Category: Opinion

Blackwashing or Blackface; The Hidden Institutional Racism in the Entertainment Industry



by Jonathan Baird


       What is blackwashing? Blackwashing is the move to transform the race of a traditionally white entertainment property such as “James Bond” to one that is more ethnically diverse. It has traditionally been used as a term of negativity, representing pushback from the white power community towards the inclusion of people of color in popular entertainment. In this article’s context it will be used as a convenient term for the intersectionality implicit in the entertainment industry.  This paper will further attempt to address the continuing collusion between entertainment and the culturally normative public in their efforts to sanitize diversity in media.  The push to blackwash and gaywash established characters in film, literature, and TV comes from essentially the same racism and misogyny that brought us blackface and minstrel shows. It is a calculated ploy by the largely white entertainment establishment to marginalize and stereotype black and LGBTQIA cultures. These “washed” characters are nothing more than blackfaced white heterosexual men. A safe, acceptable characterization that is internally white with a facade of diversity.  An alternative that can be presented to the cisgender culturally static public for their amusement. These characters in turn harbor no real danger of displacing white hegemony.

      If we can accept that the push to blackwash traditionally white characters is simply a modern version of black face, then we can look beyond the façade of diversity that the entertainment industry is currently projecting and see the real ethnocentrism of those who control the industry. A quick look at the money behind Hollywood, television, major book publishers, even internet entertainment executives will reveal a slate of racially homogenous faces. Even when we note the odd pocket of diversity, these men or women are not pushing diversity for the sake of any social justice paradigm. These pushes for diversity are merely a new coat of paint applied to the faces of  established properties. A safe way to portray a minority character without exploring the deep connection between race and culture. Black skin, but white on the inside, a calculated minstrel show that appeases minorities and poses little existential threat to whites. While you will hear the odd cry of reverse racism applied to these properties when they are diversified, these are cries of the hard core extremists who will never accept diversity in entertainment.

        When we look at why this is happening it is little wonder that we see the practitioners of this farce defending social justice and cultural diversity. Those in Hollywood and beyond have a vested interest in the money that an emerging diverse society has to offer them. It is not surprising they mask their characters in diversity. It is also telling that these characters are still culturally white. Remarketing established characters as new and diverse maintains the minority white audience while pandering to the new globally brown marketplace. What then is the essential difference between what entertainment producers are giving the public and the minstrel shows of the late nineteenth century? Was there a mandate to put on minstrel shows? The underlying reason for the minstrel show was both to belittle minority characters and pander to the entertainment potential of the unusual without exposing white audiences to actual diverse actors.  Blackwashing comes from the same type of intersectional behavior. It is microdiversity. A method of pandering to both minority and white audiences by providing safety from unexpected cultural confrontation while limiting new and culturally stimulating minority characters from being established. The fact that these examples of diversity are simply blackface is the result of systematic racism.

    You can’t deny the underlying racism that is involved when one rebrands an existing character as “Black”, “Gay”, or “Female”. “Black” Spiderman will always be defined by his color.  The same can be said for properties such as ”Black” James Bond or “Female” Doctor Who. A compromise that is something lesser than the original and must be defined by their secondary characteristics. When the character is differentiated from the original merely by his skin color, his worth is bundled up in historic and cultural racism. Real cultural diversity would be the creation of new characters that stand on their own merits and are not defined by cisgender and white cultural hegemony.

Pink America: The United States as a Native American Nation


I have been doing research for several years on the influence of Native American culture and genetics on early frontier European culture. At some point I mean to write a book detailing my research into just how important this influence was on America and how it created a very unique culture from that of the European mainstream.

 

The most important thing rarely mentioned by historians when writing about American history has to be how deep the influence of Native Americans has been on American culture. Across the American landscape everywhere you look there are words in the local native languages. Parks, buildings, roads, cities, and even the states themselves bear the mark of our native history. It may surprise the modern reader when historian Jill Lepore concludes that, “most colonists considered the native language barbaric, even satanic.”[1] This seems antithetical to the notion that so much of the country is named  with native words. Even in New England the name of the state of Massachusetts comes directly from the native language. The state was named after the very people that the Puritans seemed to despise. How does the European colonist go from racial hatred and distrust of a people to venerating them on such a scale? This disconnect would suggest that the answer lies in a cultural cognitive dissonance. American society both embraced and rejected native culture and out of this mental aberration was born the duality of enshrining natives as both noble and savage. Could this veneration be the reason most American’s claim native ancestry, or is there something deeper?

In Lepore’s book, The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origin of American Identity she attempts to find the answer to the question of what it means to be American through analysis of both sides of King Phillip’s War. While it is an interesting premise, there is some creative license taken with presenting the native side of a war in which very few written records exist. This means that the majority of the written records must come from the colonial viewpoint. Something that is interesting to note is the inability of the average colonist to write. Lepore suggests that while many could read a little that writing was beyond most of the colonists, “and as many as 40 percent of men and 70 percent of women could not even sign their name .”[2] This suggests that even the colonial side of the conflict is not adequately chronicled. We see a skewed view of American character, a view from the top down rather than across the board. So can we know what the average colonial really thought about their native neighbor or are we seeing in this history what the elite want us to see and what they wrote about their native neighbors? Theirs is a narrative that fits the expansionist governmental viewpoint rather than touching on the view of the common man and even the common native.

