The trailer for the film “Miss Representation” seems very promising in its exposure of media’s harmful effect on young women. I hope to see it in Montreal theatres soon. This also seems to have come at an appropriate time, right when I’m starting to doubt my own feminist orientation after an incident like the photo below:
Image from Racialicious.com
The recent controversy surrounding the NYC Slutwalk involved a white woman marched with a sign that said “Woman is N***** of the World” – after the John Lennon/Yoko Ono duet. According to this Racialicious post, a black woman did ask the protester to take the sign down – but not before many pictures had already been taken.
Lots of good responses have been circulating on the internet already, like this one from Crunk Feminist Collective, so I’ll try not to be redundant.
It’s disconcerting to me that it took a woman of colour to point out the problem of the message. It also troubles me to see that some people are defending the sign because apparently John and Yoko had no racist intent (and here we are, talking about intention again).
Ever since I was 19 I’ve been calling myself a feminist. Yet, these days I find myself qualifying that word – I’m a feminist interested in anti-racist work, I’m a feminist interested in LGBTQ rights also, etc. If mainstream feminism is so race-blind that it takes a woman of colour to correct it, then where is the hope? If I continue to call myself a feminist will I just be a smattering of “diversity” at the mostly-white table of big-league feminists? I also see the insidious mark of capitalism seeping in, where feminism is now about book deals and speaking engagements at universities and/or luncheons that aren’t very accessible to those who might need it the most. Has feminism been co-opted so much that it’s only about expanding one’s social capital rather than growing a strong society? The proliferation of faux-”empowerment” books for women that has not translated into more representation of women in leadership positions in society certainly seems to indicate that. What have I, a 1.5-generation immigrant woman of colour, have actually done for women like me in the times I’ve called myself a feminist? Is it time to frame myself in another ‘-ism’ to actually give back to the community, rather than pat myself on the back for coming this far?
Posted by RK on October 13, 2011
Jose Antonio Vargas (image from Racialicious)
Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, wrote this deeply moving and personal account of his “illegal alien” status. The piece itself was thought-provoking in exploring the helplessness in many young immigrants whose futures are shaped by their parents’ wishes and hopes, as well as the immigrant mentality that tries and tries and tries to belong, yet never being able to shake off the anxiety of not belonging, amplified by the undocumented status. It was also great to read an account that goes against the typical “undocumented immigrant” image in the media that paints them as having lower socio-economic status and uneducated. Then I started reading more about the circumstances around that article, about how the Washington Post (where Vargas was a staff reporter) killed the story – thus leading Vargas to pitch it to the New York Times instead. Racialicious did a great post outlining the circumstances surrounding the story, and speculated whether “they are worried about seeming too liberal friendly going into 2012.” They also discussed the Post’s opinion piece on the matter, written by the Ombudsman, which was a little bit problematic in its tone, attempting to dismiss the authenticity of the piece by calling Vargas a “relentless self-promoter.” He also said it was “disturbing” that Vargas has formed a nonprofit group to advocate for immigration reform. He has crossed the line from journalist to advocate.”
All of this makes me think about the notion of objectivity and who gets to claim it. Basically, the Post is questioning the veracity of Vargas’s account because it’s too subjective, too personal. But this seems like a strange critique for the piece since he is talking about his own life as an undocumented immigrant. Vargas also wrote in his piece that he tried to avoid reporting on immigrant issues as much as he could, lest his bias or his status get in the way.
But is that what objectivity is? An undocumented immigrant can’t report on immigrant issues because his identity is in the way? Does the same rule apply to other areas – what about an LGBT reporter writing about LGBT rights? An African-American from reporting on African-American issues? A book or a film review from a self-proclaimed fan of the author/director? It seems that objectivity or a blank slate is a space that cannot be claimed easily (or at all?) by those who are not seen as white, heterosexual, and utterly devoid of passion.
To be objective is to have privilege. It’s easy to tell someone to be rational when a certain issue does not affect and threaten one’s livelihood, or his/her identity directly (which is also why the pervasive image of an “angry woman of colour” is so derided by those who claim the privileged space, not thinking for one second about the hardships of being multiply marginalized others). Of course, I understand being a journalist requires a certain kind of privilege, especially now where unpaid internships are pretty much a requirement (and working for free for prolonged periods is certainly a kind of economic privilege). But as journalism moves on to reflect the diversity of this world, having people like Vargas on staff, I wonder if objectivity must be re-examined in some way or another.
As Latoya from Racialicious asked, “Are we still trying to hold on to the tattered notion of “objectivity” – or did Vargas usher in a whole new take on radical transparency?”
Posted by RK on July 2, 2011
Quebec has long opposed the multicultural model of diversity that has been accepted in the rest of Canada – instead, they have been advocating for interculturalism instead, where the emphasis is more on acknowledging the presence of francophone culture as the dominant one, while trying to engage and include other cultural voices in the public sphere. Today, UBC’s director of intercultural understanding Alden Habacon will be speaking with UBC president Stephen Toope as part of the UBC Alumni event, “Intercultural Understanding: Is Montreal Canada’s Cultural Innovator?” in Montreal. Read my preview of the event here on Schema Magazine’s website.
Posted by RK on June 21, 2011