of the media representation in Brazil is incredibly harmful to its own population.

For example, black women are notably either portrayed in soap operas as maids or sexual objects. The first ‘gay kiss’ on national television was aired a few months ago but comedy shows still largely rely on homophobia to make jokes. Women in general are told they are token prizes in commercials, or are regularly asked by yogurt adverts whether they are thin enough for summer.

If the issue really is ‘human dignity’ and not ‘don’t bully the gringos, they’re bringing us cash’, then why is the image of the Brazilian woman, for example, so warped? A study published by Avon in 2013 shows how women in particular have their ‘human dignity’ violated by the Brazilian media: half of Brazilian men think women are responsible for the house and 89% of them find it inadmissible when women do not keep the house clean. Around 50% of Brazilian men also think women don’t feel the need for sex and 69% of them will not allow their wives to go out without them.

Judging by the commission’s complaint against the Guaraná commercial, we can assume that these congressmen know the importance of media representation. And yet, the Brazilian media is sexist, misogynist, transphobic, racist and does not correctly portray our people – in fact they are regularly oppressed by it.

Slavery is constantly erased, and made into a joke – despite the ugly fact that Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, after bringing 3 million Africans to the country. Women are belittled and represented as sex objects. The history of native people is also constantly made fun of and the genocide of native peoples is erased by the mainstream colonialist rhetoric.

And this pathetic complaint, that uses ‘human dignity’ as an argument, is coming from a human rights commission that spent the larger part of 2013 trying to pass a bill of law called ‘Gay Cure’ that would allow doctors to treat homosexuality as a psychological disease.

When the population’s ‘human dignity’ is violated every day by harmful stereotypes and oppressive representation, it is really hard to care about Neymar laughing at a few tourists who are fortunate enough to be able to travel to Brazil to (presumably) watch the World Cup.

Mark Duggan’s death is a result of racism

The verdict of Mark Duggan’s inquest has raised some very important questions about police, order and racism in the UK. Many people were quick to deny that race had anything to do with ‘lawfully’ shooting down a young black man and others have adamantly affirmed that Duggan posed an obvious threat to the policeman who shot him, even though the gun, that was said to be in his hand since the beginning of the case’s press coverage, was actually twenty feet away from him.

It is hard to believe the police is held accountable in the UK when there have been no convicted officers for deaths in custody since 1969. Cases where families have to take up the cause of their own justice against the police are common in the UK (see Hillsborough disaster cover-up) – unfortunately that is unsurprising considering that 827 people have died in police custody since 2004, without a single conviction.

Does this mean that the police’s actions were irreprehensible 827 times? Or do we have to examine corruption and cover-ups that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has so far failed to acknowledge or investigate?

If you are unfamiliar with the IPCC and how it works, here is a summary:  the IPCC is an organization separate from the police that is in charge of policing the police. They investigate complaints that are made by civilians and must be automatically called in when someone dies in custody. They express in their website that they are not part of the police: “[The IPCC] is independent, making its decisions entirely independently of the police and government. It is not part of the police”.

A What Do They Know investigation has revealed that in 2012, 42% of IPCC staff and 88% of its senior investigators were ex-police. Perhaps this is understandable in terms of abilities and requirements for the job, but it raises question as to how independent and unbiased the IPCC actually is. In the eight years the IPCC has existed, there have been many complaints about the competency of the commission itself: they are known to have conveyed with the police to compose press releases (when they should be investigating suspicious deaths), taking hours to get to the crime scene and hiding essential evidence (again, see Hillsborough disaster). The IPCC is more often than not doing damage control when the police makes a mistake than actually investigating the misconducts.

In fact, the IPCC helped the police draw up the press release on Duggan’s case.

“The IPCC was also partially responsible for creating the false public perception that Duggan had shot at police first. (…)The mass media swallowed the shoot-out story, and the tabloids proceeded to portray Duggan as a gangster and a drug dealer, as if its job was to make the killing acceptable to the public.“ – Deaths in British police custody: no convicted officers since 1969, by Koos Couvée, opendemocracy.net

But all of this only scratches the surface of Mark Duggan’s case in particular. The incompetency and corruption within the IPCC and the police force are not the only issue to be discussed: it is essential to point out that Duggan’s death, the following media demonization of his character and the verdict are a result of racism.