Another of the problems of looking at this from the perspective Lepore takes is that New England, while long held as the cultural epicenter of America, is only seen that way from within. While popular culture places the Puritans at the very heart of the founding of America as a nation, nothing really could be further from the truth. Their influence while pervasive in academia and as the progenitors of the American university system lacks the true character that makes America unique. The Puritan character is static and unforgiving a people who seem to revel in conformity. This is not the America of the frontier, which so influenced the works of historians such as Frederick Jackson Turner. While Lepore makes some valid points, her thesis is flawed. The American character is not to be discovered in names, in the Puritans, or in wars against the natives. The American character is found on the frontier and the people moving with the frontier. The American character is a product of constant change and evolution. A character that must embrace individuality and face adversity through action and flexibility not static conformity. Each step into new territory brings a new tribe, each different from the last, and each language confronted for the first time. The American people were forged from a union of native culture with European outcasts. The elite for all their words did not forge the American character. The American character was forged through cultural conflict on the most basic level and that character was often tempered by blood. Ship loads of men were coming from Europe into the newly opening frontier. Those same ships were not as packed with women. Yet most of these men end up married with families. Is it possible that the real forging of America was a union of blood as much as a conflict of shed blood?

Historian Ned Blackhawk is right in concluding that, “violence both predated and became intrinsic to American expansion.”[3] However, Blackhawk and to an even greater extent Lapore overlook some of the more culturally important narratives that were going on behind the scenes. While Lepore and Blackhawk both concentrate on the big picture of empire and war, these same Native Americans who would later succumb to war, by whatever name it would be called, had also been in contact with European colonists. Many of these natives especially on the East Coast had been in contact with settlers for centuries. The common colonist had no interest in war or conquest. These Europeans would often take native wives and learn native skills to deal with the frontier. In Sixteenth and Seventeenth century America it is the mother who does most of the early child rearing and it is quite possible that the number of native wives in the early colonial periods have been vastly under-counted. Current DNA data suggests that Native American ancestry among people of European descent in the United States is more common than had been previously thought (I myself have been tested and discovered I have Native American ancestry). It may be interesting to note that many of those men counted as European in early American society may have had grandmothers who were full blood natives. This would suggest that the culture that fought against the natives for conquest of the frontier was not fully European but a mélange of native and white. Does blood quantum make you a native or does culture? That is probably the most important question to ask. If most Americans whose ancestors have been on this continent for over a hundred years have one or more native ancestors (usually female) does that mean they have at least in some small part native cultural holdovers? What does this mean for American society and our view of how we came to be? It may suggest that the cognitive dissonance which plagued Americans in the first years of the Republic, seeing natives as savage and as noble, was not a conflict between competing ideas about Native Americans, but a cultural conflict in which we see ourselves embodied in those that went before.  Were we actually a nation of European colonists or a Native American Nation? Cotton Mather might not like the answer.

 

Bibliography

Blackhawk, Ned. Violence over the land: Indians and empires in the early American West.

Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006.

 

Lepore, Jill. The name of war: King Philip’s War and the origins of American identity. New

York: Knopf, 1998.

     [1] Jill Lepore, The name of war: King Philip’s War and the origins of American identity (New York: Knopf, 1998), 222.

      [2] Jill Lepore, The name of war: King Philip’s War and the origins of American identity (New York: Knopf, 1998)

     [3] Ned Blackhawk, Violence over the land: Indians and empires in the early American West (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006), 9.

Convergent Evolution: an Opinion

Convergent Evolution: an Opinion

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About a year ago I created this meme during a discussion on a Facebook group about alien life. The group consensus was that we would never meet an alien race with a humanoid posture or upright bipedal locomotion because it was highly unlikely that this arrangement would evolve independently again. Now I am at best a curmudgeon and at worst an asshole, so I got to thinking about that contention and the more I thought about it the less it struck me as a hard and fast rule.

Evolution is essentially conservative, there is a conservation of form and function in evolution because of the way natural law interacts with living beings. For instance a creature that swims in water on Earth or on a planet 20 light years from Earth is probably going to look roughly the same. Since life seems to favor an aquatic origin as that life emerges from the sea of an alien planet evolution of that terrestrial life may already be based on bilateral symmetry. Of course something like an octopus might be the first creature on land, but at least on our planet the race to the surface favored creatures with hard internal or external structures whose bodies were structurally streamlined. I believe these types would most likely emerge first elsewhere as well.

If my conjecture is correct, that bilateral symmetry is favored by aquatic environments leading to quicker more agile creatures, then that conservation of form will follow onto the land leading to creatures that mimic our own evolution. In the meme above the T-Rex and the Ankylosaurus predate the Terror Bird and the Glyptodon by 60 million years, but the body forms are essentially the same…in fact the T-Rex probably had feathers. What does this mean for future encounters with alien life? First, don’t discount the possibility that creatures with similar capacities to ourselves may have similar body structures. It is very possible that higher intelligence requires a bilateral body plan and whose ancestors went through an arboreal stage of development before developing true upright posture.  Second, don’t discount running into a nightmare like a Tyrannosaurus when exploring alien environments.

