“I’m not racist, but…”
“I’m not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it’s a word I can’t stand … What these people don’t like is somebody forcing diversity down their throats.” –Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair, supporting the decision to “lighten” the dark faces of a school mural.
Click here for a gallery of the offending mural. This is an elementary school where, for several months, passers by have shouted, “You’re desecrating our school,” “Get the nigger off the wall,” and “Get the spic off the wall.”
ETA: Looks like Blair’s remarks have cost him his radio job. (Thanks mouseferatu for the link.)
“I don’t really care about reading their multitudes of hispanic fantasy, or their african american fantasy. It’s just not culture I’m interested in, so I end up flipping past half the magazine because they, without fail, -always- focus on some ethnicity I don’t care to read about.”
“DEATH, DEATH, DEATH to ‘Political Correctness’. I like ‘pulp’ and ‘Sword and Sorcery’ in all its gory, sexist, glory … Women are to be barmaids, princesses, slave girls, dancers, victims to be rescued, etc. Blacks and MezoAmerican like peoples are either rare ‘Noble Savages’ or hideous cannibals with filed teeth. Orientals are sinister characters, though their women look hot but unless they are ‘Rescued sacrifice victim’ also very sinister. Of course, awesome ‘Noble Savages’ think Kubotai from ‘Conan the Barbarian’! Mix in lovecraft, westerns, maybe some not too queer Burroughs like stuff.” (This individual later described himself as “Rabidly Non-PC but not necessarily racist.”)
-Two commenters, on separate blogs, responding to Realms of Fantasy’s call for new subscribers.
And people roll their eyes and mutter about political correctness when someone gets angry about yet another publisher whitewashing a cover. Or they grumble about quotas if someone points out yet another editor’s all-white “Best of” anthology. Or they ask “Why are you making such a big deal out of this isolated little incident?”
Because none of these things happen in isolation. Because I believe racism is learned, and the first lesson is less likely to be , “Let’s go lynch those uppity blacks,” than it is something like, “A story by/about those people in my magazine or anthology? Down with political correctness!”
This is my country. My genre. I love them both, but sometimes I am ashamed and embarrassed by them as well.
June 5, 2010 @ 10:52 am
Take heart, Jim, for every one of these diehard not-racists, there is someone like my (white Australian) mum who – at 84 – used to walk the mile to the shopping centre, and tear down the racist leaflets posted up on poles and bus stops by a would-be neo-nazi party in her district. Oh, and right now I’ll go and tell my hubby that he’s actually a Noble Savage, and not a brown-skinned nuclear scientist with a Ph.D. Well, he must be – he doesn’t have filed teeth last time I looked… Lol!
June 5, 2010 @ 10:55 am
Well, they’re not racist as long as all those icky people with different skin, eyes, and hair stay in their little boxes and don’t bother them with being, you know, equalish with them.
“I don’t know if this makes me a racists, but…” heard that line way too many times since Obama was elected.
Jim C. Hines
June 5, 2010 @ 11:04 am
I know it’s not everyone, and it helps that for every one of these incidents there are a lot of people speaking out against the sheer WTFery of it all. But coming across all three of the links above in under a week … it was just depressing.
And I’m sure there are people out there who would be happy to explain that your husband only got a Ph.D. because of Affirmative Action. Bleah…
June 5, 2010 @ 11:45 am
It is sad that people still think in this way. I know that I have offended in the past, through my own racism and misogyny, imparted to me by upbringing, but I would hope I have learned better. As white male, it is all too easy for me to fall into wrong patterns of behavior, and it is post like these that remind me that I need to constantly check myself. Thanks, Jim.
June 5, 2010 @ 11:57 am
Jim, I know how you feel! People who say “I’m not a racist, but” typically don’t understand the subtle, sneaky nature of racism. I have friends who say hing like this. They’re usually making very commonly accepted jokes or perhaps mocking the speech pattern of certain urban black communities, yet they don’t understand how that mocking is really hurtful.
June 5, 2010 @ 12:23 pm
I don’t want to offend anyone, but they are a bunch of racist idiots.
Now, I’m not being offensive both because I said “I don’t want to offend anyone but…” and I also have a racist idiot friend. And I’m sure he agrees with me. So it’s ok for me to call them names like.