Benefit of the doubt

The verdict of a ‘lawful killing’ stems from the conclusion that the police felt Duggan was a threat and that he was reaching for a gun. However there is enough evidence to indicate that he was not holding the gun when he was shot dead.

Mark Prodger from the BBC reports:

“As soon as Mr Duggan was shot by police the gun apparently disappeared. One officer at the scene said that even as he fell to the ground, and the officer grabbed his arms, the gun was nowhere to be seen.

“Nobody said they saw him throw it, either before or after. Officers said they later found the gun, wrapped in a black sock, some 20ft (6m) away on the other side of some railings.” – Mark Duggan inquest: Why killing was deemed lawful, by Mark Prodger, BBC.

Despite the fact that Duggan was unarmed, the policeman still felt his life was threatened. And if we are talking in legal terms, we can consider Lord Griffith’s statement in Beckford v R: “A man about to be attacked does not have to wait for his assailant to strike the first blow or fire the first shot; circumstances may justify a pre-emptive strike.”

It could be that the police have lied: according to Witness B’s statement Duggan was raising his arms in a show of surrender when he was shot and he was not holding a gun. They also described the killing as an ‘execution’. Or it could be that in a split second, the policeman really did feel threatened by a black youth who is part of a group of people who have been historically vilified by the media and the police themselves.

In both scenarios, one of merciless execution and the other of racial profiling, race comes into question. Lord Griffith’s earlier statement implies that the benefit of the doubt must be given to the shooter (apparently, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary), but it begs the question – why wasn’t Duggan given the benefit of the doubt?

The marginalized don’t get the benefit of the doubt

Mark Duggan was immediately painted as a low-life criminal by the media. The implication of this portrait was that since he was a ‘gangster’ person of colour in possession of a gun he deserved to die. A photo of Duggan making a gun shape with his hand was widely circulated, purely for shock-value.

The word gangster was thrown around mercilessly and it was instantly obvious that Duggan would never get the benefit of the doubt. To the media he looked like a criminal so he was a criminal. Duggan had two minor offences on his record (none of them violent): cannabis possession and receiving stolen goods – hardly the portfolio of a dangerous criminal.

Stafford Scott, consultant on racial equality and community engagement, writes for the Guardian:

“The headlines declared him a gangster who was on a mission to avenge the killing of his cousin, Kelvin Easton. However, during the inquest no evidence was offered in support of this claim. It was further alleged that he was a large-scale drugs dealer, but yet again not a shred of evidence was provided to substantiate these allegations. But that did not matter, the mud had been slung and it clearly stuck as it was designed to. Even now most people still do not realise that he was only ever convicted for two relatively minor offences – one count of cannabis possession, and one count of receiving stolen goods.” – This perverse Mark Duggan verdict will ruin our relations with the police, Stafford Scott, The Guardian.

Mark Duggan was not a dangerous criminal and there is evidence to support the claim that he was not holding a gun. He was not given a chance to surrender.

But he was a criminal!

He might not have been a large-scale drug dealer, and – fine! – he only had minor offences, but he illegally bought a gun! So he was a criminal and he deserved to die for getting in trouble in the first place.

Believe it or not, this has been a common argument I’ve had hurled at me on social media when I tweeted my outrage when the verdict came out.

Duggan was a 29-year-old man who bought a gun. This is illegal and it was a bad, bad life choice. But this does not strip him of his humanity. It does not strip him of his right to live, or his right to a fair trial. It does not strip him from the right to a chance to be rehabilitated.

In the UK, possession of a gun is taken very seriously so Duggan would have problems with the law if and when he was caught carrying one. That was, presumably, something Duggan knew. But he didn’t know he was going to be executed – but perhaps, considering the structurally racist world we live in, he should have guessed.

Minorities are still the biggest suspects

Racism is alive and well. Home secretary Theresa May’s public consultation on the police powers in England and Wales revealed that people who are black or of minority ethnic background are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

This whole case reminds me of one particular passage of Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, where a Wall Street man named Sherman and his mistress run over a young black man in the Bronx when they made the snap assumption that the youth and another black man were going to mug them. Sherman’s internal monologue fleets between racism and the idea that these men are just trying to help him – which they were. This book was written almost thirty years ago – and yet, here we are.

