Category Archives: Is It Racist?

Pepsi’s Not Tone Deaf, They’re Assholes

Last week in the can opening heard round the world, Kendell Jenner solved racism in Pepsi’s crap ad posted below–please watch at your own discretion and preferably not while you are eating.

The ad takes the markers of recent civil resistance and boils it down to some musical hipster millennials that conveniently come in a one-of-each variety pack.  As you can imagine, the internet, led by the beacon of black twitter, lost its mind and Pepsi pulled the ad off the air within 24 hours.  A flurry of news coverage and talk show segments roundly condemned the ad as tone deaf, as brilliantly portrayed in this skit on SNL (below).  The week ends with a bunch of high fives as we congratulate ourselves on a moment of shared outrage across racial lines.  We can all agree here–tone deaf.

But you know your girl here has a different opinion.  I disagree that Pepsi was tone deaf. And SNL’s skewering of the ad? It seems to portray the ad’s producers as hapless creatives who didn’t listen to their black friends–of course, they couldn’t be expected to see the problem on their own, and of course, there was no ill intention.  That’s not a skewering, that’s an excuse.

Pepsi has a long history off co-opting outsider youth culture and dragging it into the mainstream, redefining it for the masses in the process.  More than mere celebrity endorsements, Pepsi’s slogan of Pepsi Generation, and later Generation Next specifically seeks to align itself with and define youth culture. Ads like those starring Brittany Spears or Michael Jackson intentionally seeks to mirror a more mainstream, palatable and- profitable–version of whatever that year’s young people like.

Whether it is the hippies of the 70’s, the magic of Michael Jackson in the 80’s or even the girl power of the Spice Girls in the 2000’s Pepsi’s brand is all about creating a reductionist version of youth culture to sell to sugar water to the masses. Decade after decade, Pepsi has traded on what young people think is cool, targeting products at various youth subcultures–like Mountain Dew for motor-bikers.

What’s more, Pepsi also has a long history of targeting black consumers.  In the 1940’s Pepsi even had a negro marketing department, according to this fascinating article about how soda is racist af.   So no, Pepsi is not tone deaf, they are crafty, capitalizing on the very cultures they misrepresent and have been for decades.

And that brings us back to this latest disaster of social-justice-y porn.  In the Kendall Jenner ad, Pepsi hits every corner of a very diverse youth demographic–every race, a good mash up of random instruments and dance steps, a Muslim woman–enamored of course with Kendell’s stunning display of white feminism–hipsters with and without beards, gentrifiers with and without signs, and activism decidedly without any ideology. Pepsi sucked the life, passion and meaning out of the very real revolution happening in this moment of time and turned it into a moving stock photography image.  But taking the depth, meaning, and messiness out of life to sell product isn’t going to stop with this one ad getting taken down.  Look around you.  Everywhere advertisers are cashing in on our deepest feelings and most fervent hopes.  As altruism, connection, activism, and awareness have become trending ways of being, advertisers are increasingly using these most meaningful qualities to sell shit.

This State Farm ad is touching and heartwarming, and like the Pepsi ad features a diverse cast of characters starring a white savior with the power to transform the life of the poor, downtrodden, and brown.  While this ad is moving and inspiring as opposed to Pepsi’s abomination, both ads seek to use your positive feelings towards creating a better world to sell you product.  Both ads ignore any structural analysis of what social movements are seeking to disrupt.  Both ads put the power of individual white people as the simple answer that can eradicate widespread social injustice. Pepsi’s ad went too far and was condemned, but the State Farm ad was embraced

Ads selling us back the very essence of who we are are everywhere. When ads with social themes are done poorly, it’s good to see that consumer pushback can force advertiser accountability.  When they are done carefully, they make us smile, feel nice–and buy more.  In order to have broad appeal, the complex and controversial edges of life are sanded off in favor of a lighter, happier look at our world–one where products can often solve the worst problems in 30-60 seconds. Staying woke means making sure that you don’t allow capitalism to sell you back your fight against capitalism and other unfair systems.  Now that Pepsi has your twitter fingers warmed up, stay on the look out for capitalists in activists’ clothing.

 

 

 

 

 

Is This Sand Sculpture Racist?

Can you make a sandcastle racist? I didn’t think so, but then I went to the beach to see the amazing sand sculptures at Revere beach and I saw this one:

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Titled The Color’s In the Mind,Red Orange Green Blue Shiny Yellow Purple Too, it depicts an artist pallet of colors with an object for each color.  So cute, look at the frog and the–wait, what is that?