Jim C. Hines
June 5, 2010 @ 1:01 pm
“I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic/etc., but…” I don’t know if I’ve ever come across a sentence which started that way and ended well.
Jim C. Hines
June 5, 2010 @ 1:02 pm
Same here. I’m far from perfect. Very far. And I’ve said and done plenty of stupid and offensive stuff. Some of that is upbringing. I don’t think it’s possible to grow up in this culture without absorbing certain ideas and beliefs, some of which are more toxic than others.
But eventually it becomes a choice to continue, and to shut out any and all opportunities to learn or change.
Jim C. Hines
June 5, 2010 @ 1:04 pm
“I also have a racist idiot friend … So it’s ok for me to call them names.”
I love this.
Jim C. Hines
June 5, 2010 @ 1:42 pm
Yes, it’s the equivalent of “I’ve never burned any crosses, so I’m a good person and free to engage in all of this other prejudiced behavior…”
June 5, 2010 @ 2:36 pm
Wow, it’s so disheartening to hear things like this and realize we, as a country, have not made nearly as much progress as we like to believe. Why is it that so many people still dislike or fear their countrymen of non-white ancestry? Being born and raised here, folks like me may look different, but we share the same sorts of values as everyone else around here, and we certainly wouldn’t fit in “back in the countries we came from,” as so many of these “I’m not racist” folks love to say to us.
It’s like the situation with the “Last Airbender” movie coming out next month. The creators of the Nickelodean cartoon that it’s based on (Avatar: The Last Airbender) are a pair of intelligent, modern-minded white dudes who have learned a lot about Chinese martial arts and culture and wanted to make a show set in a fantasy ancient China-like setting. They managed to do this in Avatar:TLAB in such a way that the show was not only respectful of the different culture(s) depicted, but embraced them/made them look cool. As an Asian-American who rarely gets to see Asians or Asian culture depicted in a central or positive light in television/media, it was incredibly exciting and gratifying to see all the kids of all cultural backgrounds loving the show and identifying with the characters.
So, when the creators entrusted their show to M. Knight Shyamalan to adapt into a live-action movie, the last thing I (and they, I imagine) expected, was to have all the main characters cast exclusively, at first, with white actors, and then, upon consideration, to recast a few of the characters with actors of Indian, Arabian and Maori descent. But, I noticed, not a single East Asian actor was cast in any of the roles, despite these characters being portrayed in the cartoon as coming from countries that closely resembled ancient Chinese (Earth Kingdom), Tibetan (Air Nomads), Inuit (Water Tribe) and possibly Korean or Japanese (Fire Nation) civilazations.
Despite all that, I was shocked to find barely any protest about the casting online. A lot of fans (both Asian and non-Asian, though more of the latter) have either just been resigned about it or said it was a non-issue. Some have even gotten angry at me for bringing the issue up, claiming that just because the characters were drawn in an anime-inspired style and fighting using various forms of kung-fu, it didn’t necessarily mean they were asian. This last bit shocked me–it isn’t just the martial arts, but the clothing designs, the food depicted (dim sum is pretty obviously Chinese, don’t you think?), even the names of the characters (Aang? Toph Bei Fong? Mai? Tai Li?–can you really say those names aren’t obviously intended to evoke a certain cultural identity?).
And then an awful idea dawned on me–what if all this time, when I thought American kids were starting to warm up to folks with my kind of face/ethnicity/cultural background, it was actually only Asian *culture* they were enjoying? And they still viewed Asians/Asian faces as foreign, outside things? It was quite a shock, like realizing we were actually twenty steps further back than I’d thought we were. So seeing comments like the ones you quoted, Jim, I guess I’m not really surprised anymore. This is America, my country, where, as Amy Tan so eloquently put it, “I identify with America, but America doesn’t identify with me.” That was from a book she wrote decades ago, and I’m sad to realize the situation hasn’t much changed.
That’s why I’m really thankful when I see a post like this, Jim. I know you don’t have any reason to do this, to say these things beyond being a good, idealistic person who believes in justice and the principles this “land of the free” was founded on. I mean, why should you, when it’s not an issue that you have to face every day when you go outside your home, right?