Racial profiling still exists. Snap assumptions based on race happen all the time. Trayvon Martin and Mark Duggan are only two examples of it.

You still fail to see how this is a race issue

It could have happened if Duggan had been white, right? No, I don’t think so. Black youth has been vilified and demonized for decades if not centuries – it’s the Scary Black Men stereotype (although black women are also feared). It is the belief that a black male is more likely to attack you because of their race – and in a split second decision this particular manifestation of racism can result in the death of a 29-year-old unarmed man.

This is what happened in George Zimmerman’s trial, where his victim, Trayvon Martin, was painted as a Scary Black Man by the defence team.

“In pre-trial motions the defence showed pictures of Martin taken from his cell phone of him with gold teeth and giving the camera the middle finger; and also pictures of marijuana plants, guns and even a video of homeless men fighting over a bike. Attorneys alleged he participated in organized fighting and noted his school suspension, evidence it seems to imply the life of a troubled teen. All of a sudden language about an “aspiring street tough,” and “would-be thug” surrounded Martin.” – George Zimmerman trial: Trayvon Martin portrayed as ‘scary black man’, Reniqua Allen, The Guardian.

The same thing was done to Mark Duggan: the IPCC purposefully led the media and the public to believe Duggan had shot first (see admission of lie here) and insisted he was a dangerous, known criminal, when he only had two strikes on his police record.

In 2012, the NYPD disclosed that 96% of shooting victims in New York City are black or latino. You might think that New York is too far away from the UK, but London has scary figures too: from April 2004 to the end of March 2008 65% of youth murder victims were black African or black Caribbean and 12% were white European.

When I was researching to write this post, I came across a blog on BlackYouthProject.com that illustrates the result of the Scary Black Man stereotype.

Edward writes:

“Am I really that scary? I’m only 5’9’’ 180 pounds.  This is what I asked myself when a girl ran away from me as I walked down Ellis Avenue two weeks ago. Initially I was flabbergasted by her reaction. Did I look like a criminal? I had on an under armour shirt and some old basketball shorts because I had just left the gym. Was I doing anything out of the ordinary? No, I was just walking with a tote bag in my hand. From my vantage (sic) point I looked like an unassuming University of Chicago student tired from a long day of lectures and treadmills. She started walking briskly after she looked back and saw me behind her around the Midway. By the time I got to 59th and Ellis, she was in front of the Burton Judson Dormitory frantically searching for something in her purse.  Maybe it was a key or maybe it was mace.” – Scary Black Men, by Edward, BlackYouthProject.org

Imagine if the mace was a gun and the girl decided she was in imminent danger. Another black young man would be lost because of racism.

I am not black so I cannot speak for black people – nor am I trying to do so with this post. After being met with consistent racism and denial of racism on social networks regarding Duggan, I felt this case deserved an analysis. After reading the documents, researching the police, the IPCC and other similar cases, my conclusion is that Mark Duggan was killed because of racism. While the IPCC and the police need to be held accountable for their constant racism and frequent cover-ups, the whole of the UK has to admit that structural racism is very much still part of British life – and working on fixing that is the next step.

A feminist look at the Anchorman movies

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Anchorman has become a cult movie because of its inexhaustible quotability and impossible silliness. But there is something else about this cult that has not been tapped on enough: its feminist social commentary.

Read more.

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Miley’s warped logic

Unless you live under a rock you will know by now that Miley Cyrus danced half naked on the stage of the VMAs, twerked all over the place, motorboated a black woman’s rear end and rubbed her own rear end on creepy rapist-eyes Robin Thicke’s crotch.

It is practically a ritual to have pop stars who are ‘all grown up’ perform provocatively in the VMAs. Britney did it, Christina did it, Rihanna did it. It’s really no surprise that Miley wanted to do it now that she is free from Disney’s claws. But she got it all wrong and ended up endorsing a culture of expectations and oppression women have to live with every day.