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Tucked between the fruit is the head of a policeman.  Okay, pretty odd to have a policeman’s head representing blue instead of fruit. And next to the cop’s head is an eggplant, sometimes used to symbolize black people in not so nice ways.

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A cop’s head and an eggplant.  Color’s in the mind.  I see a backhanded comment on BLM.  Is it me? Leave it in the comments!

The Most Interesting Whitewashed Character in Advertising

Bon Voyage to the Most Interesting Man in the World. Loved by saints and sinners and far more than his fair share of women, he has played  with popes and wrestled with animals; he mastered the art of being the man. Mexican beer brand Dos Equis announced the retirement of the much-loved man-scot or, to be exact, they’ve announced the most interesting man is headed to another world on a one-way trip to Mars.

The Most Interesting Man in The World (MIMITW) has been a good look for the Mexican beer brand since 2006.  The introduction of the MIMITW has resulted in an appreciable uptick in sales and spawned a thousand memes.

Dos Equis decided it was time to update the brand, make it more modern and tighter fit with their upcoming sponsorship of college football, but at smntks, I suspect they decided to dump the undumpable MIMITW before fans woke up to this most agreeable of whitewashed characters.

Listen, how could you not love a guy that wrestles lions and charms queens?  But step too close and catch the faintest whiff of racism. In an industry with few opportunities for Latino actors, why is this juicy role whitewashed?

The MIMITW is actually played by Jonathon Goldsmith, a Jewish actor born in New York in 1938 who made the round of a number of popular 70’s and 80’s  shows including  Perry Mason and Dallas. How did he become the most recognizable Latino brand spokesperson?

That’s right, the spokesperson for Mexican beer is the one white guy in a room full of 500 Latino actors they decided was more Latino than any of the Latinos.  How could this be?  Goldsmith wasn’t being a latino in his audition–he played a Latino filtered through the white gaze: success! Goldsmith recounts the details in a 2012 Ad Age interview:

“Basically it was just a cattle call,” he said. “I got into the room, and there were hundreds of people and a big crowd waiting outside, and everybody looked like Juan Valdez. And I said “This is crazy—they are not looking for me.’ I went in when it was my turn and all I could think about was “My God, I’ve got to move my car by 4 o’clock or I’m going to get a massive ticket. “

Goldsmith says that he based the character of the most interesting man in the world on his close friend and famous Latin Lover actor Fernando Lamas.  You may not remember the actor in old movies like The Violent ones or this gem, Dangerous When Wet:

But you may remember the Saturday Night Live Skits based on the actor called Fernando’s hideaway.

All the hallmarks of the stereotypical latin lover are here:  sultry accent, swooning smooth talk, tall, dark and handsome. Way more machismo than the marrying type.  Doesn’t sound too terrible, being reduced to a man-whore, a literal Don Juan.  Yeah, no exoticizing there. Definitely better than the king kong stereotype, but a stereotype still.

Funny how in the movies the brown-skinned lover is seen as sexy and dangerous, but in real life they’re just seen as dangerous.  The hot fantasy of the latin lover is, like Jonathon Goldsmith’s latin lover pedigree, just a fantasy.  SImilar to stereotypes of black men, the stereotype of Latino men in American media boils down to this: hot in the sheets, shot in the streets.

Okay, okay, I’m not trying to rain beer on your Mars launch. Let me be the first to admit the MIMITW is a fantastic character.  The commercials are all hilarious.  …..You know what’s coming, though, right? His devil may care, love them and leave them fantasy man is as stinky a stereotype as Pepe le Pew.  Choosing the old stereotypical image of machsmo-mad latinos makes Dos Equis a little skunky too.  Sigh.  Something that is true, even if it makes you sad, is that sometimes stuff you think is funny is racist.

But it’s 2016, and in our increasingly diverse and woke world, whitewashing characters, not matter how well loved is no bueno. Woomp woomp, Most Interesting Man in the World–take your ass to mars.

Dos Equis reports that the campign isn’t dead, just being retooled. When casting, don’t forget the many talented and truly Latino actors–like The Strain’s Miguel Gomez–looking for a juicy role.  Do us a fovor, skip the Rico Suave stereotype and give us a crisp modern Latinx vibe–now that’s refreshing.

 

 

Your Awesome Blackface Costume: A Rating System

Its Halloween time, and nothing says Halloween like an Awesome costume. Lately the stupid PC police have been raining on everyone’s parade, talking about how your Halloween costume shouldn’t be disrespectful to women or latinos or blacks or whatever, but its just for fun so they need to stop being babies about respect .