This is just my opinion.

A True History of Bacon and the Celtic Gods

A True History of Bacon and the Celtic Gods

glossarypictboar2Let me tell you a story about the Celtic gods.

Being immortal (and bored) the gods of the Celts often held contests among themselves and made wagers. Being the Celtic pantheon they were always hungry, and so the gods decided that one food must be chosen to represent their greatness. A wager was struck, and the gods agreed that Man would decide. Celtic tribes from all over Europe were gathered together to vote for which food would be the fit for the gods.

Each god spoke in turn to the people…

Lugh, the great thundering voice from the sky, declared, “The Bull of Heaven provides the heroes portion and STEAK is the food of the gods. because the cow can turn simple grass and straw into a meal fit for a king.”

Danu, goddess of Earth and Sea, laughed from her place among the waves. She declared, “SALMON is the food of the gods, because it always returned to feed the people each year. sacrificing itself for the good of all mankind.”

Morrigan, the goddess of death, sent a raven and it spoke to the people. “No my friends, the lowly CHICKEN is the food of the gods, for it gives not only meat for the table, but eggs, and when you are ever in doubt about what something tastes like it always tastes like chicken.”

Math, being the god of trickery and magic, knew that his voice would not be heard above all the great thunder from the sky,  or the crashing of waves, or even the caw of the raven. So Math said not a word. He waited until the tribes had argued about which god or goddess had said the wisest words, and then he announced that, since he had not chosen a food for consideration, he would instead cook a meal of each dish and allow the people to taste the choice of each god in turn, so they may know which is truly the food of the gods.

So Math cooked hundreds of steaks, prepared piles of salmon, and thousands of chickens were baked, fried, and BBQ-ed for the people assembled. Each dish was perfect and the people could hardly contain themselves for the smell was maddening.

Math then said….”People of the Celts I have cooked only enough food for you to take one bite of each of the three dishes. You then must decide which of these is to be the food of the gods.”

The people came and waited in line, taking only one bite from each type of food…steak, salmon, and chicken.  The arguments rose and fell. An entire day went by but no one food was judged the best of them all.

Math heated up the grill once again, because the people wanted another taste, but this time Math secretly laid one strip of BACON on each piece of Steak, Salmon, and Chicken. Again the people lined up and took one bite each of the three foods.

A cry went up. Something was wrong. The food had been perfect the first time. It had been the greatest mouthful of food that anyone had ever eaten… but this! This time the food was even better: Perfection had turned to heavenly delight…

Math stood before the people in his apron triumphantly as the people shouted, “BACON is the food of the gods, for only the pig can turn shit into sugar, and a perfect meal into something divine.”

The pig has since been the most holy animal of the Celtic people.

The End

Why They Still Died on the Paleo Diet

As a practitioner of the paleo diet (although not perfectly), I get a lot of questions about it.  One of them was aimed more at the philosophy of it.  “If it is so great, why did they not have as long a life expectancy as we do?”  I suppose this is a fair question given the claims of the Paleo Diet.

There are many factors that go into computing life expectancy and diet is only one of them.

1. Life expectancy also takes into account the infant death rate.  Remove this death rate and you actually get a fairer picture of what a group of people’s lifestyle and technology does to their life expectancy.  Along with this is mothers who die giving birth due to complications.  Modern medicine has caused these two problems to diminish significantly.

2. Environment – No, I am not talking about pollution here but the fact that modern man has learned to shield himself from the elements better as well as generate heat and cold better than our prehistoric brothers.  There are also the perils of hunting itself.  When I practice my Paleo Diet I head to the grocery store and buy my meat and veggies.  My ancestors had to grab a bow or spear and go kill something and some of those somethings had claws and horns.  In those situations, the hunted can become the hunter and even if it does not kill you a wound can be just as lethal.

3. Lack of Knowledge About Infection – this leads to of course how many people died from a lack of having germ theory or a proper understanding of what causes infection.  They also lacked the understandings of what to do when infection sets in.  Modern pharmacology did not exist and what did exist in the form of medicine was trial and error with herbs and superstition.  In the Paleo world a small cut could lead to death.

I could on and on about all the things that affect life expectancy, but these are the ones that jump to mind immediately.  The point we paleo people are trying to make is simple.  You don’t see the rapid plaque build up in the arteries, tooth decay and shorter weaker people in paleo societies.  You see them in modern agricultural ones.  You see it when grains and sugars become the staple foods instead of the occasional find by the gatherers.  Anthropologists simply do not see diet causing the early death of the paleolithic people or even tribal people of today.  We do see that in our modern one however.

It seems then that the best avenue for longer and healthy life is to combine the modern medical understandings of the human body with the diet of the past that our bodies are designed to accept.  That way the best of both worlds combines to make us healthy and stronger.  It may also be the key to extending our lives a little bit farther.