Many feminist bloggers hurried to defend Miley’s performance as an onslaught of slut-shaming was coming her way. It is wrong to shame a woman for being sexual and having control of her own body, but this isn’t what Miley was doing at all. As opposed to taking control, empowering her body, it looked as though she was giving her body away to the patriarchy.

“But the moment you use a man, who is fully dressed, as something to pole dance on… you are making him the focus of attention. You are there to please HIM. If she wanted to do something really radical, she would have demanded Robin Thicke also wear latex pants, and he could drop it to the floor once or twice for her perhaps… That’s fair. It’s a little close to porn, but it’s fair. But that would never happen would it? Why? Because Robin Thicke doesn’t feel the need to. The greatest performance of the night went to Justin Timberlake, who wore a hat and scarf over a full suit. A man who is a bonifide sex symbol, without ever having to demonstrate his “oral” skills. I’m yet to see Jay Z, Snoop Dogg or Kanye slut drop in a gold thong, shaking their testes against Katy Perry, Rihanna or Ellie Goulding… though, believe me, it would make my bloody day. The mere idea of it is preposterous, because we are a world unaccustomed to men selling sex to be noticed, quite the way women traditionally are known to. And who’s to say women wouldn’t do the same were the tables turned?” – Sexpression, by Jameela Jamil.

Another issue has been that the backlash has only focused on Miley when Robin Thicke was also onstage as the dominating male, singing a song that he admitted was written for the purpose of demeaning women. Let’s not forget that Thicke should feel ashamed of this and that Miley’s behaviour onstage was a direct, clear response to his song. The song that perpetuates rape culture, the song that implies ‘I know you want it’ is a good excuse for rape.

In a society where ‘Blurred Lines’ is the song of the summer it is unsurprising that Miley thinks she is expected to be sexual to get rid of her Disney kid reputation, that she is expected to give away her body and sexuality to the public. Her performance wasn’t shocking because she was half-naked, it was shocking because she doesn’t seem to understand what sexual empowerment is and is making a poor example of it to millions of young girls who admire her.

“Everything about Cyrus’ performance was as try-hard as a 14-year-old in the mall with tissues in her bra, rouge on her cheeks, and lipstick on her teeth,” – In Defence of Miley Cyrus, by Rich Juzwiak from Gawker.

Yes, this might be mean but it is true; and she is pretty much passing on the idea that you need to do this kind of thing to be taken seriously by society.

Another huge issue with Miley’s performance and music of late is her misappropriation of black culture. As The Belle Jar pointed out white feminists rushed to defend Miley’s right to be sexual but completely ignored the fact that she has a warped, stereotypical idea of what being a woman of colour actually means.

“Miley is doing her best to promote herself as a part of rachet culture, which Jody Rosen describes as “the potent sexual symbolism of black female bodies,” while simultaneously treating the black women in her videos and performances as props. She is taking elements of black culture and using them to give her the patina of street cred that she wants so badly. She is playing at being black without even trying to understand what the lived experience of being black really is. She is appropriating cultural elements without taking any time to reflect on her position of privilege and how her use of the term “ratchet” or her twerking are contributing to the oppression of black people.” – On Miley Cyrus and Racism, The Belle Jar.

I wrote about the idea that women of colour should be sexual yesterday. I can’t speak for them but if I was one of them I would be offended by the fact that Miley has appropriated black culture to give her more sexual credibility – enforcing the idea that women of colour should be sexual and that white women should be pure. And if you want to see how angry women of colour are I suggest you read the following quoted post.

“Here’s the thing: historically, black women have had very little agency over their bodies. From being raped by white slave masters to the ever-enduring stereotype that black women can’t be raped, black women have been told over and over and over again, that their bodies are not their own. By bringing these “homegirls with the big butts” out onto the stage with her and engaging in a one-sided interaction with her ass, (not even her actual person!) Miley has contributed to that rhetoric. She made that woman’s body a literal spectacle to be enjoyed by her legions of loyal fans.” – Solidarity is for Miley, Face Down Asgard Up.

Miley Cyrus’s attempt to show that she is a grown, sexually mature woman has failed in so many ways. Her understanding of black culture, sexuality, being a woman, rape culture, objectification, empowerment and emancipation is all wrong. Going back to Gawker’s mean words about her attitude on stage it is clear that she is still immature, with a poor understanding of the world around her. And that’s not her fault.