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Blackface is a classic.  So what if blackface was the narrative that contributed to the oppression of blacks from slavery straight through Jim Crow, the makeup is cheap and your fun is worth perpetuating racism in the 21st century.  Besides, no matter what kind of character you go as, if it includes blackface, your sure to get tons of attention.  But how do you know which blackface costume is right for you?  Picking the right one is a matter of taste–are you looking for something more subtle, maybe a socially acceptable black or are you a real risk taker?  Here we’ll show you some of the boldest blackface costumes with our very own special level system from beginner to advanced.

Basic level

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There are too many Awesome black people to not dress up as one.  So what if you are a white person.  Saying whatever you want is your first amendment right–no, as a matter of fact, it’s your privilege –so whats wrong with a little Halloween privilege?  If people are staring at your Mr. T costume, its only because Mr. T is so culturally relevant, they wish they dressed as him too. Since you love Mr. T, you automatically are not racist.  Pretty sure blackface is okay as long as you like the guy, right?  So what if your friends tell you  its not cool?  What would they know about how cool shoe polishing your face for A-team greatness is?

Emmy Level

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Dressing up as Crazy Eyes is totally okay because Orange is the New Black won an Emmy.  The character is soooo cool, I mean sad too, and so she’s not a stereotype, right, a black woman in prison, so what’s the problem with that?  Dressing as Crazy eyes wasn’t tone deaf–it’s tots relevant, just like my friend’s Michonne costume.

michonne_the_walking_dead7 I mean, the Walking Dead won an Emmy and even though zombies are wicked gross, Michonne is a strong black woman and totally feminist so she can’t be off limits.  These Michonne costumes are everywhere.  They’re too popular to be racist. So what if  your sorority may be featured in the local news, they just don’t know how cute your pixs looked on Instagram.

Intercontinental Level

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Blackface isn’t really like blackface when you dress up as an African, because they’re, like, African.  You know your history, and of course blackface was used to denigrate American blacks during the 19th and 20th century, but those were Americans, see?  So dressing like an African, thats not racist because they’re Africans.  So nothing wrong here, you world history buff.  So what if your social media pictures spark international outrage, shaming your family on multiple continents. the outfit was too good to pass up.

Jeezy Level

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Get creative with your reasoning:  Only racist do racist things, so if you’re not racist, then racist acts become not racisct, get it?  George Bush doesn’t care about black people, but you do, so you can’t be racist.    Besides You’re so cool with black people, they might think it’s real!  Don’t get mistaken for Kanye in this season’s hottest blackface costume.  No one will mistake you for racist, just a clever consumer of all things TMZ, right?  Besides, as an educator, you want to set a good example for the kids.  If you’re going to do blackface, make sure you really commit to doing the hands too.  Kanye’s awesome, and with your wife dressed as Kim K., your couple Kimye costume is worth ending up on the evening news.  Its worth writing that apology letter.  Its worth the employment consequences that come with Jeezus Level blackface.

White Hood Level

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When offending people with blackface is just not enough, trade in the last of your human dignity for this  halloween costume.  Mocking the death of unarmed teens is sure to make you the talk of the town.  So what if your costume is overtly racist, you have the right to act like a walking sack of shit by trading on death and injustice for a few seconds of negative attention.  And if you lose you job and your friends because you just couldn’t resist, at least you know that white hate groups are still recruiting.

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Remember, dressing up in blackface is always offensive, so definitely be prepared for all the comments you’ll get!    Be sure to take plenty of pictures, and post them widely on social media–the internet loves to make blackface pictures go viral, ensuring your moment of racism lives forever.  Level up by tagging your boss, your mother and favorite local community organization so they can tell you how proud they are of your ignorant racism, or cut you a final check before they ask you to leave.  Whatever your blackface level,  get your makeup on and get out there.

 

 

Maz Kanatamima: From Pretty to Pirate

If you’re a Star Wars fan at all, then you’ve probably already watch ed the trailer for JJ Abrams directed reboot Star Wars VII The Force Awakens.  And if you haven’t watched the trailer with Matthew Mc Conaughey, then you haven’t seen the trailer at all.

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I’ve been waiting to see the reveal of Lupita Nyong’o’s character.  Sure we have already seen Han, Chewie, and even John Boyega, as a black storm trooper, but we had yet to place Lupita’s lovely face in space. Here she is!

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Yep, that’s right, for all those black girls who rock looking forward to seeing a darks skinned sister traveling the stars, you’ll have to keep waiting.  Early reports had cast Lupita as Ventress, super-assassin and stylish shade throwing villain.