But you did do it, and thank you so much for giving a reminder to/setting a good example for others who may, as one commenter said above, “fall into wrong patterns of behavior” from time to time. I can’t blame the folks who sometimes forget but are trying, and I can only give my heartfelt thanks that you even try. Still, I wish we, as a country, could get to the point where we wouldn’t even have to make an effort to see our neighbors as just our neighbors.
Jim C. Hines
June 5, 2010 @ 6:00 pm
I have seen some disgust with the Last Airbender casting, though I don’t follow the show so I’m not in touch with how the hard core fans have reacted. Likewise with the whitewashing in Prince of Persia. There’s some anger and disgust once again … but probably not enough to matter. Not yet, at least.
It’s interesting to compare the reactions. There are so many people getting asking “What’s the big deal?” about a white actor getting yet another nonwhite role … but then you turn around and look at the outrage and horror at the idea of a black actor auditioning to play Peter Parker in the new Spider Man movie. Double standards, anyone?
I like to think my motives are nice and pure, posting things like this because I feel it’s the right thing to do. And that’s certainly there … but while I’m about as white, male, and privileged as they come, not everyone in my nuclear family is either male or white 🙂
June 5, 2010 @ 7:25 pm
I’m delighted and surprised to hear that Blair lost his radio show. He beat up on those kids for weeks and encouraged other adults to do so. The race war is getting worse and worse in Arizona. There is unfortunately a strain of belief among certain mostly middle class whites that the activism and protests over civil rights for women, non-whites, gays, etc., of past decades have weakened the once great country and thus led to the economic state we’re in today, even more so because we have a black President, and so if we just stop all this angry, strident political correctness and special treatment, the country will go back to being the power-house it once was. And yeah, their black friends, female wives, etc., agree with them, so they couldn’t possibly be racist. They just think supporting and acknowledging cultural diversity is to blame for numerous social ills. (Because they’ve had to share power with said diversity.) And there are quite a few people who have found their way into state and local politics and talk radio, like Blair, who’ve found they can make money off being proponents of this belief — sometimes big money. So it’s kind of refreshing that the radio station at least drew a line — you can go after black people (though the kid whose portrayal was being objected to was actually Latino,) but kids is too far, at least after too many people complain. And Blair can run around saying that his firing is just that evil political correctness forcing people to do horrible things, like that a mural of a school might feature a Latino student at the school in the foreground, instead of a white one.
There was actually a lot of outrage over the Airbender casting on the Net. I remember because it was the first time I’d ever heard of Airbender, and suddenly there were stories about the whitewashing everywhere and a lot of upset fans. But it was last year, when the casting started to be announced, and the studio and director simply shrugged and whined, so I think protest just petered out into resignation. And then with Prince of Persia on top of that. But I do think it’s made studios a little more wary and we may see some improvement. The argument is not about the U.S. but apparently they believe the international audience wants whites, pref American or British actors. Which has been proven many times not to be the case, but old myths die hard.
June 7, 2010 @ 12:43 am
Cy: i’ve been seeing ongoing protests about the casting decisions for months now (in fact, I’d not even heard of the original series until I saw the protests).
The main group (there are sites in lots of other social networking sites) are the Racebending group.
Go here: http://www.racebending.com/v3/about/
From what I’ve read, I’d say the scope is fairly significant (enough at one point to get them shut down at — I forget! either Twitter or Facebook on false accusations of “hate speech).
June 7, 2010 @ 12:11 pm
As a person of european descent I can say that I am:
a.) Excited about the Last Airbender movie
b.) Dismayed by casting of people of European descent in roles that are (as you describe) Tibetan, East Asian, and Inuit (which discolors and degrades the fascinating source material)
c.) Confused that a person of Indian descent made the peculiar casting choices described in b.)
d.) All of the above.
I still hope to see it.
June 7, 2010 @ 12:14 pm
Also, to add to your point, it’s not just the clothing, culture, and names of the characters that evoke a certain asian cultural flavor. The characters are also drawn such that they look asian, to me: slightly slanted eyes (particularly on the Earth Kingdom and Fire Kingdom characters), the darker palette of their skin tones, etc. And I thought it was beautiful and really progressive and cool.
