Cultural Appropriation or Representation? An Exploration.

So the other day I was having a conversation with my Dad about films (one of the only things we ever talk about), and he asked me if I would like to watch The Lone Ranger. Forgetting momentarily, as I often do, that my dad is an aggressive racist (Yes, I’ve tried to tell him. No, it hasn’t stuck.), I said that I felt funny about watching that film because they cast Johnny Depp as a Native American and I think, isn’t it bad enough we committed a genocide against them? Now we have to have Willy Wonka/Captain Jack Sparrow/Hot Gypsy from Chocolat essentially in blackface in a Hollywood film as a hideous parody of their dying culture? Or something along those lines. Realizing that I was going all social justice warrior and that this conversation usually ends with me fuming and him becoming even more smug in his blatant racism (like a microcosmic lampoon of American politics) I quickly changed the subject*. I thought that the problem would end there, but little did I know that the argument was far from over. I soon received a snarky email with something along the lines of: ‘Dahling. Understand perfectly how you felt about the Johnny Depp flick. I felt exactly the same way when they cast a black guy as Heimdall in Thor.’
Now if you’re currently engulfed in flames, screaming ‘WHAAAAAT’ and flipping every table in sight, fear not. I too, have been there. If it was just my dad who felt this way, I would be happy to let it go, but unfortunately I repeatedly read and hear very similar opinions ALL THE TIME, and it’s driving me mad. If, in contrast, you are wondering why the hell anyone would get mad about that, or even worse wondering the same thing about Fantastic Four or any film that has cast a black actor in a ‘white’ role, don’t worry because I’m going to break this down for you. We are, together, going to explore the line between representation and appropriation until we can all be screaming angrily about institutionalized racism. And for those of you who need a definition of either, I will give you helpful links here and here.

Continue reading Cultural Appropriation or Representation? An Exploration.

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‘Englishness’

Some days, I talk to my co-workers about mundane things like the weather or what I had for dinner. Other days, it seems, the conversation is doomed to descend into a racist, xenophobic, and often factually incorrect rant about immigrants, the EU, and the ‘destruction of England’. This seems to be inevitable in a country which, until recently, I considered to be part of Europe (my American education never disputed that idea and it is, you know, right there next to it). Men carry bags, people go to cafes for lunch and tea, they have a queen: Europe! Many of the residents, though, would be strongly opposed to that assumption, and would likely voice their opposition very loudly. Central to all these conversations is the assertion that ‘Some day, there will be no one truly “English” left in England’, an assertion I find really laughable. After all, the government deemed me to be ‘English’ enough for it to say so on my passport, and I still get confused by the difference between ‘chips’ and ‘crisps’ sometimes.

As a person who hails from a country often referred to as ‘the melting pot’, and specifically from a state where white, English-speaking Americans (‘real Americans’ as many unabashed bigots would happily tell you) are often in the minority, I find this strange conversation to have heavily racist undertones. The same person who will tell you that ‘Englishness’ is under threat will start the next statement with ‘I don’t mean to be racist, but…’, leading me to roll my eyes and immediately exit the conversation. (If you don’t mean to be racist, I think, you should probably just not say what ever it is you are about to say). After all, no one has ever confronted me about my easy citizenship, granted to me simply because my biological father happens to be from England. And, if you wanted to be really pedantic about it, you could point out that my fathers family is actually from Scotland originally, and therefore isn’t really even English at all. I may very well have distant cousins who recently marched in the streets for their independence from the British Parliament.

But what really strikes me as interesting in all this is the idea of ‘Englishness’. What, I find myself asking the speaker, does it mean to be ‘English’? What is this ‘Englishness’, and how exactly is it threatened by immigrants and refugees? Once, in the US, we had this crazy idea that all you had to do to be ‘American’ was to live in America. People came from all over the world simply to become American, and once they were granted that privilege they took great pride in their new titles. However, in England, this doesn’t seem to be the case. People who immigrate to England, it seems, often still identify as whatever they were before they arrived. I remember my confusion is university when a girl introduced herself to me as ‘from New Delhi but grew up in Islington’. I though, if you grew up in Islington, aren’t you English? After all, I’m from Nottingham but I grew up in Alabama, and despite my issues with the title I still identify myself as American most of the time. It seems, then, that ‘Englishness’ isn’t something people particularly want. Why then are we defending it with so much anger and vitriol?

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People Hearing Without Listening: The media on Baltimore

The Baltimore riots have caused a lot of controversy in the media in the last few days over how they should be covered. The President has been alternatively criticized for his characterization of the people in the riots as ‘criminals and thugs’, and praised for his sympathy towards poor black Americans. Most people now seem to agree on and understand that the people are rioting because of institutionalized poverty and systematic racism, and it is good that these things are finally being addressed in the mainstream conversation. However, the size, scale, and violence of the riots seems to have people scared and confused. There seems to be a disconnect between understanding the causes and understanding the emotions of the black Americans who are actually living this reality.

Continue reading People Hearing Without Listening: The media on Baltimore