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But alas, we’ll hear her voice coming from the face of CGI created space-pirate.  According to wookipedia–experts in all things Star Wars–Maz Kanata is a pirate, and according to a Vanity Fair article, she can also tell fortunes by touching objects.  Okay–I don’t want to jump to conclusions about an old ugly creature with a rag on its head who can can tell fortunes *cough cough magical negro cough*.  By all reports, Maz Kanata is in charge of a sprawling castle and space outpost, so she’s sure to have some juice…. But in the looks department? Meh.

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The Star Wars series plays host to some strong and interesting women, but also a whole universe of racial stereotypes.  Most notably, West Space Indian Jar Jar Binks.

Don’t forget from the Asian-like traders to the animal like jungle creatures, lots of characters in the stars look suspiciously like stereotypes here on earth.

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J.J. Abrams is known for updating the Star Trek series, envisioning a multicultural mecca with strong characters of every stripe.  Creator Gene Rodenberry  designed Star Trek to be that way from the beginning.  Star Wars, on the other hand, traded in stereotypes to simplify a complex galaxy, so there’s a bit more heavy lifting to make the galaxy a post-racialtopia.  Let’s hope Maz Kanata is more than a do-rag-wearing-fortune-telling-Aunt-Jemima-looking African pirate.

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Black (Celebrity) Lives Matter (more)

Weeks of protests across the country have been missing lots of your favorite black pop stars, including one formally pink-haired princess.  Nikki Minaj has been silent on the issue of police misconduct and brutality.  Turns out, even though she has assured us that she is both a monster and a boss bitch, that she is worried about taking a hit in the pocket if she stands up for black lives.  Not so tough now…

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In a recent interview in Rolling Stone Minaj said that she feels like she can’t speak out about racism in society without her career taking a hit:

“I feel like when Public Enemy were doing ‘Fight the Power,’ we as a culture had more power — now it feels hopeless,” Minaj says. “People say, ‘Why aren’t black celebrities speaking out more?’ But look what happened to Kanye when he spoke out. People told him to apologize to Bush!”

Minaj must not have notices tens of thousands of  people around the country participating in die-ins:  laying on cold streets, in traffic, on highways, and across the sticky floors of malls.  These people– many young people squarely in Minaj’s demographic–have been unafraid to speak out and to literally lay down to stop the world and make people hear their chants of black lives matter.

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Some of these people left work or class to participate in protests risking all kinds of consequences.    But most of the protesters are not famous, and few are likely to have a corporate record deal, so admittedly, most of us have a lot less to lose than our favorite rapper.

141124_seattle_maclemoreThen again, look at Macklemore who has made a career in rap speaking out.  From celebrating thrift store swag to same sex rights, Macklemore has made millions, topping charts and hearts with his uber-unity rap.  Even Eminem, the bad boy of rap, has spoken on on a variety of social issues like suicide and poverty.  Em didn’t get black balled, he got put in car commercials .

What could possibly be different between Kanye and Nikki and Macklemore and Eminem?  Black artists don’t get the same pass, don’t get to play the same parts that their white counterparts play, even in the land that blacks created–hip hop.  Black artists can easily be labeled as radioactive for the same stances that we swoon to see white stars in.  Bill Gates can dump money wherever he wants, but when Dr. Dre gave a massive donation to USC he was criticized for not giving black enough.  Critics questioned Wyclef’s work in the wake of the Haiti earthquake.  And of course, there’s Kanye.

Of all the spheres for black celebrities to orbit, hip hop was supposed to be the genre where black lives–and voices–really did  matter.  Truth is, there is lots of great hip hop talking about these issues, but to Minaj’s point, that is the game of mainstream media.  Market forces determine the lowest common denominator for pop stars to aim at, hoping to please the bland palate of the masses while ignoring the issues of the smaller classes in the audience.  the risk is real, but is that an excuse?LeBronJames1

Despite having offered an apology to George Bush, Kanye persists. Despite the potential backlash, dozens of sports stars have made their voices heard.  Despite the cold, Black Lives Matter Protests persist.  So what’s up, pop princess?  In the face of racism we each have to chose how we will respond.  When we choose to sit on the sidelines and not risk what we have despite our best intentions, racism persists.

Minaj bemoans the hoplessness of these times–I feel her.