June 7, 2010 @ 12:18 pm
As a person of european descent who is also a massive geek for all things fantasy, I thought I’d chime in and say that I’m a huge fan of all that European mythology that so often crops up in fantasy…
…but upon further reading, I have found that all that other mytholgoy from all those other cultures whose heritage I don’t directly, genetically share are also way cool and make for some really great fantasy literature.
Say what you want about that Kevin Costner Robin Hood movie, but I have always loved this line:
“Because, Allah loves wondrous variety.”
Stephen also loves wondrous variety.
June 7, 2010 @ 12:39 pm
It’s sad that folks are getting upset over a black actor auditioning for Spiderman–likely the same sorts of folks who were making those comments you quoted about how they like their SFF. Well, I’d definitely support the actor–if the movie goes with colorblind casting, I’d be thrilled. There’s a great example of that in the BBC’s TV series “Merlin”–Guinevere is played by a black girl and she works perfectly fine in the role (in fact, her acting is perfect for the character). It’s a totally SFF show and seems to be accepted fine in the UK and what small fanbases there are in the US. Which I guess gives us hope that SFF can move that way as a whole someday.
June 7, 2010 @ 12:46 pm
I agree–I thought the producers of the cartoon went out of their way to create characters that not only had all the trappings of Asian culture, but actually had Asian-looking physical characteristics. That said, some of the folks who were commenting online that they had no problem with the white-washed casting said that the cartoon characters *didn’t* look asian to them. That was quite surprising to me–was it because the characters weren’t all drawn with the stereotypical “slit eyes” that they looked “non-asian” to this guy? I’m guessing he must not know/have seen very many asian people in real life in that case. Which kind of makes the case again for why we should not only white-wash non-white roles in movies, but try to make at least a little conscious effort to include a wide variety of people in our media–so we don’t end up like guys like that commenter who would probably see me and assume I’m Mexican or mixed or something because I don’t look like the Asian stereotype. >.<
June 7, 2010 @ 12:47 pm
Oops, I meant to write “NOT white-wash non-white roles”…
June 7, 2010 @ 12:50 pm
Lol, that’s awesome, Stephen. As random as including Azeem in the Robin Hood movie might have been, the character was awesome. And anyway, who WOULDN’T want to make up a reason to add Morgan Freeman to their movie?? Morgan Freeman makes any movie he’s in better simply by existing in it~~
June 7, 2010 @ 12:54 pm
Thanks for the link, Ithiliana–I have seen the site before but it doesn’t seem that they’re doing much that is actionable. It’d be awesome if they organized a boycott/whatever you call those things where you get all your supporters to buy tickets for *another* movie (like an indie one or something that wouldn’t normally have much box office clout) on the opening weekend of “The Last Airbender” so that Hollywood could see what kind of numbers they would have had if they hadn’t been such jerks about the casting. But in any case, thank you for letting me know about the protests–guess I kind of missed all of it coming late to the game. ^^;
June 7, 2010 @ 1:02 pm
Amen to that!
June 14, 2010 @ 9:52 am
I’ve heard this sentence end well in one way, usually in discussions on inherent bias. “… but I’m sure someone else thinks so.”
I read a lot of Live Journal, and there was a conversation last year called RaceFail. I learned a lot about inherent bias and the more-privileged point of view in the conversation. I would like to think that I’m not offensive, but I know I’m biased just because of how I grew up.
Now I need to stretch my mind and see around/past/through those biases.
June 14, 2010 @ 9:56 am
Has anyone seen the latest “Karate Kid” movie? (I haven’t yet.) How does that movie work in this conversation?
Jim C. Hines
June 14, 2010 @ 9:59 am
Haven’t seen it yet, but I’d like to. The only complaints I’ve heard so far are that it’s kung fu, not karate. I haven’t heard anyone complaining that we have a black karate kid.
July 8, 2010 @ 8:35 pm
An Encouraging Bird » Thought-full Thursday – The Earth Is Round & Keeps Rotating All the Time
July 9, 2010 @ 12:00 am
[…] make me wince, that make me stop-not-in-a-good-way, that add to the list of questions-why, that make me realize just how far we still have to go, both in this country and in the […]