The Silence of Our Friends

Saturday, April 07, 2007

I'm Late To The Party Again

Since I have been offline for the past few days, I missed a great post over at Having Read The Fine Print: But But It's Just..... This post is actually very complicated covering many issues and many discussions over different blogs at different times. The first section is about a post BlackAmazon wrote describing what she calls 'Sofia Coppola Feminism'. A commenter, Mnemosyne, took issue with the term over at Pandagon in reference to a post I made here, which linked to BA's original post. (See, complicated!)

There are three problems with Mnemosyne's comments. First, she didn't bother reading what either BlackAmazon or I wrote. Neither of us say that Coppola is or is not a feminist. We are talking about the characters and plot of her films which mirrors a certain type of feminist, the middle class American white woman who is completely blind to her white privilege, class privilege, and privilege as a citizen of a colonizer/imperialist country. This type of feminist has a knack for marginalizing others while centering herself in any discussion, and forgetting that everyone is not just like her. She will discuss racism, classism, or colonialism; but only to advance her own goals or make herself seem like she cares. That was the point of my post, the "Oh gosh, I know horrible things are happening somewhere in the world, and it makes me sad." while expending little or no effort to make a difference. Second, she used her objection to Sofia Coppola Feminism as a way to derail an important discussion, while at the same time proving herself to be a Sofia Coppola Feminist. She managed to dismiss the suffering of real women and children in New Bedford to center herself and her film degrees. Shannon does an excellent job of breaking it down over at Egotistical Whining. Third, instead of derailing and misinterpreting BA, she should have taken it up with her. The link was there to BA's blog, but the black woman wasn't worth engaging, it was more fun to bitch about her and take her words out of context at another blog than to ask the writer of the Sofia Coppola post to clarify or to tell her directly that she disagrees with her.

The next part I was clueless about and had to do a little research. It's about fan fiction. Some fans of Stargate Atlantis write their own stories about the characters and there is a tendency to put the two POC characters, Teyla and Ronon, in the role of servants or animals. The real SGA does NOT do this, these are major characters in equal or superior positions to the white characters. Also the sexuality of POC characters is written as the exotic other, kinky, strange, fetishized, subhuman, etc. The latest flare-up was about SGA, but this has happened with other fanfic too, and each time white people find ways to dismiss the objections of people of color. They are too sensitive. White people mean well and don't intend to be racist. POC should be nice when making observations, because God forbid we get harsh when confronted with racism. Witchqueen wrote an excellent post about characters of color in fandom and I think much of that advice could also be used when writing about real people of color or addressing us at our blogs too.

Next BA references a post BrownFemiPower wrote about racism she encountered at a writing workshop. This is one of the "liberal" forms of racism, playing let's pretend there is no racism in this country and that will make it go away! This strategy only serves white people, they can ignore their privilege at the expense of POC, it requires that they do nothing about racism and they still get to feel good about themselves since they are "colorblind". Meanwhile, racism is a part of our reality that we can't pretend away or ignore. Colorblind means that you do not see me or other POC and our issues, we're all the same as white people and therefore only white people's issues count in America.

The last reference is to a post RenegadeEvolution made about the movie 300 and a couple of posts over at Cuntensquirten. (Can I help it if I laugh out loud every time I type that? No, I can not!) This is the same white privilege as in the last example. It's the ability to ignore racism in a movie, music, artwork in order to enjoy it. BUT if you read all the comments you will also notice that it is more complex. I didn't feel the need to bash Ren because I know that watching a racist movie is not going to reinforce racist tendencies for her, what I didn't say is that I know it will for some. I still won't go see 300 for that reason. Also I enjoy comedies, but many American comedies are mean spirited. They are laughing AT someone, instead of laughing WITH someone. If it isn't racist mean spiritedness, then it will be ageist, or ableist, or classist, etc. In order for me to enjoy many of the movies I like, I will have to play the privilege card myself. I felt it would be hypocritical for me to bash Ren when I do the same thing she does in other contexts. BlackAmazon is making a couple of points here, first, if you are playing your privilege card, don't try to pretend that it's something else and that you are pure. You are getting your jollies at the expense of someone else. When that someone else comes by and says something about it, listen to them!

Every one of these examples is the way that white Americans invalidate our perceptions, observations, and opinions in favor of their own. As a white woman with two film degrees, Mnem says that only her opinion is valid and that neither BA or I can call any kind of feminism "Sofia Coppola Feminism" without even reading what we said! Not only that but now the women and children of New Bedford don't deserve the time of day since we used an invalid argument in favor of them. In fandom, people use all kinds of excuses for why the POC fall into certain racist categories, but they didn't intend for it to happen that way, so POC observations of this are invalid. As long as the racism is unconcious I guess the white folks deserve a pass. When BrownFemiPower wrote a story about a Mexican man and his white wife, there was a preference for the liberal white perception of colorblindness in order to remove the teacher's discomfort discussing race, and who gives a damn about BFP and her uncomfortable reality. And Ren felt she had to justify using the white privilege card, but there is no justification for it. When you live in a capitalist society there are always the powerful and the less powerful. Entertainment and art will come at the expense of the less powerful much of the time. You have to accept that for what it is, and realize that others will be hurt by the movie/book/artwork/etc you enjoyed.

BA is a black actress. The result of these attitudes by white Americans means that her parts will be limited. White America does not want to know her reality. They want parts for POC that fetishize them, or marginalize them, or hide them so that they don't have to confront their white privilege or racism.

That's why I liked this post so much. It covers so much ground and gives so many examples and in the end shows what the result is for a real person. How this affects BlackAmazon directly in her work.