“[Kanye]was the unofficial spokesman for hip-hop, and he got torn apart,” she says. “And now you haven’t heard him speaking about these last couple things, and it’s sad. Because how many times can you be made to feel horrible for caring about your people before you say, ‘Fuck it, it’s not worth it, let me live my life because I’m rich, and why should I give a fuck?'”

We create these stars when we buy their shit, but they cannot be bothered to say in public that your life matters.  Go ahead, Nikki and live your life, because fuck it, it’s true–you’re rich and why should you give a fuck.   Selling out pays well.  But if you ever want to see what a real star looks like, look at the bodies dotting the pavement.  They’ll be out there, holding you down.

Problem People Stories

When we look at the way that people of color are represented in the media, we often see what is referred to as ‘problem people stories”–stories that position people of color as the cause of society’s–and their own–problems.  What does this look like, Guliani, on this week’s Meet the Press is textbook:

Two fun facts: first,  most homicide is perpetrated within race–black people are most likely to kill black people and white people are most like to kill white people, and second, the unrest in Ferguson is because a white Police Officer did the killing.  no amount of focus on black on black crime would have prevented that.

Every life matters, and every killer should be held accountable.  When the killer is retained by the state to act as an authority, they deserve to be held at a higher level of accountability.

Oh, and I have an open seat in class for you, Guliani:  you clearly need to be schooled.

 

 

My Brother’s Reaper

Picture this: you are walking down the street of your hometown, having just done a good deed when you are surrounded by police officers who demand you drop to you knees. You protest your innocence; they are unconvinced. You see yourself reflected in their glasses, your eyes wide like frightened prey as the pack of cops closes in. One grabs you from behind in a chokehold and brings you to the ground. You can feel his arm around your neck. You gasp out that you can’t breathe until you can’t even do that. It’s not supposed to be this way, you think, …your spouse, your children, and then nothingness.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before–oh but of course you have. Another summer, another incident of police brutality state sponsored murder. Just about a year after President Obama declared Trayvon Martin could have been his son, NYC police killed Eric Garner, a 43-year old married father of six on the street like he was nobody’s son. Despite our declarations to do better by those taken too soon, we have not done better as a nation: no new national gun laws; no overhaul of police procedures; no national examination of the massive inequities in the justice system.

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Here is the great irony: we are safer now than we have been for some time. National violent crime rates are dropping and homicide is approaching a 60 year low– that’s right 6-0.

violent_rateCrime stats are complex, and maintained in ways that sometimes make it hard to compare, but by any measure, violence is down. Theories abound over why it’s down, including a very interesting link between reproductive rights and violent crime made here by Freakonomics.

Even as violent crime has plummeted, fear of violent crime has continued to rise. Many Americans believe we live in a dangerous world, peopled with hood wearing thugs at every corner. Older generations pine for the good old days, that apparently we’ve washed of the violent crime that happened. Just like Shakira’s hips, stats don’t lie.

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Media plays a significant role in making people think the world is more violent than it is. A quick look at the prime time line up shows us hours upon hours of crime dramas. From the local news, to the most watched cable series, crime is literally everywhere, and that affects how we see the world. There’s even a name for it–mean world syndrome. George Gerbner’s theory goes like this: say you love CSI– in the world of CSI, violent crime happens 100% of the time. In the real world, violent crime happens .01% of the time. The more television we watch, the more likely we are to believe that what happens in TV world also likely to happen the real world. With so much violent content on TV, people that watch TV are likely to think the world is a mean, violent place.

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When we think violence is more prevalent, we support policies and spending to get tough on crime. Take a look at your own town’s police force:

Yeah, just rolling to the Happy Bee
Yeah, just rolling to the Happy Bee

 

More than likely, they are more well equipped than ever, with SWAT resources

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swatBefore you give the build up of of police forces credit for the drop in crime, let me inform you that studies show crime has dropped both in towns that spent massive amounts on arming police and in those communities that didn’t do that.

Money is an object–and objective in this arms race. According to Business Insider: the over $34 billion in grants has given rise to a growing concern that some police officers are looking less like civil servants, and more like soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan.

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Those who spend and make the money–from outfitters, to trainers, weapons manufacturers and gear houses are unlikely to tell us when to scale back. So who does this spending serve?

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It’s didn’t serve Eric Garner. SWAT expenditures were not enough to save 26 people–mostly children– in Newtown or the people killed by gun violence in the 74 school shootings since Newtown. Anticrime spending is a civil arms race where Americans are increasingly falling victim, from bad stop and frisk to death by police warrant, and of course, old fashioned police brutality.