#MileyPuns just to lighten the tone

 

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The oppression white feminists tend to ignore

Emmett-Tills-Famly-Demands-Apology-From-Lil-Wayne-4

The case of Trayvon Martin has been widely compared to that of Emmett Till, a young black man who was murdered in 1955 for wolf-whistling at a white female shopkeeper. Later that night two white men crept into Emmett’s room, kidnapped him, beat him and shot him dead.

Though Trayvon and Emmett were victims of atrocious crimes that no doubt had to do with their race, Emmett’s story is one that intrigues me because of it sexual politics. Though it might seem harmless to many wolf-whistling is sexual harassment. And doing so to a white woman was a death sentence since the ‘purity’ of her womanhood would be tainted.

There are no excuses for the deaths of these men, and there is nothing I can add to the discussion of violence against young men like them. But in reading an article about Emmett’s cousin, who was sleeping next to him when he got abducted, in last Saturday’s The Times one of his quotes made me think about the oppression of women of colour as opposed to that of men.

“Mr Wright, then 12, was there when Emmett wolf-whistled a white shop-keeper called Carolyn Bryant. ‘He scared us half to death, we couldn’t get out of town fast enough. He whistled at a white woman in Mississippi. You don’t do that, not in 1955. Probably can’t do that now in certain areas.’ ”

Though Wright is focusing on what happened to Emmett as a result of his actions he recognizes something that is still extremely present in society nowadays – the difference between the expectations men have of black and white women.

Almost five decades after Emmett’s death feminism struggles with intersectionality, the comprehension of privilege and the diversity of women. As hard as we might try to make feminism a one-size-fits-all solution, women are diverse and so are their problems – and inclusion is the key.

“In regard to gender, there have been two, pronounced, conflicting and unjust narratives concerning female sexuality in America. Although all women who were viewed or accused as loose or promiscuous faced the ire and consternation of a (predominantly white) male-dominated society, there has always been this duplicitous racial application of the penalties incurred for committing perceived “moral” crimes against society. Historically, White women, as a category, have been portrayed as examples of self-respect, self-control, and modesty — even sexual purity — but Black women were often (and still are) portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory.

Though all women suffer under patriarchy, sexism, misogyny and objectification women of colour are expected to be sexual and are, at the same time, shamed if they comply with that expectation.

Wright’s statement resonates with this so much – it is unlikely that Emmett would have been killed if the woman he wolf-whistled was of colour. And this is of great significance to the discussion of sexual politics today, as from Wright’s statement he says ‘probably can’t do that now in certain areas’ – and so, in these areas, it is okay to harass women of colour but not white women.

I am not a woman of colour and I will never claim to speak for them. But I am Brazilian and, though I could never compare one to the other – as I haven’t lived both – my place of origin carries a certain kind of sexual mystique. In the streets of Rio being harassed is just a part of your routine. It is certainly sad and disappointing that our colours, in addition to our gender, affect the way society treats us or expects us to act – but that is a problem that exists and there is not use in denying it. Feminism should be all inclusive so conversations like this can be had.

Wright’s quote gave me a bit of space to think and write about something I have been reading on the internet for a while, the need to recognize differences between gender-related grievances for women of different backgrounds.

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Facebook promotes rape culture

Facebook has been waging a war on women’s safety. They are not working against abuse of women – like all decent companies and people should – but they are working to defend offensive, aggressive and appalling Facebook pages that promote rape culture and validate abusers.

There are pages are generated by Facebook users with content is offensive, threatening and racist. The images are truly appaling, but despite reports by several people they are still there eve though they are explicitly against Facebook’s terms and conditions. The rules for ‘hate speech’ and reported content reads ‘we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.’ Yet, thousands of photos are still posted on the website, despite reports.

Women from all over the world report offensive content every day – but they get the same response.

This photo of a murdered, bloodied woman does not violate Facebook’s Community Standard on graphic violence.

This page about slapping hookers does not violate Facebook’s Community Standard on hate speech.

This image condoning (and perhaps even encouraging) date-rape drugs does not violate Facebook’s Community Standard on violence and threats.