I wanted to explain everything she is talking about because I know that everyone doesn't read exactly the same blogs. I didn't know about the fandom, for example. And I think the post is too important for people to miss out on, or not discuss because they don't know what she is alluding to. So if you haven't already, get over there and read and post comments too!

7 comment(s):

You are a lifesaver! Or maybe a brainsaver, lol.

Thanks so much for taking the time to research this... I read BA's post, and understood so little (yet got so much out of it), that I really had no idea where to even start researching what it was all about. The only part I too knew about was the Sophia Coppola thing, and the "Oh, I really can't bother to be concerned about real women and children in a world of harm because I think think a movie critique was wrong!" Simply amazingly disgusting, that was.

Anyway, I am headed on over to reread BA's post, now with context!

By Blogger Nanette, at 4/08/2007 4:28 PM  

My brother is an actor too, and good roles can be hard to find. And he's even a man so it's easier.

By Blogger shannon, at 4/09/2007 10:08 PM  

I love BlackAmazon. I also love Ren. I haven't seen that movie, but I don't know if anyone can say a woman who is half Mongolian and Jewish is really playing the white woman card. I also think Ren faces a whole lot of shit due to her line of work that counts as 'really bad treatment by others' and the masses tend to forget that. She may not have people hurling racial slurs at her or judging her for her ethic makeup, but she is constantly called a lot of other wonderful things, from whore to asshole to a sick fuck and a rapist...so yes, while as a person of color myself, I can see exactly where BA is coming from, but I also think a lot of people were very harsh on Ren for enjoying that movie and choosing not to look at the issues contained within.

By Anonymous rosarose, at 4/10/2007 8:50 AM  

I agree with nanette: excellent round up of some important issues.

Among all the problems with that post at Pandagon, is the fact that an interesting discussion could have occurred. Mnemosyne admits to not reading the post and then misrepresents everything you and BA said. Which is not uncommon at Pandagon. It would have been interesting, had Mnemosyne spoken directly with you or BA, had her misconceptions cleared up, and then hear her take on the issue.

I'm no film expert, but to think David Lynch could replace Sophia Coppola in BA's wonderful metaphor is beyond absurd. Has Lynch ever focused a film on middle class or upper class white women?

Cross-posting this thought at BA's place, since she was the "auteur".

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 4/10/2007 9:18 AM  

Thanks for pointing us over to BAs post. I had heard the term Sofia Coppola Feminism around but didn't really understand exactly what it meant. It makes sense now.
FWIW - I agree with BA's original post completely (I would have posted praise over there but comments are closed). All of Coppola's films have a sort of deliberate emptiness at their core, and that emptiness is in fact the point and is celebrated and held up as a good and worthy thing. I also think that there is a similar tendency going on within online feminism (and yep, Amanda is sometimes the poster child).
Lost in Translation was loathsome, given that the subtext was basically "look at those wierd, wacky Japanese people! Why must they be so foreign? Why don't they speak English? Why when I go to a foreign country does everthing not arragne itself for my convenience?". Both central characters are also thoroughly unlikeable. This is particularly disconcerting since we're obviously supposed to like them - I spent most of the movie wanting to smack the SJ character every time she got upset because her husband was neglecting her by having a job. How dare he?
I could never quite put my finger on what bugged me about The Virgin Suicides other that they were so passive and it was all so "oh look how perfect these girls are, why is the world not nicer to them?". BA nailed it.
The question is, how to point out to people whose feminism seems to operate the same way that "I'm a special snowflake and it's all about me, why can't everyone else understand that? you're all so mean!" is not a particulaly great feminist strategy, and ulikely to endear one to potential allies. Not to mention being childish and self-centered.

By Blogger Cassandra Says, at 4/10/2007 11:26 PM  

I just couldn't pass up writing about that excellent post, Nanette. And I wanted people who don't go to all the blogs BA does to know what she is talking about since I knew alot of the background.

Shannon, that's why that post is so good, because it shows how the types of racism that white people brush off really affect our lives and sometimes livelihoods. If what the majority wants in movies, tv, or on the stage is racist in nature, that will severely limit the parts that a POC actor who refuses to play to stereotypes will be able to take.

Rosarose, I get 'really bad treatment by others' because of my skin color, using your logic you have no right to criticize me. Neither BA or I have a problem with Ren's line of work and neither of us raised that as an issue, so how does that fit in with the discussion here? Just because someone has a rough time doesn't mean they can't ever be wrong and I think Ren appreciates honesty more than you think she does. If you read what I wrote here and at Cuntensquirten you would have seen that I actually am very mild in my criticism because I also pull the privilege card out sometimes. It doesn't make either of us horrible human beings, but forgetting other people's pain is never justifiable, so don't even try. That is the only message.

By Blogger Donna, at 4/12/2007 9:45 PM  

RavenMN, I think there could have been two interesting discussions, instead of a derail too. The first is the New Bedford Immigrants, and the second should have taken place at Having Read the Fine Print. Why didn't Mnem head over to BA's to talk to her about Sofia Coppola Feminism, and while she did comment here, she did a hit and run. She said I was wrong and never came back to see what I had to say about it.

Cassandra, go back to Having Read the Fine Print if you haven't already because BA has a new post up expanding on this. It's the Ugly Americans one, and you might want to read the one below it too to find out about PUA's (pick up artists). I wanted to apologize to you for not adding the links you gave me to international blogs, but one is actually in Ohio and the other hadn't updated since January.

By Blogger Donna, at 4/12/2007 9:52 PM  

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