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There is no greater drama that life and death, so crime is an easy go to to grab viewers eyeballs. When we let the stories affect our real world security, it’s time to use some media awareness and think critically about violence on and off the screen.

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Our real world can only enjoy lower crime if we hold police to the task they are charged with: protect and serve the people. We are Trayvon, we are Eric, we are our brothers and sisters. None of us can be safe in a world where police routinely kill people of color with no consequences. That’s the world we live in now. Use your voice and your vote. Time to be the people we promised ourselves we would be.

GOOOAAAL: Respect!!!!

World Cup play has been nothing less than thrilling, with enough drama to fill  Bravo’s TV summer line up.  There’s been overly dramatic falls and equally dramatic play, not to mention a little zombie bite between friends.

130422103717-suarez-bite-ivanovic-story-topWhat is also on display, as it has been so often in sports this year, is gross racism.   And I mean gross not just in the quality, but in the straight-no-chaser approach to ugly racial epitaphs, racist costumes, and hate language.

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Some German fans decided their love for team Germany was best expressed by dressing up in black face.  And to make sure they spread their fan feces beyond the stadium, fans uploaded pictures to Instagram, lighting up social media.article-2665775-1EFFF93000000578-788_634x397

FIFA took note of the racist behavior and vowed an investigation into the behavior.  Of course, race has played a gross recurring role in football.  In just the past year alone we’ve seen fans fight it out and even players taunted on the field.  Is it because football fans are racists, or at least more racist than most people?

no_to_racismFootball, like out own American sports, is more than a game, and the ability to paint our faces and pledge our fealty to the world is an old tradition still much desired even in our modern world.  Sport is an opportunity to rise beyond the day-to-day existence  to strive for a moment of glory and greatness–the hero’s summit at the top of his field has millions chanting his name, etched forever into the record books.

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Sport is also a chance to pledge our allegiance to our tribe, to show off our country’s colors, and to win in competion the right to say our people are the best people.

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Hmm, all that competitive spirit, tradition, nationalism and a little beer–or a lot of beer and capirainnias.  What could go wring?

well there’s this

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mideast-egypt-soccer-riot-390x285and then of course there’s this

1386611588000-RSI-SOCCER-BRAZIL-CHAMPIONSHIP-1To be sure on the other side of the coin, sport also brings us together, yes in pitched battle, but one where the biggest victims are ego’s and pride.

But what do these gross displays tell us about race in this moment in time?  When we look for cultural messages, we have to consider the context–where is the message coming from and what is the culture there?  This question is simplified, as a colleague asked me, “Well isn’t it different because it’s Germany?’

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She’s not alone.  Tweets and not a few twits have used the same argument in dismissing the recurrent use of black face and other racialized imagery in sports and other public events.

The general idea is that since black face–as we know it today– originated in the American south, that it is only symbolically powerful when referring to African Americans, but outside of America, black face isn’t really offensive.  That’s like saying since Hip Hop was created as an expression of African Americans, there can be no hip hop anywhere but in America, despite the fact that people around the world have been exposed to it.  Black face has been exported as has American ideology–and now media–around the world.  Let’s be clear:  black face is offensive, even between Germans and Ghanians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing Black faced magoi for traditional three Kings Day.  Yeah, black face is a thing in Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing Black-faced magi for traditional three Kings Day. Yeah, black face is a thing in Germany

Black face in it’s American Minstrel mutation is one symbolic representation of brown-skinned people that was part of a much larger, more complex colonial narrative–a story that colonizers told to justify the oppression of colonized people.  Cultural narratives like this are grand and sweeping, showing up in the culture of the time, in literature, art, even science.  The story shows up in entertainment in one mutation as black face.  But that was not the only negative depiction of “others” during colonialism, which operated on all continents.

bri_india02_4074To believe that the message contained in black face –the inhuman and uncivilized dark nature of the  other–was contained in a few short centuries in America alone is to ignore the power and pervasive control of colonialism in all corners of the globe.

conquistadorJust as black face in America today is an echo of the same old racist story born in American slavery, so does the racism on display at the world cup ring the bell of colonialism, and the lingering ideas of racial superiority, poison seeds planted by years of political, social and economic imperialism.

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The games show us that racial conflict persists in our post racial world–even beyond America.  Just as racism in America intensifies as the American population changes, so too with racism around the world.  While America for sure has it’s own unique flavor of racism,  changing demographics and increased mobility are bringing groups of people into new relationships.  To really be a global village that won’t tear itself apart, we’ve got to be vigilant about dismissing the stories of the past so that we are careful they don’t become the stories of our future.