Neither does this one, promoting physical abuse and the silencing of women.

(Source)

Though the word ‘promoting’ might seem a bit strong to describe Facebook’s current (or lack of) actions towards this problem, there is no other way to put it. Though the social media network is a pit of information, the company is still responsible for the content posted by its users. That is plain and simple. The lack of action has resulted in a plain and simple conclusion: Facebook is a misogynist, sexist, racist company that doesn’t really care about anyone but themselves (white, rich men).

According to the blogger Rosie at Make Me a Sammich, the creator of Rapebook, a page built to make people aware of the hateful content on Facebook, has been speaking to the company herself for six months. This means they know that there are issues with their reporting system, but for six months they have failed to do anything about it – and if they eventually do something about it, it is because several people had to point it out to them, not because they know it’s wrong. In fact, women haven’t just been pointing it out, they have been actively reporting and writing about this issue for more than a year.

Yet, nothing has been done to change the system, except for a Twitter account that says reports of this issue are inaccurate and a thinly veiled scheme to show their system works. Facebook is currently tracking down everything reported by bloggers on their pages and taking them down, just so they can say ‘This is inaccurate, our system works perfectly. You’re overreacting.’

Women are not overreacting. We are reacting, and implying we are over-sensitive or easily offended is just a way to silence us. Why is it so hard to believe we actually feel offended by these images? Why is it so hard to understand that we have real opinions and feelings?

‘Lighten up’ is another phrase used to silence women. ‘It’s just a joke, we don’t really think rape is acceptable!’ – well, you know who thinks rape and abuse are an acceptable and common part of everyday life? Rapists and abusers do. And these jokes, images and pages validate their urges and their aggressive actions to satisfy them.

Women also feel threatened by these jokes every day. Who’s to say someone who thinks rape is just a way to get laid doesn’t hang around them? Guess what, statistics show that 75% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Jokes like this are threatening behavior, whether you mean it to be or not. Intentions don’t quite matter here as we already feel threatened by society in general because of rape culture. Facebook is condoning and even encouraging just that – a culture in which rape is normalized by jokes and sniggering comments.

And all of this begs the question of why the social media network is doing this. Why are they directly associating themselves with this? Why have there been no responses and only meek efforts to fix this?

It gets worse. Bloggers and women fighting against this have taken matters to where it hurts; the money. They started tweeting and emailing companies that buy ad space from Facebook, showing screenshots of hateful content right next to their ads. Facebook’s response and ultimate proof they do not care about abuse and rape being encouraged in their website? They pulled adverts from any abusive pages that have been reported.

And again, I ask – why? Is it a ‘freedom of speech’ defense? That’s not very convincing, as photos of breastfeeding, breast cancer awareness and protesting Femen breasts have been taken down when reported.

So here’s the conclusion: Facebook only cares about white men who laugh at other minorities. Everyone else can be offended in their own time and stop complaining.

Learn how to report Facebook pages and images here.

Update 1:

I have received the following message from Jaclyn Friedman from Women, Action, and the Media (WAM): “These images don’t just affect women — they affect all of us. They have the effect of normalizing violence against women, so that the culture treats it as inevitable, or a joke, and does nothing about it. But just like these images aren’t inevitable, neither is violence against women. That’s why we launched the campaign.”

Update 2:

Great news for Internet activism – Facebook has replied to the #FBrape campaign and promised to take action.

Now it’s up to us to make sure that happens.

FB’s full statement can be read here.

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Django Unchained awakens debate on slavery and racism

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Squirm in your seat, try to hide behind your hands all you want, closing your eyes might stop you from watching the graphic cruelty on screen – but the reality is there and never has it been captured like this in fiction. Though Tarantino’s Django Unchained has been branded as anti-white propaganda, as a vehicle that tarnishes black history, as too racist for its overuse of the N word, as an extreme of blaxploitation, it has brought forward a discussion about racism and slavery that was very much dormant in the mainstream media.

Though we may celebrate Barack Obama being the first African American man to be re-elected as President in the Unites States, it is easy to forget why we celebrate it and how painful this history can be. Django wasn’t a real person, neither was his blood-soaked journey, but his struggle is true to the reality of slavery that lasted for centuries, and despite the deep fictional roots of Unchained, there is much that Tarantino concealed with creativity and blood.

To clarify, it must be stressed that the centre of the movie was based on an imaginary kind of cruelty: there is little next to no historical evidence that mandingo fighting actually existed, and Tarantino borrowed this idea from one of his favourite movies Mandingo, released in 1975. It has been used as a plot device in movies for years, and though for Tarantino fans it might be evident, many have asked – if it was not a real historical fact, why use it in Django Unchained at all?

“We all intellectually ‘know’ the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, but after you do the research it’s no longer intellectual any more, no longer just historical record – you feel it in your bones. It makes you angry, and want to do something,” he recently declared in an interview, explaining the gore and violence in the movie. “I’m here to tell you, that however bad things get in the movie, a lot worse shit actually happened. When slave narratives are done on film, they tend to be historical with a capital H, with an arms-length quality to them.

“I wanted to break that history-under-glass aspect, I wanted to throw a rock through that glass and shatter it for all times, and take you into it.”

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In his fictional Django world, Tarantino believes to only have shown a fraction of how cruel the human race has been to themselves. As my friend Tom Wardak has noted in his enthralling review of the movie, it is important that the relationship between characters is intra-racial, not inter-racial. There is the sadistic white man (Leonardo DiCaprio), the evil black man that defends not his race (Samuel L Jackson), the good German who tends to murder white men and despises slavery (Christoph Waltz) and the black man who enjoys killing white men for revenge (Jamie Foxx).

Though Django is oppressed, he also kills many, many people (some with remorse, others with much gusto)– yet, somehow we find ourselves rooting for him. Even in the subject of slavery where it seems that wrong and right are simple, Tarantino mixes up good and bad in a huge stew and serves it to us – we might be swallowing it with a bitter taste in our mouths, but the truth is that even heroes can be murderers, and even slaves can torture slaves. Though race and slavery is the centre of the plot, Tarantino has risked speculating how it affects different people, not just the evil white man and the submissive black man. It is complex, and perhaps frightening, but it’s an amazing point to be debated.

This is nothing new. Alice Walker has conveyed this complexity before in The Colour Purple. In speaking about identity, race, slavery and segregation, Nettie points out that though African tribes are oppressed by a white colonial force there is still oppression within the tribes. And though the Olinka tribe knows of the suffering of the African American slaves, they are indifferent to the plight of their brothers and sisters. This is essentially Tarantino’s conclusion; a complication of an apparent straightforward definition of oppressed and oppressor.

Astonishing as it might seem, it is true that Tarantino left much of the cruelty from times of slavery out of his movie. He used the shocking images of mandingo fighting as an allegory of the “worse shit” that happened, but he left out many things that are worth remembering if we want to debate the issue of slavery. Sexual abuse and rape – obviously no one was ever held accountable, or ever punished for any raping of slaves as they were considered property. Working conditions, where slaves worked in the cotton fields no matter what the weather and many worked with bleeding hands. The journey to America, where death by “human crush” was common – too many people in one space resulting in suffocation. Many threw themselves off the ship, and others were dragged with dead corpses and thrown off the ship because they were chained together.

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And once in America, they were imprisoned not only by their masters but by law too. They were forbidden to learn how to read. If they were able to buy their freedom, they could be captured by slavers and sold again. Sometimes, slaves didn’t know where they were born, or hold old they were – identity was not needed for property. If you want to read more, click on the sources below.

Let’s not forget segregation continued for decades after the Civil War.

With a symbolic shot of blood splatter onto fully grown pristine cotton plants, Tarantino has awakened a much needed dialogue about the history of slavery and its effects on today’s society. Despite years of progress, Beyoncé is still photoshopped to look paler, Twitter is full of extremely racist remarks, and I have met people who say we should get over slavery because everything is bunnies and rainbows nowadays in terms of racism.

It may just be because Obama is the most powerful man in the USA that this subject has been off the table for so long. He’s the president, he is African American, so Martin Luther King’s dream is done.

Right? I don’t think so.

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Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be a specialist on the issues mentioned above. Also, I am not a Tarantino aficionado.

All photos from Webmaster’s Toolkit at Django Unchained.